Saturday, May 31, 2008

2008 WSOP, Day 2: Live from the Rio

Reporting Live from the 2008 WSOP12:23 p.m.: Am sitting here in the Media Press Box. Got my laptop and it appears I do have connectivity to the outside world. Arrived here right about noon to find the Amazon Room packed with players all being dealt their initial hands of Event No. 2, the first $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em event at this year’s WSOP.

Have only really explored this one corner where the Press Box is located thus far, but it does appear as though every table in the room (around 165, I think) is filled with players. There are also tables set up for Event No. 2 over in the Tropicana Room as well as out front of Buzio’s, a seafood place down the hall. At the moment (12:20 p.m.), the board says 3,449 players have entered thus far. I just overheard an official explain to a player that it will not be known how many are officially entered in the event until tomorrow.

Just after play began, the long line of spectators I walked past a few moments ago were allowed to enter and watch. Each section of tables is roped off, of course, so they cannot actually mingle in between the tables as do the field reporters, video crews, and other media. But they are close, not more than a foot away from the tables on the outside edges.

Gonna wander a bit, I think, and be back with more in a little while. Will just be updating this post for a while -- rather than creating new ones -- each time I have something new.

12:54 p.m.: Just made a quick tour of the room. Lots of unfamilar faces, as you might imagine. Whereas yesterday every table had at least one and sometimes four or five known players (for Event No. 1, the World Championship Pot-Limit Hold’em event), it is not at all unusual here to walk past several consecutive tables without knowing anyone.

There are quite a few big-timers here, too, though, who didn’t want to miss out on all the dead money in the room. Confirmed for a field reporter that yes, indeed, that’s Jeff Madsen over at Table #43. Ended up running some names of other players back to the bloggers. During this early stage of an event, the bloggers are writing a lot of posts that just pass along names of recognizable players entered in the event.

Was pleased to have been useful there. I’m off, technically speaking, but definitely glad to be able to help out if needed. Have the feeling, though, that I probably won’t be coming in on my days off once the grind truly begins for me.

1:56 p.m.: Just had the pleasure of meeting Michele Lewis, who is sitting next to Pauly in the row behind me. Pauly asked me whether I was going to play in Saturdays with Pauly, his weekly PLO tourney on PokerStars (which began at 1:20 p.m., Vegas time). Was tempted, but decided against it. Maybe once I’ve seen a few dozen of these tournaments I’ll feel comfortable enough to jump in an online tourney while the live one goes on before me. Not today, though.

The Media Press Box is a two-level raised platform, providing a nice vantage point from which one can see the room. From my location, I can probably see about 35-40 tables, and can also make out faces at the farthest ones. Can only really follow the action on the tables situated nearest to where I sit and type, but it isn’t difficult to hop down and walk around to get a better look, if I wished to do so.

For example, a little while ago I walked over to Table Orange #18, where I found a very relaxed-looking Ted Forrest leaning forward, head resting on his elbows, while he received a massage. I decided to stay and watch a few hands.

This was the middle of Level 2, with the blinds at 100/200. The starting stacks today were 3,000, so there are already players whose shorter stacks have them in a potentially uncomfortable spot.

In the first hand, Forrest was in the big blind. A player in middle position raised to 300, and everyone folded, giving him the blinds.

In the second hand, an early position player raised to 300, the button thought about ten seconds and called, Forrest folded from the SB, and the BB called. “Three players,” said the dealer, who burned and dealt a flop of JsAh6c. The early position player (the raiser) bet a single blue 100-chip. The button and BB both folded, and he took the 950-chip pot.

In the third hand, the table folded (hastily, it seemed) to Forrest’s button, but he folded as well. The SB raised to 250, and the BB went away.

I decided to go away, too, as I didn’t want the table to start becoming aware of me following their action. After I came back to my seat, a couple of field reporters came over to chat for a brief moment. Each is covering twelve tables, and each has only two name players among the hundred or so they are watching. In one case, those two players -- Erik Seidel and Kido Pham -- are sitting right next to each other here at Table Orange #21. He doesn’t want them to feel like he’s hovering too much, but I don’t think he has anything to worry about. They know and understand why he’s there.

We’re getting close to the end of Level 2 and the first break, in anticipation of which they have just started herding the spectators out of the Amazon Room. Not sure how many have busted to this point, though I see PokerNews is reporting a few big names have already hit the rail, including Freddy Deeb, Tom Schneider, Daniel Negreanu, and Hevad Khan.

They are making announcements over in the far corner of the room regarding the seating of the 70 remaining players in Event No. 1, which should be resuming shortly. Things continue to appear to be moving along smoothly, following yesterday’s successful launch. Once they get started, I’ll try to get over there and get a look.

3:23 p.m.: Just now got to meet Nolan Dalla, co-author of One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey “The Kid” Ungar and WSOP Media Director, and we had a brief and friendly chat. B.J. Nemeth tells me that Jason “Spaceman” Kirk is here and looking for me. Coincidentally, Pokerlistings just posted the first part of Spaceman’s interview with Dalla a little while ago.

Just overheard Dalla telling someone as of right now 3,504 total entrants have registered for Event No. 2. The PokerBlog tells us that’s a new WSOP record for a non-Main Event tournament, breaking last year’s high of 3,151 for Event No. 49. And of course there’s another Day One for this event tomorrow, so more could show up then as well.

I took a walk to check out Day 2 of the World Championship Pot-Limit Hold’em event. Lots of gawkers gathered around the roped-off corner of the Amazon Room where the remaining 60 or so players are gathered around seven tables. I edged my way through the crowd and through the opening allowing entrance into the playing area.

Even with the onlookers being three and four deep around the tables’ perimeter, there’s definitely a more intimate feel over there than what we’re seeing in the rest of the Amazon. Since there are so few tables, you don’t have a lot of criss-crossing traffic constantly going on like you do elsewhere. Besides the media folk, out here you’ve got activity all around, with waiters and waitresses, massage therapists, and players just stretching their legs all constantly passing to and fro. Over there it is quiet. Sober. Intense.

Lots of stars left in the field, by the way -- Jesus, Bloch, Elezra, Antonius, Benyamine, Brenes, Chen, Harman, Liebert, Sexton, just to name a few. And like I say, they’re focused. Nearly $800,000 for first prize in this one. Decent chunk of change, that.

I didn’t spend very long inside the ropes. No need for me to be over there, really. Indeed, we’re getting close to the point in the tourney where just about every major happening in Event No. 1 can be chronicled by PokerNews.

Am changing the time stamp on this post with each addition. I should mention that is Eastern time down there. Can’t change that without it changing the times throughout the blog. Is getting on toward late afternoon here. I think I might duck out to grab something to eat, then come back over later, perhaps in the early evening. Go to PokerNews Live Reporting to see the latest. Be back later.

7:19 p.m.: Spent the afternoon getting some grub and relaxing. Now I’m back at the Rio in the Amazon Room where both of the events going on today are currently on break.

Event No. 1, the World Championship Pot-Limit Hold’em event ($10,000 buy-in) is on a twenty-minute break. They’re on the cash bubble, down to 37, and playing hand-for-hand. One more elimination and everyone left will cash. They’ll be playing down to the final nine tonight, so they have some poker left to go. Event No. 2, the $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em event, is on their dinner break. They’ve played six levels so far; when they return the blinds will be 300/600 with a 75-chip ante. They plan to play either four more one-hour levels or down to 225 players, whichever comes first. Likely going to be the latter, as players are dropping fairly rapidly. I’d guess they’ll be wrapping up somewhere around midnight.

When I first came in I thought about setting up in the media room, located next to the Amazon Room, a relatively serene environment replete with tables, ethernet jacks, and other info useful to those reporting, such as the 2008 WSOP Media Kit. Decided instead to resume my spot in the Media Press Box. A bit more cacophonous, but you have a better chance of seeing people out here and, besides, you feel more like part of the action when you’re in the same room.

Got to meet Gary Wise of ESPN, Bluff, and Wise Hand Poker who has also set up shop in the Box this evening. We talked about his podcast, the poker media, and Des Wilson’s Ghosts at the Table. I’d read Ghosts not too long ago, he’d interviewed Wilson recently for his podcast, and we both agreed it’s a worthwhile book that contributes fairly significantly to poker history writing. Before we parted, Wise offered the WSOP rookie some advice about covering the Series, in particular advising me not to be shy about approaching the “stars” of the poker world when necessary.

Think I’ll head over to that far corner to see if I can witness the Event No. 1 bubble burst. I don’t believe I’m going to stay too long into the evening -- probably just another hour or so. So at least one more report today.

8:08 p.m.: The Event No. 1 bubble has burst.

Made it over there in time to see a big pot brewing between chip leader Eli Elezra and Vivek Rajkumar. Elezra ended up rivering a queen-high diamond flush, taking about half of Rajkumar’s stack. Elezra now has 670,000 or so, a quarter million more than his nearest competitor.

They were playing hand-for-hand, so several of the remaining players from the other four tables had gotten up and were standing alongside the reporters watching the action unfold. There was Kathy Liebert, in a pink cap and pink shirt, one of two remaining women in the tourney (the other is Jerri Thomas), leaning over to get a glimpse of that diamond on the river. Patrik Antonius was standing over to the side, wearing a black zippered jacket and jeans with holes, chatting with three of his tablemates, one of whom was Full Tilt cowboy hat-wearing Andy Bloch. As Elezra dragged the pot, the announcer directed the players back to their seats.

I took a position near Antonius and Bloch’s table and watched the next three hands go by. Play was tight. In the first hand I watched, Bloch was in the BB. The table folded around to the blinds, and Bloch ended up taking a smallish pot from the SB after a bit of light sparring on a raggedy board. The next one saw the table fold to Antonius in the cutoff position. With the blinds 3,000/6,000, Antonius slid two orange chips and three yellow ones toward the center, a raise to 13,000. Action folded to the BB who studied for a moment. Antonius sat motionless, looking in the BB’s direction but not directly at him. He finally folded.

The next hand played similarly, with Antonius again raising preflop. This time when it folded to the BB I saw Antonius already moving to bring back his chips even before the BB folded. Clearly these guys weren’t very interested in mixing it up too much with the Finnish star here, despite his relatively small stack.

A massage therapist, purple cushion in hand, stood before me chatting with one of our field reporters, asking him why the players weren’t playing. As he explained hand-for-hand to her, there was a sudden commotion as we had an all-in at the next table. Two players had gotten their chips in middle on the turn, and when their hands were revealed we saw the shorter-stacked player, James Gorham, had flopped two pair, but his opponent who had him covered had made a better two pair on the turn. The river didn’t help Gorham, and the first cashes of the 2008 WSOP were secured.

I wound my way back over to the Press Box. “Who’s the bubble boy?” was the question of the moment. An announcer over the PA explained to the remaining thirty-six players the procedure henceforth. With each subsequent bustout, the eliminated player would be assigned a red card on which his or her place number would be recorded. Players were additionally instructed they would no longer be allowed to listen to their iPods at the table.

Three more players have been bounced in quick succession since I’ve returned to my seat. Antonius is currently one of the short stacks, as is Liebert. Will be interesting to see how much longer they last.

That’ll be it for me today. I don’t really intend to do this sort of live reporting too much here on Hard-Boiled Poker as the Series progresses. I’ll be way too busy on the days I blog for PokerNews, and I don’t imagine I’ll want to be spending hour upon hour in Rio on my days off. Most of you reading this already know where to go for some truly hardcore live blogging. There’s Dr. Pauly’s daily live reports on Tao of Poker. Also, Pokerati is well worth returning to throughout the day.

I will, however, certainly keep posting various reflections as we go. Will probably come by at some point tomorrow, but doubt I’ll stick around too long. I need to adjust my sleep schedule, as I begin at 5 p.m. on Monday and will be working deep into the night. So the plan is tomorrow to have a restful day so I’m ready to go Monday.

Thanks for reading, everybody!

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2008 WSOP, Day 2: Time Flies

Time FliesLooks as though 70 players survived through Day 1 of Event No. 1, the World Championship Pot-Limit Hold’em event ($10,000 buy-in). A total of 352 ended up entering the event, it appears, with several recognizable figures still alive. Among those still with chips are Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, Andy Bloch, Humberto Brenes, Lyle Berman, Rolf Stotboom, Phil Laak, David Benyamine, Patrik Antonius, Jennifer Harman, Bill Chen, Mike Sexton, Kathy Liebert, and Eli Elezra who currently leads the event with 302,000. Thirty-six spots will pay.

Probably the weirdest item reported over at PokerNews concerned the tourney clocks running too fast. There are huge displays positioned throughout the playing area. Pretty much no matter where you sit you can see them, and thus instantly know how much time is left in a given level, what the blinds are, and how many players remain.

Albert EinsteinAccording to PN live blogger Don Peters, “A spectator on the rail was timing the event levels with his stopwatch and found that the tournament clock was running fast. Word spread to the players and the players began complaining to the tournament directors about losing playing time.” Apparently a “computer glitch” was causing the clocks to run too quickly. I liked Mean Gene’s Einstein-referencing follow-up post on the matter, titled “The Theory of Special Relativity at Work?” Not sure if they managed to fix that problem or not, but I imagine I’ll find out today.

Gene, Don, and Change100 did a great job with the reporting yesterday. They will be back at today when the event cranks up again around 2 p.m. Vegas time. Meanwhile, Event No. 2, the first of the several $1,500 No-Limit Hold ‘em events, is slated to begin at noon. We’re expecting a huge turnout for this one. Indeed, organizers have scheduled two “Day Ones” for Event No. 2 in order to accommodate what some expect to be in excess of 4,000 entrants. Unlike yesterday, when only a quarter or so of the Amazon Room was filled with WSOP players, I would imagine most if not all of the space will be occupied by players when I head over there this afternoon. PokerNews has assigned extra bloggers to this one to try and cover as much of the action as possible.

Not sure what exactly my plan is today. After a tedious hour-long wait yesterday at a nearby urgent care facility, I did manage to get those stitches out. The fellow who did the job was helped by a nurse, and I actually heard him say to her “I’ve never done this before” during the procedure. Not really the words you want to hear in that situation. But all ended well, as far as I know.

I’m thinking I may well try today to do a little “live blogging” -- or a reasonable facsimile, anyway -- here on Hard-Boiled Poker. As I mentioned, my first day for PokerNews doesn’t officially come around until Monday, so I might head to the Rio with the laptop today, see what I can see, and post a few items during the day over here.

So do keep checking PokerNews for all the latest, but you might come around here, too, for a bit of color starting later in the afternoon.

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Get the Hell Off of Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet Already

Boycott Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet NOWFoucault (a.k.a., Andrew Brokos) is a blogger and high-stakes professional whom I’ve come to respect a great deal over the past several months. Some may recall I included his blog, “From the Desk of the Poker Philosopher,” in a very short list of must-read blogs a few months back. He’s a thoughtful commentator on all things poker, a smart reviewer of poker books, and an overall interesting dude.

Foucault says we shouldn’t play on UltimateBet or Absolute Poker. And I think he’s dead on correct in his assertion.

Now, you’ve heard me say the same thing several times here in the past. I know some of you have agreed with my arguments on the subject. Others may have found those posts mildly interesting, but in the end perhaps dismissed the arguments after having considered the source -- a low limit player who has never come close to the tables where actual cheating took place on either AP or UB.

All of which is fine by me. After all, these are “existential musings of . . . an online poker player of (primarily) micro and low limits.” Pretty much a lock I ain’t ever gonna pretend to be anything different.

But listen up. Foucault plays the big games. He’s taken down the Sunday $200K guarantee on UltimateBet, fer Chrissake. UB has been a cash cow for the man, and now he’s saying we should all play online poker elsewhere. Go read his post for more details.

I realize online poker is currently an unregulated “wild West.” But damn. At least as things stand at present, we don’t have to sit around and allow sites to permit rampant cheating -- for friggin’ MILLIONS! -- for nearly two years, then come out with ambiguous statements regarding what happened and the measures they’re purportedly taking to prevent its occurring again.

C’mon. Wake up. There are a ton of other sites we Americans can still play. And everyone else, too. Get the hell off of Absolute Poker and UltimateBet already.

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Friday, May 30, 2008

2008 WSOP, Day 1: “We're In For Six Weeks of Solid Poker”

Welcome to the RioI arrived at the Amazon Room about a half-hour before today’s noon kickoff. There were approximately 38 tables readied for play, each with nine stacks of chips, nine complimentary water bottles, nine flourescent orange-colored armbands, and one dealer uniformly attired in black vest and white dress shirt sitting at attention.

Spotted WSOP Commish Jeffrey Pollack being interviewed on video, then heard the announcement over the PA that players were invited to take their seats.

By 11:45 a.m., only a couple of players had trickled into the roped-off area of play. “Where are the players?” shouted a voice. “Too many damn chips and too many levels,” came the response. I stood to the side where a security guard engaged me in a brief dialogue. “They’ll be here soon,” he said. “And then the beer chicks and massage people,” shaking his head. Unlike me, he’d seen it all before. A few minutes later players indeed began to arrive in waves, rapidly filling the space with excited voices.

Nick Geber (of WSOP Radio) accosted me to ask if I was with PokerNews, which I confirmed. We shook hands and he was off, satisfied with the knowledge of the source of my green press credential. Then the band came in.

A forty-piece marching band quickly wound around to the front of the room and pounded out a catchy, halftime show-type version of “Viva Las Vegas.” I looked around to see players and media alike shaking their heads and grimacing, though a few were nodding along to the admittedly catchy beat.

Jeffrey Pollack then spoke briefly, announcing that henceforth all WSOP bracelet holders were to be accorded “diamond status” at every Harrah’s property around the world. Tournament Director Jack Effel then went over some of the key rules. Thought I heard a small cheer when he mentioned the new rule prohibiting “excessive celebration through extended theatrics, inappropriate behavior, or physical actions, gestures, or conduct.”

Then Doyle Brunson was handed the microphone. “Okay,” he began in that baritone drawl so familiar to everyone in the room. “We’re in for six weeks of solid poker,” he said. (Will it be six weeks of solid poker or six solid weeks of poker, one wonders.) “So everyone fasten your seatbelts. Let’s shuffle up and deal!” And the dealers did.

Instantly the room was filled with the cricket-like riffling of chips, that recognizable ambient soundtrack of poker. I began wandering about the tables, eventually positioning myself within a few feet of Table #11 where Brunson had set up shop, next to a table against which he’d set his crutch. His son Todd was just behind him at Table #1, along with Erik Seidel and a very calm-appearing Hevad Khan.

I spent awhile chatting with B.J. Nemeth, who will be providing features and blog posts over at PokerNews. The eye-catching Tiffany Michelle (who will do video interviews for PN) floated past where we were standing, throwing back a “Morning, boys!” to the fellows at a nearby table.

I scanned the room a bit. Lots of big names in this $10,000 buy-in event. And some loaded tables. At Table #7 sat Kathy Liebert, Andy Black, Allen Cunningham, Mel Judah, and Joe Sebok. David Benyamine, Humberto Brenes, and J.C. Tran all were seated at Table #22. Jen Harman and Steve Zolotow shared a table, as did Thor Hansen and Daniel Negreanu. Not too many soft spots in this field.

To the delight of the tightly-packed crowd gathered along the side of the playing area, both Vince Van Patten and Isabelle Mercier were positioned at a table just inside the ropes. Speaking of your better-looking players, word soon filtered around that Shannon Elizabeth had apparently busted out in Level 1, having been the victim of some bad fortune with pocket aces on two different occasions.

I made it back over near Table #11 where I heard Doyle chatting with his neighbor about the rule prohibiting iPhones or other such devices. “Wonder when they’ll get around to the shades,” I thought I heard him say.

The total number of entrants, at 289 when I walked in, had slowly crept up to 348 as players were still allowed to register up through the second level. Some of the later arrivals included Gavin Smith and Jean-Robert Bellande.

I edged back out of the playing area and hung out for a bit in the Media Press Box with Pauly, California Jen, and Haley. As I explained to them, I had to make a quick doctor’s visit to have some stitches removed from my back. Pauly offered to take care of it for me, claiming he took most forms of insurance. “That would make a great picture!” chimed Jen.

I thought about it, but then remembered the cavalier manner with which Pauly had wielded his steak knife at last night’s BBQ dinner. I also remembered that I’m almost 100% certain Pauly is not a medical doctor.

I’ll probably be heading back over there tomorrow to see how everyone handles the thousands of entrants expected for Event No. 2. Not sure at present what sort of schedule I’ll be following here at Hard-Boiled Poker. I plan to try to post at least once per day, perhaps more on those days when I’m not live blogging. We’ll see how it goes.

Meanwhile, be sure to go follow Event No. 1 live reports of Mean Gene, Change100, and Don Peters at PokerNews.

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2008 WSOP, Day 1: Dawn

The Dawn of the 2008 WSOPThe sun officially rose at 5:25 this morning in Vegas. I think I beat the sun by ten minutes or so. The World Series of Poker starts today. And I’m here. And wide awake.

About 7 p.m. yesterday I was standing just outside one of the entrances to the spacious Amazon Room at the Rio Casino Resort and Hotel. Right next to one of those huge, inflated Milwaukee’s Best Light cans with little legs and feet sticking out the bottom, a clownish-looking commemoration of the punchline to the WSOP-sponsoring beer’s commercials.

Had only been there a minute or two. Was scanning the hallway, looking for other PokerNews live bloggers, as we had one last pre-Series meeting scheduled. There was a moderate amount of activity in the hallway, with a number of folks passing to and fro amid the big beer cans and the CardRunners display. I noticed a figure walking toward me, a fellow a few inches shorter than me sporting a WSOP baseball cap and a dark T-shirt with “MALIBU” printed across the front. He quickly brushed past and into the Amazon.

Hey, I know that guy. I turned around and followed him in, the laminated, green pass hanging around my neck permitting my entry. I watched the fellow I had recognized -- 2006 WSOP Main Event champion Jamie Gold -- swiftly resume his seat behind a short stack of chips at one of the last two tables in a WSOP Mega-Satellite. The board indicated 91 entrants had begun the tourney, and they were down to the final 11. It appeared that only the top three spots paid, with the total prize pool adding up to a modest $26,000 or so.

I went over and stood with TassieDevil, one of my blogger colleagues, and we chatted about Gold for a moment, speculating about why the man who’d claimed the largest single payday in WSOP history had entered what looked to be a $300 satellite. A pre-tourney warm-up, perhaps?

Eventually we assembled with the other bloggers -- about 16 altogether, I believe -- around another one of the 200-plus tables to discuss numerous particulars of our planned coverage of the 2008 World Series of Poker.

We had all just come from a BBQ dinner in Henderson that brought together the entire PokerNews team, about 60 or so bloggers, field reporters, multimedia folks, and others. That’s where I had finally met in person a number of others whom I’ve come to know via Hard-Boiled Poker and/or other means, people like Change100, B.J. Nemeth, Mean Gene, Snoopy, Steve Horton, loganmark, Dr. Pauly, and PokerNews Editor-in-Chief John Caldwell.

As has been happening all week, I felt that sort of uncanny, strangely familiar sensation with everyone. I could sense they’re having the same response to me. (Indeed, Pauly somehow pegged me as Shamus even before we were introduced, though he’d never to my knowledge had any reason to know what I look like in “real life.”) That’s what happens when you read thousands and thousands of each other’s words, some addressed directly to you in private messages, some broadcast to you and the rest of the world via blogs or articles. Kind of makes introductions superfluous, really.

During the dinner, Pauly symbolically represented all of us writers by having a small notepad and pen at the ready at all times, presumably to aid a soon-to-be-composed chronicle of the proceedings. Like you, I eagerly anticipate his reports over at Tao of Poker, as well as the features he’ll be writing for PokerNews, the first of which (highlighting week one storylines) went up this morning.

The blogger meeting lasted at least a couple of hours, as there was a lot to cover regarding the complicated, carefully-coordinated system by which the reporting gets done. I glanced back a couple of times during the meeting, noticing Gold had made it to the final table of the satellite, then that he didn’t seem to be among the last five or so with chips.

The meeting concluded with a “style guide” discussion led by Haley. Some people find such discussions of usage and mechanics at best boring and at worst useless. Not this crowd. These are writers, people who care about words and how they are employed. Have to admit I had a little “I’m-in-the-right-place” moment there as we debated whether hyphens have a place in words like “preflop” (no) or “no-limit” (yes). Haley convinced me, actually, that “hold’em” is in fact a contraction (I have always typed it as two separate words).

Things kick off a little under six hours from now with Event No. 1, the World Championship Pot-Limit Hold’em event ($10,000 buy-in). We have received our schedules for the first week, and I actually will not start reporting until Monday with Event No. 4, the $5,000 Mixed Hold’em event in which players will alternate between LHE and NLHE. Will definitely head back over to the Amazon Room today, though, to be there when the cards first go in the air, and will probably be around at some point both Saturday and Sunday as Event No. 2, the first $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em event, gets underway.

Will check in here to let you know what I see. And since yr awake now, too, be sure to head on over to PokerNews for live reports.

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UB Owns Up (Sort of)

UB Releases Statement, Admits to 21 Months' Worth of Cheating Having Occurred on SiteGot back a little while ago from a long day of training and meetings. A memorable day, to be sure. Will share a few reflections about all that tomorrow morning, as well as a look ahead to Day 1 of the 2008 World Series of Poker.

For now, though, I’ll briefly weigh in on the statement from UltimateBet summarizing the findings of an investigation into allegations of a cheating “scheme” (as UB had characterized the malfeasance in an earlier statement regarding the matter).

As you might imagine, having spent all day hanging out and interacting with other poker media types, there was a bit of buzz among my colleagues about UB’s statement. Having been occupied all day, I hadn’t seen the statement myself, and so gathered what I could from others’ impressions. Some felt the statement said what needed to be said, while others saw it as inadequate, essentially raising more questions than providing answers.

The statement specifically comes from Tokwiro Enterprises ENRG, the company that owns both UB and Absolute Poker. According to Tokwiro, the cheaters used six different player accounts (changing account names multiple times in the process) to exploit “unauthorized software code that allowed the perpetrators to obtain hole card information during live play.” Not unlike the “super-user” scandal over at Absolute Poker, although the logistics here appear to have differed somewhat from what happened at AP.

Also similar to the Absolute case, UB’s statement fails to identify any of the cheaters by name (aside from listing usernames), though does state that “the individuals responsible were found to have worked for the previous ownership of UltimateBet prior to the sale of the business to Tokwiro in October 2006.” Nat Arem adds further clarification here with his post relating a series of questions he asked of UB and their replies. In response to Arem’s question about the cheaters’ identities, UB explained that they did “not believe anyone involved was an owner of the business.”

Of particular note is the confirmation “that the fraudulent activity took place from March 7, 2006 to December 3, 2007,” with UltimateBet only having discovered the existence of “the unauthorized code” in February 2008. That’s nearly 21 months of cheating, not discovered until almost three more months after it had stopped occurring.

The statement goes on to describe how the security breach has been permanently closed. Also, UB has added “to its existing security department” what is described as “a new specialized Poker Security team of professionals dedicated to fraud prevention.” Arem was apparently consulted in the creation of this new, extra level of security, something he thinks is “going to be a great tool when it’s finished.” In his Q&A, Arem reports this newly-implemented system will be in place in six to eight weeks.

The statement also outlines UB’s plan to refund all players who lost money to those operating the fraudulent accounts. I noticed that Terrence Chan received an unexpected refund. Also saw on the forums others reporting how they had already received their refunds as well.

The statement concludes with an assertion that “UltimateBet has worked closely and transparently with its governing body, the KGC [Kahnawake Gaming Commission] and its designated expert auditors, to determine exactly what happened, how it happened, and who was involved, and has taken action to prevent any possibility of this situation recurring.”

Glad to hear UB was transparent with the KGC and Gaming Associates (the auditors) during the past few months. Unfortunately, they haven’t been at all transparent with their customers during that same time period. And while this statement does provide some clarity, it also continues to conceal a great deal of information that customers should be demanding (e.g., how much money was involved; what games/stakes were affected; etc.).

Still a little baffled at the timing of the statement, too, although I think I might understand why today was the day designated for its release. I am realizing as I type this that I myself would much rather be thinking and writing about what’s going to happen at the Rio starting tomorrow. I imagine you’d rather be reading about those goings-on, too.

Perhaps that was part of the plan -- to reckon on poker people not wanting to be bothered at this moment with such unpleasantness, and thus continue (essentially) to ignore the fact that such extensive cheating occurred on UltimateBet without its owners’ knowledge for such an extended period of time.

We’ll put this one to bed (for now). See you in the morning for the fun stuff.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

An Event Like No Other

The Rio won't look like this again until mid-JulyIt’s WSOP eve. There’s a one-day mega-satellite today, then tomorrow at noon the cards will finally be in the air for Event No. 1, the World Championship Pot Limit Hold ‘em event ($10,000 buy-in). Be sure to follow all the action over at Poker News.

The buzz seems to be that only 200-300 or so will be there for that first one, although the numbers could get bumped up a bit since this is one of the few events outside of the Main Event that ESPN has said they plan to televise. (See the full ESPN schedule here.)

I’d certainly expect a lot of big name pros to show up for it, including the “Greatest Texas Hold ‘em Player on the Planet,” Phil Hellmuth. (Who else thinks “self-proclaimed King of Pop” when hearing or reading that?) Which could be interesting given that Ultimate Bet may in fact be releasing today that report on the cheating “scheme” that occurred on the site last year. (So says the Poker King, anyhow.)

I remember last summer writing a post titled “Pins and Needles” just before the WSOP kicked off. At that time, in addition to being eager to see the Series get started, we were also all wondering about that so-called “deadline” for the feds to present their regulations for the UIGEA. (The “270 days” after Bush signed the bill were up near the conclusion of last year’s series.) Here we are a year later, and we still haven’t seen those regulations finalized. One wonders if that’ll continue to be the case a year from now.

Lots else occupying me at the moment, though. I believe we’ll be getting our schedules for the first couple of weeks today, so I’ll be finding what events I’ll be covering. Am definitely growing increasingly excited anticipating the show finally getting underway. Talk about pins and needles . . . .

Find myself running through various analogies in my head, not really knowing if any of them are valid, as I cannot avoid trying to imagine what the whole thing will be like.

A busy restaurant, with every table filled.

A movie set, packed with actors and crew.

A circus, with multiple stages and performances ongoing.

None of those. All of those.

I’ll let you know.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Vegas Heating Up

Vegas is starting to heat upAnd I ain’t just talking about the World Series of Poker, which begins on Friday.

Weather has been quite mild for my first few days here. When I arrived on Sunday, the high (according to weather.com) was a cool 70⁰F. Has been gradually creeping upward all week, though. The forecast for the next few days seems to indicate a return to what one would expect Vegas to be like as we hurtle June-ward: 85⁰F on Thurs., then 89⁰F on Fri., then 94⁰F on Sat.

I did bring the sunscreen. Though I don’t expect to be worrying all that much about harmful ultraviolet rays by week’s end.

Am pretty much settled in by now. Finally made that all-important grocery run yesterday. Definitely makes one’s digs seem less desolate once the cupboards are no longer bare.

Also helping with the adjustment are the various peoples I’ve gotten to meet over the last couple of days. Have already gotten together with several of those whom I’d previously known in various ways via the intertubes though had never met in person. All are turning out to be cool cats, making my first few days in Vegas all the better. Will be meeting a bunch more tomorrow as we ramp up to Day 1 on Friday with a few more pre-Series sessions.

There’s Dan & Jen, who have already hit the ground running over at Pokerati where they’ll be reporting for the entire WSOP. And Bob, the Poker Grump. (I didn’t mention in my post yesterday how observant Bob was at the poker table -- way beyond a live game novice like myself. If you happened to have read his post about our session, you saw an example of that.)

Last night I met up with Haley Hintze, Managing Editor at PokerNews, and we had a good time chatting about the roads that led us here (and what lies ahead). Then today I met Garry Gates, PokerNews’ Tournament Reporting Manager and cool guy, who did a great job leading today’s meeting.

After this afternoon’s meeting I swung by the Palms to check whether or not I’d scored that $100 for hitting my diamond flush on Tuesday (described here). Alas, I did not. “Poker room jackpots are TOTALLY rigged, you know,” explained the Poker Grump when I told him I’d missed out on the hundy. Be hard to prove otherwise, wouldn’t it?

Doesn’t matter. Looking at the big picture, I still feel as though I’m running especially well. And I ain’t just talking about the poker.

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On the (So-Called) “Poker Mentality”

On the 'Poker Mentality'I saw the Poker King’s report yesterday that online whiz Cliff “JohnnyBax” Josephy has recently signed on as an “UltimateBet Pro,” joining a few other online pros as well as Annie Duke and Phil Hellmuth as representatives of the online poker site. Also noticed how the report instantly produced high-volume buzz over at Two Plus Two and elsewhere. At the moment a thread regarding the matter sits atop the “News, Views, and Gossip” forum at 2+2, having garnered hundreds of responses in just twenty-four hours.

Predictably, most of those posting are quite critical of Josephy for having joined with Ultimate Bet, particularly in light of the site’s continued delay in responding to what appears to have been an Absolute Poker-like cheating scandal on the site in which players possibly using “super-user” accounts managed to bilk opponents of at least $1.5 million.

On May 6th, Annie Duke posted on Pocket Fives what she described as “Good News Regarding the UB Investigation,” noting that she was pleased with how the UB “management team” had been looking into the matter, and expressed her hope “that all the details will be released very soon . . . perhaps within two to three weeks.” It has been just over three weeks since Duke’s post, so while some of us remain skeptical, it is nevertheless possible we may well be hearing something from Ultimate Bet in the near future.

Of course, if it is the case that a report from UB on the scandal is indeed imminent, why in the world wouldn’t the announcement of Josephy joining the UB team have been delayed until after that report had been made?

However one feels about UB or Josephy, it seems to me that it would’ve made much more sense from a public-relations standpoint to have waited until after the report to announce Josephy’s signing, when the news would’ve sounded more like the online pro and co-owner of PokerXFactor -- a person with quite a bit of influence in the online poker world -- was endorsing the site’s integrity by joining the team.

Too logical, probably. Two other brief points on the subject . . .

Earlier today, Mark over at Plan3tGong raised an interesting question regarding the issue when he asked “Has Anti-Absolute / UB Sentiment Gone Too Far?” In his post, Mark primarily questions “the militancy of those who believe that this group of poker sites is ‘evil’ and anyone associated with them has ‘lost all credibility.’”

Mark makes a worthwhile point, although he doesn’t directly touch upon what for me has always been the primary issue, namely, the lack of upfront communication from either site with their customers regarding the serious breaches of security that definitely occurred at AP and almost without a doubt occurred at UB. Doesn’t make ’em “evil,” necessarily, but most certainly does affect their credibility pretty severely, in my view.

Finally, I noticed someone in the 2+2 thread making this argument in response to the “militants” (as Mark characterizes those spewing vitriol in Ultimate Bet and/or Josephy’s direction):
would anyone of you care to elaborate what exactly should he [Josephy] be doing with his reputation? this is poker and the poker mentality is to get yourself in as many +ev situations as possible.

getting sponsored by a big online poker site >>> having a good reputation which by itself is worthless

take a deep breath and lay down your double standards (i know this won[’]t happen)... actually just keep on lying to yourselves and riding on your high morales [sic] while in reality you would make the same choice in a hearbeat [sic] if you were in his shoes.
Pretty bleak stuff, wouldn’t you say? I’ve written before about this notion of the “poker mentality” inviting a different system of ethics on human behavior, one based primarily on greed, selfishness, and a lack of respect or concern for others’ welfare. All applicable at the tables, of course (if winning is yr goal). But hardly transferable without adjustment to all other situations.

I’m obviously none too enthused by Josephy’s becoming an UltimateBet pro, primarily because for some it seems to endorse that anything-goes, screw-em-if-you-can-get-away-with-it, “poker mentality” the poster (and a lot of other online players) seem readily to champion.

As also happens when sites where cheating has occurred don’t respond in a serious and timely manner.

(EDIT [added 5/28/08]: After posting, I saw via California Jen that Josephy posted deep in the 2+2 thread that apparently his “signing with UB is contingent upon a satisfactory resolution of the ‘superuser’ issue.” Which makes the timing even stranger, to me -- if that’s case, why announce now and not later?)

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Live Poker: Palms Casino Resort, Las Vegas, NV

Palms Casino ResortHad a great time this afternoon lunching with Bob, the Poker Grump, over at the Palms. As those of you who read Bob’s blog know, he is a regular player who has played at most of the cardrooms in Vegas. As such, he had built up some bucks on his Palms player’s card, with which he generously took care of our tasty Mexican meal at Garduños.

We had a good time talking blogs, online poker, the WSOP, among other topics. Afterwards, Bob suggested we run over to the poker room for some low limit HE. Feeling a bit fatigued (am still waking too early), I said I thought I was probably too tired for cards, so we hopped on the elevator to go back to the parking deck.

Then I changed my mind. I had the rest of the day free, and wasn’t that pooped. And who knows how packed my schedule is gonna be starting the end of this week? So we rode back to the casino & strode over to the poker room.

We got on the list and took a seat at an empty table. Bob pointed out one of the dealers, named Murph, and mentioned he kept a blog, too. (Which I have since checked out -- cool stuff.) After five minutes or so a spot opened up and I took it. Bob came around to watch. In fact, Murph dealt the first couple of hands I played.

Started out receiving a steady diet of lousy starters -- I’d get deuce-trey no less than four times during the couple of hours we played -- and so I wasn’t involved with very many hands. Finally picked up 6s7s in late position and limped in. The fellow to my left raised, and a good six or seven of us saw the flop come 8-9-10 rainbow. Checked around to me and I bet, the button raised, and everyone folded. I three-bet it, and when he just called I was fairly sure I was okay. Turn was a trey and he called my bet. I checked the 7 on the river, but he checked behind, showing A-10. After tipping the dealer I was up $14.

Bob ended up taking his seat shortly afterwards, sitting on my left. Have to admit, knowing Bob’s experience, while I liked the fact we were sitting close enough to chat some, I was thinking I’d rather be on the other side of him. He’d end up cracking my Big Slick on one hand. Then on another I rivered a king-high flush to crack his kings.

A little later on I limped in with Jd5d to take a flop with six or seven others -- one of the very few non-typical hands I played the whole day. Bob instantly made me rethink my decision to play such crap by raising it up. Everyone called (of course), and when the flop came I was glad I was in the hand. Three more diamonds.

Checked to me and I bet it. Bob and all but one of the rest folded. We made it the river without the board pairing, my opponent calling me down the whole way, and I took a largish pot. I also got entered into the diamond flush jackpot they have at the Palms, meaning if my name gets drawn tomorrow morning, I’ll score an extra hundy for my good fortune.

In order to get in the drawing, I had to get a player card, which I happily did. The floor manager took my ID to take care of it, then came back over to tell me my state was one that didn’t allow its citizens to get player cards. “That’s fine!” I said jovially, falling for the joke like the rube I am. After the laughter died down, he returned shortly afterwards to give me my player card. Later on when I cashed out, I thanked him for making an “exception” for me.

I ended up $51 ahead, pocketing one of the chips for a souvenir. I’d hit some cards, but wasn’t the luckiest one at the table. That would have to have been the fellow to my right, who made two diamond flushes, and on another hand managed to flop quad aces to secure another jackpot ($116, I think). On that hand the player to his right had raised preflop and he’d three-bet, so the two were heads-up. His opponent checked the flop and he bet it, and his opponent in response folded his K-Q face up. The winner then showed his aces, and the floor was called over to take care of the jackpot. Amid all the congratulations, Bob asked what I thought was a salient question: “Were you afraid he’d draw out on you?”

We left not too long afterwards, and as we walked out of the Palms I told Bob I was glad we went back to play. (Read more about the session from Bob’s POV over at his blog.)

Would definitely be cool to win that drawing. I mean, really, wouldn’t it be a lot more fun just to keep flopping flushes & winning jackpots than actually to have to visit the ATM?

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Bowling Not As Easy As It Looks

Bowling isn't as easy as it looksHad a fun evening last night over at the Gold Coast with Pokerati Dan and California Jen.

Enjoyed a heaping plate of Kung Pao Chicken at Ping Pang Pong, then went bowling for the first time in many, many years. Was a bit mortified at first by my incompetency, with my string of open frames (and a few gutterballs) sandwiched between Jen and Dan’s effortless-appearing strikes & spares. I think I said at one point “It’s like the ball is bowling me.” Switched to a lighter ball in the second game and actually competed for the first five frames or so before fading enough to fall just short of triple digits. (Gadzooks I ain’t.)

Here’s the scorecard for the second game, courtesy of Jen. (Game one was too horrific for me to share, although I will report Jen dazzled with a 161, Dan was strong with a 140, and I was somewhere way the hell south of both.)

Notice how in game two I fell apart after the sixth frame. Notice also how Dan choked in the tenth.

Also enjoyed our post-game convo on poker, writing, and different ways of combining the two. Had to bail shortly after midnight, as I was still only a day removed from Eastern time and thus running on fumes. Will definitely have to adjust the internal clock here over the next couple of days.

Plan today is first and foremost to try to make a grocery run (still nothing in the fridge at present except two pieces of that pepperoni pizza I ordered the first night), then meet up with the Poker Grump, one of my partners in crime over on the Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show. It is possible I may try to get some more live poker in today. More likely, though, I will just rest up a bit and ready myself for the meetings tomorrow and Thursday in anticipation of Friday’s Day 1.

Over at the Rio, they’ll be having that “soft opening” we heard about when the schedule was first announced. Not sure what exactly is on tap tomorrow, other than ongoing registration and maybe some satellites. On Thursday at noon will come one of those “mega-satellites,” a $500 freeze-out for Main Event seats. Stay tuned over at PokerNews for all the latest.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Low Limit Lounging

Lounging Lions at the MGM GrandHad an enjoyable lunch with a new friend over at JJ’s Boulangerie at the Paris. I have another engagement for dinner, and so I decided in the interim to squeeze in a little low limit hold ‘em this afternoon. Like I said, best to do this now, before all them thousands of WSOPers come roaring into town.

I went back to the MGM, where I’ve been starting things the last couple of times I’ve been to Vegas. The last time I played there was April of last year (wrote about it here). Not really superstition carrying me back, but simply a desire to play my first session in a familiar place.

Got on the list and within a few minutes had my seat at a game of 2/4 LHE. Everything was pretty much the same, other than the new brown felt they’ve laid down on the tables. First hand was dealt 9-7-offsuit in the big blind, got to see the flop for free, and flopped top two. Easy, this game. One fellow paid me down and I was up about ten bucks right off the top.

That would actually be my high point. I held even for a while, then lost a chunk on a hand where I turned two pair with K-Q on the same card that gave my opponent Broadway. Climbed back after successfully sucking out an open-ended straight draw, then fell down again a few chips at a time until after two-and-a-half hours or so I finally decided I was ready to leave. I was around ten bucks down and already had the chip rack in my lap when I was dealt my last hand. I was UTG, and looked down, prepared to push the cards back to the dealer and be on my way.

Pocket tens.

A couple of months ago I was writing about this very situation -- yr just about to leave, and dammned if you ain’t handed a situation from which you cannot reasonably walk away. I raised it up, and two players called from late position. And so did the small blind. And why-the-hell-not so did the big blind. Ugh. Five players, twenty bucks in the middle, and I have pocket tens.

How is this possibly going to work . . . ?

How about a flop of 6-6-10?

Sweet sassy molassey. I checked it, as did the rest of the table. The turn brought an eight and I slowly pushed four chips out. All folded. (Sorry for the anticlimax, folks.) “I’m out,” I said, sticking with the original plan. Walked away six bucks in the black.

Am really hoping to play some mixed games and get away from hold ’em, if I can manage it. Would love, of course, to play PLO, but I can’t imagine I’ll find any game with a limit low enough for my comfort level.

Will keep my eyes open, though. Am gonna be here awhile.

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Landed; or, the Calm Before the Storm

McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas, NVI’m here. And I’m connected.

Vera dropped me off at the airport yesterday in the a.m. No fun leaving her behind, though she’ll be coming out for a week later on. Cell phones and the superfast interweb makes being away a little less difficult as well.

As I checked in I saw signs regarding extra cost for heavy baggage. Up to 50 lbs. was fine, but go over and you start paying ($50 for 51-70 lbs.; $100 for 71-100 lbs.; and no bags over 100 lbs. allowed at all). I tried to gauge the one bag I was checking -- a mammoth unit in which I think I myself could fit -- then fretted for a moment when I saw the scale climb up over 50. The agent didn’t charge me, though, I think because I might’ve bought the ticket early enough to escape paying that new, hefty travelers’ rake.

Settled into the very back row of the huge 737 with a printout of James McManus’ CardPlayer columns in which since late 2006 he’s been serializing his history of poker. (The completed book is due in 2009.) My neighbors were a friendly, middle-aged French couple, and I spent idle moments trying to decipher some of their conversations. Might’ve raised an eyebrow when just after we’d crossed the Mississippi she surprisingly gave him a fairly throrough-looking manicure -- clipping, filing, and moisturizing. Huh. Don’t see that every day.

That was right about the time I was reading about how the French game poque had made its way to New Orleans at the turn of the 19th-century. Poque was that 20-card game with four players, each of whom was dealt five cards from a deck that was essentially just the A, K, Q, J, and 10 in each of the four suits. McManus symbolically dates poque as having arrived on July 4, 1803, the date Thomas Jefferson learned that Napoleon had agreed to terms regarding the Louisiana Purchase. (The 52-card deck would come a few decades later.)

By the time we’d flown over the area for which Jefferson had successfully negotiated, I noticed a dark-haired boy with glasses standing next to me, patiently waiting to get the attention of the stewardesses gossiping behind us. I looked at his purple T-shirt: “Mrs. Davis’ 2nd Grade.” Finally the adult noticed him, and he meekly asked “Ma’am, are we going to fly over the Grand Canyon?”

Glad to say for his sake that yes, indeed, we did. And not too long after that I made my way through McCarran International, reunited with my monstrous bag, and grabbed a cab to my new digs.

Ended up over at the Rio for awhile later in the afternoon, really just scoping the place out. Lingered for a moment at the Poker Room near the entrance. Was tempted to hop into the 3/6 LHE game, but decided I was too mentally wound up for it. Instead just made my way through Carnival World and Ipanema Court and headed back toward the spacious convention rooms where the WSOP will be staged. All deserted for now, save a few Rio personnel flitting about. Brightly lit and eerily quiet. A stark contrast to smoky roar of the casino and sportsbook through which I’d just traversed. And, of course, to the bedlam that we’ll all be witnessing later this week.

Have some preliminary stuff with PokerNews here in the next few days. Not sure yet what my schedule will be once things get crankin’, though I’m certain I’ll be working either Friday or Saturday.

This year Day 1 (Friday) only has a single event scheduled, the World Championship Pot Limit Hold ‘em event whose $10,000 buy-in likely means the field will be limited to just a few hundred. Saturday is when the real insanity should start, with the first of those several $1,500 No Limit Hold ‘em events (Event No. 2), for which they’ve actually scheduled two “Day Ones” in anticipation of a huge field. I heard Bart Hanson over on Cash Plays say he thought there could be as many as 5,000 entrants into that one. Seems hard to imagine, but he may be right. (Here’s the full 2008 World Series of Poker schedule.)

Will be running around today meeting up with various peoples, including some of that Pokerati crowd. Wouldn’t mind playing a little low limit Hold ‘em at some point today, if I can manage it. Probably be a good idea to try to get some of that in before week’s end, I’d think.

I know by mid-June I’ll probably feel differently about everything. But sitting here in this tranquil moment, a few days before the WSOP tsunami crashes over us all, I go ahead and admit it -- I can hardly wait!

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Ready Or Not

Flying to LV tomorrowFlight to Vegas takes off in just over twenty-four hours. Then we’re looking at a couple of months in the desert to witness and report on what remains the greatest poker show on earth, the World Series of Poker. Will be working with a terrific group of folks at PokerNews this summer, and I feel fortunate to be part of the team.

I expect to be fully connected while there, and so am hoping to keep blogging away over here throughout the summer. Dunno if I’ll have the energy or stamina of a Dr. Pauly (does anyone?), who for the past few summers has managed the live blogging thing as well as extensive daily reports over on Tao of Poker. But I do intend to check in here frequently in order to try to chronicle my excellent adventure.

Thanks again to everybody for all the good vibes. Talk to you soon.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

UltimateBet Cheating Scandal Finally “News” (Sort of)

News of the UB cheating scandal is finally getting aroundWeird how the internet works. (Or doesn’t.) It connects us all, yet most of us spend the majority of our time on the web rooting around in particular corners, never noticing much beyond the tiny little world created by our personal bookmarks & favorites.

On Tuesday, a thread was begun on Two Plus Two in the News, Views, and Gossip forum with a post that for the most part was something that had already appeared back in January over in the High Stakes No Limit forum –- a lengthy, highly-detailed summary of both the Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet cheating scandals. The difference here was the post was prefaced with an earnest note for “the concerned reader to pass word of this summary on to other interested parties,” since “the spread of this information will ultimately protect poker players from unknowingly exposing themselves to the corruption detailed below.”

Hundreds of replies have followed, many clearly written by posters who had yet to be so thoroughly informed of the serious security breach that has occurred over at Ultimate Bet in the late summer of 2007. Have to say, I am glad to see people finally waking up to the problems at UB.

One sort of interesting detour in the thread -- interesting to me, anyway -- concerns someone having posted updates over on Wikipedia to the “Absolute Poker” and “Ultimate Bet” pages. Actually, I had noticed the Wikipedia updates earlier this week, since they happened to have involved Hard-Boiled Poker.

When you search for either “Absolute Poker” or “Ultimate Bet” on Wikipedia, you are redirected to the page for “Tokwiro Enterprises,” the company presently owning both AP and UB. At the very end of the entry, someone added a brief note mentioning that “Ultimate Bet is currently facing a cheating scandal similar in nature to that of Absolute Poker,” and had added two footnotes to that line –- one linking to a PokerWorks article by “California” Jennifer Newell, and the other linking to one of my more recent posts on the matter, “Report on Ultimate Bet Cheating ‘Scheme’ Due Soon.”

Shortly after that line had been added, the Wikipedia entry was edited once more and the line deleted. It has since been restored; however, only now the line has only one footnote linking to Jen’s article.

I understand why the footnote to Hard-Boiled Poker was removed, since technically speaking your humble servant does write under a pseudonym -- which is why I assume Wikipedia got rid of the link. Makes sense.

Truth be told -- and rest assured, dear reader, pseudonym or no, I’m only telling the truth over here -- I am no real authority on the matter, as all of my posts on the subject have primarily consisted of me passing along information I’d encountered elsewhere. Even so, the lamentable dearth of reporting on the Ultimate Bet scandal has kept Hard-Boiled Poker near the top of Google searches for “ultimate bet cheating” for the past couple of months or so. (Something I find more than a little confounding when I am looking for info.)

Shouldn’t be that way, I’d argue. In any event, following the lead of those who reposted the story over on the NVG forum of 2+2, I’m once again here to “pass word of this summary on to other interested parties.”

So if you aren’t up on what has happened at Ultimate Bet, go read the post now!

And pass it on.

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WSOPE Will Take Place Before WSOP Is Over

Annette Obrestad holds up bracelet after winning the 2007 WSOPE Main EventNoticed the World Series of Poker had recently settled on dates for the 2008 WSOP-Europe events -- September 19th through October 1st. No word as yet on what events will take place, though I assume we’ll be seeing something similar to what happened last year when there were three events, including the £10,000 “Main Event” Annette Obrestad took down.

You’ll recall all of the buzz last fall about whether or not the WSOPE events should be considered “real” bracelet events, particularly after Obrestad’s victory (the day before she turned 19) made her the youngest WSOP bracelet winner ever. There are lot more meaningful debates to be had, of course, but this year’s delayed Main Event final table may well have an effect on how the WSOPE is viewed, for a couple of reasons.

For one, the WSOP Main Event (Event No. 54 of 55) will not have finished by the time the WSOPE events are played. If WSOP officials were to number those London events as Nos. 56, 57, and 58 -- a relatively meaningless, mostly ornamental change -- doing so could actually make those events seem more integrated into the primary WSOP schedule and thus more like “legitimate” bracelet events.

Secondly, it would seem likely that one or more of those who make this year’s WSOP Main Event final table will be playing in those WSOPE events. In fact, I would think WSOP officials would like it very much if all nine were there so as to direct more attention what will be happening in London this fall.

Last year the WSOPE events attracted a few big name American pros, but the fields mostly consisted of non-Americans (particularly Europeans). However, last year also saw record numbers of non-Americans trek to Vegas for the WSOP. Ten non-Americans won bracelets at last year’s WSOP, and the WSOP Main Event final table featured five non-Americans -- Jon Kalmar (U.K.), Philip Hilm (U.K., orig. Denmark), Tuan Lam (Canada, orig. Vietnam), Alex Kravchenko (Russia), and Raymond Rahme (South Africa). Also, champ Jerry Yang, a U.S. citizen, was born in Laos, meaning only three of the players making the ME final table were born in the States. All of which helped underscore what WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack was saying back when the first WSOPE was announced: “We are trying to put more ‘World’ into the World Series of Poker.”

Seems very possible that this year’s ME final table will also have an international flavor. And if a number of Europeans make it, I would certainly expect to see all of them playing in the WSOPE. In any event, what each of the “November Nine” decide to do with regard to the WSOPE will certainly be one of the major storylines come September.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Hopeless River Check-Raise; or, What the Deuce?

What the Deuce?Is it really Thursday already? I fly to Vegas on Sunday, where I’ll be setting up shop for the next seven weeks or so. Have been taking care of various business here before I leave, including producing more episodes of the Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show which I plan to publish in June.

Have also been playing a bunch of hands at the online tables, as I don’t expect to be playing as much once I get to LV and start putting in those long days covering the various events. After that terrific April, I continue to do well here in May, with most of my profit again coming at pot limit Omaha.

Saw a significant change in my win rate (for the better) once I started buying in for the maximum, something I began doing regularly somewhere around the end of March, I believe. I had for the longest time been short-stacking it -- hell, that’s my name! But I’ve come to realize I do much, much better with a full stack, as I’m more comfortable having more options post-flop.

Buying in short is a fairly popular strategy at these PLO $25 max. tables (where I usually play). There are often at least a couple (or more) sitting there with $10 or less at any given table. I read with interest Lucypher’s recent posts about short-stacking. I know it is a viable strategy -- Rolf Slotboom has written an entire book about short-stacking in PLO (although I haven’t read it). Like I say, though, I find I do better with the full buy-in. And in a lot cases I have to say I like my chances vs. these short stacks, mainly because a lot of them seem less than adept at knowing when to push.

One move I’ve encountered repeatedly here lately from short stacks lately is this bizarre river check-raise when we’re heads-up -- the kind of bet that I simply have to call unless I have absolute air -- when the short-stacker doesn’t have the nuts. Truly strange, the kind of thing that could feature as a chapter in Julius Goat’s ongoing strategy guide, Stupid/System.

Incidentally, if you haven’t been reading Stupid/System, yr missing out big time. Follow these links and get the help you need today:

'Stupid/System' by Julius Goat001: Key Terms
002: Basic Considerations
003: Counting Outs
004: Post-Flop Play
005: Managing Pot Odds
006: Table Image
006a: Rapping
007: Positive Expected Value



Anyhow, here’s an example of what I’m talking about -- a hand from yesterday afternoon. I don’t post this to demonstrate my own poker-playing prowess. I was dealt one of my favorite PLO starting hands, caught a dream flop, and things continued to go well after that. But check out little Stewie’s river play:



(Those using readers might need to click through to see the hand. I really dig the look & functionality of this replayer, by the way. From a site called Poker Hand Replays. Good for Hold ’em or Omaha, at present.)

Not Stewie’s best moment, obviously. I’m folding that applesauce he is holding preflop from EP. But even if somehow I call & make it to the end, there’s no friggin’ way I’m check-raising the button’s five-buck bet on the end. The only way I can explain this sort of play is that sitting on the short-stack tends to induce desperate-type behavior.

Stewie GriffinThen again, I know I’ve probably been in Stewie’s place before. Most of us have, I imagine. Popping off at inopportune moments thanks to a lack of chips . . . .

Poor Stewie. His small stature always hindering his plans.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

How Many Will Enter the 2008 WSOP Main Event?

How Many Will Enter the 2008 WSOP Main Event?Unlike last year at this time, I haven’t really noticed all that much speculating on the forums, blogs, podcasts, and elsewhere about the possible number of entrants for this year’s WSOP Main Event.

There was one thread over on 2+2 (begun back in early March) that didn’t get too much response when it began, flared up again briefly in April, then got some more responses after the announcement that the Main Event final table had been rescheduled to November. (Most estimate that move won’t have a significant impact on the overall number of players entering the ME.)

The thread hasn’t even reached 90 posts, though. I remember last year someone posted a contest to pick the correct number (perhaps someone will do that again eventually). Over 700 responded on that one, including me. I guessed 5,763, about 600 shy of the final total.

Guesses in this year’s thread mostly range between 5,000 and 8,000. (Oliver Tse predicted between 8,000 and 9,000.) One popular response was to say less than 2006 (8,773) but more than 2007 (6,358). Several also suggested that for a variety of reasons (including the weak dollar) we’re going to see fewer Americans percentage-wise in this year’s field than ever before.

Last year at this time, we were all still trying to keep our heads above water amid the considerable wake caused by the Unlawful Internet Gambling and Enforcement Act, signed into law in October 2006. It was only late February 2007 when Harrah’s made it known that “third-party registrations for players are not permitted unless submitted by Official WSOP sponsors.” That policy continues to be in place for this year’s WSOP -- it appears as Rule No. 5 on this year’s tournament rules -- although by now the online sites and players have had plenty of time to grow accustomed to the new arrangement.

On Monday, Lenny over at the PokerBlog posted some lines regarding the WSOP ME, including some odds on the number of total entrants. The odds came from an online casino called “Paddy Power.” Here are the odds they’re laying on how many will enter the Main Event:



Lenny says he’s going with one of the favorites here and predicting “right around 6,700” entrants. Phil Gordon made the same prediction last week on his podcast, The Poker Edge, also guessing exactly 6,700, although he also stated he thought attendance was going to be down this year at the WSOP. He must’ve been referring to overall numbers and not the Main Event, as 6,700 entrants would represent an increase from last year’s total of 6,358.

Says Gordon, “I’ve noticed the attendance in the poker rooms has been significantly lower over the course of the past, say, six-to-nine months than [it had been] in the past. The economy, as we know, is suffering a little bit. I think that although the rest of the world seems to be exploding with poker growth, I think the U.S. might be a little burned out on it.”

The discussion came amid Gordon’s interview with WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack. Gordon had asked Pollack to offer his own prediction, which the Commissioner refused to do (as he always has done). However, when Gordon offered that estimate of 6,700 -- saying he “wouldn’t put too big a bet on it” -- Pollack did respond by saying “We will see, and maybe off-air we will wager a nice steak dinner,” a response which Gordon interpreted as implying Pollack was “taking the over” on his prediction.

I don’t have much feel for what we’ll see at this year’s Main Event, although I do think the final total will probably exceed that of 2007. Of course, whatever the tally ends up being, it will surely be given more symbolic worth than it deserves as an “indicator” of the overall health of poker.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sartre’s Gambler (3 of 3)

Jean-Paul SartreIf you ever to listen to PokerRoad Radio, you’ve probably heard a clip of T.J. Cloutier from his appearance on PRR back in early March. They’ve been using it repeatedly as a bumper on all of their shows. The clip begins with co-host Ali Nejad asking Cloutier what advice he has for players who are running bad or “who feel snakebit.”

“I wake up every day with a new attitude,” Cloutier responds. “I’m not gonna worry about what happened yeseterday. I just go on to the next day.” Then he adds, “How can anybody who’s won about 11 million in poker and lost about 3 million in craps worry about what happened yesterday?”

That last question elicits laughter -- and a bit of sarcasm -- from the PokerRoad crew. It’s a very existentialist thing for Cloutier to say, actually. In fact, every time I hear that clip, it makes me think again about Sartre’s gambler.

By describing each day as a new one -- or, to say it differently, to distinguish between what one is or does today from what one was or has done previously -- is to regard the past as Sartre does, as an example of “nothingness” that Cloutier says he chooses not to draw upon as he endeavors to make meaning of the present.

Of course, it isn’t as though Cloutier is “reborn” each day. There’s obviously a lot that he has experienced during those previous thousands of days that does help him figure out what today means for him. But his “attitude” or philosophy is basically existentialist, at least in the way he puts it. And frankly, all poker players who have enjoyed long-term success almost without exception adopt a similar approach in the way they view and interpret the game.

As a way to close the discussion, let me refer to three examples of poker writers also evoking this very existentialist view of life in their discussions of poker.

One comes from one of my favorite passages in Small Stakes Hold ‘em by Ed Miller, David Sklansky, and Mason Malmuth, that short little section early on titled “Random and Independent Events.” After talking a bit about how the human brain has a remarkable capacity for seeking out and identifying patterns, the trio explain how easy it is at the poker table to make the error of seeing patterns where none exist. “When it comes to gambling,” they point out, “mistaking false patterns as real has led many to ruin.”

In particular, many sometimes falsely conclude that the cards dealt in one hand have something to do with what gets dealt in the next. The authors underscore the importance of avoiding such a fallacy by using italics: “The cards dealt on any poker hand are, for practical purposes, completely random and independent of the cards dealt on any previous hands.” Indeed, the cards are simply “existents,” or “pieces of plastic” with “no knowledge, no memory, no cosmic plan.” An obvious point, perhaps, but we’ve all made that mistake at one time or another. (He can’t have aces again, can he?)

The second passage I’ll quote comes from the first volume of Dan Harrington’s Harrington on Hold ’em. It’s a point he makes over and over again when talking us through sample hands, particularly when he is narrating one in which his player has made an error early in the hand, and now faces a new quandary later on. “Once you’re in a hand,” he explains, “every subsequent decision has to be determined by your hand, the pot odds, and the total table situation.” Like the authors of SSHE, Harrington brings in the italics to emphasize the point: “Every betting decision is a new problem. Don’t forget that.”

Finally, I’ll share something from Barry Tanenbaum’s epilogue to his terrific Advanced Limit Hold ’em Strategy (published last year). Tanenbaum is especially gifted at explaining poker-related concepts, and in fact a lot of them apply regardless of the game one is playing.

The epilogue is titled “Forgive Yourself” and there Tanenbaum stresses the importance of not brooding over yr screw-ups (which, for most of us, are inevitable) and instead focusing on the next hand. “A positive attitude is essential,” Tanenbaum argues, thus the need to avoid beating oneself up over that missed bet or incorrect fold. “The better you get at not dwelling on past mistakes other than to learn from them and move on,” says Tanenbaum, “the better your play will be.”

Sounds a lot like Cloutier. And Sartre, in a way . . . .

The point, I suppose, is to understand that as humans we necessarily allow a lot of stuff that isn’t really “there” -- a lot of “nothingness” -- to creep into our understanding of what is there, such as all the different “existents” (cards, chips, people) gathered around a poker table at any given moment. We take that “nothingness” (be it from memories of the past, or ideas of the future, or wherever) and make meaning of our present. We can’t help it. We’re human.

But as we do, we should try to recognize and avoid those circumstances when we might be tempted to make meaning and then apply it incorrectly (and thus go down that path that “has led many to ruin”), e.g., expecting the next hand to balance the previous one, allowing a preflop mistake to affect unduly a post-flop decision, letting a bad session affect our play in the next one, and so forth.

All important to keep in mind, I would think. I just hope I remember it tomorrow.

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Sartre’s Gambler (2 of 3)

Jean-Paul SartreIn the last post, I discussed one of the premises of Jean-Paul Sartre’s argument in Being and Nothingness -- namely, that the world entirely consists of “existents” that have “being,” but we humans who have consciousness are also aware of a lack of being or “nothingness.”

That “nothingness” of which Sartre speaks creates a lot of problems for us. Or should I say, we create a lot of problems, ’cause we’re the ones who “bring” this “nothingness” into the world. Says Sartre, “Man is the being through whom nothingness comes to the world.”

In a strange way, this “nothingness” is the means by which we all tend to make meaning of our lives. Think about that example of the fellow who looked in his wallet and found less cash than he thought he had. He “experiences the absence” of money, and it is this process of “bringing nothingness” into the world that subsequently colors (or makes meaning of) his experience. Sartre talks about different kinds of “anguish” we feel as a result of our experiencing various absences, including what we’re feeling when we worry about the future, or what we feel when we look back on the past and realize the difference between who we are today and what we were yesterday.

It is amid that latter discussion when Sartre’s gambler finally arrives. With Dostoevsky in mind, Sartre refers to the case of “the gambler who has freely and sincerely decided not to gamble anymore and who, when he approaches the gaming table, suddenly sees all his resolutions melt away.” Sartre then talks a bit about psychological explanations for this reaction, such as the one that suggests the mere sight of the table “reawakened . . . a tendency” already present in the gambler that is in conflict with the resolution he’d previously made not to play.

All applesauce, says Sartre. “In reality -- the letters of Dostoevsky bear witness to this -- there is nothing in us which resembles an inner debate as if we had to weigh motives and incentives before deciding.” Rather, what we have is our “existent” -- our gambler -- here today standing before the gaming table. Sure, he remembers his earlier resolution. It is “there,” so to speak. “But what he apprehends then in anguish is precisely the total inefficacy of the past resolution,” Sartre explains.

In other words, the resolution -- like all his past gambling activities and other experiences -- is “there” but it is not there. Not really. It is nothingness.

“The resolution is still me,” says the gambler, “to the extent that I realize constantly my identity with myself across the temporal flux, but it is no longer me -- due to the fact that it has become an object for my consciousness.” That is to say, “it is nothingness which separates him from himself.”

The gambler, then, is in a tricky spot. According to Sartre, he can’t really rely on his past resolution, as that was the past and is not, technically speaking, a part of his present “being-in-itself.” No, he’s gonna have to make that resolution all over again. “I must rediscover the fear of financial ruin or of disappointing my family, etc., I must re-create it as experienced fear,” says Sartre’s gambler to himself. “After having patiently built up barriers and walls, after enclosing myself in the magic barrier of resolution, I perceive with anguish that nothing prevents me from gambling.”

Sort of thing usually didn’t work for Dostoevsky, as he ended up back at the roulette wheel again and again. You can see how this way of looking at our experience tends to produce a lot of “anguish” or anxiety or dread about our existence. What does my present “being” mean, really, if it has no real connection with who I am going to be tomorrow (other than what I imagine, or create out of “nothingness”)?

You can also see how this notion that our present “being” isn’t necessarily related to previous versions of ourselves -- even though we often do color our experience with ideas drawn from the “nothingness” of the past -- can apply to the way things often go at the poker tables. Will try to make a couple of such applications in the next -- and last -- post on the subject.

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