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The Return of the Champ

Date: Tue, Jun 17, 2014 Internet

Joe Cada’s victory last night in Event No. 32, the $10,000 Six-Handed No-Limit Hold’em Championship, marked the first time one of the last 12 WSOP Main Event winners -- dating back to 2002 champ Robert Varkonyi -- has been able to follow his ME title with another WSOP bracelet win.

Carlos Mortensen was the most recent champion to follow his ME title with a win in another bracelet event, having won his second (and so far only other) WSOP bracelet in 2003 in a $5K limit hold’em event.

That was a big year for former Main Event champs, actually, with no less than six different ME winners collecting bracelets in 2003. In addition to Mortensen, Chris Ferguson, Phil Hellmuth, and Johnny Chan each won two events apiece, while Doyle Brunson and Huck Seed won events as well. (Ferguson finished runner-up in another event that year, too.)

There hasn’t been as good a year for former ME winners at the WSOP since, not by a long shot. Chan and Brunson would each win bracelets in 2005 -- the last for both. Scotty Nguyen would win the $50K H.O.R.S.E. in 2008. And Phil Hellmuth won WSOP events in 2006, 2007, and 2012, while also winning the 2012 WSOP Europe Main Event.

The period since 2003 has seen fields expand dramatically, although the number of bracelet events has essentially doubled, too, since 2003. And while there have been a lot of ME winners playing a lot of events, getting all of the way back to the winner’s circle has proven difficult for nearly all of them.

Cada was a likely candidate to break through to get that second bracelet, having come close several times recently with two fourth-place finishes last year and a runner-up in 2012.

Greg Merson has cashed three times already this WSOP and seems capable of being the next WSOP ME winner to win a bracelet. I’d say Jonathan Duhamel probably would be a good choice, too, to win one, even though he’s off to a rough start at this summer’s Series.

Then again, Hellmuth is 11th of 38 in another event to start today (Event No. 36, $1,500 NL 2-7 Draw), and so perhaps he’ll be the next ME winner to grab more gold. Again.

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Just Play; or, the Work Is Its Own Reward

Date: Mon, Jun 16, 2014 Internet

The Heat-Spurs series -- like the most recent Super Bowl -- turned out quite anticlimactic with San Antonio’s three straight blowouts to clinch.

Was certainly intriguing to watch the Spurs team handle the ball so flawlessly, and that crazy 19-for-21 start to Game 3 was simply stunning. It shouldn’t have seemed so surprising, really, given the Western Conference’s clear edge over the East throughout the year, but it still was kind of amazing to watch one team dominate the other so thoroughly on basketball’s biggest stage.

While recalling the previous four championship teams San Antonio has had since 1999, the victory also kind of reprised the 2004 Detroit Pistons insofar as the “team” concept as exemplified by the winners so obviously overrode all other narratives to become the story of the series. You might remember Detroit’s coach Larry Brown speaking of “winning the right way” a decade ago, alluding to the promotion of team over individual, and the Spurs obviously demonstrated something similar during their season and playoff run.

To a man so uniformly humble, the talk that came from the Spurs perhaps sounded a little at times like generic sports-speak. Still, one theme I found kind of interesting -- and with obvious connections to poker -- was the Spurs’ repeated insistence upon “just playing” and not worrying overly about results.

The guiding quote from coach Gregg Popovich from several years back insists “You don’t deserve anything. You just go play. You start thinking about what you deserve and what you don’t deserve and it just makes you soft. You just go play the game.”

In practice, such a principle translates into focusing on performing as well as possible and not fretting over outcomes, in particular not fooling oneself into thinking certain outcomes are “deserved.” In poker terms, we think of doing our best to “get it in good” -- i.e., with a favorable chance of being successful -- then not being overly affected by results, be they positive or negative.

Kevin Arnovitz focused on that theme last night in his post-series column for ESPN titled “The work speaks for itself,” speaking of “commitment to process” as an emblem for the Spurs, a formulation that sounds a lot like a different way of saying not to be “results oriented.”

Luck did play a role in this series -- though perhaps not as conspicuously as happened between the same two teams a year ago. But so did skill, with the Spurs playing their hand about as well as it could be played. And, as happens more often than not, the favorite came out on top.

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The Reunited States: Amaya To Bring PokerStars Back?

Date: Fri, Jun 13, 2014 Internet

Found it a little uncanny that on the very day I finally got my Full Tilt Poker money back -- three years and almost two months after Black Friday came along and the games ended both there and at PokerStars for United States players -- news broke that PokerStars (and the new FTP) may actually be coming back to the U.S. sooner than later.

You’ve no doubt heard about this mammoth deal struck between the Canadian-based Amaya Gaming Group and the Oldford Group Limited, parent company of the Rational Group which in turn owns PokerStars and Full Tilt 2.0. After six months’ worth of negotiations between the two entities, Amaya will be purchasing the online sites, the live poker tours and events, and other associated assets belonging to Rational for a hefty $4.9 billion. Seems hefty, anyway, although some are noting the price tag could have been a lot higher.

A few final steps have to be taken before the deal is finalized (e.g., Amaya shareholders have to okay it, some other approvals have to come), but it sounds like everything is in place for all that to happen.

Amaya already has one online poker platform -- Ongame -- and thus will soon have three. And most notably Amaya is also already licensed to as a service provider for online casinos in New Jersey. Amaya is a “B2B” provider while Rational is a “B2C”; thus, as Amaya says in its presser, “the Transaction combines complementary businesses with minimal overlap.”

The Rational Group had to this point failed to get licensed in the state thanks to its relationship with Isai Scheinberg and his being named in the Black Friday indictment and civil complaint. I believe it was late last year that New Jersey said they’d be waiting another two years before considering Rational’s application again. The change up top thus helps Amaya potentially introduce the Stars platform into NJ much sooner.

Chris Grove over at the Online Poker Report does well to explain both the deal and some of the other possible implications, including what it might mean with regard to PokerStars finding its way into other states (including those yet to pass online gambling legislation). Grove even speculates about the potential for Caesars and Stars somehow to get together down the road with Amaya now in charge.

Among the “Key Transaction Highlights” also listed in the Amaya presser, it is mentioned that “Rational Group’s executive management team will be retained and online poker services provided by PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker will be unaffected by the Transaction, with players continuing to enjoy uninterrupted access to their gaming experience.”

While Stars, FTP, the tours, and everything else will be left to the Rational Group guys to continue to manage, it sounds like Amaya has visions of adding what it already has to help “expand the nascent Full Tilt Poker casino platform” while also planning to “support Rational Group’s growth initiatives in new gaming verticals, including casino, sportsbook and social gaming, and new geographies.”

Everything remains “wait and see,” especially until the deal is finalized once and for all, but prospects shift immediately, particularly here in the U.S., when it comes to online poker.

And here we are on Friday the 13th, too, which also recalls another landmark day in the twisty history of online poker in the U.S. Uncanny.

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Finally, Full Tilt Funds

Date: Thu, Jun 12, 2014 Internet

Did a double-take earlier today while making a cursory check of my banking account online. Wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but rather needed to conduct a little business when I noticed something new coming through -- one of those “Pending Transactions” indicating that a credit was coming through.

I had to look again, just because I wasn’t quite sure what I was reading the first time. I slowly eyed the line of all caps to the right of the figure.

“DOJ POKER STARS POKERPAY01 ******* 061214.”

No. Really? I guess it’s true. At long last, I have cashed out from Full Tilt Poker.

My first thought was to compare the three years and almost two months it took to recover those funds to the couple of weeks it took to get what I had over at PokerStars. (I had jumped ship from both Absolute Poker and UltimateBet way, way, way before in late 2007 when the first insider cheating scandal at AP broke.)

That wasn’t too revealing of a comparison, though. One event was more or less a pleasant surprise. The other was delayed to such unreasonable lengths and buried under so many inconsequential subplots, false leads, long-smoldering outrage, and abject resignation that it hardly seemed like they belonged to the same category. Besides, it took too much mental work even to remember the earlier one, let alone view it in terms of the latter one.

So I thought further about it. Was it more like getting some kind of surprise discount after having already paid for something? Receiving unexpected tax refund for overpayment? Winning a raffle when I hadn’t realized someone else had dropped my name in the hat?

Or how about being pushed a pot unexpectedly after getting my river bluff called, then finding out I had the best hand after all?

Nah, I thought. More like the faintest of echoes, like a letter reminding you of something you used to do -- a camp you once visited, a vacation from long ago -- something meaningful once upon a time, but that you haven’t thought about for a long, long time.

Then I just stopped thinking about it altogether. Just like I’d gradually stopped thinking about the old Full Tilt Poker, too.

Good luck to everyone else getting theirs.

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Nitsche’s Niche

Date: Wed, Jun 11, 2014 Internet

The young German player Dominik Nitsche won another WSOP bracelet last night in Event No. 21, a $1,000 no-limit hold’em event. That makes three for him as he just won the WSOP National Championship a few weeks ago (which counts as a bracelet event), and he’d won his first back in 2012 in another $1,000 NLHE tourney.

I was there two years ago to help cover Nitsche’s first bracelet win. That one had a big field of 4,620 take part -- it was one of the last events of the summer. I remember it had originally been scheduled as a four-day event. There were 51 players who came back for Day 3, and Nitsche blitzed through so quickly they were able to end a day early. He picked up a lot of big hands at that final table, I also recall, which helped hasten things at the end.

Nitsche bested another big field of 2,043 to win last night. Looking back through the coverage, the heads-up portion of play provided some interesting moments, including some good fortune for Nitsche on more than one occasion.

Dave D’Alesandro was Nitsche’s heads-up opponent, and he enjoyed about a 2.5-to-1 chip lead as they began. They’d end up playing about 90 hands, with Nitsche doubling up no less than four times before grabbing the advantage and then eventually knocking D’Alesandro out the first time the latter was all in and at risk.

The first of those double-ups was the most fortunate for Nitsche as he’d committed with 10-9-suited versus D’Alesandro’s A-Q and hit a ten on the river to survive.

Nitsche’s obviously a talented no-limit hold’em tourney player -- aside from these three WSOP wins, he has tons of other results totaling more than $3.7 million. He also has both an LAPT title and a WPT title, too, so when he eventually gets around to winning an EPT they’ll have to invent a name for the feat (the Quadruple Crown?). And no, to reprise yesterday’s topic, none of the 25K Fantasy teams drafted him.

He’s just 23 years old, and in fact wins a third bracelet some three years faster than Phil Ivey did, who had gotten to three faster than anyone previous to Nitsche. The fortunate flips and all-ins last night highlight what is likely a facile observation that variance has been kind to Nitsche in his brief WSOP career thus far.

That said, he’s put himself in good positions for good things to happen a whole lot already, and has found a niche of sorts at the WSOP, too.

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Rating the Recognizables

Date: Tue, Jun 10, 2014 Internet

Heading into today, a total of 20 bracelets have been won thus far at the 2014 World Series of Poker. There have been a fair share won by “known” players to this point -- seems like a lot, doesn’t it?

I would imagine most of those who follow poker would recognize at least a third, perhaps half of the players who have won events to this point. I knew of 12 of these players before, a couple of them (Kyle Cartwright and Kory Kilpatrick) thanks to having seen them do well at WSOP Circuit events in the past.

Seems like a pretty high percentage of “recognizables.” I was curious to check that 25K Fantasy game and see how many of the bracelet winners so far were among the 96 players drafted.

Looks like five of the 20 winners were selected -- Vanessa Selbst, Paul Volpe, George Danzer, Brock Parker, and Justin Bonomo -- and really among the ones who weren’t taken, none really stand out as huge misses. No one drafted Ted Forrest or Davidi Kitai (both multiple bracelet winners coming in), but in neither case does that stand out as an alarming oversight.

Was wondering how that clip of picking winners compared to last year’s 25K Fantasy draft, and after a quick run through to compare the 112 players selected (by 14 teams) and the 62 bracelet winners, it looks like a total of nine champs were drafted -- Mike Gorodinsky, Mike Matusow, David Chiu, Erick Lindgren, Jesse Martin, Marco Johnson, Steve Sung, Eli Elezra, and Daniel Alaei. Looking over the undrafted 2013 bracelet winners, only Tom Schneider (who won two) seems like a big miss.

So their rate of drafting winners is better so far this year -- 25% to just under 15% in 2013 -- for whatever that’s worth.

I suppose it’s safe enough to theorize that the better the 25K Fantasy teams do drafting bracelet winners, the more likely it will be those who win bracelets will be recognizable players prior to their victories. That’s not to say that the 25K Fantasy drafters are perfectly representative of the WSOP-following public, but their picks do offer a general idea of who are the best known and highest regarded WSOP tourney players.

Meanwhile, it appears that a third of way into the summer Team Media needs a jump start and PDQ.

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The Favorite Underdog

Date: Mon, Jun 9, 2014 Internet

Have written here a few times over the last several months about how Vera Valmore and I made a move and now live on a farm where we keep a couple of horses. Vera rides dressage, and in fact competed in a show not that long ago where she rode well in a musical freestyle for which she devised the music. Cool stuff.

So we’re horse people, although not really horse racing fans. The sport intrigues us somewhat, but Vera doesn’t like the way the horses sometimes get exploited and mishandled in a mercilessly competitive, high-dollar industry, which necessarily tempers our excitement whenever the Triple Crown races come back around on the calendar.

But we watch them, and were watching on Saturday to see if California Chrome could do what no other horse has done since 1978 and manage to win the Belmont Stakes after having won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

I was absolutely ambivalent about the outcome. Nor did I bet on the race -- which, illogically, I can legally do while I cannot play online poker except on sketchy, unreliable “rogue” sites located offshore.

But I was still fascinated by how the great majority of others were pulling for California Chrome to pull it off. We ended up watching a lot of the lead-up to the race, and without exception everyone who appeared on camera seemed excitedly to be pulling for Chrome, too, with all of them -- without exception -- predicting that Chrome, who ultimately set off as a big 4-to-5 favorite, would win the race.

I mentioned to Vera just before the race began how it was weird, in a way, that in this case the favorite had everyone’s support whereas in sports it is more often the case that the underdog gets more love. But she pointed out to me that I was miscalculating. Even though Chrome was the favorite odds-wise (which, of course, are dictated by the betting) and perhaps might even have been the horse with the best potential to win the race, 36 straight years of no horse winning the Triple Crown necessarily gives the impression that any horse is going to be an underdog to accomplish the feat.

In other words, in this instance, pulling for the nominal “favorite” was in a funny way like pulling for an upset.

It reminded me a little of what I was writing about last week with regard to Vanessa Selbst’s WSOP win and how we tend to be surprised even when “favorites” win at poker. Sure, a given player might be a favorite versus another (or all of the rest, even), but such a player will always be a dog to win a big field tourney.

Then Chrome lost, with Tonalist winning, and Chrome’s owner Steve Coburn swiftly destroyed a lot of good will and support with his complaint about the other horses taking “the coward’s way out” by not racing all three legs of the Triple Crown. Very Hellmuthian, that rant.

It’s a tough spot, I guess, being so favored while an underdog.

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On Mental Toughness

Date: Fri, Jun 6, 2014 Internet

Well, I guess that finish to Game 1 of the Miami Heat-San Antonio Spurs NBA Finals last night tended to support that point I was making yesterday about luck mattering in sports, wouldn’t you say? Sure, the Spurs might well have won even without LeBron James’s going down as he did in the fourth quarter, but it certainly appeared as though his cramping and being unable to continue had a lot to do with Miami suddenly being unable to guard anyone.

Watching that game play out, I was reminded of my own basketball days, including having on several occasions experienced leg cramps which would usually occur right at the very end of a game (or after a long period of play). Often they’d happen when I would be physically exerting myself, jumping one... last... time for a ball, then suddenly being cut down.

Cramps can be utterly debilitating, and while the pain usually subsides quickly (at least in my experience), those initial moments can be full of panicky fright. “Seize” is the verb that seems most appropriate to describe what happens, the wince required to say the word altogether fitting.

Reactions to James’s end-of-game distress have ranged from laughable to lamentable, with those wanting to use the occasion to question his “manhood” making spectacles of themselves by their demonstrations of inanity. Not only is it a silly observation, but it includes an assumption about masculinity and professional sports that while shaped by many years of cultural influence is itself misguided.

Such thoughts stem from the mistaken idea that James might have defied medical science somehow and willed himself to play through injury. Commentator Mark Jackson’s cliché-filled coachspeak late in the game when it appeared James might have to sit down -- “The great ones have a way of willing themselves past their bodies... they tell their bodies ‘No, no, not now... I’ll talk to you tomorrow, but not now’” -- serves as an emblem for such absurdity, and probably encouraged a lot the commentators, too.

The mistake a lot of James’s critics are making has to do with interpreting a physical injury as though it were a mental one. Sports commentators love to advance such psychobabbling analyses -- this is something I’ve complained about here before -- and so the talk is about James’s mind breaking down, not his body (or the AT&T Center’s air conditioning).

I think of how poker -- a game that also has a significant legacy of reinforcing gender-related stereotypes -- constantly provides occasions in which players’ mental toughness is genuinely challenged. The fortitude required, say, to run a bluff or suss out the willful misdirections of an opponent, is significant. And real. And (it might well be added) sometimes the way players handle such challenges gets connected to those same ideas of “manliness” or toughness that have been handed down to some extent by the legacy of poker’s past.

Assessing something like “mental toughness” is hard enough to do in a game like poker where it is so obviously being tested at every turn (and flop and river). I’d venture that performing such assessments is harder to do in sports like basketball, yet so many seem so willing to try anyway.

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The Luck Factor

Date: Thu, Jun 5, 2014 Internet

Am readying for the first game of tonight’s NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs. Kind of excited to follow this one closely, since most summers I’ve either been in Las Vegas throughout the Finals or go during, and so haven’t always been able to follow them closely.

I’m remembering today being in Las Vegas last year and covering an event along with Rich Ryan while Game 7 between the Spurs and Heat played out. We were a little distracted, I recall, as were most of the players. (That pic above is from that night, with Mike Sexton watching and Rich in the foreground -- click to embiggen.)

I also remember last year being in Vegas and playing in a tournament at the Golden Nugget when that incredible Game 6 occurred. The tourney started at noon, but I ended up going deep enough that I was still at the table when that one ended with the Heat’s incredible comeback in regulation and victory in overtime.

I watched the end of Game 6 again yesterday, led to do so after reading Bill Simmons’s column about it over on Grantland. Actually, to be honest, I read the first part of Simmons’s column and skimmed most of it, as I’m rarely inspired to read his always-longer-than-they-need-to-be columns word-for-word.

The beginning of this one is kind of cool, though, in which he gives about a 100 words per second to a nutty sequence that ended with LeBron James hitting a three-pointer to cut the lead to two. He gives a similar treatment to the play that came shortly afterwards that ended with Ray Allen hitting another trey to tie the game with five second left.

Both plays involve some incredibly fortunate bounces for the Heat, and because of the huge consequences end up being worth the microscopic analyses Simmons gives to both. Of course, what fascinates us most about that sequence and series is the role luck played in affecting the outcome.

The teams were especially evenly matched, trading wins back-and-forth in zig-zag fashion until Miami managed to win a second one in a row after succeeding in a close Game 7. In poker when two equally skilled opponents square off, luck ends up determining which of the two gets the advantage in terms of cards and/or circumstances and thus the better result. So, too, did that seem to be the case in the Spurs-Heat series last year.

Luck mattered in the end -- as it always does, but was all the more apparent thanks to the equal skill level of the two opponents.

A lot of people discussing the upcoming series have been fairly preoccupied with the subject of luck in basketball. Those of us in poker are often able to see very readily how much luck matters in other games -- and in other contexts, too -- but I think some basketball fans have a hard time accepting that fact, wanting instead to believe that skill wins out without exception. And the Spurs-Heat series last summer was therefore all the more jarring because of the way it foregrounded the idea in such a dramatic way that luck mattered.

Feel like the Heat may need some good fortune to win this year. But then again, every team generally does.

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Surprise! Selbst Strong

Date: Tue, Jun 3, 2014 Internet

Been thinking about Vanessa Selbst and her big win over the weekend in Event No. 2, the $25,000 Mixed-Max No-Limit Hold’em event that kicked off this year’s World Series of Poker (pic via PokerNews).

I’ve written here many times about Selbst whom I happened to get to see win her first bracelet back in 2008 during my first summer helping cover the Series for PokerNews. That was one of the first tournaments I can remember having covered from beginning to end in which a single player seemed legitimately to have “dominated” the event pretty much from start to finish.

She’d taken the lead midway through Day 1 of the $1,500 pot-limit Omaha event, kept it all of the way to the final table, then fairly ran over her opponents there, too, before running into a kind of unique situation heads-up in which Jamie Pickering began repeatedly raising the pot without looking at his cards. He actually managed to grab the lead briefly, I recall, but Selbst handled the situation and was able to prevail. (Read more about that wild finish here.)

I did not watch Selbst win her bracelet in 2012 in the 10-game event, but like the rest of us have followed her progress over the years as she became the highest-earning female tournament player in the world while now challenging for the top ranking in the Global Poker Index, too, where she is now second behind Ole Schemion.

It’s interesting how each year the WSOP tends to confirm our understanding that being skilled at tournament poker often translates into positive outcomes, with the successes of those we’ve seen win before being instinctively regarded as support for the skill argument.

That said, it’s also interesting how we tend to be surprised when we see, say, Selbst negotiate her way through yet another big field (or a small but tough one in the $25K Mixed-Max) to triumph once more. I mean perhaps only a little surprised, because we do, after all, expect good players to succeed. But surprised nonetheless whenever one of the repeat winners repeats and wins again.

That small little pleasure of amazement, though, is a big part of what makes following these events fun.

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Rounders and Roundball

Date: Mon, Jun 2, 2014 Internet

Just enjoyed listening to poker player, sports bettor, and good storyteller Haralabos Voulgaris do a turn on the Dan Le Batard show this afternoon. Been listening more and more to Le Batard, whose show is based out of Miami and becomes increasingly interesting (and fun) to follow the deeper the Heat go in the playoffs.

Voulgaris was on to talk NBA Finals, and he gave his reasons for favoring the Spurs to win. He was then asked to tell some poker stories, and “Haralabob” obliged.

Voulgaris shared an interesting story about playing poker with former NBA player Antoine Walker at the Bellagio who apparently showed up with a bag full of cash ready to play. Voulgaris actually paid someone $15K to give up a seat for Walker, who then proceeded to sit down for 14 hours or so and lose a fortune -- perhaps $400,000 or $500,000, Voulgaris estimated.

“Everyone at the table was like looking at each other thinking ‘Is there anything left in the bag?’” said Voulgaris. “He actually wasn’t that bad, now that I think of it,” he added. “He just wasn’t as good as the other players in the game.”

Fascinated, Le Batard and his co-host, Stugotz, asked for another poker story. “Who else have you taken money from in this kind of setting?” asked Le Batard, and Voulgaris proceeded to recall an instance of having once played in a game with another former NBA star, Charles Oakley.

“He was pretty cool, actually,” explained Voulgaris, “but I remember I bluffed him in a pot... he was like ‘You had it, right? You had it?’” Oakley wanted to see Voulgaris’s hand, and when he wouldn’t show Oakley actually reached over and grabbed the cards to turn them over.

“He saw that I was bluffing and he then started laughing. Then he picked me up by my armpits and carried me all of the way across the poker room and like slammed me against the wall. He was joking, but I was like scared out of my mind!”

The hosts were cracking up, as you might imagine. A hilarious picture to imagine -- Oakley hoisting Voulgaris up and carrying him across the room.

Bluffing him back, you might say.

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Trying to Find a Final Table

Date: Fri, May 30, 2014 Internet

Still doesn’t feel like the World Series of Poker has really gotten going as yet. I don’t say that because I’m not there -- it’s the rhythm of these early events, I think, that seems somehow out of whack.

Event No. 1, the $500 Casino Employees No-Limit Hold’em event, was supposed to be a two-day affair, but they stopped the event shy of a finish with the final two players coming back yesterday to finish their heads-up battle.

Meanwhile, Event No. 2 is a “mixed-max” event, meaning there’s no final table per se since the tourney concludes with heads-up matches. And Event No. 3, the $1,000 pot-limit Omaha event, rushed down to the final nine yesterday and then continued on, stopping with six players left to continue on today’s scheduled final day of play. (Pic above from PokerNews from the start of things in that one today.)

In other words, it’ll be Saturday before there’s an actual “final table.” In fact, I guess given how the schedule is being maintained it may be even longer until there is an event in which they specifically play down to a final nine (or six or whatever the format is) and thereby have a final day of play devoted to an “official” final table.

I know in some ways it’s probably better to stick to playing a set number of levels and ensuring against inordinately long nights, but I’m in that camp that misses being able to count on “final table days” in WSOP events.

Sure, they’re good for family members and friends wanting to rail players, but they also help create excitement among the rest of us following the action as fans. Also a little better for the poker news cycle, I’d say, as morning stories about the action to come can focus on upcoming final tables, with player profiles and such (not that that is such a huge issue).

I guess I’ve been conditioned a little by poker television, where “the final table” is often presented as the sole focus of an event with the long lead-up to that point often omitted almost entirely from the narrative.

We’ll see how it goes from here, final-table-wise. In any case, follow them updates of all the events on PokerNews, which continue along regardless of where the action starts or stops.

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A Four-Way Stop in the Canada Cup

Date: Thu, May 29, 2014 Internet

See the final hand of that Canada Cup event at the Playground Poker Club? Hear about it?

I know we’re all locked in on the World Series of Poker getting underway this week, and so I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of you missed this one. But check it out... it’s worth it.

This was a PokerStars event, a $3,000 buy-in tourney that drew 578 entries which meant a bit of an overlay as it had a $2 million guarantee. They’d played down to a final table yesterday, and with four players left a player from Toronto named Robert Notkin had the chip lead.

I believe Notkin is just a part-time player. He hasn’t many results, and from what I remember hearing on the live stream he seemed to be playing the amateur’s role when at the feature tables.

I remember James Hartigan and Joe Stapleton talking at length on one of the latter days about how many of Notkin’s relatives were heading to Montreal to watch the tourney once the elder player got a big stack and appeared headed for the final table, with Stapes noting the irony of his last name and the number of kin coming to see him.

Anyhow, I wasn’t watching the final table yesterday, but woke up today to see the tweets and some reference to what had happened. Here the video of the entire final table -- jump ahead to the 8 hour, 46 minute-mark or so for the start of the final hand:

For those not wanting to watch a video, you can read Lane Anderson’s write-up of the tourney and final hand over on PokerNews.

But really, you should watch. Impossible to do so without a big, dumb grin. Four started the hand, and just one survived. Nuts!

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Cards, Bills in the Air

Date: Wed, May 28, 2014 Internet

The WSOP is well underway with the first three events now in action and one -- the $500 Casino Employees No-Limit Hold’em (Event No. 1) -- careening toward a finish later tonight. Found that amusing the WSOP’s firing one-dollar bills into the air to rain over the first event’s players yesterday (pic of the resulting scramble at left via PokerNews).

Event No. 2 earned most of the attention yesterday, of course, a $25,000 buy-in “mixed-max” NLHE event that ended up drawing 131 entrants.

The tourney attracted all the big names as the first high-profile, high buy-in event of the summer, and it seems likely that Friday’s tourney-concluding heads-up matches will provide some of the bigger first-week headlines. Indeed, when it comes to those WSOP Fantasy pools I was discussing yesterday, most of the top finishers in Event No. 2 will likely have been drafted.

It’s the only $25,000 buy-in tourney on this year’s schedule, and indeed $25K is a fairly unique buy-in at the WSOP that has only cropped up three times before.

  • 2013 - No-Limit Hold’em Six-Handed (175 entrants)
  • 2011 - No-Limit Hold’em Heads-Up (128 entrants)
  • 2010 - No-Limit Hold’em Six-Handed (191 entrants)
  • The field of 131 for the Mixed-Max tourney probably represents a number somewhat below expectations for the event, although a $3.11 milly prize pool is nonetheless notable (and will be one of the bigger ones all summer).

    By the way, check over at PokerNews each morning for recaps and “What to Watch For” articles, of which I’ll be writing some this summer. Still feels like the WSOP hasn’t quite gotten started, though, perhaps because the Casino Employees isn’t an “open” event and the $25K Mixed-Max is kinda sorta exclusive, too, in a way.

    In other words, everything still feels up in the air.

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