Thursday, June 30, 2011

2011 WSOP, Day 30: Coincidences

CoincidencesWell, I did end up back at the Rio on my day off yesterday. Even stopped by both the Amazon and Pavilion rooms, though not for long.

I spent much of the morning and early afternoon writing in my room. Then later in the day came a nice visit with Jen Newell who is in town for a few days and who just so happens to be staying in the same home-away-from-home as I am. The two of us made our way to the Rio, took seats at the so-called “hooker bar,” and were soon joined by Lori a.k.a. PokerVixen, Marie Lizette, and AlCantHang.

Among the topics of conversation was the sudden shutdown of Full Tilt Poker yesterday, an event that unfortunately affects Al in particular given his association with the Full Tilt Poker blog (which may or may not be down). I would say Al arriving to join us on the day FTP went down was another coincidence, but then again, the bar seemed like an appropriate destination for him.

A little over ten weeks have passed since Black Friday, the day the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed that indictment and civil complaint versus the “Big Three” online sites and associated individuals. PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, the two largest sites in the world, immediately stopped allowing Americans to play. Meanwhile, the Cereus sites (Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker) allowed U.S. players to continue playing for several weeks -- despite there being no prospect for their withdrawing funds -- before finally shutting their doors to American players.

Next came the business of cashing out. PokerStars handled that quickly and efficiently, initiating the process less than two weeks after April 15 and sending wire transfers or checks to all players who’d requested cashouts by early-to-mid May. But UB/AP remained mum on the matter, still offering no means for U.S. players to cash out. Full Tilt Poker didn’t exactly remain mum, but didn’t say much, either, leaving its U.S. customers in the dark regarding the prospect of seeing their money.

While many wrote off UB/AP long ago as a mostly rogue outfit plagued by cheaters, schemers, and aided along the way by a few naïve apologists, Full Tilt Poker has always enjoyed a good reputation in the online poker community. While some (including myself) for various reasons preferred to play on PokerStars -- not the least of which being a difference in support, with Stars always being vastly more responsive -- FTP nonetheless was always one of the two most recommended sites for American players.

In the minds of many, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker were basically Pepsi and Coke. For a lot of us, we ordered one or the other first, and that became the one we generally ordered thereafter. But either would do.

That way of thinking about the two sites changed drastically after Black Friday, of course. When that much anticipated May 15 “announcement” provided no further indication of how FTP was going to pay back players, many began to lose hope. The Phil Ivey announcement and lawsuit that came a couple of weeks later further indicated trouble ahead for those of us with funds on the site. About three weeks ago, F-Train provided a catalogue of failures by Full Tilt both before and after April 15.

It was getting more and more obvious. Full Tilt Poker was no PokerStars. Not by a long shot.

And now the Alderney Gambling Control Commission, a group that regulates eGambling from the teeny, tiny island of Alderney (just three miles long and 1.5 miles wide) located amid the Channel Islands between England and France, has told Pocket Kings, Ltd. to stop providing software and other support to Full Tilt Poker. The demand follows an investigation by the AGCC of Full Tilt launched in the wake of Black Friday

Full Tilt Poker downIn other words, the game is over. When you click on that Full Tilt Poker icon on your desktop today, the client won’t even load. Only if you wrote down somewhere how much you had on FTP do you know what that amount is. And, it seems, what you’ve lost.

From the Wall Street Journal report, it doesn’t necessarily sound like the failure to provide a means for U.S. players to cash out directly prompted the AGCC’s action. Rather it was the allegations in the DOJ’s indictment -- including accusations of bank fraud and money laundering -- that forced the AGCC’s hand. “The nature of the findings [in the indictment] necessitated the taking of immediate action in the public interest,” said the AGCC.

However, the non-payment of U.S. players may have accelerated the process somewhat, as the Alderney folks had already expressed concern to Full Tilt execs over the delay. From the outside, it looks almost analogous to Ivey’s decision to break ties with FTP, although Ivey’s relationship to the site is obviously much different from that of the AGCC.

The failure to allow Americans to cash out caused both Ivey and the AGCC to withdraw their support for the site. In Ivey’s case, his support came from his image and its power to attract players. But the AGCC’s support was such that its removal could shut down Full Tilt Poker completely, and that is precisely what has happened. If this were a poker tournament, Ivey’s move crippled the site, and the AGCC took the remaining chips. But really, Full Tilt played the endgame so badly, it was probably destined to go out sooner or later anyway.

When I return to the Rio today to help cover Event No. 51 ($1,500 PLO/8), I will be curious to see whether those FTP pros who have been wearing their patches thus far will still continue to do so. Also will be interesting just to hear the chatter at the tables and elsewhere regarding the shutdown.

'Stupid/System' by Julius GoatTo get back to yesterday, I eventually met up with PokerGrump and the one and only Julius Goat for dinner. As a long time fan of Goat’s often hilarious blog (and tweets), I was pleased when I found out his short trip to the WSOP was coinciding with the time I would be here. Like many, JuliusGoat used some of the funds he’d cashed out from PokerStars to take a shot in a WSOP preliminary event, which he did on Tuesday.

He made it through much of Day 1 before being eliminated, and he shared details of that experience with us over dinner amid talk of each other’s blogs and the uniqueness of “meeting” people after having read thousands of words written by them first. Among the many things we three have in common, we all started our blogs at roughly the same time (five-ish years ago) by creating these “characters” (a grump, a shamus, and a wise-cracking goat) through which we initially spoke. Then, gradually, all three of us opened things up in ways that made those characters more like our true selves.

We also talked some about PokerGrump’s getting the golden ticket in that Dan Cates promotion whereby he is actually going to get to play in the WSOP Main Event! (Read all about that here.) I do hope the Grump was paying attention last night to the wise words of the author of Stupid/System, a book that will surely give him an edge over many in the ME. We were joined as well by cmitch, then still alive in Event No. 48 (he would eventually go out in 125th), and it was nice to meet him as well. The coincidences continued to pile up as somewhere along the way we discovered cmitch and I have the same birthday.

The three of us then went to McFadden’s for the pub trivia (a return to the game about which I wrote last week), and were able to continue our conversations there while being challenged to remember the actor’s names, the decades in which historical events occurred, things Britney Spears said, and other items. After that, Julius Goat and I walked back across the Rio to the poker to check in on the tournament he had played as well as the rest of the scene there late last night, including a couple of final tables playing out for Events No. 46 (the $10,000 NLHE 6-max.) and No. 47 (the $2,500 Omaha/8-Stud/8).

Was great fun meeting the man behind the cigar, glasses, and painted on mustache. Of all the coincidences of yesterday, I was most glad of the one that put us both here in Vegas at the same time so we could meet.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

2011 WSOP, Day 29: Split Day

Split DayWoke up today after six straight days of work, all around 14 hours’ long or so. After lying there in a bit of a daze for a few moments I realized I have a day off today.

Was thinking all week today’d be the day I would try one of those deepstack tourneys they have each day at the Rio, but am probably not going to do so, for a couple of reasons. Energy too low (not that I’m necessarily going to find a day when that isn’t the case). And I could probably do well to avoid the Rio for a day, if possible, although I have a feeling I may end up over there to meet folks at some point. As long as I stay out of the Amazon Room, I should be okay.

The Amazon Room was where I found myself yesterday racing back and forth all day and night and early morning, helping cover a couple of different events -- the final day of Event No. 45, the $1,000 No-Limit Hold’em event & Day 2 of Event No. 47, the $2,500 Omaha/8-Stud/8 event. Which meant I was circling the “mothership” all day, the scene of jubilant noise and celebration over Andre Akkari’s win in Event No. 43 (a $1,500 NLHE event), then later for the finale of Event No. 45. For details on the Brazilians' raucous response to Akkari’s win, see Dr. Pauly's account of the “Carnival at the Mothership.”

I stuck with the last day of the $1K NLHE until it reached the final table, then a need arose over at the O/8-Stud/8 event, and so joined my buddy Chris “Homer” Hall and ace reporter Mat over there.

One interesting bit of trivia to share from the $1K. I mentioned a couple of days back a player kind of randomly requesting a high-five from me -- not from winning a hand or anything, but just because I was there -- then saying something about his plan to become famous one day. That was during the earliest stages of the event, when there were still more than 2,500 players with chips.

Turned out the guy actually final tabled the sucker. At dinner break I saw him in the Poker Kitchen, and we laughingly recalled that earlier exchange. He said how he appreciated the coverage and was hoping to make a name for himself in poker, and I told him if he kept making final tables, that would surely happen. I wished him luck and let him know I was moving on to another event after the break.

Incidentally, since the topic has come up here and there (see, for instance, Jon Katkin’s op-ed over on Pokerati from earlier in the Series), I should perhaps point out that as a reporter I never, ever cheer for players in an event I’m covering. A huge no-no, really, that I think most of those who’ve done this stuff a while come to understand.

Event No. 45 final tableI have friends who play, certainly, and perhaps a few pros who I’m always glad to see do well. But I never even begin to share such predilections while on an event, and really, to be completely honest, I don’t care much one way or another who wins these things. It’s a little like the way I watch most NFL games (not involving my woeful Carolina Panthers, that is). I almost never pull for one team or another to win, but primarily find myself just looking for a good, well played game. Same with the pokers.

Getting back to my day, I left the Event No. 45 final table to join the O/8-Stud/8 which included a lot of great players and characters. As I was reacclimating myself to reporting split-pot games (not as easy as it looks!), I overheard a lot of very interesting table talk.

There was Mickey Appelman opining on the relatively poor state of the poker economy (in his opinion). Jerry Buss was being quizzed about certain NBA players. Jerrod Ankenman -- who won a bracelet in 2009 (in an event I happened to cover) -- talked about how the uniqueness of winning a bracelet has diminished greatly, marveling at how a hundred or so have probably been won since he got his. His buddies Bill Chen and Matt Hawrilenko -- both of whom have bracelets (two for Chen) -- were railing him for a bit late in the evening. And Barry Greenstein shared views about the reasons behind that no-headphones-once-the-money-is-reached rule.

Speaking of reaching the money, when they were one elimination away and playing hand-for-hand, Allen “Chainsaw” Kessler kept getting up and walking up and down the row of tables, noting the stack-sizes of the other players. Kessler is well known for his frequent min-cashes, although he’s made some deep runs, too, including gathering a third WSOP runner-up finish this year (in Event No. 15, $1,500 Pot-Limit Hold’em).

Kessler also has a reputation for extreme nittiness, which helped create a context for a funny Omaha/8 hand in which he raised his button, got some comments about “giving action” from the others, and the blinds folded. He showed a couple of aces and a deuce, which led Abe Mosseri to say to Kessler “Every time you get a good hand, your forehead lights up!”

Nikokai Yakovenko’s table talk was most engaging, I thought. He shared some interesting thoughts about the differences between Omaha/8 and Stud/8, noting how the former causes more heartbreak when players fail to make their hands whereas in Stud/8 they are mostly “resigned” to their fates. He also shared some stories regarding his having made the final table last year at WPT Foxwoods (he finished fourth) and how that experience went. It sounded like a positive one for him, although he did note how the whole “reality show” thing kind of takes away from the poker.

Jerry BussOn the subject of spectacle, my two events yesterday couldn’t have been more different, ambience-wise. On the one hand there was the glitzy, game show-like spectacle of no-limit hold’em final tables, replete with spotlights, announcers, cheering crowds, and carnivals at “motherships.” Then there was the O/8-Stud/8 event -- a group of guys, many older, talking softly and playing cards deep into the night.

Two days in one, it was. Will try to measure myself out a mix of excitement and relaxation again today. Probably best to have more of the latter, I imagine.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

2011 WSOP, Day 28: Getting Loopy

A player bet...“It’s that time of the night where I start forgetting the names of the three people I've been writing about for the last 12 hours.”

So tweeted my buddy Eric a little after 2 a.m. last night as he neared the end of another long shift of live blogging from the WSOP. Was the sort of thing many of us who have been in his position identified with instantly.

I know I experienced something similar just a couple of nights before when covering the lengthy heads-up battle between Matt Jarvis and Justin Filtz in Event No. 40 (the $5K NLHE 6-max.). I remember one moment after having aggressively tutored my fingers to type the correct spelling of “Filtz” -- both “Flitz” and “Fitlz” kept butting in there -- having to look once again at the chip counts just to remind myself what his first name was. (No shinola.)

Sounds absurd, perhaps. But I imagine you’ve probably experienced something similar yourself. When made to repeat something again and again and again, we generally spend the first part of the sequence fully engaged until we’ve become familiar with what it entails. The learning complete, we achieve understanding. And then we get bored. Or distracted. Or whatever. And after a time of having no difficulty doing that thing again and again and again we move to another stage where we have to work actively just to keep our focus.

There’s a lot of repetition in poker, both for those who play and those trying to report on it. One of the greatest challenges, really, for anyone attempting either.

The brain seeks patterns, but also craves novelty. Poker provides both, of course, but unevenly. Interest flags. The mind closes in on itself. Allow yourself to become too greatly numbed by the patterns and you might well miss something genuinely new. Something worth responding to, say, with a reraise. Or a story to remember, to share with others.

One method we all employ to fight off the numbness is to step outside of the loop, recognize its absurdity, and have a laugh. Hang around the World Series of Poker for more than a day or two and you will witness a lot of laughter, much of it coming from unexpected breaks in the routine.

Two days ago I was reporting on that Event No. 45, the $1,000 No-Limit Hold’em event I was talking about yesterday in which much of the field was comprised of relative unknowns. Late in the day I found myself watching a table at which was seated Prahlad Friedman, and ended up finding a sort-of-interesting-but-really-just-routine hand of his to report.

I watched the hand from beginning to end, ran back to the laptop and wrote up a little narrative describing it, then got back up out of my chair and hit the floor once more. To my dismay, I immediately saw that in the time taken to report the hand -- three or four minutes, tops -- Friedman had been eliminated from the tourney.

Now possessed by the need to find the more interesting sequel to my humdrum first part, a dealer change at the table provided an opening and I asked a player if he could tell me how Friedman had been knocked out.

“I don’t know,” he said with a shrug.

Then, one second later, “Naaaahhhh... I’m just kidding, man. I busted him.”

The story of the bustout he subsequently related to me was also routine. But I dug his dig, that initial faux-evasion of the question. The lie, instinctively delivered, it seemed. Just kidding, man. Just effing with you.

The new dealer sat down, greeted the players, and began to shuffle. The player turned back toward the table. I walked back to the laptop, sat down, and began to type.

This is how we deal.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

2011 WSOP, Day 27: Look at You Look at Me

Eye ContactYesterday I helped cover Day 1 of Event No. 45, one of the several $1,000 no-limit hold’em events on the schedule. I did sneak off for an hour mid-afternoon to cover the rapid finish to Event No. 40, the $5,000 NLHE 6-max. event won by Matt Jarvis. But for most of the day I was at the $1K.

I was assigned to cover a couple of these last year, the tourneys many affectionately refer to as “donkaments.” Ended up writing here about a few unique characteristics of these events, the players who often play in them, and the experience of covering them. I called those posts “The Grand Games” -- there were two of them (Part 1 and Part 2).

All of those things I said last year came back to me yesterday. Again, there was some suspect play here and there. And the occasional starry-eyed wonder on display by the many non-pros taking their shots. The money has a different significance to a lot of these guys than it does to the upper-tier players. I remember near the end of the night one fellow finally pushing his short stack all in and getting called. As he awaited the community cards, he looked up at the ceiling and said with a good-natured but grim smile “One thousand dollars!”

As was the case last year, there were players engaging me frequently as I passed through the tables, asking about PokerNews or who the chip leader was or whether I thought we’d reach the cash before the end of the day. One player actually asked me for a high-five after a brief exchange. “Let’s high-five it,” he said, holding his hand aloft, and I obliged. “When I get famous...” I nodded and finished his sentence for him: “I’ll say I high-fived him at the beginning.”

Something else occurred to me yesterday, another distinction that might be drawn between the majority of those who play these lower buy-in events and the top pros one finds in the higher buy-in ones such as Event No. 46, the $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em Six-Handed Championship I’ll be on later today. It has to do with this curious facet of human interaction that seems to have so much meaning, namely, the way we look at each other -- that incredibly important form of nonverbal communication, eye contact.

As anyone who has played live much at all well knows, nonverbal communication -- voluntarily delivered or otherwise -- is a huge part of the game. For a mostly online guy like me who only plays live now and then, I nearly always feel like I’m having to reeducate myself about the significance of nonverbal cues and thus make great effort to make myself aware of others’ “tells” and/or my own.

As a reporter, watching players in WSOP events for hours on end, I am always very conscious of all the nonverbal communication going on. Occasionally -- usually in big hands that last more than a minute or two -- I will note some of the mannerisms or seemingly meaningful gestures to include in the hand report, the kind of thing that hopefully gives the reader some sense of what it was like to stand there by the table seeing it play out. (Not to mention distinguishes the report from an automated hand history such as you might get online.)

Some players look at each other. Some don’t.

Chino RheemIn Event No. 40 last week (the $5K NLHE 6-max.), I enjoyed watching Chino Rheem in a very exaggerated fashion remove his shades and stare directly at his opponent for several seconds as each postflop street was delivered. I’ve interacted with Rheem a small amount, though can’t say I know him, really. But he definitely strikes me as a “look-you-in-the-eye” kind of guy, perfectly willing to engage others directly in a manner that no doubt helps him at the tables.

Such seems to be the case for most of the better players. I mentioned a couple of days ago taking note of Daniel Negreanu taking note of others. It’s not just a matter of sitting there witnessing what is going on around you. It’s showing that confidence associated with a willingness to look directly at whomever you are interacting with, and not looking away when they look back.

The pros seem to have no problem at all with this facet of the game, but the less accomplished or less experienced players very often do. They look down a lot. They look around the room. When they do look at other players -- say, in a heads-up situation -- a lot of times they seem to be “stealing” glances rather than spending time studying their opponent, almost as though they are avoiding violating that unwritten rule about social decorum that keeps us from being too obvious about our staring at one another, especially if we strangers.

One other reason why I found myself thinking a lot about eye contact yesterday was that players kept making eye contact with me.

Unlike in Event No. 40, where every table had at least one and sometimes multiple players I recognized instantly, the so-called “notables” among the 2,980 players who entered Event No. 45 were much harder to find. Thus did I do a lot of looking at players’ faces throughout the day, searching (mostly in vain) for familiar ones.

What I’m describing wasn’t really a new experience for me, but for some reason it struck me yesterday how players who weren’t in hands would sometimes look up and make eye contact with me as I passed by looking at them. As a reporter, I’m generally trying to be as inconspicuous as possible when covering events, and most often do well to make myself “invisible” as I stand nearby jotting down details of what is happening. As a result, I’m usually not so conscious of anyone looking at me, ’cos, well, no one really is. But yesterday that wasn’t always the case.

For the amateurs -- especially those playing in their first WSOP event -- the whole idea of reporters covering what they are doing has to be a somewhat novel concept. Just as they marvel at sitting down at the same table with Phil Hellmuth (and in these events, they always do), so, too, is there a kind of wonder being expressed nonverbally by some of them regarding my presence.

Did I feel self-conscious whenever I saw someone see me? Not really, although I’ll admit I did just about always look away first. I really don’t want to engage with the players at all if I don’t have to. Sometimes it’s necessary (e.g., to get a name), but my role is to stay out of their way and let them interact with each other unimpeded. After all, that’s what the game is largely about.

Agree? Cool. Let’s high-five it.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

2011 WSOP, Day 26: Game Shows in the Desert

In the 'mothership' at Event No. 40Last night was my first opportunity to report from the so-called “mothership” -- that outrageously lavish stage and arena that has been constructed there in the center of the Amazon Room for this year’s World Series of Poker.

“It’s like a game show,” said FlipChip to me, waving a hand around for emphasis. Seemed to me as apt a description as one could give to it. I haven’t even seen the full effect yet, with the wrap-around LED lights going off and the fog machine and all of the other bells and whistles they’ve added.

That was about 2:45 a.m. The two of us we were sitting together watching Justin Filtz and Matt Jarvis battling through their third hour of heads-up at Event No. 40, the $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em (Six-Handed) event. FlipChip was there to take some winner’s photos, but that wasn’t to be last night.

To the dismay of both players’ groups of fans cheering them on, the tourney was stopped a half-hour or so later at the end of Level 30, which means the pair will be returning today to finish up. It was another instance of the “hard stop” or “ten-level rule” that has been instituted at this year’s WSOP preventing the conclusion of a final table. The 2010 November Niner Jarvis will have a better than 3.5-to-1 chip lead over Filtz when they resume.

It struck me that the stopping of our event just prior to its scheduled climactic moment kind of replicated in miniature what the Main Event has become since the whole “November Nine” idea was instituted in 2008. The drama builds and builds, we get closer and closer to the resolution and final determination of a winner, then we “end” on a cliffhanger.

Fans at Event No. 40It really is a game show. Or, perhaps more accurately, a “reality” show based around some kind of ongoing competition. Come back next week to see who has been eliminated! And don’t forget later, the season finale, when the winner will at last be crowned!

To be honest, I was almost entirely ambivalent about the possibility we wouldn’t see a finish last night, especially after Jarvis survived an all-in late with A-10 versus Filtz’ pocket sevens.

To finish. Not to finish. To borrow the title of my one and only novel... same difference.

I suppose it has something to do with the fact that I’ve seen enough of these suckers through to the end that I’m less invested today in this “hard stop” issue preventing tourneys from being played out. Even so, just as I remain opposed to the November Nine delay as a crazy, artificial disruption of a tournament’s “natural” rhythm (I use that adjective tentatively), I can’t be too enthused about playing most of a final table and then stopping like we did last night.

My partner Rich pointed out to me how as occurs with the November Nine, you can expect some coaching to happen during this unscheduled delay, in this case Justin Filtz possibly getting some advice from Daniel Negreanu.

Negreanu -- who went out at the start of Day 3 to finish in 20th place in this event -- was there last night cheering on Filtz. Of added interest, at one point Negreanu yelled out at Matt Jarvis, who was sporting a Full Tilt Poker logo: “Take off that dirty patch! They don’t pay!”

Anyhow, like the disruption of the tourney’s rhythm, the added opportunities for coaching also seem to compromise the event’s integrity in some fashion. Or at least some might argue that point.

Not me, though. Am not invested enough at the moment, nor have I the energy, anyway. I’m scheduled to be back at the Rio at noon today to help with Day 1 of Event No. 45, the $1,000 No-Limit Hold’em event. No idea how the heads-up of Event No. 40 will be handled, reporting-wise. Perhaps I’ll get pulled off my event temporarily to take care of that, or someone else will -- we’ll see.

In any case, you can check over at PokerNews live reporting to find out what happens next with this little series of game shows playing out in the Nevada desert which drew us all here.

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

2011 WSOP, Day 25: Just One More Thing

Peter Falk as ColumboYesterday started on a downer at the news that Peter Falk had passed. An all-timer, Falk. And not just for “Columbo.”

Always liked him in anything, and remember being particularly floored by Falk’s performances in those John Cassavetes films Husbands (1970) and A Woman Under the Influence (1974). And his turn as himself -- and, it turns out, as an angel -- in Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire (1987) is kind of a stunner, too. (That’s one I’m sure I’ll be seeing again soon.) The In-Laws (1979) was probably my favorite of the comedies in which he appeared, although anyone familiar with “Columbo” already knows he was especially agile at moving back and forth between comedy and drama.

It is also true that anyone familiar with Falk’s great detective character, Lt. Columbo -- whom I’ll admit probably influenced me as much as Chandler, Cain, and Hammett when it came to writing Same Difference -- well knows that line he often uttered, so much so it became kind of a catch phrase (and the title of Falk’s autobiography): “Just one more thing...”

Most episodes of “Columbo” were shaped similarly, with the murder being shown to the audience early -- giving us full knowledge of whodunit -- then Columbo being brought in to solve the case. Often he’d meet the murderer early on, and we’d watch as he got to know the person as part of his effort to solve the crime. The fun, then, wasn’t in figuring out who the killer was, but in watching Columbo gradually encourage the murderer to reveal to him what he or she had done.

Time and again, after interviewing suspects, Columbo would bid them adieu, then stop them from leaving with that arresting phrase “just one more thing” (pun intended). Catching them at a less wary moment, he’d then ask what was often an especially relevant (and/or leading) question, and invariably -- sometimes just to get away from him -- they’d share more than they’d intended to with the detective.

As I walked amid the tables yesterday, gathering hands and stories to report on Day 2, I found myself recalling both that phrase and the technique of giving your interlocutor (or “opponent”) a chance to let down his guard when trying to elicit information from him that he is reluctant to give up.

Daniel Negreanu, 2011 WSOP Event No. 40, Day 2Happens in poker constantly, of course. In a variety of ways, too. There’s the outright questioning that happens when a player, contemplating a big decision (such as calling an opponent’s all-in bet), will quiz the opponent directly. Then there are the indirect forms of interrogation that the good players are conducting constantly. I found myself watching Daniel Negreanu a few times yesterday and the way he carefully watches each of his opponents as they act, looking for “just one more thing” that might tip off to him something they’d otherwise wish not to reveal.

Negreanu survived as one of the last 20 players to make today’s Day 3. Phil Hellmuth did not, going out in 36th after nursing a short stack for much of the latter part of the evening.

Hellmuth was interesting to watch, too, as always. I’ve covered him in a number of tournaments, and he never fails to entertain. Last night he was seated at a table near the rail, and a considerable crowd formed, all clearly having fun watching his irritation increase in direct proportion to his chip stack dwindling.

At one point a railbird, most likely after having imbibed a few, started calling out to Hellmuth in a hilarious, pleading sort of way.

“Phiiilllll,” he cried. “Where do you work out?”

Hellmuth was actually involved in a hand at that moment, and if he was at all bothered by the question he didn’t show it. The soliciting of information continued.

“Phiiilllll... tell us your secrets!!!

That drew a laugh from the rail, and some grins around the table, too. Hellmuth continued not to let on he was hearing anything.

“Phiiilllll!” This time just the call of Hellmuth’s name was enough to get a laugh. This guy was worse than Columbo, always with another question.

“How do you dodge so many bullets?!?!”

Finally a break arrived and Hellmuth did at last acknowledge the rail in what appeared to be a somewhat uneasy attempt to play along. He was in a tough spot, though, unable, really, to say much to retake the dominant position he prefers. It was almost like his short chip stack -- which had fallen to less than a dozen big blinds -- was not only limiting his moves at the table, but away from the table, too.

Phil Hellmuth, 2011 WSOP Event No. 40, Day 2Before his elimination, Hellmuth did play a curious hand in which he opened with a small raise from early position, an opponent reraised just a touch more than the minimum behind him, and then -- after much theatrics -- he folded.

Hellmuth only had about 55,000 at that point, with the blinds 2,500/5,000. He noted how the “rest of the planet” was incapable of making the fold, and as if to prove it he showed the hand -- pocket nines -- before tossing them to the dealer. (His opponent showed his hand, too: AK-suited.) Hellmuth would soon after get those chips in with ace-rag, be dominated by A-J, and depart into the night.

In contrast to Hellmuth, a little later Faraz Jaka was four-betting all in for 35 big blinds with 8-8 and losing a race with A-Q to go out in 28th.

Should be fun today. Not sure if these 20 will be playing down to a winner or not, as we’re bound by that so-called “ten-level rule.” Justin Filtz comes back to a stack of more than 2 million, which is about twice that of the fun-to-say Massimiliano Martinez in second. 2010 November Niner Matt Jarvis is in third, and there are a few other notables left in addition to Negreanu, too, including Shane Schleger, Jude Ainsworth, and 2010 WSOP ME champ Jonathan Duhamel.

Check over at PokerNews to follow along with the reports from Event No. 40. And once we get to the final table, you might peek over at WSOP.com to check out the live stream.

If you do look in on the stream, you could even catch a glimpse of me wandering about that final table. Probably appearing a bit rumpled. With pencil and pad in hand. Gathering pertinent information.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

2011 WSOP, Day 24: In Which the World Gets Smaller

Schedule for June 23, 2011 at the WSOPI am at the World Series of Poker again. Have been here just a couple of days, but already the outside world is becoming more distant-seeming.

Am only vaguely aware of the non-WSOP, poker-related headlines like the story about Toby Maguire being sued over winnings in his illegal, high-stakes poker games. Or that new bill to license and regulate online poker in the U.S. proposed in Congress by Rep. Joe Barton, a Republican member of the House from Texas.

Never mind the non-poker stuff going on in the world. Libya? Deficit? Wimbledon? Whazzat? All else has been suddenly -- absurdly -- cast in shadow, the light of my attention shining solely on that river card and whether an all-in shove is going to be called or not.

It was a fun first day of work yesterday at the Rio where I joined Rich, Josh, Danielle, Mat, and Andrew to help cover Event No. 40, the $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em (Six-Handed) event for PokerNews.

As expected, the field was stacked with top pros and recognizable faces. Kind of a nice tourney to which to be assigned for the first one back, with a smaller, more manageable-sized field than one typically encounters in other events. (732 was the final tally.) Here I knew by sight perhaps one-fourth of the field (maybe more), whereas in one of those huge 3,000-plus player, $1K buy-in events the percentage of familiar faces would drop dramatically. Not to mention the square footage of ground I’d be walking all day would go up, too.

Besides being good players, there were a lot of great characters spread out around the tables, too, which made it easy to capture a lot of terrific table talk and other color. The kind of thing that is nice to get on a Day 1 when the actual hands and exchanges of chips that are happening aren’t as important as they will be later on.

Event No. 40, 2011 WSOP (Day 1)There were a number of entertaining, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny exchanges between players during the course of the day. Among those I managed to overhear and report were ones involving Vicky Coren, Neil Channing, Michael Mizrachi, Frank Kassela, and Chino Rheem and Dan “Wretchy” Martin.

Phil Hellmuth was there, and was his usual, animated self. As nearly always seems to happen at some point in a tourney with the Poker Brat, he was bluffed off a hand and his opponent showed, sending him into hysterics. I found a new way to report that familiar circumstance.

Daniel Negreanu, usually also very animated and talkative, was uncharacteristically reserved for much of the day yesterday, quietly building what would end up being a top five chip stack by day’s end. Kid Poker has but one small cash thus far at this year’s WSOP -- also uncharacteristic for him -- which might possibly explain the more pensive-appearing pose.

As it happened, Jim McManus played this one as well. He and I have been in communication for a long time now, including an long interview we did back when his Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker first came out in the fall of 2009. (See here.) I’ve also talked to him frequently about my “Poker in American Film and Culture” course for which I’m using Cowboys Full as a required reading.

We finally were able to meet in person yesterday when I found him during the first break. We were chatting there in the Pavilion Room during the bracelet ceremony at which both Mark Schmid (Event No. 34 winner) and Jason Mercier (who won Event No. 35) received their bracelets. Both players are American, which meant once they were given their gold a playing of the U.S. national anthem was in order.

'Cowboys Full' by James McManus (2009)It was kind of humorous, I thought. Here I am having my first meeting with the fellow who wrote a book arguing for the central importance of poker in American culture -- a book which I’ve made the core text for my American Studies course on poker -- and our conversation was interrupted for a couple of minutes so we could listen to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

McManus and I ended up having dinner together at São Paulo, where we talked a lot about how the event was going for him (and the toughness of the field), Cowboys Full, my course, the current state of reading/writing skills among today’s college students, Black Friday, and Full Tilt Poker. As a red pro, McManus was particularly affected by what happened on April 15, and thus brought a unique perspective to our conversation, even if he -- like most of the red pros, it appears -- doesn’t have that much more insight into the current situation than most of the rest of us do.

We also talked some about poker reporting and its evolution over the last few years, an exchange that included both of us favorably recalling the late Andy Glazer’s pioneering coverage of the WSOP from the early 2000s, as well as some compliments from McManus on some of the more inspired/creative reporting he’s encountered when he’s checked in on the Poker News blog.

It was a neat coincidence that McManus was playing in the first event I was covering, one of about ten he’s scheduled to play this summer. He barely survived as one of the 174 players who made it to today’s Day 2, though will be returning to a super-short stack.

When we finished a little after 1 a.m., I went back to the home-away-from-home, choosing against going over to the Amazon to witness the wild shenanigans happening at the Event No. 36 final table, the $2,500 No-Limit Hold’em event. A huge, loud, alcohol-fueled rail of supporters -- many of whom were there to cheer on the British player Thomas Middleton --were creating a constant roar, apparently, turning an idyllic game of cards into an all-out circus.

That was one of two final tables begun last night, the other being for Event No. 37, the $10,000 H.O.R.S.E. Championship. But neither were completed, as both events reached ten levels of play on Day 3 before winners could be determined. Event No. 36 stopped with five left, while Event No. 37 is down to just two. Lots of griping going on about the “ten-level rule,” mostly associated with this agonizing delay of the stories’ climax.

No, rather than check in on the madness in the Amazon, I decided instead to leave and try to get some needed sleep. Although as always happens my brain was too fired up for me to relax enough to let go of consciousness, meaning I was up another hour or more before I was finally able to drop off.

Am up early again today, too. A little tired, but genuinely ready to head back over and see where this sucker goes. I guess I’ll have to trust the rest of the world to get along on its own while I do.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

2011 WSOP, Day 23: Percentages, Points, and Kevmath

Vacation over? Ptthhh.Yesterday was a relatively relaxing one as I mentally prepared myself for the run of workdays to come. Prepared myself physically, too, I suppose. I believe I’m on the schedule to work the next six days straight, and so the time for resting up is nearly over.

Had fun early on yesterday enjoying a visit with Kevmath who happened to have a rare day off. We spent an hour visiting over a late breakfast before he took off to join the daily deepstack madness going on over at the Rio. There are three of those tourneys going off each day, with the big one ($235 buy-in) starting to attract over 1,000 runners again and again. That means over $40K for the winner, one sweet ROI.

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve felt like I’ve gotten to know Kevin pretty well already over the last few years. Thus is our finally getting together almost more like reuniting with a friend than getting to know someone new, given the large amount of common reference points we share.

We have some other things in common, too, which we chatted about some over our eggs, bacon, and toast. We both became part of this complicated and interesting world of poker players and writers through somewhat unusual means, and both also found ourselves having created these “characters” through which many know us (“Kevmath” and “Shamus”). Then again, we’ve both been playing those “roles” for such a while they have become a bit part of how others see us. And, I suppose, who we are, too.

KevmathAs Kevin told me about his experience thus far this summer, I was reminded a lot of what it was like for me in 2008 when I covered my first WSOP. As those of you who were reading over here back then know, I was definitely possessed with a kind of “shot-taking” mentality then, not entirely sure how it would all work out but knowing I’d regret it if I didn’t take the chance and see how it did.

Obviously I’m glad I did take the chance back then, and I think Kevin is glad he has, too. I know a lot of the rest of us who are here are glad he did as well.

During the latter part of the afternoon I snuck back over to the Rio for a short stay. Mainly just wanted to reacquaint myself some with a few things in preparation for going into today to help cover Event No. 40, the $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em (Six-Handed) event. Met a few new folks and chatted with a couple of others whom I hadn’t seen on Tuesday, including WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla.

I repeated my joke to Nolan about being disappointed they started the sucker without me, and he played along, saying how they’d tried but people just kept coming and would’ve broken down the doors if they hadn’t let them play. That led to a brief conversation about the overall numbers being up this year and how that perhaps has made the staging of the Series even more of a challenge.

We also talked a bit about the latest stat the WSOP issued regarding women’s participation, a topic Jen Newell and I addressed in our “He Said / She Said” column over on Woman Poker Player this week. Through 29 events, just 946 of the 29,421 entrants have been women, about 3.2%. CK, a.k.a. the Black Widow of Poker, points out in a 2+2 thread on the subject that if you leave out Event No. 1, the Casino Employees Event, participation by women in all of the other events is just 2.98%. Nolan expressed a bit of dismay at the fact that the percentages of women playing at the WSOP really hasn’t gone up much since the Moneymaker boom.

I got back to the home-away-from-home and soon after the PokerGrump picked me up and we went for dinner at Bachi Burger, a reprise of a visit we’d made there last summer. From there we joined a group back at the Rio at McFadden’s for a weekly pub trivia contest, which turned out to be a lot of fun. Among those at our table -- and thus, on our team -- were Kate (a.k.a. @caitycaity), David, Cheryl, Bob Lauria, and a couple of others who came and went. It’s a weekly thing for the team, named “Quiz On Quiz Off,” who besides having won weekly prizes is in the running to win the current season.

With seven or eight teams competing, it was a hard-fought contest with three or four teams having a chance to win at by the final round. In fact, as they were announcing the winner at the end, I was almost convinced we hadn’t enough points even to make the top three, although our personal tally was incomplete and thus we weren’t entirely sure. Then came the word -- we'd won, and by a single point! Woot!

The “hand of the day” (as I jokingly called it afterwards) was a question we had missed about a film starring Mickey Rourke in which Bob and I had in improbable fashion collaborated to come up with right answer (Wild Orchid) yet couldn’t summon the collective will to commit to it and write it down. It was a classic example of reading the situation correctly yet being unable to pull the trigger. Thankfully it didn’t cost us, and we were able to do what so many in Vegas strive for but few accomplish -- to walk out as winners.

Got back to the room and did a little work before crashing hard around midnight. Still a bit stuck on Eastern time, as indicated further by my early rising again today. That’ll all change soon enough after a full workday or two walking the floor and live blogging at the Rio. The $5K short-handed event should be a good one, attracting a lot of top pros including the online guys in particular, many of whom are playing as many events as they can this summer with the rolls they’ve been able to cash out from PokerStars.

On that topic, one of my trivia teammates last night, David, works with the Total Rewards folks who issue cards to players entering all of the events, and he mentioned to me how a lot of the online guys are entering 20 or more events. Struck me as an attempt to emulate the sort of volume they would put in online, although obviously the cost (and, presumably, the risk of ruin) is so much higher for them in this context.

I covered this same event back in 2009. Turned out to be one of the more exciting tourneys I’ve ever reported on, in fact, won by Matt “Hoss TBF” Hawrilenko with Josh Brikis finishing second and Faraz Jaka third. Hawrilenko took over $1 million for first prize that year, as 928 entered. Jeffrey Papola won it in 2010 when 568 entered, taking just over $667K for his win.

The vacation is really over, it seems. But I’m rested. And ready.

Head over to PokerNews live reporting today -- and tonight -- to follow all of the action.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

2011 WSOP, Day 22: The Longest Day of the Year

The Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, midday, June 21, 2011I’m here. In Vegas again. Heat. Poker. Writing.

The trip here, about 2,200 miles or something for yr humble scribbler, always makes for a long day.

The flight was uneventful, the most exciting moment coming when I spilled half a cup of coffee on myself, thankfully avoiding sending the hot liquid all over the bare legs of my shorts-wearing neighbor. I arrived on time (and nearly dry), humped it down to baggage claim, and waited through about four cycles of the show promos while standing by the luggage carousel, the Phantom of the Opera overture being the signal for when we’d started over. Grabbed my bag, and soon was in the back of a Las Vegas cab, riding toward the strip.

As the driver and I silently hurtled down Tropicana Avenue, I was struck by how familiar it all has come to seem, that bizarre landscape of oddly-shaped, shiny buildings of different colors rising up out of the nothing, the first, necessary stage of the disorientation process that will continue until the end of the visitor’s stay.

I also found myself thinking about the fact that this time the stay is only for four weeks (rather than nearly eight), and realizing how that fact was affecting my mindset in an especially positive way.

Speaking of disorientation, the prospect of two whole months in the desert can induce such pretty damned quickly. When the first events kick off at the end of May, the middle of July is so far away it doesn’t seem real. Like that beam shining upwards from the Luxor’s tip, you can see where it starts but as lift your gaze things get fuzzy pretty quickly. And who knows what the hell it’s pointing at, really.

But four weeks you can almost hold in your brain all at once. Especially when they are divided into a couple of weeks of prelims and a couple devoted to the Main.

I got unpacked and settled and was over at the Rio by mid-afternoon. When I picked up my credentials, I asked WSOP Media Director Seth Palansky why they had started without me. We laughed and caught up a bit more, talking some about how a lot of media types seemed to be arriving late this year, with more than usual (it seemed) confining their coverage to the Main Event.

Seth and I also discussed those daily “deepstack” tourneys at the Rio that have been attracting whopping numbers. I believe the $235 buy-in event had 1,100 or so runners yesterday, making for a first prize of $43K or thereabouts. I assured Seth I will be trying one of these at some point before I leave.

The 'Mothership' in darknessI made my way to the Amazon Room and saw the new layout, with the huge “Mothership” -- i.e., the elaborately-constructed arena surrounding the main feature table -- taking up a lot of space there in the center of the room. And looking a bit dark and ominous, yesterday's lone final table (in Event No. 34, a $1,000 No-Limit Hold’em event) having yet to begin.

Between that big, shadowy space in the middle of the room and the deepstack tourney occupying the far corner, there wasn’t a whole heckuva lot happening WSOP-wise when I arrived there in the Amazon, as further indicated by the half-empty press box.

There were plenty of folks there, though, scribbling, formatting photos, and otherwise documenting the proceedings before us.

“Shamus! Good to see you,” said B.J. Nemeth as he passed by, camera in hand. “Welcome to hell,” he added with a grin. It did reach 109˚ yesterday.

I’d end up spending a good while both in the press box and wandering around the Amazon and Pavilion rooms. Saw many of those friends to whom I was referring yesterday, including Pauly, F-Train, Snoopy, Remko, Frank, Jess, Lance, Timtern, Michele, Elissa, Eric, Donnie, Mickey, Paul, Chad, JonBon, Ducky, FlipChip, and other PokerNews peoples, and probably a few more I’m forgetting. Met a few new folks, too, including WhoJedi, Lando, Ben, Ashley, Joe, and some others.

I also finally met Kevmath. (That’s a sentence a few others have written over the last few weeks.) Felt more like a reunion than a first meeting, really, as Kevin and I have been in pretty steady communication for a number of years now. We talked briefly about his WSOP experience thus far, and since he happens to be off today we made plans to meet for lunch before he plays the 2 p.m. deepstack.

Day 22 action from the WSOPWas about to go tag along with B.J. for a quick trip to El Pollo Loco, but ended up going for a sit-down meal with F-Train over at the Thai place right around the corner from the Rio. Among other topics, we talked about Rise Poker (with whom F-Train is working) and some of their upcoming freerolls and other plans and promotions. The two of us then stopped over at the Palms to see Merchdawg, Pauly, and others playing in the famous Pokerati PLO/NLHE game before F-Train took me back to the new home-away-from-home.

As expected, it had been a long day. The longest, you might say, what with it being the summer solstice and all. Not to mention my grabbing three hours more by spending part of it traveling westward three time zones’ worth.

It ended with my discovering that I’d somehow managed to lose track of my ATM card somewhere between home and here. (Remember yesterday how I’d said I had a feeling I’d forgotten something?) Was kind of humorous last night when I called to report the card as lost and asked about getting a replacement. Would I like it mailed to me? Erm, yes, but, you see, funny thing... I’m in Las Vegas...

To cut to the chase, I somehow managed to leave the sucker in the machine yesterday morning on my way to the airport. My branch already has collected it, and Vera will be able to pick it up. A small hassle, all things considered. Have never, ever done that before, if you can believe it. But I was obviously distracted, my mind looking ahead to the coming four weeks. And the heat. And the poker. And the writing.

In addition to meeting Kevmath today, I’m planning to spend some time at the Rio looking in on the action and getting reacclimated to the blogging business. (My first official workday isn’t until tomorrow, when I join in with the coverage of Event No. 40, the $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em / Six-Handed event that will likely draw a lot of high-profile types.) Then I’ll meet the Poker Grump for dinner later.

So another long day, but it should be a fun one. Will try not to spill or lose anything more.

Lookee there, the sun’s already up.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

To Vegas, To Friends

To Vegas, To FriendsAm sitting in a terminal, awaiting the call to board my flight to Las Vegas where I’ll be for the next month helping to cover the World Series of Poker.

At this moment, I am amid hundreds of others, their conversations, the occasional toddlers’ cries, and a steady stream of updates and announcements filling the upholstered, air-conditioned space we all share.

I’m surrounded. I’m also alone.

A little while ago, Vera dropped me off at the airport on her way to work. She’ll be coming out to visit for a few days in early July. No fun to leave her, but the fact that I’m going out for just four weeks -- and she’ll be there in a little over two -- made the goodbye stuff a little easier this time.

Spent most of the morning finishing the business of packing for a month away from home. Have become increasingly proficient at paring down over the years, managing this time to get it all in one large suitcase to check and a shoulder bag to carry. Even so, as I sit here waiting, I can’t help but be stricken off and on by thoughts of having forgotten some vital something or other.

Not too worrying, though. If it’s really important, Vera can either mail it or bring it when she comes. And when it comes down to it, there ain’t all that much in the way of the stuff we pack up and carry around with us that’s really important.

Speaking of what is important, I am also starting to think about all the friends and colleagues I’ll be seeing soon. While I’m excited about seeing some poker and helping tell the story of this year’s WSOP, I’m also looking forward to all of the reunions, reconnections, and rendez-vous.

Poker does that, you know. Brings folks together, I mean. The idea came up briefly in Norman Chad’s most recent Washington Post column, although his primary purpose was to defend poker against its many detractors. The piece carries the somewhat bland title “World Series of Poker celebrates the great American game,” although you might’ve seen it syndicated elsewhere with alternate headlines like “We poker players deserve respect.”

It’s probably better to describe Chad as having taken the offensive, too, not just countering others’ criticisms but adopting that tried-and-true table strategy of being more aggressive. Perhaps he has been emboldened by that 12th-place finish in Event No. 25, the $1,500 Seven-Card Stud Hi-Low Split-8 or Better event.

“We’re tired of getting pushed around and treated like outcasts when we’re doing nothing wrong,” writes Chad. “Poker is as American as baseball and apple pie, and the game involves math, psychology, money management and a variety of other nuanced skills that make hitting a 90-mph fastball look simple.”

Check out the piece yourself to see how Chad furthers his argument for poker, not just promoting the game to sports’ level of cultural acceptance, but even higher.

Like I say, Chad also talks about poker bringing folks together. Early on, Chad speaks of his annual trek to Vegas. “I come here for the desert calm, the dry heat, the scent of gambling” he begins, noting a little later how he likes to “gather with kindred souls from around the world trying to outwit and outluck each other.”

That’s a big part of poker’s appeal, of course, the way it provides a means for like-minded types to find one another and connect. Same goes for the reporters, I’d say, among whom I know I’ll be finding a number of “kindred souls” once I arrive.

So I’m alone, for now. But not lonely.

Still, I have this Andrew Gold song stuck in my head. The ’70s pop star sadly passed away a couple of weeks ago, and as a result a few of his hits have resurfaced amid the chatter and noise of contemporary life. You might remember “Thank You for Being a Friend.” But the one I keep thinking of is the super-catchy “Lonely Boy,” the one with the weird, out-of-step rhythm. Another great one for the mix tape.

Like I say, I ain’t lonely. But I think I’ll spin this one anyway while I wait here by myself.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

WSOP Minus One

Albert Brooks, 'Comedy Minus One' (1973), front coverNot long ago I mentioned the comedian and actor Albert Brooks here (in a post titled “Lost in America”). I’ve been a fan of his since way back when I first saw those short films he did for “Saturday Night Live,” kind of the precursor to the “SNL Digital Short” stuff that has worked so well on YouTube of late.

Brooks made a few other smart feature films in addition to Lost in America (1985), including one called Defending Your Life (1991) with Meryl Streep that I always liked. His debut as a writer/director/actor, Real Life (1979), is also a funny, way-ahead-of-its-time spoof of so-called “reality TV” (among other things). As an actor, Brooks does a neat turn in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) in a small role, and grabbed a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Broadcast News (1987).

Back in the 1970s Brooks -- whose real name is actually Albert Einstein (no shinola) -- did a lot of standup and like a lot of comedians of the day made some comedy LPs. Actually I think he only made two, and somewhere along the way I picked up both, Comedy Minus One (1973) and A Star Is Bought (1975).

The title of the first LP is kind of a play on a famous series of records called “Music Minus One” which were used for teaching purposes. The records would feature ensembles performing tracks minus a single instrument in order for a listener to play along. Sort of like karaoke, though not just for singin’. For example, you’d get, say, a string quartet with the violins and viola but no cello, and the listener/budding cellist could play along. I think the records came with sheet music, too.

What Brooks did with his first LP -- or at least for the lengthy final track of it -- was to emulate that same concept for comedy. That is, he was creating a comedy instructional album designed to teach the listener how to tell jokes and be funny in front of a crowd. A perfectly absurd idea, for sure.

The record actually comes with a script for the listener to follow. It’s an inspired idea, and while it is probably funnier as a concept than in execution, there are nevertheless some genuine grins scattered through the track’s 12 minutes or so. By the way, unlike with the “Music Minus One” discs which are at least listenable -- if a little odd-sounding -- with an instrument omitted, the “Comedy Minus One” track is utter nonsense without the script, with Brooks just delivering set-up after set-up followed by blank spaces and then laughter.

I found myself this morning thinking about Brooks’ album and the concept, partly because I had the phrase “T-Minus One” lodged inside my brain. Tomorrow is the day I leave for Las Vegas where I’ll be for the next four weeks helping cover the WSOP for PokerNews. Thus is today “T-Minus One” as in one day ’til take-off.

It has been interesting to follow all of the coverage of the WSOP from these first few weeks from afar -- i.e., coverage going on minus me. That is, to read, watch, listen, and consider how various outlets are approaching the business of reporting from the Series, something I haven’t really been able to do so well for the past few years while in the thick of it myself.

One thing I’m noticing while I do is how hard it is for me to follow the coverage -- and I’m referring to all of it, not just the live blogging on PokerNews -- without being somewhat judgmental or evaluative. I don’t mean just searching for errors or other missteps here and there, but constantly thinking about how I might’ve handled this or that bit of reporting a little differently.

The fact is, I think most poker players (the primary audience for all of this stuff) who follow the reporting probably are thinking along the same lines as they read, even if they haven’t reported on tourneys themselves. Much as we find ourselves instinctively evaluating and judging other players’ decisions and actions at the tables, I think a lot of us can’t help but do something similar when we read an account of a hand or event.

Albert Brooks, 'Comedy Minus One' (1973), back coverI mean we’ve all at least told others about hands we’ve played and heard others do the same. Every player thus has some reporting “experience,” so to speak. And so it is understandable that those reading the reports do so with fairly detailed ideas about how reporting should be done, and thereby make judgments accordingly.

I could probably go on a lot further on this topic, but I’ll leave it there, hoping that the observation makes at least some sense.

And if it doesn’t, well, you can think about how it might have been made differently.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Low Battery

Those of you with iPhones, ever notice how whenever you are told your battery’s charge has fallen dangerously low, you are given just one option to select before you are free to do something about it?

“Dismiss.”

I mean, really... we can’t just keep being dismissive about such things, can we? Seems unhealthy. I mean, if we have to recharge, we have to recharge. Why always put off such necessary action with denials?

Speaking of, I freely admit that I am running a bit low on both time and energy today.

Regarding the former, not much time remains before I leave for Las Vegas on Tuesday. In Phil Hellmuth-like fashion, I’ll be arriving late to help PokerNews cover the WSOP over these final four weeks of the Series until the November Nine is determined on July 19. I am looking forward to the trip, and especially to reuniting with my many friends and colleagues who are already there. Meanwhile I am trying to take care of a lot of different matters and tie up some loose ends before I go, which is further taking up these few hours I’ve left.

Energy-wise, I’m running a bit low as well, having committed a lot of brain power to writing other pieces in addition to pushing forward on that second novel. Am trying to reach a point with that where I feel comfortable enough to leave it for a while when I’m at the WSOP.

I did want to point you to one of those other pieces, a feature for Betfair that went up today called “On Poker’s Brave New World.”

You might recall how I commented here last week on an exchange between Jesse May and Brandon Adams over the whole online sponsorship issue and how Black Friday had fundamentally changed things with regard to the sponsored pro. This week another interesting op-ed appeared that also touched on the subject, a piece called “The Beauty of Black Friday” by Rounders co-scripter Brian Koppelman.

I thought it would be worthwhile to pull together and compare all three writers’ arguments in a piece of my own, and so that’s what you’ll find if you follow the link above. There are issues I’d probably take up with each of the commentators (May, Adams, and Koppelman), but I do think all make interesting arguments and provide genuine insight into how things have dramatically changed for sponsored pros and poker in general. Their writings evoke a lot of ideas about poker and its place in contemporary culture that are worth considering as well.

I hope everyone has a relaxing, revitalizing weekend. See you on Monday when we’re all back to 100%.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

How Do You Figure? 2011 WSOP Attendance Is Up

A couple of days ago a friend asked me about the numbers being up at this summer’s World Series of Poker, defying a lot of folks’ predictions (particularly in the wake of Black Friday). We keep hearing from the WSOP how the overall attendance has increased from last year, and in the case of certain events how records are being broken in terms of the number of entrants. Indeed, it does seem like a lot more folks are climbing those steps, entering the Rio, and subsequently entering WSOP events. (Pic via the great FlipChip of LasVegasVegas, natch.)

When I went on Keep Flopping Aces with Lou Krieger and Shari Geller at the end of April, we talked about what might happen at the WSOP as far as numbers went. The subject came up again when I was on the Two Plus Two Pokercast in May.

Both times I said that while I’d be surprised to see the Main Event attract more than last year’s 7,319, I felt like the WSOP kind of had “a momentum of its own” and would probably be okay. I did say I thought certain high buy-in events might take a hit -- especially if players continued to have their Full Tilt Poker rolls tied up -- but that the lower buy-in events would probably do just fine.

We’re almost to the halfway point of this year’s Series, and so prompted by my friend’s query, I figured it was as good a time as any to take a look at how attendance at this year’s Series is comparing thus far to years past. I had thought I’d only compare this year to last, but I noticed a post from a couple of years ago in which I did something similar, and so am able quickly to take a look at how things are faring here in 2011 when compared to the last three WSOPs. Take a look:



In the right-hand column, green means up from 2010 and red down (obv). Double-checked it all, but any errors that might have snuck in there are mine (also obv).

Setting aside the three new events played thus far this year (Nos. 2, 12, and 14), 17 out of the remaining 24 have seen attendance go up from 2010 to 2011. Among the seven in which the number of entrants has decreased, four are those $10,000 buy-in “World Championship” events. And none of those seven has seen that marked of a drop, either, the largest percentage-wise being the $10,000 Seven-Card Stud World Championship (Event No. 21) which had a 16% decrease from last year. (Interestingly, the only $1,500 buy-in event to drop at all was also a Seven-Card Stud event.)

Why are the numbers up thus far? A couple of reasons spring to mind, an obvious one being the current absence of the online option for most American players. Some are choosing 2011 as their year to take their first shots at the WSOP, while more experienced players who normally split their time between live and online play are likely entering more events this time around.

Another possibility is simply the fact that bankrolls are more plentiful earlier than late. With only 10% or so of those entering each tourney making the money and thus avoiding taking a loss, many of those who have played in events during the first half of June will not be around for the latter weeks of the Series.

What other reasons might there be for the modest -- though nonetheless remarkable -- growth in attendance at this year’s WSOP, do you figure?

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

From the Annals of Bad Timing

Today marks the two-month anniversary of Black Friday. Seem like it’s been longer than that to you, too?

Of all the many consequences of the unsealing of the Department of Justice’s indictment and civil complaint on April 15, there was one kind of personal one that I’ve been wanting to share. I’m going to have to be a little bit vague with some of the details, I’m afraid, but you’ll still get the gist of the story, I think. And then we can laugh at my pain together.

As I’ve mentioned here now and again, I’ve been doing a lot of freelance writing about poker for various publications and sites. One publication in particular asked me some time ago about possibly writing a feature for them at some point, and after several months of talking about it an assignment was finally delivered. I had several weeks on which to work on the story, which gave me a chance to research the piece thoroughly as well as to try to contact various individuals in the poker world for comments, too.

The story concerned what had been a very prominent issue in poker for quite some time. I’d commented on the issue at least a couple of times here on Hard-Boiled Poker, I know, and it was one that many others had noticed and formed opinions about. Had to do with the many poker TV shows and how on several of them -- including the most popular ones like “High Stakes Poker” and “Poker After Dark” -- the PokerStars pros and those from Full Tilt Poker were for various reasons unable to compete against one another.

Bad timing for Erik Seidel at 1988 WSOPI ended up digging fairly deeply into the background of the situation, noting a number of different explanations for why the PS guys and FTP guys were not getting to play on the same shows. Most of it was related to the sites’ sponsoring of the shows, but in many cases the situation wasn’t as cut-and-dry as it might have seemed from the outside. That is to say, just because one site sponsored a given show, that didn’t necessarily mean players from the other site were prohibited from playing on it. Like most everything to do with online poker, it was a highly complicated situation.

For the piece I spoke with a number of individuals, including several pros from both sites who regularly appeared on the shows. There were a number of different opinions and views, with some on both sides articulating a desire to resolve the impasse and even coming up with some ideas about how to do so. I also was able to get quotes from the shows’ producers, too, who clarified that while they certainly were involved with the casting of the shows, they weren’t preventing anyone from playing due to a particular site affiliation.

That was one aspect of the article I was especially desirous to have reported, since I think many believed erroneously that the shows’ producers were somehow making decisions about who could and couldn’t play. To refer to just one example, while PokerStars was sponsoring “High Stakes Poker” this season, neither Stars nor the “HSP” folks were saying Full Tilt guys couldn’t play on the show; rather, that was a decision made by FTP.

Bad Timing for GreensteinIn addition to talking to PokerStars and Full Tilt pros who appeared on the shows, I also was able to contact some other very prominent players who weren’t affiliated with either site and who also often played on the shows. Interestingly (I thought), some of those non-affiliated players declined to comment on the story, not wanting to get in the middle of the battle between PS and FTP.

Anyhow, like I say a lot of time and effort went into the piece. I had about six weeks to pull it all together, and I’ll admit it was a satisfying feeling finally to submit it just a couple of days prior to the deadline I’d been given. Maybe even felt a little bit proud about the whole thing.

When was that deadline, you ask? Ah, yes. Friday, April 15.

By dinner time that day I already knew my feature couldn’t possibly run. The entire story was written within a context that had suddenly become utterly obsolete. It was like I had carefully crafted a long, detailed account of a petty little civil war in a country that had suddenly been successfully crushed by another much larger and more powerful one.

Perhaps another, related story could be told, one concerning how the warring factions might have been better off focusing their attentions on other, more pressing matters than their bickering with one another. But the one I’d written was no longer relevant at all.

Of course, looking back on it, I wonder how much it really mattered before. I mean, it seemed important at the time. But in the end, no matter how the whole battle between the sites ultimately went, all of the really good looking girls would still go out with the guys from Mohawk ’cos they got all the money.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Order of the Flop

The Order of the FlopThis might be about as arcane as it gets when it comes to poker tournament reporting, but I’m going to write about it anyway. One of those quirky little “issues” that sometimes come up among those who have done this sort of thing over and over and over again. Definitely not as important as other, more pressing issues, like, say, those involving journalistic integrity (such as Jon Katkin wrote about on Pokerati over the weekend). But kinda sorta interesting not only to those who write about poker tournaments, but to those who read such reports, too.

And maybe kinda sorta related to those larger, more meaningful concerns, too. Let me explain.

The “issue” -- I’m going to keep using the scare quotes -- is whether or not in games that have community cards to report the flop as it comes or to reorder the cards from high to low. E.g., if the flop comes QsKh5s (as in the above pic from a past WSOP), is it better to write out the cards in the order they land on the table or should the flop be reported as KhQs5s?

Whenever this debate arises among poker reporters -- as it did over Twitter last night a little bit -- I can’t help but think of the fight between the “Big-Endians” and “Little-Endians” in Jonathan Swift’s Gullivers Travels.

Big-Endians vs. Little-EndiansYou remember, the factions Gulliver encounters in the land of Lilliput, with one group insisting upon first breaking eggs on the big end and the other adamant about breaking them on the small end? War erupts between Lilliput and nearby Blefuscu over the matter, and thousands die as a result.

Talk about a hard-boiled story! (Rim shot.)

B.J. Nemeth is a lead proponent of ordering the flop. As he explained on Twitter last night, not only does he always reorder the three cards from high to low, when there are paired cards he likes to order them by suits, too. Says Nemeth, “Personally, when the cards are the same (2 or 3 kings, for example), I list them alphabetically by suits. c-d-h-s,” adding “I don't consider that to be required, but I like consistency. And I can always identify my own updates years later.”

“Orderers” such as Nemeth champion resetting the flop because they believe it increases readability. In a sense, they are doing for the reader the small amount of mental work each player must do when he or she looks at the flop. The further ordering of suits on paired boards is perhaps a little idiosyncratic, but as Nemeth says he doesn’t “require” that of himself. (Or others?)

“Non-Orderers,” meanwhile, will report the cards as they appear on the table, as is. “The flop is the flop,” is how Paul Oresteen put it last night on Twitter, defending the decision not to reorder the cards when reporting. (It should be added that we are speaking here of the flop only; obviously it is vital to report the flop, then the turn, then the river in correct sequence!)

Like I said, a big part of me wants to dismiss this whole debate like a bunch of discarded eggshells. But B.J.’s comment about being able to “identify [his] own updates years later” got me thinking that perhaps there is something meaningful here, something that actually suggests this “issue” is of at least some relevance, if in an indirect way.

Like Paul, I’m a “Non-Orderer.” I write the flop as it comes. It’s part of my mindset as a reporter, as someone who is not allowed to alter the facts when reporting. I understand the “readability” argument just fine, but I can also imagine taking that idea further to justify other alterations and embellishments when reporting. I’m with Paul -- the flop is the flop. And the turn is the turn and the river is the river. Those elements of the hand -- like the bets and other happenings relevant to the way the hand plays out -- I don’t change.

However, I do allow myself the freedom to engage my readers when telling the story of the hand by the introduction of other, contextual matters that heighten interest, as well as by turns of phrase and other examples of what might (immodestly) be called “creativity” that serve to make the report more interesting. Or, to put it differently, to increase readability. And that stuff I’ll order in whatever way seems most appropriate. Additionally, that introduction of personal style is also how I might “identify my own updates years later” (if there weren’t a name attached to the hand report, that is).

That said, as someone who respects and appreciates others’ styles and approaches, I’ve nothing but love for the Orderers. And thankfully, I don’t think any of those with opinions about ordering flops is invested heavily enough in the “issue” to take up arms over it.

B.J. Nemeth logoAlthough now that I think about it, I know B.J. always carries that titanium spork in his bag.

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