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The Blessing and the Curse

Date: Thu, Oct 17, 2013 Internet

Woke this morning to watch some of the WSOP Europe live stream on PokerListings, catching most of the final heads-up match of Event No. 3, the €5,300 no-limit hold’em Mixed-Max event in which Darko Stojanovic of France came back to beat Dan O’Brien of the U.S. to win the bracelet.

These live streams are so commonplace now, many of which come on a delay of some sort and feature hole cards. The ability to go back through the program and instantly click back to earlier moments also adds a lot to the experience when following along.

I believe the 2011 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure might have been the first, most prominent experiment with the format, which means we’re going on almost three years’ worth of having it around. One of the first questions that came with the delayed-with-hole-cards format was how it would affect the actual play of tournaments -- that is, when players found out later what their opponents had in hands in which they hadn’t shown, how might they use that additional knowledge going forward?

This Event No. 3 finale this morning presented an interesting moment during O’Brien and Stojanovic’s heads-up battle that brought that issue to the foreground again, a match-changing hand that saw a big bluff succeed.

The “mixed max” format has players carrying stacks forward through the tourney, which meant in this case O’Brien had a healthy 3-to-1 advantage to start the heads-up match with 1,594,000 to Stojanovic’s 507,000.

Stojanovic quickly evened the score, however, after the Parisian turned two pair on just the second hand between them. But a few hands after that O’Brien took back a big chunk to push back out in front, setting up Hand #12 which began with O’Brien at 1,337,000 and Stojanovic with 764,000.

The hand began with a 2x button raise to 20,000 by O’Brien who held Ah5h, then Stojanovic three-bet big to 70,000 with QsJh and O’Brien called.

The flop then came Kd9cAs, giving O’Brien top pair and Stojanovic a gutshot to Broadway. With 142,000 in the middle, Stojanovic led with a huge overbet of 160,000. O’Brien paused at that for a short while, then called, and the pair watch the turn bring a cliché of a “blank card,” the 2c.

This time Stojanovic shoved all in with his last 533,000, and O’Brien took about four minutes before folding.

The live stream commentary was provided by David Tuchman, Max Steinberg, and Jesse Sylvia, and during that lengthy tank Steinberg spoke about how strange Stojanovic’s line was ("That makes no sense") while also developing a convincing argument for why it was very difficult for O’Brien to call, even predicting (correctly) that he would fold.

O’Brien still had the lead after the hand with about 1.1 million while Stojanovic had climbed back to just under 1 million. A few hands more and they were even, then as Stojanovic nudged out into the lead the trio began speculating about what would happen when O’Brien eventually found out about Stojanovic’s bluff.

Steinberg referred to “the blessing and the curse of the 30-minute delay,” something he himself had some experience with after making a couple of final tables during the WSOP this summer. “It’s almost like you don’t want to find out” explained Steinberg with reference to such a hand and the possibility of learning definitively what your opponent had.

About 15 minutes after the hand took place, they explained on the live stream how O’Brien -- in real time -- had spoken to his rail and likely had learned that Stojanovic held Q-J in the most memorable hand of their duel thus far. “He looks sort of down on himself,” speculated Steinberg, and the discussion moved on to consider how (or whether) O’Brien might be affected going forward with the knowledge that had he called the bluff early in the match he very likely would have won the tournament.

The pair would ultimately play 53 hands before Stojanovic won, and so it was probably only for the last dozen or so that O’Brien would have known about the bluff. In truth, it wasn’t obvious on the live stream that he was especially affected by any extra knowledge of the earlier hand, no more so than he might have been by the doubts about it that probably were lingering in his mind anyway. Meanwhile, they were still breaking down the hand right up until the last few hands, with the consensus favoring O’Brien's fold. “It was a good fold with the information he had,” said Steinberg.

I tend to think O’Brien probably felt the same even after getting the additional information. Now I see O’Brien is tweeting that he’s about to jump on the live stream to do some commentary on the Event No. 4 final table and to talk about his match, so I’ll think I’ll jump off here to tune in.

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FTW

Date: Wed, Oct 16, 2013 Internet

Following the lead of my friend and colleague Brad Willis on Twitter the other day, I admitted along with him that with the Major League Baseball playoffs having begun, I am only now giving the sport much attention.

Baseball was easily my favorite sport from early childhood through my mid-teens, and while I’ve continued to follow the game into adulthood it’s probably been more than two decades now since I can say I sincerely followed a season from beginning to end.

I used to be a Braves fan, and I remember that great worst-to-first turnaround back in 1991 as a wild ride from spring all of the way to Game 7 of the World Series. The 1992 season stands out, too, especially that three-run ninth inning to come back against Pittsburgh in the NLCS Game 7. I think when Sid Bream slid across home plate late that mid-October night, that might have been the last time I involuntarily rose up out of my seat while watching a baseball game on television, having been literally moved by what I was seeing.

Now, though, I’m much more passive with my playoff baseball watching, often doing other things -- like writing a blog post -- while a game is on. No longer feeling the pull of Braves fandom, I tend to root for entertaining games and can still be impressed by a particularly crafty pitcher, muscle-bound hitting feats, and those wild, split-second plays in the field to record improbable outs with zero margin error.

Since my close following of the game has been more or less reduced to a few weeks in the fall, I have to admit I’m not completely up on some of the more accepted “new” statistical measures like WHIP or WAR or OPS or BABIP and the like, neither to recognize their meaning or be able to understand readily what figures are good or bad.

That’s not to say I’m not interested in the games’ endless supply of numbers. Indeed, as a kid the box scores and stats were a big source of my fascination with baseball, something I’ve written about here before, including last summer when I wrote a couple of posts about Moneyball (here and here). But I’m only vaguely aware of baseball’s “new math” and its implications.

I am intrigued, though, by the debate over the value of wins when assessing a pitcher’s worth, an argument that seems to have gotten increasingly conspicuous over the last couple of years with some sabermetricians interested in “killing the win” as a much too arbitrary measure.

Wins are definitely assigned in ways that can sometimes confound common sense, such as when a pitcher throws eight shutout innings and departs with a 2-0 lead, a reliever comes in and gives up two runs to blow the save, then that reliever gets the victory when his team scores in the bottom of the ninth.

The win for pitchers is one of those stats that is probably unduly affected by chance elements. Above-average skilled pitchers (in particular starters) will tend to earn more wins than others, but the reliance on run support and lead-preserving bullpens obviously takes a lot out of the pitcher’s control. The obvious poker analogy would cite the player “getting it in good” then needing the cards to cooperate, with a similar emphasis on luck making it wrong on some level to be “results oriented” when it comes to pitchers and wins.

But I can’t imagine really and truly “killing the win” as some are suggesting should be done, even if we all know the team wins a game and not (just) the pitcher. So in this new age of baseball acronyms, I guess I remain stubbornly FTW.

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Wanna Buy Some Play Chips?

Date: Tue, Oct 15, 2013 Internet

During the Hard-Boiled Poker Home Games on PokerStars last Sunday, I drew attention to a new text link appearing up in the left-hand corner of the play money games on Stars. As pictured to the left, one can now actually purchase play chips -- for real money -- directly from Stars.

Being stuck here in the U.S. and still a great fan of the PokerStars client, I will jump on the site and join play money sit-n-gos every now and then, even apart from the HBP HGs. Playing for play chips is how I first got started with online poker, and indeed for many months played nothing but play chip games until finally making a first deposit and moving over to the micros.

Play money cash games are mostly tedious -- to me, anyway -- mainly because players are so understandably erratic and there isn’t a lot of genuine competitiveness on display. Sit-n-gos and multi-table tournaments also feature a healthy helping of goofiness, but they tend to be played more straightforwardly (even if not that skillfully) which thus makes them mildly interesting and even worthwhile to some extent (I’d argue) for new players.

When I first started with the play chips I managed to build up a “roll” (as it were) and in fact had a couple of million in there by the time I started playing the real money games. I remember at some point shortly afterwards becoming aware of the existence of a real-money-for-play-chips market and even looked into trying to sell my play chips for cash.

This was an actual phenomenon at the time -- I’m talking pre-UIGEA, say 2005 or so -- with play-chip purchasing websites and everything. No shinola. If you go back and search forums of the day, you’ll see a plenty of talk about such deals actually being made. You’ll also find people discussing getting scammed out of play money chips, which seems like a meaningless ploy unless the scammers were then able to turn the play chips into cash by some other means.

I never did look into it deeply enough to try to sell any play chips, although I kind of remember rates of something like $11 for 500k or a million (or thereabouts). I also recall stories of some folks starting their real money rolls this way. Microstakes master Nathan “Blackrain79” Williams -- whom I interviewed for Betfair Poker some time back -- is an example. Nathan tells the story on his blog about selling 5 million play chips for $60 back in ’05.

Clicking on the “PURCHASE PLAY MONEY CHIPS” link in the Stars client carries you to a “Play Money Cashier” page. There you’ll find options to buy 350,000 play chips (for $1.99) on up to 165 million play chips (for $199.99!). Again, no shinola!

Like I say, I brought the topic up during the Home Games on Sunday. Someone asked in response “Can you sell them?” Good question, I thought... it doesn’t appear you can. Not back to Stars, anyhow. (Not that we Yanks are part of any real-money-anything on the site, anyway.)

I guess stepping back this is one of those “nothing to lose” ventures from PokerStars’ perspective. Kind of an interesting experiment, I guess, which recalls other “conversion” strategies with free-to-play games (e.g., on Facebook) that have ended up becoming significant revenue-makers.

Meanwhile, I am noticing these days some 1 million play-chip buy-in SNGs -- something I don’t remember there being back in the day -- for which I guess one really should have 100-plus million play chips in the ol’ play money account to join.

You know, if one is practicing sound play bankroll management.

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The Bracelets and the Bucks

Date: Mon, Oct 14, 2013 Internet

The 2013 World Series of Poker Europe is underway, kind of appearing suddenly and without too much fanfare amid all of the other tours already up and running all over the globe, not to mention the coming of the November Nine which is now just three weeks away.

I remember in 2008 when the WSOP first announced the whole delayed final table concept less than a month before the start of the Series that summer. One of the instant subplots created by the announcement was the fact that the WSOPE (which only began in 2007) would be playing out before the Main Event concluded, which meant a lot of curiosity about whether or not the WSOP ME final tablists would be turning up in London (where the WSOPE was then held) prior to their final table playing out in November.

After six years’ worth of delayed ME final tables, there doesn’t seem to be that much fuss about the current November Niners and the WSOPE. Nor is there quite as much of the “Are WSOPE Bracelets ‘Real’?” debate happening like there once was, although the conclusion of the first event over the weekend did stir up a few related discussions.

You’ve no doubt heard by now that Jackie Glazier, fresh off of finishing 31st in the WSOP Main Event in July (where she was the last woman eliminated), won the first of eight gold bracelets to be awarded in Paris this week when she took down the €1,100 Ladies Event. Glazier won €21,850 for topping a field of 65 players.

Obviously some want to debate whether non-open tourneys should be regarded as “real” bracelet events. The undersized field of 65 and/or the relatively small first prize can be cause for some also to build similarly-themed arguments.

That first prize of €21,850 is well under what the winner of every other bracelet event during the 2013 WSOP took away. In fact it’s almost five times less what the smallest first prize was this summer (David Chiu’s $145,520 for winning the $2,500 stud event), and that’s not counting the Casino Employees Event. Even there, Chad Holloway won a prize nearly three times as large ($84,915).

A couple of the bracelets won at the 2013 Asia Pacific back in April also featured five-figure first prizes, with Jim Collopy winning AU$69,992 ($1,650 PLO) and Phil Ivey AU$51,840 ($2,200 Mixed Event).

Such comparisons are diverting, but do they add up to a coherent argument about the worth of a WSOP bracelet? Ever since a bracelet came with a $18,346,673 first prize attached, any ideas of a “range” in which first place prizes ought to fall somehow seem less persuasive.

The same might be said for field sizes (which in the case of the “Big One for One Drop” in 2012 was smaller than Event No. 1 at the 2013 WSOPE), the relatively quality of fields, or other of the several distinctions that tend to make every tournament unique.

I’m of the mind that each WSOP bracelet event is different, anyway, and while it’s hard not to equate them on some level to do so always requires momentarily setting aside each event’s uniqueness in favor of indulging in a different kind of scorekeeping.

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Comparing Cards, Brains

Date: Fri, Oct 11, 2013 Internet

Am enjoying a quick vacation for a couple of days, spending time at the beach with family including my four-year old nephew. We arrived yesterday, and after discovering a pack of cards at the place we’re staying I had an idea to create a card game for the two of us to play.

I removed the face cards and aces, then dealt the rest of the deck to the two of us. We then would take one card off the top of our respective decks and turn it over, and whoever had the highest-ranking card would win and claim both cards. Basically we were playing “War,” although with a smaller deck and without the “battles” that would come if we both turned over equal-ranking cards (in which case we just kept our cards and moved on).

Soon, though, he wanted to include the face cards and aces, too, which we did, and he quickly figured how they rank, too. Then he had an idea that he would start with all of the black cards and I would start with the red ones, which of course meant we’d each be starting with equally-strong sets of cards as he had all of the clubs and spades and I had the hearts and diamonds.

We’d run through all 26 “hands,” then he showed me how high he can count by counting out how many he had when we were done. Woke up this morning and he had already found the deck and was asking me to play again. I think before the trip is done I’ll teach him “War” proper, as it’s obvious he’ll be up for it.

He’s pretty quick. He brought a trove of other toys and games with him, including this pretty cool learning game that involves answering all sorts of questions about the body and all its systems.

One question arose regarding which was bigger, the heart or the brain. He asked me and I said I thought the brain was bigger.

He had a studied look for a moment, and I thought perhaps he was looking behind me at something. Then he spoke.

“Maybe your brain,” he said.

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Nuke Commander Passes Fake Chips

Date: Thu, Oct 10, 2013 Internet

You might have heard this decidedly strange-but-true story from a couple of weeks ago regarding a Navy Vice Admiral getting caught introducing fake chips into a poker game at the Horsheshoe Council Bluffs Casino in Iowa. Unreal!

It was late last month the news broke. A story about someone trying to pass counterfeit chips in a poker game might have been mildly interesting on its own. But the perpetrator here was the second-highest ranking officer at the U.S. Strategic Command, a guy in charge of watching over the country’s nuclear weaponry, missile defense systems, as well as “cyber warfare” operations.

Tim Giardina is the Vice Admiral’s name, and what we heard a couple of weeks ago was that Giardina was being suspended from his duties with the possibility of criminal charges coming (both state and federal). He had been the deputy commander of Strategic Command since late 2011.

The Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) had been investigating the matter for a month, then officials at Offut Air Force Base were alerted in July and they started looking into things, too. The suspension came in early September, although wasn’t announced until the end of the month.

At that time there had been a recommendation from a higher-up to reassign Giardina. Today the news is he’s been fired. He’s also lost his three-star rank and indeed will be reassigned to Washington as a rear admiral.

General Richard Myers is quoted in a CBS News piece about the firing today kind of glossing over the legal question with regard to Giardina’s actions. (I believe I’ve read Giardina won’t face criminal charges on the state level.)

“He does not have to do something illegal,” explains Myers, referring to the decision to remove Giardina from Strategic Command. “He just has to lose the confidence of those above him.... Is this the kind of person that we want on the phone with national command authorities when there's a real crisis underway?”

I guess from the outside the most compelling question concerns the psychology of someone who would attempt something on the order of passing fake chips in a casino -- an action for which the risk is so much greater than the potential reward it’s hard to fathom a rational person ever taking it.

From there, of course, it’s hard not to let the mind wander over to the high-stakes context of nuclear warfare and imagine scenarios in which such an individual would be involved in either the decision-making or the execution of others’ decisions. (Shudder.)

The story also highlights how chips in a poker game can introduce an interesting disconnect from reality. Some consciously try to forget that chips represent money, while others do so without realizing it. I’d have to guess that Giardina would never try to pass a counterfeit bill, but that for him the idea of passing a fake poker chip didn’t seem an equivalent transgression.

But both are felonies. Consequences for both are real, too.

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Heaps of Hands

Date: Wed, Oct 9, 2013 Internet

Sort of curious about this new site called One Billion Hands that just went live about a week or so ago.

The site appears to be devoted to providing some interesting statistical analysis of hold’em hands, producing some street-by-street commentary by comparing individual hands to the numbers crunched from a database of more than 1,000,000,000 hands (hence the site’s name).

So far there are just a few posts on the site dealing with some hands featured on the 2013 WSOP Main Event broadcasts currently airing on ESPN.

There's one post about that Day 6 hand in which Carlos Mortensen folded his pocket kings (which I brought up yesterday). There’s another one about a three-way hand with eventual November Niner Jay Farber in which all three players were dealt premium starters, a hand that saw the short stack (Phil Mader) eliminated while Chris Lindh avoided losing too much with his pocket queens after Farber flopped top pair with A-K. And the latest post concerns that weird hand in which Bruno Kawauti folded a flush on the turn when the board paired.

If you click through you’ll see how in each post just about every action is considered in the context of the huge database of hands as a way to provide some ideas about the relative worth of players’ decisions.

One thought that struck me right away was the fact that the database wasn’t comprised of hands played by players late in the Main Event of the World Series of Poker. According to the site, the exact source of the hands cannot be revealed, although they all came from the year 2011 and most assuredly were from online games of various limits (micro, low, medium, and high).

Thus in that Farber-Lindh-Mader hand in which the players had A-K, Q-Q, and A-Q-suited (respectively), the Q & A’s about what players usually do with such hands might apply more to cash games or other contexts than to deep in the Main Event when some players will be more ready (perhaps) to fold queens with a king on board or even fold a flush when the likelihood of being behind is very slim.

Anyway, that was just an initial thought I had while skimming these initial posts, which are all kind of intriguing in the way they come up with estimates of how much players saved or gained thanks to their decisions. It reminds me a little of the graphs and tables over on Advanced NFL Stats, a site I sometimes like to peruse and compare the findings there to impressions I formed after having watched the games.

I’m curious to see some more hands on the site, as well as more commentary either from readers or on the site itself regarding what ideas the large database of hands might provide regarding various strategic thinking.

Let me know if you happen to visit One Billion Hands and have any opinions.

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The Poker Shot Clock (Again)

Date: Tue, Oct 8, 2013 Internet

I think I’m turning into a night blogger.

Long ago -- back when I worked a full-time job every weekday -- I’d get up an hour or two early each day to write here. Then writing became the full-time job, although I’d usually still post here during the morning hours or at least by noon. Now I’m finding my days are too full of other obligations for me to get over here until the late afternoon or evening.

I don’t suppose it matters too greatly as time here on the internet tends to be reduced down to a kind of perpetual present, anyway, with nothing much seeming to matter except for what is happening right now or perhaps only just recently happened, in which case right now is filled up with everyone repeating to each other what just was.

Speaking of time and the seeming lack thereof, I was skimming through Two Plus Two a couple of days ago and saw how a thread started almost exactly one year ago titled “Should there be a ‘shot clock’ in live tournaments?” had gotten bumped to the front page once again in response to some of the WSOP Main Event coverage currently being shown on ESPN.

One of the posters embedded a hand from Day 4 involving Yevginiy Timoshenko and Adam Friedman in which Timoshenko took a long time (about two minutes, we’re told) to make a decision, during which time Norman Chad brought up the shot clock idea.

Last week I watched some of the broadcast and saw another hand from Day 6, kind of a memorable one involving Carlos Mortensen and Jorn Walthaus in which Mortensen folded on the river after having the clock called on him.

I say the hand was memorable because Jay “WhoJedi” Newnum was there taking photos for BLUFF, and he snapped a very cool picture of Mortensen tossing away his hand that revealed he was folding pocket kings (see left, click to enlarge). For more about that hand, check out this Betfair piece I wrote a while back describing the situation.

Both of those hands happened at the feature table, and as it happened both saw players not involved in the hands being the ones to call the clock.

I know there are some who are very much in favor of having some sort of shot clock in poker, but to me the current system almost always seems to be satisfactory with only occasional exceptions. It reminds me a lot of the current situation in Major League Baseball, perhaps because with the playoffs underway I’ve been paying a little more attention to baseball than I normally do.

In fact just today I was listening to the latest B.S. Report with Bill Simmons in which he had Bob Costas as a guest and among the topics they covered was the one about baseball games being too long and often unnecessarily drawn out by batters stepping out frequently and pitchers taking more and more time between pitches.

There, too, people will sometime argue in favor of a “shot clock” (or the equivalent). While I’m mostly a purist when it comes to baseball (including still being anti-DH), I could imagine something like that being put in place without too much of an intrusion. I don’t think I’d like to see the same become the norm in poker, though, not because I’m a purist but just because I think it would change the game too radically.

Anyhow, thanks for your patience today as I took most of the day before posting. And I appreciate no one calling the clock on me.

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Chop Talk

Date: Mon, Oct 7, 2013 Internet

Yesterday I spent part of the day looking in on the EPT Live coverage of the Super High Roller final table in London. There was a moment after it went to three-handed when play was halted and the remaining players discussed the possibility of chopping the remaining prize money, with the ensuing pause reminding me a bit of the final table of the Main Event in Barcelona where there was a long, similar discussion when that tournament got down to four-handed.

Like happened in Barcelona, no deal was made. (There was ultimately a deal struck heads-up in Spain.) However unlike in Barcelona the discussion yesterday seemed a lot less strife-ridden among the three remaining players, Martin Finger, Tobias Reinkemeier, and Christoph Vogelsang. Perhaps the fact that all are fellow countrymen helped make for a friendlier conversation. By the way, as happened in the WCOOP Main Event a week ago, the Germans grabbed all top three spots in this tourney, too.

Much later in the night -- really in the wee hours as I watched that late-night San Diego-Oakland game on television -- I was following the end of the Sunday Million that similarly saw play paused at the final table when the last five players opted to discuss a possible deal.

It used to be the case in these big PokerStars tourneys that only “chip chop” numbers were provided. Then occasionally one player would bring up the alternative ICM method and produce figures, and that would engender further debate. Eventually it became the norm for someone to bring ICM into the mix, and so at some point the moderators at PokerStars began also providing those figures in addition to the “chip chop” ones whenever the deal discussion was begun.

The “chip chop” method has all the remaining players receive the amount of prize money due the next player eliminated, with the remaining prize money then divided proportionally according to the remaining stacks. (In Stars’ tourneys, there’s usually some money set aside for which to play going forward, too.)

Meanwhile the ICM method also guarantees each player the next spot’s prize money, but then divides up the remaining prize money by using the ICM formula that takes into account the fact that short stacks can potentially double up. The ICM method thus doesn’t operate like the “chip chop” method and say each chip is worth the exact same amount of cash (and thus ignore whether that chip is sitting in a big or short stack).

When the five-handed deal talk began in the Sunday Million last night, two players had about 20 million chips each while the other three each had between 7-9 million. Both sets of deal numbers were produced, and the discussion went as predictably as one might imagine, with the big stacks saying they preferred the “chip chop” method (which gave them more cash) while the other three insisted they wanted to go with ICM (which gave them more). (The latter group ultimately prevailed.)

I remember once in one of the MicroMillions tourneys seeing a large number of players -- seven, I think -- manage to stop the tourney to talk about a deal, with one of the seven actually sitting with more than half the chips in play at the time. The “chip chop” numbers were produced, with the chip leader being guaranteed something like $15K or thereabouts. However, first-place prize money for the event was only $13K or so!

“Sounds good to me,” typed the leader at the sight of those numbers, and it only took the others a short while to figure out things needed to be negotiated further.

It seems to me like the possibility of actually guaranteeing a chip leader more than first-place prize money makes the “chip chop” method necessarily flawed in some fundamental way. However, I think I like the idea Stars has of supplying both sets of figures as a way to mark out some ranges for payouts from which players can begin their chop talk.

We also had fun playing the first tournaments of Season 5 of the Hard-Boiled Poker Home Games last night (as I mentioned would be happening last week). There were no deals -- neither “chip chop” nor ICM -- at those final tables. No, in the HBP Home Games we fight for every last play money chip in the prize pool right to the very end.

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Hard-Boiled Poker Home Games Return for Season 5

Date: Fri, Oct 4, 2013 Internet

Just a quick post tonight to announce that I’m planning to fire back up the Hard-Boiled Poker Home Games this Sunday, October 6 on PokerStars.

The HBPHGs have been on a hiatus of sorts over the last three months. For those who’ve played in them before, you know that the PokerStars Home Games are set up on a quarterly system, meaning each “season” lasts for three months. We’ve had four such seasons thus far, with the season champions being thejim2020 (Season 1), Kevmath (Season 2), RiVeRrAtaCe (Season 3), and linglemungo (Season 4).

When July rolled around and it was time to start a new season, I was in Las Vegas for the last few weeks of the WSOP. Had a few trips since then, too, and so I ended up deciding it better just to wait until October than to have a half-season.

Each of the last four seasons I’ve awarded prizes to the top three finishers, usually poker books, but sometimes DVDs as well. I’ll do so again this time, too. There will be three items to choose from, from which the top finisher in the league standings gets first choice, then the runner-up gets a pick, then the third item goes to the third-place finisher.

The games are all free -- that is, they only cost play money chips to play. If you aren’t a member of the HBPHGs, the ClubID is 530631 and the Invitation code is noshinola.

Right now I’m almost at the upper maximum for members. I’ve written PokerStars and unfortunately they won’t raise the maximum for me because we’re just a play money group.

However, if you try to join and receive a message saying the club is full, just send me a tweet @hardboiledpoker and I’ll make a space for you (there are members whom I know aren’t currently playing).

Here’s the schedule for Sunday:

  • Event No. 1, 20:00 ET -- No-Limit Hold’em
  • Event No. 2, 21:00 ET -- 8-game

    The tourneys usually both will wind up by around 22:00 ET (the earlier tourney has 5-minute levels and the later one 3-minute levels).

    I would be choosing Courchevel or 5-card Omaha, if they were listed among the Home Game tourneys. Still, there’s a lot to choose from and rest assured there will be a Badugi event among other exotic variants along the way. All seasons so far have lasted 20 tourneys, and I expect we’ll probably have the same number for Season 5.

    The games are fun -- and competitive -- so come on out and join us!

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  • Two-and-a-Half Years Later (Withdrawing from Full Tilt Poker)

    Date: Thu, Oct 3, 2013 Internet

    This week I submitted my petition to the Garden City Group, the Ohio-based claims administrator charged with facilitating U.S. players’ claims for the return of their funds from Full Tilt Poker. Finally, two-and-a-half years later, I’ve begun the process of withdrawing the funds I had left on the site back in April 2011 when “Black Friday” came along.

    Submitting my petition wasn’t too hard, although there were a couple of “WTF” moments along the way.

    The GCG has reported that it has delivered 1.4 million email notifications to FTP account holders in the U.S. I did receive such an email in mid-September, the generic one announcing that the Full Tilt Poker Claims website was finally ready to begin accepting petitions. I did not receive a notice containing a “Petition Number” and a “Control Number,” however, as some have (and many have not).

    Getting that second email apparently would have saved me a step as I could have then entered those two special numbers and gotten started right away with filing my petition. Without those, I had to create a new petition associated with my FTP account, which wasn’t that hard to figure out how to do.

    Once clearing that hurdle, I then had to enter some more information (including my Full Tilt Poker username) and soon was presented with a screen listing my current FTP balance -- $0.00.

    Oof. I’d heard many others have discovered something similar when reaching this page, and so after clicking around a little further realized I could enter what I thought was the correct balance on that page and proceed with my petition. I also figured out that in order to support my claim for a different balance than “$0.00,” I had to provide some supporting documentation. Here’s how that step is described on the GCG’s “FAQ” page:

    “If you agree with the FTP Account Balance displayed through the online filing process, you are not required to submit documentation. However, if you dispute the balance, you are required to submit supporting documentation, such as complete unaltered copies of cancelled checks, wire transfers records, bank or credit statements or similar official transaction records. This supporting documentation must show the account holder’s name, date, transaction descriptions, amount, and financial institution information.”

    Again, oof. Obviously I have no cancelled checks laying about, and while I could possibly go back into my bank records to find information about deposits I’d made after withdrawing from FTP, none of that really has anything at all to do with my current balance.

    However, I did find a solution (I hope). I searched around online a little further and realized that one can in fact request transaction records within the Full Tilt Poker client. And it turns out that while the process takes a few steps to complete, it is surprisingly easy (and quick).

    I actually found it necessary to download the FTP client again because the version I had on my laptop -- unopened for several months -- seemed to get stuck during the updating process. Once I did I was able to log in without a problem, then clicked the “Requests” tab up top and then “Account History (Web).” That opened a browser to an “Account History” page.

    Once there I was able to click a date range as well as whether I wanted to see just real money transactions or also tourney dollars/tickets. I went back in my own records and found the exact date I opened my Full Tilt Poker account (in 2006) and made that the start date, then made 4/15/11 the end date, and submitted my request.

    Doing that triggered an email to be sent to me which told me my account history was ready to be downloaded. To get to it I had to retrace my steps back through the FTP client -- i.e., hit the “Requests” tab, select “Account History (Web)” again, and be sent back to the web page. (I had to close the browser first, by the way, and let the page be reopened again.) This time there was a new “Download” tab which I clicked to get to a .zip file containing an Excel spreadsheet with my transaction history.

    I downloaded that file, unzipped it, and gave it a looksee. Was kind of interesting to see every single transaction for almost five years listed in full detail, ending with 4/15/11 and my final balance listed to the right.

    Now I had some supporting documentation to submit to go along with my claim that $0.00 isn’t in fact my balance. I am hopeful that this transaction history will be sufficient given how Full Tilt Poker was its source. Obviously I could doctor the Excel file, but such could be easily cross-referenced and I assume that will be done in every case as part of the petition-checking process. I uploaded the Excel file, went through a couple more steps including one last “are you sure?”-type page, then submitted my petition.

    Afterwards I realized I might have added my personal information to the Excel file, or perhaps done something further to associate myself more obviously with the username. So I called the toll-free number at GCG and spoke with a representative who explained to me that as part of the process to review every petition, each petitioner will be contacted to provide any additional, needed info or to update their claim in any way.

    I don’t know if my petition is sufficient as is or not, but I’m somewhat assured to know that I’ll have a chance to update it if there’s anything lacking. For those thinking about submitting their own petitions, know that it has to be done by November 16. Also be aware that once you submit a petition you cannot go back and add to it or revise any of your information, so it’s worth triple-checking things before you actually hit the button to submit (even though there will be that opportunity later on to submit further info or update anything).

    Am I confident that I’ll get my money back? Not so much, but a two-and-a-half-year waiting period to withdraw is probably a reasonable cause to make a person skeptical.

    Still, there’s obviously a better chance today that I will get my money than had been the case from April 2011 to late July 2012 when there was no clear solution to the problem of getting back money the jokers then running FTP had already squandered, or even during the year-plus since after PokerStars’ acquisition of FTP and the agreement was forged to help settle these debts.

    And at least I’m not trying to withdraw money from Lock Poker.

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    The Cab is Parked

    Date: Wed, Oct 2, 2013 Internet

    Heard the sad news of Tom Sexton’s passing this week. Brother of Poker Hall of Famer Mike, Tom was also a lover of poker and eagerly promoted the game in various ways. As the outpouring of responses this week have reminded us, he was an especially well liked member of the poker community and will be missed by many.

    I pretty much entirely knew Tom only through his writings and occasional appearances on poker podcasts, his voice uncannily sounding like that of his brother. In a relatively small community of poker media types, we had tons of mutual acquaintances although our paths never quite crossed.

    Back in the summer when the seriousness of his health problems was first discovered, former PokerNews Editor-in-Chief John Caldwell shared with the site the story of Tom becoming a contributor at PN where he would ultimately file 60 columns under the heading of “Sexton’s Corner.”

    As Caldwell relates, back in 2007 (when PokerNews was first getting into the live reporting game), Sexton helped with the coverage of some of the stud and draw tourneys, and while doing so shared several “back in the day” tales that eventually inspired Caldwell to suggest he write them for the site.

    In his first column for PN, Tom began with the story of the windfall his brother had received from PartyPoker back when he was signed on to represent them, noting how Mike had told him then he could quit his job as a cab driver, thereby inspiring what would become Tom’s signature line throughout the series, “the cab is parked.” He also started that first column with lots of praise for his brother, something he was able to offer again when introducing him at the 2009 Poker Hall of Fame induction ceremony (as pictured above by Casino City Times’ Vin Narayanan).

    The Sexton’s Corner columns ultimately ran from July 2007 through September 2008 and cover a variety of topics including many stories involving his brother, other tales of pros like Puggy Pearson, Dewey Tomko, Stu Ungar, Jennifer Harman, and Johnny Chan, plus additional sketches of various poker people Tom had met and events he had witnessed.

    A two-part treatment of Russ Hamilton's 1994 WSOP Main Event win and the shenanigans involved with the bonus prize (the winner's weight in silver) makes for an interesting read, especially in the light of Hamilton's later sad descent into the UltimateBet madness (Part 1, Part 2). And speaking of falls from grace, just a few days ago I had been dipping into Tom's 10-part series (starting here) about Archie Karas following the news of his being accused of marking cards in a blackjack game in a San Diego casino.

    As first-hand storytelling with a decidedly personal point of view, some of the Sexton’s Corner columns are probably more valuable than others when it comes to historical veracity and/or objective reporting. But most are interesting and obviously bear witness to the author’s interest in the game and its promotion as well as a few of the characters associated with it.

    Will leave to those who knew Tom the business of eulogizing him appropriately -- for example, this piece about him written by Nolan Dalla after his illness was disclosed gives a more detailed portrait of him and what he meant to others. I did, however, want to express condolences here to his family and the many folks I’ve come to know over the years whom I know this week are feeling his loss.

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    Big Money

    Date: Tue, Oct 1, 2013 Internet

    Utterly fatigued today after sitting up until nearly dawn here on the east coast following the conclusion of the World Championship of Online Poker Main Event on PokerStars. Was a marathon final table lasting more than four hours and finally concluding with three German players -- PlayinWasted (who won), Daniel “Allanon85” Drescher, and SwissCantMis -- chopping at the end, all of whom took away more than a million dollars from the $5,200 buy-in event. Meawhile PokerStars Team Online member and blogger Shane “shaniac” Schleger took sixth in the event to earn a nifty $291K-plus payday.

    The WCOOP Main Event has genuinely become one of the most significant poker tourneys during the calendar year, if one considers the attention it receives, the prestige given to those who do well in it, and, of course, the money. The big, big money.

    This year 2,133 entered to create a prize pool of $10,665,000. The buy-in for the WCOOP ME has remained steady over the last few years, with the prize pool peaking back in the last pre-Black Friday year of 2010 at $12,215,000 when Tyson “POTTERPOKER” Marks won an incredible $2,278,097.50 first prize when there was no final table deal.

    In 2011 the WCOOP ME prize pool dipped to $8,135,000, then increased to $9,125,000 in 2012. This year it again topped the $10 milly mark, and like most other online tournament series on PokerStars the overall numbers are edging back toward (or even surpassing) the pre-2011 totals when Americans could play on the site.

    Over on Wikipedia one can find a list ranking the largest ever poker tournaments (by prize pool). The list looks reasonably well maintained (although I haven’t tried to verify its accuracy).

    Of the 30 tournaments listed, the last 10 World Series of Poker Main Events crowd the top part of the list. The 2003 WSOP ME won by Chris Moneymaker doesn’t make the list, as its total prize pool was “only” $7,802,700.

    Meanwhile the 2008-2010 WCOOP Main Events sneak into the bottom part of the list. This 2013 WCOOP Main Event should earn a spot on there as well just behind those earlier WCOOP MEs. That’ll make six online events among the top 30 of all time.

    How big can the WCOOP Main Event and/or other online tournaments get? It appears their potential for further growth is less limited than that of live events, although it doesn’t seem as though an online tourney could ever reach the heights of the biggest WSOP MEs with prize pools these days usually around $60 million. (The biggest ever in 2006 was $82,512,162.)

    Was reading David Schwartz's article a couple of days ago in which he looked back five years to “The Day Wall Street Went Bust” and snuck in a subtle allusion to a Rush song along the way. And so with Rush on the brain -- and big money -- I much more lazily titled this post. Hey... I said I was tired.

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    Capitol Games

    Date: Mon, Sep 30, 2013 Internet

    Last week I mentioned briefly that faux-filibuster perpetrated by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and made a passing reference to coverage of televised poker coverage by way of comparison. Over the weekend I read a piece about Cruz and his bit of political theater which noted how Cruz himself had used a poker analogy to describe his own strategy.

    We’re seeing today how the crisis over passing a spending bill to fund the government for the upcoming fiscal year (scheduled to begin tomorrow) is reaching a kind of climax, with a government shutdown now appearing a distinct possibility. The issue goes back to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- a.k.a. “Obamacare” -- and the efforts of some Republicans to have the new spending bill include amendments to it, something the Dems aren’t willing to accept.

    Seeing references to this issue as a “bargaining chip” (again, evoking poker vocabulary). Although it doesn’t actually sound much like anyone’s in the mood to bargain.

    Cruz’s 21-plus hour speech last week was motivated by his wish to defund the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Responding to a question by his colleague Rand Paul (R-KY) about whether or not he could go along with any sort of middle-ground solution that didn’t involve defunding the new health care law, Cruz couched his negative response in the language of cards.

    “In a game of poker,” explained Cruz, “if somebody makes a bet, and then says to you, ‘if you raise me, I’m going to fold,’ [he] will lose 100 percent of [his] poker games.”

    In other words -- if I’m following correctly -- Cruz is choosing this way to express an unwillingness to compromise at all when it comes to Obamacare. Cruz (and the other non-negotiating Tea Partiers) is making a bet, he says, and is not going to give his opponent any indication that he might fold (give in) should his opponent respond with a raise, because to do so would be a losing strategy.

    Brings to mind players who cannot bring themselves to fold after having put any chips at all in the middle. Of course, table talk can be misleading sometimes. A player could well say he’d fold to a raise, then do something else. That is to say, I’m not sure the analogy is as obvious as Cruz seems to think, and I can imagine several better ones to indicate more clearly an intention not to fold.

    Anyhow, watching the news today and the deepening impasse on Capitol Hill, the only poker analogy that comes to mind would be one involving players stalling on the bubble. Or maybe something having to do with not playing with a full deck.

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