Tuesday, August 31, 2010

“Poker and American Character” by John Lukacs (November 1963) (2 of 2)

'Horizon', November 1963Continuing today with my review of an interesting essay about poker appearing in 1963 in a scholarly journal called Horizon. The article is by the historian John Lukacs who grew up in Hungary loving poker, then moved to the U.S. following World War II. In the 17 years since the move, Lukacs had become a bit disenchanted with the development of poker here in its country of origin. (If you missed it, here is the first part of the discussion.)

We left off with Lukacs’ complaints about all games other than what he calls “classic” poker, namely those variations of poker that in his view tend to increase the chance element, making it more of a gambling game and minimizing the “psychological factors” which otherwise make poker different from (and better than) most games.

For Lukacs “classic” poker begins and ends with draw poker, and thus he speaks with equal disdain for Spit in the Ocean as he does for seven-card stud high-low. Noting how these other variations have appeared to take over in mid-20th century America, Lukacs says the “golden age of poker in the United States seems to have been from 1870 to 1920,” at which point poker’s decline began for the historian.

Women in Poker

Women in PokerLukacs also isn’t happy about other developments having occurred in poker in the U.S. by the time he arrived in the country, including women starting to be allowed into the games. “This [women playing poker] began around 1920, after the Constitutional amendment ordering female suffrage” was passed. That is also when women smoking in public began to be accepted, too, something else Lukacs ain’t too crazy about.

“I believe that this wide introduction of the female element diluted the character of poker (just as Prohibition led, however indirectly, to the dilution of spirits)” argues Lukacs. Why is he of that opinion? “Women are notoriously bad gamblers,” he explains. “They find it difficult to exclude social considerations from a game that must be organized around a social occasion.” It sounds like he’s saying women are too easily distracted by the special form of socializing associated with poker, a game which he says possesses “strongly masculine characteristics.”

We recall Lukacs writes in the early 1960s, a time when such attitudes about women and even the freestyle gendering of a card game as “masculine” could often pass without being questioned. (How exactly is poker “masculine?” we might jump to ask today.) Even so, it’s easy enough to see how Lukacs’ desire to preserve “classic” poker fits with his backing of other traditions, including conventions associated with “traditional” ideas about men and women (and their not being equal).

The Erosion of the American National Character

The Erosion of the American National CharacterUltimately Lukacs ties the decline of poker to what he calls “the erosion of the American national character.” It’s a complicated, not entirely obvious point he’s making, so let me allow Lukacs to make it himself rather than try to summarize:

“The deterioration of poker, I believe, corresponds very closely to a tendency in modern American life that I find most disturbing and dangerous: the inflation (meaning the increasing worthlessness) of words -- more menacing, even, than the inflation of money. Seven-card stud poker represents a gross inflation of values. It corresponds to the development of a society where everybody goes to college until the value of the college degree is less than that of a high-school degree forty years ago; where everybody nominally owns a house but with less of a sense of permanence and privacy than the owner of a family flat in a Naples tenement; where the Great American Novel of The Generation is published at least twice, and of Our Decade at least five times, a year; and where everybody calls everybody else by their first name.”

While we might object to Lukacs’ characterization of seven-card stud (does he really understand the game?), I think we can see the general point he’s trying to make about American “values” having changed in a troubling way. Lukacs sees this overall “inflation of values” occurring everywhere -- too much reward, not enough work -- and wants to draw an analogy between that trend and the favoring of poker games in which chance is more important than skill.

“Depending on cards rather than one’s own judgment reflects, too, a deterioration of self-confidence,” says Lukacs, further clarifying what he means by that claim about the “erosion” of the American character. “It also represents a form of immaturity, a strange kind of grown-up disorderliness covering up what is fundamentally an adolescent attitude.”

I think Lukacs may well be onto something here when he associates a love of gambling with immaturity, and tries to promote “classic” poker as a “grown-up” game that demonstrates an appreciation of order, custom, and intellectual rigor (even if he’s way too quick to reject seven-card stud high-low as a game with too much gambling.)

The “Scientification” of Poker

'Theory of Games and Economic Behavior' (1944) by John von Neumann and Oskar MorgensternOne other point made by Lukacs in his essay comes out of the Cold War context in which he’s writing, an observation about the application of game theory to poker. Noting the rapid emergence of government-supported research into game theory, Lukacs is very critical of “this relatively recent American passion... for intellectualizing everything, from business to military strategy.”

And Lukacs hates, hates, hates what all this talk about probability and games has done to his beloved poker. “Thus, while on the one hand the playing of poker becomes perverted” by all of the crazy, gambling-centric variations, “on the other hand poker is given an elaborate theory and becomes an object of study -- insufficient seriousness on one end, and overseriousness on the other.”

Making reference to game theory pioneers Oskar Morgenstern and John von Neumann (authors of the 1944 work Theory of Games and Economic Behavior), Lukacs ends his article with a kind of tirade against the intrusion of game theory into poker.

He raises two primary objections here. One is that when talking about poker the game theorists (in his opinion) tend to assume “that all players are of the same temperament,” which is of course untrue.

The other objection is that -- here Lukacs quotes from John McDonald’s famous 1948 book Strategy in Poker, Business, and War -- “‘the theory of games... is based on the assumption that man seeks gain.’” Lukacs points out that when it comes to poker, many people in fact play for reasons other than to profit. “I have yet to see the man, except for the professional cardsharp, who plays poker primarily because he seeks gain. He plays for fun; and he hopes to make some gain.”

Lukacs then concludes with some more discussion of the Cold War and how poker could be said to have informed U.S. strategy while chess informed that of the Soviet Union. And in this context, Lukacs much favors the former. “Poker is a unique game because is approximates life,” says Lukacs. “That is not true of chess, which is circumscribed by a framework of mathematical rules and is therefore irrevocably artificial.”

That’s the view that causes Lukacs to reject attempts at the “scientification” of poker. He notes more than once along the way that one could never play poker against an IBM machine (the way one can play chess). That human element -- the “psychological factors” -- just cannot be replicated by a computer, says the historian.

All in all a very interesting and provocative piece, I thought, that gives the reader a good idea of poker’s place in American culture in the early 1960s -- that is, prior to the advent of the WSOP, the rise of Texas hold’em, and all of the other developments of the late 20th/early 21st centuries which have occurred to affect the game so greatly.

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Monday, August 30, 2010

“Poker and American Character” by John Lukacs (November 1963) (1 of 2)

'Horizon,' November 1963Not long ago my friend Tim Peters sent me an interesting item he found in a used bookstore, a copy of an old hardbound magazine from nearly 50 years ago that contains a scholarly article about poker. The article is by the historian John Lukacs and is called “Poker and American Character.”

I read the lengthy piece over the weekend and found it quite intriguing, so I thought I’d share some of Lukacs’ points here. Today I’ll present a few from the first half of the article (about the game, generally speaking), and tomorrow will continue with some ideas from the second half of the article (when he gets into talking about the Cold War and poker’s significance in that context).

The publication in which the article appears is called Horizon, a high-end, scholarly magazine started by the American Heritage folks in 1958. It came out every other month at first, then became a quarterly right around the time Lukacs’ article appeared.

Looks like one of those academic-type journals that sought to include a non-academic audience as well, with the fancy hardbound issues having probably found places on coffee tables in many homes during its heyday. According to a publisher’s note in this issue (Vol. V, No. 8), circulation was 150,000 in 1963. Horizon continued to produce issues containing articles on art, history, and contemporary culture until it ceased publication in 1989.

Born in Hungary, John Lukacs came to the U.S. as a young man just after WWII and soon became a professor of history at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia for many years. Lukacs is still kicking, having written over 30 books on a variety of topics, including a number of works specifically focusing on American history and society.

Not too surprising, then, to see Lukacs start his essay about poker with some statements about the game having originated in the U.S. and the unique way it reflects the American character. Indeed, James McManus -- who pursues a similar thesis about poker and the U.S. in Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker (2009) -- quotes from the beginning of Lukacs’ article in the first chapter of his book, a statement about how “poker is the game closest to the Western conception of life... where free will prevails over philosophies of fate or of chance, where men are considered free moral agents, and where -- at least in the short run -- the important thing is not what happens but what people think happens.” (McManus liked the line so much he quoted it in Positively Fifth Street, too.)

Lukacs has a few other things to say about poker in America, circa 1963, that are also of interest, I think. Like I say, I’m going to share a few of those points here today from the first part of the article, then come back tomorrow with the rest.

The Uniqueness of Poker

'Poker and American Character' by John LukacsLukacs starts his article with an short introductory section in which he lists several ways poker is, in his opinion, unlike all other games of chance.

“The uniqueness of poker,” writes Lukacs, “consists in its being a game of chance where the element of chance itself is subordinated to psychological factors and where it is not so much fate as human beings who decide” how the game goes. (That point leads him to make that observation about the “Western conception of life” quoted above.)

The fact that “poker is played not primarily with cards but with money” is what really gives players the upper hand over simple “fate,” according to Lukacs. While other games (especially those that involve any kind of bluffing) do allow “psychological factors” to play a role, the fact that poker involves money -- and the ongoing valuing of hands with that money -- means that the psychological “factor is not occasional but constant, not secondary but primary.”

It’s apparent that Lukacs has a very clear idea in mind what “poker” is. It’s a game that involves chance but in which chance does not predominate. It is also a game played for money. “Money is the basis of poker,” insists Lukacs. “Whereas bridge can be played for fun without money, poker becomes utterly senseless if played without it.”

There are other things that make poker unique for Lukacs -- and are reasons why he likes the game -- including the way it “gradually becomes more interesting the more one plays with the same group of people” and the way it can be played a myriad of ways (it’s “a game of a thousand unwritten rules”).

It should be noted that by the latter point Lukacs is not referring to variations on his favorite game -- five-card draw -- but rather the many idiosyncracies of play that inevitably come up and require players to agree upon terms every time they sit down for a game. “It is a game for gentleman,” says Lukacs, referring to the way poker provides a context in which to demonstrate “social standards and codes of behavior.”

“Classic” Poker (vs. What They’re Playing)

From there Lukacs gets a little more personal and talks some about his having grown up in Hungary (and eventually in the U.S.) playing poker and what the game meant to him and his family. Once he makes it over to America (in 1946), he mentions how he “had many illusions about the United States” upon his arrival, and that “these illusions included poker.”

Knowing of the U.S. as “the fatherland of poker,” Lukacs assumed everyone played it all the time. Yet, in 1963 he laments that after living in the country for 17 years he has “played less poker here than during an average month in Hungary.” He then clarifies what he means -- it’s not that he isn’t playing poker, but that he’s playing games which he doesn’t consider “classic” or genuine poker.

For Lukacs, five-card draw is all. That’s the game where chance is subordinated the most and the “psychological factors” are most evident. “In every other variation of poker -- from the mildest (one card wild) to the wildest (seven-card stud, high-low) -- the human factor is weakened and the factor of chance is correspondingly increased,” argues Lukacs.

Like the ornery Mr. Brush in James Thurber’s hilarious poker story “Everything Is Wild,” Lukacs has little patience for non-draw variants of his favorite game, games in which for him “the unique character of poker is damaged.” (By the way, you can hear a dramatization of Thurber’s story in Episode 13 of The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show.)

It is interesting that Lukacs takes aim so directly at stud high-low, a game which he claims is “not very different from flipping seven pennies and betting on them in turn.” I say that because there are many who ardently defend stud high-low as a game that in which the chance element is in fact much less -- and the need for skill greater -- than one finds in many other poker games.

In any event, Lukacs summarily classifies stud high-low with other wild-card games like Baseball or Spit-in-the-Ocean, dismissing it as “a gambling game... a contest not between human personalities who represent themselves through money and cards, but between cards held fortuitously by certain individuals.”

Lukacs does not mention Texas hold’em in his article, a game which had yet to emerge as a popular poker variant at the time he was writing it. I would guess, though, that he’d similarly dislike hold’em as too much of a gambling game when compared to “classic (or draw) poker.”

More tomorrow.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Hand, Interrupted

Sorry for the interruptionHad kind of an interesting situation occur this week while playing a hand over at PokerStars.

I’d been playing for a short while, long enough to have noticed an announcement or two about how the site was soon going offline for a few minutes for a reboot. I had a couple of tables open at the time (pot-limit Omaha, six-max., $12.50 buy-in), and didn’t feel any particular urgency to log off. Figured when the time came for the reboot, we’d all get kicked off and have to log back on -- no biggie.

In other words, I hadn’t really considered what would happen if I were involved in a hand at the moment the site went offline. Which, as it turned out, is exactly what happened. Was a semi-interesting spot, too.

A player sitting UTG had put in a minimum-raise and gotten several callers. I was in the big blind and called as well holding J-J-x-x. (Forgive some fuzziness with the details -- there’s a reason for my not being exact here.) The flop then came J-3-2 with two clubs. I can’t remember the suits of my cards, but I know I didn’t have two clubs in my hand.

I checked, and the preflop raiser put out a small continuation bet, like 50 cents. Really just a blocking bet. Whatever it was, it caused all to fold around to me. I check-raised to $1.50, and my opponent quickly called.

The turn was another deuce, giving me jacks full. I checked again, and watched my opponent’s avatar/username blink on and off as he contemplated what to do. Fifteen seconds passed. Then thirty.

Then I realized... we were offline.

The pot was only a few bucks, to which I’d only contributed a couple. And really, my prospects going forward in the hand weren’t all that exciting. Probably not going to get a lot of action, unless by some wild chance my opponent had quad deuces, in which case I’m losing a bundle. He hasn’t committed a lot to this pot, and probably is shutting down if the hand were to continue.

But it didn’t. And ten minutes later, when we were back online, the hand had vanished into the virtual ether. I had no hand history on my hard disk. It appeared that the stacks had returned to what they were before the hand began, and indeed I was later able to confirm that was the case.

I was curious, though, and so sent a note to PokerStars support about what had happened. As I explained to them, I wasn’t looking to get any money from the unfinished hand. In truth, I could well have been poised to lose money there, although it seemed like I had been in a good spot.

Rather, I just wanted to let them know what had occurred and how I didn’t realize the shutdown meant I might have an incomplete hand like that. Could have been a real downer had it been a bigger pot and/or a more obviously profitable situation for your humble gumshoe.

As always, Stars support was most accommodating, and after a couple of emails back and forth just to sort out details, they gave me 450 Frequent Player Points (FPPs) for my trouble. A small gesture, but much appreciated.

I could go on about the contrast between PokerStars’ responsiveness to their customers whenever even the smallest of issues arises and what tends to happen at other sites, a couple in particular the ownership of which apparently changed hands yesterday. But that’s become a tired drum to beat.

Did get a chuckle at the way a certain limit Omaha/8 tourney hosted on one of those other sites yesterday failed to allow players to bet fixed amounts. Here’s hoping that site figures out a way to do right by its players the way PokerStars always seems to do by theirs.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Negreanu and Duke’s War of Word

You’ve no doubt heard something over the last week about this brouhaha between two of professional poker’s highest profile players, Daniel Negreanu and Annie Duke. Right?

The one who sometimes goes by “Kid Poker” called the other one a bad word. Like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, I guess it’s time for someone to wash his mouth out with soap.

The conflict between Negreanu and Duke goes back quite a ways, perhaps more than a decade to the days when both were making their first cashes on the professional poker circuit in the 1990s. Duke arrived on the scene slightly ahead of Negreanu (in terms of starting to rack up WSOP and tourney scores, anyway), and the story goes when the pair first played with one another Duke was openly critical of Kid Poker’s play, which led to some return criticism in various contexts from Negreanu.

Back in the early 2000s, the old rec.gambling.poker forum (or “usenet newsgroup”) became the site where the Negreanu-Duke feud became more openly known by the general public. Probably the most notorious exchange concerned an incident from early 2003 in which Negreanu and Duke were playing against one another online (at PokerStars).

Some chatbox abuse from Negreanu caused Duke to write Stars support to complain, and apparently Negreanu was made aware of Duke’s grievance, prompting him to send a not-so-nice email to Duke. Duke’s brother, Howard Lederer, then shared the contents of both the complaint and Negreanu’s screed in a post over at rec.gambling.poker which remains archived here.

There are numerous other highlights (or lowlights) to point to which help document the pair’s dislike for one another, including occasional blog posts by each criticizing the other. The battle was revived somewhat again this summer when a few men played in the Ladies Event at the WSOP, and both took to their blogs to share their opposing views on the matter. Duke once more voiced her objection to ladies-only events, while Negreanu took the “let the ladies play!” side.

Last week the U.K.-based Poker Player website published an interview with Negreanu titled “The Evolution of Daniel Negreanu.” I believe the interview went live on Thursday, August 19th, as that’s when I first started seeing folks tweeting about it. That means more than a month had elapsed since the interview was conducted, as references in the piece indicate the WSOP hadn’t yet concluded. In fact, we’re probably talking six weeks, as it appears the interview probably happened around July 4th or so.

And, as most reading this blog probably already have heard, in the interview Negreanu uses an especially offensive word with reference to Duke -- the “c-word” (and no, he didn’t refer to her as a calling station).

“Hey Daniel, nice job representing poker and reinforcing that our attitude towards women is still Neanderthal,” posted Howard Lederer on Twitter shortly after the interview appeared, humorously referring to the article’s title.

Like I say, this has gotten many folks buzzing this week, despite the fact that in terms of poker news there’s a lot else going on. I’ve already mentioned one reason for all the fuss -- these are two of the most well-known poker players in the world, known even to non-poker people.

Last October Wicked Chops published its own “Poker Q Score Rankings” (from a Bluff article) in which the Entities assembled a panel of industry experts to help create a “Q score” for poker players -- that is, a measure of an individual’s familiarity and appeal or likability, the sort of thing that matters a lot to advertisers when looking for actors or athletes to endorse their products.

Daniel Negreanu vs. Annie DukeOn the WCP list, Negreanu ranked number one. And Duke was ranked fifth -- the highest ranked woman on the list. In other words, when it comes to things like familiarity and even likability, Negreanu might well be the most known male poker player out there today, and Duke is most certainly the most famous female player. Their not getting along thus becomes an ongoing point of reference for those who follow poker, and perhaps even for some who don’t. Sort of a Woods-Mickelson or Shaq-Kobe type thing.

I had a couple of reactions to seeing Negreanu drop the “c-word” in the interview. Was obviously surprised and not too pleased by Negreanu’s language. But I soon found myself wondering also about the interviewer and his intentions.

I’ve already noted that the interview was posted several weeks after it was conducted (not necessarily recommended protocol). Negreanu’s shot at Duke comes in the context of his answering a question about the Ladies Event, and the name-calling seems almost like a weird, unprovoked postscript to his response -- the kind of thing that could easily have been excised from the interview.

(Negreanu did say this week he thought he was “off the record” there, which I tend to believe.)

But not only did Mark Stuart not omit it -- the outburst appears in bold! In other words, he consciously drew extra attention to it.

I’m not defending Negreanu at all here, but just wondering about the interviewer a little bit. We definitely might say “What was he thinking?” about Negreanu. But I’d also say something similar about the interviewer.

I’ve had the chance to interview a number of people in poker. Generally my method has been to record the conversation, transcribe everything, then go back and edit it down to make it more readable (i.e., remove repetitions, the “ums” and “you knows,” and other non-vital digressions).

I have also always tried either to let the subject read over the interview before publishing or, if online, to invite them to suggest after it goes up any needed edits if anything appears incorrect or just doesn’t sound right.

All of which is to say, my instinct here would have been either to omit Negreanu’s epithet or, if somehow I’d thought it needful to include it, to run it by him before publication. I realize, of course, that some may reasonably disagree with that instinct and say, hey, if an interviewee wants to put himself out there like that -- to play the part of a “Neanderthal” who somehow thinks it is permissible to use such language in such a context -- then that’s his choice. But that’s how I think I’d approach this one.

My other reaction was just to be disappointed at the negativity and immaturity of it all. And how poorly such silliness potentially reflects on poker. F-Train posted a tweet yesterday that may or may not have referred to this particular issue, but when I read it, it seemed readily to apply:

“Oh, poker. Will you ever graduate from high school and move on to, I don't know, college?”

(EDIT [added 8/28/10]: For more on the subject, see Nicole Gordon's PokerNews op-ed “The War of the C-Words)

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tuning In (Poker in the Media)

Shamus watches poker on TVWatched a lot of poker yesterday. On the teevee. On the intertubes. People playin’ poker. People gabbin’ about it. I must really be into poker or somethin’.

First came “This Week in Poker,” the online show hosted by the Entities over at Wicked Chops. I’ve ended up watching that one live the last couple of weeks, as it comes on at a convenient hour for me (7 p.m. here on the east coast). This week they interviewed Kimberly Lansing of the newly-revamped World Poker Tour and Phil Laak who chronicled in detail his harrowing ATV accident. I wrote a little something about TWIP a couple of weeks ago. You can view archived episodes here.

Then I switched off the computer and turned on the TV to see ESPN’s coverage of Day 2a of the 2010 World Series of Poker Main Event. Was looking forward to this, as I remembered a few different hands from that day’s play I thought might make it into the broadcast.

In fact, two of those hands I had remembered from Day 2a did make it into the show -- the Chris Moneymaker-Bryan Pellegrino hand in which both thought the other was in the tank, and a hand involving Annie Duke in which she made a straight flush. (I mentioned both in a post back in July.)

I remained pretty much out of shot during both hands, having hung out near the cameraman when they were happening. I did have fun last night, though, recognizing many colleagues wandering around the tables. And seeing one -- Garry Gates -- at the tables, too! I worked with Gates in both 2008 and 2009 at PokerNews, and last night ESPN showed Scotty Nguyen busting him out of the ME.

Next week there will be two more hours devoted to Day 2b of the 2010 WSOP Main Event. See the full schedule here.

When the ESPN show went off the air at 11 p.m., I considered staying up to watch still more poker, namely a scheduled segment about online poker on the ABC News program “Nightline.” Ended up packing it in before then, though, although it appears the segment was bumped until tonight.

ABC Nightline reporting on online pokerThere’s a brief article over on the ABC News site previewing the segment which I suppose gives us some indication of what its angle will be.

The first thing one notices when clicking on the link is that the article includes a brief clip of the robbery at EPT Berlin from back in March. No context is provided for the clip, nor is there any reference to it in the article. No idea why that is even there, other than to suggest in a vague way that poker is dangerous.

The second thing one notices is one of the more banal leads I can imagine someone coming up with for such an article: “What happens in Vegas often happens at the poker table, but many of the winners raking in huge jackpots aren't even old enough to enter a casino.” Phew.

Tough to get past that, but once you do, you see the “news” being reported in the article -- or central theme, anyway -- appears to be that young people (mostly men) are playing a lot of online poker. The article is thus letting its mostly non-poker playing audience know that “online poker games have allowed teenagers to become expert card players long before they turn 21.”

2009 WSOP Main Event champion Joe Cada is interviewed as an exemplary figure here, someone who honed his game prior to turning 21, then went and won the big one just prior to turning 22 last November.

While there is reference later in the article to the fact that online sites generally require players to be at least 18 years old, there appears to be a desire to point out that some teenagers get onto the sites and start playing before reaching 18. There is reference to a recent study conducted by the Institute for Research on Gambling Disorders that “estimated over 70% of Americans, ages 14 to 19, have gambled in the past year.” There’s another study, conducted by a group at the University of California-Berkeley, that is mentioned as well, in which it is reported “that 19.6% of young men gamble online regularly.”

The second half of the article then presents a 19-year-old college student named Blaine Brount who plays online poker, and who has won enough to think of poker as “a real job.”

Brount’s story appears on the surface to present poker in a positive way -- he’s serious about studying the game and improving, he’s winning, his mother approves, etc. It’s possible, though, to view Brount’s story less favorably, especially when presented in the context of studies highlighting young people gambling in large numbers.

It will be interesting to see how it all gets edited and presented in the “Nightline” piece. Not really going out on a limb here, but I have a feeling in the end it probably ain’t gonna add up to an unequivocal endorsement of online poker.

The fact is, while poker might seem like a perfectly “normal” or acceptable activity to those of us who regularly seek out shows like “This Week in Poker” or the WSOP on ESPN, for the “Nightline” crowd -- a more “mainstream” bunch -- there’s always going to be something sensationalistic, or even scandalous, about poker and/or gambling. Especially when young people are involved.

(EDIT [added 8/26/10): The segment did not air on Wednesday night, having been postponed yet again. Will add a note here if/when it does finally air.)

(EDIT [added 9/1/10]: The segment finally aired last night [8/31/10]. It didn’t add too much to the written piece, although I’ll say it did strike me as a fair enough look at the world of online poker -- if anything, even more balanced-seeming than was the article. You can view it here.)

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What’s the Plan, Man?

'Plan 9 From Outer Space' (1959)I continue to play a lot of pot-limit Omaha. Such a fun game. Sometimes referred to as a “post-flop” game, because so much of what matters indeed happens after the flop. Good game for those who enjoy making plans.

These days, I am almost entirely on PokerStars when I play, where I am still not too far off the pace to reach Gold Star status this month. I’d become ambivalent about doing so a week or so ago, but discover today that I’ve put in enough hands for it to be not too difficult for me to get there by month’s end.

The main benefit, as far as I can tell, will be getting 2 FPPs (Frequent Player Points) for every VPP (VIP Player Point) I earn while my Gold Star status lasts (i.e., through the end of September). I would also gets Gold Star-level access to purchase certain items in the VIP store with FPPs, which would be more meaningful for me if I had more FPPs in my account currently (I’m only sitting on around 4,200 right now). I could perhaps play a bunch next month, accumulate more FPPs, then see what I could buy, although I couldn’t even come close to the 25,000 by the end of next month I’d need to buy a $300 VIP Reward Bonus.

Otherwise, Gold Star appears pretty similar to Silver Star as far as the daily and weekly freerolls go. I would get a free entry into the $100,000 guaranteed monthly freeroll in September, something that as a Silver Star would require winning my seat via a 130 FPP satellite. As a Gold Star, I could also buy my way into some of the larger tourneys (i.e., $320 and up) with FPPs, but I’m more likely to go for cash bonuses than to do that.

I might just go ahead and try to make the Gold Star this month, grab up some extra FPPs during September, then perhaps think about going for Gold Star again in October, as that would let me try to win a seat (via an FPP satellite) in the big Quarterly VIP tourney in November, a $1 million guaranteed tourney.

As you can see, I didn’t necessarily think ahead too well with this here Gold Star plan, although one nice side benefit has been I’ve been doing okay at the tables. Putting in the extra hands has kind of jump-started the year for me, and gotten me thinking a lot more about my game and ways to improve.

Speaking of planning ahead, I had a PLO hand last week that reminded me of how it is sometimes important in certain hands to think about betting on future streets when making that first bet after the flop. This is something that good no-limit hold’em players are always thinking about, but for a guy like me who generally plays a lot of fixed limit betting games, the concept isn’t always foremost in my mind.

I’ve found myself most often playing the “20-50 BB” version of the $0.10/$0.25 PLO games (six-handed), meaning the maximum buy-ins are $12.50. Of course, even 50 big blinds isn’t a lot. Let’s say I’ve just bought in and play a hand in which there’s a raise and two players call. The pot will then be about $2.50, and I’ll be down to $11.65 -- about 4.5 times the pot. I’m already down to a point where I only have a couple of pot-sized bets left!

'Advanced Pot-Limit Omaha, Vol. I' (2009) by Jeff HwangBy the way, Jeff Hwang spells all of this out nicely in his Advanced Pot-Limit Omaha, Volume I: Small-Ball and Short-Handed Play (2009) where he applies that “Stack-to-Pot Ratio” idea (SPR) that Matt Flynn, Sunny Mehta, and Ed Miller talk about in Professional No-Limit Hold’em (2007) to PLO. Hwang points out that SPR is probably even more useful to be aware of in PLO where pot-limit restrictions on betting apply.

There Hwang explains how having an SPR of 4 essentially means you are down to two pot-sized bets (with the second one being about three times the first one). Not a lot of room, really, for planning ahead, but there do come situations where it is good to put a little thought into how the second bet will go when make that first one.

I’m going to simplify the hand somewhat -- modifying the stack sizes just a touch -- to try and make the ’splainin’ easier. Let’s just say I bought in for $12.50 and after an orbit or so I’ve slipped to exactly $10.00. And we’ll give everyone else around the table at least $10.00, too, so the effective stacks (as far as I’m concerned) are all ten bucks.

In this hand I was under the gun and was dealt Tc9d8c7s. I wanted to see a flop cheaply, if possible, so I limped in for a quarter. It folded to the button who raised pot to $1.10. The small blind folded, the big blind called, and I called as well. That made the pot $3.40 going to the flop. I had just $8.90 left -- an SPR of a little over 2.6. The flop then came 9s6h5s, giving me a straight.

Hwang has a table called “SPR Considerations: All-in Considerations on the Flop” in which he offers some suggestions about whether or not one should be willing to get the whole stack in or not on various flops, as indicated by one’s SPR.

Flopping the bare nut straight with no redraw is a sketchy situation when the stacks are deep -- indeed, Hwang says if your SPR is more than 13 (i.e., more than three pot-sized bets heads-up), then “No Way” should you be wanting to get your whole stack in here. But if your SPR is less than 4 -- like mine is here -- then Hwang’s answer to the question of whether or not to commit on the flop is “OK.”

Actually, I do have a redraw here -- I can improve from a nine-high straight to a ten-high straight -- so I’m pretty ready to go for it. If I bet and get raised, I’ll shove and hope my hand holds. Obviously it’s bad for me if he has a straight plus a flush draw and is freerolling, but so it goes.

So here’s what happened: I bet the pot ($3.40), and only the button called. Pot now $10.20. The turn was the 2d, I bet my last $5.50, and the button quickly called, showing AsKs4h3c (not a hand I’d be too excited about even from late position in PLO). I suppose he might’ve thought the deuce gave him more straight outs, though those were no good. The river brought the 5h, and my hand had held up.

Afterwards, I considered how vulnerable I’d left myself following that pot-sized flop bet. My Stack-to-Pot Ratio was down to just 0.5 at that point. Even worse, I was out of position, meaning I wasn’t in a good spot to know if a spade or pairing card helped my opponent or not.

If a third spade had come on the turn, I might have been able to check-fold, and subsequently would’ve felt a little bummed about dumping half my stack. And if the board had paired, I might have gone ahead and bet my $5.50, hoping he was on the flush draw and hadn’t improved. In any event, I’ve left myself so little behind I’ve made life a little awkward going forward.

What if, I thought, I had only bet, say, $2.00 on that flop (about 60%) of the pot? Am pretty sure the button still would’ve just called, and the big blind probably still would’ve folded. That would’ve made the pot $7.40, and I would’ve had $6.90 left -- almost a pot-sized bet. Then comes the safe turn card and my all-in shove, and if my opponent was indeed drawing to ten outs or less (as I assumed he was) he’d be making a worse river call, odds-wise. I guess I’d also feel less committed should a scary turn card come, and more easily able to get away from the hand.

In those spots in which my opponent on the button is going to raise my flop bet there, it doesn’t matter if I bet $2.00 or $3.40 -- I can reraise with the rest of my stack, either way. But if he’s just going to call as he did, I think the less-than-pot-sized bet is probably preferable.

Fail to Plan, Plan to FailLike I say, I think the good no-limit hold’em players have all long ago absorbed this here bet-sizing thing and instinctively know what amounts work best when it comes to setting up later-street betting.

And the best NLHE tourney players -- often even more mindful of stack sizes than are cash game players -- are especially good at this sort of planning ahead, able to set up opponents to commit entire stacks in unfavorable situations time and again.

Yet another area in poker in which could stand to study more and try to improve.

Yeah, I say that. One can always plan.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Thinking About the Poker Hall of Fame, Class of 2010

Poker Hall of FameLast week we began hearing some news about this year’s Poker Hall of Fame. The nominating process is coming to a close, and voting for the 2010 class is coming up soon.

I have to admit I am extra interested in how the vote goes this time around. Why? Because I was asked to participate as one of the panel of poker media who vote on the finalists. It was a great honor to be asked, and I plan to give the matter careful consideration when it comes time to cast my vote.

For those who aren’t familiar with the process, I thought I’d post a little something about how it all goes.

As was the case last year, anyone who wants to can submit nominations for the Poker Hall of Fame over at the WSOP website. The story getting passed around last week was that a total of 181 have been nominated thus far for consideration this year.

My first reaction to hearing that figure was to think that’s a heckuva lot of nominees. Then I looked back to see what happened last year to compare.

In 2009 -- the first year the WSOP opened up the nominating process in this way -- the polls were opened on May 26 (at the start of the Series) and closed on July 2 (at the start of the Main Event). During that period -- a little over five weeks -- the reports I read said there were ultimately 41 nominees.

Those included the 10 who received the most nominations: Tom Dwan, Barry Greenstein, Dan Harrington, Phil Ivey, Tom McEvoy, Men Nguyen, Scotty Nguyen, Daniel Negreanu, Erik Seidel, and Mike Sexton. You’ll recall Sexton was the only one of those appearing on the ballot who was voted in. You might also recall that Dwan -- still a few weeks shy of his 23rd birthday at the time -- was removed from the ballot as he obviously had yet to have “stood the test of time,” one of the criteria for entry into the Poker Hall of Fame.

Others nominated last year included Annie Duke, Chris Moneymaker, Patrik Antonius, and noted poker authors Mike Caro and David Sklansky. Norman Chad -- color commentator on the ESPN broadcasts of the WSOP -- apparently was nominated. So were people like Phil Hellmuth, Stu Ungar, and others already in the Poker Hall of Fame.

This year the polls were opened on July 1 and run through the end of August. The extra time for nominating this year might be one reason we’re seeing a few more names. I suppose the fact that this is the second year of the process -- and the fact that we just had that voting for the Tournament of Champions, too -- might also help explain the increase in nominations.

No idea how many of those 181 nominated so far this year are legitimate (or even eligible). Although really, when one thinks of the criteria and the fact that only 38 have been inducted since the Poker Hall of Fame was established back in 1979, it really doesn’t seem like there could be even two dozen “legitimate” nominees, let alone 181.

Thinking About the Poker Hall of Fame, Class of 2010Those criteria again, by the way, are as follows: (1) a player must have played poker against acknowledged top competition; (2) played for high stakes; (3) played consistently well, gaining the respect of peers; (4) stood the test of time; or (5) for non-players, contributed to the overall growth and success of the game of poker, with indelible positive and lasting results.

So there is still over a week to submit nominations, if one wishes to do so. On September 1 we’ll learn the names of the top 10 vote-getters, as well as who ultimately makes it onto the ballot. I believe last year the living Hall of Famers were also invited to submit names (“write-in candidates”) to be added to the consideration list for this year, so we could see an additional name or two on the ballot, I think, that wasn’t among the top vote-getters.

At that point the currently living members of the Poker Hall of Fame (16 total now, I believe) and that panel of poker media will vote on the final list of nominees. It appears at that stage there will be a slight difference from last year in how the votes are tabulated.

Last year, the voters were limited to voting for three of the nine individuals on the ballot, and for a nominee to get in, he had to receive votes from at least 75% of those voting. I wrote a post last year about how that system appeared to guarantee that no more than one of the nine would get it, and perhaps could result in none of them getting the needed 75%.

This year, it looks like those voting on the finalists aren’t necessarily being limited to voting for just three candidates -- we can vote for as many or as few as we wish -- and in the end the top two vote-getters will be inducted, provided both receive at least 50% of the vote. Probably a good change, I think, that all but ensures there will not be a situation in which no one gets in, while also making certain there won’t be too many inducted at once. (EDIT [added 9/10/10]: Now that I have received my ballot, I have learned that in fact we are only allowed to vote for three of the 10 nominees.)

I assume we’ll see guys like Ivey, Negreanu, Seidel, and Harrington up for the vote again. The others from last year’s finalists’ ballot (Greenstein, McEvoy, Men Nguyen, and Scotty Nguyen) probably stand a good chance of getting back there, too.

Once we see the final ballot, I’ll probably write a post next month asking who people are favoring among the finalists. But at this stage -- with the nominations still open -- let me go ahead and ask:

Which players (or non-players) would you say are among those deserving to join that most exclusive group of Poker Hall of Famers?

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Scott Pilgrim’s Progress & Poker

'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World' (2010)Vera Valmore and I went to the movies last night. Haven’t done that too often lately. Seems like doing so always requires more time and money than we’re willing to spend. But the stars aligned and we found ourselves at the nearby cinema watching -- and enjoying -- Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

I didn’t know too much about the movie going in, other than it was based on a comic book or graphic novel or something. And George Michael from “Arrested Development” was in it.

The movie’s style definitely reproduces the narrative cues of comic books and graphic novels. Sort of like Creepshow did way back when with its mimicking of old ’50s horror comics. Scott Pilgrim also incorporates a lot of the elements of storytelling from video games, especially those in which one creates characters and engages in various battles in order to rise through different levels and “unlock” new features.

All of which made for a fun ride with lots of action and, well, cool stuff to look at. Like a lot of movies these days.

On the level of theme, one could argue the movie also reproduced the depth of some video games and/or comic books. Not saying it wasn’t a thoughtful story with some reasonably meaningful insights about human nature and relationships. It’s just that the surface perhaps tends to distract the viewer from all that.

Thus do you end up in the parking lot afterwards not really thinking about deep messages, but instead practicing your karate kicks.

As I’ve already suggested, the story involves the main character fighting a series of battles (against “the world,” it seems)... a little like moving up in stakes or advancing in a tournament in poker, I suppose.

The character of Pilgrim does experience the highs and lows that often happen in poker when you move from novice to amateur to whatever you call yourself now. Such as when you feel like a world-beater after hitting that draw, or like an incapable failure when you miss. There’s even a bit in there about playing against yourself that poker players might be able to relate to as well.

All of which is to say, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World may well have some appeal to online poker players. More so than Eat, Pray, Love, I’m just guessing.

So, if you’re reading this blog (in which case you probably do play online now and then), and are looking for a movie this weekend, you might check it out.

Paul 'Dr. Pauly' McGuireIf you’re reading this blog you probably also read Dr. Pauly’s Tao of Poker, and thus might be interested to read my interview with the Doc which went up over on Betfair Poker today. I asked him a few questions about his recently-released book, Lost Vegas, as well as about writing, generally speaking. Enjoy.


Okay, signing off now. Have a good weekend. Gotta go practice my karate kicks.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

2010-2011 WSOP Circuit Kicks Off Today

Today marks the start of the 2010-2011 World Series of Poker Circuit, which at present comprises a dozen different tournament series played all over the United States. (There’s also an event in South Africa in October that is sorta-kinda part of the Circuit, too.) Things kick off today with the first event at Horseshoe Council Bluffs in Council Bluffs, Iowa. There will be more than 30 different tourneys played there over the next couple of weeks, with the $1,600 buy-in Main Event happening near month’s end.

There was a bit of buzz back in July when the new WSOP Circuit schedule was announced, although everyone was too occupied by the Main Event to pay it a lot of attention then. There was some talk about it then, though, mostly concerning the fact that this year the Circuit will culminate with a “WSOP Circuit National Championship” at Harrah’s New Orleans in May 2011, the winner of which will be earning an actual, bona fide, real deal WSOP gold bracelet.

That means that in addition to the 57 bracelets awarded in Las Vegas this summer (and in November), there will be six more awarded this year -- five at the WSOPE next month, and one for the WSOP Circuit National Champion -- making 63 total.

There will be a cumulative point system used throughout the tour according to which players who cash in Circuit events will earn points. Being among the top point-getters is one way to earn a spot in the National Championship, but there are other ways to get in, too.

Winning one of the Main Events on the Circuit will get you there. Players who accumulate the most points at each particular stop -- thereby becoming the “Casino Champion” -- will win seats. Additionally, those making the final tables at each of the four $10,000 buy-in “Regional Championships” (at Horseshoe Hammond in October, Harrah’s Atlantic City in December, Harrah’s Rincon in March, and Harrah’s New Orleans in May) win entries.

Ultimately, the idea is there will be a 100-player field for that WSOP Circuit National Championship, with all of the players earning their spots by performing well throughout the Series. In other words, unlike every other WSOP bracelet event, no one can buy into this one -- you have to play your way in. In addition to the bracelet, there will be a $1 million prize pool to play for, distributed among the top 10 finishers.

There’s going to be some television coverage, too, of these events which will bring it added attention (and players, probably). Looks like all four of the “Regional Championships” will get their final tables televised, as will the National Championship.

Reading through the press release containing the schedule and all of the information about the point system and qualifying is a bit complicated, actually. There’s a note in here about how there may be some duplicates among those qualifying for the National Championship -- e.g., the winner of a Main Event may get in a couple of different ways (via points and the win). If I am understanding it correctly, it sounds like the plan in such cases is to bump folks up on the points list in order to make it an even 100 players for the Championship.

If you want to sort through it all yourself, here’s the announcement of the 2010-2011 WSOP Circuit and schedule and here’s the point system chart.

It’ll be interesting to see how the WSOP Circuit goes this year with regard to turnouts and general awareness. I’m guessing that as it goes along and we get to the spring -- and people start realizing there’s this $1 million tourney with a bracelet at the end -- the buzz will start to get a lot louder.

Kind of a clever idea to recharge the WSOP Circuit, which over the last few years had lost a lot of its momentum. And while I continue to believe there are way too many bracelets being awarded each year, having a bracelet event in which players must earn their way in is an interesting twist, too.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The True Story: Day 1 Chip Leaders at the WSOP Main Event

The tortoise and the hareWatched some of the coverage of the 2010 WSOP Main Event again last night on ESPN. Yesterday they showed highlights from Day 1c and Day 1d, giving an hour to each day. These Day 1 flights are okay, but not terribly riveting, really. I’m glad ESPN appears to have changed its original plan to give two hours each to the four flights and instead devote more time to the more exciting -- and relevant -- Days 6 and 7. (See the full schedule here.)

Speaking of Day 1 not being all that important in the larger scheme of things, there was an interesting moment from last week’s episodes involving Mike “The Mouth” Matusow, the highlighted player at the feature table during Day 1a. If you saw the show, you might remember this -- a kind of strange-sounding statistic thrown out by Matusow to his tablemates.

Matusow’s claim came following a weird hand involving himself, Gerhard Maurer, and Alex Carr. The Mouth is in the small blind with QhJs, Maurer in the big blind with QsJd, and Carr on the button with Jh9h, and all three players make straights on the turn, with the board showing 9c8sQcTc.

“What are the chances of that?” asks Lon McEachern. “Actually we just checked our statistical archives,” answers Norman Chad, tongue firmly in cheek. “It’s the first time in the history of the Main Event three players have made a queen-high straight on the turn on Day 1!”

Matusow checks from the small blind. Maurer, in the big blind, then bets 3,000 into the 4,800 pot, and Carr promptly calls from the button. “That could be the greatest check I made in my entire life,” says Matusow. “I was checking to induce a bluff, not a bet and a call,” he adds with a grin. Finally, he lets his hand go.

The river is the Th, pairing the board, and Maurer wastes little time moving all in for his last 8,925. Carr doesn’t wait long, either, before calling, and Matusow is a bit dismayed to see his two opponents had neither better straights, flushes, or full houses.

“This is one long, long, long, long, long tournament,” says Matusow afterwards, perhaps in part to make himself feel better about the hand. Having made no less than two WSOP ME final tables (2001, 2005), plus made a couple of other deep runs (87th in 2004, 30th in 2008), Matusow obviously knows from experience that losing a hand on the first day isn’t necessarily cause for too much despair.

A commercial break follows, and when the show resumes Carr is shown saying “running good early on Day 1... that’s bad.” That’s when Matusow -- sort of like Chad did with McEachern, only Matusow isn’t kidding -- offers to provide some data, in this case to back up the idea that being among the chip leaders on Day 1 is no guarantee of success in the WSOP Main Event.

Matusow claims only one player among the top 100 at the end of Day 1 in 2008 ultimately made the cash“In 2008 when I got 30th,” says Matusow, “I was like 16% of average chips for five straight days.” His opponents nod in agreement, Matusow’s experience sort of affirming Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare. No need to worry about racing out in front early. Slow and steady can win the race, too.

The Mouth continues. “And only one person of the entire top 100 chip leaders on Day 1 cashed.”

“That can’t be right,” says Carr. “Actually, that’s not even close to accurate,” Chad slips in. “That is a true story,” affirms Matusow. “That’s why Day 1 doesn’t mean zero!” he concludes. Probably meant to say that’s why Day 1 means zero, but we get the point.

Carr was right to question Matusow’s claim. A good number usually make it through Day 1 of the Main Event. This year a little over 70% of the starting field of 7,319 made it to Day 2. In 2008, there were 3,629 players still in the hunt after one day of play out of the starting field of 6,844 (about 53%). The top 10% or so make the cash (in 2008, the top 666 were paid), so it stands to reason at least a few of those in the top 100 at the end of Day 1 should still be around once the cash bubble burst.

Chad’s editorial comment made me curious to see just how inaccurate the statement was that only one player among the top 100 at the end of Day 1 in 2008 actually made the cash. So I looked back to see.

What follows is a list of the top 100 at the end of the four Day 1 flights (combined) from the 2008 Main Event. If the player ultimately made the money, I’ve added in parentheses where the player finished and how much he or she earned (and put them in bold). If the player did not make the top 666, there is no note beside the name.

2008 WSOP Main Event, Day 1 chip leaders

1. Henning Granstad -- 242,950 (finished 553rd, $23,160)
2. Mark Garner -- 194,900
3. Ben Sarnoff -- 177,500
4. Brandon Adams -- 176,450
5. Curt Kohlberg -- 173,050
6. David Baker -- 163,450 (252nd, $35,383)
7. Brian Schaedlich -- 160,725 (456th, $27,020)
8. Howard Berchowitz -- 160,075
9. Arnaud Mattern -- 157,650
10. Kellen Hunter -- 155,200 (115th, $41,816)
11. Stefan Mattsson -- 154,275
12. Steve Austin -- 149,000 (552nd, $23,160)
13. Mohamad Kowssarie -- 146,000
14. Patrick Fortin -- 145,275 (390th, $28,950)
15. Robert Mizrachi -- 142,400 (458th, $27,020)
16. David Stucke -- 140,525 (510th, $25,090)
17. Sami Rustom -- 140,450
18. Dylan Linde -- 138,425 (366th, $28,950)
19. Jeff Frerichs -- 138,025
20. Diren Yildiz -- 136,075 (181st, $38,600)
21. Soren Peterson -- 135,475
22. Josh Schiffman -- 133,000
23. Adam Hudson -- 127,750
24. Nick Caltabiano -- 127,700
25. Nikolay Losev -- 127,225 (28th, $193,000)
26. Evan Woodington -- 127,125 (451st, $27,020)
27. Michael Souza -- 126,100 (291st, $32,166)
28. Serj Markarian -- 126,000 (521st, $25,090)
29. Joe Marcal -- 125,325
30. Victor Ramdin -- 124,600 (64th, $96,500)
31. Wayne Brown -- 124,575
32. Robin Andreas Berggren -- 124,125 (196th, $38,600)
33. Todd Rebello -- 123,925
34. Andrew Tisler -- 123,900
35. Michael Martin -- 123,025
36. Samir Shakhtoor -- 122,875 (208th, $38,600)
37. Christian Choi -- 122,225
38. Marko Batanjac -- 122,000
39. Charles Dolan -- 121,625 (177th, $38,600)
40. Kido Pham -- 120,650 (41st, $154,400)
41. Nghia Le -- 119,750 (108th, $41,816)
42. David Singer -- 119,425
43. William Purle -- 118,575 (171st, $38,600)
44. Igor Ioffe -- 118,525 (345th, $32,166)
45. Diogo Borges -- 115,825 (404th, $28,950)
46. Joe McGowan -- 115,575 (505th, $25,090)
47. Jason Mannino -- 115,100
48. Jay Katsutani -- 115,000
49. David Oppenheim -- 114,400
50. Michael Johnson -- 114,000 (545th, $23,160)
51. Mark Vos -- 113,200 (80th, $77,200)
52. Alexander Borteh -- 112,425 (197th, $38,600)
53. Anton Allemann -- 112,250
54. Woodrow Johnson -- 111,900
55. Alexander Kostritsyn -- 111,850
56. Mojgan Stringham -- 111,475
57. Chino Rheem -- 111,375 (7th, $1,772,650)
58. Liya Gerasimova -- 111,050
59. David Dao -- 111,005 (453rd, $27,020)
60. Kara Scott -- 111,000 (104th, $41,816)
61. Bill Blanda -- 111,000 (333rd, $32,166)
62. Brad Booth -- 110,825
63. Patryk Hildebranski -- 110,350
64. Robert Eckstut -- 110,275
65. Evelyn Ng -- 110,225 (238th, $35,383)
66. Danny Smith -- 110,175
67. Alex Balandin -- 109,925
68. Carlos Mortensen -- 109,825
69. Leonid Yanovski -- 109,575
70. Jan Skampa -- 108,450
71. Messaoud Bouchaib -- 108,375 (643rd, $21,230)
72. Kory Mitchell -- 107,500 (414th, $28,950)
73. Mohsin Charania -- 107,475
74. Jason Kang -- 107,375 (532nd, $25,090)
75. Coco Valerice -- 106,727
76. John Goossens -- 106,350
77. Joshua Norris -- 106,325 (179th, $38,600)
78. Marc Podell -- 105,800 (100th, $41,816)
79. Bryan Colin -- 105,650
80. Doron Malinasky -- 104,950 (246th, $35,383)
81. Michael Watson -- 104,425
82. Dale Sing -- 104,125 (662nd, $21,230)
83. Tim Loecke -- 104,050 (23rd, $257,334)
84. Heidi Northcott -- 103,075
85. Gus Hansen -- 102,900 (160th, $41,816)
86. David Saab -- 102,525 (46th, $135,100)
87. Paul Loh -- 102,125
88. Andrea Benelli -- 102,050
89. Israel Hodara -- 101,525 (381st, $28,950)
90. Gilles Smadja -- 101,450
91. Whitney Blanton -- 101,450 (412th, $28,950)
92. Johan Berg -- 101,450
93. Bill Meyer -- 101,150
94. Raymond Rice -- 100,575
95. Eetu Vehilainen -- 100,325 (434th, $27,020)
96. Arthur Azen -- 99,800
97. Aaron Kanter -- 99,700
98. Grudi Grudev -- 98,800
99. Daryl Yarosh -- 98,575
100. Scott Montgomery -- 98,525 (5th, $3,096,768)

So, yeah, a few more than one of the top 100 at the end of Day 1 did cash back in 2008. In fact, almost half of them did -- 46 in all. More than I thought would be there, to be honest. Among those in the list are two who made the final table (Chino Rheem and Scott Montgomery), as well as nine players who’d be among the top 100 at the end of the event.

Incidentally, any errors here are obviously my own. I did the cross-checking myself, and could well have missed somebody, especially if the name was listed differently on the counts and payouts, although I think I caught everyone. (Also had to mess with spreadsheets a little to combine the four Day 1 flights -- another chance for errors to creep in.)

I imagine the results from other years would probably be similar. The WSOP Main Event is a long, long tourney, and there are many, many ways to get from that first hand to the money and ultimately the final table and the bracelet.

Then again, I think it is safe to say that Day 1 does mean more than “zero.” Especially if that happens to be your chip count at the end of Day 1, as was unfortunately the case for 2,173 players this year -- including Matusow.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Gus Can’t Get Up

'Gus' (1976)I mentioned last post I was a child of the ’70s. Therefore, I saw pretty much any Disney film produced during that era in the theater. In fact, I’m remembering there was always some sort of summer movie series for kids each year to occupy us little brats during those hot months when school was out.

As a result, whenever I hear the name “Gus” I instinctively think of the goofball 1976 film of that title. If you’re of a certain age, you remember it. That’s the one with Don Knotts and the place-kicking mule named Gus. The California Atoms are the worst football team around until they bring in Gus to kick 100-yard field goals for them.

That’s right -- nothing in the rule book preventing the Atoms from suiting up a mule. “Oych!” said the mule's owner (I think), which triggered Gus to kick. I haven’t seen the movie since I was a kid, but I remember it being a good time-waster.

Realized I was thinking of Gus the mule yesterday when reading those stories online about poor Gus Hansen and his monstrous downswing online at Full Tilt Poker. I followed the link from Wicked Chops over to Poker King’s site where I read the sad details.

Man, oh man. Hansen is running worse than the California Atoms were!

The numbers are staggering. According to the Poker King (compiling info from HighStakesDB.com), Hansen is down almost $7 million since the start of 2008. He was a loser in 2007 as well -- in the hands that were tracked, anyway -- meaning since 1/1/07 he’s down something like $7.7 million.

It sounds like Hansen began both 2009 and 2010 with winning months, but slid soon thereafter, falling back into negative territory. All told, Hansen’s account is the biggest loser on the site since 1/1/08. Apparently Cirque du Soleil founder and everyone’s favorite whale Guy Laliberte has donated more on FTP via three different accounts -- like $15 million -- but the “Gus Hansen” account is overall down more than any other.

The reddest pro, you might call him. Oych!

Hard to imagine, really. Makes me think of that “Not Real Poker” line Mike Matusow delivered back in the spring with reference to those nosebleed-stakes Isildur1 games.

Probably my favorite stat among those shared by the Poker King is the one pointing out that over the course of nearly 850,000 tracked hands played by Hansen on Full Tilt over the last three-and-a-half years, he’s lost an average of $9 per hand.

Hanging out at the low stakes as I do, I’ll admit I get a little perturbed when I lose $9 in a hand online. Perhaps a bit feisty when it happens twice. And downright distressed after the third time. That’s about when I usually decide it isn’t my day and sign off.

But to play 850,000 hands, losing an average of $9 per?! Someone would have to be very stubborn to keep that up.

You know, stubborn as a... well, something that’s really stubborn.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

The Hottest Band in the World (Sort of)

Gene Simmons playing cardHad a fun weekend as Vera Valmore and I took off for a quick beach trip. Kind of spur of the moment, without much pre-trip planning. Got down there on Friday and after a nice dinner went for a stroll along the water where we were stunned to encounter a KISS tribute band rocking out on an outdoor stage.

We knew there’d be some sort of music going on there when we passed by the stage earlier on our way to dinner. In fact, Vera had read something somewhere back at the hotel about “KISS Army” playing at some point, though it hadn’t really registered with us that was where they’d be playing.

As we left the restaurant and walked a couple of blocks, we heard the driving beat of “Detroit Rock City,” and soon we were part of a crowd of what eventually became more than 500 enjoying the free show.

Like most kids of the ’70s, Vera and I both have a fondness for KISS, remembering the songs and albums as well as the nightmare they once represented to adults. I recall a teacher -- it was around fourth grade or thereabouts -- once warning me that KISS stood for “Knights In Satan’s Service” (no shinola). I also have a memory of seeing the band featured on the prime time news program “20/20” one time, the gist of the piece being an attempt to explain the phenomenon to older folks. (Here’s that report, from 1979, if you’re curious.)

Anyhow, the tribute band did not disappoint, uncannily recreating the KISS live show replete with the make-up, the fire, the blood, extended guitar and drum solos, and note-for-note reproductions of all the hits. The fellow doing Paul Stanley even introduced the songs following that same goofy script you hear on the live records: “Who here has a case of... rock ‘n’ roll pneumonia? Well... there’s only one cure! You know what I’m talking about...! I’m talking about DOCTOR LOVE!!!!”

Kiss Army on stageThe group probably played around 20 songs altogether, finally signing off with “Rock and Roll All Nite,” natch. Nobody seemed to mind the god-awful heat (90-plus degrees) and humidity (near 100%). In fact, the all-ages crowd totally ate it up. (Here’s the group’s website.)

The show actually made me think more than once about Las Vegas, with its many examples of “tribute” acts like the Elvis Cirque du Soleil show (“Viva Elvis”), Jersey Boys (the Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons show), and that Cheap Trick performance of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper Vera and I saw this summer. Also made think about the lives of the performers, and what it must be like to pretend you are someone else like that night after night.

Also thought a little bit afterwards about how in poker we sometimes kind of adopt various roles -- in some cases perhaps even imitating or borrowing the plays, actions, gestures, and so forth of other players we’ve seen (or whose books we’ve read).

On one hand, one could argue that every individual player’s style is in fact wholly composed of such borrowings, picked up here and there and ultimately shaped into the player he or she finally becomes. I remember reading someone once describe “personality” as simply a collection of repetitions, gathered via one’s experience and made one’s own.

Then again, one might say that there is no such thing (really) as “imitating” another player -- that is, in poker you can’t pull off an act like KISS Army does and perfectly reproduce, say, something you saw Phil Ivey do on “High Stakes Poker” or some move you read about in Harrington on Hold’em.

In other words, anytime one does “covers” (so to speak) at the poker table, the “original” becomes almost unrecognizable after being transformed into one’s own particular style.

Might be easier, I guess, if makeup were involved.

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Gambling on Grades

GradesLittle time today, I’m afraid, to do much more than point you to an article of mine over on the Betfair poker site that went up today --> “Cash for Grades?

You might have read something this week about a website -- called Ultrinsic -- that is allowing U.S. college students (at 36 different schools) to place real money wagers on the grades they receive in their courses. No shinola!

The story came via the Associated Press and got picked up by dozens of papers and websites across the U.S.

One element of the story of particular interest to poker players (I think) was the discussion of whether or not the site -- based in New York -- was, in fact, offering “online gambling.” Our buddy I. Nelson Rose, the law professor and gambling law expert, actually turns up in the article to opine on the issue with regard to Ultrinsic.

As you’ll see if you go read my article, I’m no fan of the idea of college students betting on their grades. Obviously I’m not opposed to gambling per se, but I don’t like the idea of artificially adding this extra significance to grades (which I already think are made out by many to be more significant than they should be).

Besides, the site itself also looks more than a little sketchy to me. Check it out if you are curious, and tell me what you think.

And then have a good weekend!

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Thinking About (Not Practicing) the Art of Misdirection

The Art of MisdirectionI mentioned a couple of days ago how I’d been playing a lot of pot-limit Omaha, and how I was on the lookout for interesting hands and/or situations to share. Found one.

Have been mostly sitting at the “20-50bb” six-max. tables with $0.10/$0.25 blinds, buying in for the maximum $12.50. Having been playing decently of late, I think, but I have to admit I’ve been running especially good, too. Among the big pots I’ve played I’ve hit a couple of two-outers, the sort of thing that does a lot to help keep one’s momentum going in the right direction.

Two seats had emptied, so we were four-handed. After a few orbits I’d chipped up to $19.47 when I was dealt KhKdJd4c on the button. The cutoff limped in for a quarter, and I raised to $1.00. The small blind folded, then both the big blind and the cutoff called.

That meant there was $3.10 in the middle when the flop came 6d2sKc. (I said I’ve been running good.) I get top set, with no flush draws to fret (yet). It checked to me, I bet $1.75, and only the big blind stuck around. Pot now $6.60.

The flop had been good, and the turn was pretty decent, too -- the Ad. Not too worried about a set of aces here, and now I have the nut flush draw. My opponent, now with $13.21 left, checked, and I went ahead and made a nearly pot-sized bet of $6. His quick call made me think he’d either picked up a diamond draw, too, or perhaps had flopped a set of sixes or deuces. Pot up to $18.60.

The river then brought the 6h, giving me kings full of sixes. With no hesitation whatsoever, my opponent fired a bet of $4.50, leaving himself just $2.71 behind. The bet momentarily slowed me down, and I sincerely thought I might’ve been one-outed here. In fact, I’ll admit my recent run-good might’ve affected me here just a little, making me irrationally feel as though I might be due for a bad beat.

I took a couple of seconds, then, I suppose as a way of insulating myself against the disappointment I would feel if indeed my opponent held sixes, I typed “if u got u got” before raising to $9.

I knew I was good when my opponent didn’t instantly call. But as a few more seconds went by, I found myself wishing I hadn’t typed anything. The pot was about $30, yet he appeared actually to be considering folding and preserving his $2.71. Finally, after 20 seconds, he called, showing Ks4h3s2h. He’d flopped top-and-bottom pair and a gutshot, chased, then made a failed play on the end to try and steal the big pot.

As the next hand was dealt, I thought again with some regret about my chat. All I had really accomplished was essentially to tell my opponent what I had and thereby give him a chance to fold a worse hand.

Then a thought occurred to me. What if I didn’t have a monster hand there? What if I had nothing at all -- say, a couple of busted draws myself and nothing but ace-high -- and typed the same line?

It genuinely felt like I’d nearly caused a player to fold in a situation where he had better than 10-to-1 to call on the river. His hand was weak and he knew it, but it was better than ace-high. Or, say, a pair of queens. Perhaps typing such a line might not be such a bad maneuver to accompany a desperation river raise to steal a big pot with air?

Then again, perhaps not. Still, the hand made me think more generally about those times in poker when we act in ways that unambiguously reveal our hands or intentions -- when we not only give tells but consciously do so -- and how effective it could be to act the same way in a different situation, that is, one in which the seemingly unambiguous information we are giving away is completely misleading.

I imagine the better players are often devoting their energies toward working on this -- the art of misdirection. More so than toward fearing quads, anyway.

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