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Remembering Rivers Duking It Out With Duke

Date: Fri, Sep 5, 2014 Internet

I’m a big fan of old recorded comedy, having spent many years fishing LPs out of the used bins to build a big but not too embarrassingly large of a collection. And of course now that practically everything exists online to be hunted down if one desires, I’ve filled a lot of gaps when it comes to those old records and radio shows, in particular from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.

Both Robin Williams and Joan Rivers were significant figures during that era of comedy, and of course both became even more central in popular culture during the decades since. Both recorded a few LPs, though none of them found their way into my collection. Still, I appreciated how both contributed importantly to American comedy.

When news of Rivers having passed began circulating yesterday afternoon, many in poker immediately recalled her venomous tête-à-tête with Annie Duke on Celebrity Apprentice from five years ago. I found myself looking back at a post I’d written here the day after the finale of that quasi-competition.

For Rivers the show existed amid what became an extended final run of heightened fame marked by her appearance on several reality shows, “red carpet” hosting gigs, and the E! network show Fashion Police that helped keep her a household name.

For Duke being on Celebrity Apprentice was the most notable of several television-related ventures that included turning up on other game shows and a couple of failed attempts starting shows centered around her own then-growing celebrity such as Annie Duke Takes on the World (a game show in which she played poker against amateurs) and All In (a sitcom based on her life -- no shinola).

At the time Duke was still representing UltimateBet (or UB) well after the site’s massive insider cheating scandal had become public. Indeed, she’d been spending much of the previous year defending the site, repeatedly claiming the site had shown “grace and integrity” in its handling of the matter when even then it was clear that was hardly the case, and of course later on further corruption within UB became even more evident. (She’d part with the site at the very end of 2010, three-and-a-half months before Black Friday.)

In other words, some of the poker community was already uncertain about Duke’s status as a “spokesperson” of poker even then in the spring of 2009, although on Celebrity Apprentice she was absolutely regarded that way by others on the show and by the mainstream audience. Indeed, when it came to the Rivers-vs.-Duke rivalry on the show, it was Duke’s poker player identity that earned the most remembered bit of vitriol from the comedian, at least among those of us in poker -- even more remembered than Rivers calling Duke a “Nazi” and comparing her to Hitler.

From that 2009 post:

“Even if you haven’t been watching the show, you’d probably heard about Rivers’ shots at poker and Vegas. How she referred to the money contributed by poker players to Duke’s cause as ‘money with blood on it.’ How she referred to her many years performing in LV by saying ‘I’ve met your people in Vegas for forty years -- none of them have last names,’ suggesting the nefarious and/or criminal backgrounds of the inhabitants of Sin City...”

“You’re a poker player... a poker player,” Rivers continues in the clip we all passed around at the time. “That’s beyond white trash.” “Poker players are the most awesome people in the world,” Duke responds, not necessarily her finest moment as a debater. “Poker players are trash, darling... trash,” reiterates Rivers.

Duke’s subsequent move from UB to the doomed Epic Poker League didn’t do much to prove Rivers wrong, either, when it came to her judgment of Duke. Speaking of, Jeffrey Pollack -- whose reputation in the poker world would sink in the EPL ship along with Duke’s -- was still the WSOP Commissioner at the time of Duke’s appearance on Celebrity Apprentice, and in the WSOP conference call that year would maintain that Duke’s appearance on the show represented a “leap forward for the mainstreaming of poker into our pop culture” and that the “net effect was going to be very good for poker.”

I’m wondering otherwise in that post, given how badly the game was portrayed on the show. And of course, years later, even poker players are today unhesitatingly siding in retrospect with Rivers against Duke.

For Rivers, Annie Duke was just one of several with whom she battled heads-up in a long career, her unrestrained comedic style (and personality) often being much more savage than subtle (or more Juvenal than Horace). And while poker and its image might have suffered some collateral damage from their exchange years ago, the game would persevere nonetheless -- despite both of them.

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One Rich Character

Date: Thu, Sep 4, 2014 Internet

So Dan Colman tops that 1,499-entry field at the $5,300 Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open Main Event last night to be awarded a $1,446,710 first prize and thus take the biggest chunk of anyone from that $10 million guaranteed prize pool for which there was a $2.5 million-plus overlay.

It was Colman’s ninth tourney cash of the year, seven of which have been final tables with three victories among them. Four of those final tables were in “high roller” or “super high roller” events, with a fifth in a $10K buy-in tourney from the WSOP this summer. And of course he won the Big One for One Drop for a $15,306,668 prize.

I believe with his win last night his total 2014 tourney winnings now add up to $21,058,153. Daniel Negreanu sits in second on the 2014 money list with more than $10.2 million, also thanks in large part to his big score in the Big One. Take those Big One cashes away from Colman and Negreanu, and Colman would still be well in front on the year’s money list with the $5.75 million he’s won in other events.

Meanwhile on the “all-time” list -- which lost whatever small significance it might have had years ago -- Colman’s new total of $21,562,852 allows him to jump a few spots into third just ahead of Phil Ivey and behind Negreanu (first) and Antonio Esfandiari (second).

Colman’s win last night culminates an interesting summer that saw him swiftly claim the poker spotlight in four rapid scenes. Winning the Super High Roller at the EPT Grand Final in April earned him some attention, with a few who didn’t already know about “mrgr33n13” -- who in 2013 became the first hyper-turbo player to earn more than $1 million inside a calendar year -- learning his name.

Then, of course, came the One Drop, the interview refusals, and the subsequent poker is “a very dark game” declaration that provoked a little bit of discussion about poker’s place in culture and a lot more about Colman himself.

Also part of that was Colman’s attempt to clarify his distaste for making heroes out of poker players and hope that “we stop idolizing those who were able to make it to the top.” I explored that stance here in a post titled “Colman, Chomsky, and Irrational Attitudes of Submission to Authority.”

Then came the sloganeering by T-shirt at the EPT Barcelona Super High Roller final table which besides provoking various other debates about poker (and politics) seemed weirdly to contradict that earlier desire to remain unnoticed and without influence.

Finally Colman’s victory last night over a large field in the SHRPO Main -- including outlasting a talented final table -- has evoked expected amazement at such a run of successes. It’s almost funny, in fact, to read all of the superlative-laden responses to Colman’s win and think about how they more or less serve to aggrandize his achievements -- that is to say, to do that which he spoke against in that angry “I don’t owe poker anything” Two Plus Two forum post and those “I don’t care about poker” tweets.

That is to say, simply by continuing to win and accumulate such remarkable tourney totals, the spotlight necessarily remains squarely on Colman, with his wins also helping build further an image -- problematic in its construction, no doubt -- of a kind of poker “hero.”

Obviously “hero” isn’t the right word (on that I’d agree with Colman). But he’s certainly become an interesting, complicated character, caught somewhere between protagonist and antagonist among the cast in the current poker drama.

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The Guarantee (In a World Without Guarantees)

Date: Wed, Sep 3, 2014 Internet

I was thinking again today a little about the missing of the guarantee -- by a long, long shot -- at the $10 million Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open Main Event, the final table of which is currently being live streamed over at

By the way, I enjoyed last night’s stream from the SHRPO (the Super High Roller final table) enough to write an article today about it on Learn.PokerNews pointing out how great those shows are not just for being entertained but also for hearing smart strategy talk, especially from the pros who come on as guests.

Guarantees have become more and more common for poker tournaments, especially live ones with many series’ Main Events featuring them. I believe all of those tourney series I mentioned in yesterday’s post featured guarantees of some sort, though none as gaudy as what they had down in Hollywood, Florida.

The recently completed WinStar River Poker Series Main Event in Oklahoma had a $1 million guaranteed first prize which helped create a dizzyingly steep payout structure with second place only getting about a third of that amount. Even the WSOP got in on the guarantee-making this year with a $10 million guaranteed first prize for the Main Event.

Some are discussing the significance of guarantees which do tend to work as part of the marketing of tournaments, usually giving players some indication of what size field to expect. For example, PokerStars is about to start its WCOOP series this weekend, and as usual there are guarantees set for all of the scheduled events. And you can almost guarantee all of those guarantees will be met (easily), meaning those who play in the events will be almost assured of what the minimum field size will be in each tourney.

Field sizes matter to players. Prize pools matter even more. For those focused on the potential ROI when playing a tourney -- or just getting pleasure from being able to set their sights on a certain ideal payout -- guarantees can be especially meaningful.

I was thinking, though, in a more abstract way about how paradoxical is the idea of anything being “guaranteed” in poker, a game in which bad play is sometimes rewarded and good play is not. Tournament poker in particular tends to highlight that fact with the players who enjoy the greatest returns almost invariably having enjoyed some form of good fortune along the way.

That is to say, the game itself constantly demonstrates as a fundamental principle that practically nothing is “guaranteed.” Except, I suppose, for those relatively rare instances of players all in and “drawing dead.” (You know, when you really can say “the turn changed nothing” and mean it.)

Perhaps that’s why these guarantees assigned by tourney organizers to prize pools seem so meaningful, providing as they do players with at least something they can count on.

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Short at SHRPO

Date: Tue, Sep 2, 2014 Internet

Poker news over the three-day weekend focused largely on that Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open Championship, a $5,300 buy-in event with three Day 1 flights and unlimited reentries that sported a $10 million guarantee.

They ran a similar event last year right about this time, again culminating a long series of tournaments comprising the “SHRPO,” and after it drew 2,384 entries to build a $11,920,000 prize pool the tourney earned a lot of notice. I was there last year at the time, actually, helping cover the first World Poker Tour Alpha8 event that was happening that same week at the Hard Rock in Hollywood, Florida, and I recall the buzz surrounding the event which Blair Hinkle ultimately won to claim a hefty $1,745,245 first prize.

The return of the “$10 milly” was announced back in May and I remember Rich Ryan then spending one of his “Five Thoughts” looking forward to the sequel while commending the tourney’s organizers for scheduling it after EPT Barcelona (albeit by just a couple of days).

Barcelona ended up breaking all kinds of records, attendance-wise. Then the end of August ultimately became quite crowded on the poker calendar on this side of the pond with events in California (the WPT Legends of Poker), Oklahoma (the WinStar River Poker Series), Mississippi (Beau Rivage Gulf Coast Poker Championship), Colorado (Colorado Poker Championship), Ohio (Labor Day Deepstack), Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh Poker Open Summer Series), and Montreal (Playground Poker Montreal Festival). There might have been others, too, not to mention the WSOP Circuit stops happening on either side as well.

Even so, it was a little surprising to hear they only ultimately drew 1,499 entries for the SHRPO Main Event, meaning an enormous overlay of just over $2.5 million after the tourney organizers honored the $10 million guarantee. The tourney is now down to 18 players. The EPTLive folks will be live streaming the final table tomorrow, I believe, as well as the final table of the Super High Roller today with James Hartigan and Joe Stapleton handling the commentary.

Among the chatter over the last couple of days has been the observation that this represents biggest overlay in poker tourney history, exceeding even that International Stadiums Poker Tour (ISPT) event at Wembley last summer where €589,060 had to be put up to ensure a €1 million first prize. The Seminole’s big overlay has also spurred other interesting conversations about the current state of tournament poker.

Those who think the turnout coming up short at SHRPO indicates something dire about the state of tourney poker in the North America are wrong. The other events listed above all saw healthy turnouts and there’s hardly a shortage of players and/or interest in tournament poker here. Those wondering about the possible negative effects of unlimited entry tournaments upon non-professional players have a point, although I don’t think they really dissuade the non-pros from participating all that much. Meanwhile those speculating about the future of super-big guarantees have a point as well. In any case, one would think the Seminole will probably be a lot more cautious about trying another $10 milly event in the future.

I guess I’m most intrigued by how complicated the reaction to the SHRPO overlay has been. Rather than simply hearing from players rejoicing at free money in Florida, the angles of inquiry and subsequent discussion has gone in all sorts of directions, including some that seem constructive. The fact is, the overlay has highlighted several issues relevant to players, casinos, tourney organizers, and even the media who cover tourneys, bringing to the foreground concerns that have significance to anyone with an interest in tournament poker.

Tournament Director Matt Savage summed up the conversation well in a single tweet, I thought, when he noted that “Poker tournaments are a fragile ecosystem, we (Players, TD’s, and Casinos) need to work together to get them to survive and thrive.”

There is most certainly an “ecosystem” (or special “economy”) in poker, something the rise of tournament poker has made all the more conspicuous over the last decade. And everyone who is part of it affects it in some fashion, whether they work together or not.

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Laboring Along

Date: Mon, Sep 1, 2014 Internet

It’s Labor Day in the U.S., a holiday from work for most, although for freelancing types like me it doesn’t really rate much differently.

Not only will I be engaged in my usual scribbling-related workload today, but as Vera and I have come to realize here on the farm there’s always work to be done. We don’t even grow anything (yet), but just keeping the pastures in check, the barn clean and tidy, the horses happy, and everything else clicking along keeps us plenty busy.

By the way, that’s Freckles above, one of our barn cats who oversees that all the barn work gets done in a timely fashion. We had three barn cats when we first moved in -- Freckles, Lily, and Mo -- but sadly Lily went missing a few weeks ago after a big storm came through. Freckles, meanwhile, has become more bold in Lily’s absence, although as you can see she continues to keep her distance.

Speaking of keeping busy over the holiday weekend, I noticed a lot of poker tourneys happening all over the continent these last few days, including, of course, that Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open Championship down in Hollywood, Florida where it looks as though they’ve experienced a massive overlay after failing to draw enough entries to meet their big $10 million guarantee.

Think I’ll write something tomorrow about that, but today I’ll give myself a bit of a blog break at least in order to get some other work done.

I mean if I don’t shovel all this stuff today, it piles up, you know?

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Reviewing Zachary Elwood’s Verbal Poker Tells

Date: Fri, Aug 29, 2014 Internet

I mentioned earlier this week how I’d been reading Zachary Elwood’s Verbal Poker Tells, the follow-up to his earlier Reading Poker Tells. I was able to finish it and wrote a review for Learn.PokerNews, posted today.

I had to mention in my review how the topic Zach chose could seem to be a “niche within a niche within a niche,” although as it turns out the book has a lot of value that goes beyond the narrow scope of verbal tells. I believe anyone reading the book will come away not just with added knowledge about how to decipher opponents’ table talk, but also further equipped to understand many commonly employed approaches to hold’em strategy.

Zach does a nice job in his explanations of all the different kinds of statements about hand strength, misdirections, defensive statements, attempts at manipulation, and other verbal patterns connecting the words players use to the strategies they are employing when playing a hand.

I especially enjoyed the many, many hands discussed in Verbal Poker Tells, including a lot from televised poker that I remembered seeing before. There’s a much greater emphasis on hand histories in this book than was the case with Zach’s earlier one, which makes sense as all of the direct quotes help provide concrete illustrations of the many varieties of tells he’s addressing.

He also does well (as he did in the first book) to distinguish how recreational players tend to exhibit these tells more readily and less subtly than is the case with more seasoned table talkers. And again he makes it clear with several disclaimers that recognizing tells is only a small part of live poker, with an understanding of fundamental strategy more important (and, of course, necessary to have before even being able to think about tells).

I admire Zach for the obvious commitment of time and energy to this new project, and for getting his book completed and now made available for readers. It’s quite an achievement.

Whenever I write a book review I have misgivings about what I wasn’t able to cover in the space of the review. Such is true again with this one, although I’m hoping to interview Zach next week and thus have a chance to add further to the discussion of how Verbal Poker Tells contributes to our understanding of both tells specifically and poker strategy more broadly. Stay tuned over at Learn.PokerNews for that.

Meanwhile, check out the review for more. And enjoy the weekend!

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What the Winner Wins

Date: Thu, Aug 28, 2014 Internet

Well, I couldn’t shut off that EPTLive stream last night, watching all of the way to the very end of the protracted heads-up battle between Sam Phillips and eventual winner Andre Lettau on my iPhone just before finally hitting the hay.

The last EPT Main Event in Monaco back in May had ended similarly, with an 18-hour final table and a heads-up match that went about 10 hours (with breaks) and lasted 237 hands. This time the final table went for something like 15 hours, and while heads-up “only” lasted 142 hands and a little over six hours with the dinner break, it was still a marathon for all involved.

The huge field of 1,496 entrants helped ensure there’d be deep stacks at the end, and Phillips and Lettau managed to work all of the way into the 600,000/1,200,000 blind level (with a 200,000 ante) before reaching a conclusion. Lettau prevailed, which meant thanks to the three-handed deal runner-up Phillips earned considerably more than did the champion, taking away more than €1,000,000 from the prize pool while Lettau ended with €794,058.

Always kind of awkward when reporting on a tournament when a deal is made and the winner isn’t the one actually earning the biggest prize. Makes for some lengthy headlines and lots of qualifying statements when referring to the event. Asterisks are sometimes needed when reporting payouts, too, reflecting adjustments made.

Such a circumstance probably also adds another layer of ambiguity preventing poker tournaments from being considered analogous to sporting events, even if they can be argued to resemble them in many other respects. We can’t really imagine, say, a pair of tennis players in the finals of a tourney stopping short of a fifth-set tiebreaker to narrow the gap between first- and second-place prize money before continuing.

Indeed, the whole process of deal-making highlights a couple of crucial differences between poker tournaments and other sports -- the fact that players pay to play, and that money is itself an element of the game.

Deals in poker tournaments often have a tangible effect on how play proceeds thereafter. Some pros don’t like making deals because of the way they lessen the money pressure their opponents may not be as equipped to handle as they are. I said yesterday how I enjoy watching the deals being made because the process can directly reflect how players play the game itself. Deals really are part of the game, one of a number of reasons why most can’t call poker a sport.

By the way, I might have mentioned this before, but I wrote a three-part series over on Learn.PokerNews some time ago about deal-making in tournaments, for those who might be interested. I was inspired to write it after watching some MicroMillions players stumbling through deals at final tables, understandably uncertain about how they worked. It covers the logistics, some strategic considerations, and includes some fun deal-making anecdotes, too -- the series starts here.

Deals also help make explicit the various reasons why people play poker tournaments, specifically the way they draw a stark distinction between playing for money and playing for the prestige of winning.

Being an EPT champion, for example, does have value, as was clearly demonstrated by the earnestly-fought battle between Phillips and Lettau yesterday. Sure, €90,000 was on the line -- perhaps a relatively small percentage of both players’ winnings, but hardly insignificant. But getting that favored position in the headlines and the subsequent “EPT champ” adjective attached to your name was worth playing for, too.

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Bartering in Barcelona

Date: Wed, Aug 27, 2014 Internet

Pretty well locked into this EPT Barcelona Main Event final table right now, which has finally reached heads-up after a deal was made at three-handed.

The deal came at a time when the U.S. player Sam Phillips enjoyed a huge chip lead over the two Germans, Andre Lettau and Hossein Ensan. Ensan won the Seniors Event, incidentally, so it has been a great week for him.

At the time of the deal, Phillips had close to 30 million chips, I believe, while the other two were down around 7 million or just under. They weren’t able to come to terms during the first round of talks, but paused the tourney again and eventually made the deal happen, with Phillips locking up €1,021,275, Lettau €704,058, and Ensan €652,667, with €90,000 left on the table for which to play.

As I write, Ensan just busted in third and Phillips nearly eliminated on the first hand of heads-up, but the latter scored a double-up and the final two battle onward.

Deals at the EPT are all made out in the open -- unlike at the WSOP where the rules nominally forbid deal-making, thus forcing players to make the deals privately. As such, media generally can’t report on deals made at the WSOP, since they aren’t necessarily privy to their details nor assured of their veracity. Nor are deals at the WSOP reflected in results chronicled by the Hendon Mob and other sites.

It’s better for the players to have tourney organizers help oversee such negotiations and guarantee the adjusted payouts are correctly applied. What happens at the EPT is very much like what you see play out on the PokerStars client when an online tournament such as the Sunday Million is paused at the final table for players to discuss a chop. A moderator arrives in the chat box, often providing both “chip chop” and “ICM”-based figures (while setting some money aside for which to play), discussions ensue, and if a deal is made the payouts are automatically adjusted.

Watching the deal-making play out today, I couldn’t help but think back to last year’s EPT Barcelona Main Event when I was there to help cover the tournament for the PokerStars blog. At four-handed there was an especially lengthy discussion (around 45 minutes, I think) that ultimately did not result in a deal being made. I wrote a little about that here at the time, and Rick Dacey wrote a good, informative feature about the process on the PS blog that day as well. (A deal was eventually struck at heads-up between eventual winner Tom Middleton and Kimmo Kurko.)

This time the tournament director made it clear that the EPT has revised its policies regarding deal-making, limiting the time they can spend and also how much advice players can solicit from friends on the rail. I think I heard players being instructed they could only talk to a single friend and only briefly, a proscription clearly designed to prevent the extended negotiations-within-negotiations that happened last year when Middleton was not only bartering with his opponents but working out a deal with others buying pieces as well.

“This is always fascinating, I think,” said Jake Cody who was helping with the commentary at the time of the deal. To me it’s also all quite interesting to follow, the analogies between poker strategy and the kinds of strategy employed during deal-making making even more intriguing when the entire process is able to be witnessed in all of its detail.

I wonder, though, like I did last year, how it plays to the wider audience, many of whom -- including the most devoted poker players/fans -- find deal-making especially tedious to watch. Joe Stapleton shared on the commentary that according to the tweets the audiences seemed divided evenly between those who enjoyed watching it and those who found it a bore.

Understandable. Hard enough to believe some enjoy watching people playing cards, but watching people not play cards? How could that be interesting?

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T-Shirt Talk

Date: Tue, Aug 26, 2014 Internet

There has been an abundance of talk of late about poker players showing up at televised final tables wearing t-shirts with political slogans and the appropriateness of such. If you saw the €50,000 Super High Roller final table play out at EPT11 Barcelona last week and/or have read any of the several articles, blog posts, and Twitterings resulting from it, you know where all of that started.

The discussion has moved around to touch on a number of different topics. Some believe players should be allowed to wear whatever they like at the tables, including being able to seize the opportunity of earning some extra exposure on a televised table to deliver messages such as we saw last week. Others maintain those hosting and televising such tables should be able to exert some control over what players wear when appearing on their shows, including not permitting political slogans.

Some of the talk has even stepped back to consider whether or not there is “room” for politics in poker -- i.e., to entertain the idea that the poker table perhaps should represent a kind of safe haven where one shouldn’t have to confront various conflicts existing elsewhere, including political ones.

Of course, many poker players readily choose to shut out the world (so to speak) while playing, immersing themselves in the game entirely. That phenomenon always makes me think of the story Al Alvarez tells in The Biggest Game in Town about being in Las Vegas during the 1981 WSOP when Pope John Paul II was shot in St. Peter’s Square. “Nobody mentioned it,” notes Alvarez, “despite the innumerable crucifixes dangling from the necks of both the players and the casino staff.”

Such is true not just of poker, but in much of contemporary culture where many would rather focus on awards shows, sporting events, or Facebook than the news of the day, particularly if that news is unpleasant or makes one uncomfortable. (I’m certainly not claiming to be innocent of that escapist impulse, either.)

I was trying to decide if I had anything original to contribute to the discussion of this issue, or if by writing a post about it I’d just be adding more noise to bounce around the echo chamber. A thought then occurred to me that I haven’t necessarily seen others mention, so I’m sharing it here.

I mentioned yesterday how I’m reading Zach Elwood’s Verbal Poker Tells. He has a chapter early on titled “Deception and Truth-Telling” that focuses primarily on players’ statements about hand-strength. Zach maintains that most of these statements are indirect rather than straightforward. That is to say, when players do talk about the strength of their hands, they usually do so in ways that require interpretation. For example, instead of saying “I have the nuts,” a player will more likely say “I have a big hand” or something even more ambiguous like “If you fold, I’ll show.”

The primary reason why direct statements are relatively rare, says Zach, “is that poker is a game that assumes non-cooperation and deception from opponents. Because deception is assumed, there isn’t much value in making direct hand-strength statements, whether true or false, because opponents assume you are trying to deceive them.”

Whatever your experience or belief regarding players’ statements about hand strength might be, I think most would agree with this characterization of the poker table as a place where “deception is assumed.” Most would likely also agree with the contrast Zach draws between the poker table and “‘real-life’ situations -- like social and professional interactions -- [where] truth-telling is assumed and is considered the ‘proper’ behavior.”

Reading this passage made me think back to all of the t-shirt talk. Since the poker table is a place where “deception is assumed,” that perhaps makes it all the more strange as a context for earnest declarations about “real-life” causes. I’m not saying we don’t believe the player wearing such a shirt is a sincere advocate for the position or claim its slogan represents. But there is a kind of dissonance there, I think, given the context of a poker game.

After all, the poker table is the one place where we are always having to ask each other “Are you for real?”

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Feeding and Reading

Date: Mon, Aug 25, 2014 Internet

Another nice day on the farm here. I was just doing barn chores. Every weekday afternoon about this time I am usually found in the barn cleaning stalls and feeding the three horses we’re keeping. Two are ours -- Sammy and Maggie -- while we’re boarding another, Shakan. All are now munching their feed and hay happily once more, an indication of a job well performed. Or at least that’s how I’m reading it.

Soon they’ll be turned out for the night. That above is a picture of Sammy (brown) and Maggie (black), shortly after getting turned out the other day.

Like most who follow poker, I had the EPTLive stream on for much of the day to watch the coverage from Day 4 of the €5,300 Main Event in Barcelona. They just finished up a few minutes ago, with 25 players making it through to night’s end, survivors of that record 1,496-entry field.

I didn’t closely follow what has been happening in the €10,300 High Roller event which started today, although I did hear the reports of how that field, too, had ballooned to record proportions. That one is already up over the 370-entry mark, with late registration (and the ability to reenter) open until the start of tomorrow’s Day 2.

At one point during the afternoon Daniel Negreanu joined in for some commentary, as usual adding both insight and entertainment with his contributions. Interestingly he’s skipping that record-breaking High Roller to explore some sights in Barcelona tonight and tomorrow. It’s a good call, I’d say, to take a break once in a while and not play all the events, even if Negreanu is a player who certainly could do so if he wished. Fits with his overall message as well to poker players to keep their lives balanced with other non-poker activities.

One theme that emerged during Negreanu’s time in the booth was how slow players were to act, something that happens a lot more at the feature tables, I think, than is the case out from under the lights and cameras. During one hand Negreanu was pointing out how among the items the player might be considering, the search for his opponent’s tells was especially futile. The fellow was stone-faced and motionless, and as Negreanu noted there was just nothing there to observe.

I’ve been thinking about tells lately in part because I’m nearly finished with Zach Elwood’s latest, Verbal Poker Tells, which catalogues and examines lots of different kinds of table talk in an accessible and entertaining way. (I’ll be reviewing the book soon over on Learn.PokerNews.)

As I’ve been reading, I found myself inspired occasionally to share some of Zach’s observations with Vera along the way. After one instance of doing so the conversation moved on to how animals -- specifically the horses -- communicate with us by their actions, movements, and even their “verbal” snorts and whinnies.

I was thinking of that conversation again this afternoon while in Sammy’s stall and he gave me a playful nudge on the shoulder, rubbing his nose back and forth before turning back around and sticking his head back out of the stall window to enjoy an unusually crisp August afternoon.

It was an unmistakably friendly message. Or at least that’s how I’m reading it.

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Looking in Over at Learn

Date: Fri, Aug 22, 2014 Internet

Continuing to follow the EPTLive coverage from Barcelona, marveling some today at the number of players -- more than 1,000 just for today’s Day 1 flight alone (!) -- they have been drawing this week.

Meanwhile I’ve been busy with other things, including the Learn.PokerNews site where there have been some good contributions over the last couple of weeks I thought I’d share here before signing off for the weekend.

Earlier this week Andrew Brokos offered another smart article, this one titled “Thinking Poker: Everything Has Its Price.” In the piece Andrew explains both what it means to think in terms of “price” when acting during a poker hand and how doing so can help with decision-making. It’s a nice, accessible explanation of a not-so-simple concept.

Robert Woolley, a.k.a. the “Poker Grump,” also continues to add to what has now become a growing collection of great “Casino Poker for Beginners” pieces, this week discussing in particular “chopping” the blinds in cash games. In this week’s piece Robert explains the procedure while also sharing his own thoughts about chopping the blinds and guidelines for new players.

Like other pieces by Robert, he does a great job spelling out something that I know I wondered about when I first started playing. Check out “Chopping Blinds: Expectations, Etiquette, and EV” to read his advice.

Finally I want to recommend a couple of “nuts-and-bolts”-type pieces, what I call articles that deal more directly with specific strategy advice, again geared mostly toward beginners but useful for others, too, I think.

Neil Gibson has been contributing some worthwhile strategy articles of late, including a popular piece not too long ago called “Finding Folds With Pocket Jacks” that talks about how to play that trouble hand -- and get away from it, if needed -- both before and after the flop.

And Aaron Hendrix today has a new one called “Overplaying Big Slick When Deep-Stacked in Tournaments” that touches on something I’ve seen a lot during the early and middle stages of tournaments, namely players getting crazy with A-K in spots when they needn’t necessarily do so.

Interestingly, both Neil and Aaron make reference to hands Phil Ivey has played in their articles as illustrative of the points they make.

Anyhow, just thought I’d pass those articles along for those looking for strategy and theory advice. By the way, if you have a request for an article addressing a particular strategy topic for one of the Learn contributors, let me know about it and perhaps we can work it in over at Learn.

Meanwhile, enjoy the weekend!

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Rambling, Gambling Willie’s Card Trick

Date: Thu, Aug 21, 2014 Internet

Not long ago Vera saw that Farm Aid is coming to North Carolina next month, and after looking over the line-up we decided to get tickets. Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Dave Matthews are headlining, with Jack White among the others set to perform. Should be a fun Saturday.

I remember hearing a few years back that Willie Nelson was a longtime card player. There’s a story that he and Waylon Jennings co-wrote Nelson’s mid-70s hit “Good Hearted Woman” while playing a poker game, one of several poker-related tales floating around that involve the Red-Headed Stranger.

In fact, when not on the road (again) Nelson hosts a weekly poker game in Maui in which folks like Owen and Luke Wilson, Woody Harrelson, the former basketball coach Don Nelson (no relation, I believe), and others participate. Last fall Owen Wilson was on Jimmy Kimmel Live talking about the game as well as sharing the painting of “Nellie’s Poker Room” by John Woodruff shown above.

I was reminded of that this week when I saw the following video clip of Nelson getting passed around, one of him performing a fun, impressive card trick for his sister, Bobbie. Take a look, and just try not to grin while watching:

The trick is a version of a famous one called “Sam the Bellhop” that involves memorizing the story and telling it while working in all of the false shuffles and false cuts as you go. I’ve seen attributed to Chicago-based sleight-of-hand artist Frank Everhart, Sr., with the magician Bill Malone also famous for performing it.

Reading around about it further, “Sam the Bellhop” sounds like it is kind of a “standard” among magicians who work with cards -- sort of like “’Round Midnight” for jazz musicians or the “Aristocrats” joke for comedians. But if you haven’t seen or heard of it before, Nelson’s version is a fun way to be introduced to it.

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Poker, the Least Sporty Sport

Date: Wed, Aug 20, 2014 Internet

The fall semester has already begun, and that means I’m again teaching my “Poker in American Film and Culture” course. I generally like to start the course with an excerpt from the first chapter of Poker: Bets, Bluffs, and Bad Beats by Al Alvarez in which he declares poker to be “The American Game.”

Alvarez begins the chapter comparing poker to various sports that are popular in the U.S., noting how unlike other candidates for the title of “the American game” like baseball or football, poker is a game people continue to play “once they have left school and lost their physical edge.” It’s “a game for life and a great equalizer,” he says, going on to point out how so many who “were athletes in their youth... turned to poker because their desire to compete and win lingered on long after their legs gave out.”

When discussing the excerpt with the class we’ll often address this comparison of poker to sports, and in that context I’ll usually bring up how occasionally some will argue that poker is a sport, or at least has enough in common with other sports for such a designation not to be easily dismissed.

But yesterday I found myself a little less ready to share that observation after my attention was drawn to a chart resulting from a survey conducted on Reddit in which respondents were given a list of more than 50 games and activities and asked whether or not they considered them as a sport.

The list included a few obvious “sports” (to me, anyway) like boxing, lacrosse, wrestling, and golf, as well things like paintball, fishing, chess, and poker about which people reasonably disagree about the designation. If I’m following the explanation of the chart clearly, it looks like there were 460 respondents altogether -- not a huge sample, but enough to make the results interesting nonetheless.

The chart showing the results dramatically positions poker as the activity the fewest respondents said they considered to be a sport, with just a little over 10% saying they consider it as such. Even cheerleading, competitive video gaming, and competitive eating were considered sports by more respondents than was poker.

Here’s the chart, with poker nudged all of the way there on the right-most edge -- to the periphery, you might say (click to embiggen):

Comments on Reddit reiterate commonly made observations that people “don’t consider poker a sport because you’re just sitting there with a deck of cards” -- i.e., the relative lack of physicality involved in the game hurts poker’s candidacy here.

As I’ve written about here before, I am disinclined to call poker a sport -- preferring “game” instead (as the title of the Alvarez chapter has it) -- although I certainly understand and often enjoy thinking about the many affinities between poker and several sports, especially individual ones. Additionally, to some I describe my tournament reporting as being much like sports writing, too, which sometimes helps make the job a lot easier to explain.

While a larger sample size would be helpful, I don’t think it would largely alter poker’s low-ranking status when it comes to this particular survey question. Meanwhile, the exercise brings a couple of other questions to mind.

First, how might the fact that most are unwilling to entertain the idea that poker is a sport affect attitudes toward the game, generally speaking? Also, as many who have taken up the “cause” of poker have tried the tactic of likening it to sports in order to make it seem more culturally acceptable, but does that argument largely fall on deaf ears?

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Rewatching Notkin’s Triple-Knockout; or, Did Anybody Fold an Ace?

Date: Tue, Aug 19, 2014 Internet

Glad today to tune back in for the return of the EPTLive stream from Barcelona. Coverage of the Super High Roller has been featured today, the first of nine straight days’ worth of all-day shows.

I’ve missed the EPT guys’ coverage over the last few months since Season 10 wound down back in early May. Always worth tuning in when the EPT is on, both because of the play and the high quality of the production and commentary -- the most consistently engaging televised poker around, in my opinion.

I was reminded this week that we did get another glimpse of James Hartigan and Joe Stapleton and the production team since the EPT Grand Final, namely at that Canada Cup event that played out at the Playground Poker Club in Montreal in late May.

I wrote about that one here briefly then, entirely because of the wild conclusion that saw no less than four players all in on the final hand with a rare triple-knockout giving the tournament to Robert Notkin. Yes, that really happened.

They’ve isolated the hand in a YouTube clip, which if you haven’t seen it is probably worth five minutes to watch:

“This would be the weirdest end of a tournament ever,” says Stapleton while Vincent Rivers contemplates making the call with his pocket eights, the only genuinely questionable action in the hand needed to create the weird four-way all-in.

Then when Rivers does call and everything is getting sorted out before the delivery of the community cards, Stapes delivers the following hilarity:

“Did anyone fold an ace?”

I’d missed that line when watching this hand before. Think about it.

Afterwards Hartigan makes reference to it having been “the strangest hand ever streamed online,” and it’s hard to disagree.

This post is sponsored by Spreaditfast.

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