Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Life Magazine Tells of “‘Hold Me’: a wild new poker game” in 1968

Life Magazine, Aug. 16, 1968When one looks at the relatively short history of Texas hold’em, the publication of the August 16, 1968 issue of Life magazine represents a fairly significant moment.

Just so happens then-presidential candidate Richard Nixon, considered by many to have been the most skilled poker player among all the U.S. presidents, was on the cover that week along with his wife, Pat, and Spiro and Judy Agnew. There is nothing about Nixon’s poker playing in the issue, though, as that part of his biography -- including how he’d actually funded his first Congressional campaign in 1946 with poker winnings earned while in the Navy during WWII -- was hardly being highlighted as part of his story.

Rather, it’s a short article within by A.D. Livingston titled “ ‘Hold Me’: a wild new poker game and how to tame it” that marks an important moment in hold’em’s history.

“This is poker?” begins the introduction to Livingston’s piece, referring incredulously to a nearby photo (see below). “The decorous mob scene below looks more like a group therapy seance down at the poker-chip factory. Yet it really is the game in a wholly new form.”

As will Livingston, the intro refers to the game by several names, including “Hold Me Darling,” “Tennessee Hold Me,” and “Texas Hold ‘Em.” Livingston’s piece is interesting because it speaks of the game as a relatively new phenomenon, addressing Life’s mainstream audience as mostly consisting of readers who have never heard of hold’em.

“I believe the game is a major event in the history of poker,” asserts Livingston, “and I predict it will replace stud for the rest of the century.”

'Hold Me,' a wild new poker game...Livingston’s piece begins with him describing a hand he played while trying to learn the game. Preflop betting caused him to become timid and fold AdKd to a professional player’s pocket queens. He admits he didn’t know the odds at the time, and a later session of trying to work them out at home leads him to conclude “it was really a mathematical toss-up.”

Livingston had to do such work himself because none of his poker books included any mention of the game.

“None of my books covered Hold Me or any game like it,” he says. “Nowhere could I find figures on the odds.”

The rest of his short piece spends some time speculating about why hold’em (in his view) is about to take over as the most popular poker variant -- more action (than stud or draw) is the big reason -- then concludes with a discussion of another hand involving the pro to whom he’d folded before.

In that hand, a huge three-way pot develops in which the pro somehow manages to fold pocket sevens on the river with the board showing 4-6-7-6-5, having correctly surmised one of his opponents had quad sixes. The analysis is a little specious, but we’re told the pro was able to use both his positional advantage and a knowledge of his opponent to surmise he was beaten. Meanwhile, the third player -- whom Livingston calls a “monkey” -- calls off his stack with a straight.

The piece ends with Livingston describing how he’d contacted a friend in Colorado to see if he had heard of this new game called “Hold Me Darling.” “‘Never heard of it,’” his friend says, adding “‘but a new game has really caught on. High Hold ’Em. Each player gets two cards down....’”

It’s the same game, it turns out, being played with a different name.

I take Livingston’s piece -- which is available online, if you're curious -- as strong evidence that hold’em’s history really only begins around the 1950s or thereabouts, not earlier in the century as some have claimed. I brought this matter up back in the spring in a post titled “Hold’em’s History Makes a Good Mystery.”

While the game was certainly around for some time prior to 1968, it’s having different names in different places suggests that while it was gaining in popularity, the game was -- as Livingston seems to assume -- still quite new to most. Its absence from poker books (most of which would have been books of rules, not strategy texts) also suggests a later start date -- say mid-century -- for hold’em.

All of which makes me appreciate even more Livingston’s prediction that hold’em was going to become the game of the late 20th century.

Nice call, sir!

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

On the Super Committee

The Capitol Puts Out the Bat $ignalSounds like an excruciatingly boring version of, say, the Super Friends or Justice League of America or other comic book/cartoony teams of superheroes, doesn’t it? With deadeningly dull super powers, too.

Creating compelling agendas faster than a speeding bullet! Formulating and passing along recommendations more powerful than a locomotive! Untangling knotty procedural questions with flawless applications of Robert’s Rules in a single bound!

Once again, online poker players in the U.S. find themselves scratching their heads over our government’s legislative machinations, trying to sort out what exactly our fearless leaders are up to now. This time the focus is upon this new Joint Select Committee for Deficit Reduction -- a.k.a., the “super committee” -- that was created as part of the resolution of that whole “debt ceiling” crisis earlier this month.

The 12-member, bipartisan committee was created in order to discover both places to cut and potential revenue sources in order to reduce the budget by a hefty $1.5 trillion. The group has a short time to formulate recommendations, having to pass them along to Congress by November 23. The House and Senate will then have just one month to vote “up or down” on what the super committee has given them, with no amendments or filibusters allowed.

Supporters of licensed and regulated online poker in the U.S. believe it is possible that the super committee might include some form of internet gambling legislation in its recommendation. If such were to happen -- and Congress were to approve the committee’s recommendations -- that would speed up the process by which Americans could get back online to play poker, making such happen much more quickly than via the usual, laborious legislative process of introducing a bill (such as we’ve seen Rep. Barney Frank try multiple times, or the more recent “Barton bill”), getting it through committee, having the House and Senate both vote in favor, and then finally having the president sign it into law.

The so-called 'Super Committee'Some are pointing to various gestures made by Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) (who is not on the super committee), the newfound interest in internet gambling of chief UIGEA-architect Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) (who is a member), and the significance of various lobbying efforts and other noise around Capitol Hill thought to suggest the time is ripe for finally entertaining online gambling. (Here’s a summary of various “circumstantial” evidence that regulating online gambling may be something considered by the super committee.)

Last week Rich Muny, VP of Player Relations for the Poker Players Alliance, appeared on the Two Plus Two Pokercast (the 8/22/11 episode) to say he was “as enthusiastic about this as I've been since this [fight to license and regulate online poker] started,” calling the super committee “a golden opportunity” to get some sort of legislation passed.

All of which perhaps sounds like something might happen here (and soon). Still, I can’t help but remain somewhat guarded -- if not dubious -- about it all, for a couple of reasons.

One has to do with the current political climate in the U.S. The fast-approaching presidential campaign seems to be highlighting so-called “moral” issues more and more, with (sometimes) related matters of faith getting mixed in frequently, too. And, as Barney Frank once pointed out in one of those House Financial Services Committee meetings, “there is a moral disapproval of gambling” among many legislators as well as those whom they represent.

I might be wrong, but it feels as though today supporting online gambling -- even in the context of (heroically?) attempting to alleviate the country’s budgetary woes -- is less politically savvy than it would have been just a couple of years ago. So that could present an obstacle to online gambling becoming part of the super committee’s recommendations.

My other reservation comes from the idea of the federal government actually passing such legislation and thereby being the ones to oversee online gambling -- including poker -- in the U.S. Nothing specific here other than the usual, vague worries over how exactly that would play out.

I mean it might work out just great. But something tells me it wouldn’t be exactly super.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Charlie Hustle, A-Rod, Gambling & Poker

My autographed photo of Pete RoseMy love of baseball probably peaked around the age of nine. That’s when I played little league, collected cards, tuned into games on AM radio, and never missed the “game of the week” on television. When we eventually got cable, I watched more games, and would even sometimes score them as I did. (No shinola.) I also sent letters a few times to players asking for autographs, and in just about every case I received replies, often with signed photos.

The only one of those pictures I managed to save from those days was from Pete Rose, who for a while there was right at the top of the list of my favorite players. That's the photo to the left, and the envelope in which it arrived is below. (I feel like I might have told this story before on the blog at some point, but searches aren’t turning up anything, so I suppose I have not.)

The envelope in which Pete Rose sent me an autographed photoIt was some time later, well after my fascination with the game had waned, that Rose, a.k.a. “Charlie Hustle,” was accused of having bet on games and was banned from baseball in 1989. Despite a mountain of evidence against him, Rose would deny the accusations for the next 15 years before finally admitting that he did, in fact, bet on games, but only for his own team to win. By then no one was really listening to him, though, that long period of denial having made it difficult for many to give him any credit for finally ’fessing up.

Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure it was Rose’s troubles that helped ensure I’d hang on to his autographed picture while losing track of the others. Might’ve partly been out of an idea that it’d be worth more as a result, although I’ve never thought much about selling it. Could’ve also been just because I felt sorry for Rose, in a way, I don’t know. In any case, while the kid in me still gets a kick out of him sending me the picture, my more mature self agrees with most that what he did was very wrong, and his refusal to admit to it for so long made it all even worse.

Found myself thinking about Rose after reading about Alex Rodriguez’ meeting last Friday with “officials” of Major League Baseball to talk about his poker playing -- or at least about the allegations of such. Despite being injured for much of the summer, Rodriguez has been in the news quite a bit over recent weeks. But all of the stories seem to concern his poker-playing, not his bum knee.

One such story came in the wake of those lawsuits being filed against participants in that big Hollywood home game who won money off of Bradley Ruderman, the hedge fund guy who ended up convicted of swindling his clients via some sort of Ponzi scheme. Tobey Maguire was kind of singled out among those who were sued, but other famous folks like Gabe Kaplan, Nick Cassavetes, and Rick Salomon were targeted, too. (I wrote a bit about Maguire’s situation in my latest Epic Poker “Community Cards” post, if you’re interested.)

Shortly after those lawsuits came to light -- they’re being brought in order to try to recover some money for Ruderman’s victims -- a story emerged that Rodriguez apparently played in the games, too, although that was soon refuted both by Rodriguez as well as one of the participants, the poker pro Dan Bilzerian.

Alex Rodriguez playing pokerThen last week came another story about Rodriguez allegedly playing some high-stakes poker at the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs near the end of his stint rehabbing with the Yankees’ Triple AAA affiliate, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. That story also was refuted both by Rodriguez and representatives of the casino. (That photo of Rodriguez and Jay-Z is from much further back -- a celebrity tourney back in 2006.)

In any event, the MLB wanted to talk to Rodriguez in part because he’d been connected with underground poker games in New York previously (back in 2005). And because the league is obviously super-sensitive to any players being connected with gambling in any fashion, not least because of situations like the one involving Pete Rose years ago.

A-Rod of spadesThere wasn’t much in the way of specific news about the meeting on Friday, other than Rodriguez saying he’d answered all of the questions asked of him. The Wall Street Journal piece about the meeting tells about how Rodriguez was asked if he thought it wasn’t fair that his trip to the Pennsylvania casino -- just for a steak dinner, Rodriguez alleges -- drew so much attention, Rodriguez sounded kind of melancholic about it all.

"I guess that’s just the world we’re in,” he said. “There’s a moving goal post. Those are the rules and it is what it is. Sometimes you just want to say uncle."

When Rodriguez refers to the “rules” here it is hard to tell what exactly he’s referring to, although it sounds like he’s talking about “unwritten” rules in our culture regarding gambling (“that’s just the world we’re in”) or perhaps more specifically the MLB’s recommendations that players steer clear of casinos or any gambling-related activities. At least that’s what the “moving goal post” comment seems to suggest -- namely, that the “rules” outlined to Rodriguez in the meeting perhaps haven’t been spelled out anywhere in particular.

Interestingly, the last time I wrote about Rodriguez here it had to do with his breaking an “unwritten rule” by running over the mound on his way back to first base after a foul ball. And, of course, Rodriguez is also well known for having broken another written (but poorly-enforced) rule when he used performance enhancing drugs from 2001-2003. Rodriguez admitted to the latter in 2009 after a list of players (including A-Rod) who’d failed tests in ’03 was published by Sports Illustrated.

My buddy Rich Ryan wrote a thoughtful op-ed for PokerNews a couple of weeks ago titled “Sports and Poker Don’t Mix” in which he essentially says pro athletes should say “uncle” and stop courting trouble by playing poker. I can see where Rich is coming from, but I can also see how some would object to players being unreasonably restricted or discouraged from entering a casino and/or participating in legal poker games.

Pete Rose in Las VegasI think again of Pete Rose. I remember visiting Las Vegas a few years back and while walking down the strip suddenly coming upon Rose sitting at a table, signing autographs. Looked a little closer and (if I remember correctly) saw it was $50 for an autograph, and $100 for a photo with the all-time hits leader.

Many who’ve visited Vegas over the last few years have seen the same sight, and probably shared the same thought I had about Rose and his legacy -- forever linked with his gambling -- and how Vegas perhaps seems a weirdly appropriate setting for him now.

I didn’t bother to wait in line to pay for a signature or photo or anything. I did stand and watch Rose a short while, though, thinking about the autograph I’d gotten for free so many years ago.

You know, way back before our heroes all started to fail us, with Rose (for me) one of the first to go. I guess for some Rodriguez would be one of the more recent examples. If so, I’d hope it’d be for reasons other than his poker playing.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

On the Exodus

On the ExodusThese tweets, blog posts, articles, and other items relating how players are leaving the United States in order to play online poker elsewhere are starting to become increasingly prevalent. With the WSOP in the rearview and things like the World Championship of Online Poker on PokerStars coming up soon (in a little over a week), more and more players are announcing that they have either already made the move or are intending to do so soon.

In just in the last few days I’ve read articles or have seen messages alluding to more than a dozen different players who have either left or are about to, among them Justin Bonomo, Steve Gross, Isaac Haxton, Jason Koon, Phil Galfond, Tom Marchese, Daniel Negreanu, and Steve O’Dwyer.

The newly-enganged, WSOP Main Event-crushing couple David “Doc” Sands and Erika Moutinho are heading out of the country as well. “Up early tomorrow lots to do before Vancouver!” tweeted Moutinho earlier this week. “Excited for a new adventure :)”

PokerStars has now added to its Frequently Asked Questions page for U.S. players a section addressing those who are moving elsewhere and trying to set themselves up with non-U.S. addresses. And you probably heard something about that “Poker Refugees” player relocation service launched by Pocket Fives a couple of weeks back.

We also keep hearing reports of the smaller online sites choosing to leave the U.S. This week it was the Poker Pros Network (PPN), one of the Cake Poker skins, that announced it was cutting loose.

Looking at PokerScout, the Merge Network of sites (including Carbon, Hero, and others) currently ranks highest as far as U.S. facing sites/networks go, although they still aren’t accepting new U.S. sign-ups at the moment. Word is they will soon reopen their doors, although with each passing day that seems increasingly uncertain. And I know Hero Poker, for example, is not planning to open things back up to U.S. players (though I’m not sure what the plan is for those of us still playing over there). Incidentally, I believe I read something else from PokerScout noting that something like 90% of the U.S. players shut out following Black Friday have not moved to play on any of these remaining sites.

The party's overFor those of us remaining behind, it’s hard not to feel some misgivings about all of this poker-related movement away from the U.S. I mean, it’s all perfectly understandable, but it still feels a little like being at a party that started out awesome, then a big ugly fight broke out and now everyone is suddenly leaving.

But, well, I live here. Somebody’s gotta stay behind and clean up and deal with all this.

So I can’t really say I’m enjoying hearing all the stories of folks leaving too much. But I certainly wish them well as they embark on their new adventures.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Linking Out

Today I wanted to point to a few items elsewhere on the intertubes. What I've been doing besides sitting on the couch, seeing if it is going to wiggle again.

My partner-in-crime Jen Newell and I contributed a couple of new columns this week for our “He Said/She Said” series over on Woman Poker Player. This time we decided to write about the incredible WSOP Main Event run made by the couple, Erika Moutinho and David “Doc” Sands, who finished 29th and 30th respectively.

'He Said/She Said'There are a few reasons why I especially like writing these WPP columns. For one, they generally concern interesting topics and allow a chance to offer some personal opinion/perspective. I also get a kick out of seeing what Jen comes up with, too, as she invariably brings up different points or ideas. There’s also a significant challenge involved, trying to write as though representing the perspective of all men (not really possible, I’d argue, but interesting to try).

Anyhow, if you click over you will find Jen commenting on how she responded to coverage of/response to the Moutinho-Sands story. Then you’ll see me share my response to it (while also talking about covering it), and in fact admitting to some of the biases Jen brings up.

Epic PokerThere are couple of other items I’ve written recently I wanted to pass along. My “Community Cards” column on poker in popular culture continues over on the Epic Poker site. The most recent one, titled “Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man Plays Poker,” concerns that lawsuit against Tobey Maguire being filed by those hoping to recover money he allegedly won off of a Ponzi schemer in that big Hollywood home game.

Betfair PokerAlso, last week over on Betfair Poker I wrote something about the restart of my “Poker in American Film and Culture” course titled “Shuffle Up and Study.” There I talk a bit about the experience of teaching the class as well as how doing so has affected the way I’m seeing poker’s role and significance in the “mainstream.”

Finally, if you’re not completely Shamus-ed out -- or if you are just curious for some more personal stuff -- I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Mary Coopman for the Pondering Poker podcast.

Pondering PokerMary and I had a wide-ranging, fun discussion in which we talked about writing, podcasts (including the still-on-hiatus Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show), the WSOP, Black Friday, my class, and a few other topics. Mary ended up posting the interview in two parts: Part 1 & Part 2.

Like I say, it was a most enjoyable conversation, and while it probably covers a lot more than most would ever want to know about your humble scribbler, I figured there might be a few reading this blog who might be curious.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Was It Just Me?

Earthquake on the east coastWell, I suppose there’s no avoiding placing this post in the category titled “The Rumble.”

Yes, I felt the earthquake yesterday. Was at home working on the laptop, when suddenly it seemed like the couch was weirdly wiggling underneath me. Lasted just a few seconds, but it was long enough for me to get up and look around confusedly.

Not sure what I was looking for, really. I suppose I thought I might see my cat banging around at the end of the couch or something, not that she -- at less than ten pounds -- could ever move such a big piece of furniture like that. I sat back down and returned to my writing, but soon saw the Twitter messages and realized what must have happened.

I ended up checking in with all of my family members yesterday to see if they’d felt the quake as well. And I assume I’ll probably be talking with others today about it, each of us sharing our distinct experiences. There are much more important items, weather-wise, for us all to be concerned about, that hurricane currently heading toward the east coast the most obvious one at the moment. But the uniqueness of the event, an earthquake with an epicenter here on the east coast, necessarily got all of our attentions.

I realized later in the day that one of the more interesting aspects of the whole event was the way most of us initially experienced it individually, then quickly sought out confirmation from others regarding what we had felt. The fact is, many of us had never experienced an earthquake before. (Vera and I have spent time in California, but neither of us could recall ever being there for any sort of earthquake, even a small one.) So it was a natural response, I think, to ask each other what the heck just happened. And perhaps to make a bit more of it than our friends out west laughingly thought was warranted.

Of course, for a lot of us that response followed an initial, more private one. I’m talking about that bit of self-questioning. Or self-doubt, first causing us to ask ourselves “Was it just me?”

Existentialists point out how we all make what we will of our experiences. For many of us, having some sort of corroboration with others about what we believe we are seeing and experiencing is a big part of the way we make that meaning. But it all starts with the self, with the individual.

Poker exemplifies this idea with every single hand. Each player, the dealer, and anyone who happens to be watching experience what happens differently. A kind of “consensus” comes with the awarding of a pot, one might say. And while everyone may, in a sense, come to a kind of additional agreement about the “meaning” of it all -- e.g., judgments about how well or poorly those involved played their hands -- each player ultimately comes away with his or her own idea of what happened, perhaps influenced by others’ ideas, perhaps not.

Not so much ambiguity with an earthquake, though. Funny how a natural phenomenon involving the further rupturing of the planet’s faults -- in other words, a tearing apart -- necessarily serves to bring people together.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Full Tilt Priorities

Full Tilt PrioritiesI sent an email to Full Tilt Poker last week asking about my balance. I did this once before, back in early June. You know, just for grits and shiggles.

The money I have locked up on the site -- a little under three hundy -- is thankfully not too terribly significant, especially when compared to what others have been unable to access for the last four-plus months. Of course, when it comes to a low-stakes guy like me, that amount actually does represent a decent chunk of change. Indeed, it’s a heckuva lot more that I’d generally be willing to lose in a single session.

So, you know, I’d like it back. I mean, when I played there, I didn’t get any percentage of rakeback. But I also didn’t realize the rake was gonna be 100%.

When I sent my email back in June, I received the usual automated reply acknowledging I’d sent something, then later that same day I did get a response from a support person. He told me the site was “diligently working on facilitating the withdrawal of funds for U.S. players” and that “this is our top priority.”

I also got the automated reply to my email sent last week, but no follow-up. Not necessarily expecting one this time.

What has changed since my earlier email exchange with Full Tilt? Well, in late June the site’s license to operate was suspended by the Alderney Gambling Control Commission, from which point we haven’t even been able to open the sucker to say hello to our balances. A late July hearing with the AGCC revealed little other than the fact that FTP owed Alderney some £250,000 in licensing fees, since paid. In early July, Phil Ivey dropped his lawsuit against FTP, but meanwhile a couple of other class action lawsuits have been filed against the site, one on behalf of American players, the other for all players. And a couple of weeks ago we heard the site had laid off its U.S.-based employees.

Then yesterday came another baffling, terse message from the site, delivered as an “exclusive statement” to PokerNews. The sad little message -- less than 200 words -- noted that Pocket Kings Ltd. (“brand executor” for FTP) had concluded the “exclusivity period” of discussions with one potential investor and is now starting to negotiate with others regarding a possible “sale/partnership.” The statement concludes by echoing something the erstwhile “FTPDoug” had said back on May 30 (I think essentially the last time we’ve heard from the much-ridiculed spokesperson aside from a couple of posts in mid-June regarding the site being down):

“Full Tilt Poker's number one priority remains the same: to secure an infusion of capital to repay all of its worldwide customers.”

FTPDoug had mentioned this need for “raising capital” before, something we now all realize is going to have to happen before anyone ever sees his or her funds returned. In other words, while the “top priority” was once simply facilitating withdrawals, it has since become finding a way “to secure an infusion of capital” -- i.e., to find someone willing to pay their debts for them.

All very disappointing, obviously. Kind of makes me think about how the site’s “priorities” have necessarily shifted so markedly over the years -- away from giving players a chance to “learn, chat, and play with the pros” or even to generate revenue and advance the brand to achieving much more grim, even desperate-seeming goals.

Over the weekend Marco of QuadJacks drew my attention to a very intriguing interview with Chris “Jesus” Ferguson from May 13, 2005 on the “Charlie Rose” talk show. In the interview, Ferguson mentions near the end of the segment how he and “a bunch of friends... a bunch of the top players in the world -- me, Howard Lederer, Erik Seidel, Erick Lindgren, Phil Gordon, Phil Ivey, John Juanda, Andy Bloch -- we've all gotten together and we've actually founded a software development company called Tiltware, and we wrote the software for FullTiltPoker.com, which is the fastest-growing online poker site out there.”

Even though Ferguson’s manner is typically understated in the interview, it is hard not to pick up on his enthusiasm when describing Full Tilt, then not even a year in existence. Sad to think how badly the site has turned out, not least of which because of poor decisions apparently made by Ferguson and perhaps by at least some of those friends he mentions. (Incidentally, for a clear-headed discussion of just one such bad decision, see this post from yesterday by Kim of Infinite Edge, “Why Rakeback Hasn’t Added To Anything But a Few People’s Wallets.”)

While I lament not having access to -- or even losing -- my money on Full Tilt Poker, I lament much more the way the site has so significantly damaged both the current state of online poker in the U.S. as well as its prospects going forward. I realize other sites share in the blame here, of course, but it’s FTP and its poorly-placed priorities that are mostly occupying our attention at present.

And like Kim, I can’t help but suspect even yesterday’s statement by Full Tilt identifying their “number one priority” is more than a little disingenuous, with the accomplishing of many other self-interested goals likely ranking more highly for them at present than finding players’ money.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Looking for a Handout

Students receiving handouts in 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High'Today I am readying to begin another semester teaching my “Poker in American Film and Culture” class. I’ve changed some of the readings this time around, although we’re sticking with the same sequence of units I employed back in the spring. We’re also going to focus on the same three films -- The Cincinnati Kid, California Split, and Rounders -- this time, too, although I will again show clips from numerous other movies along the way.

The first time I taught the course I had intended to have a session early on in which we specifically focused on the rules of various games and how to play. Unfortunately, a snow storm wiped out the first week of classes, and I ended up skipping the tutorial. Later on I wished I hadn’t, since my feeling was not everyone in the class was entirely up on how to play the games we were reading about and watching being played in the films.

This time I’ve again scheduled a day for learning how to play four games in particular -- five-card draw, five-card stud, seven-card stud, and hold’em. I’ve created a handout that briefly sketches how to play each game (along with some other info). The handout is hardly comprehensive, and I’ll probably also be pointing the students to some online sites for further explanation of how to play the games.

I am additionally planning to sit the students in a circle and actually deal each of the games as well. They’ll also be reading three chapters from James McManus’ Cowboys Full in which he goes over the historical backgrounds for draw poker, stud poker, and hold’em, respectively. Should be a fun day, I imagine, but also useful insofar as it might clear up some questions some of those who are less familiar with poker might have later on.

How to play poker...Anyhow, I thought I’d share the handout with my readers here and solicit any feedback anyone might have. Our “how to play poker” day won’t be coming up until next week, so I have time to revise the handout further if necessary.

As I say, this is not meant to be a complete outline of all the rules for each variant -- just a general guide for how to play each to be supplemented by our sitting down and playing a few hands of each in class. If you happen to read through it, you’ll see I don’t bring up lowball or Omaha or other types of poker, although I’ll likely mention all of those when we go over the handout in class.

Click on the pic to get to the two-page .pdf. Like I say, any feedback is welcome. Also, everyone please remember that class participation counts towards your final course grade.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

On the Global Poker Index (and Other Ways of Keeping Score)

On the Global Poker Index (and Other Ways of Keeping Score)In Big Deal: A Year as a Professional Poker Player (1990), Anthony Holden memorably noted how “poker may be a branch of psychological warfare, an art form or indeed a way of life -- but it is also merely a game, in which money is simply the means of keeping score.” Kind of a curious statement, really, at once assigning a high level of seriousness to poker while pointing out that it is also just an amusing diversion, a way to pass the time, a game.

Of course, it’s the latter part of the quote -- about the money -- that helps bridge the gap. Sure, poker is just a game. But it’s a game played for money. And the introduction of money explains how something that is “merely” play can also be “a way of life.”

Most would agree that money is indeed a “means of keeping score” in poker. During a given session, only those with more money than what they started with are called “winners,” and those with less are the “losers.” Simple, really.

However, when it comes to tracking winners and losers over periods lasting longer than a single session, it becomes difficult to use money as “the” means of keeping score. Since everyone’s results are only imperfectly known (at best) to others, there’s no way, really, to know who is winning the most or losing the most or to produce any other objective measurement by which to compare players.

Even if we’re restricting ourselves, say, to tournament poker and a comprehensive database like Hendon Mob, that, too, is obviously an imperfect way to keep score. Only winnings are listed there, not buy-ins, so there’s no way to know how much a given player laid out in order to accumulate whatever winnings he or she has listed as part of her entry. Thus do lists like the “All-Time Money List” on Hendon Mob more often start debates rather than settle them (as discussed here back in January).

Global Poker IndexAll of which brings up other means of keeping score, such as the interesting new “Global Poker Index” one finds over on the Epic Poker site. Based on a complicated formula (explained in full here), the GPI purports to rank the top 300 live tourney players in the world over the most recent 36-month period.

Using the Hendon Mob’s results as a resource, the GPI sorts through all players’ results over the last three years, picking out the top three finishes (in qualifying events) from each of the six distinct six-month periods (i.e., at most only 18 results are considered). Each of those results is weighed according to various factors, including buy-in, number of entrants, place finished, and recency or the “aging factor” (i.e., more recent results are given more weight than ones from the first part of the 36-month period). I’m summarizing here -- again, check the full explanation if you’re curious -- but basically what results is a fairly detailed bit of number-crunching of live tourney results to produce a necessarily provocative list of players.

Incidentally, while the GPI is provided by Federated Sports+Gaming and is highlighted on the Epic Poker site, qualification for the Epic Poker League is not connected to the GPI rankings. That is to say, a high GPI ranking is not part of the qualifying criteria for the EPL, although I believe the rankings will be used for seeding purposes for that heads-up tournament the EPL has planned for its third Season One event (in December).

This week's top 10 tourney players according to the GPI are as follows:

1. Jason Mercier
2. Erik Seidel
3. Bertrand Grospellier
4. Eugene Katchalov
5. Fabrice Soulier
6. Samuel Stein
7. Sorel Mizzi
8. Thomas Marchese
9. David "Bakes" Baker
10. John Juanda

While following different criteria -- and only looking at 2011 -- the BLUFF Magazine power rankings also currently have Jason Mercier sitting in the top spot. And in ESPN Poker’s latest installment of “The Nuts,” that monthly poll of 10 poker scribes who vote on poker’s best, Mercier was likewise named the #1 player as of late July. Meanwhile, Card Player’s latest list rates Mercier as fifth in its POY system, with Sam Stein currently out in front.

As someone who enjoys such number-crunching perhaps a little more than your average geek, I find all of these lists intriguing, particularly the new Global Poker Index and the way its formula might be applied to earlier eras. (For instance, see this recent column by Michael Craig discussing how Phil Hellmuth’s GPI ranking has gone up and down and back up again from 1989 to today.) Kind of makes me think of Bill James’ Baseball Abstract and “sabermetrics” and all of the fun stuff he’s done with baseball’s numerous numbers. (Talked some about James some time ago in a post titled -- fittingly -- “Keeping Score.”)

Hard not to be a tad skeptical about any means of keeping score in poker that isn’t unambiguously tied to players’ bottom lines. But as already noted, players’ bottom lines aren’t generally available for the public to peruse. And so such lists do provide us with an amusing diversion, a way to pass the time, a (different sort of) game.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Nickel and Dimin’ It

A nickel ain't worth a dime anymoreThought I’d write a quick little “on the street” post. Those are the ones supposedly about my own play, which for obvious reasons has been scaled back considerably since the spring. I am still playing online some, though, over at Hero Poker where as I’ve mentioned before I have a small amount with which to play.

The last few times I’ve logged in I have actually been playing no-limit hold’em cash rather than my usual PLO, mainly because there are more tables of NLHE going. I guess I’m also being influenced a little by the fact that I’m currently reading that Annie Duke/John Vorhaus book which I talked about Tuesday, a book that seems to focus entirely on no-limit hold’em (and mostly cash games, with just a few bits here and there about tourneys).

Am having to stick with the tiny $10 buy-in tables thanks to my limited bankroll. Have had a few decent sessions here and there but am mostly just treading water. Had one short sequence the other day involving two hands in rapid succession that stood out a little. The first is more interesting than the second, strategy-wise.

It was a full ring game (nine players), and for the first of these two hands I had just about $10 when I found myself in the big blind Jh3d. A middle position player limped, one of those passive sorts who limped in a lot before the flop then called a lot after. It folded all of the way around to me and I checked. The flop came Qs3sJd, giving me bottom two.

I decided to bet 30 cents, more than the pot, in fact. The MP player called. The turn was the 8h, and again I bet, this time 80 cents (slightly less than the pot). Again my opponent called.

The river was a not-so-pretty Th. I checked, and my opponent promptly bet $1.27. On Hero Poker there are buttons to bet 1/2, 2/3, or full pot, and here my opponent had clicked the 1/2 pot button. (There are “2x,” “4x,” and “8x” buttons, too, in fact.)

Probably should fold, right? Well, I was stubborn and called, and was duly punished as my opponent showed Kd9h for the rivered straight.

The amounts are so small I’ll admit I was affected at least a couple of times here. If playing higher stakes, I doubt I would’ve bet so big (relative to the pot) on the flop. And I probably would’ve folded to the river bet, too, which I well knew my passive opponent likely wasn’t making with a hand worse than mine.

That left me with something like $6. (Hero’s hand histories don’t include starting stacks, I’m afraid). The next hand I folded, and watched as an opponent had his A-A cracked by a player rivering a king-high straight with 10-9.

Then on the very next hand I was on the button when a player in early position min-raised to $0.20. I had picked up KcKd, and thinking I’d take advantage of what looked like steaming I reraised big to a dollar. It folded back to my opponent who made it $1.80, and I actually thought to myself how he most likely had aces.

But I was stubborn again, influenced both by the smallness of the stakes and perhaps irrationally by the fact that a player had just had aces the hand before. And maybe I really was steaming a little. Then again, I don’t think I’ve ever folded kings preflop before, anyway, so there was little chance I was doing so here.

So I shoved, he snap-called, and sure enough he had AdAc. A king flopped, actually, but an ace came on the turn and I was forced to rebuy.

The hand made me think of the one from this summer when I’d run kings into aces in that deep stack tourney. It also made me think of one shown this week on ESPN from Day 3 of the WSOP Main Event -- was talking about the coverage yesterday -- in which a player managed to fold his pocket kings before the flop after an opponent four- or five-bet all-in with aces.

Is fun to play, even for tiny stakes. While one always has to allow for the kind of crazy-random play that will sometimes crop up at the micro stakes, that really only constitutes a small percentage of what goes on. Otherwise it is the same sort of good and bad play one finds higher up, with perhaps a bit more of the latter. And even though the smallness of the stakes is likely keeping me from thinking as carefully as I should when making certain decisions, I am nonetheless feeling reasonably challenged to think somewhat seriously about the game.

The fold buttonStill, finding that fold button can be extra difficult sometimes when playing for nickels and dimes.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Watching 2011 WSOP Main Event on ESPN

Shamus watches the WSOPDialed up ESPN’s coverage of the WSOP again yesterday. Last night saw the first of many weeks’ worth of Main Event coverage to lead us up to November, beginning this year with Day 3 rather than bothering with showing anything other than brief shots from the four Day 1s and two Day 2s.

I personally would like to have seen at least some coverage of the first two days, if only to give the sense of a more comprehensive chronicle of the tournament as a whole. Of course, I realize that some folks didn’t care for the many minor subplots and characters often highlighted during the hours devoted to Days 1 and 2. In fact, looking back I see I myself wrote last August that “these Day 1 flights are okay, but not terribly riveting.” (Last year there was an hour each given to the four Day 1s, then two hours each to Day 2a and 2b.) So while I didn’t necessarily want to see Days 1 and 2 passed over entirely, I can understand the decision to do so.

My understanding is there will be four hours (two weeks) devoted to each of Days 3-8 going forward. As I say, they did include a few brief glimpses from the earlier days, including that routine with Phil Hellmuth walking in with a microphone on Day 1c. I happened to have been situated there at the secondary feature table that day, and so wrote up a little something about all of the takes it took to get that bit right.

Again, as I’ve noted before, I didn’t get a chance to see the live coverage back in July, which I’m sure is probably affecting both how some are watching the edited stuff as well as some of the decisions the producers are making regarding what they are choosing to show now.

Speaking of, for those of you who watched -- did it seem like a lot of players got pocket aces last night? Felt like at least a third of the hands shown, perhaps more, involved players with A-A. Would be curious to see just how many were.

Shaun Deeb and Max HeinzelmannOf course, a few of those hands with pocket aces provided some real drama, the most obviously coming in that crazy Max Heinzelmann-Shaun Deeb hand that came up near the end of what was shown last night. During the WSOP I was submitting some “WSOP Hand of the Day” reports over on Betfair poker, and that one -- in which Heinzelmann six-bet shoved A-6 into Deeb’s A-A -- was the easy choice for my Day 3 HOTD.

There were other semi-interesting moments, as far as the poker went. I enjoyed the hand early on in which Jean-Robert Bellande got river-bluffed by Sarah Bilney (if I remember her name correctly). Before that came that Brad Garrett double-up -- in which we caught a glimpse of our buddy Kevmath standing nearby -- was interesting as well, given how Garrett so cruelly slowrolled his opponent.

Overall, though, the whole show felt a little chaotic, even with the focus primarily being upon the two feature tables. I mentioned something along these lines last week, but there’s a difference with the overall look of the show this year that is kind of making it difficult for me to engage as thoroughly. I think it has to do not only with how it is being edited and packaged, but the shots and even the quality of the video recording.

Many shots, even at the feature tables, seem to have players in the foreground obstructing our view of those involved in the hands. And I think there’s something different about the way the shows are being recorded -- frame rate? -- that is lending them a look that more resembles what I can only describe as what you’d get with a camcorder as opposed to the “film”-like look we’ve seen in the past. (Perhaps someone with knowledge regarding commonly-employed options for video these days could describe the difference more clearly and accurately than I can.)

Again, as I said last week, I realize ESPN employed a different production team this time around and I don’t really want to be too critical. I’ve tended to enjoy pretty much all aspects of ESPN’s WSOP coverage in the past, and so realize that I’m probably going to need time to get used to any differences, both in the way the show looks and how it is put together.

Strangely enough, these edited shows really seem more like a live show than did past coverage. Which may well be intended, I don’t know. Those of you who are watching, what are your thoughts?

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Limpede

Don't rock the boatI’ve begun reading Annie Duke and John Vorhaus’ new strategy text, Decide to Play Great Poker. Have completed the first of the book’s three parts, the one dealing with “Pre-Game and Pre-Flop Play.” Next up (“Play on the Flop”) is a lengthy part full of chapters concerning how to proceed following various flops/scenarios. Then comes the final part (“The Rest of It”) which looks like it focuses on some river situations and “Other Matters” including reviewing some additional concepts plus a last chapter on bankroll management.

There’s a term used in the first part, one I believe Vorhaus employed in his earlier Killer Poker books though I don’t know who deserves credit for coining it. Kind of sounds like a Tommy Angelo-type neologism, in fact, although like I say I’m not sure where it originated.

The term is “limpede” and refers to that scenario that sometimes occurs in no-limit hold’em in which a player limps in from early or middle position, thereby encouraging others to limp behind as well, thus creating a stampede of limpers or a “limpede.”

It’s a funny-sounding word. The sound of the word -- as well as the behavior to which it refers -- kind of makes me think of “lemmings,” too. And the scenario to which it refers is common enough that it probably represents a concept worth knowing about.

It does happen. Limping up front will sometimes encourage limpers all around. And I suppose you might say that whenever you have a bunch of limpers seeing a flop, any hand is likely to be “run over” by the herd. (Thus is limping with a premium hand up front generally not recommended.) Of course, sometimes amid all the limping it will happen that a player -- having been dealt a real hand and/or correctly sensing weakness all around -- will instead raise and (often) scatter the lot.

Been thinking further about this idea of the “limpede” and how it applies outside of poker. Kind of recalls those terrible stories from introductory psychology about the so-called “bystander effect.” You remember those? A violent crime is committed with numerous witnesses, yet no one intervenes or calls the police, the presence of others (also passively resisting any action) weirdly keeping everyone from acting.

We the sheepleJoining the “limpede” could be said to satisfy many desires -- to “play along” or participate in a non-conspicuous way, to avoid upsetting the status quo, to belong. Can be a powerful, highly influential force, as readily evidenced in politics and government, the business world, and elsewhere.

In other words, it’s hard sometimes for us to resist the urge just to follow along. But we must. Or rather, I must. You can do whatever.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Words With Friends

Words With FriendsFollowed with interest the conclusion of the first Epic Poker League Main Event that ended early Saturday morning with David “Chino” Rheem the winner. Also noted, of course, the 2+2 thread and all of the hullaballoo on Twitter and elsewhere regarding Rheem’s many outstanding debts, the obvious joke being his $1 million score had many lining up to meet him at the cashier’s cage.

Rheem’s victory came amid further revelations having to do with that other big story in poker from last week, one that also involved the issue of players trusting one another and getting burned. I’m talking of course about the “Girah” scandal involving Jose Macedo, Haseeb Qureshi, Dan Cates, and others. More has come out regarding that one, particularly with regard to Cates’ involvement and culpability, enough to warrant a revised and expanded “Cliffs notes” post over on 2+2.

At some point last week -- after I’d posted my bit about the “Girah” scandal on Thursday -- I was talking with a friend about it who commented on how incredibly naïve and/or gullible Macedo’s “friends” had to be to get hoodwinked into that whole Skype scam.

I’m talking about the part of the scandal where Macedo persuaded others in his “strategy group” to play a couple of unknowns whom he characterized as fish. Somehow Macedo additionally convinced these others to allow him to view their sessions as they played, using TeamViewer, a desktop sharing tool. His “friends” ended up losing to the fish, and later it was revealed Macedo was either relaying information about his strategy group’s buddies’ hole cards to the “fish” -- or perhaps was even playing those two accounts himself.

My friend and I were chatting about this -- over Skype, in fact -- when he joked that he knew some “aggro fish” who were looking for heads-up action, facetiously asking me to play while he watched. “It boggles the mind,” he said, to think how these guys would allow Macedo -- a person they’d never even met face-to-face -- talk them into playing the unknowns while he watched.

“I don't let anyone look over my shoulder when I play Words With Friends,” was my response.

More naïvety, gullibility, and other ethically-dubious behavior is on display in Cates’ lengthy interview on Subject:Poker that appeared on Friday. There Cates reveals himself to have made numerous bad decisions over recent months, another one seeming to have been his agreeing to give the interview in the first place. Cates -- whom it should be noted is still only 21 years old -- can’t seem to give a straight answer to any question put to him, contradicting himself and even calling back to admit to lying (repeatedly) about having multi-accounted.

All of this drama over “Girah” and Rheem got me thinking further about the value of a person’s word and how such is often said to be of special importance in the poker world. Many poker players -- especially those who’ve been part of the scene for a long time -- speak of the value of a person’s word as in fact being higher in the poker world than outside of it, the frequency of verbal agreements involving money (such as the many Rheem has been accused of failing to honor) a testament to that difference.

There’s something almost counterintuitive about it, really. That poker -- a game based on lying, or at least misrepresenting oneself in ways that serve one’s self-interest -- would be a realm in which people could trust one another more readily than elsewhere. But many insist that is the case, citing the “gambler’s code” and pointing out how stories such as the ones surrounding Rheem and the “Girah” group are noteworthy because of their uniqueness.

Speaking of, Noah Stephens-Davidowitz (who along with Vanessa Selbst conducted the Cates interview for S:P) wrote an interesting post on his personal blog last week titled “The Vouching System Sucks” in which he decries the way many in the poker community overvalue each other’s “word,” particularly when given as a recommendation to trust a third party. And Zimba over on CardRunners added some thoughtful advice last week as well regarding “Protecting Yourself From Cheating.”

“Poker is no different from any sport, business or life situation,” writes Zimba in his post, explaining how one will certainly encounter others failing to honor their word in poker just as one will elsewhere. I tend to agree. While recognizing the uniqueness of the culture of poker -- where the collective pressure to honor one’s word perhaps operates differently than it does outside of poker -- it’s obvious that when it comes to taking a person’s word, you still gotta know with whom you’re dealing.

That is to say, in poker or elsewhere, know who your friends are. And value their words accordingly.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Beyond Repair

'I must have gotten too close to it at one point with the mower, thereby hurtling a rock about 15 feet or so in the car’s direction...'Yesterday I mowed our lawn. As I did, the air turned cool and the sky dark. Moments after I’d finished we were hit by one of those late afternoon showers that’ll often happen during the summer months. I went inside to do a little work, then when the weather cleared I got in the car to take a short drive over to the grocery to pick up something for dinner.

I was nearly at the store when I heard a weird crunching sound coming from behind my head. Took a quick peek back as I turned into the parking lot and noticed the small back window on the left-hand side in back had been shattered. Not the big one that can be rolled down, but the little triangular one behind it.

Took me approximately one second to realize what had to have happened. We have a gravel drive, and I must have gotten too close to it at one point with the mower, thereby hurtling a rock about 15 feet or so in the car’s direction and breaking the glass.

The shamus in me did note there didn’t seem to be any water inside the back seat along with the many irregularly-shaped pieces of greenish-edged, tempered glass. But actually only about half the small window had landed in the seat there, meaning the opening was hardly big enough to allow much water in anyway.

Shattered glassFeeling sheepish, I drove to the far side of the lot and parked with the broken window facing away from the store. Got out and spent a short while examining the damage there, then after returning home spent some time clearing out the remaining glass and disposing of it, then fastening a plastic bag in the space.

The car is an old 1998 Saturn. Has about a million miles on it. And has been through it all. The power windows are only partially functional, and the locks don’t really work, either. We routinely travel with jugs of coolant as from time to time it’ll overheat. Additionally, the car still bears scars from having been rudely sideswiped once while parked on the street. Had to replace driver’s side mirror after that, I recall. In fact, I believe the car was technically totaled following that incident, the cost of repair (with which we never bothered) exceeding the vehicle’s worth.

The Saturn has long been demoted to second-car status. Really third-car, as we have an old diesel Ford truck available to use that’ll surely outlast it. So while I wasn’t thrilled to see what I’d done to the window, I was hardly broken up about it (pun intended).

Pocket FivesLater on yesterday evening I listened to Adam Small, co-founder of Pocket Fives, be interviewed over on QuadJacks. I used to listen to the Pocket Fives podcast (which Small co-hosted) quite regularly, and was intrigued to hear him narrate his experiences with online poker and P5s (which launched in January 2005). (They’ve already archived the conversation over there at QuadJacks, if you’re curious.)

Most interesting were his comments about the whole affiliate/rakeback model and all of the problems that (in his view) were caused by many sites’ poor decisions regarding it. As we all know now, there were a host of serious problems/issues with online poker in the U.S. dating back to the industry’s earliest days, all of which together helped cause the wreck it’s become today.

Small also talked about how he and his colleagues had thought about selling Pocket Fives shortly after the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 was signed into law. “We were kind of at time uncomfortable with the direction the industry was going and our place in it,” he said. They did end up selling the site to PokerSourceOnline (or Protos Marketing) in 2007, I believe, though it was a long-term payment plan and Small ended up moving to Costa Rica to work with Protos, meaning he was never completely separated from P5s.

Then came Black Friday, after which it was decided that Protos would stop with the payments and just give P5s back to its original owners. Then, about a week ago, P5s finally announced it was no longer going to advertise traditional (i.e., rakeback-based) U.S.-facing sites. Commenting on that latter decision, Small noted how significantly the situation for online poker in the U.S. has changed over recent years.

“It’s gone gradually -- with a few big hits -- from a situation where five or six years ago everyone felt extremely confident about putting money into and taking money out of poker sites... [to] nowadays, in the U.S. at least, it’s a very uncomfortable process for most people to go through....”

StopgapAs Small spoke, I found myself thinking about the Saturn. I thought about how, like when it was sideswiped a couple of years ago, we might not even bother to repair that window. I suppose we’ll probably at least find out what it would cost to do so, but I’m guessing when we do we’ll likely decide it’s too much.

In other words, we’ll keep driving the thing. But we ain’t fixing it anymore. No, when the time comes, it’ll have to be replaced altogether with something new.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

On the “Girah” Saga; or, Online Poker Tied Up in a Knot

José “Girah” MacedoSpent a little time this morning rooting around over on Two Plus Two and elsewhere, getting somewhat caught up on this “Girah” saga that appears to involve just about every form of cheating one can imagine in online poker, including multi-accounting, collusion, chip-dumping, and hole-card viewing. The story also features a lot of other examples of ethically suspect behavior, most of which appearing to involve the fabrication of identities online (both for playing poker and for other forms of interaction, including forum posting).

For those with an interest in learning more about it all, the “Cliff notes” post over on 2+2 is a good place to start. There you’ll find a readable synopsis that also links out to many other sources for the sordid tale’s various characters and episodes. Might also dial up the most recent episode of the Two Plus Two Pokercast (episode 184), where they talk a lot about the story as well as interview both Ben “sauce123” Sulsky and “King” Dan Smith about it.

I had started to write a post attempting to cover all the various ins and outs, but after fussing with how best to present the tale’s complicated twists and turns I realized I only had a few substantive observations to add. So rather than clutter the air with another (necessarily incomplete) account of what appears to have been going on over the last seven months or so with this José “Girah” Macedo character (pictured above), I’ll just fire off three observations about it before moving along.

The first concerns one of those involved, Haseeb Qureshi (a.k.a., “DogIsHead” or “INTERNETPOKERS”), loser of that crazy running prop bet with Ashton Griffin earlier this year and recently let go by CardRunners as an instructor.

One “WTF” moment among the many that crop up in this story comes amid Haseeb Qureshi’s BLUFF interview, posted late yesterday. In the interview -- after Qureshi has admitted to multi-accounting, chip dumping, posting multiple times under a different name on Two Plus Two, and getting caught in a lie about being Macedo’s “agent” -- Qureshi is asked a question about Macedo’s original story, the one suggesting the 18-year-old had won more than $1.6 million in a remarkably short stretch even though those results were never corroborated anywhere.

Qureshi (and others, among them Dan “jungleman12” Cates) had maintained in the forums that Macedo’s results were legit, though now that seems likely not to have been the case. Qureshi is asked why he insisted Macedo’s results were genuine without there being any evidence to support that claim.

He “believed them,” Qureshi says, “because people faking results is such a ridiculously rare thing in the poker world. I would never suspect that someone would do anything like that unless they were a massive con artist, which I obviously didn’t imagine.”

So-called results posted by the 'so-called Portuguese poker prodigy'Faking results in poker “ridiculously rare”? Probably more accurate to say it’s rare for players not to misrepresent their results. (That graph to the left is one that Macedo -- and/or Qureshi, actually, who says he helped Macedo with the post -- shared early on to show his results, a screenshot that omitted reference to screennames or sites.)

And, it goes without saying, Qureshi himself has many times over shown a readiness to misrepresent, lie, obfuscate, fake, what have you. How does Qureshi himself believe such a statement, let alone expect others to do so?

What is rare, I suppose, is for players to get away with faking results in their online play, particularly in the high-stakes games that are mostly (though not always) tracked by external sites. That leads to my second observation, which is simply to express amazement at how many appear to have been duped by the story of the “Portuguese poker prodigy.”

Lock Poker gave him a sponsorship. Brandon Adams tried to hire him as an instructor at his new Expert Insight website. And numerous other high-profile pros and posters -- not to mention all of the poker media reporting on his dazzling yet undocumented rise to the highest-stakes games -- readily bought in as well.

Sure, in some ways the story resembled that of Isildur1, Cates, and others. And all the various “vouching” going on by others with regard to Macedo played a significant role here as well. But without screen names or any confirmation of accounts played by Macedo, how does it happen that so many accepted his story as legitimate?

Interestingly, it seems as though the great majority of interactions with Macedo took place over Skype or via other online methods of communication -- i.e., there was little face-to-face contact with him by anyone involved, including his most vocal endorsers. Thus does this story demonstrate how the “virtual” world of online communication provides ready opportunities for the creation of personas as well as the potential to build elaborate fictions that are plausible enough to be regarded as fact.

My third observation is simply to reiterate a point already made by others with regard to the “Girah” saga. Without regulation, online poker will certainly continue to attract scammers and others looking to take advantage of a still highly vulnerable environment for financial transactions. Even with regulation, attempts by some to cheat and/or angle-shoot will (unfortunately) remain “part of the game,” although one would hope the chances of their getting away with such would be reduced.

The story made me wonder what exactly “girah” meant, and so I looked it up. Used to refer to a unit of measurement (in India and Pakistan), though with the metric system it is no longer used. Can also refer to a short passage that has been inserted into a song, often an allusion to another song (a kind of “sampling,” one could say).

But apparently the word also literally means “knot,” which I guess would be the most appropriate reference here. A lot of untangling yet to be done with regard to the “Girah” story.

Also a good way to refer to online poker, generally speaking, circa summer 2011. One big messy knot.

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