Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show, Episode 10: Come, Fill My Cup

The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio ShowGot a new show up today. Made it to double digits. This one is mostly taken up with an episode of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater from 1977 called “Come, Fill My Cup.”

The show begins on a train where a group get together to play some poker. That scene on the train made me think of my own experiences riding trains and, more particularly, learning various card games while traveling. I also learned a couple of card tricks on trains, and so at the beginning of this episode I try to perform one of them on the show. I am fairly confident that you, dear listener, will be able to figure out the trick without my having to explain it. Go check it out, though, for a modest test of your analytical skills.

As always, any feedback is appreciated, either here, on the show’s blog, or over in iTunes where you can subscribe to the podcast as well as leave reviews. I am also soliciting suggestions for future episodes, if you happen to have any ideas for segments.

An interesting day of poker ahead. Will be playing in the second event of Run Good Challenge 2: Electric Boogaloo this afternoon. Then tonight comes that 60 Minutes report on the Absolute Poker/UltimateBet cheating scandals. Here’s hoping both go well.

(EDIT [added 10:35 a.m.]: CRAP! Just found out the Run Good Challenge was yesterday, not today. ARGH! Read all about how it went here.)

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Facing the Facts

Facing the FactsWas reading in Barry Greenstein’s Ace on the River yesterday -- always a good one just for picking up and rereading certain short chapters from time to time. In the chapter titled “Money Management,” Greenstein notes how “Most players initiate record keeping after a win since it is more satisfying to start with a win than a loss.”

I’ve written here many times about my obsession with record keeping, something I’ve done since I first started playing poker. Even so, this week I think I could be said to be somewhat guilty of what Greenstein is saying. Finding myself on a bit of an upswing, I decided at last to go ahead and get a copy of Poker Tracker Omaha and start entering hands. Call me vain, but I think I was partly motivated by a desire to see some of them green numbers (indicating wins) in the PTO program.

Have just begun to mess around with the program, and indeed have only had time to enter the last three months’ worth of play -- just under 15,000 hands. I have a ton more, though, and so hope before too long to have a more significant sample to examine. Did happen to spot a couple of interesting items, though, that I thought I’d share here.

I say I’m on an upswing, and indeed, I’ve enjoyed several good sessions here lately, although there was one very bad one mixed in there where I dropped nearly two buy-ins (almost $100) in 279 hands. Those wounds healed quickly, though, as I had a ridiculously fortunate session the next day in which I somehow won over $120 in just 69 hands. I came away from both sessions with particular ideas about how things had gone, but thought I’d use Poker Tracker to take a closer look and perhaps try to confirm those conclusions I’d drawn.

The losing session ended with a terrible last hand in which I’d turned a well-concealed six-high straight, got it all in versus a guy I thought might have a set or perhaps a wheel, and it turned out he’d also turned the same six-high straight plus a flush draw -- and the flush got there on the river. A perfect storm kind of hand for him, ending with him freerolling me, hitting, and taking about $30 from me. Up to then, I had lost a few hands with A-A-x-x, and in fact had gotten to the point where I felt myself getting a bit apprehensive whenever I picked up aces, as if anticipating losing with them yet again (not a good way to play, for sure).

Anyhow, my conclusion from that session was I’d been somewhat unfortunate and perhaps had misplayed a couple of A-A-x-x hands along the way, thus ensuring the big loss.

In the next session, I knew exactly why I’d won so much so quickly. Two hands, both of which involved me hitting nut straights, big pots developing, and my hands holding up. I hadn’t confirmed it, but I knew most if not all of the $120 had come on those two big pots.

Okay, so what do I see when I look at Poker Tracker?

Well, my impression from that first session that I’d been dealt aces a lot and had lost a lot with them was definitely correct.

There are 270,725 different starting hands in Omaha. Actually, there are only 16,432 distinct starting hands (i.e., taking into account the fact that suits have no particular value before the flop). Compare that to the 169 distinct starting hands in hold’em! But we have to consider all of the combinations in order to talk about how often one should expect to be dealt, say, a hand like A-A-x-x.

Of these starting hands, 82,368 combinations contain a single pair, and of those, exactly 6,336 combinations contain two aces only (i.e., we aren’t including the small number of hands with three or four aces here). That means one should expect to be dealt two aces approximately 2.34% of the time, around once every 43 hands or so. In my session, I played 279 hands and picked up A-A-x-x nine times. That’s once every 31 hands, meaning I got aces two or three more times than I should have in terms of what the probabilities suggest.

In those nine hands, I lost a whopping $63.45 -- basically my entire loss except for that last hand! Most of that (about $50) actually came in just two of the hands. I see one of those hands was a bad luck situation (flopped a set and got outdrawn), but the other was a poorly played gamble by me (someone else flopped a set and suckered me in).

In the second session -- the winning one -- I’m seeing that in those two big straight hands I actually won $130.15, meaning in the other 67 hands I was a ten-buck loser! In one my starting hand was 8-7-6-5 double-suited, and in the other 9-8-7-5 double-suited. One hand I played fine (flopped the straight plus a flush draw; opponent also flopped a king-high flush draw, gambled, and lost), and in the other was a bit fortunate (I took a gamble after flopping a wrap draw versus two opponents and ended up rivering my straight to win the pot).

How are aces treating me, generally speaking? Well, over the last few months, I was dealt A-A-x-x a total of 359 times in 14,729 hands. That’s about once every 41 hands, which is about what I should expect. And somehow I’ve only won six bucks in those hands, a miserable win rate (although it would have looked a lot better prior to that bad session the other day, I guess). I thought I was one of those players who knew better than to overplay aces in PLO, but perhaps I have been struggling there more than I realize.

Like I said, I’ve only barely started to root around in here to see if I can discover any other meaningful trends. Am noticing that a couple of players whom I had thought were especially strong are in fact losing quite a bit in the hands they've played with me at the table. (Perhaps they aren’t so much strong players as players whose styles make me uncomfortable somehow.) Am also seeing that in the last three months I have done much better in 6-max games than in full ring games, something of which I hadn’t necessarily been aware before.

In his list of 25 “traits of winning poker players,” Greenstein notes that among other qualities the winners are “attentive to detail,” “the ones with the best memories,” and “honest with themselves.” Seems like this here Poker Tracker could help with all three of those.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanks, Everybody

South Park ShamusLots for which to be thankful, as usual. Thanks first to Gadzooks for the idea to create a South Park Shamus. Check it out, dude.

And thanks, readers, for coming back time and again. This here blogging thing continues to be a source of great fun.

Earlier in the week, Pokerati Dan sent me an interesting article appearing in the November 2008 issue of The Atlantic Monthly by Andrew Sullivan called “Why I Blog.” In the piece, Sullivan opines about his own blogging experiences, and theorizes a bit about the genre and its significance.

Some of Sullivan’s ideas about blogging differ from mine, although I think every blogger has his or her own distinct notion of what a blog is, and only some of our ideas tend to overlap with one another. He does sound a couple of notes that resonate strongly with me, though.

Sullivan writes about the “exhilarating literary liberation” he felt when he first began to write his blog, contrasting the immediacy of the blog with his previous experiences writing for print publications, experiences marked by “endless delays, revisions, office politics, editorial fights, and last-minute cuts for space that dead-tree publishing entails.”

I have mentioned here before that I had had some modest experience writing for other outlets (newspapers, journals) prior to starting the blog. I, too, much enjoyed that sense of “liberation” at being able to write and publish instantly, and (even more importantly) receive feedback and become part of a larger conversation right away. Sullivan points out that this openness to others’ input (in the form of comments, emails, and responses on others’ blogs) ultimately means the “blogger can get away with less [than, say, the author of an op-ed piece in a newspaper can] and afford fewer pretensions of authority.”

That is, while I suppose we bloggers could, like Cartman, try to insist others “Respect Mah Authoritay,” such respect ultimately must be earned. Really earned. Thus does the sense of “liberation” also lead to other satisfied feelings when one happens to hit the mark once in a while with a given observation or narrative.

Sullivan also points out how the blog and its “atmosphere” (i.e., the way the blog connects to others’ via comments, links, etc.) “will inevitably be formed by the writer’s personality.” He says “Even the most careful and self-aware blogger will reveal more about himself than he wants to in a few unguarded sentences and publish them before he has the sense to hit Delete.”

He’s right, of course. Even those of us operating under pseudonyms tend to reveal all, in a way, a phenomenon which gives me a couple of more reasons to be thankful. For one, thanks to you, reader, for enduring my own self-indulgences here. And secondly, thanks to all of the bloggers whom I read regularly for sharing their own selves so candidly. Inspiring, that. Not to mention entertaining and edifying.

Lots else to be thankful for, of course. It’s been a whirlwind year, highlighted by a summer in Vegas helping cover the World Series of Poker for PokerNews. As I’ve written about here before, that was one of those life detours I wouldn’t have seen happening even a year ago, so muchas gracias to PokerNews for the opportunity. Also thanks to the many, many terrific colleagues with whom I worked (and continue to work) at PokerNews. Truly a fantastic, talented bunch that helped create what was probably one of the most rewarding work experiences I’ve ever had.

Thanks also to everyone who has given The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show a try, as well as to Tim Peters and the Poker Grump for their contributions to the first nine episodes. Have gotten some terrific feedback from several folks on particular episodes, which I do appreciate very much. Actually had a nice message just this morning from the folks over at OTRCat.com, a site that collects old time radio shows. If yr interested in such things, go check ’em out.

And I’m thankful still to be playing online poker. Let’s hope that remains a source of fun and pleasure for all who want to play.

Thanksgiving with Shamus & VeraFinally, I’m thankful for the big crowd of family coming over here later today. Vera Valmore is in the kitchen this morning cooking up the last few dishes. I think we have nine eating, and there will be 15 or so here ultimately before the day is over. We actually had to rent an extra table. Vera has fashioned some nifty place settings.

Okay, need to go help out in the kitchen. Everybody have a good one.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Provocative Pair

Two cereus plantsInteresting juxtaposition of poker stories here at the start of the week.

First Absolute Poker and UltimateBet announced in a press release issued Monday they’ve finally joined their player pools and launched that Cereus poker “network.” You remember. Bigger, badder, better.

Hard to read the presser without smiling here and there at the many unintended ironies. For example, the first line states “It’s being hailed as a totally new online poker platform, but for players at UltimateBet and Absolute Poker, there will be a lot of old familiar faces at the tables.” Of course, there are at least a few “old familiar faces” players most certainly do not want to see at the tables. Potripper, NioNio, Russ Hamilton, et al. (Rim shot.)

There’s more in the release about how the whole project took over 12 months to develop and how the combined player pools means Cereus “has instantly become the industry’s third largest online poker network.” Will certainly be interesting to see what sort of numbers Cereus attracts. I’m seeing a report over on PokerScout about the launch. They are saying that players began filling tables within an hour of the new software going online last night, and now traffic “appears to be headed toward a peak of some 4000 real money ring game players, close to the expected sum of traffic from the two sites when they operated independently.”

PokerScout also notes how some are already complaining about the new software on the forums, in particular the UltimateBet crowd, since it looks like the big change was to make UB look more like Absolute. I personally never liked the UB software much, but some were devoted, it seems, and thus the complaints.

Now my buddy Mark over at Plan3tGong makes a good point about the Cereus launch giving the hyperbolic “haters” a chance to relaunch their own network of negativity directed toward AP, UB, and those who choose to promote ’em. He’s right to say there isn’t much constructive in further demonizing those responsible for the cheating and attempted cover-ups, not to mention those not responsible (i.e., affiliates) who have suffered a kind of collateral damage here.

Still, I’m not seeing how anyone faced with a choice between playing at, say, PokerStars, or the new AP/UB hybrid could possibly be all that encouraged to play at the terrible twins’ site given the huge differences in the sites’ relative safety and service.

The Cereus launch story reads a bit differently, perhaps, thanks to that other story from yesterday, namely, the news that 60 Minutes plans to air (finally) that segment on the Absolute Poker and UltimateBet insider cheating scandals this Sunday, November 30th. Had a reader email me this screen shot of the 60 Minutes’ “Up Next” page yesterday (thanks, Adam):



That summary is intriguing, suggesting as it does that a focus of the piece will be the “mostly-unregulated” nature of online poker, thus implying regulation is warranted. One gets the sense from the summary -- and a clip from the segment currently being shown over on the CBS site -- that an idea will be to present the online poker world as a veritable (if virtual) “Wild West” sorely in need of some sort of oversight.

The clip begins with segment host Steve Kroft’s voice intoning “We should tell you that this $18 billion industry is illegal in the U.S., but the ban is almost impossible to enforce, since the internet sites and the computers that randomly deal the cards and keep track of the bets are located offshore, beyond the jurisdiction of U.S. law enforcement.”

But that doesn’t stop “thousands of mostly young men” from playing (Kroft continues). I said way back in March (has it been that long?!) when we first heard rumors about a 60 Minutes exposé that those of us who play online poker should welcome such scrutiny, not fear it. And I still feel the same way, although I suppose I share the trepidation of some regarding how the mainstream might misinterpret statements like “this $18 billion industry is illegal in the U.S.” Yes, it is illegal to operate a site, but, as we all know, it ain’t illegal for us to play. (Most of us, anyway.) But how will most viewers hear that line on Sunday?

More specifically, will the 60 Minutes story negatively affect traffic over on the new Cereus network? Probably depends partly on exactly how the story is told, although my hunch is the report won’t have that much of an impact on AP & UB’s numbers, mainly because we Americans are still (realistically speaking) somewhat limited when it comes to our choices for online poker.

I’m guessing the story won’t be affecting most of you reading this blog. You’ve made your decision already about AP/UB, one way or the other.

As have I.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Staying Tuned

Been keeping up with a number of podcasts (see the list over in the right-hand column), but I thought today I’d recommend three particular episodes for your listening pleasure.

Ante Up! Magazine, December 2008 issueThe guys on Ante Up! continue to roll along, still managing not to have missed a single week since the podcast’s debut way back in the spring of 2005. They are now producing a magazine, too, which one can find in Florida cardrooms (or to which one can subscribe). The mag is somewhat oriented toward the Florida poker scene, although they also include less local items like interviews with pros and other features. The Ante Up! blog appears now to be solely devoted to Florida poker news, but the podcast remains directed toward a more general audience of poker enthusiasts.

Last week’s show (the 11/21/08 episode) featured the first of a two-part interview with the Mad Genius of Poker, Mike Caro. Now I know not everyone thinks Caro is the bee’s knees when it comes to poker strategy and advice, with some wanting to judge him harshly for his paltry tourney record. But one can’t deny his poker acumen, not to mention his importance to poker history and literature as a chief contributor to the original Super/System and author of hundreds of columns. He is also a pretty funny dude. Lotsa grins in this first part of the interview, and he even addresses that question about why he has so few tourney cashes.

Lou Krieger's Keep Flopping AcesAnother show worth your time is the most recent episode of Keep Flopping Aces, hosted by Lou Krieger. On last week’s show (11/20/08), Lou had Tim Lavalli, a.k.a. the Poker Shrink, a.k.a. winner of Event 1 of Run Good Challenge 2: Electric Boogaloo, on to discuss various items related to poker and psychology. Tim offered some terrific observations about tilt (a discussion that resonated with me a bit after that brief bout I had with tilt last week), as well as some specific responses to a couple of infamous episodes from the 2008 WSOP -- Scotty Nguyen’s behavior at the $50 H.O.R.S.E. final table & Phil Hellmuth’s end of day 5 outburst at Cristian Dragomir and penalty (subsequently rescinded) during the Main Event.

I was there at the Rio for both of those events, but witnessed neither of them first hand, having been working a different tourney during the H.O.R.S.E. final table and covering the outer tables on Day 5 of the Main Event. Tim, meanwhile, was right there watching both, and has some interesting insights into both the players’ psychology as well as some opinions about how the tournament directors handled (or mishandled) the situations. Lou and Tim also speculate a bit about plans for next summer’s WSOP, including talk of going to some sort of “yellow card/red card” system like is used in soccer.

Will Failla and Eugene Todd on PokerRoad RadioFinally, if you are looking for a genuine howler of a show you might go back and check out the 11/5/08 episode of PokerRoad Radio. This was their first show from the World Poker Finals at Foxwoods. I usually end up listening to most of the PokerRoad shows when they come out, although I’ve found myself sometimes skipping through some of the “game show”-like segments (e.g., “How Much Would It Take?”) if I’m pressed for time. Ali Nejad’s humor is usually hit-or-miss for me -- sometimes he genuinely cracks me up, though not always. However, I do think he’s particularly good with interviews, which is why I’ll occasionally skip ahead to the latter half of the show when the guests come on.

On that 11/5/08 show, Nejad, Joe Sebok, and Court Harrington had two guests on at once, Eugene Todd (bro) and Will “the Thrill” Failla. As anyone who has heard Todd on the show before can attest, the man is pretty friggin’ hilarious. Failla (also from New York) is equally funny (and foul-mouthed), and the pair play off each other to good effect during this interview. To give you an idea what the interview was like, on a subsequent show they reported that someone had emailed them that the “F-bomb” had been dropped something like 115 times during this particular episode. (Needless to say, don’t follow this here recommendation if yr among the easily offended.)

Anyhow, dial up the show and skip ahead to the interview which starts at about the 42-minute mark. Then, around the 49-minute mark comes one of the funniest damn hand recaps ever chronicled. Failla tells the story of a hand he played early in the Foxwoods tourney, a hand he simply was not going to lose. Trust me, you will not be able to listen to this without laughing. Easily one of the funniest things I’ve heard on a poker podcast since Beyond the Table or perhaps that appearance by Haralabos Voulgaris on The Circuit a couple of years ago.

Hope you enjoy these. Meanwhile, for you old time radio fans a tenth episode of The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show is in the works and should be appearing in the near future. Stay tuned!

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Monday, November 24, 2008

LOL Shrinkaments (Run Good Challenge 2 Underway)

Run Good Challenge 2 UnderwayWe had the first event of Run Good Challenge 2: Electric Boogaloo yesterday afternoon. Had managed to pick up a nice bunch of cabbage during the four events of the first RGC back in September, so I was surely looking forward to the sequel, even though (as it seems like I am always saying here) I hardly ever play tournaments. Have to admit my confidence this time around was tempered a bit, though, by the addition of more bloggers, plus a few pros including Liz Lieu, Christina Lindley, and Jason Young (a WSOP bracelet holder).

Before we started I was looking over the structure for this no-limit hold’em event and for funsies decided to run the numbers through Arnold Snyder’s Patience Level/Skill Factor calculator. There I learned the tourney (with 15-minute levels) actually had a bit of play -- i.e., it was a "medium fast" tourney that thus required a bit more skill than yr typical fast-structured tourney. (You can hunt around Snyder’s website for more, or check out his books.)

Indeed, as it turned out, there was a chance to be patient in the early going. But you know how it is once those stacks start shrinking. That’s when, as the PokerListings guys always say, it definitely pays to “run good.”

Jason YoungTurned out neither Lieu nor Lindley showed this week, but Jason Young did. And unfortunately for me, he was sitting on my left. That is him there holding up his bracelet in the picture. (Dunno if he was doing that while we were playing, though that was nevertheless the image I had in mind as we were.) For those of you who watched ESPN’s coverage of the 2008 WSOP Main Event, Jason got a lot of coverage on one of the early days when he was sitting next to Ray Romano at the feature table.

Making matters worse, the aggressive Dan Skolovy (of PokerListings) -- winner of two of the four events from the first Run Good Challenge -- was on Jason’s left. Not an ideal arrangement for yr humble gumshoe.

My table draw -- along with a relatively poor series of starting hands -- caused me to tighten up a bit too much in the early going. I won a couple of small pots, but was doing way too much folding to be competitive and eventually my stack started to bleed away. At some point after I had fallen down below 1,000 chips, I pushed all in with pocket eights and was called by David G. Schwartz who held AsKs. An ace flopped, but luckily an eight appeared on the turn and I was still alive with 1,600 or so.

Kid Dynamite was Gigli this time around, finishing 14th, with Schwartz going out in 13th a few hands after having suffered my bad beat. Eventually we’d reach Level 4, with the blinds suddenly 50/100 and my stack down to just 1,385. Jason Young had been eliminated in 12th, and Pokerati Dan had hit the rail in 11th.

With Young out, we were now five-handed. Also, now Dan S. was on my immediate left. I picked up 6h5h on the button and when Pauly and Change100 folded to me I put in a raise to 300. Dan promptly responded by pushing all in from the small blind. Amy Calistri folded her big blind, and the action was back on me.

Ugh. Now I have 1,085 left and the pot is (effectively) 1,785 after Dan’s shove. Adds up to a bit worse than 2-to-1 to make the call. I know Dan’s range is very wide here. If he has two overs (very likely), I’m about 40% to win. So I call and, sure enough, he has TsKh. (At the time, Dan typed a “?” when he saw my hand -- I am sure he expected me to have more there -- but I see in his write-up of the event he is saying odds-wise the call was correct.)

Plainly I should have just shoved to start with rather than made the 3x bet, especially if I knew I was going to call an all-in bet like that. But actually, I didn’t know. I’d thought a regular preflop raise might have gotten Dan to fold from the small blind (he doesn’t always protect his blinds). And if the Amy C. -- generally speaking a more conservative player than Dan -- had been the one to put in the big raise from the BB, I’d have let it go for sure. Anyhow, never feels good to call one’s stack off like that, but as it turned out I wasn’t too unhappy with the situation once the chips were in the middle.

The flop came 6d3cTd, and I was down to a few outs. The 2c on the turn gave me a straight draw, but the Ah on the river sealed it and I was out in 10th.

I decided not to hop into a cash game afterwards, knowing that oftentimes whenever I play just after busting from a tourney, I tend not to fare too well. Did a little work on the computer while occasionally checking in on the final table as it played out.

I saw Change get her pocket rockets cracked by Michele Lewis’ big slick. Michele had raised, Change had pushed all in, and Michele called. The flop brought a jack and a queen. “Wow,” typed Luckbox (of Up for Poker). “Uh oh,” typed Dan S. The ten came on the turn, and Change was out in 9th.

Benjo appeared to have had connection issues all day and got short-stacked before Michele also bounced him 8th. A little later, Dr. Pauly called Dan S.’s all in bet and appeared in good shape with A-Q versus Dan’s As4s. A four flopped, though, and Pauly couldn’t improve. That crippled the good doctor down below 400 chips, and a few all ins later he finally was bounced in 7th when he ran A-J into Amy C.’s big slick.

The Spaceman went out in 6th when he ran QcJc against Dan’s big slick and got no help. Luckbox followed soon thereafter, yet another victim of Michele Lewis. Luckbox had shoved from the button with ace-queen, and Michele called from the big blind with A-10. A ten flopped, and Luckbox couldn’t recover. The remaining four had reached the cash bubble.

The four were all in the 4,000-6,000 chip range when the Poker Shrink (a.k.a. Tim Lavalli) had a big double up with pocket aces through Dan’s pocket eights. Dan would then shove his shortened stack with 9-9 and the Shrink called with 7-7. The flop came 4-5-6, and the trey on the river meant Dan was out in fourth.

The Poker Shrink was running good. With the lone Poker Listings representative out, that meant there would be no rollover of the money this week.

When three-handed play began, the Poker Shrink had just over 10,000 of the chips in play, while Amy and Michele each had around 5,000. A couple of big hands later Tim was up over 14,000, with the women slipping down close to 3,000. The trio then battled for forty hands or so before Michele finally pushed with A-3 and was called by the Shrink who had pocket sixes. The pair held up, and Michele was out in third.

As some of you may know, Tim and Amy are co-authoring a book about Mike Matusow, Check-Raising the Devil, due out next May just before next year’s World Series. At the start of heads-up, the Poker Shrink had about 16,000 to his co-author’s 5,000.

Amy lost a few hands, then doubled up with pocket treys versus Shrink’s ace-queen. Then came another all-in confrontation as Amy took her pocket jacks to war versus Shrink’s KsQd. The flop was safe for Amy -- Ah6h5c. But the Qh came on the turn, giving Tim the lead. The river was the Tc, and the Poker Shrink was our Event 1 winner.

Congrats to Tim! And thanks to Poker Listings for some big fun. I’m gonna have to see if I can get my head back into a tournament-mindset here before next weekend’s Event 2. Clearly some of that shrinkin’ is in order.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

On This Date in History

Stu Ungar and John F. KennedyWas reading the morning paper today, and as always is the case on November 22nd, there were stories about John F. Kennedy. It was 45 years ago today Kennedy took that last ride through Dealey Plaza. Caught a bit of one of those conspiracy theory shows this week, too, this one devoted to sorting out via disturbingly vivid reenactments whether others besides Oswald may have been involved in the president’s killing.

In the poker world, today marks another anniversary. It was ten years ago today that a desk clerk at the Oasis Motel discovered a destitute Stu Ungar had died of coronary atherosclerosis, his condition having been “brought on by his lifestyle” of heavy drug taking (so said the coroner). While Ungar’s name is often evoked in the poker world even today, the anniversary of his death usually doesn’t gain much notice. The fact that it has been a decade, though, has caused some to stop and marvel at both the length of time since Ungar’s passing as well as the profound changes that have taken place in poker since that fall day in 1998.

'One of a Kind' by Nolan Dalla and Peter AlsonFor those interested in learning more about Ungar, I again recommend One of a Kind by Nolan Dalla and Peter Alson. The book originally began as an autobiography, with Dalla interviewing Ungar on several occasions during the summer and fall of 1998. After Ungar’s passing, Dalla brought Alson on board and the pair did a terrific job reworking the interviews into a coherent chronicle of Ungar’s “rise and fall” (as the subtitle describes his life).

For a full review of One of a Kind, click here.

Can’t really see much reason to compare Ungar and Kennedy if not for the coincidence of their death dates. Kennedy was just 46 on the day he died; Ungar was 45. I suppose with both we wonder what the world would have been like had they survived, though I think with Ungar that argument frequently gets overstated. Poker players speculate about how Ungar’s hyper-aggressive tournament style would have served him against today’s crop of players, and while he may well have enjoyed a significant share of success, thereby further establishing his place as one of the greats, one can only hypothesize.

Would Ungar’s presence on the scene have altered the history of poker’s development over the last ten years in significant ways? Perhaps. Ungar’s connections ran deep, and just about every major player whose career in poker extends back either to Ungar’s heyday (the early 80s, when he won back-to-back WSOP Main Events) or his swan song (the 1997 WSOP comeback victory) could be said to have at least had some contact with the man, in some cases quite significant. Am more inclined, though, to think the poker “boom” and all that followed probably wouldn’t have played out that much differently.

For those of us born in the 60s or after, the spectre of “JFK” has always been there hovering behind us in history, an utterly astonishing emblem of “what might have been” (and/or America’s violent nature). For poker players today, most of whom picked up the game since Ungar’s death, the “Kid” has also -- in a way -- been quietly haunting the game, particularly as the rise of aggressive tournament play has helped evoke his memory as the prototypical “young gun.”

To be honest, though, when thinking of the coincidence of Ungar and Kennedy having both died on the same date, I’m more inclined to contrast the two than look for similarities. Particularly with regard to their respective deaths.

One was spectacularly brutal and public, occurring at a moment of intense power and vitality, and unmistakably affecting the lives of millions.

The other was private, desperate, the culmination of a long downward spiral, coming well after whatever potency or influence the man had left had deserted him.

Both are to be lamented.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

The Secret Struggle of the Starmaker (on Marketing the 2008 WSOP Main Event final table)

Mistakes were madeAnother interesting episode this week of the Gary Wise podcast, Wise Hand Poker (the 11/19/08 episode). Wise interviews Barry Greenstein for the first half of the show, and the two discuss the recent World Series of Poker Main Event final table, the new “red pro” forum on PokerRoad, and other matters. Wise then has Harrah’s Sports and Entertainment Director of Communications Seth Palansky on and they continue the discussion of the delayed final table and the relative success of the experiment.

During the latter interview, Palansky reveals some of Harrah’s intentions regarding marketing the “November Nine” and building hype around the ESPN broadcast. He talks about how they’d apparently decided “to treat the Nov. 9 as a finale, like you would a movie opening, which means you don’t want to strike too early.” Comparing the final table to a much-anticipated movie premiere, Palansky explained “You’re trying to get people to the box office, to make the decision to purchase a ticket and go watch a new movie. So the real crux of the promotion should have been around the last couple of weeks.”

Apparently (according to this here post-mortem), various factors, including the Olympics, the presidential election, and even the economic crises made it more difficult for promoters to “strike” at that crucial time -- i.e., the last two weeks before the table was played and then shown on ESPN. Sounds a little strange, frankly, given that everyone knew back on May 1 when the Olympics and the election were scheduled.

Palansky goes on, though, to cast further aspersions in the effort to explain why the November Nine was not the huge cultural phenomenon organizers had envisioned it to be.

He also blames the players. That’s right. Now that the final table has finished, the Director of Communications for Harrah’s has decided it is okay to suggest the players themselves were somehow to blame for the failure of the idea.

On Wise’s show, Palansky said he wanted to “break” the news that two of the November Nine had been offered the chance to do guest spots on mainstream talk shows -- the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and the Ellen Degeneres show -- and both turned down the opportunities. Wise was unable to get Palansky to identify which players were the ones asked, but on the 2+2 thread about the interview Dennis Phillips’ agent says he was not made any such offer. Gotta believe that. I mean, I know Hard-Boiled Poker is the cat’s pajamas and all, but I can’t imagine Phillips would do an interview with me (and about 200 others) and not do one with Jay Leno or Ellen Degeneres! Scott Montgomery also chimes in on the thread to say that he doubts the claim is even valid (“umm, i think this whole thing sounds like a load of bs to me” says Montgomery).

After passing along that item, Palansky then offers lengthy judgment of the players who he says refused the chance to take poker to the mainstream:

“But one of the reasons why I wanted to come on here with you tonight Gary, was to express a concern I do have for some of the advice and some of the moves poker players are making. Because if you want to mainstream a game, and if you’re trying to get corporate America to buy into what you’re selling, you need Tom Bradys, you need Peyton Mannings, you need Michael Jordans, etc. If we have guys that aren't willing to take that mantle, or the same ten, twelve guys that you see getting a lot of attention at the Main Event early on: the known names for their antics or whatever the case may be. If people want to leave it just to those dozen, they can’t grow the game. For all the others, they’ve got to take advantage of the opportunities that get presented to them, and it’s unfortunate that in situations where we had a successful pitch and an opportunity for our players to be on that national stage, they chose not to.”

(Thanks, by the way, to Kevin Mathers for doing the transcribing work.)

I don’t even know where to begin, there are so many incorrect assumptions underlying such a view. Not to mention the fact that when the final table delay was first announced, WSOP Commish Jeffrey Pollack made it abundantly clear that nothing in particular would be expected of the nine who made the final table in the way of promotional activities.

For one, there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of poker players, generally speaking, many of whom don’t want to be Peyton Manning (or Phil Hellmuth or fill-in-the-blank). Secondly, there’s a misapprehension about the tournament itself, wherein the cash prize for winning far exceeds any possible benefits a guest spot on Leno might bring a person (and thus should be weighed accordingly).

There’s also a fairly misguided view about poker’s place in popular culture. Palansky comes to poker via the National Football League where he also served as Communications Director. His comments seem to suggest that poker is perfectly analogous to football, both in the way it is played and presented and its place in the public consciousness. Poker has a real problem, I think, if those in charge of promoting the WSOP are going to continue to operate under this assumption.

In the 2+2 thread, Shane “Shaniac” Schleger” offers his rejoinder to such a view. He finds it “disingenuous and frustrating to blame player apathy or laziness for not helping to ‘grow the game,’” pointing out how Harrah’s, the WPT, and other corporations haven’t exactly compensated players generously (or at all) in the past. He goes on to call it “delusional” to think any of the nine who made this year’s final table were “going to have the motivation and charisma to try and become the next Hellmuth,” and thus thinks a “new strategy” is in order.

Over on the Big Poker Sundays radio show, Schleger suggested that like Scott Montgomery, he was doubtful Palansky was even being truthful with his claim about the Leno/Ellen offers.

I can’t imagine why Palansky would make up such a thing, although it does uncannily recall Lou Krieger’s recent observation, voiced on his podcast and repeated on his blog, that he “expected to see these guys on all the major TV shows, much the same as you see movie stars trotted out on the talk show circuit whenever they have a new film to promote. It was really disappointing that none of them got a chance to talk poker with Letterman, or play some cards with Ellen, or appear on any of the morning network shows. That would have been a real build up.”

Even if the claim is truthful, I can’t say I see the purpose in throwing the November Nine under the bus this way except perhaps to try to bully the next group of poker players who make the 2009 Main Event delayed final table subsequently to perform more closely to Harrah’s wishes. Which -- even if successful -- would not necessarily produce desired results (to my way of thinking). ’Cos poker ain’t football. Nor will it ever be.

I guess there is one aspect of all of this that relates to poker -- the idea of blaming others when things don’t go one’s own way.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Worst Hand Ever

I am a crazy personHad a weird little session of pot-limit Omaha yesterday toward the end of which I believe I might have played my Worst Hand of Poker Ever. We’re talking major league stinker. Just horrific.

Oh, I won the hand. Of course I did. Why else would I bring it up?

I generally keep a level head at the tables. (Heck, just yesterday I was writing about I wasn’t prone to taking too much risk at the tables.) I’ll make mistakes, of course, but usually am able to avoid any real serious blunders. Looking back on yesterday’s session, I can see how a combination of factors led to my slipping into a wild little haze of irrational play right near the end of the session that led to the Worst Hand. Yes, I was most definitely on tilt.

In Your Worst Poker Enemy (2007), Al Schoonmaker includes a terrific chapter about “Preventing and Handling Tilt.” I’m rereading it again today, and am finding myself appreciating it even more after yesterday’s incident. He gives a list of tips for avoiding tilt, including keeping good records, identifying “your triggers and warning signals,” asking yourself questions about your motives as you “constantly scrutinize both your play and your emotional state,” avoiding the impulse to try to get even, and, of course, leaving the game at the first signs of tilt.

Running through the entire chapter is the general notion that the player who is on tilt frequently doesn’t realize it -- thus is it very difficult to leave the game at the first signs, since by definition tilt is a condition generally unrecognizable by the person suffering from it. Writes Schoonmaker, “Some people have even called a brief period of tilt ‘alien-hand syndrome.’ They feel that their brains have lost control over their hands. They watch, almost helplessly, while their hand does something stupid with their chips or cards.”

Man, that was me all right.

Have another book here on my shelf called The Poker Mindset by Ian Taylor and Matthew Hilger (also published in 2007) which features a chapter on tilt. The authors talk about how “tilt has many layers and nuances” and “can lead to the deterioration of a player’s game into a loose uncontrolled mess.” They also do a good job identifying different types of tilt, including loose tilt (playing too many hands), passive tilt (checking and calling, checking and calling), formulaic tilt (too much “by the book”), aggressive tilt (betting and raising, betting and raising), tight tilt (losing confidence), and FPS tilt (where becomes overly affected by Mike Caro’s “Fancy Play Syndrome”).

During my little tilty period yesterday, I did spend a few hands in the “passive tilt” phase, then had one hand where I probably demonstrated “FPS tilt,” then, in the Worst Hand Ever, it was pure “aggressive tilt.”

The session had begun with two fairly rough beats that took most of my original $50 buy-in. The first came on the very first hand. I’d been dealt A-A-x-x single-suited and raised preflop, getting a caller from a short stack who had about $15 to start. Flopped an ace and bet it, and my opponent called me with a gutshot to a wheel. He’d get there on the turn, at which time we got the rest of his chips in the middle. So a quick hit down to $35. About four hands later I lost most of that (about $30) after flopping a straight, then trapping a different opponent into putting his entire stack in on the turn with bottom set. He filled up on the river, and I was gonna be playing uphill for a while.

Managed to battle back (thanks largely to the very poor play of the short-stacker who’d won that first hand), and was close to even for a long stretch. Then I tumbled back down after losing three or four hands against a new, crafty player who’d come to the table. There was some misfortune involved in those hands, but really the guy just plain outplayed me (repeatedly), basically earning the maximum from me on his made hands.

So I was losing, but really was doing just fine mentally. Then came a weird succession of unlikely -- and costly -- bad beats. Not gonna recount them in detail, but there were no less than three hands, each against different players, in which my opponent rivered me with three, four, and eight outs respectively.

That’s what unhinged me. Might’ve been different if all of the beats had come from one player, but it seemed like the whole table was full of lucky SOBs who’d managed to pilfer my chips unfairly (so went my irrational train of thought). That’s when I passed through a short period of “passive tilt,” had a dumb blind-vs.-blind hand in which I’d flopped trips then mangled it (my “FPS tilt” hand), then cruised seemlessly into that scary “aggressive tilt” that led to the Worst Hand Ever.

Actually won and lost a couple of big pots first before getting to the hand, including receiving one absolute gift of a hand when my overpair of kings somehow was good against two other players who checked down a fairly big pot. Then came the hand. For those who are squeamish or easily upset, I ask you now to look away.

I had just about exactly $50 when the hand began (having rebought). I’d had a second table going for some of the session -- where things had been going better -- and so overall was only down about $25 at this point.

The hand started with me limping UTG with Ah9h5h7d. (Already suspect, I know.) The fellow in the cutoff raised pot to $2.25, the button called, then a player in the small blind who only had $2.55 to start the hand reraised all in. It folded to me and as I knew the betting was no longer open to further reraises, I went ahead and made the call, as did the cutoff and button. So there are four players in the hand vying for the main pot of $10 or so, three of whom would be playing for a possible side pot.

The flop came Ad5sJh. No flush draws. Not much in the way of straight draws, although someone could have a Broadway wrap. I have top and bottom pair. I checked, and the cutoff -- the original raiser -- checked as well. Then the button bet $6 into the dry side pot.

I’d seen the button make a couple of stabs at orphaned pots before, as well as some other cheeky plays, and so in my unreasoning state decided this must also be a similarly insincere bet. So what did I do? Reraise pot! (Channelling Jamie Pickering, there.) I pumped it to $28.20, it folded back to the button, and without hesitation he reraised me pot right back.

Oof. I have just $18 left, the pot has swelled to $80, and I know, know, know I am beat (by a set of jacks, probably). Well, I say that now. At the time I had no idea what was happening. My brain had lost control of my hands. So I called.

What did my opponent have? A set of aces, actually. He’d just called the preflop raise rather than reveal his hand with a reraise, and had trapped me fairly soundly. He held AsAc2s3h to my Ah9h5h7d. So with an Ad5sJh flop, what are my chances?

Exactly 7%.

Well, you know already how the story ends. The 6c came on the turn, improving me to a whopping 10%. And the 8c came on the river, giving me the straight and the entire three-digit pot.

Suddenly up for the session, I left immediately, almost frightened by my actions and the redonkulous good fortune of that undeserved runner-runner miracle.

As I said at the start, the Worst Hand Ever. Which I’m sure I wouldn’t be writing about today had it turned out the way it was supposed to.

But I did win, and so am therefore able to share it with all of you as an object lesson. Watch for the signs of tilt! Don’t put yourself in these spots. Just because someone else hits that three-outer on you, don’t make that an excuse to go for your own three-outers!

I feel like some sort of penance is definitely in order here. Think I might just have to take a day or two off from playing altogether after that applesauce. Maybe longer. Give me a chance to reread these chapters. Anyhow, I hope sharing my embarrassing play helps someone out there.

Now that I think about it, though, the fact that I won the hand doesn’t really help that much in the lesson-learnin’ department, does it? Ignore that last part of the story, everyone! Wipe it from yr minds, if you know what’s good for you!

(I am a crazy person.)

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