Thursday, April 30, 2009

On the 2009 WSOP Conference Call, the Hall, and All

2009 World Series of PokerListened to that conference call earlier in the week for the World Series of Poker. That was Tuesday morning, with Jeffrey Pollack (WSOP Commish), Jack Effel (WSOP Tournament Director), Doug White (ESPN’s Senior Director of Programming), and Seth Palansky (WSOP Communications Director) all offering a few observations and announcements, then taking questions from reporters.

I have to say do very much like the WSOP’s efforts to communicate with players, the media, and fans like this. I know I’m critical every now & then of certain stuff that comes out of the WSOP’s brain trust (e.g., am still no fan of the delayed final table). But I do admire the effort and what seems to me to be a lot of sincere desire on the part of those running the show to build the WSOP and poker in constructive, profitable ways.

Can’t say there was too much in the way of “breaking news” in the call, especially if the listener had already leafed through the “Official Media Guide” that came out last week. Last year, of course, the news of the delayed Main Event final table and the whole “November Nine” thing had just broke a day or two before, so there was much discussion of that. There was also some real news in there, including word that the final tablists’ prize money would be placed in an interest-bearing account and thus would be increased between July and November.

Like I say, not too much of note, really, in this year’s call. Was kind of surprised at how few reporters seemed to be on the call asking questions, and very few (one?) from “mainstream” press (unlike last year). Those guys are fun, usually, mainly ’cause they are capable of firing the occasional clueless question (“Does the winner get all the money?”). But they also generally give us an indication of what non-pokery types are thinking about poker, and there wasn’t much of that this time around. I think there was one question at the end from the Chicago Sun-Times, but otherwise all came from poker people. (Not sure why that was.)

Also, there only seemed to be about five or six different reporters asking questions, meaning they had to keep cycling back and inviting the same ones to ask new questions. In fact, at the end of the call Pollack said the group could take one more question, but there were no more.

There was some discussion of the new plan for dealing with player conduct, with a tracking system allowing officials to keep up with the repeat offenders as well as some tough talk about penalties, etc. They discussed the planned schedule over on ESPN, who have decided to shun almost all of the preliminary bracelet events in favor of highlighting the Main Event all summer and fall. There was a question about Annie Duke and Celebrity Apprentice, with subsequent references to that show cropping up more often than I expected they would.

One interesting part of the call (to me) was the discussion of the new procedure being instituted this year for electing people to the Poker Hall of Fame, although that was probably because I hadn’t read those two pages that carefully in the Media Guide. Harrah’s is going to involve the public in the voting process this year, which seems to me like it will add some interest in the HOF. And perhaps create some controversies, too.

From May 26-July 2, people can go over to the World Series of Poker website and submit nominations along with 250-word-or-less testimonials. The top ten most frequently nominated folks will be announced some time during the Main Event in July, probably early on I’d imagine. Then in August the HOF committee (not quite sure who is on that) will review the list and decide if any other names need to be added.

In September, the living Hall of Famers -- there’s 16, says the Media Guide, although several people have noticed some errors throughout the sucker, so don’t quote me -- will get ballots and be asked to rank those nominees whom they feel are worth electing to the HOF. Those Hall of Famers will also be able to nominate folks for 2010, if they wish. Also voting on this year’s nominees will be a group of representatives of the poker media “not to exceed the number of HOF voting members” (i.e., not more than 16). The ballots will go back to the HOF committee, and it says “Any finalist receiving 75% or more of the votes” will be enshrined in a ceremony to take place during the November Nine weekend.

Reading this over again, I’m not really sure what the point is of “ranking” the nominees, if all the HOF committee will be looking at is whether or not the nominee got voted as worthy of induction or not. While the process has changed, the criteria hasn’t (I don’t think), with players qualifying for having played against top competition, having played for high stakes, having played consistently well and thus gaining peers’ respect, and standing “the test of time.” Non-players who have also contributed significantly “to the overall growth and success of the game of poker” can be selected, too.

I think it will be interesting to follow this process, especially once the nominees proposed by the public are announced in July. There will be some names in there that definitely belong, some that definitely don’t, and some for whom it will be harder to call. And it may happen that a large number are voted in -- more than the one or two that generally go in each year -- especially on this first pass with the new procedure.

To be honest, as I think about who should be considered no one really springs to mind. I would assume names like Ferguson, Harrington, Negreanu, and Ivey are gonna come up a lot over on the WSOP site when the public starts submitting nominations, but we’ll see how all that plays out.

Here’s a list of the 37 current HOFers:

Tom Abdo, Crandall Addington, Bobby Baldwin, Billy Baxter, Lyle Berman, Joe Bernstein, Benny Binion, Jack Binion, Bill Boyd, Doyle Brunson, T.J. Cloutier, Johnny Chan, Nick “the Greek” Dandalos, Barbara Enright, Fred “Sarge” Ferris, T. “Blondie” Forbes, Henry Green, Murph Harrold, Phil Hellmuth, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok, Red Hodges, Edmond Hoyle, Berry Johnston, Jack Keller, Corky McCorquodale, Roger Moore, Johnny Moss, Henry Orenstein, Puggy Pearson, Julius Oral “Little Man” Popwell, “Amarillo Slim” Preston, David “Chip” Reese, Jack “Treetop” Straus, Dewey Tomko, Stu Ungar, Red Winn, Sid Wyman.

The Media Guide somehow leaves both Chan and Straus off of their list. Oh, and that “Sebastian Bilodeau” currently listed over on Wikipedia as a member of the HOF is a phantom, I think.

Who else belongs here, would ya say?

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Flippin’ Sweet

Flippin' SweetHaven’t been playing too much poker here over the last few days. Too much going on, I’m afraid. I did, however, take advantage of the latest PokerStars bonus to come around, this one associated with the upcoming World Series of Poker.

A couple of months ago I wrote about how pleasantly surprised I was to discover how simple it was for me to use eChecks to deposit over at PokerStars. Since Neteller went away (for us Yanks), I had basically stopped even paying attention whenever online poker sites advertised promotions for deposit bonuses. I knew technically I could still deposit money if I wanted to, but just didn’t want to go through the hassle of sending a paper check and/or going through other hoops to do so.

But in February, PokerStars had its “25 Billion Bash” promo and I managed to set up the eCheck option for myself. Ran into a little bit of difficulty then because there’s a limit on how much one can deposit the first time around, but with that now behind me I was able to go ahead and take full advantage of this new promotion.

This one is a 20% reload bonus up to $120. So if you deposit $600 (like I did), then earn the requisite VPPs (or base FPPs) -- which in this case is 2,400 -- you get yr free moneys. You also have six months to clear the bonus, which’ll be no trouble for me. Even though I’m not playing all that much, I imagine it’ll only take me a month or two to get there.

If you’re reading this today and haven’t gone for the Stars bonus yet, there’s still time -- it lasts until 23:59 Eastern time tomorrow (April 30). The promo code is “09series.”

I’m remembering when I mentioned that Stars promo a couple of months ago I discussed it after the end of the promotion period, thus prompting our favorite reader, “anonymous,” to chime in with a Napoleon Dynamite-like comment about my failure to consider others might have wanted to hear about the promo before it expired. So here’s hopin’ I’ve afforded everyone adequate lead time on this one.

Why did I decide to write about the promo sooner this time? Why do I do what I do? Because I feel like it. GOSH!

Actually, I got a kick out of that comment, but it does bring to mind the recent efforts by a blogger who calls himself the “Quality Desktop Pundit” to offer a critique of some poker blogs. Some readers of this blog might have followed how that went, and I’m not going to rehearse it all again here. To summarize: the QDP made a not-so-quality generalization about a particular poker blogger -- one who happens to write one of the better, more consistently interesting poker blogs around, I’d say -- thereby drawing the ire of many of her longtime readers.

The tête-à-tête has settled down, I think, but not before the QDP suggested that “the variety of topics at her blog could be increased” and asked if she “could... please do more posts about” other topics than the ones about which she writes. A little bit like when someone complained over on the Poker Grump’s blog about the “Guess the Casino” posts. The Grump had a good reply to that complaint, as I recall.

We’ve been over all of this before, I think. I read a ton of blogs daily, and it has never once occurred to me to suggest to someone writing a personal blog that he or she should write about something other than what he or she chooses to write about.

If we were talking about a magazine or newspaper to which you subscribed -- i.e., which you paid for with yr own cabbage -- well, then, I think it is valid to complain if the content ain’t what you thought you paid for. But personal blogs? Criticism is fine, but editorial suggestions? Buncha whistling in the dark, I’d say.

Meanwhile, go get in on that Stars promotion, why dontcha? And then go work on your skills. You’ll never get a date without skills. You know, nunchuck skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills....

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Time Is Money; or, the Return of the Waiting Game

Time Is MoneyI know many regular readers of this blog also frequently peruse the forums, including Two Plus Two. I also know some regular readers don’t ever read Two Plus Two, citing a too low signal-to-noise ratio over there to warrant spending too much of yr valuable clicking-around time. So I’m guessing only some of you might’ve seen a thread over there in the News, Views, and Gossip forum called “Negreanu goes after online stallers.” That thread was started back on April 18 by “doublejoker,” the handle used by poker pro and frequent tourney circuit player Allen “Chainsaw” Kessler.

Kessler’s post begins with a link back to a post I wrote back on April 6 called “The Waiting Game.” My post shared something I had witnessed while watching a SCOOP event on PokerStars. It was one of the H.O.R.S.E. events, and as play neared the bubble a player at Daniel Negreanu’s table began stalling in order to try to reach the money. The stalling prompted Negreanu to respond with criticism in the chat box, and my post passes along some of what was said. I offered a couple of opinions near the end, but overall I didn’t really take too strong of a stance on the issue, and instead mostly just invited others to share what they thought.

A number of thoughtful comments were made within a day or two of my post going up. Later that week (on April 9) I noticed that Kessler had started a thread about stalling in tourneys over on Two Plus Two -- entirely coincidental, I believe, as I don’t think he’d seen my post. He also started one in the PokerRoad forums on April 11. Both had polls, and both got a lot of response.

I think it might have been thanks to a comment B.J. Nemeth made in the PokerRoad thread that Kessler became aware of the post here on Hard-Boiled and the story of Negreanu’s not being happy with the staller, and thus subsequently started the new thread on 2+2.

On the day Kessler started the new thread with the link to that post, a lot of readers clicked through, more than doubling the most active day ever on HBP (in terms of total hits). The thread has continued to attract comments on 2+2, keeping it on the first page of NVG, and thus folks are continuing to click through to the blog to see what Negreanu said. Some are commenting as well, and I think that post might have now become the most-commented-on post on the blog.

The comments continue to be smart and thought-provoking. The 2+2 thread actually contains some interesting ideas as well. If you check out both places, you’ll see the issue being debated both as a matter of etiquette (or “angle-shooting”) and as a possible area where rules could be changed.

David Sklansky even chimed in over in the 2+2 thread with a somewhat abstract comment, momentarily causing the discussion to veer into a more theoretical direction, though it recovered. Another poster suggested that in online tourneys the time bank could be reset (to a reasonable length) with each level -- rather than last for the entire tourney -- thus preventing the several minutes of delaying that was happening in the SCOOP event. And there are a few other good ideers & arguments both in the thread and in the comments to my post as well.

The subject of stalling in tournaments -- online or live -- is clearly one that many people have strong opinions about. Of course, Negreanu’s high profile is also probably causing some of the curiosity. And Kessler, I think, tends to attract some of the 2+2ers’ attention, too. Negreanu himself has yet to jump in over on the 2+2 thread, though I would think if he was going to he would have done so by now. (Watching for that has been the new “waiting game” for me.)

Anyhow, for those who maybe skipped over it or weren’t following 2+2, I thought I’d share how that post had “blown up.” If that’s you, lemme invite you next time yr sitting there waiting out a staller near the bubble of an online tourney to click on over and check it all out.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

What’s Up with the WSOP? Check the Guide

2009 World Series of Poker Official Media GuideThe first event of the 2009 World Series of Poker begins exactly one month from today. In anticipation of the series kicking off, the WSOP put out its “Official Media Guide” last week, a 45-page document with lots of info about the schedule and other matters, along with a buncha tidbits that could occasionally prove useful to those who are planning to cover the sucker this summer.

Was leafing through and found a few items I hadn’t been aware of among the various “Did you know?”-style trivia included in the guide.

Did you know Tom McEvoy has four WSOP bracelets? Did you know Annie Duke has 33 WSOP cashes? Did you know a grand total of 731 gold bracelets have been awarded over the years, and that it wasn’t until 1975 that all event winners were given bracelets (not just the Main Event winner)? Except in 1982, when they all got gold watches?

Nations represented at the WSOP, 2004-2009Like I say, there are a few other things in there of which I hadn’t necessarily been aware. In 2008 there were a total of 124 countries represented at the WSOP. I knew there had been over a hundred represented, but didn’t realize what a jump that number represents since 2004 when players came from 24 countries. Indeed, the progression over the last five years, humbly represented in a little Microsoft graph, is amazing to consider, really.

On the news front, the guide includes this year’s ESPN telecast schedule for the WSOP, which I don’t remember having been publicized previously. Looks like a total of 32 hours of coverage is planned, starting July 28 and running through the two-hour packaged final table show scheduled for Tuesday, November 10.

When the TV schedule was announced last year, I wrote a post about it that noted how most of the coverage (about two-thirds) was devoted to the Main Event. There were a total of five other bracelet events that got some air time last year.

This year, if the schedule is followed as proposed, there is almost zero coverage of preliminary events planned. If my math is correct, a total of 26 of the 32 hours will be focused on the Main Event. And only one other WSOP bracelet event will be getting any coverage at all, that $40,000 buy-in 40th Annual No-Limit Hold’em event (Event No. 2).

So you’ll have to get yr coverage elsewhere if you want to follow those other 55 bracelet events. (Got yr Twitter account yet?) Also, I think this schedule probably ends the debate over whether mainstream television networks (or the general public) is interested in any game other than no-limit hold’em. No surprise there.

There will be two other events covered by ESPN, both non-bracelet events. They’re planning two hours on the Ante Up for Africa charity event which will attract celebs, athletes, and a few big names from the poker world. Then there will also be two hours on that “WSOP Champions Invitational,” the announcement of which is another piece of news one finds in the guide.

To commemorate the 40th year of the WSOP, all of the living Main Event champs have been invited to participate in a tournament near the beginning of the schedule (May 31-June 1). There is no cash prize (nor a bracelet), but the winner will receive something called the “Binion Cup” as well as a new car.

According to the guide, there are 34 total ME champions over the history of the WSOP, and 27 of those are still living. That means if they all show up, they’ll be staging a three-table sit-n-go (no word on the structure). Should be pretty interesting stuff, I’d imagine.

Russ Hamilton at the 1994 WSOP Main Event final tableOf course, the question that immediately popped up on the forums was whether or not disgraced 1994 Main Event champion Russ Hamilton would be there. The only person ever technically implicated in the UltimateBet insider cheating scandal (by the dubious Kahnawake Gaming Commission), Hamilton has yet to face any punishment for his misdeeds. Other than the occasional unsolicited phone call from 60 Minutes or getting harrassed on the golf course by Raw Vegas TV every now and then, that is.

The media guide speaks of how “the winner of the Main Event has gone on to serve as the reigning world champion of poker in the year after their [sic] victory and carried himself as an ambassador of the sport of poker.” Some champs have fit that bill more than others, to be sure. But it appears none less so than Hamilton.

So, yea, I think the chances are not so good that you’ll see all 27 of those former champs at the invitational. Will be interesting to watch, nonetheless. Almost the only thing to watch, actually, other than the Main Event.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Shamus in Vegas: Episode 5 -- Finding Yr Calling

Finding Yr CallingHad originally planned to title this last episode “The Writer’s Life,” but during the week I found a different, better title. As anyone who has ever been the least bit serious about writing knows, there’s always room for revision.

My last two days in Vegas were taken up with a good deal of running around, meeting various folks while also pursuing a particular writing project. The meetings were all fun and fruitful, and the project did get completed. All the back-and-forthing meant I didn’t get to play anymore poker after that brief session at the Gold Coast I wrote about yesterday. Though, to be honest, I wasn’t all that bummed about it.

You could say those last couple of days illustrated fairly clearly that when it comes down to it, I’m really more of a poker writer than a poker player. As much as I love to play, if given the choice, I have to admit I would rather write. Which is a good thing, as I’m probably better at writing than playing. I know my ROI tends to be better there.

The Center for Gaming Research, UNLVMet with David Schwartz early Friday afternoon over at the Center for Gaming Research at UNLV. Wound my way up to the third floor of the Lied Library where David and I spent a while talking about the CGR and its fellowship program. Then I spent an hour or so looking through their catalog and perusing the small part of the collection they have out on the shelves. Had numerous ideas for various poker-related writing projects, and would love to spend more time over there taking advantage of the Center’s resources.

Then, as I wrote about last week, I made it over to the Wynn later that afternoon to spend a couple of hours visiting with Dan Michalski (Pokerati, The Poker Beat). While waiting to make the connection, I spent a good while watching some poker at the Wynn poker room, which was especially active that afternoon.

Dan and I talked a lot about the blogging game, podcasts, and the upcoming WSOP. I shared with Dan some of what I have been thinking about lately with regard to the writing thing -- how it is starting to become much more than just a sideline and is in fact seriously threatening to take over as my primary occupation. Goes without saying that freelance writers -- in poker or anywhere -- face a lot of uncertainty, work-wise. Of course, these days most of us are facing a lot of uncertainty work-wise, but freelance writers probably a bit more than most, as jobs are usually short-term/temporary. And there’s the whole benefits thing to fret about, too.

So while I’m still not quite ready to chuck it all and give myself over to writing full time, I do know that when I’m writing I’m happy. And life is too short not to be happy as much as possible. As Justin Shronk says in answer to one of Matt Waldron’s Random Questions “What is the meaning of life in eight words or less?” -- “Don’t be sorry.” One shouldn’t spend the majority of it doing something that isn’t totally rewarding. And happy-making. Just because you’ve started down one path, life-wise, you don’t have to continue in that direction. There’s always room for revision.

I mentioned last week how I’d forgotten to take my cell phone to my meeting with Pokerati Dan, which led to some silliness as I tried to survive a couple of hours “off the grid.” Part of that writing project I mentioned above concerned me meeting up with someone for an interview, and all week I was basically worrying over whether or not that person would call me. So that was another reason why I was a little anxious about not having my phone with me for a while on Friday afternoon.

However, once I got it back there were no messages indicating I’d missed a call. Vera and I then met some dressage folks for dinner over at Caesars Palace. We ate at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago. As we had arrived about a half-hour before our reservation time, the group split up and sauntered around a bit, and at one point I had wandered into the nearby Apple store where I spent a little while goofing around with iPhones and laptops.

Shamus takes a callFor fun, I picked up one of the iPhones and dialed my cell, just to see if the iPhone was in fact working. My phone buzzed in my pocket, indicating that it was. I made a mental note that if ever I was stuck without my cell again, I could find the nearest Apple store and perhaps make a needed call there.

A little while later we were seated for dinner and my phone buzzed again. Perhaps it was the person whose call I’d been expecting. But when I looked my phone was just signalling to me I’d missed a call. I looked at the number and didn’t recognize it, but thought it very likely it was the all important call.

Dammit! How did I miss it? I basically fretted over it all through dinner and even into Saturday morning. Vera kept telling me not to worry about it, but I couldn’t help it. We were only going to be in Vegas for one more day, and it looked like I’d screwed up the project.

It was actually Saturday morning before it finally hit me. I realized who it was who had called from before.

It was me.

The call I’d missed had been the one I’d placed on the iPhone at the Apple store. Vera and I had a good laugh, enjoying the absurdity created by my absent-mindedness. Seemed a little symbolic, too, the idea of missing a call to oneself. What was it that I had wanted to tell me?

In any event, like I say, all turned out just fine as far as the meeting and writing project was concerned. And, as I mentioned in my post on Monday, Vera and I had a lot of fun at the Thomas & Mack on Saturday night watching the dressage final of the World Cup. Flew back Sunday and life resumed this week as scheduled.

It was definitely fun to get back to LV like that -- to think about last summer, and to consider what might lie ahead.

Speaking of, whaddya say we put a hold on all this navel gazin’ and start talkin’ WSOP here soon? (Is it really nearly a month away?) Stay tuned.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Shamus in Vegas: Episode 4 -- I Just Want to See What You Have

Gold Coast Casino, Las Vegas, NVGot over to the Gold Coast about quarter to two Thursday afternoon. There were two tables going, a full $2/$4 limit hold’em table and a half-full $1/$2 no-limit one. When I asked, I was told a list was forming for another LHE table, with two players already there and a couple more on the way. Was a little suspicious of the wishful-sounding talk of players “on the way” (who calls ahead for $2/$4 LHE?), but put my name on the list anyway and grabbed a copy of Poker Player Newspaper.

Some time passed, and eventually I was sitting at a table with the two other waiting players. A dealer came over and we mutually decided to go ahead and start playing a bit. To be honest, I was a little disappointed in myself for not just leaving, as I knew I didn’t want to be playing much three-handed LHE. But I talked myself into sticking around. There’d be no rake for pots under $10 and only a single big blind. And were those two people over there coming to join the game? Okay, whatever. Deal ’em up.

My two opponents were only buying in for $50, so I just took $60 (rather than $100, as I’d normally do). We drew for the button, and an African American fellow who looked about thirty sitting across the table (which was my left) got it. That meant the player to his left, a twenty-something dude with dirty blonde hair who would soon be ordering drinks almost as frequently as he played hands, put in the lone blind. First hand I was dealt QsTc and I raised. The button folded, and Captain-and-Coke called. A queen would flop, and I’d end up getting a couple of bets out of the Captain. Good start.

Players began filling the seats between us, and I’d win a few more pots, usually without showing down. Would get AcKh and after a couple of players limped I raised and we saw a flop five-handed. Flop came AdQc9d, checked to me and I bet, and two players stayed. The turn was the Js. Didn’t like that much, and liked it even less when the drinker led out. I called, and the other player folded. Captain-and-Coke started talking. “Who’s got the king-ten?” he asked. The river was the 4h. He looked at me and asked his question again, then after lingering a little longer made the bet. I knew I was beat, but called anyway. “You two pair?” I asked. Yep. He turned over Jc9s.

I was back to nearly even, but never would fall much below my starting stack. Had another hand in which I was dealt ace-jack in late position and raised, getting a couple of callers. The flop came J-7-4, and when I bet only the fellow in the big blind called. The turn was innocuous-looking deuce, and he check-called me again. The river was an eight, I believe. He checked, I bet again. He shrugged and said “I just want to see what you have” -- sort of what I had been thinking in that A-K hand just before. It is usually a good thing to hear someone else say that as they call you, I’d say. I quickly showed my jack and he mucked.

Eventually a lady would take the seat to my immediate right and start chattering to me and everyone else. She seemed mostly to be referring to the cards, but I noticed pretty quickly that her comments didn’t always seem to match up perfectly with what was actually going on. Her play didn’t make a lot of sense, either. She was doing a lot of calling to the river, then folding, then asking her neighbors what the board was afterwards.

Anyhow, I was dealt Td6d in the small blind and watched as pretty much everyone limped in, including the lady who had the button. With 13-to-1 odds or whatever it was, I gladly completed, the big blind checked, and the flop came Tc8d4d. I bet my top pair and flush draw, and most everyone stuck around. The turn was the Jh. I checked, and the rest of the table also checked to the lady who bet the four dollars. It was plain she had the jack, but the pot was also plainly big enough to stick around so I called, as did one other player. The river was the Ts. I bet, the other player called, and she mumbled something before calling. I showed my trips, the other player mucked, and, indeed, she had the jack -- J-7, to be precise. I dragged a fairly big pot.

We “discussed” the hand a little bit afterwards. “I thought you had the nine,” she said. Then, “I knew you had the nine.” But what good would a nine have done me there? Finally I realized she had flopped a gutshot draw and needed the nine, and so somehow had fixated on that card right to the end, which never came. She may have even seen my 6d when I turned over my hand and thought it was a nine, I’m not sure. I never was convinced she understood that I’d rivered her with that ten. Such is life at the low limit tables in the Gold Coast on a weekday afternoon, I guess.

I’d leave soon afterwards, a nice $45 up after just the hour of play. Thought then I’d surely have the chance to play again somewhere, but it ended up not working out.

Although I played fine and caught cards, I probably made at least two significant mistakes with this session. I really shouldn’t have started. And I shouldn’t have stopped, either. Was definitely sitting in a good spot, although that only means so much in the $2/$4 game, for sure, where you have to make hands ’cos there’s always going to be someone who just wants to see what you have.

Vera and I would motor over to the Hard Rock for dinner. Had another couple of full days ahead of us, most of which I’ve already recounted. Do want to add one last post, though, on being back in Vegas -- and writing about poker. Again.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Shamus in Vegas: Episode 3 -- Food for Thought

Food for thought“Poor Vera. Dinner with five poker bloggers?”

So said the Poker Grump to me as we arranged our outing at the Grand Luxe Café at the Venetian. Would be the two of us, Cardgrrl, F-Train, BWoP, and Vera Valmore. Vera isn’t a poker player, but as I’ve documented here before has a lot of patience with those of us who like to tell poker stories. Of course, thinking back to the Wednesday Poker Discussion Group, I later joked with Vera about how she might not have liked a “hand of the day” that lasted two hours.

Vera knew the Grump, F-Train, and BWoP from last summer, and we were both looking forward to meeting Cardgrrl. Dinner was a lot of fun and really there wasn’t as much poker talk as one might have expected. Vera was quizzed a bit about the World Cup. Cardgrrl talked about her adventures in DC and her “year of risky business.” BWoP shared some about her non-pokery work. Poker Grump also told us a bit of his former life in the “straight world.” And F-Train filled us in on his upcoming trip to San Remo and Monte Carlo.

F-Train also told us about a recent incident where some kids had thrown rocks at he and BWoP’s house, breaking a window. That led to a funny discussion of children. You know, children? Those little people who look like us but aren’t as strong and don’t seem to be quite as smart?

Some of the details of F-Train’s story reminded me of one my earliest memories in which I got caught throwing rocks at passing cars. Hey, I was a little person. Not too bright. And unduly influenced by a neighbor girl named Eva. (Insert obvious scriptural allusion here.) In an uncanny prefiguring of F-Train’s account of what happened when he confronted the rock-throwing kids, I recalled how one driver had stopped to confront me and Eva. When he got out of his vehicle -- “$5,000!” I remember him yelling, which gives you an idea how long ago we’re talking -- Eva had suddenly vanished, scampering back to her house and leaving me to face the big person’s wrath. I suppose Adam was in a slightly tougher spot back in the garden, but little Shamus’ predicament was not to be envied, lemme tell ya.

We called it a night by about 10 p.m. Both Poker Grump and BWoP had books for me (thanks!), and since the meals were so oversized we also had take out to carry, too. So we took several bundles, as well as the memory of a fun time, back to the hotel.

'Middle Limit Hold'em Poker' by Bob Ciaffone and Jim BrierOn Thursday, Vera went back over to the show while I met Al Schoonmaker and Jim Brier for lunch over at the Palms buffet. I’ve already related some about our meeting, so I won’t repeat too much here. It was Dr. Al who had recommended the Wednesday Poker Discussion Group to me before (he regularly attends those meetings), and so we talked a bit about that and its history. We also talked some about the differences between limit and no-limit hold’em, as both Schoonmaker and Brier were essentially limit players up until recently. Most of you are probably familiar with Dr. Al’s books on poker psychology. Brier, too, is a poker author, and once co-wrote with Bob Ciaffone a well-regarded strategy text called Middle Limit Hold’em Poker (2002). In fact, Brier has been credited by several for the whole idea of emphasizing hand samples in poker strategy texts, such as one finds in his book with Ciaffone, the Harrington on Hold’em books, and many other publications.

The three of us also discussed the prospects for computers or “poker bots” to become advanced enough to compete in no-limit hold’em. Brier and I were of the opinion it would be a long time, if ever, for that to come to pass, but Schoonmaker seemed to think a bit more of the possibility. After an hour-and-a-half, we parted in the Palms parking lot, and that’s when I decided to head over to the Gold Coast to see if I could again squeeze in another short session. I did manage to find a game, and so will talk about that tomorrow.

In Memory of Justin Shronk (1981-2009)Before signing off today, though, I have to mention how sad it was to hear yesterday of Justin Shronk’s passing. I met Shronk last summer at the World Series of Poker, and like everyone else found him a funny, friendly, smart dude whose presence added significantly to the poker reporting scene. Others knew him a lot better than I did, so I’ll let you find their thoughts about Shronk on other sites and blogs.

I was at the Bellagio last Saturday as the WPT World Championship was getting started, and I swear I thought I saw Shronk, although I must’ve been mistaken. I have a feeling a lot of people are going to experience similar moments at tour stops over the next few months -- thinking he’s there when he isn’t. ’Cause, well, Shronk belongs there. And it’ll be hard to accept that he won’t be. So my very best to those who were closest to him, especially those over at PokerRoad, where the traveling is going to be a bit tougher for a while.

However, as these stories of my meals in Vegas with poker writers attest, this here “poker community” is a great group with which to be involved. So I know that everyone is going to be there for each other, just like Shronk was always there for them.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Shamus in Vegas: Episode 2 -- What’s Your Plan?

Touched down at McCarran Airport around 10 a.m. Vegas time on Wednesday. Check-in wasn’t until the afternoon, so Vera and I grabbed a quick lunch and I dropped her off at the Thomas & Mack before motoring the rental car over to Binion’s Horshoe. Got there about 12:15 p.m. Figuring I had the time, I decided to try to play a spell there at “the place that made poker famous.” Plan was to sit in on a $2/$4 limit hold’em game for a bit until the 2:00 p.m. meeting of the Wednesday Poker Discussion Group. If a seat were available, that is.

Wandered over to the poker room and saw one table going -- the final table of the daily tourney -- and nothing else. Heck, I thought. Where is everybody? A desert in the desert. I kept wandering and soon found the new poker room with the tables of beige-colored felt. There were about four tables going, including a couple of LHE ones. A seat was open, and before long I was in it.

Live Poker, Binion’s Horseshoe

Binion's Horseshoe CasinoOn my fourth hand I was dealt two black queens in the cutoff. Two players limped, I raised, and both blinds called, meaning five of us saw the flop of 9d6c4s. It checked to a player in middle position who hesitated, then checked. Has that nine, I thought. Checked to me, I bet, and all but one stayed for the turn -- the 9c. The MP player bet this time, and despite my having decided he’d made trips I went ahead and called, as did one other player. The river was the Kh, and when he unhesitatingly bet again I did what limit hold’em players generally shouldn’t do -- I folded on the river. The other player called, and the MP player turned over Ah9h. So it goes.

The dealer said something in my direction about that king being “just a notch” too high as he gathered the cards, which I took as a correct read of my hand. I don’t think I had given anything away when still in the hand, really, with my actions, though perhaps when folding I showed the king’s influence on my decision. I said nothing.

That hand was followed by several orbits of trash hands, most of which I readily folded. It was a full table, with lots of limpers and callers and not much reason to try to win hands without cards. Saw a couple of flops with suited connectors, but they weren’t connecting.

The Poker Grump arrived and I was starting to think about leaving, having gradually dribbled down a good $35 or so. That’s when I picked up 6h6d in late position. A few limped, I called, and the button called behind me. Flop came 6sTsJc. Checked to me, I bet, the button called, and two other short-stacked players, each of whom had only bought in for $20, called as well. The turn was the Td, giving me sixes full of tens. Checked to me and I bet again, the button called, and the two others both put in their last chips. The river was the Ah. I bet, and the button thought a moment and called.

I showed my sixes, and he turned over Js7c. The side pot was mine. How about the main pot? Both short stacks mucked, so that was mine as well. I dragged the chips, flipping the dealer the only tip I’d leave the entire session, and soon left just seven dollars down. Woulda made more on that one had the short stackers had more behind, but I was glad to win anyhow.

Was joking with the Grump afterwards how silly it was to think how winning that one pot so greatly affected my mood about the entire session, but he agreed that being “results oriented,” while not advisable, is hard to avoid. If we are human, that is.

Was also talking to Grump about how in these lowest-limit games players often tend to play as though they are competing against the house, not other players. Not much regard for hand selection, really -- as if one is playing blackjack, and is basically forced to play whatever cards one is dealt. Then the focus is mainly on connecting with the board (like getting as close to 21 as one can), then showing down in hopes of winning.

For example, in the two sessions I ended up playing last week, I saw players limp in with A-A no less than three times. These same players limped in with all other hands, too. Why not just pull a lever over on the slots? So the only way to go, really, is to practice some hand selection, make hands, and value bet at every opportunity.

As I was saying last week, I don’t really view these $2/$4 tables as a place either to (1) learn a lot of poker strategy, or (2) make much cabbage. But I do get something, I think, out of simply playing more live hands -- which can’t hurt down the road, regardless of what I end up doing poker-wise.

The Wednesday Poker Discussion Group, Binion’s Coffee Shop

The Wednesday Poker Discussion GroupThe Poker Grump and I went over to the coffee shop around two o’clock, but there were only a couple of others there for the WPDG. We hung out and talked with them and some of the other friendly folks who gradually trickled in. Eventually about 25 people turned up, gathered around three or four tables. Ages ranged from 20s to 60s. Just two women showed, I believe. A couple of discussion leaders took positions at one wall, positioning menus so as to create a place to display cards from a giant-sized deck. Finally by about three o’clock the meeting began.

There were some preliminaries. New people introduced themselves. I described myself as an amateur who was really more of a poker writer than a player, and mentioned my having helped cover the WSOP last summer. There was some talk of the various promotions and freerolls available around town, with several recommendations made. Then we got to the main focus of the meeting -- the hand discussions.

I think the plan might have been to discuss multiple hands played by group members, but as it turned out we spent the entire meeting (at least another hour-and-a-half) talking about a single hand that came from a $2/$5 no-limit hold’em game ($1,500 cap) over at the Wynn. The hand occurred around six in the morning, and involved a group member and a couple of loose players who had been drinking.

I won’t get into all of the specifics other than to say our hero found himself sitting with Qc8c in the big blind. One heavy drinker and loose player raised from UTG, another drinker flat-called from late position, and our hero decided to call, thereby closing the preflop betting, and see a flop. The flop ended up coming eight-high, putting the hero into another tricky spot. Even before that, however, the group debated for at least ten minutes the preflop decision to call.

“What’s your plan?” asked one group member. Not everyone cared much for calling an under-the-gun raise with this hand, although compelling arguments were presented for sticking around as well. And, of course, that eight-high flop encouraged a great deal more debate.

I leaned over to the Poker Grump midway through the discussion to joke that it didn’t seem fair to the lone drunk player who ended up heads-up against our hero that he was now competing with 25 minds all trained against him. Of course, given all of the different lines that ended up being entertained, the hero was probably better off only having had his own second thoughts to complicate matters.

The discussion was quite illuminating, though, in the way it revealed the many different approaches and styles that guide poker players’ thinking. I can imagine the group being extremely helpful to a serious player looking for feedback and advice. It was entertaining, too, with lots of very funny, self-effacing humor coming from all sides throughout the meeting. Everyone was very friendly, the vibe was conducive to dialogue and new ideas, and a good (and informative) time was had by all.

I’d definitely recommend the WPDG to any poker players with a free Wednesday afternoon in Vegas. There’s also a Monday meeting at the Stake Out Bar & Grill over on Maryland Parkway from 7-9 p.m. that focuses on no-limit hold’em. Newcomers are welcome.

Next up, dinner at the Grand Lux Café over at the Venetian with a bunch of other pokery scribblers.

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