Friday, July 30, 2010

Summer Reading

Summer ReadingNot a lot of time to write today, I’m afraid. I assume that’s okay, though. Lots of other summer reading available to you, if yr looking for such.

For example, there have been a ton of articles popping up all over concerning that House Financial Services Committee vote in favor of H.R. 2267, the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act. Seems like everyone has something to say about it. I added a couple more cents on the subject over on the Betfair poker site today, too: “Online Poker in the U.S.: On the House Financial Services Committee Vote.”

Incidentally, I have decided to create an archive page from which I’m linking all of my Betfair columns. Have had the chance to do a lot of fun things over there, including interviewing several folks and reviewing a number of poker books. I’ve made a little banner down the right-hand side which will get you to the page, or you can just click here to see it.

Was thinking of doing something similar with some my old PokerNews stuff, too -- that is, creating a page that links to the book reviews and all of those “Poker & Pop Culture” columns I wrote for them. In fact, I’m still working on all of my archive pages, including those for the various sections here on Hard-Boiled Poker (e.g., On the Street, The Rumble, etc.). Hope soon to have all that stuff in order and up to date.

'Lost Vegas' by Paul McGuire (2010)Speaking of book reviews and interviews, I’m continuing to read and enjoy Dr. Pauly’s chronicle of his time reporting on the WSOP (plus his other Las Vegas-based adventures). I am of course referring to his recently-published book Lost Vegas: The Redneck Riviera, Existentialist Conversations with Strippers, and the World Series of Poker. I’ll probably be penning a review of the book soon, and plan to try to interview the author about it, too.

Kind of an uncanny feeling, reading about all of these “characters” I’ve gotten to know over the last few years. Indeed, a lot of what I’ve been experiencing thus far has been a lot of filling in of gaps in my personal knowledge of my fellow bloggers and other media types, as well as in the recent history of the WSOP. A lot of “ahh... so this is where he/she came from” moments so far. Also a few “a-ha!” moments, too, with regard to certain mysteries and other behind-the-scenes stuff at the WSOP circa 2005-2008.

I haven’t quite finished the book, although I can already recommend the book to anyone interested in the poker media, Las Vegas, and particularly the post-boom growth of the WSOP over the last few years. Kind of feeling like PokerVixen was a few days ago when she tweeted “I’m this >< close to finishing @LostVegasBook. I’ve stopped though because I don’t want it to end.” Go visit Dr. Pauly’s Lost Vegas site for details about ordering.

And after you’ve done that, go have yourself a relaxing, air-conditioned weekend.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

House Financial Services Committee Passes H.R. 2267

H.R. 2267, the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act, passes through the House Financial Services CommitteeAs you have surely heard by now, H.R. 2267, the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act, was voted on yesterday by the House Financial Services Committee and passed by a vote of 41 yea, 22 nay, and 1 present (i.e., an abstention). It is being described by some as a “bipartisan” vote, although only a few Democrats voted against it (four), and a handful of Republicans voted for it (seven).

The bill will now be considered by the entire House of Representatives. Before becoming law, it will have to receive a favorable vote from the House, then the Senate, then be signed by the President. There was some joking around on Twitter yesterday about how best to describe the situation with a poker analogy. Seems to me like what’s happened here is the equivalent of surviving Day 1 of the Main Event. Or maybe just surviving to the dinner break of Day 1. Such a long, long way to go.

As the high-frequency Twittering on H.R. 2267 indicated, there was a lot of buzz in the poker community regarding yesterday’s turn of events, with many -- including the Poker Players Alliance -- heralding the Committee vote as especially good for poker. “This is a great day not only for poker players, but for proponents of Internet freedom and individual liberty,” said former Senator and PPA Chairman Alphonse D’Amato.

Just to review, this was the bill first proposed by Rep. Barney Frank (D-NH) back in the spring of 2009, a version of an earlier bill Frank proposed during the previous Congress (the IGREA). Like Frank’s earlier bill, H.R. 2267 proposes a mechanism to license and regulate online gambling in the United States. If signed into law, it would put the Secretary of the Treasury in charge of issuing licenses to anyone wanting to run an online gambling site in the U.S.

The bill outlines a number of requirements of licensees, including having safeguards against fraud, money laundering, and “terrorist finance.” There’s other stuff in there about keeping kids from playing, watching out for compulsive or problem gamblers, and such. Licensees would also be required to collect taxes related to internet gambling.

Additionally, H.R. 2267 specifically shields the financial transaction providers from any liability when it comes to handling transactions for licensees. The bill also permits states and Indian tribal authorities to “opt out” and disallow online gambling in their jurisdictions, if they so desire.

Yesterday’s hearing including a “markup” of the bill during which Committee members proposed numerous amendments to H.R. 2267 and voted on them. Most of these amendments passed, while a few did not. Here is a quick summary of the 13 amendments that were agreed to by the committee:
  • 1. The so-called “bad actors” amendment (No. 2) adds that those who have committed gambling-related felonies be specifically prohibited from obtaining licenses, as well as those entities which have failed to use "due diligence to prevent any U.S. person from placing a bet on an internet site in violation of Federal or State gambling laws."

    In the online poker world, it appears this amendment could potentially have some consequence for those sites which have continued to accept U.S. bets post-UIGEA (e.g., PokerStars, Full Tilt, UB, etc.). Hard to say for sure, though. Of course, those sites would argue they have not violated any gambling laws -- including the poorly-worded UIGEA which fails to define "unlawful internet gambling." (Indeed, PokerStars already has said as much today.)

  • 2. An amendment (No. 3) specifically excluding licensees from offering sports betting -- except for “pari-mutuel racing as permitted by law” (i.e., horse racing).

  • 3. An amendment (No. 4) to prevent direct advertising of online gambling sites that targeted problem gamblers or minors.

  • 4. An multi-part amendment (No. 8) that appears to be redundant to many provisions already in the bill or part of existing Federal and state gambling laws, though does include the licensees making available some sort of “loss limit” option for bettors. This one also includes a specific note about players being at least 21 years of age, which would be a significant change from most sites’ current minimum age requirement of 18.

  • 5. An amendment (No. 9) modifying the “opt out” provision to give states and Indian tribal authorities more time to do so.

  • 6. Another amendment (No. 10) barring licensees from targeting minors in their advertising.

  • 7. An amendment (No. 11) that reiterates licensees would lose their license if it found they’re allowing minors to play on their sites. (Again, some of these amendments are essentially redundant either to the bill itself or to other amendments.)

  • 8. An amendment (No. 12) specifically stating licensees cannot accept credit card payments.

  • 9. An amendment (No. 13) disallowing those obtaining licenses to accept bets from customers who are behind on child support payments. (Thanks to PokerGrump for helping me read this one correctly.)

  • 10. An amendment (No. 14) clarifying that state lotteries aren’t part of the scope of that which is covered by H.R. 2267.

  • 11. An amendment (No. 15) that kind of builds further on the “bad actors” amendment by making very explicit the significance of sites having not prevented U.S. citizens from making online bets once the UIGEA was signed into law (on October 13, 2006). Again, this one seems mostly redundant to the earlier, first-agreed-to amendment, but does perhaps add a bit of extra attention to the distinction between sites that pulled out of the U.S. upon the UIGEA’s passage (e.g., PartyPoker) and those that did not.

  • 12. An amendment (No. 16) clarifying that licensees show that they are “majority-controlled” by U.S. persons.

  • 13. A “data collection” amendment (No. 17) requiring licensees to make public information about player behavior.
  • As I’ve said before here, I feel pretty much completely out of my element when trying to speculate about what could happen next when it comes to the legislative process. Kind of like getting involved in a game like Badugi where I am sort of familiar with the rules but to guess correctly about how things will proceed would probably require my getting lucky.

    My gut feeling is this bill will be met with a lot of resistance from the entire House, and perhaps even more from the Senate (if it were to get that far). I’m also a little less enthusiastic than some about the prospects for online poker in the U.S. under such a licensing scheme. Of course, if we start to see banks and financial transaction providers comply with the UIGEA in greater numbers, I think a lot of U.S. players would swiftly welcome the introduction of licensed and regulated online poker as a way to play.

    But like I say, I’m not even going to try to speculate further. All I know is I am an American who wants to continue to be able to play online poker. I also know I want to be continue to be able to write for sites who depend on online poker remaining healthy both in the U.S. and elsewhere.

    But I also know that despite my being an adult and responsible with my decisions, I live in a time and place where others are deciding about my being able to do such things.

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    Wednesday, July 28, 2010

    Time Isn’t Holding Us, Time Isn’t After Us

    I was out driving yesterday.I was out driving yesterday. Took the car for an overdue oil change, and found myself heading back down a road that if I were to have continued on it would eventually have led to where I used to work my old full-time job.

    Have to say I was glad to stop about halfway. To have some other destination.

    While I never wrote specifically here about what I did or where I worked, some readers might remember me talking around the edges of that old job now and then. And my having noted three months ago -- to the day, actually -- that I’d finally made the decision to leave that job and move into writing full-time.

    There were a lot of reasons for the change, but one was the drive. Twenty-five miles to, and twenty-five miles back. And generally we were talking around 40-45 minutes per trip, often closer to an hour. That was 8-10 hours per week, then, I was in the car, driving down that road, again and again.

    A lot of time to think about things. Like how much time was slipping by.

    Yesterday in the car I had dialed up the Talking Heads on the music player. A brilliant band, in my opinion, that produced a solid decade’s worth of inventive, smart, and just plain groovy music. All of their albums are great, but their fourth album, Remain in Light (1980), the pinnacle of their collaborations with producer and for-a-while-fifth-band-member (sort of) Brian Eno, has always been a special fave of mine.

    'Stop Making Sense' (1984) by the Talking HeadsThat’s the one with what is probably the Talking Heads best known song, “Once in a Lifetime,” although yesterday I was listening to the live Stop Making Sense long player (from 1984), and in fact I’ve always preferred that version of this particular song.

    You know the tune. While the “letting the days go by” chorus gets a bit surreal with all of the water flowing underground and all, the verses effectively present a speaker, kind of a preacher-type, inviting the listener to think about his or her life as it has been lived. “You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack,” he begins. “And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile,” he continues, adding, pointedly, “You may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?’”

    From there more questions are suggested to the listener. “Same as it ever was,” singer David Byrne repeats over and over, articulating what the poor sap stuck in some unpleasant life routine might conclude about how things are going. Sort of recalls one of Doyle Brunson’s “Doylisms” -- included in The Godfather of Poker at the start of chapter 16 -- “the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth.”

    The song builds to a kind of epiphany -- a “once in a lifetime” sort of moment -- where one perhaps finally “wakes up” and climbs out of the rut.

    I had an English professor, an especially good teacher, who once kind of surprisingly brought up the Talking Heads song in the context of talking about Matthew Arnold’s poem “The Buried Life.” The Victorian poet was conveying a similar message about how in all of our running about we sometimes forget who we really are. How we sometimes find ourselves yearning with “an unspeakable desire / After the knowledge of our buried life.”

    It was a clever comparison, and obviously has stuck with me to this day. Arnold’s poem also employs water imagery -- he talks about how “through the deep recesses of our breast / The unregarded river of our life” flows. The poem also builds toward a kind of “once in a lifetime” moment where one realizes what is happening. “This is rare,” says Arnold, but sometimes “a bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast / And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again,” at which point “A man becomes aware of his life’s flow.”

    One reason I’ve always preferred the live version of “Once in a Lifetime” -- specifically the one that appears on the Stop Making Sense LP and in the Jonathan Demme-directed film -- is because of one particular sequence near the end of the song, a sequence that doesn’t really happen in the shorter studio version. It starts right about the four-minute mark of this clip:



    In the performance in the film, Byrne leans backwards, as do the backup singers. Gradually they straighten back up -- sort of like being reborn or at least coming back to oneself. And Byrne sings:

    “Time isn’t holding us, time isn’t after us.”

    He repeats the lines -- adding “time is a pony ride” for grins. It’s a chill-producing, triumphant moment. It’s a victory. It also rocks.

    I got the oil change, and headed back home. Had some more writing to do. And living. No more letting the days go by.

    Time isn’t holding us. Nor is it after us. It just is. We make our own meaning -- of time, of everything. We can throw up our hands and say nothing can be done (“same as it ever was”) or we can try to become aware of our life’s flow and live.

    You have to decide about all this stuff on your own. But wherever you’re going, drive where you want to go.

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    Tuesday, July 27, 2010

    2010 WSOP on ESPN Tonight

    2010 WSOP on ESPNESPN starts airing its coverage of the 2010 World Series of Poker tonight. There was an hour-long preview show last week, but today’s the day we start seeing some of the actual poker played at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino over the last couple of months.

    Tonight there will be two hours’ worth of coverage of Event No. 2, the $50,000 Players Championship. A total of 116 players entered that one, played as an “8-game mix” tournament (a.k.a. S.P.L.E.N.D.O.R.) up until the final table, at which point the tourney reverted to no-limit hold’em only.

    I imagine the show tonight might give some reference to the fact that other games were played, but we’ll likely only see no-limit hold’em hands.

    (If somehow you are reading this and do not already know who won Event No. 2 -- and you wish not to know before tonight -- you might skip down to the schedule below.)

    Kind of serendipitous for ESPN, given how both Event No. 2 and the Main Event played out. They get both Michael and Robert Mizrachi at the final table for the Players Championship, and so get to play up that angle which then gets reprised big time in the Main Event when four Mizrachis (Michael, Robert, Danny, and Eric) make the cash, and one (Michael) survives all of the way to the November Nine.

    The Grinder was already known as a poker TV star before thanks to his two WPT victories, but after the next few months his celebrity status will elevate considerably as he becomes known by even the most casual fans.

    Event No. 2 is actually the only preliminary bracelet event that ESPN is giving any attention to this time around. Next week will be the Tournament of Champions (a non-bracelet event), then it’ll be the Main Event all of the way to November.

    Here’s the full schedule (all times Eastern). I’ve linked to PokerNews’ coverage of each event/day along the way:
  • Tuesday, July 27, 8-10 p.m.: Event No. 2, $50,000 Players Championship

  • Tuesday, August 3, 8-10 p.m.: WSOP Tournament of Champions

  • Tuesday, August 10, 8-10 p.m.: Event No. 57, $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em Championship (Main Event), Day 1a & Day 1b

  • Tuesday, August 17, 8-10 p.m.: Event No. 57, $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em Championship Championship (Main Event), Day 1c & Day 1d

  • Tuesday, August 24, 9-11 p.m.: Event No. 57, $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em Championship Championship (Main Event), Day 2a

  • Tuesday, August 31, 9-11 p.m.: Event No. 57, $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em Championship Championship (Main Event), Day 2b

  • Tuesday, September 7, 9-11 p.m.: Event No. 57, $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em Championship Championship (Main Event), Day 3

  • Tuesday, September 14, 9-11 p.m.: Event No. 57, $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em Championship Championship (Main Event), Day 4

  • Tuesday, September 21, 9-11 p.m.: Event No. 57, $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em Championship Championship (Main Event), Day 5

  • Tuesday, September 28, 9-11 p.m.: Event No. 57, $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em Championship Championship (Main Event), Day 6

  • Tuesday, October 5, 9-11 p.m.: Event No. 57, $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em Championship Championship (Main Event), Day 6 (continued)

  • Tuesday, October 12, 9-11 p.m.: Event No. 57, $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em Championship Championship (Main Event), Day 7

  • Tuesday, October 19, 9-11 p.m.: Event No. 57, $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em Championship Championship (Main Event), Day 7 (continued)

  • Tuesday, October 26, 9-11 p.m.: Event No. 57, $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em Championship Championship (Main Event), Day 8

  • Tuesday, November 2, 9-11 p.m.: Event No. 57, $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em Championship (Main Event), Day 8

  • Tuesday, November 9, 9 p.m.-until: Event No. 57, $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em Championship (Main Event), final table
  • This schedule is, of course, subject to change. Indeed, as far as the Main Event is concerned, this is a little different from what was given to us in the WSOP Official Media Guide, where it was suggested there would be four weeks (eight hours) devoted to the Day 1 flights. However, we were also advised there to consult the ESPN MediaZone site for the most up-to-date info on the schedule, and there it says we’re only going to have two weeks (four hours) of Day 1 coverage, and more time devoted to Days 6 and 7.

    It could be the Mizrachi brothers’ story was one reason for that shift in emphasis. In any event, I think I like having more attention given to the later days of the event, when there was much more drama, relatively speaking, than early on.

    All360PokerMeanwhile, if you can’t wait for ESPN to air its coverage of the 2010 WSOP, you can head over to All360Poker where you can watch some of the more exciting hands from the Main Event right now. Also available over there are some hands from many of the preliminary events as well -- just keep clicking on “Older Entries” to go back.

    Pretty cool stuff -- you can click and drag the image around to change the point of view as the hands play out. You can even download and save video files, if you wanna (although they are quite large).

    I had a chance to meet and hang out some with the All360Poker guys at the WSOP. There are big plans in the works for this new technology -- not just for covering poker, but other sporting events, too. Incidentally, if you want to read more about the technology used for the All360Poker stuff and some of the ideas behind its current and future uses, check out this article by Dan Michalski over on the WSOP site.

    Meanwhile, happy viewing.

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    Monday, July 26, 2010

    Hershiser’s Pitch for Poker

    Orel Hershiser at the 2010 NAPT Venetian eventAfter that summer spent at the Rio, where everything -- politics, sports, oil spills, etc. -- existed only in vague outlines for me while almost all of my attention was on the WSOP, it’s nice to be home where I can read a newspaper and take in a ball game now and then.

    Over the weekend I did both. I read The New York Times yesterday morning, then watched some of that exciting St. Louis-Chicago game on ESPN last night. One article I saw in the NYT yesterday was an interview with former major league great Orel Hershiser, who was, in fact, part of the announcing team for the Cards-Cubs game.

    And yeah, poker came up. Which is why I am mentioning it here.

    The article was quite short -- just eight questions -- in which the interviewer, Joe Brescia, mostly asks Hershiser about baseball, including questions about his announcing gig, his career, and for his thoughts concerning the current status of pitching today. The last question, though, is about poker.

    “You are an avid poker player,” Brescia begins. “You’ve beaten a few legends, including Ted Forrest, Allen Cunningham, and Freddy Deeb.” Brescia refers, of course, to that surprising run Hershiser had in the 2008 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship before finally losing to Andy Bloch in the Round of 16. Not quite as remarkable as pitching a major-league record 59 consecutive scoreless innings -- as Hershiser did to conclude that wondrous, Cy Young Award-winning 1988 season -- but a nifty feat, nonetheless.

    Brescia then asks Hershiser “How do you explain your success?” In fact, Hershiser has had more success in poker than we saw at that 2008 NBC event. He cashed in the 2010 NAPT PokerStars Caribbean Adventure event. He’s also done fairly well in some of the WCOOP events on PokerStars, including final tabling the 2008 $10,000 buy-in High-Roller NLHE event (finishing ninth).

    I remember seeing Hershiser at the NAPT Venetian event I helped cover in February of this year. (That is a picture of him from that event above, by the way, taken by Joe Giron.) If you look closely, you can see he has a signed baseball sitting in front of him. He eventually gave that as a souvenir to the person who knocked him out near the end of Day 2. That’s become a custom for Hershiser. I know he gave one to Annette Obrestad when she knocked him out of the first round the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship this past spring, and Obrestad -- not a big baseball fan -- wasn’t quite sure what it was about.

    Anyhow, I really like Hershiser’s response to the question. First of all, he doesn’t get carried away with the idea of his “success” in poker, which he obviously understands has been quite modest. Secondly, he immediately makes a distinction between poker and other gambling games that I like hearing made.

    “When I moved to Las Vegas,” Hershiser begins, “poker was something to do to stay away from gambling. That sounds funny, but I mean roulette and blackjack and all the places where the house has the edge. But in poker, it’s man against man and everyone has equal footing.”

    Hershiser here articulates an idea -- both succinctly and effectively, I think -- that should be familiar to anyone who has ever thought seriously about poker. Namely that while poker is gambling, or at least involves a chance element, it is also much, much different from other forms of gambling in which the skill component is severely muted or missing entirely.

    Hershiser goes on to suggest an analogy from baseball which is also fitting and helps illustrate how poker does indeed involve genuine skill and competition. “It’s like pitching,” says Hershiser. “It’s the same outline. What position am I in? Was this guy aggressive last time? Do I need to disguise my hand? I think I can bluff him. And at 51 years old, competing on my rear end when my body is shutting down is not bad.”

    That game-within-the-game between pitcher and batter can indeed be very similar to the heads-up battles that emerge at a table full of players. In both cases the match-up involves players employing various skill sets against one another but also engaging in an intellectual battle, too.

    I do appreciate Hershiser out there helping explain and represent poker in such a way. Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill this week that distinction between poker and other forms of gambling will be set aside as H.R. 2267, the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act goes into what is called the “markup” phase before it gets voted on by the House Financial Services Committee tomorrow.

    If the bill receives a favorable committee vote -- which Kevmath says “appears too close to call” -- H.R. 2267 will then move on to the entire House of Representatives for its consideration. The bill would still need to be passed by the House, then the Senate, then signed into law by the President. Meaning we’re still quite a long way away from any significant changes for online gambling in the U.S., I’d imagine.

    It’s an interesting moment for poker, I think. H.R. 2267 is designed to set up a licensing and regulatory scheme for the operation of online gambling sites in the United States. It makes no distinctions between poker and other forms of gambling, and so the further this bill moves along -- with the full support of the Poker Players Alliance, by the way -- the more poker’s supporters will be necessarily grouped with those supporting making other forms of gambling more available to Americans.

    Thus will arguments about poker being a “skill game” have to be set aside in the context of debates about this particular bill. Annie Duke did just that, actually, in her statement before the House Financial Services Committee last week, talking more specifically about individual liberty than about poker per se.

    From a practical point of view, I guess it doesn’t matter too much that poker gets folded in with other forms of gambling. Such will always be the case, and when it comes to legislators, attempts to distinguish poker as a “skill game” and therefore perhaps make it seem more acceptable to some from a moral standpoint are mostly going to be in vain, anyway.

    Still, as I say, I do appreciate the distinction Hershiser makes when describing why he likes poker. A pitch worth making, I think.

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    Friday, July 23, 2010

    Competence and Poker

    Not in SerbisHave returned to the online tables this week, probably playing more hands in the last few days than I did for the previous eight weeks combined.

    This sort of routine has happened each summer I’ve been away at the World Series of Poker. During the Series I get the chance to play live here and there, but unsurprisingly will have little time or inclination to fire up the online games. Then once I return home, I find I am excited to play once again. And even a little bit inspired to learn and improve, too.

    This week I’ve been flitting about between various games, including jumping into tourneys, too. While in Vegas I had the chance to play mixed games on a few occasions, and so I have been gravitating towards the 8-game mix on Stars. Have also put in hands of pot-limit Omaha, razz, and limit hold’em.

    The 8-game mix in particular -- where one rotates between limit hold’em, Omaha/8, razz, stud, stud/8, no-limit hold’em, pot-limit Omaha, and 2-7 triple draw -- has gotten me thinking about this idea of “competence” in poker, perhaps because occasionally there one will not too infrequently run into players who appear to lack basic fundamental knowledge of a given game.

    It’ll happen in other games, too, of course. Sit down at a low limit razz game and often somebody will be there wanting to play every hand with face cards showing. The presence of those without what seems basic “competence” does tend to highlight the whole idea of one’s own knowledge of rules and basic strategy of a given game. And maybe make one feel somehow special for knowing something someone else does not.

    Before I got too carried away congratulating myself for my own competence -- e.g., knowing I wanted to see a deuce among my starting five cards before getting too involved in a 2-7 triple draw hand -- I started to think further about how “competence” is surely needed in poker, though probably shouldn’t be a goal in and of itself.

    Back in the 1980s, a fellow named William Howell wrote a book called The Empathic Communicator in which he described the “four levels of competence” in a way that has been much-referred to ever since. In fact, Howell’s idea built on theories of learning established by others some time before, but his little scheme became kind of popular in the 1990s as a way of talking about teaching and how people learn.

    Basically Howell just highlighted how people can have or lack competence and how people can possess differing levels of awareness of having or lacking competence. From there come the four levels of competence:

    There’s “unconscious incompetence” in which a person doesn’t know how to do something, nor is that person even aware he or she lacks such knowledge. Kind of like those seemingly “Level Zero” thinkers one sometimes runs into at the poker tables (especially at the lower limits).

    There’s “conscious incompetence” where one doesn’t know how to do something but realizes one lacks such knowledge. I know if there is something wrong with the motor of my car I cannot fix it myself, so I take it to the shop.

    Then there’s “conscious competence” in which a person knows how to do something, but it requires special effort or concentration to show such knowledge. I sometimes think when I play certain games like 2-7 triple draw or razz or really anything besides hold’em, I am “consciously competent” at best.

    Finally there’s “unconscious competence” which is probably best thought of as a “second nature”-kind of knowledge. You’ve done it so much that knowing how to do what you are doing comes without thinking. In poker, this would be the case for the player who has played so many hands of a given game that knowing what to do often -- if not always -- comes “naturally.”

    By the way, some have talked about a fifth level of competence -- where one is conscious of being unconsciously competent and thus can perform while also being aware enough to explain what one is doing. Such is the level at which the best teachers would seem to operate.

    I suppose when it comes to poker we all begin at that first level of “unconscious incompetence” and then (hopefully) move upwards as we play more and gather experience. I worry, though, that with most games I’ve settled for “conscious competence” -- a stage where I am basically having to remind myself again and again certain basic things about starting hand selection, the importance of position, odds and probabilities, and so forth.

    Is it a right to remain ignorant? I don't know, but I refuse to find out.In fact, the more I think about it, I have to admit that with some games situations arise when I realize I might not even possess total competence -- in fact, I surely don’t -- which means at that moment I’m consciously incompetent.

    And that I must have been unconsciously incompetent before having that little epiphany!

    Boy, was I happy then.

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    Thursday, July 22, 2010

    Hellmuth v. Ivey, the Bracelet Chase

    Hellmuth v. Ivey, the Bracelet ChaseI didn’t get a chance to watch the House hearing yesterday. Couldn’t get any of the live streams to work for me. Haven’t yet tried to view the archived video, although I am curious to see the Q&A portion. I heard that the UltimateBet cheating scandal did come up at one point yesterday -- am curious to see how Annie Duke managed to discuss that particular issue.

    Speaking of UB and its spokespeople, Phil Hellmuth was back in the news this week with another bit of provocative self-promotion, this time concerning Phil Ivey’s prospects for one day breaking Hellmuth’s WSOP bracelet record.

    This summer Ivey won his eighth WSOP bracelet, putting him in a tie with Erik Seidel on the all-time list. There are only four players with more bracelets -- Johnny Moss (9), Johnny Chan (10), Doyle Brunson (10), and, of course, Hellmuth (11).

    Ivey won his bracelet this summer in the $3,000 H.O.R.S.E. event, and after winning he was widely quoted as having said “I think I can win 30 gold bracelets. I think I can reach that if I keep playing and stay healthy.”

    Ivey won his first bracelet back in 2000, so since then he’s averaged a little under one bracelet per WSOP -- three in ’02, one in ’05, two last year, and the one this summer. At age 34, Ivey certainly has a shot at winning many more, and while 30 seems kind of out there, it could be Ivey is simply using that goal as another way to motivate himself.

    Ever since Phil Hellmuth won his 11th bracelet back in 2007, thus breaking a three-way tie between himself, Chan, and Brunson to take the overall lead, he’s frequently reiterated how important it is to him to hold the record.

    I remember last summer, during the 2009 WSOP, I attended a small press conference with Hellmuth regarding his new book, Deal Me In, at which time he was also talking up a documentary about him and the growth of poker over recent years, generally speaking. Although the film isn’t solely about Hellmuth, its title indicates its primary focus -- Quest for 12. (Hellmuth was saying at the time that the film had been submitted for consideration at the Cannes Film Festival, but that was the last I’ve heard of it.) It’s definitely all about the bracelets for Hellmuth.

    The talk about Hellmuth, Ivey, and the bracelet chase came up on the most recent episode of The Poker Show with Jesse May. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago how I got a chance to meet May, a.k.a. “The Voice of Poker,” at that World Poker Tour press conference. Got a kick out of that, as I both enjoy May’s podcast and am an admirer of his poker novel, Shut Up and Deal, published “pre-boom” back in 1998.

    I haven’t been able to listen to the latest episode yet, but I see over on the Cake Poker site a report of Hellmuth’s comments about Ivey and his record.

    “Ivey won’t pass me in five years,” said Hellmuth. That’d mean Ivey winning four bracelets during that stretch -- and Hellmuth none -- which indeed would be quite a feat. Hellmuth adds that he sees himself winning three or four more during that period, thereby making it less likely for Ivey to catch him.

    Ivey responded to Hellmuth’s proclamation on the same show, noting that “unless [Hellmuth] wins a couple in the next five years... then I’m probably a small underdog to tie him.” Ivey goes on to suggest he’s “probably a five-to-one, six-to-one dog or so” to catch the Poker Brat.

    Such talk is fun and definitely adds a layer of intrigue to the bracelet chase. Besides holding the record for most bracelets, Hellmuth is also unsurpassed at the art of self-promotion, and his getting into it with Ivey over the record is yet another example of his success at keeping his name in the poker headlines.

    One other interesting facet to the Ivey-versus-Hellmuth bracelet chase is the fact that all of Hellmuth’s bracelets are in hold’em-only events (including limit, pot-limit, and no-limit) while none of Ivey’s are in hold’em-only events. (Ivey does have a couple in mixed games that include LHE.) It therefore probably makes sense to look at the WSOP schedule when assessing Ivey’s chances of catching Hellmuth.

    There were 54 open-field events at the WSOP this year. Of those, 32 of them were hold’em-only events. (That includes all of the variations on hold’em, including LHE, PLHE, NLHE, heads-up, six-max, shootouts, etc.). The other 22 events were not hold’em only (i.e., other games, including mixed games that include hold’em).

    One assumes the schedule will remain similar going forward -- that is, roughly two-thirds of the bracelet events will continue to be hold’em-only events. One might conclude Hellmuth to have a slight advantage here, although one has to take into account that the hold’em events tend to attract larger fields.

    One last point of comparison between Ivey and Hellmuth to add here -- something I’ll admit I was surprised to find out. If asked what was more likely, Hellmuth winning a bracelet in a non-hold’em-only event or Ivey winning one in a hold’em-only event, what would be your response? Probably that Ivey has the better chance, yes?

    In fact, Hellmuth has made 15 final tables in non-hold’em-only events, finishing runner-up three times (in a Deuce-to-Seven event, a limit Omaha event, and an Omaha/8 event). Meanwhile, Ivey has only three final tables in hold’em-only events at the WSOP -- one way back in 2000 and the other two last year.

    All of which is to suggest I think we’re looking at a close race here going forward. Will certainly be interesting to follow, whatever happens.

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    Wednesday, July 21, 2010

    Oh, Right... the UIGEA

    Oh, Right... the UIGEAA few weeks before the WSOP began, I pulled together those “Bloggers Roundtable” columns over at Betfair Poker where I asked a dozen well-known poker bloggers to talk about the upcoming Series and also reflect on covering past WSOPs. Kind of fun to go back and see what they said now that we’ve reached the end of seven-and-a-half week WSOP marathon.

    The first question I asked the bloggers was to tell me what stories they were most interested in following over the summer. At the time we were a few weeks away from June 1, the day when it would finally become mandatory for banks and financial institutions to comply with the finalized regulations of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. A couple of the bloggers (F-Train and Dr. Pauly) did say they were interested in seeing what, if any, effect the UIGEA finally being enforced might have on the WSOP, including possibly hurting attendance.

    The UIGEA, you recall, was that law hastily passed way back at the end of September 2006, tacked on to the end of something called the Safe Port Act and rushed through both houses just as the 109th U.S. Congress was closing up shop to ready for the 2006 elections.

    The bill was signed into law two weeks later by then President George W. Bush. Within days many sites -- including Party Poker, at the time a top site for U.S. players -- instantly became inaccessible to Americans. And not too long after that other depositing methods like Neteller were taken away from Americans as well, although there have always been other ways for Americans to get money onto the sites (even if they take a little bit of work to figure them out).

    It then took three-and-a-half years for the regulations to be drafted and finalized, and then, on June 1, for compliance to be made mandatory. Those finalized regs prohibit banks from allowing their customers to deposit from their accounts into online gambling sites, even if they are located offshore (as they all are). The way the finalized regulations are written, U.S. citizens should be able to withdraw funds from online gambling sites back into their accounts, but no one is 100% sure about how banks are (or are not) following the UIGEA’s directives.

    That’s because there remains a lot of fuzziness regarding the actual enforcement of the UIGEA, which representatives of the American Banking Association repeatedly characterized before Congress as an undue burden on banks. (I mentioned just one example of such testimony in a post from a couple of years ago titled “The Good, the Bad, and the UIGEA.”) One fairly significant problem for banks is that the UIGEA never does define “unlawful internet gambling,” thus making it difficult for banks to determine what exactly they are being asked to prohibit. As the ABA indicated early on, one way of dealing with that burden would be for banks to “overblock” all deposits that are suspected to be gambling deposits.

    As far as the WSOP was concerned, the June 1 deadline did not appear to have much of an effect on attendance at all. Indeed, the numbers were up overall in terms of total registrations as well as the field for the Main Event. And while I found myself fairly well buried to the neck in each of the events I ended up covering, I didn’t really hear a lot of fretting about the UIGEA from players or the media during my time in the Rio this summer.

    Now that the WSOP is over, our attention once again has become occupied by the UIGEA and other legal issues connected with online poker. This afternoon the entire House Financial Services Committee will meet to discuss the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act (H.R. 2267), a bill introduced over a year ago by the committee’s chairman Rep. Barney Frank (D-NH) which is designed to create a licensing and regulating mechanism for online gambling sites in the U.S.

    Five witnesses are scheduled to testify this afternoon. Not all support Frank’s bill.

    First scheduled is Ed Williams, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Discovery Federal Credit Union. He will represent the Credit Union National Association’s view that the UIGEA creates too much of a burden for credit unions and banks, saying they really need a list of illegal sites before they hope to enforce the UIGEA as directed. The CUNA supports Frank’s bill, but again wants to ensure “safe harbors” for the credit unions and other financial institutions with regard to their having to police against customers’ transactions with unlicensed, unregulated gambling sites.

    Next will come Tom Malkasian, Vice Chairman and Director of Strategic Planning of the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles. Malkasian will speak in opposition to H.R. 2267. He has a few specific objections to Frank’s bill, but it is clear he views the creation of some sort of licensing/regulating scheme for online gambling to be potentially detrimental to the live gambling industry.

    Then the Honorable Lynn Malerba, Tribal Chairwoman of the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut will speak. She supports H.R. 2267, but believes it could be enhanced by including an unambiguous provision making it clear that tribal governments/gaming facilities are authorized to operate internet gaming sites.

    Law Enforcement and Anti-Terrorism Consultant Michael K. Fagan comes next, and as you might guess he, too, is less than enthusiastic about H.R. 2267. Although he claims to be “agnostic” about gambling -- kind of an odd word choice, there -- Fagan believes any sort of legislation that would facilitate gambling would open up a host of potential problems for the U.S.

    Finally Annie Duke will testify -- really the only one of the five witnesses who will speak unreservedly in favor of Frank’s bill. Duke’s testimony includes points about individual liberty and poker’s place in American history. She also attempts to characterize H.R. 2267 not as “a bill that expands Internet gambling in America," but one that "simply provides the appropriate government safeguards to an industry that currently exists and continues to grow.” By the way, Grange95 offers some insightful commentary about Duke’s current status as a spokesperson for online poker.

    It looks like there may be a Q-and-A after the five witnesses speak, which could prove interesting. Frank’s bill currently has 69 co-sponsors, but I’m not too enthusiastic about it attracting many more following today’s hearing.

    Nor am I really all that excited about H.R. 2267 generally speaking. Before the UIGEA was finalized and compliance made mandatory, I liked the way these hearings about other bills provided occasions to demonstrate how flawed the UIGEA was, hoping that perhaps that a consequence could be that the law would never be fully enforced.

    But now that time has passed. And while the UIGEA remains somewhat impotent, that could change -- very quickly, I’d say.

    So I’ll be watching this afternoon. Doesn’t seem like it’ll be as interesting as a WSOP final table, but it will be curious to see what sort of hands get played and in which direction the chips appear to go.

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    Tuesday, July 20, 2010

    Looking Back on That Long Last Day

    Looking Back on That Long Last DayLast summer I helped report on the 2009 WSOP Main Event all of the way through the last day of play -- that is, I was there reporting on hands during that final Day 8 when they played from 27 players down to nine.

    Right up until play began at noon that day, all of the talk had been that we were looking at a long, long day-slash-night-slash-morning of play. In fact, I had a flight scheduled at 8 a.m. the following morning, and people were telling me I might not even make it. I actually took my bags to the Amazon room just in case I might have to leave directly from the Rio to McCarran Airport.

    However, the last day of play went much, much more quickly than anyone anticipated, ending before 11 p.m. that night. (I got to go back to my hotel room and spend one last night there before flying out the next morning.)

    As you know, things went differently on Day 8 this year, with play lasting almost until 6 a.m. local time -- a close to 18-hour-plus day, all told. I was curious to take a look at the stack sizes and see if there were any obvious explanation for why the day went so quickly in 2009 and took so long this year.

    In 2009, there were 6,494 players entered in the Main Event, meaning a total of 194,820,000 chips in play. That means when we came to that last day when there were 27 players left, the average stack was a tad over 7.215 million. They were right at the end of Level 29 when they started that day, where the blinds were 50,000/100,000 and the antes 10,000.

    In other words, the average stack when they began Day 8 last year was about 72 big blinds. Even when they moved up to Level 30 (which only took a few hands), where the blinds moved to 60,000/120,000 (ante 15,000), the average stack was still 60 big blinds. That fact, coupled with the two-hour levels, is what made everyone believe it was going to take a long time to get down to nine players.

    But it didn’t work out that way. There were done before we’d even reached the end of Level 33 -- in fact, they played just about exactly four levels’ worth, or eight hours of poker, to get from 27 to nine.

    This year, there were more players in the Main Event -- 7,319 -- and so more chips in play, i.e., 219,570,000. That meant with 27 players the average stack was about 8.132 million. They’d gotten to Level 30 by the beginning of Day 8 this year (60,000/120,000/15,000), so the average stack to start out on Saturday was a little less than 68 big blinds. They had most (more than 90 minutes) of Level 30 to go, actually, so the fact was the stacks were a tad deeper this time than last, though not by a heck of a lot.

    But this year it really did take until sunrise to settle who would be the November Nine. They ended play close to halfway through Level 36 -- that is, they played about 12.5 hours’ worth of poker, which coupled with all the breaks ended up lasting something close to 18 hours altogether.

    I haven’t read through the entire live blog from this year’s Day 8, but I do see there was one hand not too long after ten-handed play began when it all could’ve ended much sooner. Brandon Steven -- who would finish in 10th place more than four hours later -- doubled through Michael Mizrachi.

    Clearly there were a few more patient players this time around, folks like Hasan Habib nursing their short stacks as long as they possibly could to move up a spot or three. And Mizrachi -- the “Grinder” -- who showed an ability to grind from way back on Days 3 and 4 of the Main Event when he carefully preserved his below average stack.

    I can’t claim to be especially familiar with the abilities of the nine players who made it through this year, but I’ll venture a guess that on average they may well possess a bit more savvy and skill than did last year’s group. And the fact that Day 8 lasted so darn long could be cited as part of the evidence to support that thesis.

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    Monday, July 19, 2010

    2010 WSOP, A Reporter’s Notebook

    2010 WSOP, A Reporter’s NotebookSlept past noon again today, the body -- and mind, probably -- still recovering from the extended workout of the last two months.

    This was my third summer helping cover the World Series of Poker for PokerNews. Like I did in 2008 and 2009, I posted here throughout the summer, sharing some of my experiences reporting on the sucker. For both of those years I did a compilation post at the end collecting links to all the WSOP posts, so I thought I’d do that again today. (Here’s the 2008 compilation, and here’s the one for 2009.)

    As those of you who’ve been reading know, these aren’t really reports on the Series as much as personal reflections -- hopefully providing something a little different (and maybe even interesting) about some of what happened at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino since late May.

    2010 WSOP, Day 1: Exile on Hotel Rio Drive
    Despite not being assigned to work, I go in on the first day of play anyway and reunite with several friends. Without wheels of my own, I remain for much of the day, including seeing the start of the $50,000 Player’s Championship (Event No. 2).

    2010 WSOP, Day 2: The Grand Games
    My first assignment was to help cover Event No. 3, the first of six open-field, $1,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em tourneys on this year’s schedule. Here I offer some thoughts about the significance of these $1K or “grand” games.

    2010 WSOP, Day 3: Groundhog Day
    Probably a little early in the Series to bring up this movie, but I’m alluding to having worked Day 1b of Event No. 3, where rather than move forward in the event it seems like we’re starting over again.

    2010 WSOP, Days 4-11: Catching Up
    This year I took an eight-day detour from the WSOP early on to go help cover the LAPT Lima event in Peru. (Here is a post with links to all of those trip reports.) Here I’ve returned and am catching up on some of the big stories from the beginning of the 2010 WSOP.

    2010 WSOP, Day 12: Rejoining the Spectacle
    I wound up over at the Rio on a day off again, and actually ended up working nearly a full shift when a colleague fell ill. Helped a bit covering Event No. 17 ($5,000 No-Limit Hold’em), during which Shannon Elizabeth took a picture of Hellmuth, Ferguson, Williams, and me (no shinola).

    2010 WSOP, Day 13: The Real Tournament of Champions?
    I move over to help cover Event No. 19, the $10,000 Deuce-to-Seven Draw Championship (No-Limit), the field for which is so stacked it inspired the title question.

    2010 WSOP, Day 14: Late Night Draw
    A short post about a long night covering Day 2 of Event No. 19, the $10,000 Deuce-to-Seven Draw Championship (No-Limit).

    2010 WSOP, Day 15: No Time
    Refer in passing here to my birthday, spent covering the final of Event No. 19. Also throw in a few remarks here about the first day of the Ladies Championship (Event No. 22), which generated so much talk.

    2010 WSOP, Day 16: On Covering the Ladies Event
    I moved over to Day 2 of Event No. 22, the $1,000 buy-in Ladies Hold’em Championship, about which I share a few reflections here.

    2010 WSOP, Day 17: Ladies Event Final Table
    During which Robbie, the Tournament Director, sprays me with Red Bull and I race into the Ladies room.

    2010 WSOP, Day 18: Beating 2-4
    A day off, and the Poker Grump plays some $2-$4 limit hold’em with me. During which he draws and plays his celebrated deuce-four.

    2010 WSOP, Day 19: The Day One Debate
    Back to work, covering Day 1 of Event No. 28, the $2,500 Pot-Limit Omaha event. Here I open up the question regarding how best to report on these first days of three-day events.

    2010 WSOP, Day 20: Which Event Is This?
    Moving into that part of the schedule in which every day there were five or six different events going, often right alongside one another. I was still on Event No. 28 here (Day 2).

    2010 WSOP, Day 21: Crazy Rhythms
    On reporting from the final table of Event No. 28, the $2,500 Pot-Limit Omaha event won by Miguel Proulx.

    2010 WSOP, Day 22: Heads Up!
    A fun day for me. Got to work with Snoopy, helping cover Day 1 of Event No. 35, the $10,000 Heads Up No-Limit Hold’em Championship. And Vera Valmore arrived for her week-long visit.

    2010 WSOP, Day 23: The Act You’ve Known for All These Years
    Another awesome day. Vera and I go see Cheap Trick perform the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album plus a number of their own hits over at the Paris. Power pop FTW!

    2010 WSOP, Day 24: The Match Without End
    Ducky and I are at the Rio until 6 a.m. covering what was supposed to be the last day of Event No. 35, the $10,000 Heads Up No-Limit Hold’em Championship. Only it didn’t end (the final two would come back the next day to finish).

    2010 WSOP, Day 25: Ivey, Ivey, Ivey
    Phil Ivey wins his eighth bracelet, that final table playing out in front of me while I cover Day 2 of Event No. 38, the $2,500 Pot-Limit Hold’em/Pot-Limit Omaha event.

    2010 WSOP, Day 26: Observing Obrestad
    I share some thoughts about watching Annette Obrestad play in Event No. 39, the $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em Shootout.

    2010 WSOP, Day 27: Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights)
    Just after we finish up with the final table of Event No. 39, the $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em Shootout, the power went out in the Rio. “Cover your chips!” were the first words cried out.

    2010 WSOP, Day 28: Lull
    Just four events on the WSOP schedule that day. Of those I was assigned to help cover Day 1 of Event No. 44, the $2,500 Mixed Limit/No-Limit Hold’em event.

    2010 WSOP, Day 29: Fun and Games
    I help with Day 2 of Event No. 44, and Benjo tells me my balls are too small.

    2010 WSOP, Day 30: “You’re Winning This One”
    Gavin Smith wins a bracelet. Of course, FlipChip told him he would the day before.

    2010 WSOP, Day 31: Break in the Routine
    A day off, part of which I spend having lunch with the always interesting Tommy Angelo.

    2010 WSOP, Day 32: The Grand Games, Part 2
    I began the summer helping cover one of the $1,000 buy-in NLHE events, and I was back on them again near the end, this time helping with Day 2 of Event No. 47. A few more reflections here about the so-called “donkaments.”

    2010 WSOP, Day 33: Games People Play
    Here I allow myself a little bit of room to vent some about the various complaints surrounding the WSOP, its coverage, and so forth.

    2010 WSOP, Day 34: Hard to Deny, Must Be July
    Not difficult at all while at the WSOP to lose track of what the calendar says, and instead think of the world as organized into Day Ones, Twos, and Threes.

    2010 WSOP, Day 35: In Person
    I help cover Day 1a of Event No. 54, the last of the open-field $1,000 buy-in events, in which a number of friends and acquaintances were playing.

    2010 WSOP, Day 36: On the Schneid
    I sit down to chat with my friend and 2007 WSOP Player of the Year Tom Schneider about his Series and the state of poker, generally speaking.

    2010 WSOP, Day 37: Feeling Gravity’s Pull
    Still on Event No. 54, and starting to feel the wear and tear of all those 12-, 13-, 14-hour (and longer) days.

    2010 WSOP, Day 38: The Last of the Preliminaries
    Still covering Event No. 54, and starting to look ahead to the Main Event.

    2010 WSOP, Day 39: From Where I’m Sitting
    On the first day of the Main Event (Day 1a), I helped cover what was a fairly exciting final table for Event No. 54.

    2010 WSOP, Day 40: A Few Calculations
    Looking at some of the early numbers for the Main Event, and also remarking on some of the struggles had by the so-called “name” players at the ME.

    2010 WSOP, Day 41: Rejoining the World (Series)
    Getting back in the swing of things at the Main Event, including reuniting/visiting with some buds on media row. This was also the day I had the privilege of interviewing Nolan Dalla, WSOP Media Director.

    2010 WSOP, Day 42: Day 1d Anecdotes
    A player asks me advice about how to play the Main Event. I also meet Chris Cosenza (Ante Up!).

    2010 WSOP, Day 43: Following the Action
    On Day 2a of the Main Event, including a fairly bizarre hand involving Chris Moneymaker and Bryan Pellegrino.

    2010 WSOP, Day 44: The Return of the World Poker Tour
    A pretty cool day off (my last), spent in part attending a press conference for the WPT with California Jen. I meet and chat with several folks there, including Mike Sexton, Vince Van Patten, Jesse May, and Matt Savage.

    2010 WSOP, Day 45: Tournies & Trophies, Gin & Juice
    I take third in the WSOP Media tournament (of 130). How do I celebrate? By going to see Snoop Dogg, of course.

    2010 WSOP, Day 46: The Odd Couple
    A report from Day 3 of the Main Event, during which I watched Robert Varkonyi and Vanessa Selbst mix it up more than once.

    2010 WSOP, Day 47: The Roving Reporter
    I spend the first part of Day 4 of the Main Event watching the last hands in the Pavilion Room played this summer, then I trek over to the feature tables.

    2010 WSOP, Day 48: The Long Walk
    Day 5 of the Main Event. Players falling left and right. The scene reminds me of an old Stephen King novel.

    2010 WSOP, Day 49: Intense
    Up to Day 6. They played down from 205 to 78 this day, so the stakes (for the players and for those reporting on them) were going up, up, up.

    2010 WSOP, Day 50: Almost There
    My last day helping cover the WSOP for PokerNews (Day 7 of the ME) was another wild one.

    2010 WSOP, Day 51: The End
    While the November Nine is being decided, I catch an early flight. Here I try to thank the many wonderful folks with whom I worked all summer.

    Back to our regular programming (i.e., once a weekday posting) starting tomorrow. And thanks again for reading along this summer.

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    Sunday, July 18, 2010

    2010 WSOP, Day 51: The End

    The empty PavilionThat is a picture of the empty Pavilion room, one of the last sights I had as I was leaving the Rio for the final time this summer. Just another room, now.

    My last day in Vegas began at the home away from home and ended back at the real home over here on the other side of the continent. There was a sorta-frantic hour of packing, a couple more hours to get to the airport and wait for departure, then an uneventful flight of just under four hours bringing me home by early evening.

    Wasn’t too long after that I fell into about 15 hours of dreamless unconsciousness, waking to read about the long, long, long night my buds had covering yesterday’s Day 8 during which the November Nine was finally set.

    Appears Scott “BigRiskky” Clements went out in 18th. And Hasan Habib nursed that short stack all of the way to 14th-place prize money -- over half a million dollars!

    Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi made it, and like Ivey last year will be returning in November to a below average stack in seventh place. And also like Ivey last year -- who won two bracelets and final tabled the ME -- there will be talk that Mizrachi really should be getting the WSOP POY this year, although he can only tie Frank Kassela by winning the sucker. (Jeff Lisandro won the POY last year.)

    Had a suspicion this year’s final day wouldn’t go as quickly as happened in 2009, though cannot say I really thought they would go as long as they did. Indeed, they were still playing up until about 6 a.m. Vegas time. That’s an eighteen-hour day!

    Looking over the names of the nine who made it through -- Mizrachi, Jonathan Duhamel, John Dolan, Joseph Cheong, John Racener, Matthew Jarvis, Filippo Candio, Soi Nguyen, and Jason Senti -- I don’t think too many knew a lot about most of these guys a couple of weeks ago, but we’ll surely learn more about all of them over the next three-and-a-half months.

    As I said hastily yesterday, I’m very glad to be back home and with the lovely Vera Valmore. And to have the chance to resume a “normal” life in which things like sleeping, eating, and exercising can become part of the daily routine.

    But let me add, too, to what I was saying about the group I left behind yesterday.

    Everyone who spends the summer covering the WSOP alludes to how difficult it can be. But for those of us who love poker -- and to see poker played at the highest levels -- being at the Rio during June and July writing about the game we love is assuredly a great place to be. I can’t begin to say how grateful I am to have had the chance to work with and alongside such a bunch of talented, interesting, and incredibly supportive folks.

    Started to do this yesterday -- that is, try to name all of those who helped make the summer all the better -- though didn’t have time. And I know I’ll forget someone, even now that I have the time to think about it. But I’ll try nonetheless.

    Thanks to AlCantHang, Andrew Feldman, Benjo, B.J. Nemeth, Pokerati Dan, Jen Newell, Jess Wellman, Timtern, and Paul of Bluff, Mean Gene, Michele Lewis, Merchdawg, Nolan Dalla, Otis and the Pokerstars guys, Dr. Pauly, Seth Palansky and the whole WSOP team, Spaceman, and the Wicked Chops entities.

    And on the PokerNews side, thank you Adam, Alex (ChipBitch), Alexander, Andy, Anne, BlocoDabarra, Ben, Brett, Change100, Danafish, Dave King, Disco Chad, Donnie, Ducky, ebhizzle, Elaine, Eric (FerricRamsium), FlipChip, F-Train, Glo, Greg, Heath (TassieDevil), JonBon, Kristy, Lynn, Matt P., Matt S., Matt W., 1-2-3 Mickey Doft, Mike the Driver, Rich, Cinema Sarah, Snoopy, and Will.

    And special thanks to Vera, without whose support I also could never have done this again.

    And thank you, readers, for coming back time and again.

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    Saturday, July 17, 2010

    2010 WSOP, Day 50: Almost There

    Are we there yet?Not too much time to write today, as I fly home in just a few hours and desperately need to get packing. Another crazy summer at the WSOP is almost done for me.

    Day 7 at the WSOP Main Event was not as stressful workwise as the previous day, although it was still a very busy day of blogging. I wasn’t out on the floor too terribly much yesterday. In truth, there wasn’t much floor on which to be. There were just nine tables total when we began yesterday. Two were feature tables, and others were covering those, so there were just seven tables secured behind ropes there in the Amazon at noon when the first hands were dealt.

    Jean-Robert Bellande went out within a half-hour or so. David Benyamine and Alexander Kostritsyn were gone by dinner. So was Meenakshi Subramaniam. Before play began yesterday, I asked Subramaniam about the spelling of his name (which Harrah’s had slighty off). Had gotten especially adept at saying it by the time of his bust in 67th.

    When dinner came there were 42 left and we were all wondering how much longer it would take to get to 27. After we got back, there were only two eliminations during the first hour, and it indeed looked like it would take some time.

    Then came an insanely-paced hour in which 11 more went out, leaving just 29 players by the end of the level. Although the blinds were 50,000/100,000 during that level and some of the players who were committing their stacks with hands like A-3 or K-Q were down to 18-20 big blinds, we were still marveling at how ready most seemed to be to gamble.

    The reporting got pretty hectic during that stretch, but I think we handled it all okay. Two more went out early in the next level, and when the last one (Bryn Kenney) hit the rail in 28th, there was a huge roar from the players, spectators, and the media, too.

    Shortly after play ended, I happened to meet and talk briefly with Sam Chauhan, the much-talked-about poker coach who has helped players like David Williams, Gavin Smith, Josh Arieh, and others. We talked about his client, Hasan Habib, who successfully managed to nurse a very short stack all of the way to Day 8.

    Chauhan described to me a big fold Habib had made with pocket sevens against what turned out to be pocket kings, a fold made when Habib was down to just five big blinds. I agreed with Chauhan that Habib had distinguished himself from many of the other players last night by demonstrating such patience. Although I only spoke to him briefly, Chauhan did seem like a very friendly guy and good communicator.

    I said my goodbyes to everyone, then left the Rio for the last time this summer. I’ve written before about this day of departing and the various emotions it evokes. Of all three summers working at the WSOP, I must admit I’ve never been so ready to get back home. Still, I do have a lot of strong feelings about working with and alongside these people whom I respect and whose support I appreciate. Truly a special bunch.

    In fact, when saying goodbye, I found myself saying “Thanks for being here” a lot to people, trying to convey the fact that the journey was made less arduous and more manageable thanks to their help and friendship. I hope those to whom I said that understood my meaning.

    All in all an exciting penultimate day of poker, although perhaps not quite as exciting as last year. Will likely be the case again today -- that is, some buzz but probably not quite what was generated during Day 8 in 2009. Michael Mizrachi’s presence among the final 27 will garner some attention today. Scott Clements being there will, too. Still, I can’t imagine the hype being quite what we had with Phil Ivey being there last year. I’m going to guess play moves relatively quickly again today, too, although probably not quite as rapidly as what we saw last year.

    I’ll be checking in over at PokerNews today to see how things play out, of course. And I’ll check back in over here tomorrow for one last WSOP report. Meanwhile, I need to figure out how to get all of this stuff I have scattered around this room back into my bags and then get over to McCarran.

    Was another interesting adventure, to be sure. Time to go home, though. See you on the other side.

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    Friday, July 16, 2010

    2010 WSOP, Day 49: Intense

    IntenseHelluva day at the 2010 World Series of Poker Main Event yesterday. It was an intense and stressful nine hours of poker for the players as the field whittled from 205 down to 78. They’re getting to bigger paydays now, with the next few to go out now getting $94,942. Pay jumps come every nine spots currently, with the jumps getting bigger as they go along, and a lot of players are becoming ever more mindful of that fact.

    Lost Johnny Chan relatively early on Day 6, as he was eliminated in 156th. He ran kings into aces to lose most of his stack, then was finished off soon thereafter with jacks versus aces. Some of the other eliminations included Dragan Galic (183rd), Bryan Pellegrino (143rd), Phil Galfond (141st), Robert Mizrachi (116th), J.P. Kelly (111st), Jesper Hougaard (108th), and Andrew “Foucault” Brokos (87th).

    Of course, all of us juveniles on media row were especially saddened to see Fokke Beukers go out (in 94th). Though I did report one hand involving Beukers earlier in which he knocked out a player, the headline for which wrote itself.

    Was kind of a stressful day on the reporting side, too, for various reasons. One was that the PokerNews site had a few hiccups during the middle of the afternoon, lasting maybe 45 minutes or so. Not really sure what the deal was there, but the ship righted itself soon enough.

    There was another kind of interesting, sort-of-stressful situation early on involving the Mizrachi brothers, Michael and Robert, and our reporting on them.

    Robert was short-stacked to start the day, and would remain so pretty much until his elimination. Michael, meanwhile, began the day with almost 1.8 million, putting him in 30th with 205 left, and from the start he added to that total, eventually ending the day in 2nd place overall with a little more than 7.5 million.

    Anyhow, while we were covering pretty much everything yesterday, we were focusing on a few stories in particular, including Johnny Chan, the last woman player Breeze Zuckerman, Gualter Salles (who had been down to one yellow 1,000 chip on Day 5), and the Mizrachi brothers. So we were constantly reporting on both Mizrachis’ hands and keeping their counts updated from the beginning.

    Early on, we had reported on Michael a couple of times, including seeing him win a pot to move to 1.93 million, then win another to get to 2.3 million. (Reported here.) That was right about the time -- 1:30 p.m. or so -- that Michael’s brother, Eric, who also cashed in the Main Event (finishing 718th), sent out a Twitter message saying Michael had doubled to 4 million.

    It didn’t take long for Eric’s message to get forwarded around the web. I know ESPN’s Andrew Feldman passed it along, as did many others. We heard about the message, too, and so made a quick check back at Michael Mizrachi’s table.

    Yep, still 2.3 million.

    Of course, the forwarding of the message soon was supplemented by editorial comments about how PokerNews had failed to report the big double up. But we couldn’t report it. It didn’t happen!

    Adding to the fun, about 40 minutes after Eric’s message, the Grinder did in fact win a big hand (not exactly a double-up) that put him at about 3.9 million. It was a great hand, actually, requiring a huge call from Mizrachi on the river. (Report here.) And the surge would continue for the Grinder, pretty much throughout the day.

    Anyhow, the timing of all that perhaps made it seem like we were 40 minutes late with some news, but in fact that wasn’t the case. Kind of funny in retrospect, but at the time it seemed a bit weird (and hard to explain).

    Will be back over there for Day 7 today, where the plan will be to play down to 27. Should be exciting. Still some big names left -- Mizrachi, Alexander Kostritsyn, Eric Baldwin, Johnny Lodden, David Benyamine, and Jean-Robert Bellande among them.

    Of course the biggest name is Meenakshi Subramaniam. I mean, really, that is one big name! Be cool if he went deep and developed a big following of Subramaniacs.

    This’ll actually be my last day this summer over on PokerNews, and in fact I’ll finally be heading home on Saturday and so won’t be there at the very end when they get down to the November Nine. I’d like to see it, of course -- last year that final day was probably one of the most exciting days of poker I’ve ever been around -- but I’m also very glad to get on home and be with Vera. Too, too long, it’s been.

    See you over at PokerNews later today. Also, be sure to check out my interview with B.J. Nemeth over at Betfair Poker which went up today. Nemeth talks about his WSOP photography, and the interview includes a couple of especially cool pictures Nemeth took at last year’s WSOP accompanied by his explanations of how he took them. Cool stuff.

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    Thursday, July 15, 2010

    2010 WSOP, Day 48: The Long Walk

    'The Long Walk' (1979) by Stephen King, writing as Richard BachmanAnybody remember this book, The Long Walk? I actually read this as a teenager, not realizing at the time it was by Stephen King as it had been originally published under a pseudonym, Richard Bachman. This was the cover of the copy I read, I recall. Haven’t looked back at it since I first read it, but it's one of those weird tales that kind of sticks with you.

    Found myself thinking about The Long Walk again yesterday while helping cover Day 5 of the 2010 World Series of Poker Main Event. The story concerns a contest in which 100 boys are essentially made to walk without stopping, with the last one to survive winning “The Prize” -- i.e., anything he wants for life. And when I say “survive” I mean that literally, as those who fail to keep moving are shot dead.

    Like I say, it has been a while since I’ve read the book, but I remember it being well-plotted and full of several interesting characters. And it had that hook -- as King’s stories and novels often do. Some of the boys crack up along the way, I recall, suffering both physically and mentally. I think some even kill themselves rather than being executed.

    I thought of the book yesterday because we have reached that point in the Main Event where we’re all becoming more and more conscious of the endurance aspect of the tournament -- the fact that we’re now moving beyond the 40-hour mark in terms of time played.

    And it sort of seems like some are cracking up.

    Yesterday the day began with the bustouts once again coming at a rapid pace. I think the field went from 574 to 500 in the first hour of play, meaning more than one elimination per minute. I know in the blog over on PokerNews it felt as though just about every post was reporting yet another player pushing all in before the flop and not surviving.

    The short stacks had no choice, of course. They were like the characters in the novel who had reached their physical limits, and simply could not go on. But then there were the medium or even big stacks suddenly going out, too. They could have walked on, but for whatever reason had reached some sort of limit, too.

    I am referring to those wild coin flip-type hands in which players freely commit 100-plus big blinds before the flop knowing they are in a race situation at best. This sort of high-stakes gambling has happened all three years I have helped cover the Main Event.

    I remember in 2008 commenting here about a hand I had reported in which two players each committed 1.2 million preflop with A-K when the blinds were 4,000/8,000. Not unusual at all to see that at this stage of the ME. Indeed, remember the very last day of play in 2009 (when they played down from 27 to 9), which most said would take 20 hours and was over in half that time. There were some examples of what appeared to be unnecessary risk-taking that day, too.

    On the one hand, it seems like after playing poker for a week-and-a-half one would be less quick to risk that huge stack one has worked so hard and so long to accumulate. Then again, I think most players do reach a point where it doesn’t matter how many big blinds they have, they are desirous to put it all on the line regardless.

    The Main Event is unusual because of its size and structure. In just about every other tournament these guys have ever played, they’ve never gotten close to the 40-hour mark in terms of playing time. Somewhere long before that they’ve reached the stage where some or even most players are in push-or-fold territory, and the gambling begins.

    But in the ME -- with its slowly rising blinds/antes, two-hour levels, and such a huge field (meaning a ton of chips in play) -- that point really hasn’t come yet for the majority of the field. When play ended last night there were 205 players left. The top 40 still all had at least 100 big blinds. The top 120 still had at least 50 big blinds. It remains a “deep-stacked” event -- i.e., one in which flops can (and in most cases probably should) be seen -- if people want to play it as such.

    Johnny Chan remains a big story heading into Day 6, still way up on the leaderboard (in 9th). Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi was on a short stack during the bubble period, but is now sitting in 30th place. In case you missed it, three of his brothers -- Robert, Danny, and Eric -- also cashed in the ME, an incredible feat. Robert is the only one still in, but is super short to begin today.

    Another story today is that only one woman made it to Day 6, Breeze Zuckerman. She won Wicked Chops’ Last Woman Standing Cup when Dorothy Van Sachsen went out in 273rd. I think many were betting we’d see more women left in the field at this point, especially given all of the “Year of the Woman” talk leading up to the Main Event. (Anyone remember Ty Stewart, Vice President of Harrah’s, predicting women would win “three-plus bracelets” in open-field events?)

    I imagine we’ll get down around 70-80 players today, then play down to 27 on Friday. They’ve planned the schedule well this year, in my opinion, mostly ensuring that none of the days go too long.

    Although as I say, if players choose (and/or are able) to tighten up with their stacks of 100-plus big blinds, they could all keep on walking a bit longer.

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