Tuesday, July 31, 2012

PokerStars Standing Tall in the Saddle

'Tall in the Saddle' (1944)In the last couple of posts I’ve been making references to the “wild West” days of online poker, which got me in the mood to watch an old Western. Ended up looking at the old John Wayne title Tall in the Saddle -- a film that actually includes a neat poker scene -- and had in fact written up a post about it to share here.

Gonna save that, though, because like everyone else, my attention has suddenly been taken up with the just-breaking news that an agreement between PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and the U.S. Department of Justice has at last been finalized.

For a good summary of the news, check out Diamond Flush’s blog post “PokerStars Acquires Full Tilt Poker’s Assets, DOJ Agreement Complete.”

There she outlines how FTP is forfeiting whatever it has left to the government, while PokerStars is also paying a $547 million settlement. In return, civil forfeiture claims and money laundering charges against both sites are being dismissed, although other criminal charges will remain unresolved.

She also explains how PokerStars will make it possible for non-U.S. Full Tilt Poker players to withdraw their FTP balances within 90 days. Meanwhile we Yanks who had money on FTP will be able to file a petition with the DOJ to get our money back.

Also of note, Isai Scheinberg (named in the original Black Friday indictment) will no longer be involved in running PokerStars. Additionally, neither Stars nor FTP will be allowed to offer real money poker in the U.S. until the law allows for such. In other words, the door isn’t completely closed to a return of either or both sites to the U.S., although obviously much would have to change legislatively for that to happen.

PokerStars settles with DOJEric Hollreiser, Head of Corporate Communications at PokerStars, has issued a statement about the agreement over on the PokerStars blog. Hollreiser explains Stars’ plan to repay players as well as its intention reopen Full Tilt Poker and operate it as a separate brand (outside the U.S., natch). Wild stuff.

Full Tilt Poker also issued a press release which you can find in various places, including Diamond Flush’s blog. The FTP statement adds nothing new other than apologies to customers and expressions of appreciation to loyal employees.

The DOJ has sent out a press release as well. There we also see spelled out how Stars will be paying the $184 million or so owed to non-U.S. FTP players and how U.S. players will be paid back in part from that $547 million Stars is shelling out to the DOJ. (In other words, Stars is covering FTP’s entire tab here.)

Aside from reiterating the wrongs done by those indicted and charged in the civil complaint -- and the DOJ’s earnest desire to enforce U.S. laws -- the DOJ’s statement also includes a few other particulars. Stars can’t ever hire Ray Bitar, Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, Rafe Furst, or Nelson Burtnick (like they would). A motion has been filed for Absolute Poker/UltimateBet to forfeit their assets, too. And in the DOJ’s statement there appears a lengthy reiteration of the sites’ various crimes is spelled out as well.

Also worth a look, Lee Jones has posted an FAQ over at Two Plus Two answering questions about the agreement and providing further specifics about what is to come.

As I was saying yesterday, the whole idea of PokerStars acquiring Full Tilt Poker -- and now actually running it as a separate brand -- is kind of mind-blowing. Was utterly unimaginable pre-Black Friday, and really for the year that followed almost no one even speculated something like this could happen.

However, like a hand that has gone to showdown it is now perhaps possible to begin to decipher a certain logic behind the players’ decisions. Such will be the “game” that will occupy a lot of us as we await the return of funds. And as we continue to hope for the eventual return of the game, too.

John Wayne in 'Tall in the Saddle' (1944)Funny... in that post about Tall in the Saddle I talk about how John Wayne’s character -- like happens a lot in those old Westerns -- finds it necessary to enforce the law himself when the official means of keeping order have broken down.

Almost seems like PokerStars is here playing a similar role, perhaps having come to it with a backstory of having been “reformed” (so to speak) and now working for the cause of good. (Not that Stars believes it was formerly the outlaw the DOJ painted it to be.)

Like I say, we’ll have plenty of time to figure out how to identify and judge all of the good guys and bad guys here. Meanwhile I’ll be grabbing another bag of popcorn, as this story has taken a most exciting turn.

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Reporting from the Echo Chamber

Norman Rockwell, 'The Gossip' (1948)Like you, I was occasionally distracted over the weekend by all the murmurs regarding that apparent deal involving PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and the U.S. Department of Justice. You know, the one we first heard some rumblings about back in April, though still hadn’t received much in the way of specifics.

The thought then was that Stars might be negotiating its way through some sort of settlement with the DOJ, with a Full Tilt Poker pick-up by Stars being somehow included as part of the agreement. And, of course, the idea that FTP players somehow might be getting their balances refunded as part of the process is what excited the interest of most regarding such a deal.

A statement from Eric Hollreiser, Head of Corporate Communications at PokerStars, acknowledged at the time that “settlement discussions” were ongoing but offered nothing more, and despite all the hubbub the story was mostly set aside over the next couple of months as the poker world’s attention became occupied by the WSOP.

I remember at the time thinking how strange it all sounded. Some of those analyzing motives and speculating about logistics helped make such a deal seem like more of a possibility, but it still was pretty weird to imagine.

On Friday I was writing a little about how things were “back in the day” as far as online poker in the U.S. was concerned, referring to that “wild West” era that had begun before the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and essentially extended afterwards right up until Black Friday.

It was during the period bookended by those two legislative actions -- the signing of the UIGEA by President George W. Bush (10/13/06) and the unsealing of the indictment and civil complaint (4/15/11) -- that Stars and FTP became the two “superpowers” of online poker. The two sites had become the equivalent of Coca-Cola and Pepsi, co-existing as rivals that in many ways seemed to define themselves against one another, thus making the idea of one actually acquiring the other seem especially odd to contemplate.

The Stars-FTP-DOJ settlement story got revived over the weekend when Wendeen Eolis published a teaser on Friday on the Poker Player Newspaper site saying her “consistently impeccable source” had assured her that negotiations between Stars and the DOJ regarding FTP were “in the can.”

Several other sites in this echo chamber that is contemporary “poker news” quickly reported on Eolis’s report, in some cases responding and/or offering up promises of their own still-to-come articles in which they will once and for all be “breaking” the story.

Then this morning Eolis herself responded to some of those responses in a follow-up article in which the author’s name appears in the title (“Eolis Responds...”), an indication of how some of these articles appear as much about those writing them as they are about the story being reported.

Kind of reminds me of a poker hand that is still ongoing in which a few players remain (Stars, the DOJ, Full Tilt) while a number of others at the table have partial knowledge of what’s to come. You know, like in pot-limit Omaha when there are three hearts on the board and you’ve folded the Ah, then you see a player boldly raising on the river as though he has the ace-high flush when you know he cannot. You know something about what is going on -- and more than others do -- but not the whole story.

Of course, the analogy really doesn’t work since in truth there are only a couple of players in this game -- PokerStars and the DOJ -- while a third (FTP) has been all in for a long while and is just waiting to see how the actions of the other two will affect the outcome.

Is a “showdown” imminent? Perhaps so. In any event, if it does happen and we finally get to see some cards, that’s when the real analysis can begin.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Black Friday Defendants Behind Bars

Black Friday Defendants Behind BarsAmong the poker-related headlines this week were some reporting the sentencing of two of the “Black Friday” defendants -- Brent Beckley, who headed up payments at Absolute Poker, and Ira Rubin, a payment processor who worked with all three of the targeted sites (PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and AP/UltimateBet).

The pair were co-defendants, with their method of working together spelled out in court during the course of their trial. In his role with AP, Beckley would identify third-party guys like Rubin who could facilitate the moving of money back and forth between players and the site. Rubin, of course, created all of those phony-baloney websites to help falsify to banks and other institutions the true nature of the transactions.

Earlier in the week, Beckley was given a 14-month sentence and ordered to pay $300,000. He was apparently given some leniency for complying with prosecutors from the get-go.

A couple of weeks ago, Haley Hintze explained Beckley’s situation and some of the reasons why he might avoid longer sentencing in a post for Kick Ass Poker. Hintze also shares the interesting brief filed by Arlo Devlin-Brown on behalf of the DOJ outlining to U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan reasons why Beckley’s punishment shouldn’t exceed that which was recommended by the applicable guidelines.

Meanwhile in Rubin’s case it sounds like the payment processor earned scant sympathy in court, with his long history of criminal charges stretching back several decades stacking up against him. For the curious, Diamond Flush has compiled an interesting mini-bio of Rubin detailing his life of crime.

When handing down Rubin’s punishment yesterday, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan characterized Rubin as “an unreformed con man and fraudster,” actually giving him a longer sentence than the 18-24 months recommended by both prosecutors and Rubin’s attorney. Rather, in addition to being ordered to forfeit $5 million, Rubin was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. He’s already been in jail for 15 months, which will count as time served.

Hard not to read stories about the fates of some of these Black Friday folks with a certain ambivalence.

They broke laws, they surrendered and pleaded guilty, they got punished. Yes, they helped herald what has become a new era of online poker in the United States, a dark age that continues to the present and looks like will extend at least several months further, if not longer. But it’s not as though what happens to these guys now has a heckuva lot to do with those of us who once played on the targeted sites. Not specifically, anyway.

The headlines do matter, especially when they arrive as non-specific references to people being jailed for online poker. Sort of thing tends to further all of those associations between online poker and criminal behavior already well established in the minds of many. That is to say, all that’s happening now will have at least some influence on what’s to come, as far as online poker in the U.S. is concerned.

For various reasons we’ll all be a little more curious to see what happens with Full Tilt Poker CEO Ray Bitar, another one of those originally named in the Black Friday indictment who had a host of additional charges levied against him in the amended civil complaint last September.

Bitar finally came to the U.S. to give himself up earlier this month, pleaded not guilty, and has posted bail. Interestingly, Judge Kaplan -- who in general hasn’t been too receptive to the Black Friday defendants who have come before him -- recused himself from Bitar’s trial since Bitar is being represented by the law firm for which Kaplan once worked.

Bitar’s trial may clue us all in a little more about what happened to our still missing FTP money, thus increasing its apparent relevance to us.

'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly' (1966)And while finding out as much as we can about what transpired during the initial “wild West” period of online poker is important, it’s already starting to feel like that era is slipping further and further away.

Some of us will continue to remember what it was like “back in the day,” though. And how just like with the real wild West there was a lot that was good, plenty that was bad, and more ugly than most of us ever imagined.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Let the Games Begin

2012 London Summer Olympics playing cardsThe 2012 Summer Olympics are getting started in and around London. I expect I’ll be as diverted by them as anyone over the next two-and-a-half weeks.

Once again the start of the Olympics are bringing those odd, sorta-serious sorta-goofball calls for poker somehow to be considered for inclusion as an officially recognized Olympic “sport.”

PokerListings made reference to a failed petition yesterday in their Daily 3-Bet. The Ante Up guys also tossed up an op-ed a couple of days ago renewing the call for poker to be considered for inclusion in the Olympics.

I’ve been keeping this blog long enough to have seen this idea come up a few times by now. Heck, four years ago I was making reference here to the start of the 2008 games and that same silly suggestion to include poker as an Olympic sport.

I’ve discussed that old debate over poker being considered a “sport” several times in the past as well. For me, I’ve always come down on the side that says poker is not a sport though obviously shares some common ground, including a lot of overlap between the way poker tourneys and sporting events get covered.

To me poker is better referred to as a “game” than a “sport.” And even though they do call them the Olympic games, if one looks at the International Olympic Committee’s evaluation criteria for sports and disciplines, poker satisfies almost none of them.

Of course, there are those who have problems with calling poker a “game,” too. Not long ago on my Twitter feed I idly watched a strangely heated debate begun by a person referring to poker as “just a game” and another jumping in to gripe about how the phrase somehow demeaned his chosen profession.

The original tweeter was simply trying to point out poker’s relevance when compared to other, more serious matters, but the responder thought it needful to defend poker as more than “just a game.”

I suppose the issue isn’t so much calling poker a game (which it is), but referring to it as just a game, when it also can represent a lot else, depending on one’s perspective. After all, the fact that poker can mean so many different things to different people is one of its greatest attributes. And a reason why so many find poker a worthwhile activity.

Or hobby. Or pastime. Or pursuit. Or whatever you think poker is.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

More on the Travails of Live Tournament Poker

Mickey 'Mement_Mori' Petersen at 2012 EPT Copenhagen (photo: PokerStars blog)Was directed via Twitter this morning to an interesting blog post by PokerStars Team Online member Mickey “Mement_Mori” Petersen, one titled “My WSOP and why live tournaments are not THAT great.” I think it was Kevmath’s retweeting about it that led me to read the post.

There were a few reasons why I clicked through when invited. Petersen only recently started his blog, but I had read a couple of his earlier posts and so know he’s a good writer and thinker. I’ve also covered Petersen in many tournaments, both online and live, and so thought from the title he might be offering something interesting about how live tourneys differ from online.

I had another thought in mind, though, as began reading. I was remembering this summer’s WSOP and covering one event in which Petersen had played. Like many players, Petersen had an iPad with him and was occasionally checking it between hands.

Kind of amazing, actually, to walk through a tournament these days and notice just how many players have iPads at the tables. It is not a new phenomenon by any means. In fact, that picture below is one taken by B.J. Nemeth from the 2010 WSOP, a shot of Andy Bloch checking his iPad... and reading an article about how he uses an iPad at the poker table (!).

Now, though, there are times when it seems like more players have iPads (and smart phones) than don’t.

Andy Bloch checking his iPad at the 2010 WSOP (photo by B.J. Nemeth)At this year’s WSOP, many of those with iPads seemed to be mostly checking Twitter or Facebook, or playing games such as Words With Friends. Others had the PokerNews site up, which was always kind of intriguing (and a little uncanny) to see whenever I had just posted a hand about them. And a few were watching television programs or movies they had downloaded.

In fact, I remember back in May at LAPT Uruguay seeing a player actually playing on PokerStars on his iPad (something I never saw at the WSOP, natch). To someone who doesn’t constantly grind these suckers full time, it can seem a little odd to witness players not really paying attention to the tournaments in which they are participating.

All of which is to say seeing Petersen check his iPad at the table wasn’t all that unusual. But I also recall passing by his table once to see him having put the iPad away and having gotten out a book to read -- an actual hardback book. I remember being kind of struck by the sight of what seemed an artifact of an earlier age. I was also curious to know what he might be reading, although never did find out.

Anyhow, coupled with Petersen’s identity as an “online pro,” that memory made me think perhaps Petersen’s blog post might focus on the tedium of live play. But in fact that isn’t his topic at all. Rather Petersen is concentrating more on the overall profitability of live tourney play, kind of dovetailing on that “ROI at the WSOP” discussion I posted about at the end of last week.

I’ll let you read Petersen’s post for full details, but to summarize, he points out how despite a couple of deep runs in events and results that might suggest a successful summer, his buy-ins did ultimately exceed his cashes.

Petersen also includes an interesting chart in his post tracking his live tourney net profits over the three years he’s been playing in them (143 tourneys total). While he’s been an overall winner (thanks largely to a big cash from his EPT Copenhagen win earlier this year), the chart helps underscore his observation about live tourneys “that relying on them as your sole source of income has an extremely high chance of failing.”

Dan Harrington on the cover of 'CardPlayer' (Vol. 20, No. 24, December 11, 2007)The discussion reminds me a lot of Dan Harrington’s interview in CardPlayer from December 2007 in which he likewise stated in blunt terms that “I don’t think you can consider playing tournaments for a living” and that “the reality in [tournament] poker is that only one or two in every 100 players will make any real money at it.” (Here’s that interview, now hidden behind a paywall at CP.)

I remember Harrington’s interview raising some eyebrows, appearing as it did at a time when his three Harrington on Hold’em tourney strategy books (released from 2004 to 2006) were at the peak of their popularity. Much like Harrington did before, Petersen smartly cuts through the “HUGE misconception about how profitable [tourneys] are,” correctly pointing out “how the media romanti[ci]zes them” by focusing on winnings and ignoring expenses.

I think a lot of players tend to ignore these realities, too, getting caught up in the romance of chasing that one big score that will finally (permanently?) put them into the black. Kind of analogous to being at the tables with the iPads or smart phones or other distractions, which in some cases might cause players not to be fully mindful of what is actually going on.

Like I say, check out Petersen’s thoughtful post for an updated consideration of the realities of live tournament poker.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tar Heel Poker

Tar Heel PokerI began this blog by identifying myself as an online poker player, something I continue to do in that header up top even though my online play has been reduced dramatically over the last 15 months since Black Friday.

One reason why I identified as an online player was because, well, live poker was not really an option here in North Carolina. Not legally, anyhow.

The only casino in the state is Harrah’s Cherokee, located way the hell over in the mountains near the Tennessee border. It opened in 1997, although the only poker offered for many years was of the video poker variety.

A few years back PokerTek, makers of electronic poker tables, struck a deal with Harrah’s Cherokee to place a few of its tables on the casino floor. PokerTek just happens to be located here in North Carolina as well, in Matthews (close to Charlotte).

Just last month five more PokerTek tables were added at Cherokee, bringing the overall number to 15. While I have never played them, my understanding is most of the tables are of the NLHE variety ($1/$2 and $2/$5). There’s also an LHE one ($3/$6, I think), and they sometimes have Omaha, too.

In other Cherokee news, the governor, Bev Purdue, signed a compact with the tribe back in November 2011 to allow for live table games. At the time I was a bit cynical about it all, knowing that legislators would still have to agree to allow for live poker to be spread. But in May such legislation was passed, and on June 13 the governor signed into law permission for live table games.

Immediately came reports of a plan to start offering games by the Fourth of July weekend, although that didn’t happen. I called over this morning and learned that as of right now they are targeting next month (August) as a start date for offering live poker.

Also of note, yesterday the new WSOP Circuit schedule was announced, with Cherokee included among the 20 stops -- the most ever for the tour. The WSOP-C Cherokee event will happen in April 2013.

Have to say this is all very interesting to follow, and I imagine if I don’t get there beforehand, I may have to get out to Cherokee next spring to get a look at what’s happening.

I’m also intrigued about PokerTek, mainly because it is located so close to me. There was an article in the paper just the other day about the company, which apparently has struggled since its founding in 2003 but currently is doing okay supplying tables to cruise ships and casinos, including in the U.S. and France. Last year they started making blackjack tables, and have plans for baccarat.

In other words, while for a long time I’ve mostly thought of poker as something that essentially happens elsewhere, I might just have to start paying more attention to Tar Heel poker.

Meanwhile, I wonder if I could swing a field trip to Cherokee for my Poker in American Film and Culture class...?

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Home Game Hijinks

PokerStars Home GamesHad some fun last night hosting a PokerStars “Home Game” (for play money, natch). Got 15 players to join an 8-game mix tourney I humbly dubbed the “Poker Players Championship.” Also started a “second chance” no-limit hold’em tourney that got almost as many runners and provided some additional grins as well.

Kevmath took down the HBP PPC, outlasting Grange95 and Gambit (who also “cashed”). And Gambit won the second chance event, with insider66 taking second and Merchdawg third.

The 8-game tourney I created had five-minute levels and 3,000 starting chips, and with 15 players it ended up lasting a little over two-and-a-half hours. Meanwhile, the second chance NLHE tourney had three-minute levels and 3,000 to start, and lasted just under an hour.

Had fun during the 8-game event occasionally tossing out faux announcements when games were changing, e.g., “We are now switching the game to 600/1200 Mumbletypeg.” At one point Kevmath asked if Cat’s Cradle could be included, to which I evoked a strict rule -- no string games.

By the way, we also all made sure to ask Kevmath for links to the live stream. And when the reentry period ended.

I’m thinking it might be fun to establish a regular Sunday night game with a main tourney going off at 20:00 ET and a “second chance” one at 21:00 ET. That time frame seems to work for both east and west coasters (although perhaps not so much for our friends in Europe and elsewhere).

Perhaps I can rotate the games for both, with the main tourney always featuring a slower structure than the second chance one, and a goal for both to get done by 10 or 10:30 p.m. ET. Of course, if we get a lot of players it will necessarily take longer to complete, but I’ll try to monitor that (and adjust) as we go.

I’ll start a new “season” of tourneys this week, too, and post the standings here as it unfolds. Gonna ponder a little further on it over the next few days and then announce a schedule. Perhaps I can come up with a prize or three for those who come out on top at season’s end, too.

Hard-Boiled Poker Home GameFor now, though, I’ll open it all up to suggestions -- types of tourneys, times, prizes, etc. Comment here or via Twitter @hardboiledpoker. For now, the first event will tentatively be scheduled for this Sunday, July 29, at 20:00 ET, with a “second chance” event at 21:00 ET.

Meanwhile, if you want to join my Home Game, the Club ID number is 530631 and Invitation code noshinola.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

ROI at the WSOP

ROI = Return on InvestmentWhile listening to this week’s Two Plus Two Pokercast, I was directed to an interesting thread in the News, Views, and Gossip forum in which a poster took it up on himself to figure out the ROI (return on investment) for a number of players in this year’s WSOP.

The original post contains a chart which it turns out has quite a few errors here and there (pointed out by subsequent posters). To be honest, the actual findings aren’t as interesting to me as the whole idea of everyone being able to track exactly how many events players entered in the WSOP, and thus be able to compare their winnings to their buy-ins.

If you visit wsopdb.com and enter a name, you can find out just how many events a particular player played. It’s not a new thing -- indeed, it’s been around quite a while -- but someone commenting on a post from last week about Viktor Blom reminded me of this search tool. (By the way, wsopdb.com is not an official WSOP site, but uses the entry lists for each event provided by the WSOP.)

For example, by entering Blom’s name you can see which 20 events he entered this summer and how they added up to $134,000 total in buy-ins. From there you can head over to the WSOP site and look up Blom’s results, and see he cashed in exactly two events this summer for winnings that totaled $107,941. Thus did Blom have an overall losing summer as far as the WSOP was concerned.

Terrence Chan, who cashed 10 times for $106,417, entered 27 events altogether for $69,500 worth of buy-ins. Thus was Chan blogging mid-series about his ambivalence about possibly breaking the late Nikolay Evdakov’s record of 10 WSOP cashes in a single WSOP, since for a while he was essentially breaking even despite cashing so frequently. Indeed, his 410th-place finish in the Main Event (worth $28,530) helped nudge him considerably further over into the black and thus (I hope) made the summer seem worthwhile for him.

While Chan ultimately tied Evdakov, Konstantin Puchkov did end up breaking his fellow countryman’s record when he cashed for an 11th time in Event No. 59, the last $1,000 no-limit hold’em event. I was covering that event and remember reporting on his reaching the milestone.

When he made the money in that event, there was an announcement in the Amazon Room commemorating the achievement, after which players at other tables were wondering aloud if Puchkov had made a bunch of min-cashes while also speculating about how many events he must have entered to have cashed in 11 of them.

With the databases on wsop.com and wsopdb.com, those questions can be answered. Puchkov did make a couple of final tables this year -- and the final two tables two other times -- although his biggest cash all summer was just under $50K. In all he won a total of $175,461 in those 11 events in which he cashed. Meanwhile, Puchkov spent $98,000 in buy-ins for the 32 events he entered, which means he did ultimately realize a decent ROI (about 79.0%).

Of course, none of this info includes anything to do with backing, sponsorships, or other factors that can influence poker players’ bottom lines. But it is still interesting to poke around and peruse these numbers, and revealing in some cases when it comes to discovering just how “winning” a player truly is at the WSOP.

I imagine those considering backing other players must find such information useful if it isn’t already known. I also imagine various reasons why the WSOP and/or some players might not be too crazy about having such information made public, something I recall discussing before in a post long ago.

But for fans and/or (occasional) stats geeks like myself, there’s a lot to satisfy one’s curiosity there.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

2012 WSOP, A Reporter’s Notebook

2012 WSOP, A Reporter's NotebookFive years is a long time. That’s how many years I’ve had the chance to report on the World Series of Poker for PokerNews.

This time around I had conversations with more than a few others who had also been coming to the WSOP for many years about how the experience changes each time. The novelty had worn off for us all long ago, but other factors keep us coming back. I think on some level we’re all still fascinated by the game and the people who play it. Not to mention the always present possibility that something new can and will happen.

As in past years, I kept a kind of daily WSOP journal here during the time I was in Las Vegas. Like last year, I only started it once I arrived in Las Vegas about three weeks after the sucker had begun. And as I did in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011, I’m compiling all of those entries into a single post for later reference.

Like last year, I think the entries tended to be more personal and about the experience of being there and reporting, rather than focused on the events themselves. Although there are a few fun items from the events, too -- anecdotes that came up that perhaps didn’t get reported over in the PokerNews live blogs but seemed worth passing along.

Back on the RoadBack on the Road (to the WSOP)
A preliminary post written the day I was flying back out to Las Vegas in which I reflect a little on how the experience of going to cover the WSOP changes with each year.

2012 WSOP, Day 23: “Everybody Hang On!!!”
The post’s title is a quote from an inebriated passenger on my flight to Vegas. His hysterically-delivered advice came just as the plane’s wheels were leaving the runway, although seemed to have other applications as well.

2012 WSOP, Day 24: Easing In
A little on Phil Ivey -- who was making his fifth friggin’ final table in two weeks -- and a little on my own low-limit adventures.

2012 WSOP, Day 25: Chasing Dreams
Talking about a variety of subjects here, including betting on players entering the final days of events, a crazy shove with 6-2 by an opponent versus Phil Ivey’s pocket eights in Event No. 35, the overall “scaling back” of coverage by poker media, and a conversation with Pokerati Dan.

2012 WSOP, Day 26: The Vibe
A hastily delivered opinion (after only one full day of work) regarding what seemed like a less intense, less animated World Series of Poker.

2012 WSOP, Day 27: “WHATTTAREDBOOOOLLLL!”
Kind of an homage to a certain cocktail waiter with a distinctive and memorable way of soliciting orders. Honesty compels me to report that the person I had in mind wasn’t in fact around this year, although his signature call had been uncannily echoed by another well enough to inspire the post.

2012 WSOP, Day 28: The Future Is Now
Some funny one-liners in this one from players like Alan Boston and Andy Bloch, as well as a discussion of the new chip-tracking idea “ChipTic” experimented with some at this year’s WSOP.

Adults Playing Games2012 WSOP, Day 29: Adults Playing Games
Covering Event No. 42, the $2,500 Omaha/8-Stud/8 event, was a blast, thanks in large part to the collection of comedians who’d made it to the final three tables, among them ESPN poker commentator Norman Chad who ultimately finished sixth. Click to read about Chad’s shenanigans at his first ever WSOP final table.

2012 WSOP, Day 30: Attempts at Time Travel at the WSOP
In which I discuss that controversial hand that arose in Event No. 45, the $50,000 Poker Players Championship, the PLO hand that featured an all-in that wasn’t really an all-in that had to be considered an all-in.

2012 WSOP, Day 31: Hot Rocks
I finally get a day off and spend it climbing the rocks at Red Rock Canyon with F-Train. A few days later I’d imagine that day as if I had visited the moon or something, it having been so very different from every other day I’d spend in Las Vegas this summer.

2012 WSOP, Day 32: In Which My Shoes Give Away Where I’ve Been
Poker author and coach Tommy Angelo and I meet for breakfast, and like a real shamus he instantly describes my activities for the previous 24 hours just by glancing at my shoes.

2012 WSOP, Day 33: Cruising Along
I meet with Scott and Chris of Ante Up, then go watch an injury attorney win the first WSOP event he’d ever played in his life.

That's a Bummer, Man (Men in the Ladies Event2012 WSOP, Day 34: That’s a Bummer, Man (Men in the Ladies Event)
I had the opportunity this year to cover Event No. 51, the $1,000 Ladies No-Limit Hold’em Championship, from start to finish, and so got to witness the spectacle -- somewhat muted, this time -- of a dozen or so men playing in the event.

2012 WSOP, Day 35: Waiting for the Big One to Drop
Was still on the Ladies event, but with the $1,000,000 buy-in “Big One for One Drop” getting started, everyone’s attention was being diverted.

2012 WSOP, Day 36: Same But Different
A curious contrast, as I started the day covering the final table of the Ladies event (which finished early), then hopped over to help with the coverage of the “Big One for One Drop.”

2012 WSOP, Day 37: Wake Up
A short post mostly confessing to fatigue after working another long stretch of days without a break.

2012 WSOP, Day 38: $18,346,673
I finally get a day off, but had to spend part of it at the Rio because curiosity compelled me to go see what it looked like for someone to win more than $18 million in a poker tournament, as Antonio Esfandiari took down Event No. 55, the $1,000,000 “Big One for One Drop.”

The Big Picture2012 WSOP, Day 39: The Big Picture
In this post I discuss a bit how one’s sense of perspective gets easily skewed when immersed in covering a single event at the WSOP. Hard sometimes to step back and get an idea how the WSOP as a whole is playing out, never mind recognizing how it fits with the culture at large.

2012 WSOP, Day 40: Cheering Is Allowed and Encouraged
A short discussion of the phenomenon of cheering at final tables in which I ask my readers for their thoughts on the subject.

2012 WSOP, Day 41: Don’t Miss the Main Event!
While I helped cover the last $1,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em event (Event No. 59), the Main Event was about to get underway, having snuck up on us all, it seemed.

2012 WSOP, Day 42: Chips in Play
Kind of a weird, unexpected finale to Event No. 59, with the field of 51 players playing all of the way down to a single winner in just one day (not the original scheduled plan, which called for the final table to come back the next day to finish).

2012 WSOP, Day 43: Flying Along
I hopped over to help cover one of the Day 1 flights, and had a good laugh when during a break PokerNews photographer Neil Stoddart got the dealers to pose with their arms extended (“Like you are airplanes.”).

And Doyle Makes 6,5982012 WSOP, Day 44: And Doyle Makes 6,598
After saying he might skip the Main Event altogether, Doyle Brunson decided to play. Again.

2012 WSOP, Day 45: H.O.R.S.E. Play
On my last day off of the summer, I played in the weekly $120 H.O.R.S.E. tournament at the MGM and had a blast. Also in the field that night were Kevmath, the Poker Grump, Mickey Doft, Brian Ali, Norman Chad, Lon McEachern, and other familiar faces.

2012 WSOP, Day 46: Blogging Blom
I help cover Day 2c at the Main Event and thus got a chance to watch the fascinating Viktor “Isildur1” Blom play live after so many years of following him online.

2012 WSOP, Day 47: Tracking Stacks
A bit about the chip-counting game, highlighted by an inspired video of Mickey Doft counting the first million-chip stack at this year’s WSOP Main Event.

2012 WSOP, Day 48: Atmospheric Disturbances
The cash bubble bursts at the WSOP Main Event, followed shortly thereafter by the bursting of a pepper spray pen, then questions about payouts and whether something might have broken there, too. All in all, a weird Friday the 13th at the WSOP.

2012 WSOP, Day 49: Running Out of Chips, Players, Days
Day 5 at the Main Event, highlighted by a player choosing not to come back to play his short stack, then another choosing to fold his way to the end of the day despite his short stack.

Racing to the End2012 WSOP, Day 50: Racing to the End
The next-to-last day at the WSOP, with lots of exciting poker followed by an exciting competition involving riding dealer chairs across the empty Amazon floor in which some excel, some come up short, and one crashes spectacularly.

2012 WSOP, Day 51: C’est Fini
Possibly the wildest day I can remember at the WSOP, in particular the conclusion in which the two remaining women -- Elisabeth Hille and Gaelle Baumann -- went out in 11th and 10th places (respectively), just missing the final table.

2012 WSOP, Postlude: Like a Dream
In which I share one last anecdote from the WSOP involving the end-of-summer chip leader, Jesse Sylvia, and his expressing how much the day and Main Event seemed to him like a dream.

Thanks again, everyone, for reading along this summer and for all the nice comments both here and on Twitter. As with going out to the WSOP, the blogging thing, too, has evolved into something very different than what it was at the start. But it remains fun for me and I’m grateful to have people read and respond. Also glad to have these little “notebooks” to look back on, to help me remember some of what happened during these adventures, which seem to go by even faster with each successive year.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

2012 WSOP, Postlude: Like a Dream

Like a DreamHome. Vera. Sweetie. Sleep.

Just waking up here. “You don’t have to write anything today,” Vera told me when she left this morning. I nodded and smiled. Then I slept another six hours.

The journey back yesterday was fine, with me mostly fading in and out of consciousness during each of the two flights. Was awake enough to notice on both flights the woman sitting beside me was starting Fifty Shades of Grey.

That last wild night at the WSOP ended with me getting out of the Rio around 1:30 a.m. or so. From there I joined Daniel, Paul, Chad, Sam, Mickey, Joe, Josh C., Rich, and Josh B. at the MGM for a few hours of fun low-limit H.O.R.S.E. -- plus a goofy round of 2-7 triple draw -- and thus didn’t really get to bed until dawn.

Got up yesterday after perhaps two hours of actual sleep, wrote a post, packed in about 20 minutes, and was on my way.

As I’ve done in past years, I am going to pull together one of those “Reporter’s Notebook” entries in which I compile all of my Hard-Boiled Poker posts I wrote from the WSOP. Was looking at the earlier compilation posts just now and noticing how each seem to begin with me talking about how much I’d slept the night before. I'll just go ahead and report today that I have slept a solid 14 hours since Vera and I got home from the airport at midnight. And I forced myself to get out of bed knowing I could easily sleep a few more.

Gonna save the “Notebook” post for tomorrow, though, and instead just add a last little postlude today. One last memory of the WSOP Main Event to share.

It comes from what turned out to be the last break of Day 7. The breaks were weirdly coming halfway through each level, so this one happened at the midpoint of Level 33. The previous hour or so had seen Jesse Sylvia, the 26-year-old pro, go from near elimination to the chip lead with 14 players left.

Jesse Sylvia awaiting the final community cards in his big K-Q vs. J-J hand (Photo by Joe Giron of PokerNewsThe big hand for Sylvia had come when he’d reraise-squeeze-shoved from the blinds with K-Q, gotten called by Robert Salaburu who held pocket jacks, and caught a king to win the race. That pic is by Joe Giron of PokerNews who swooped over to catch a shot of Sylvia awaiting the community cards with his supporters. He’d then grab some more pots in non-showdown hands and had nudged out in front when the break arrived.

Most of the breaks on Day 7 were just 15 minutes (not the usual 20), and so I’d spent almost all of them counting chips or catching up in other ways. I’d even worked through most of the dinner break, too, so when this last break arrived and it was the full 20 minutes, I took the opportunity to go for a short walk which included a visit to the restroom.

There was a crowd in there, and I remember while walking out noticing Sylvia with a couple of his friends leaving as well. “Is this real life?” someone asked -- I am pretty sure it was Sylvia, in fact -- and excited laughter followed. Not waiting for an answer, the questioner continued. “I mean, this better not be a f*ckin’ dream!”

Sylvia was interviewed later for the ESPN Poker Edge podcast where he talked about how he roomed with Russell Thomas at the WSOP two years ago and how cool it was for both him and a good friend to have made it all of the way to the final table as they did.

“I actually feel like I’m dreaming,” he said, “because like… in your dreams the people you know show up… and it's just really weird that [Thomas] is here.”

Later on while playing H.O.R.S.E., Rich would point out to me a post he’d written about Sylvia way back on Day 2c, kind of a funny one in which he’d been passing by Sylvia’s table and the player had stopped him to say something about wanting his parents to be able to follow his progress in the tournament. This sort of thing will happen from time to time, especially in the Main Event, where players might ask to get included in the counts.

In Sylvia’s case, he’d actually already by then built a big stack and would’ve probably been included soon, anyway. But Rich was quick to say sure and inserted the funny, brief post about him. Pretty unusual to grab from the thousands a glimpse at the one who would emerge with the most chips by summer’s end.

As it turned out, his parents and everyone else got to track his progress in great detail over the last few days. And they’ll get to see even more during the next three months once the edited shows begin to appear on ESPN.

And it’s all real life, not a dream.

After the break Sylvia would win another big one when knocking out Scott Abrams in 12th place in which he flopped a set, Abrams flopped top pair and a flush draw, and they got Abrams’ significant-sized stack in the middle with two cards to come. Sylvia faded the flush, carried the chip lead to the final ten-handed table, and kept it at night’s end.

The final nine -- a.k.a. the 'Octo-Nine' -- in the 2012 WSOP Main EventLike most, I’ve yet to learn a lot about the final nine -- or the “Octo-Nine,” as the WSOP has decided to call them -- though have heard repeatedly the phrase “he’s a good guy” used with reference to several. We’ll be hearing more about all of them over the interim, and even if they weren’t known by many before, they’ll all evolve into “notables” soon enough.

I love thinking about experiencing something so thrilling and unusual that one is moved to ask -- even jokingly -- “Is this real life?” While every summer there’s much at the WSOP that is less than exciting, even the most mundane moments are couched in the context of something special slowly coming together.

Because some are going to go far. And someone is going to win. And for many who find themselves still around when a tourney is concluding, the experience is going to be so new and exhilarating they might wonder to themselves if it’s real or just a dream.

I think I will go back to sleep for a short while more. I’ll find out later if I really wrote this or just dreamed I did.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

2012 WSOP, Day 51: C’est Fini

The EndIt kind of snuck up on me. The end, I mean.

The day was about as intense a one as I can ever remember, when it came to reporting from the World Series of Poker.

It took a long time, nearly 12 hours including the dinner break, for them to play down from 27 to the final nine at the Main Event yesterday, the final day of poker for the summer. For nearly all of it I was stationed at the secondary feature table, at first one of three tables, then one of two. Initially I was reporting on my own, then had Mickey helping me considerably in the passing along of many of the hands played there.

Nonstop scribbling meant I hadn’t really looked up a lot from the immediate tasks at hand to pay much attention to what was happening on the main feature table where the two remaining women in the Main Event, Elisabeth Hille of Norway and Gaelle Baumann of France, spent most of the day and night. Hille was there throughout, and Baumann was only at the secondary table for a short while during the first part of the day before moving to the main.

Suddenly it was late evening, and they’d played down to just 11 players. I looked up and realized both women were still in the sucker. I knew Baumann had been nursing a short stack the entire day, but hadn’t really paid attention to Hille slipping down the counts. I checked and saw both names at the bottom of the list, in 10th and 11th. The idea that they both might go out shy of the end occurred to me and everyone else.

And then it happened. What we were all thinking, I mean. They did go out -- both of them.

During Hille’s elimination, even the players on the secondary table weren’t paying attention to their own hand, most standing and looking over their shoulders in the direction of the raucous noise of the crowd reacting to the flop, turn, and river being dealt. It was an utterly electric atmosphere, with hundreds there, including fans of most of the players -- not just the women -- providing a barely-controlled cacophony all along the way.

Applause for Elisabeth HilleDown to 10, there was a redraw to arrange the remaining players around a single table on the main stage, and I scurried over to a new location from which I would help report hand-for-hand play from that point forward with Rich and Chad. Before they resumed, Hille was asked to come out for a round of applause, and she waved and even appeared to curtsy while everyone cheered.

Then came the hands, which were punctuated by more chants and cheers, especially when the one arose in which Steven Gee raised from the button, Greg Merson reraised in the small blind, and Baumann had woken up in the big blind with pocket kings.

When the action had gotten to her, people all around were saying how great it would be if she had a hand, given her short stack of about six big blinds. Then it happened. And when the cards came out the crowd was chanting “Deuce! Deuce! Deuce!” before the river was dealt... and a deuce arrived.

It was as though the collective will had somehow translated into the cards coming out utterly perfectly for Baumann. The media tower was literally shaking as I typed, and I might have used an exclamation point or two more than was needed when doing so. But with everyone exclaiming what seemed utter elation all around me, it was hard not to get caught up in it all.

I mean it was something else, man.

Baumann would shove again and get no callers, though she was still on an extreme short stack. Then, as if to prove in the most dramatic fashion that the cards really don’t care, the end abruptly arrived. Baumann would shove with Ad9h, get called by Andras Koroknai’s AhJs, and the community cards didn’t help her.

That Koroknai had been the one involved in that controversial Day 5 hand -- against Baumann, in fact -- in which he’d made a mistake that if ruled upon differently might’ve spelled the end of his tournament life only added another wrinkle to the drama of his ousting Baumann.

It was over. Hille and Baumann had gotten as close as they possibly could to that final table, something a woman has only done once in 43 years at the WSOP Main Event. But neither will be coming back in October.

The crowd onstage, after the endNeither will I, most likely, unless perhaps I get invited to do so. Like past years, my WSOP essentially ends in July, at least as far as live reporting goes. And as I was saying might happen, it all went so fast. It was like that “mothership” of an arena really was flying, transporting us all for a few wondrous moments.

And just like that it’s time to pack up and go home. Safe travels, everyone. See you again soon.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

2012 WSOP, Day 50: Racing to the End

The final four tables at the 2012 WSOP Main EventIt has come fast. The last day of the 2012 World Series of Poker -- save the Main Event final table, to play out in late October -- has arrived.

Yesterday’s Day 6 was a marathon, made both longer and more challenging by the many breaks taken throughout the day and night.

I mentioned yesterday how this year ESPN essentially has five “feature” tables around which they can shoot -- the main one in the “mothership” arena, a secondary one to the side, and three more over in what used to be called the “Blue” section but last night was dubbed “Gold.” Those pictures were from when they had gotten down to four tables, with the main, the secondary, and the two on the side.

They played down from 97 to 27 players yesterday, which meant in addition to those five tables there were six more “outer” tables set up to begin play, but gradually as players busted those were broken, the remaining players reseated, and the tables literally broken down and taken out of the Amazon room.

The various areas are quite far apart, actually, which was one reason why extra breaks would come up in order to give players time to find their new locations. They’d occasionally switch entire tables sometimes, too, in order to make one or another “featured,” and that do led to the extra 10-minute pauses in the action.

So it was a long one. All in all, it would take until after 2 a.m. (five two-hour levels plus part of a sixth) to eliminate 70 players and establish today’s final three tables. (I should mention the ESPN folks have been great to work alongside, and we’ve had many occasions to help one another out while making space for each other, too.)

The knockouts came quickly at the start, though the pace would slow down as the day wore on. There was some minor buzz about all of the “big names” getting knocked out on Day 6, including Gavin Smith, Vanessa Selbst, Jason Somerville, David “ODB” Baker, and 2011 November Niner Sam Holden. At the dinner break I joked on Twitter that there were still big names left, including Martinezalonso, Israelashvili, and Gwennael Grandmougin. Typing those made me think of players from past WSOPs such as Manoj Viswanathan and Meenakshi Subramaniam.

There will be plenty of intrigue today among the final 27, led currently by Marc Ladouceur who finished 63rd in the Main Event just last year. Also of note is the fact that two women still remain as well, Gaelle Baumann and Elisabeth Hille, with Hille currently fifth in the counts. I will have to look it up to be sure, but I think 2000 might be the last year two women made the final 27 when Annie Duke finished 10th and Kathy Liebert 17th.

Today may take a while, with the average stack still deep at a little over 61 big blinds, and only four players returning to less than 30 BBs. Who knows, though? I’m remembering 2009 when everyone was sure the 27-to-9 day would be lasting until dawn and they ended up racing to the end by 9 p.m.

Establishing ground rulesSpeaking of racing, I’d be remiss not to mention the late night chair racing competition that came after all was done last night in which Remko, Rich, B.J., and Ali Nejad invented a competition and executed it in the most hilarious fashion imaginable.

The contest required participants to run with a dealer’s chair, gathering momentum and then jumping on it at a certain point to see how far they could ride afterwards. Kind of like bobsledding, although the ultimate goal was distance, not speed.

The order and results could not have been funnier.

First the sight of Remko, literally a flying Dutchman, establishing the mark to beat.

Then Rich, despite his best efforts coming up short of Remko’s mark.

Then B.J., who looked for all the world as though he was about to cruise past Remko when he leaned too far and fell forward, crashing to the sound of laughter all around.

And finally Ali, there to shoot the last of his ESPN video reports for the WSOP, providing his own commentary then expertly gliding past Remko to victory.

We were still laughing as we left, racing back to get a few hours rest before today’s Day 7. Like I say, today may take a while. But I’m guessing no matter how long it takes it’ll seem like we’re flying.

(EDIT [added 7/23/12]: "The Great WSOP Media Chair Race" on YouTube.)

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

2012 WSOP, Day 49: Running Out of Chips, Players, Days

The Amazon emptying on Day 5 of the 2012 WSOP Main EventYesterday’s Day 5 at the 2012 World Series of Poker Main Event saw things running relatively smoothly, a bit of a contrast from the day before. Made for a less strange, less stressful day, with everyone starting to share in the excitement necessarily caused by the end coming ever closer.

ESPN has set up what are essentially five feature tables this time. There’s the main one in the “mothership” plus the secondary one positioned over on the side like last year. Additionally, three tables are set up over in the area where the first two days of the “Big One for One Drop” played out before. In terms of watching the action live in the Amazon, none are particularly great for spectators, but the arrangement will make it a lot easier for ESPN later to show lots of different players and hands during these days leading up to the final table.

I spent yesterday roaming around all of the other tables in the room (the “Purple” and “Orange” sections). The day began with 282 players seated at 32 tables and ended with 97 players seated at 11. Thus with the five feature tables constantly in use, that meant the area I was helping cover began with 27 tables’ full of players and ended with just a half-dozen.

As the field gets reduced and tables get broken, tables are then literally broken down and carted off to the side or out of the room altogether. There’s more media here now, too, filling the extra space between tables.

Crowd around table on Day 5, 2012 WSOP Main EventThat picture to the left was during an interesting all-in hand from late in the day. Between the camera crew and all of the reporters, there were probably 30 or so people surrounding the table as the players were waiting for the turn and river cards to be dealt.

As players were busting during the first part of the day and the remaining ones moved to and fro to keep tables balanced, the empty seat belonging to Jarrett Nash began to become more and more conspicuous. I finally posted something near the end of the first two-hour level about his having not showed up and the fact that blinds and antes had by then claimed about a third of his starting stack.

Eventually it became apparent he wasn’t coming to play Day 5, and later in the day the story finally came out regarding how his faith prevented him from continuing his Main Event run on Saturday. CardPlayer ended up talking to him to get the entire story, if you’re curious. Eventually Nash ran out of chips to finish in 171st place.

Watching Nash’s stack dwindle down and finally disappear altogether reminded me a little of being at LAPT Lima last year when Andre Akkari had to leave the tourney early because his father had died, and in his absence his stack lasted long enough for him to cash.

My attention at day’s end would become occupied by another player’s stack becoming super short, putting him on the verge of elimination. Only in this case the player was there sitting behind his stack.

Fred Vogt is one of several older players still in the Main Event. Late in the day he’d become short-stacked, then essentially began auto-folding until making it to the top 99. Those finishing 100th through 162nd all earned $52,718, while getting to 99th meant taking away at least $62,021, so his strategy ended up earning him enough extra cabbage almost to equal the buy-in.

When the elimination of a player in 100th was announced, the scene at Vogt’s table was one of the coolest I’ve witnessed in a long while in poker, with all of his opponents giddy with excitement over his having lasted long enough to make that pay jump. Amid the craziness of Day 5 concluding, I wrote a quick post about Vogt titled “A Small Stack and Big Smile” and Joe Giron snapped the perfect photo to go with it.

Gaelle BaumannThe other story that started to emerge in earnest yesterday was the fact that at night’s end there are still five women among the final 97, a couple of whom spent time right around the chip lead during part of Day 5.

Those five are Gaelle Baumann (pictured, currently in 8th position), Elisabeth Hille (18th), Marcia Topp (49th), Vanessa Selbst (70th), and Susie Zhao (88th).

Last year Erika Moutinho made it the farthest of any woman in the Main Event by finishing 29th. The year before no woman made the top 100 at all. A woman has only made the ME final table once in its 43-year history (Barbara Enright, who finished fifth in 1995).

We all know Selbst is more than capable of getting there, even with a below average stack to start Day 6. I watched Baumann dominate the Ladies event this summer for much of the first two days before finishing 15th, and she’s continued to impress in the Main Event.

By the way, Baumann was involved in a somewhat controversial hand near the end of play yesterday that got some buzzing, one in which she’d raised, another player went all in from the small blind, then when the big blind folded the all-in player mistakenly mucked not realizing she was still in the hand. Read more about that one here.

Hille seems like another candidate possibly to make it further, especially since she has chips. In any event, the story of how those five women fare will no doubt be one of several getting a lot of attention today.

Remko and RichJust two more days of poker, then I fly home on Tuesday. Tired and eager to get to the end, although am very much enjoying these last days, both because of the excitement of the tournament and because I’m getting to share the experience with a lot of terrific, supportive people once again. Such as these two guys to the left who may or may not be brothers.

I think we’re all kind of feeling like those guys at Fred Vogt’s table yesterday, excited and happy to see we’ve all made it this far. And glad to keep it going just a little longer, too.

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

2012 WSOP, Day 48: Atmospheric Disturbances

Atmospheric DisturbancesKind of a weird one yesterday at the WSOP Main Event.

First off, it was overcast and raining in the morning, which alone can add a hazy layer of oddness to a July day in the Nevada desert. Also, it was Friday the 13th, and within the first level they’d reach the final 666 and the money bubble burst. In a place as superstitious as Las Vegas, all of that was enough to make even the most level-headed raise an eyebrow.

In fact, the bubble bursting was a bit odd in the way it played out. It didn’t take long for the field to be trimmed from 720 to 669, at which point the tourney staff quickly applied the brakes and began hand-for-hand play across the 75 remaining tables.

Surprisingly there were five “all-in-and-a-call” situations during the very next hand dealt, and all five were made to sit and wait for all of the other tables to play out before they each were instructed to complete their hands one by one. My buddy Remko Rinkema snapped that photo below of the dealers standing and waiting.

I was waiting by one of the tables where a player was all in, and I know it was at least 10 minutes between the preflop action and the dealing of the community cards. In fact, the entire hand probably took close to 20 minutes.

As it happened, four of the five hands resulted in eliminations, so it was a good thing they started hand-for-hand when they did. Normally in such a situation the finishes of those eliminated would be determined by comparing their starting stacks to begin the hand, with the player having the least chips of the four going out first and so on.

But the WSOP announced all four would finish tied for 666th, meaning they’d get to split the $19,227 due that spot. The WSOP also traditionally rewards the last player out before the cash a seat in the following year’s Main Event, so in this case they announced they’d have the four play a sit-n-go to determine who won the seat. One of them, David Kelley, offered to give the other three $2,500 each for the seat, and the others agreed, so no sit-n-go was played.

Incidentally, another of the four was a player named Steve Rosen who just happened to have narrowly avoided going out on the bubble in 2011. I wrote a bit about Rosen here at the time in a post titled “A Short-Stacked Story,” and reported on him on the PokerNews blog, too.

A picture snapped by Remko Rinkema during the only hand of hand-for-hand play at the 2012 WSOP Main Event, Day 4Like I say, all of that took a while, stretching out the moment of the bubble bursting so long that there really wasn’t any cheer or celebration to mark the occasion.

Immediately afterwards another bit of weirdness came up. Apparently a player sitting over in the Orange section had taken out a fountain pen and opened it, but in fact it was a pepper spray pen and he had unwittingly set it off. About four tables’ worth of players immediately left their seats, people began coughing all over that side of the Amazon room, and even over in the Purple section (where I was stationed) we could feel a tickle in our throats. Play was stopped for just a short while -- perhaps a minute -- but it was still somewhat unsettling.

Then after a couple of two-hour levels there was a long, unexplained delay before the start of the third. We watched the staff huddling and discussing something, and it appeared for a while that there might be some kind of major screw-up involving how the first couple of hundred payouts had gone.

The delay stretched on and on, then finally players were sent on their dinner break early so whatever the problem was could be sorted out. As it turned out, nothing had gone wrong, but it had just taken a while to ensure that was the case. In any event, once everyone returned from dinner, the last couple of levels went relatively smoothly as the field shrunk down to the 282 who’ll return for today’s Day 5.

On the reporting side of things, the day was already challenging. In the Main Event, the day the money bubble bursts is always the most difficult because the field is still very big to start the day, yet there’s a need to try to keep track of all of the players. Things get more manageable today, and even more so going forward.

But the interruptions and delays and rescheduling yesterday all affected the usual rhythm of the day, making it all seem even more rough-going. Ended well enough, though, and there’s definitely a lot to look forward to over the next three days. Still some big names left, although all who make it deep in the Main Event become compelling enough whether or not they were familiar before.

I imagine they’ll play down to around 80 players or so today. The schedule calls for five levels, although they’ll end early, I think, to keep from having too short a Day 6 (when they’ll go to 27) and/or Day 7 (when they play down to nine). Follow along over at PokerNews.

I see rain is in the forecast, but it is clear and sunny at the moment, with the temperature already starting to rise. It’s a more familiar scene through which to take that trip over to the Rio today. We’ll see what awaits us there.

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Friday, July 13, 2012

2012 WSOP, Day 47: Tracking Stacks

Tracking StacksWas another busy day yesterday at the Rio for Day 3 of the World Series of Poker Main Event. More than a thousand players were eliminated yesterday, with the field shrinking from 1,765 down to just 720 by night’s end. That means it won’t be long after today’s Day 4 begins that the money bubble will burst.

That’s right. Friday the 13th will start very unluckily for a few dozen players, namely those who don’t last to the final 666. (Sinister, eh?)

Gaelle Baumann began the day yesterday as the chip leader with a stack of 505,800. Someone asked me before play started whether anyone would reach 1 million yesterday and I said I thought a few probably would. I imagined the field would be cut in half, which meant the average stack would double and so 1 million seemed likely for a leader or leaders.

In fact, they busted at a faster clip than I had expected, with about 100 players hitting the rail every hour. One player did make it to 1 million just before the last break of the night, Benjamin Alcober. He’d slip back below that milestone by the end of play, but by then four others had gotten to seven figures: David D’Alesandro (1,100,000), Sean Rice (1,076,000), Jacob Balsiger (1,065,000), and Leo Wolpert (1,003,500).

It was during the last break of the night that the PokerNews video team had the neat idea to shoot Mickey Doft counting Benjamin Alcober’s stack. Check out the master at work in “Mickey Doft vs. The Stack”...



It’s true that covering any large field, multi-day tournament usually involves some scrambling around at the end of the night trying to ensure the big stacks are found and identified for the last reports of the night.

Usually the chip leaders will be players we’ve been tracking all along, although sometimes it will happen that someone will suddenly win a couple of big hands and appear with a big stack at the end without having been noticed earlier. Such can happen in the Main Event where there are so many players and so many chips in play.

Of course, finding the chip leader at the end of each day of the Main Event is a bigger deal than in other tournaments, since that person often becomes the focus of headlines and stories to begin the following day. And every once in a while a player might do something to make that task less simple than it might seem.

For example, at the end of one of the three Day 1 flights this year, the player who ended the day as chip leader refused to give his name when asked during the day. Of course, he ultimately had to write it on the slip of paper they pass out at the end of the night as well as on the bag in which he put his chips, so eventually his name was found out. But his refusal earlier made working him into the coverage a little awkward at the end of the evening.

I know I’ve written about this issue coming up before in a couple of different contexts, once in 2009 in a post called “The Name Game.” I remember back a few years ago a player who ended one of the early days -- I think it was a Day 1 -- actually writing down a false name which then got reported all over.

This year a player intentionally wrote down a larger number for his count than he had at the end of a day 1 (he added 200,000), thereby undeservedly earned himself a spot at the top of the counts and in headlines on the following day. Other, unintentional errors occasionally come up in the writing down of names and numbers, and in the transferring of names and numbers to official reports, too.

Such problems are mostly minor and/or temporary, though. Actually identifying players becomes less of an issue each day, of course, as the field continues to shrink. And there will be fewer and fewer stacks for Mickey and the rest of us to count, too.

Head over to PokerNews to follow today’s Day 4 as the stacks -- and the hands -- get bigger and bigger.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

2012 WSOP, Day 46: Blogging Blom

Viktor Blom playing Day 2c in the 2012 WSOP Main EventYesterday I’d guessed the 2,300 players taking seats for Day 2c of the 2012 World Series of Poker Main Event would probably play down to about 900 during the five two-hour levels. As it happened, that’s just about how it went, with 911 still having chips by day’s end.

That group will join those who survived Tuesday’s Day 2a/2b for today’s Day 3. I believe the total number of players left is 1,765 (out of the 6,598 who started).

One player who didn’t survive Day 2c was Viktor “Isildur1” Blom. He began the day with a healthy stack of 110,225, well above the average and one of only about 100 or so players who had more than 100,000 to start yesterday. The swingy Swede saw his stack go up and down all day, peaking at around 200,000 before he finally busted during the last half-hour of the night.

This year marked Blom’s first World Series of Poker, as he only turned 21 last September. I’m not sure how many events Blom played overall this summer. I know he cashed in a couple including finishing 14th in Event No. 45, the $50,000 Poker Players Championship. But I hadn’t really had the chance to cover him yet since I arrived a little over three weeks ago.

As it happened, Blom was seated in my section yesterday and thus I was able to watch him frequently and report on a number of hands he played. I decided early on I’d try to get over to his table at least once or twice per level, primarily because he’s a player a lot of visitors to the live blog would want to follow, although I was also kind of personally intrigued to watch him live after so many years of watching him play online.

The situation reminded me of a couple of years ago when I first had a chance to watch Annette Obrestad play at the WSOP, then wrote a post here titled “Observing Obrestad.” (I haven’t seen Obrestad this summer, although I know she played events early on and cashed in a couple.)

When Blom finally busted it came near the end of the night amid the frenzy of finding big stacks, and we didn’t see the actual bustout hand. I was also writing the final recap post at the time, and so even though I knew he was short on chips and in danger of busting, I couldn’t camp out near his table as the night wound down.

I had kind of felt all day there was a possibility pretty much at any moment that he might get eliminated, given how active he was and how willing he often seemed to put his chips at risk. In other words, I knew there was a good chance he would get knocked out during a time when we were not standing nearby. But I was able to get the story of his bustout hand from another player once play concluded for the night, and so reported it.

It was funny to hear the player refer complainingly to Blom opening the hand with a raise. “He was always raising,” said the player with a note of exasperation, and I nodded knowingly. Every time I passed Blom’s table he was involved in hands, it seemed. While I can only really guess, I’d bet his “VP$IP” was somewhere around a third of the hands played, perhaps more. In any case, it was definitely higher than that of his opponents.

I’d end up writing more than a half-dozen posts on Blom. Probably the two most interesting were “Blombarded” and “What To Believe With Blom.” In the first, Blom raised with 9-8-suited, flopped trip eights, and managed to get value from a couple of opponents. In the second, a river bet by Blom won him a hand without a showdown, and his subsequent behavior and table talk suggested a bluff to have been highly likely.

Blom wore a light white hoody with the usual PokerStars patches, only occasionally putting the hood up over his head during the latter part of the day. He had on shorts and with his messed up hair looked even younger than 21. There was a moment late when the lights in the Amazon room were finally turned up after being dimmed for most of the day, and when I saw Blom squinting uncomfortably I couldn’t help but think of the stereotypical young online poker player who spends hours and hours inside in darkened rooms.

While he’d sometimes listen to music or check messages on his phone, he mostly seemed very intensely focused on the game, watching others carefully even on those rare occasions when he was not involved in a hand. When in a hand he’d often steal looks at his opponent(s), and I sensed a kind of nervous energy at times -- kind of an odd mix between being intimidating and vulnerable, which I know doesn’t exactly make sense.

What I mean is I think he was daunting largely because of his constant betting and raising and the fact that he really could show up with any hand at showdown, but he also showed a kind of anxiousness at certain moments that weirdly made him seem less invincible.

For example, in that hand in which he may or may not of bluffed the river, he covered his mouth with his shirt while his opponent thought about what to do, a kind of petrified look in his eyes, then after the fold was exhaling in a way that definitely looked like he was glad not to have been called (although I realized what seemed natural behavior could have been “overacting”).

Blom also engaged in table talk frequently, although usually only after a hand was done. And I only heard him talking about hands, not anything else.

If I had more time, I might be able to come up with a better summary of what it was like watching and writing about Blom all night. I know some of my colleagues like to do these “An Orbit With...” posts in which they watch a particularly compelling player play an entire orbit’s worth of hands and report on each. It occurred to me to try something like that last night -- Blom was playing so many hands, it was virtually certain something interesting would come amid a selection of nine consecutive ones. But I didn’t, both because there were many other tables to follow and because I tend not to want to hover too long in the same place when on the floor.

My buddy Brad “Otis” Willis is here in Vegas now, reporting on the WSOP for the PokerStars blog. He, too, is fascinated with Isildur1, and for a more studied example of blogging Blom, see his piece from yesterday “Viktor Blom Versus the World.”

It goes without saying that Blom is a “player to watch” going forward, not just because he’s a talented player who is likely to win, but because he’s a fascinating representative of a type -- the seemingly fearless online player who now finds himself in a live setting.

Where he can be watched.

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