Friday, July 29, 2011

Long, Long, Long

Long, Long, LongMany have noted how the structure for the World Series of Poker Main Event is utterly unique. Two-hour levels with gradually increasing blinds and antes, stretched out over ten long days of play, themselves scheduled over two weeks in July then two more days in November.

By most measures, it’s the longest tournament around. By far.

Speaking of, this week I began reading through Colson Whitehead’s account of his having played in this year’s World Series of Poker Main Event over on the new Grantland site that launched in early June.

I say I’ve only begun the account. Still a ways to go, though. Let me explain.

Grantland -- so-called in homage to early 20th-century sportswriter Grantland Rice -- is an ESPN-connected portal that features a lot of examples of that variety of sports writing well exemplified by its Editor-in-Chief, Bill Simmons. (I referred to another interesting piece on Grantland last month by Rounders co-scripter Brian Koppelman titled “The Beauty of Black Friday.”)

I imagine many readers of this blog are familiar with Simmons, although perhaps not all. He’s a sports columnist who has written for the ESPN Magazine and a few other outlets, though is best known for his regular columns at ESPN.com that address sports but also incorporate tons of personal and cultural allusions in a somewhat idiosyncratic way. Simmons also does a podcast for ESPN (“The B.S. Report”), and I believe he was also involved in coming up with the idea for the often-excellent “30 for 30” series of documentaries ESPN has been producing over the last few years and for which he’s the executive producer.

Bill SimmonsTo me, Simmons reads like some sort of superblogger, one of these endlessly passionate fans who will go on and on and on with little acknowledgment that it might seem self-indulgent or obsessive to do so. I don’t mean that as a criticism, actually. And as someone who himself writes a lot (and at length) on his blog, I’m fully aware of having been guilty of the same from time to time.

That said, I sometimes find Simmons a bit overwhelming. I remember once last fall getting bogged down in a 3,000-plus word piece of his in which he was defending his rooting for Michael Vick. I think I stumbled most noticeably when he began to pursue an analogy between O.J. Simpson and Vick, noting how the former had “unwittingly” raised awareness about domestic violence while the latter had done something similar with regard to animal abuse. Frivolous at best, tasteless at worst, and (most problematically) not much relevant to his thesis.

Not fair, really, to single out one misstep like that, though. I do find Simmons to be a bright guy who often has many good, even highly original ideas. But you have to be willing to edit yourself down once in a while -- to realize that not every thought that occurs to you necessarily deserves to make it to the final draft.

GrantlandSo when I say the writers at the new Grantland site are following the Editor-in-Chief’s lead in terms of their chosen style, I’m referring mainly to what seems to be an absence of editorial restraint being exerted upon them. Having made the cut to be chosen as contributors, they are subsequently forced to endure few if any further cuts. That is to say, I’m guessing they are being mostly encouraged to write as much as they like and about whatever they like in the features they are producing.

All of which is to say, I’ve begun Whitehead’s piece about his experience playing in the Main Event this year, but it will be a while before I finish. That’s because the four-part feature is nearly 20,000 words long. In fact, he doesn’t get to the first hand of his adventure until close to the 10,000-word mark.

Whitehead is a novelist, and indeed his story, titled “Occasional Dispatches from the Republic of Anhedonia,” seems to be more closely following the formal guidelines of a novel than a magazine-style feature. The idea -- i.e., for a writer with an interest in poker to go play the WSOP Main Event and tell his tale -- isn’t new, of course. James McManus was the most famous (and most successful) to do so back in 2000. Heck, even Simmons did it once for ESPN back in 2006.

Still, as a poker player who also likes to read (and write), I like the idea of the WSOP getting the literary treatment. Thus do I look forward to making my way through Whitehead’s lengthy piece.

Still a ways to go, though.

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

On the WSOP Vibe

Sympathetic resonanceHad a few poker books to read when the summer started, but the WSOP got in the way. Now I have several more, and thus plans to read them and to write a few reviews over the next couple of months, both here and elsewhere.

First up is one I have been most anxious to sit down and enjoy, Tommy Angelo’s A Rubber Band Story and Other Poker Tales. I’ve been a fan of Angelo’s for a good while, and always recommend his earlier title, Elements of Poker (2007), whenever I can. (Reviewed that one here a while back.)

Had the chance to meet Angelo a few times at the WSOP over the last few years, including this past summer when we were able to have a quick visit during one of my breaks. I also interviewed him back in December 2010 for Betfair Poker, at which time he mentioned A Rubber Band Story was on its way.

The book is a compilation of older pieces -- including previously published articles and blog posts -- plus some new material. Most of the items are short and each invariably includes both a bit of wisdom and something to make the reader smile either in recognition or appreciation or just ’cause it tickles yr funny bone. Good stuff.

I’m still working my way through the book, and so am not writing a full review here now. I did want to refer to one item from early on, though, a piece called “Sympathetic Vibrations” originally written in 2000. You can read the full piece online on Angelo’s website here.

Angelo begins with a brief discussion of physics and sound to explain the concept named in the title, then cleverly uses that as a metaphor to examine his own inability to feel sympathy when others relate to him their bad beat stories. He calls this failure to respond to such stories -- or, to use the metaphor, for such stories to resonate with him -- a “selective dispassion.” He then goes on to relate an incident from some time back that he believes helped cause this condition.

'A Rubber Band Story and Other Poker Tales' (2011) by Tommy AngeloThe story involves his witnessing a fellow player absorb a sequence of bad beats without complaint. One hand involved his A-A getting cracked most cruelly by a river two-outer. “After his aces went down,” writes Angelo, “I eyed him closely. Not a peep. Not the slightest uncomfortable movement or gesture. He looked like a man by a campfire, reverent and calm. Right then I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be just like him. I wanted no fear and no pain.”

Reading that immediately made me think of the general vibe (pun intended) at this summer’s World Series of Poker and how on the whole the apparent highs and lows being experienced by the players seemed much less extreme. I remember bringing up the subject a few times with other media about how there seemed to be a lot less celebrating and very little crying about bad beats or others’ play (at the tables, anyway), and others concurred.

There were exceptions, of course, which necessarily stood out. But I’m talking about an overall mood that seemed, well, more “professional” (for lack of a better word) than might have been the case in years past.

I remember one hand in particular from Day 7 of the Main Event. Just 30 players remained, and Samuel Holden (who would ultimately squeak into the November Nine in ninth) had shoved his short stack all in with 9d8d and was called by Khoa Nguyen who held As9s. (Nguyen would eventually go out in 11th.)

The flop came 6s4sTd, those two spades making Holden’s prospects suddenly appear even more dim. The Englishman quietly -- almost to himself -- said “one time.” Sounded almost sounded half-hearted to me. Then came the turn card, the 7h, which gave Holden a straight.

I recall being a little surprised to see absolutely zero reaction either from Holden or Nguyen at the sight of that red seven. If you looked at the players and not the cards you would have had absolutely no clue who was ahead and who was behind, never mind the fact that thousands -- or, potentially, millions -- were on the line.

I suppose the threat of a flush might’ve muted Holden’s response some. And the hit to Nguyen’s stack at the time wasn't all that huge, either. But after the safe 6c landed on the river there was still practically no response. Only Holden softly saying -- almost sheepishly -- “my one time worked.”

Anyhow, that was just one example of what I felt like I saw a quite a bit of this summer -- namely, players playing with “no fear and no pain” (as Angelo says). Or at least appearing to do so.

There might be a few different factors one could cite as having inspired a tamer vibe this summer, although I think simple peer pressure might’ve been the most important one. Players are less likely to act out if others aren’t doing so. As Angelo might say, the lack of “sympathetic vibrations” might’ve been one reason why many kept their emotions to themselves.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On Full Tilt Poker: Please Check Back Later

Please Check Back LaterTo the left is a notice one finds over at the Full Tilt Poker site, a most terse acknowledgment that all is not well there at present.

The notice was there yesterday. It remains there today. It will probably be there tomorrow, too. I’ll check back later.

There were a lot of eyes on that Alderney Gambling Control Commission hearing yesterday in London, the one in which some believed there could be some movement -- or at least the hint of some future news -- regarding the whole sordid Full Tilt Poker imbroglio.

Not a lot happened, as it happened.

As the name suggests, the AGCC, located on Alderney, one of those British Channel islands that actually sits closer to France than to England, is an independent license-granting outfit that gives its seal of approval to gambling sites as long as they pay their dues and follow the commission’s standards. Their licensees include several different sites that offer poker and other casino games, most of which appear to be based in the U.K.

As far as I know, Full Tilt Poker had been the AGCC’s largest and best known licensee. On June 29 the commission issued a statement saying it had served a “suspension notice” to FTP saying it was suspending the site’s license to operate. (To be specific, the AGCC suspended licenses of four different companies “collectively trading as Full Tilt Poker,” but for the sake of convenience I’ll continue to refer to FTP and its license in the singular.)

The AGCC further clarified that “The decision to suspend these licenses follows a special investigation prompted by the indictments unsealed by US Attorney General’s Office in the Southern District of New York on 15 April 2011, during which grounds were found to indicate that these licensees and their business associates were operating contrary to Alderney legislation.”

Alderney Gambling Control CommissionIn other words, the failure of FTP to return funds to U.S. players was not cited as the cause for their license to be suspended. Rather it was the DOJ indictments and all the untoward activities they accuse Full Tilt Poker of perpetrating that apparently forced the AGCC’s hand. The suspension notice directed Full Tilt Poker not only to cease offering games, but also not to take any new customers, accept deposits, or allow withdrawals. A few days later, the French-based Autorité de Régulation des Jeux En Ligne similarly suspended FTP’s license to operate its France-only site, fulltiltpoker.fr.

(Incidentally, the Isle of Man Gaming Commission also issued a statement on June 29 ensuring all that its licensee, PokerStars, remained in compliance and thus its status with the IOMGC was unchanged.)

Meanwhile, rumors of a possible sale to a European investor being in the works surfaced shortly after the AGCC’s suspension of FTP’s license, a move which many took at the time as a possible prelude to Americans seeing their funds returned. See this July 10 piece over at Subject:Poker for a summary of known facts regarding such a deal.

Yesterday’s hearing had also been announced back on June 29, and so interested parties had several weeks to build up their anticipation regarding it. Some surmised that if the AGCC restored Full Tilt’s license, the site could resume its operations and thus generate some revenue, thereby increasing the likelihood of Americans getting back their funds. A site relaunch also seemed to a few observers as something that would bolster the chances of the site being sold to that European investor, although it appears the AGCC is not going to let Full Tilt Poker restart the games until after such a sale takes place.

Given that the situation appears mostly the same as it was a month ago when the AGCC suspended the license, it wasn’t that big of a surprise to see yesterday’s hearing postponed until September 15. The fact is, little appears to have changed over the last month regarding Full Tilt Poker’s status with the AGCC. The site is still under indictment, U.S. players still haven’t been returned their funds, and the site’s sale is still pending.

And, of course, the site hasn’t been operating either.

There was a little bit of drama yesterday over the hearing starting out public and then being continued privately. Also of note was the fact that FTP owed the commission something like £250,000 in licensing fees, although the site’s lawyers’ response was that they’ll pay that once the license is restored. But all in all, the headline was for all to wait six more weeks to see if anything has changed.

According to most reports, the delay was granted primarily so Full Tilt could try to finalize that sale and thus get the U.S. players their money back. If so, Full Tilt’s ability to pay back players in fact appears to be very relevant to the AGCC’s restoring their license, despite the fact that the AGCC didn’t mention that specifically as a factor when it suspended FTP’s license.

DiversionHard not to be skeptical of the whole puppet show, really. That photo of the Howard Lederer stuffed doll, incidentally, comes via The Poker Farm. Saw one of those in the press box near the end of the WSOP, I recall, the only evidence of Lederer during the entire Series.

As far as trust goes, Full Tilt Poker lost most of us within days of Black Friday. The AGCC we wonder about, too, given what FTP was allowed to get away with under its watch. And the commission’s seemingly modified position regarding the withholding of FTP’s license -- not to mention its desire to get paid by FTP -- doesn’t do much to calm our disquiet.

Nothing to do, really, but check back later.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Impression of Darkness

The Impression of DarknessStill tinkering here with backgrounds. Bear with me. Haven’t quite reached identity-crisis level fretting about it, but getting there.

Longtime readers know that I stubbornly stuck with the light-text-on-dark-background for a long time, even though I knew there were a few who found it hard on the peepers. In fact, I remember a reader telling me once how the black actually made him “annoyed,” that “impression of darkness” kind of jarring with what he considered to be generally positive content.

The scheme fit with the whole noir theme, sure. But we’ve got to keep the mood at least somewhat light around here, right? I mean it is a card game we’re mostly talking about. And while I’m a cynical guy, I’m also not one to indulge too much in boundless brooding.

Speaking of staying upbeat about things, I think some took yesterday’s post as being more pessimistic-sounding than was intended. Not necessarily the impression I meant to give, but I guess it is hard at the moment even to bring up online poker in the U.S. without a touch of gloom getting in the way.

Obviously I don’t think Americans are simply going to stop playing poker anytime soon. But I think it is reasonable to assume that the lack of online options -- especially if we go a lengthy period without ’em -- will slow down the game’s growth somewhat. And from there I think it is safe to think about poker getting pushed back over to the cultural periphery, relatively speaking.

I think of a game like chess and its history in America. I’m obviously a lot more familiar with the history of poker in the U.S. than with chess, but I’m aware of the general outline of chess’s story.

Unlike poker -- a game some elements of which originated elsewhere but is essentially of American origin -- modern chess came to the U.S. via Europe long ago as a game with already established rules as well as a historical legacy. Then in the early 1970s came a “boom” of sorts for chess in the U.S., the catalyst for which being the rise of Bobby Fischer to become the top rated player in the world in 1971.

A year later came the famous Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky World Championship match, viewed by many as a symbolic battle in the Cold War. Suddenly chess was everywhere, culturally speaking, with Fischer quickly becoming a national icon. Fischer appeared on the cover of Life magazine and other publications, was casually referred to on episodes of “The Mary Tyler Moore” and other shows, and eventually came the appearance of movies, musicals, and other cultural productions centering upon chess and/or Fischer’s story.

And more began playing the game, too. The U.S. Chess Federation boasted about 5,000 members in 1972; a year later 100,000 had joined. Chess remains popular today in America, although it is safe to say the game no longer enjoys the prominence in this country it had forty years ago. (Currently the USCF’s membership is about 80,000.)

Like chess, poker experienced a relatively sudden surge in popularity less than a decade ago. While Chris Moneymaker’s WSOP Main Event victory in 2003 is often cited as the primary catalyst, it was the ready availability of the online game that more than anything ignited the “boom.” Online poker was of course a crucial element of Moneymaker’s story with his having won his ME seat via a $39 satellite on PokerStars. And poker’s emergence on television also was considerably helped along by online poker’s advertising dollars.

Eight years later, we are a nation full of poker players, though many of us live in states without legal poker rooms. And the online options continue to decrease.

While many are wondering about how that Alderney Gambling Control Commission hearing in London regarding Full Tilt Poker is going to turn out, earlier today we learned that one of the very few remaining U.S.-facing sites, Bodog, will be withdrawing its brand from the U.S. market by year’s end. (It appears the group licensing Bodog is prepared to continue operating in the U.S. under a different name [?], but the Bodog brand’s days are now numbered as far as America is concerned.)

Many poker players perhaps don’t care about Bodog so much anymore, the games there having mostly dried up even before Black Friday. But the withdrawing of the once-popular Bodog brand from the U.S. is nonetheless significant, another apparent step toward the (hopefully temporary) shutting off of online poker for Americans. That’s the impression, anyway.

Chess may not enjoy the cultural spotlight today that it did before, but the game remains readily available and has potential for growth anew. However, unlike chess, poker is a gambling game, and thus will always raise various legal and/or moral issues every time it surfaces amid the cultural mainstream.

All of which is to say, it isn’t necessarily pessimistic to say poker’s place in the culture has been negatively affected by what has happened to online poker in this country over recent months. It’s realistic.

Let me make clear that we aren’t talking “lights out” for good as far as poker -- or even online poker -- goes in the U.S. Borrowing my reader’s phrase from before, we might call it an “impression of darkness.” (Such was the inspiration for referring to April 15 as “Black Friday,” yes?)

I think, though, that after a while, our eyes will grow accustomed to it. And then perhaps we’ll be able to see what next to do.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Now What? Online Poker in the U.S., ca. late July 2011

Bad planningVery much enjoying being back home and settling into the more familiar routines. Spent the weekend mostly relaxing. And not writing about poker (for a change). I did play a little online, though, over on Hero Poker where I have a small roll.

As was the case the last few summers, while away at the WSOP I hardly played online at all, just logging on a couple of times the entire time I was there, and then only for brief sessions. Of course, this year was different insofar as like other Americans my options for playing have been reduced markedly. I hadn’t been playing that much even before I went, so during the weeks I was in Vegas there really wasn’t much change as far as my online play was concerned.

I mentioned some time back how I’d gotten myself a bankroll of sorts on Hero not by depositing, but by winning a freeroll back in May which got me a nifty hundy over there with which to play. Been piddling around with that, building it up a bit but mostly just treading water at the PLO10 tables.

I think I also said something at some point about winning a smaller freeroll on Carbon, another Merge skin, which got me started with a whole dollar. Built that up to more than five bucks via sit-n-go’s and some PLO, and felt like a genius. Then I went busto in short order, and felt like a doofus. Actually, to be wholly accurate, I’m not utterly busto. I have exactly $0.01 on there now, the penny sitting there, taunting me for my poor bankroll management.

Bad planning, I guess. Of course, we’ve seen a lot of that sort of thing in online poker.

Of course, when I say “I did play a little online” I’m referring to something decidedly different from the hobby I pursued for many years before. I no longer look forward to or plan sessions. It has been a good while since I’ve studied the game or my play with any real earnestness. And I can’t say I feel part of that larger community of poker players -- extending from recreational, casual types to the most serious grinders -- like I always did when playing online before.

When in Vegas I had several conversations with various people about playing online. Often I found myself awkwardly caught between past and present tense when discussing the subject. Since I still play (a little), present tense seemed correct. But I realized as I spoke that most of what I was talking about with regard to the experience of playing online was over and done with, relegated to the past. For now, anyway.

Because it has all changed for us here in the U.S. as far as online poker goes. Black Friday hit. We got our money back from PokerStars. We wait and wonder about Full Tilt Poker. We wonder a little less about Absolute Poker and UB, whom many of us wrote off long before.

But years of habit mean we still instinctively think of those sites when we think of online poker. And now, as far as playing goes, the great majority of us are either sorta kinda playing once in a while (like me), or not bothering at all. For some (like me), the WSOP distracted us for much of the summer. But now we are back home and thinking about playing again. And realizing the game isn’t really there for us at the moment.

A feature over on the CNN Business page from yesterday asked the question “Will the online poker business become a ‘busted flush’?” The headline writer was no doubt eager to apply the game’s lingo to describe the situation of unrealized potential presently characterizing online poker in the U.S. But it works. As far as online poker in the U.S. goes, a lot of heavy betting on the come was going on (to apply some more lingo), and the river blanked.

The gist of the piece is to point out that healthy turnouts at this summer’s WSOP should not be taken as an indicator that here in America the prospects for poker generally speaking or online poker in particular are healthy as well -- that, in fact, the WSOP numbers “put a misleading gloss on an industry still mired in controversy.”

Our buddy F-Train is quoted in the piece (under his less jazzy-sounding moniker, “David Behr”) describing how Black Friday and the frustrations caused by Full Tilt Poker’s continued inability to pay back (or even communicate clearly with) U.S. players “put a damper on the whole Series,” muting some of its “pageantry” even if it didn’t affect numbers too greatly. F-Train goes on to suggest that the “steep drop” most predicted would happen at this year’s WSOP is more likely to occur in 2012.

I’m inclined to agree with F-Train on both points.

Looking back, the mood at the Series this summer -- at least for the final four weeks when I was there -- was certainly toned down a bit from year’s past. Still a lot of excited folks about, and some genuine drama marking both the prelims and the Main. But the whole “last hurrah” thing (mentioned in the CNN piece) weighed fairly heavily, I thought, affecting the players and perhaps some of the media a bit, too.

(By the way, on that latter point the Wicked Chops guys recently suggested a “nasty, toxic atmosphere among poker media” at this year’s WSOP. I get where they are coming from, but my personal experience working with and alongside others didn’t suggest that at all, once again being very positive and marked by a lot of mutual support and camaraderie. The fact is, I’ve worked in environments which were a whole helluva lot more “nasty” and “toxic,” to be sure.)

Looking ahead (to address F-Train’s other observation), even if some sort of legislation is soon passed to license and regulate online poker in the U.S., we’re still facing a mighty lengthy ramp-up period -- one likely to take much longer than the 10 months or so before the start of the 2012 WSOP.

As I tried to explain to my “Poker in American Film and Culture” class in late April, poker took a huge hit in the U.S. on April 15. Many will still play, of course, but without the online option fewer new players will find the game going forward. And a lot of us -- again, like me -- will find ourselves playing less frequently and less seriously, the likelihood of our becoming part of the fields at WSOP events decreasing as a result.

Am starting to miss online poker. And I know others are missing it a lot more than I am. I mean the game we used to play, the one where everyone (essentially) was invited. Poker will endure, no doubt. But right now it seems that years’ worth of growth and momentum has been seriously slowed or even halted -- that poker in America will recede from the cultural spotlight for a while, perhaps to return to the dark corners where it mostly dwelled for so many decades before.

Plan accordingly, I guess.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

2011 WSOP, A Reporter’s Notebook

2011 WSOP, A Reporter’s NotebookAs I’ve done every summer I’ve been to the WSOP, I thought I’d compile in links to all of my daily reports in a single post if only to make it handy to find things later. (Here are the compilations from past years: 2008, 2009, 2010.)

These aren’t so much reports on what was happening at the WSOP as personal reflections on the experience of being there. In fact, looking back over these 30 or so posts, my sense is they are even more personal-sounding than in past years. There are a couple of reasons why, I think.

One, I had less time this summer to write on Hard-Boiled Poker than in the past, partly because of my work schedule, but also because I had other writing obligations beyond the live blogging for PokerNews. Thus I was more apt to stick to my own stories and not take the time to research and report on everything else going on.

Also, having done this four times now, I’m certainly less starry-eyed and/or affected by the novelty of it all. The WSOP remains an incredible spectacle, something any poker player or fan should check out at some point in his or her life. But while every tournament is different and produces its own unique stories, much remains the same from year to year. And thus the only thing that seems to be changing is how one responds to it all. And so that’s what seems worth sharing, if only to provide something new and different here than what I’ve written before (or what others are writing).

To Vegas, To Friends
A prelude, noting how one of the best things about returning to the WSOP each summer is getting to reunite with old friends (and make new ones).

The Rio in the sun2011 WSOP, Day 22: The Longest Day of the Year
My long day of travel to Las Vegas coincides with the summer solstice, i.e., the longest day of the year. I share a few quick reunions, meet a few new folks, and start preparing mentally for the four weeks of work to come.

2011 WSOP, Day 23: Percentages, Points, and Kevmath
I talk with WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla about turnouts, play some pub trivia, and have brunch with Kevin “Kevmath” Mathers.

2011 WSOP, Day 24: In Which the World Gets Smaller
I help cover Event No. 40, the $5,000 NLHE (Six-Handed) event. I meet and chat with Jim McManus, our conversation interrupted by a playing of the national anthem.

2011 WSOP, Day 25: Just One More Thing
I mark the passing of Peter Falk. I also share some uproarious questions asked by the rail of Phil Hellmuth.

2011 WSOP, Day 26: Game Shows in the Desert
A bit about the “Mothership” or “Thunderdome” or whatever you want to call that elaborate set constructed there in the middle of the Amazon Room to showcase final tables at this year’s WSOP.

2011 WSOP, Day 27: Look at You Look at Me
I move on to Event No. 45, one of the $1,000 no-limit hold’em events, and talk a bit about eye contact, both between players at the tables and between players and reporters passing by.

Getting Loopy2011 WSOP, Day 28: Getting Loopy
I’ve only been reporting for a week, but already I’m starting to be affected (again) by the repetitive nature of tourney reporting, i.e., the patterns, the loops.

2011 WSOP, Day 29: Split Day
I start out covering the last day of Event No. 45 ($1,000 NLHE), then hop over to help with Event No. 47 ($2,500 Omaha/8-Stud/8), and remark some on the differences between the two fields and the overall vibes of each event.

2011 WSOP, Day 30: Coincidences
Full Tilt Poker suddenly shut down altogether the day before, so there was no avoiding talking some about that. I also met Julius Goat, and there was no avoiding talking about that, either.

2011 WSOP, Day 31: In Which I Lose to Joe Hachem Playing Chinese Poker
I’ve moved over to Event No. 51, the $1,500 PLO/8 event. And yes, me and two colleagues did lose to the 2005 WSOP Main Event champ, although I did make kings full to take the bottom.

2011 WSOP, Day 32: Snapshot
I stop by to look in on Day 1 of Event No. 53, the $1,000 Ladies NLHE Championship, where I run into the photographer Wolynski, leading me to think a little about how capturing the scene in images compares to trying to do so in words.

2011 WSOP, Day 33: Come On Get Happy
I reflect on the exciting finale of Event No. 51 ($1,500 PLO/8), won by a fellow playing in his first ever WSOP event using money he’d made working for $10/hr. for his father.

2011 WSOP, Day 34: Connections
Vera Valmore is in town, and we have an enjoyable visit with the poker player and coach Tri Nguyen before checking out the final table of the Ladies Event.

2011 WSOP, Day 35: I See What You Are Doing, But What Are You Thinking?
I help with the coverage of Event No. 55, the $50,000 Poker Player’s Championship, and reflect a bit on what a reporter can and cannot do.

2011 WSOP, Day 36: No Hard Stop
A post written after working until after dawn, the only day all summer I had to do so.

Despite others' theories on the matter, a Coke float requires no ice2011 WSOP, Day 37: Exploding Floats and Missed Flush Draws
I enjoy a day off with Vera, a highlight of which was being delivered a perfectly absurd lecture by a waiter on the science behind Coke floats. We also check in on the final table of Event No. 55 (the $50K Poker Player’s Championship), where Phil Hellmuth would miss all of those flush draws.

2011 WSOP, Day 38: Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
The Main Event begins, a player dressed as Snow White plays, as does the Poker Grump (not a dwarf).

2011 WSOP, Day 39: KK vs. AA
Having a day off, I play a “deepstack” event at the Rio and run kings into aces relatively early, thereby allowing me to get away from poker for much of the day and evening.

2011 WSOP, Day 40: The Utility Player
Back to work at the Main Event, I spend Day 1c running around to various sections of the Amazon, filling in wherever needed.

2011 WSOP, Day 41: The Lottery
Reporting from the super busy Day 1d of the Main Event, my favorite story involves a player who won his seat via the North Carolina lottery, and played like it.

2011 WSOP, Day 42: 6,865 & Other Numbers
Crunching a few of the numbers regarding Main Event entrants, the total way over most folks’ expectations.

A glimpse2011 WSOP, Day 43: A Glimpse
I’m back at the Main Event, helping cover Day 2b, and am moved to remark on how fast it is all going, and how hard -- or impossible -- it is to keep up with it all.

2011 WSOP, Day 44: Unwind
The WSOP takes a day off, I play in the media tournament, do the pub trivia thing again, and just hang out for awhile.

2011 WSOP, Day 45: Places, Everyone!
Day 3 of the Main Event, and the ESPN cameras are all around us, shooting everything. Starting to feel a bit like we are all -- staff, media, players -- actors on a set, with the directors guiding our every move.

2011 WSOP, Day 46: A Short-Stacked Story
We’re already up to Day 4 of the Main Event and the money bubble bursts. Moments before, I find myself becoming most interested in the shortest stack in the room, wondering whether he’s gonna make it or not.

2011 WSOP, Day 47: Thinking Poker
Moving on to Day 5, highlighted by dinner with Andrew “Foucault” Brokos and Nate Meyvis, both of whom would crack the top 100 of the ME.

2011 WSOP, Day 48: Access
By the time we reach Day 6, the number of people covering the Main Event well exceeds the number playing it, and space becomes limited.

2011 WSOP, Day 49: In the Thick of It
Getting down to just three tables on Day 7 of the Main Event, and my friggin’ laptop won’t seem to fire up.

2011 WSOP, Day 50: Smile
The November Nine is set. And they are all smiles. And so is everyone else, it seems.

Rio in the rearviewRio in the Rearview
A quick postscript on the journey home.

Thanks again, everyone, for reading.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Rio in the Rearview

Rio in the RearviewHome again home again. Slept until noon today, and could’ve kept going. Brain still craving rest. Body, too.

The trip home was only mildly stressful. I got a cab to the airport, choosing one of two that were waiting by the curb. The two drivers had been chatting, and once I got inside the back seat of one of their cars, the other popped his head in the window.

“Hey, you wanna ride with me?” he asked. “His air conditioning is broken.”

Erm, yea, I thought. Then my car’s driver pushed him aside. “He’s joking,” he said, and we soon drove off.

The air conditioning worked just fine, but he made me slightly less comfortable when he asked me at one point “Have you ever gone this way?” Then, when we arrived, he claimed he’d forgotten to turn on the meter. “How much, then?” I asked. “How ever much you want to give me,” he said.

It’s like I’m still there at the poker table, I thought. People bluffing. Perhaps trying to scam me. Putting me to the test. Everything a risk, a game.

I wearily named a figure that was slightly less than what the trip had warranted, and he didn’t try to raise me. Made it to my terminal in good shape, then took a seat amid the many other passengers awaiting their flights.

As often happens while traveling, I found myself involuntarily going down one of those what-does-all-of-this-mean avenues, searching one at a time the faces of those sitting nearby for possible clues.

A thin young Asian girl, her elbows pointing outward as she rolled her eyes at a parent’s admonition. A wizened old man reading a hardbound book taken from a library, an item weirdly conspicuous amid the many hand-held electronic devices being studied by those around him. A young man with a goatee and baseball hat twisted to the side chomping on a slice of pizza and looking bored while his raven-haired girlfriend chatted alongside him.

Then a face I recognized. Ha, that’s James Calderaro, one of the players I’d reported on several times over the last few weeks. I think he’s from Florida, which is where he must be headed. Did reasonably well in the Main, I recalled. (He finished 260th.) Not as well as a couple of years ago, when he almost made the November Nine (finishing 13th).

He looked tired. Soon he was dozing. I was ready to sleep, too, but wouldn’t for another 12 hours or so.

We keep moving. We go places, do things. We tire ourselves out with work and play. And then we sleep and wake up and we move again.

Gonna stay put for a while at least. I’ll compile a catalogue of WSOP trip stuff tomorrow. For now, I am very glad to be home. And I suppose I am also glad to be in a place where people seem mostly to be playing it straight with me.

Though the not-straight world is fun to visit now and then, too.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

2011 WSOP, Day 50: Smile

SmileIt was about 2:30 a.m. The final river card of the summer had been dealt about a half-hour before. I’d written my last post, yet continued to linger there at the table where I’d been working most of the night, watching the activity down below on the main stage.

The November Nine had been determined, and after a rapid session of picture taking one of the ESPN guys was telling the photogs and everyone else still trying to capture the moment to get on with it. Work had to be done. The dismantling of the elaborately-constructed “mothership” had already commenced.

“If you haven’t gotten what you need by now, you need to find a new job,” he said. Sort of a buzz-kill thing to say. But no one seemed to mind very much. Too much energy radiating off the nine players, posing with arms around each other, all with wide, giddy grins.

They stood in a semi-circle around the table. Kind of like one big smile. It was impossible for anyone looking at them to avoid smiling a little, too.

“Those guys are now brothers for life,” I joked to Rich Ryan and Donnie Peters, two of my PokerNews colleagues. It felt like I was kidding when I said it, but in some respects it was true. We’ve seen before the camaraderie that develops between the nine who emerge from the thousands who enter the WSOP Main Event each year. It starts during the four-month wait, and in many cases continues long after as well.

They’ve been through something special, and now have a unique, shared experience that really will serve as a bond between them. The fact that the nine standing there last night came from seven different countries added another neat element to the idea that lasting friendships were starting to be forged -- not just between individuals, but nations. And all through a card game.

I shook hands with Rich and Donnie, sought out others to whom to say goodbye, and made my way out of the Amazon and eventually the Rio. Once outside a stranger spotted my credentials still hanging from the lanyard around my neck, and quizzed me about ESPN’s coverage of last night’s play.

He noted how from the night before to last night they’d missed showing how the field went from 22 to 14, something he found unfortunate. I assured him that stretch would be featured later on in the repackaged, edited stuff they’ll roll out in the fall, and we spoke further about the Main Event and poker in general before parting.

Poker brings people together. I’ve reunited with many friends this summer, and made many new ones, too. I’m eager to get home to Vera and family, but I’m sorry to be leaving the company of so many of my favorite folks for a while.

And so I linger a little longer. And I remember how poker brought us together. And how it will do so again.

And I smile.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

2011 WSOP, Day 49: In the Thick of It

2011 WSOP Main Event, Day 7 (main feature table)I woke up this morning and for two solid minutes had no clue where I was. Could not have been more disoriented. A month in the desert will do that to a person, I guess.

Or maybe it was that crazy day yesterday.

Was a somewhat stressful day for your humble scribbler, actually, thanks to a laptop surprisingly failing me at the very start of Day 7 of the World Series of Poker Main Event. I was able to work on others’ computers during the day, the extra mental energy needed to negotiate unfamiliar keyboards and tracking pads making the whole day like running with weights or something. But all worked out.

During the dinner break, B.J. Nemeth generously shepherded me to a couple of different Apple stores here in Vegas, and I ended up leaving my MacBook Air at one. They called later in the night to tell me whatever had been ailing my laptop had been cured, and this morning I was able to get back over there, grab the sucker, and get back over to the Rio today in time for today’s Day 8.

2011 WSOP Main Event, Day 7 (secondary feature table)Eliminations happened at a rapid clip yesterday. They went from 57 to 22 in five 120-minute levels, meaning an average of seven knockouts per level. There was a lot of what seemed to be crazy shipping of chips going on with less-than-premium hands (not unusual), although there were a number of “cooler”-type situations that helped move things along, too.

Kind of exciting, I have to admit, once the redraw for the final three tables was taking place. Fun to be in the thick of it, with all of the madness swirling about as players, staff, and spectators were relocating, readying for play to resume. I snapped photos of all three as they were readying to resume. That’s the main feature table up above, followed by the secondary feature table (left) and the lone outer table (below).

I’ve been lucky enough to be at the Main Event at this point in the proceedings a few times now, and while there’s a lot about the tournament that becomes less than riveting the more times you see it, this moment when they reach the last 27 continues to provide some thrills.

The payouts jump up above $300,000, reason enough to get keyed up. And all of those left, even the shortest stacks, know the November Nine is possible.

2011 WSOP Main Event, Day 7 (outer table)Thanks to dealing with those laptop troubles -- and those extra couple of minutes I wasted this morning figuring out where I am -- I have to cut it short today.

Check over at PokerNews’ live reporting to see who makes it through to the final nine, and also check out ESPN2 (if you can) for sorta-live coverage as well.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

2011 WSOP, Day 48: Access

Start of Day 6 of the 2011 WSOP Main EventA wild one yesterday at Day 6 of the 2011 World Series of Poker Main Event. Field shrunk from 142 to just 57 over the course of four two-hour levels, which I think will possibly mean a shorter day today as the schedule calls for the tournament to be stopped once they get down to 27.

We were all having to fire off posts at a rapid clip, especially early in the day as eliminations were happening very quickly. Whenever a table broke, the Rio maintenance crew would literally break it down just moments later, disassembling it and removing it from the Amazon room. I’ve seen this process a few times now, of course, but my colleague Josh -- on his first tour of duty at the WSOP -- kept marveling at how “surreal” it seemed as the tables were removed and the room emptied out.

Was kind of curious how they would take tables out, but not spread out the remaining ones as we went, meaning the total space in which they played was getting smaller and smaller. Meanwhile, the number of media covering the action was increasing, and so by the end of the third level of the night it was getting especially crowded inside the rail. The group shooting footage for ESPN (Poker PROductions) is also quite large, meaning the available space was becoming ever more limited.

Whenever I went inside the ropes, my strategy was to find an empty spot near a table where we didn’t have anyone situated, then wait for a possible hand to develop. That is, rather than roam about as I’d normally would, I stayed put while keeping a watchful eye out for the rushing over of cameramen.

All of which added up to a somewhat stressful atmosphere, although I think most folks handled it well enough. A couple of the players became impatient with the frequent delays caused by the setting up of cameras and so forth. And one -- the pink-haired Guillaume Delacourt -- outright refused at one point to show his hole cards to the portable camcorder, which led to a confrontation and threat regarding penalties. Here’s Eric Ramsey’s post from last night about that incident, which actually brings up Rule No. 24 of the WSOP’s Official Tournament Rules.

Bryan Devonshire and his eye-popping chip stackOf course, some players couldn’t have seemed more relaxed with all of the chaos circling about them. Bryan Devonshire was one of the calm ones, and everyone -- staff, media, and players alike -- marveled at his gravity-defying chip architecture that he would rapidly build shortly after being moved to a new table. (Click the pic for a better view.)

Once I got back to the home-away-from-home I was able to tune into ESPN2 and watch some of the coverage that was being shown on a delay. To evoke Josh’s word, that, to me, was a little “surreal,” having just been wandering around those tables a moment before.

Incidentally, I’ve been standing nearby several times when those segments with Kara Scott that you see interspersed into the programming are shot, and I’ve yet to see her require a second take. Nor does she read from a teleprompter. I really don’t know if those are being done “live” or what -- since the entire show is on a delay, I’m assuming they can redo them -- but it is kind of amazing to see her standing in the middle of the craziness and performing so well. Kind of like Devonshire and most of the players, I suppose.

Anyhow, I understand F-Train’s criticisms of the show being less than enthralling. (See his “WSOP Live on ESPN2 Doesn’t Deliver.”) I also like what Kim (of Infinite Edge) has to say about the decision to show just a couple of tables rather than try to give a better sense of what is going on elsewhere in the tournament. (See his post, “One Man’s Thoughts on How to Improve the WSOP.”) Especially with just seven or eight tables, it would be helpful for them once in a while at least to stop by each of the outer tables and give a heads-up on what is happening.

2011 WSOP Main Event on ESPN2Then again, as I already mentioned, the space is tight in there. And there are probably other logistical reasons that would make looking in too regularly (or too intrusively) on the other tables difficult to pull off. Of course, it won’t be long -- i.e., tomorrow -- until they’re down to three and then two tables, so the coverage will essentially be comprehensive from that point, I imagine.

One sort of irony -- while everyone else in the world gets to see what is happening (on a delay) in great detail on those feature tables, it isn’t so easy for the reporters to catch the action, particularly from the secondary feature table, where everything must be viewed from 20-plus feet away. I imagine the set-up will change on Day 8 (at least I hope it does).

Anyhow, if you’re curious, do check the ESPN2 schedule to see what hours they’ll be on. And I guess there’s some stuff on ESPN3, though again it seems that most folks with whom I talk about that online-only service aren’t able to see that.

Yet another issue of access.

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

2011 WSOP, Day 47: Thinking Poker

At the main feature table on Day 5 of the 2011 WSOP Main EventI was stationed over at the two feature tables yesterday -- the ones being shown on ESPN2 on a half-hour delay -- and thus spent the day racing back and forth between them catching hands. Ended up being a very busy day for me, and kind of interesting, too, as I was able to get an up-close look at the ESPN production team at work as they managed the broadcast.

If you happened to have watched yesterday, you saw a lot of high-level poker being played on both tables. Among those seated at the main feature table yesterday were Jean-Robert Bellande, Daniel Negreanu, Carter King, Allen Cunningham, and Sebastian Ruthenberg.

The secondary table -- where my access was less ideal -- was probably exciting to watch as well, as start-of-day chip leader Manoj Viswanathan managed to lose his entire stack before the dinner break, then Ben Lamb (who it seems has been at the top of the counts all summer, regardless of the event) came over after dinner to terrorize the table.

My favorite part of the day, however, was probably the dinner break when I had the chance to sit down with Andrew “Foucault” Brokos (of the Thinking Poker blog) and Nate Meyvis for a nice meal at Gaylord Indian Restaurant there in the Rio.

Thinking PokerI’d been a fan of Brokos’ blog for some time, and finally had the chance to meet him the day before. Was a great treat to get to spend a little more time getting to know both him and Meyvis, both of whom were (and are) still alive in the Main Event.

Brokos has incredibly cashed in the ME five of the last six years, his best finish being 35th in 2008. This marks Meyvis’ second straight year of cashing in the ME as well. Brokos returns today to a stack of 1.572 million (a touch above the average with 142 players left), while Meyvis has 900,000 even.

Brokos has a philosophy degree and Meyvis is working on one, and so despite the fact that I was the only one of us not alive and with chips in the WSOP Main Event, we still had a lot of common ground between us (poker, academics, writing, teaching, Two Plus Two). Definitely fun to spend time with such smart (and witty) people, although I find myself getting to do that quite a bit whenever I spend time in the poker world.

I found myself marveling a bit at how cool they both were about their current status in the event. Brokos, of course, has been in this position several times now, which obviously helps immensely when it comes to handling the pressures of going deep.

Shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, really, to see guys like Brokos, Jean-Robert Bellande, and Joseph Cheong making it to Day 6 yet again. Indeed, just glance up and down the list of the 142 remaining players and you see a lot of familiar names, guys who have time and time again negotiated large fields to make final tables and/or win these suckers. While most of us are merely playing the game, these guys really are “thinking poker” all the time, and with much greater depth than is the case for most.

Check back over at PokerNews today to see how Brokos, Meyvis, and everyone else fares. And remember ESPN2 is airing many hours of coverage every day now (on a half-hour delay), so check in over there, too, if you can.

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

2011 WSOP, Day 46: A Short-Stacked Story

Bubble time at the 2011 WSOP Main EventIt was mid-afternoon yesterday when they reached the money in the 2011 World Series of Poker Main Event. A memorable moment for all involved, especially the players. A moment that one in particular, Steve Rosen, will likely be recounting again and again to others for the rest of his life.

The top 693 finishers got paid, and so when the total number left had fallen under 700 tourney staff began to make preparations for hand-for-hand play. Usually they try to stop play once they get within four spots of the bubble. I believe yesterday they had actually gotten down to 695 by the time they were able to start hand-for-hand.

Dealers stood at their tables, signaling to staff that they had completed their hands, and when all were standing they were instructed to deal one hand and stand again. We reporters sought out the short stacks, and I ended up near Rosen, down to just 12,000 when hand-for-hand play began.

The blinds were 2,500/5,000 (with a 500 ante) and the button had just passed Rosen, so he was still good for nearly an entire orbit of hands. But you could tell he wasn’t at all content with the situation. He sat shaking his head and showing all sorts of expressions that wordlessly communicated his disbelief at the very real possibility that it all might end with his narrowly missing the cash.

Steve Rosen wondering if he's going to bubble the 2011 WSOP Main EventIt took at least 10 minutes to complete the first hand, during which time Rosen stood up and paced around a little. He’d already had his picture taken several times, including by the excellent Joe Giron (these pics, incidentally, are ones Joe took of Rosen for PokerNews). Seeing me standing there with pad and pen in hand, he came over and asked me if it were true that the player finishing 694th would be receiving a free entry to next year’s Main Event. “That’s what I’ve heard,” I said, not wanting to usurp the WSOP’s authority even though I was reasonably certain it was in fact true. Rosen returned to his seat, which I judged wasn’t feeling much more comfortable to him than when he’d left it.

Meanwhile, an all-in and a call erupted on a nearby table, though it turned out both players had pocket kings and they ended up chopping. I’d scampered over, then returned to Rosen’s table where the players asked me if someone had been eliminated. I could see Rosen’s exasperated, this-cannot-be-happening look out of the corner of my eye as I explained what had happened.

After all of the big decisions he’d made, the 30-plus hours of poker, spread out over more than a week, was it really going to happen to him? Was he really going to bubble the World Series of Poker Main Event?

Another couple of hands passed, including a big, potential-elimination hand right at Rosen’s table. But no one was knocked out, and still he was in danger. Finally an elimination occurred on the other side of the Amazon. One to go.

Things were looking slightly better for Rosen, and I’ll admit that after standing there for a while I was starting to hope he’d make it. Interestingly, a player at Rosen’s table started a conversation with the dealer in which he asked her if she ever became emotionally invested in the fortunes of the players. Did she ever feel bad, for example, when a player suffered a bad beat to lose a big pot and “crumbled” at the table in response? She said she did when she first started dealing, but had learned over time not to be affected.

Meanwhile Rosen sat there, saying nothing. I wrote a quick post describing his plight.

Steve Rosen, elated that he snuck into the money at the 2011 WSOP Main EventAfter a couple more hands -- just one before the big blind had reached Rosen -- another elimination occurred, again on the other side of the room. The bubble had burst. Rosen was elated, his joy increasing after he managed to double up on each of the next two hands and make it to the next break. (I wrote another update on Rosen, post-bubble.) He’d run over to the rail a couple of times to share in the excitement with supporters, and called someone as well to report the good news.

He’d eventually be eliminated in 586th, actually sneaking up an extra payout level to make $21,295. And the tourney marched on, with a couple hundred more hitting the cashier’s cage before we were done for the night.

It was a memorable day for Rosen. He’d won some money playing poker, and that’s always a fun thing to do. But he’d won a great story, too, and that’s going to last a lot longer than the money will.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

2011 WSOP, Day 45: Places, Everyone!

Places, Everyone!I was unable yesterday to see any of the coverage on either ESPN3 (online) or ESPN2 (on the teevee) of Day 3 of the 2011 World Series of Poker, although from what I was hearing it was great stuff for poker fans. Six hours of coverage in the afternoon, plus another three-and-a-half in the evening? Wild.

I can say that while reporting yesterday from the Amazon Room we were very aware of all the shooting being done in every corner of the huge ballroom. I assumed some of it was going out “live”-ish (i.e., on a delay), particularly from the feature tables, while footage was also being shot for the edited Main Event shows that will start airing on ESPN in mid-August.

The space between the tables where we reporters roam, often fairly free of traffic during the preliminary events and even during the four Day Ones and two Day Twos of the ME, was full of folks yesterday, with the ESPN crews and extra media who’ve come just for the Main Event having to signal frequently to avoid crashing into each other and/or the waiters and massage therapists milling about.

All went reasonably well, though, and the extra cameras added a touch of excitement to the proceedings. I could tell some players weren’t always thrilled about the cameras’ intrusiveness, but most seemed to get used to it all and played along accordingly.

One new twist to the coverage of the outer tables that I’d never seen before was the use of a hand-held hole card camera to capture shots of players’ cards at tables that aren’t already equipped to do so. Imagine a small camcorder fastened to a flat, rectangular board no bigger than two playing cards sitting side by side. The crew would shoot a hand from beginning to end, then afterwards set the portable camera on the table and get the players involved to squeeze their cards in front of it. No one else (theoretically) would see the cards at the table, but ESPN would get a shot of them that could be later cut into to sequence at the start of the hands.

There were snafus here and there. In hands without showdowns, dealers had to keep the hands from the muck, then give them back to the players so they could show the cards to the hole card camera. On one occasion -- a hand involving Phil Hellmuth -- the dealer accidentally switched the hands so that Hellmuth was showing his opponent’s hand and vice-versa. It was a relatively small-pot hand, if I recall correctly, and the players were more amused than bothered in that instance. But I imagine there were other problems, too, not to mention the delays caused by the obtaining of these extra shots.

Like I say, though, it kind of feels like most of the players understand what they are getting into here and are thus mostly taking it all in stride. The WSOP Main Event is unlike every other poker tournament in the world -- a circus, a play, a performance with directors and supporting cast.

At the start of play yesterday WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart took the mic and noted over the public address that we were “about to go live,” referring to the ESPN3 streaming coverage. He then offered suggestions to everyone about what to expect and how to act. It felt weird, like we were all about to go out on stage or something.

Stewart also said something about poker entering a new age, moving out of just being the subject of documentaries and becoming even more like sports programming. I was busy readying for my workday, and so didn’t catch the entire statement. But as the day wore on I could tell that the line between merely chronicling what was happening and managing and/or directing it had been blurred even further. Every instance of players showing their hole cards after a hand had completed added further to that impression.

The show goes on in just a little while with today’s Day 4, with the inherently dramatic bursting of the cash bubble likely due sometime this afternoon.

Or whenever the director decides.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

2011 WSOP, Day 44: Unwind

RelaxThe schedule for the World Series of Poker Main Event possesses a certain aesthetic appeal. Six days of poker, then take the seventh day off. Then six more. They’ve followed the same pattern the last couple of years, and I think it works fairly well.

Kind of resembles Wimbledon, with the early rounds taken care of during the first week, a day off for all, then the good stuff leading up to the final at fortnight’s end. Of course, with the WSOP ME we then have to wait another four months for the final, the climax here being the determining of the November Nine.

Was chatting with Jennifer Shahade a little last night about the schedule. She’s playing in the Main Event, and has made it through to Day 3. “You’ve been in the Main Event for a week,” I said. When I told her I kind of liked the format she noted how it wasn’t the best for players. Indeed, make it through the first two days and you’ve had to pay for a week’s worth of Vegas.

And on top of that, you’ve won nothing at all yet.

The day off was fun and relatively restful. After I spent the morning writing, the Poker Grump and I hit the Palms buffet mid-afternoon where I enjoyed an improbable mix of entrees and desserts while we talked about his Main Event experience and other topics.

Later came the WSOP Media tournament, which also provided a lot of entertainment. Like last year, about 130 participated, and it was fun to meet and talk to a number of folks I’ve mostly seen while criss-crossing between tables over the last three weeks.

AlCantHang was trying to sell his action on Twitter prior to the event -- which was inspired, given this was a freeroll. Al was actually the first to be eliminated, for which he won a small golden statue of a toilet. Had his pocket aces cracked by the mighty K-3. I wasn’t able to better my third-place finish of a year ago, finishing up around 40th or so after a couple of hours of play.

Annie Duke played, too, giving everyone copies of her book Decide to Play Great Poker. After covering her in numerous tourneys in the past, I finally met Annie a few days before, and so it wasn’t a first meeting when early on she was moved to my table to sit on my immediate left.

2011 WSOP Media tournamentWe joked around a bit, but didn’t get involved in any big hands. Once I opened from the cutoff as a sort-of-steal (had K-10), she reraised from the button, then a player pushed all in from the blinds and I got out.

Once the blinds and antes had risen to a certain point, we were all relatively short, essentially in push-or-fold territory. Somewhere in there Annie was all in with pocket jacks once against the player to my right who had A-4 or something and survived. As it happened, I’d later be all in with J-J against the same guy -- this time with A-9-suited -- and he’d river the flush to send me out.

I stuck around some after getting busted, but left prior to the tourney’s conclusion, finding out later that Annie actually won the sucker, defeating Zimba (a.k.a. @PokerCurious) heads up. F-Train final tabled, finishing seventh.

Next came some more pub trivia at McFadden’s. We had a big group there, and so formed two teams. I played with Absinthe, Katkin, Ebhizzle, Poker Grump, F-Train, and Timtern. Meanwhile, at the next table the squad was comprised of Andrew Feldman, Oskar Garcia, Lance Bradley, B.J. Nemeth, and Gary Wise (who arrived yesterday). Our team won, they took second, and a group including Vanessa Selbst, Liv Boeree, and Jeff Madsen took third.

AlCantHang and Nolan DallaI ended the night hanging out for a while at the Gold Coast bowling alley where the WSOP staff and all the interns were having a great time, as were a number of other media types. Al had a neat come-from-behind bookend to his day there, picking up a cool hundy off of WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla after nailing an improbable spare by clearing nine pins on the second ball.

The bowling alley is where I spoke with Jennifer. I spotted a few other ME players there as well, trying to relax as they readied for the mental challenge that awaits them today.

It’ll be a grind. It always is. Some of the days may be relatively short. Indeed, I’m hearing today’s Day 3 may only go four levels. However it goes, they’ll try to manage it so as to get to 27 next Monday (Day 7) and nine on Tuesday (Day 8). Most of the players will only be at it another day or two; a select few will be there to the end. Meanwhile, pretty much all of the media -- including your humble scribbler -- have six more days of work ahead.

So it was good to rest. Play some cards. Be challenged to remember Oscar Wilde plays and the name of Spongebob’s starfish friend. To unwind. ’Cos everyone is gonna get wound up good and tight here over the next six days.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

2011 WSOP, Day 43: A Glimpse

A GlimpseIt’s hard to explain what it is like to stand amid hundreds of tables while the World Series of Poker Main Event plays on around you. It’s exciting, for sure. But there’s also this weird, sinking feeling that occasionally creeps up on you. A feeling that all that is presently happening is racing into the past, never to be recovered.

You catch a glimpse here and there. But only a glimpse. Imperfect. Incomplete. And as you write it down and try to share what you saw with others, the tourney continues while you look away. Running away from you, forever to hide in the past.

Yesterday Mike Sexton was playing Day 2b of the World Series of Poker Main Event. He was sitting just a few yards from my location, and so I was able to check in fairly frequently on his progress.

The “World Poker Tour” host was short-stacked for most of the day. I saw him lose a significant chunk in one hand versus an opponent in which he called a river bet, then saw his opponent had flopped a set and turned a full house to end with a better hand than his. Lost more than half his stack on that one. Wasn’t long after that he picked up pocket nines, ran into someone with pocket queens, and five cards later was out.

The latter hand occurred when I was on the other side of the room. In fact, the ESPN cameras had been hovering over Sexton’s table quite a bit during the day, but they were elsewhere as well when his elimination happened.

Players were just about to go on break, and so after I returned to the table I waited until the level had concluded and asked the dealer about Sexton’s bustout. I might’ve asked a player, but I didn’t want to take any time away from the 20 minutes they each had to stretch their legs, visit the restroom, call their loved ones and/or backers, grab a bite or drink, or whatever.

A couple of lingering players jumped in, though, to share details, including the fellow who’d knocked Sexton out, Josh Mancuso. We laughed a little afterwards about how no media had been at the table to catch the hand, in particular the TV crew. Incidentally, I’d heard that the ESPN guys had missed Jonathan Duhamel’s bustout the day before (on Day 2a). I’m sure they lamented that, but I think ESPN’s plan this year might be to spend less time on Days 1 and 2, anyway, so perhaps Duhamel’s bust would’ve only rated a brief mention anyhow.

“That’s how bad I run,” Mancuso said to me with a grin, referring to his missed chance for some air time on ESPN. I thanked him and made sure to give him at least a small bit of recognition in my post of the hand. Mancuso would finish the day with 115,700 chips, just a tad above the average stack heading into Day 3.

Long, long ago I remember writing a post about the bias toward “name” players in tourney reporting. The post was titled “Playing Favorites,” and basically addresses how the more famous faces often get more attention and even on some occasions tend to come off better in the reporting.

Big field tourneys cannot be comprehensively covered by small staffs of reporters. It becomes necessary to be selective in the reporting, and since it takes more time and effort to learn about and follow non-“name” players, the bias persists. Later on, when the field gets smaller and more manageable, that bias will gradually fall away. Players with big stacks -- regardless of how well they were known before this event -- will start to get the most attention. As they should.

At some point during the day yesterday I ran into Robbie Thompson (a.k.a., “Red Bull Robbie”), and he asked me how things were going. I said fine, and he responded by saying how it really isn’t until Day 4 and after that the tournament gets at all interesting. “It’s like the NBA in the first quarter,” he said, and I nodded. Lots of scoring happening, but not much terribly vital in terms of indications of how the sucker is going to turn out.

Of course, these first few days of the tournament do in actuality become the days when the final buzzer sounds for many. The majority, in fact. And for many, their stories begin, develop, and end without notice, like so many mute inglorious Miltons.

There are 6,865 different narratives going on here, all with their own specific arcs, all with their own distinct heroes and villains. There are considerably fewer storytellers around to capture those narratives, and then only in bits and pieces.

Just glimpses, hastily recorded and shared. Imperfect. Incomplete.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

2011 WSOP, Day 42: 6,865 & Other Numbers

NumbersDay off yesterday. Did succeed in my goal of not entering the Rio, thereby breaking a streak of 20 consecutive days of doing so. Today I’ll start another such streak that will run through next Tuesday, July 19 and the final day of play for the summer (Day 8) when the WSOP Main Event plays down to the final nine.

Yesterday WSOP Communications Director Seth Palansky sent out information regarding the 6,865 players who entered this year’s WSOP Main Event, and so I spent a little bit of time perusing those figures.

On Sunday (Day 1d), I ran into ESPN’s Andrew Feldman and we chatted about the larger-than-expected field. He opined at the time that it was going to be interesting to see what percentage of the field were non-U.S., his implication being (I assumed) that perhaps we might be seeing some effect of Black Friday being revealed in that figure.

The revised total Palansky ultimately sent out was 4,604 U.S. players among the ME participants, just a touch above two-thirds of the field (67.06%). In fact, this figure is almost identical to that of 2010, when 67.9% of the field were Americans. Also, 85 different countries and territories sent players to the WSOP Main Event this year, compared to 92 last year.

How old are the Main Event players this year? This year the average age of the 6,865 participants is 37 years, 2 months. In 2010, the average age was 37 years, 4 months. Again, very close.

And what about the number of women playing in the Main Event? This year saw 242 women participate, representing 3.52% of the field. In 2010, there were 216 women among the 7,319 who played in the Main Event, or 2.95%. A somewhat notable increase, then, although it should be pointed out that last year’s figure was reported as “unofficial” as players weren’t designated by sex.

Finally, this year saw 75,672 total entries in the 58 bracelet events (breaking last year’s record). In 2010, there were 72,966 total entries in the 57 bracelet events (breaking the previous year’s record).

Not a heckuva lot appears to have changed when it comes to the World Series of Poker. Much has remained the same with regard to who came out to play and how many of them there were. In other words, from the WSOP’s perspective, 2011 was pretty much 2010. Minus Phil Ivey, that is.

I mentioned a few weeks back how I’d appeared on a couple of podcasts prior to the Series and was asked about what I thought might happen at the WSOP, particularly in the wake of Black Friday. I said on both that while I thought some events would be down in terms of numbers -- particularly the Main Event -- I also thought the WSOP tended every year to have a kind of momentum of its own and would probably do okay.

One wonders if such will be the case in 2012, particularly if here in the U.S. we have endured an entire year (essentially) without online poker. It is close to impossible to forecast today what will happen at next year’s Series. Indeed, if the recent past is any indicator, it is more likely than not some new calamity (political, legal, economic, etc.) will strike the poker world that will significantly affect our prognostications.

But if I had to venture a guess, I’d say the 2012 WSOP will in all likelihood produce numbers that will be very similar to this year’s. Or, to put it differently, I’d say it is probably more likely that the makeup of the players and the amount of them in 2010 will be similar to what we saw in 2011 than markedly different.

Plus Phil Ivey.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

2011 WSOP, Day 41: The Lottery

The LotteryWas another busy day yesterday at the World Series of Poker Main Event. A total of 2,809 came out on Sunday, making the overall total for this year’s ME a much-higher-than-anticipated 6,865. That’s the third-largest field in ME history, behind 2006 (8,773) and 2010 (7,319).

By the way, if you like numbers, check out Dr. Pauly’s post today, “2011 WSOP Day 41 - Main Event Day 1D: Spiderman, Big Records, Perma-Bans and 6,865,” which includes a bunch of nifty ones. See also Jess Welman’s latest “WSOP By the Numbers” for more interesting figures of note from yesterday.

Today begins the first of the Day Twos. I’m enjoying my last day off from the WSOP today (aside from Wednesday which is a day off for everyone). Gonna try to make it through the entire day without setting foot in the Rio, something I have not been able to avoid doing since I landed in Vegas some three weeks ago. A total of 4,521 players made it through to Day 2, with a little less than half of them playing today and the rest on Tuesday.

Yesterday I was stationed back in the Pavilion Room, packed from end to end. Just a couple of us were assigned to cover half the room (e.g., 100-plus tables). Was frustrating at times, as you might imagine. As I told WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla at the start of the day, there’s really no way to be comprehensive when trying to cover so many players with so few reporters. But on the good side there was no shortage of hands, anecdotes, and other items to write about.

My favorite story of the day involved the participation of an elderly farmer from North Carolina named Joe Moize. Moize is from Hurdle Mills, which just happens to be about half-hour drive from my birthplace and where I still have family.

Not too long ago -- starting around 2006, I believe -- NC finally decided to jump into the lottery game, although not without a great deal of hand-wringing and other not-so-pretty political machinations. They call it the “North Carolina Education Lottery” as the revenue produced is supposed to be earmarked to improve the state’s educational system, which has nonetheless continued to suffer cuts and other detrimental effects in recent years. And as many have observed over the years, the lottery tends to be played in higher numbers by the less educated, which has led some to view the official name of the NC lottery as containing a bit of obvious irony.

Goes without saying that poker ain’t being played in the state at all -- not legally, anyway -- aside from on a few electronic tables at Harrah’s Cherokee. Only low EV games like “Carolina Pick 4” and the like are permitted.

NC Education Lottery WSOP promotionOther promotions come and go, such as the recent one involving submitting losing scratch-off tickets for a drawing to win an entry into the Main Event. The WSOP was involved with this one in some fashion, with other prizes -- chip sets, sunglasses, other gear -- also given away. Moize won the ME seat, and so found himself Sunday afternoon sitting at a table in the Pavilion room at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino with David “the Gunslinger” Bach.

Bach was the one who came over and told me the wild story of how he had busted Moize. He called it one of the strangest hands he’d ever played, one in which three aces were on board -- matching the one in Bach’s hand -- with no flush or straight possible. Moize called him down to the river before check-raising all in on the end. Bach showed the nuts, while Moize turned over Kd7d.

“He said he’d never played poker before,” said Bach to me, his genuine amazement evident in his tone. I was sorry not to have gotten the chance to meet Moize, who sounded like a friendly person who probably got a lot out of the experience. Reading around a little online, I found that he brought his wife with him and they were getting to enjoy a stay of several nights. One story also pointed out that he had in fact played poker before in his life, but it had been long ago.

In my report on the hand over at PokerNews, I pointed out how the hand showed the WSOP Main Event isn’t really a “lottery” as the super-sized fields the ME attracts often encourage people to call it. Those making the final table and winning the sucker obviously must experience good fortune along the way, but no one can win by simply having a card with his or her name on it drawn from a barrel.

In fact, that Moize happened to be knocked out by Bach -- a guy who has won the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event (in 2009), a tournament generally regarded as one of the better tests of poker ability on offer at the Series -- made the point even more obvious. The contrast between the skillful player and complete novice couldn’t have been more starkly made.

My friend Bob Woolley, a.k.a. the Poker Grump, made a similar point in a different way in a post summarizing his Day 1a experience. Like Moize, Woolley won his way into the ME, and while he stood a much better chance of getting somewhere in the sucker than did Moize, the experience of sitting at a table with top pros like Greg Raymer, Tom Schneider, Olivier Busquet, and others offered him unambiguous proof of the importance of skill at the Main Event.

That WSOP Main Event seats are given away in state lotteries shows (I think) how little state governments appreciate that fact, namely, that poker or the Main Event isn’t really a game of pure luck like the lottery. Even so, it’s all the same thing -- to many people, really -- just people placing bets and hoping certain cards appear.

But we know it ain’t that at all. The Main Event isn’t just a lottery. And really, when it comes down to it, that’s the main reason why it is at all interesting.

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