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Distant Replay

Date: Wed, Jan 22, 2014 Internet

Was up late last night doing work with the teevee on and got caught up in a couple of these “Top 50” shows on the MLB Network. Decided it was kind of a brilliant format, given how mesmerized I was as they carried me forward 10 items at a time from commercial to commercial, working their way through their lists.

One of the shows was dedicated to the “Top 50 Calls of All-Time,” culling examples from radio and television over many decades’ worth of games. (Here’s a blog post someone pulled together listing all 50.) The call of New York Giants’ announcer Russ Hodges of Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ’round the world” home run to win the NL pennant in 1951 earned the top spot in that compilation.

The other list was devoted to the “Top 50 Most Infamous Arguments” which was not just compelling but also got the adrenaline going a little bit at times. The “pine tar incident” from 1983 when New York Yankees manager Billy Martin successfully challenged that Kansas City Royals third baseman George Brett had too much pine tar on his bat when hitting a game-winning home run earned top honors on that list. The Royals would protest and the ruling would later be reversed, but Brett’s madman-charge of the plate still stands a fairly iconic moment in baseball history when it comes to arguments.

I realized while watching the shows that I had no particular interest in the actual rankings. That is to say, it didn’t matter much to me what famous call (for example) was considered the “top” one of all-time, what was second, and so on. Rather, my interest was piqued as a longtime fan who was more or less familiar with most of the plays being highlighted. I could remember having either seen them or replays of them -- or in some cases, having read about them -- in just about every case.

I remember the Brett homer vividly, having been a fan of his as a kid growing up. I even wrote him for an autograph, and like pretty much every big leaguer to whom I sent such letters to when I was a kid, he responded with an autographed photo.

I also remembered watching another of the “infamous arguments” on the list, one ranking around #5, I believe -- the ugly “bean-brawl” game between the Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres from August 1984. It was the kind of game that really had to be seen to be believed, with several hits batsmen, multiple bench-clearing brawls, fans getting involved in the fights, and numerous jaw-dropping moments.

To give you an idea how crazy the game was, San Diego managed to have three different pitchers deliberately throw at Atlanta pitcher Pascual Perez during four different at-bats in the game. (Perez had hit a San Diego better with the game’s first pitch.) All of those Padres pitchers were ejected, as were the manager and a couple of coaches. It was basically Slap Shot from start to finish. This clip doesn’t even mention some of what happened:

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I followed the Braves closely back then thanks to TBS showing every game, and so remembered all of the players involved. I always liked the idiosyncratic Perez who once missed a start when he couldn’t find his way to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and afterwards wore a jacket with “I-285” on the back to refer to the interstate on which he had gotten lost. (Was sad to hear of his death a couple of years ago.)

After a couple of hours of these countdowns I realized the format was smartly conceived and that the MLB Network had come up with some excellent off-season programming to keep viewers tuned in.

As I say, I imagine for other “Top 50” shows the rankings would matter more to me -- e.g., shows ranking players or teams or certain, measurable achievements. But for categories as nebulous as these, I was mostly pleased just to have those nostalgia nodes in my brain be massaged as I watched and remembered the plays.

Happened to turn the television on again this afternoon during an idle moment and saw All In: The Poker Movie being shown on one of the Showtime networks we’re getting for free right now. Was right in the middle of the Moneymaker-Farha heads-up, and again I found it hard to turn away despite being so familiar with what was being shown.

Something reassuring, I guess, about reliving the past and reaffirming our memories of it, memories which become more imperfect each day.

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W.C. Fields Forever

Date: Tue, Jan 21, 2014 Internet

Early in my “Poker in American Film and Culture” course I show the students what I believe must be the oldest poker movie ever made, A Cure for Pokeritis (1912). I’ve written here about that short silent film starring John Bunny more than once -- click here for the most involved discussion of it (including clips of the entire film).

Soon after showing Pokeritis I usually share with them a clip from Tillie and Gus, a 1933 film starring W.C. Fields. Fields is one of my all-time favorites from the early era of cinema. He plays poker in several of his films, and even in ones where he doesn’t, many have titles that sound like they were somehow derived from poker (Six of a Kind, You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break).

Fields actually wasn’t that big of a poker player himself, I believe, but the game nonetheless became intertwined in some respects with the trickster persona that tied together many of his crazily-named characters like Augustus Winterbottom in Tille and Gus.

I once wrote a lengthy “Poker & Pop Culture” piece for PokerNews about W.C. Fields in which I summarized some of the poker-playing scenes in his films, including Tillie and Gus. Click and read for a more thorough discussion.

Unfortunately most W.C. Fields stuff has been scrubbed away from YouTube, or I’d include the clip from Tillie and Gus here for you to enjoy. Instead I’ll just share a few screen shots with some dialogue from the scene in which some passengers on a train invite Augustus Winterbottom to join their poker game.

“Pardon me, folks. We have a poker game going. Would you care to play?” asks a man whom we come to learn is named Mr. White.

“Poker?” answers Winterbottom. “Is that the game where one receives five cards and if there’s two alike that’s pretty good, but if there’s three alike that’s much better?”

“Oh, you’ll learn the game in no time,” assures White, not realizing he’s the one about to be hustled.

Winterbottom joins three others and they cut for the deal. They explain to him that the ace is high. “You must forgive the ignorance of a novice,” he says. The others successively draw a queen, a ten, and a king. Then Winterbottom makes his cut. “Ace,” he says, showing his card so that we can see it but his opponents cannot.

When the others note they weren’t able to see his ace, he apologizes, sorts through the deck to find an ace, and shows it around.

He begins to deal a hand of five-card draw while his ex-wife Tillie (played by Alison Skipworth) -- a fellow con artist -- positions herself behind White so she can see his cards as well as those of his neighbor.

“By the way, I saw those two sailors off the ship today,” she says casually after spotting two jacks in White’s hand.

“See anybody else?” asks Winterbottom, and she looks at the other player’s nine-high hand. “Not a soul,” she replies.

They chat about other games. “I prefer Pinochle,” says White. “Pinochle?” asks Winterbottom. “That’s the top of something, isn’t it? The pinochle of a hill, for instance?”

When Winterbottom looks at his hand, he sees he’s dealt himself four aces and a deuce. “Shucks,” he says at the sight of the deuce, rapping the table with his fist as though it disappoints him.

They draw. “What happened to the two sailors?” asks Winterbottom of Tillie. “Three more sailors joined them,” she says. “Three more sailors?” asks Winterbottom, eyebrows raised. “I mean two,” she corrects herself.

There are bets and raises, with all four players staying in to the showdown. White has four jacks, the player to his left four queens, and the third player four kings. Winterbottom then turns over his four aces.

It’s a fun, goofy scene, with Fields singing “Bringing in the Sheaves” as he leaves the befuddled players adding a satisfying touch of lunacy to the proceedings.

Tillie and Gus isn’t as consistently funny as some of Fields’s other features. My faves are his great quartet of later titles You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man, My Little Chickadee, The Bank Dick, and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, which verge on the surreal sometimes with the all-out wackiness of their loosely-connected, howlingly-hilarious set pieces. But Tillie and Gus still has plenty of grins throughout its short running time.

Like I say, for more on Fields and poker, see that old PokerNews piece.

(Post title from a Firesign Theatre track from their first LP, Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him.)

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Buzzer Beater

Date: Mon, Jan 20, 2014 Internet

Had a busy weekend, still dealing with moving a few last items from the old place to the new. We’ve had until the end of this month to clear out completely, and while there’s barely anything left to move it still feels like a job that is never going to end. Then comes the business of trying to organize everything in the new place, where we’ve got lots of boxes still sitting around waiting to be unpacked.

I did find time to enjoy some sports over the weekend, including watching those AFC and NFC championship games yesterday. Was disappointed my Panthers missed out on their chance at a championship, but still enjoyed both games yesterday nonetheless, with the two teams I’d wanted to win -- Denver and Seattle -- both making it through to the Super Bowl two weeks from yesterday.

Saw that wild, weird post-game interview with Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman like everyone else yesterday, and ended up writing something about it over on the Learn.PokerNews site today where I brought up some poker connections and a funny old Saturday Night Live skit, too, under the heading of a discussion of sportsmanship -- “Compete With Class at the Poker Table.”

That S.F.-Seattle game yesterday wasn’t the only exciting one I witnessed over the weekend involving a team called the 49ers. That’s because Vera and I were invited by another couple to join them to see UNC-Charlotte 49ers play a home basketball game on Saturday night when UNC-C hosted the University of North Texas Mean Green in a Conference USA tilt.

UNC-C was an eight-point favorite, but the teams played evenly through the first half, then North Texas came out strong to start the second half to bolt out to a lead of about a dozen. UNC-C quickly stormed back to cut the lead to one, but North Texas pushed in front again and appeared in the driver’s seat when they were up by six with less than two minutes left.

But the 49ers stiffened up on defense, managed to pull even at 74-74 (see scoreboard above), then successfully defended one more time to set up a possible game-winning shot.

With time winding down, UNC-C’s savvy point guard Pierria Henry drove the lane then dished the ball to big man Terrence Williams who was breaking to the basket along the baseline. There was no more than a second left when Williams caught the ball, and he immediately rose up and flushed it through for a dunk at the buzzer.

There was a delay as the refs reviewed the play, but I knew the basket was good because I’d actually snapped a photo with 0.4 left that strongly suggested Williams had gotten the ball through the cylinder in time.

Sure enough, the basket was ruled good, and a wild celebration followed.

I don’t know why I decided to snap a picture at that moment. As I was writing about not too long ago, it rarely occurs to me to take pictures, even in instances when I later wish I had done so. I had my phone out and just held it up for kicks as the clock wound down, then when Henry passed the ball I clicked.

Was kind of fun, though, to feel like I had beaten the buzzer with the photo just as Williams had with the shot.

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Borgata Brouhaha

Date: Fri, Jan 17, 2014 Internet

Reading today about this trouble at the Borgata where the first event of the big two-plus week Winter Open had to be suspended before the start of today’s third and final day of play thanks to the discovery of some sort of issue affecting the tournament’s integrity.

As Rich Ryan reports over on PokerNews, Joe Lupo. Senior VP of Operations at the Borgata, said this afternoon “we have reason to believe the tournament was compromised,” and given the importance of “ensuring the integrity of the tournament” play was halted for 24 hours.

Ryan goes on to share that someone speaking for the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement mentioned “a situation involving counterfeit chips,” and via Twitter and elsewhere one finds many more references to some shady-looking 5K chips apparently being introduced into the tournament at some point.

In fact, Luke Edwards, a player in the tourney, yesterday tweeted a picture showing some differently appearing 5K chips. Some are saying over 1 million of the phony chips made it into the event, an amount that if true would represent about 1.13% of the total chips that were supposed to be in play.

Learning that got me scurrying back to the old story of the extra chips accidentally introduced into the 2006 World Series of Poker during a color-up at some late stage prior to the final table, something like 2.4 million worth which in that tournament represented more than 2.7% of the chips in play.

There were 4,812 entries total in the $560 buy-in event at the Borgata, a tourney that had three Day 1 flights and allowed re-entries. They’d gotten down to just 27 players to start today, meaning the money bubble has already burst long ago as the top 450 finishers made the cash.

Will be especially curious to hear the rest of this story. Assuming the extra counterfeit chips are indeed the cause of the tourney being compromised, it will be interesting to find out (1) what comes of the investigation into how the chips were introduced into play, and (2) what will be done about the tournament at this late stage.

Regarding the latter, all of those entries ended up building a total prize pool of $2,325,835, thereby besting the $2 million guarantee. About $900K of that prize pool has been claimed already by players who have cashed thus far, with something like $1.43 million still left to be divided among the final 27. In other words, it’s exceedingly awkward spot to try to fix an issue such as the one that appears to have arisen.

Indeed, I can’t think of any solution, really, that wouldn’t seem unfair to someone. Can you?

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Obvious Tells Are Obvious

Date: Thu, Jan 16, 2014 Internet

I think some of you have probably seen this already, but I wanted to share it here for those who hadn’t -- a recent post by Reading Poker Tells author Zach Elwood for the popular site Deadspin called “Five of the Most Obvious Poker Tells Ever Televised.”

It’s a cool article for a number of reasons, including the fact that Zach includes YouTube clips of the hands to go along with his commentary explaining the tells on display. I also dig the inclusion of an Oreo cookie in the accompanying illustration which is even funnier when you realize Zach doesn’t even talk about Teddy KGB in the piece.

All five of the featured hands kind of fit in a similar category filled by players with huge holdings trying to mask their strength. But Zach does a neat job with each hand breaking down the different kinds of behaviors being demonstrated, adding a useful caveat that while the tells in the clips are all fairly obvious, many “are seen in much more subtle forms in more experienced players.”

I’ll let you click through to enjoy the clips and the analyses yourself, but I wanted also to mention how I like the way Zach begins the article.

Writing for the wide audience that reads Deadspin, Zach starts out noting the fact that “the poker tell is one of the most romanticized ideas in gambling.” He then points out how “in reality” tells often work differently -- “usually more subtle than they are in the movies.”

That distinction between a romantic version of poker (such as is often presented in film) and a realistic one is something I find myself going back to time and again in my “Poker in American Film and Culture” class.

We watch a lot of clips in the class and thus see over and over again what Zach is talking about with regard to the exaggerated tells. But we also address the same romance-versus-reality debate in a number of other contexts, too, such as when we read Al Alvarez’s The Biggest Game in Town and talk about the difference as representing different approaches to the game.

That’s a discussion I’ve had here before amid a long exegesis of one chapter of Alvarez’s book, if you’re curious.

Save reading my old post for later, though, and go enjoy Zach’s new one now if you haven’t already.

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Horse Play and Other Best Bets

Date: Wed, Jan 15, 2014 Internet

Full-blown farm life around here these days now that our two horses, Sammy and Maggie, have arrived. Vera has had Sammy forever -- pretty much since we’ve been together -- and Maggie for a good while, too, making it especially nice to have both of them with us... right in the back yard!

I tweeted that pic to the left a few days ago, and Dr. Pauly -- a.k.a. “Ocelot Sports” -- immediately inquired if they were race horses. No, I explained, but “you can bet on who finishes feeding first.” At that he eyed the competitors and quickly calculated money lines.

“Sammy -130, Maggie +125,” he estimated.

“Sounds about right,” said Vera after I explained to her that Pauly had made Sammy the favorite. Sammy is part-thoroughbred and has quite the appetite, even if their diets technically are such that Maggie gets fed a little more each day and night.

Between the farm duties, starting a new semester of “Poker in American Film and Culture,” and Learn.PokerNews-related activities, I’ll admit I’ve been distracted more than a little from much else here lately.

Speaking of the latter, let me say I’m excited about the start of a new series of articles on “Casino Poker for Beginners” by Bob Woolley, a.k.a. the Poker Grump. Bob is the perfect person in my opinion to deliver this kind of advice to new players, and I’m psyched about being able to add him to the line-up of writers at Learn. See his first piece on “Getting Into the Game.” And here he gives a short intro to the series on the Poker Grump blog.

Meanwhile starting the class again is always fun, and I’m beginning to think I might try to share some of the content of the course over on Learn as well as we move through our narrative of poker’s prominent place in American history and culture. Need to ponder a little more on the best strategy for doing that, but I think it could be fun to share some of readings and clips in that way. I’ve had people ask me frequently if they could audit the class, and this could be a way to share some of what we’re doing with a wider audience.

Finally, while we’re on the subject of Learn stuff, I had the chance to read and review Tricia Cardner’s new book Positive Poker (with contributions from Jonathan Little) which I quite liked. She’s got a couple of doctorates including one in psychology, is a license psychotherapist, and a good poker player, too, which positions her well to deliver the mental game advice she does in the book. Read the review here, and if you’re further interested you can read an interview with Cardner as well here.

Like me, Cardner has taught a college course focusing on poker, in her case one on the psychology of poker. It was that class as well as her dissertation that provided the impetus for her book, as you can read about in both the review and interview.

That’s all for now as I have to go take care of my nightly duties to clean the stalls, feed and water, and take care of the barn cats, too. I keep joking with people about my stall-cleaning duties, and it’s funny how many seem to respond by saying how great it all sounds.

They’re right. It’s pretty awesome. And you don’t even have to place bets on Sammy and Maggie to enjoy watching them.

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Familiar Cast in Latest Super High Roller

Date: Tue, Jan 14, 2014 Internet

The 2014 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure has finished, with the three headlining events -- the $100K Super High Roller, the $25K High Roller, and the $10K Main Event -- all generating a lot of excitement and interesting finishes, with each featuring final tables filled with a lot of familiar faces.

Looking at how the $100K Super High Roller finished up, the top eight finishers for that one contained exactly zero surprises. What I mean is, all eight were players we have seen doing well in high buy-in events before (and low buy-in events, too, for that matter). That got me thinking a little about the short history of these $100K-and-higher events and how we more or less see the same people participating in them every time out.

There was a double-bustout with nine players left in the PCA $100K Super High Roller, which meant only seven were present when the “official” final table began. Thus eighth-place finisher Mike McDonald did not make that photo of the final tablists above (courtesy Danny Maxwell/PokerNews). As it happened only the top eight finishers in the tourney cashed as there were 46 entries total.

Here were the final eight in the $100K Super High Roller (with payouts):

  • 1. Fabian Quoss ($1,629,940)
  • 2. Dan Shak ($1,178,980)
  • 3. Vanessa Selbst ($760,640)
  • 4. Antonio Esfandiari ($575,920)
  • 5. Matt Glantz ($445,520)
  • 6. Tony Gregg ($347,720)
  • 7. Ole Schemion ($277,080)
  • 8. Mike McDonald ($217,320)

  • It has only been a few years since these tournaments with six-figure buy-ins started popping up regularly at places like the PCA, the Aussie Millions, the WSOP (with its “One Drop” events), and elsewhere.

    Looking at these eight names and how all eight have turned up in high rollers/super high rollers frequently of late, my first suspicion was to guess that all of them had probably cashed in $100K-plus events before. I took a peek through Hendon Mob and found that wasn’t quite the case, but most had.

    Setting aside these last couple of invite-only PartyPoker Premier League tourneys with the $125,000 buy-ins in which all of the participants cash, it looks like six out of the eight cashers in the 2014 PCA $100K Super High Roller had cashed in six-figure buy-in events before.

    Winner Fabian Quoss finished third in the 2013 Aussie Millions A$250,000 Challenge to win A$750,000. Runner-up Dan Shak has cashed three times in Aussie Millions A$100,000 Challenges (winning in 2010 for a A$1.2 million prize), twice before in previous PCA $100K Super High Rollers (in fact he’s final-tabled that one three times in a row), and also cashed in the $111,111 One Drop High Roller at the WSOP last summer.

    Vanessa Selbst finished third in both the $25K High Roller and the $100K Super High Roller at the PCA this year, picking up more than $1.36 million between those two cashes. I’d thought she must’ve had a cash in a six-figure buy-in event, but I’m not seeing one among her eye-popping results (which now total more than $10 million in career earnings).

    Fourth-place finisher Antonio Esfandiari of course had the big win in the $1 million Big One for One Drop at the 2012 WSOP for a $18,346,673 prize. He also finished fourth in the follow-up $111,111 One Drop High Roller last year for another $1.4 million-plus.

    Last year fifth-place finisher Matt Glantz cashed in a couple of six-figure buy-in events, the $111,111 One Drop High Roller (finishing 13th) and the $100K WPT Alpha8 Florida event (finishing fourth). Tony Gregg, who took sixth at the PCA $100K Super High Roller, won the $111,111 One Drop High Roller at the WSOP last summer and the $4,830,619 first prize.

    Like Selbst, seventh-place finisher Ole Schemion doesn’t appear to have cashed in a $100K or higher buy-in event before this week, although he did finish sixth in the 2013 EPT Barcelona Super High Roller (a €50,000 event).

    And Mike McDonald who took eighth has some final tables in €50,000 Super High Rollers on the EPT, too, plus a third-place in the recent $100K WPT Alpha8 at St. Kitts. McDonald nearly won the Main Event last night as well, finishing runner-up and taking away close to $1.1 million after a deal at three-handed.

    Not really pointing out anything particularly surprising here by observing that this latest $100K event featured a lot of the same folks we’re seeing play the others. Stands to reason that those profiting in these events will be reappearing at future $100K final tables both because (1) by winning they’re replenishing their bankrolls enough to keep participating in them, and (2) they’re good players.

    The “super” high rollers still retain my interest, even if the narratives they create tend to feature the same characters and produce similar plots. And while the high-dollar buy-ins and prizes probably create some intrigue just because money generally does interest many, it’s really the poker that draws me in, which is almost always being played at a high level at these pro-filled final tables.

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    Date: Mon, Jan 13, 2014 Internet

    I’ve been mentioning here off and on how Vera and I recently moved. We’re still in the process of making the move, actually, which is only about 15 miles but seems like a much larger step given how we’ve left the city for the country, moving to a house on a larger piece of land on which we can keep Vera’s horses.

    I’m still making frequent trips back and forth to gather the last of our stuff, which now is down to many less-than-essential items a lot of which we’ll probably be taking to the dump rather than bringing out to the new place. I’ve already written about how the move has forced me to do a lot of self-assessment as I toss out certain items and keep others, including having several instances of lingering over this or that letter or photo or notebook or other memento carrying this or that personal meaning.

    This past weekend I found an old envelope full of photographs, quickly recognizing it as representing the product of a couple of rolls’ worth of shots taken way back in my late teens, a time that well predated the advent of digital cameras. Taking pictures was more involved then, and generally speaking people were a lot more selective when it came to using up the 24 shots or whatever you got on a given roll of film.

    The pictures were mostly from a very cool trip I took with my grandfather who passed away about a dozen years ago. I can’t remember how we came upon the idea for it -- I think he might have suggested it -- but together he and I had driven across half of the country visiting various baseball parks and some relatives, too, along the way. We saw games in Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Chicago, I remember, the latter at Wrigley Field where he had gone to games back when he had been a young man in the 1930s.

    It was one of those special trips that I ended up recounting a lot afterwards to others and which after his passing I valued even more having had the chance to take. When I came across the photos, then, you might think I was excited to relive it all again.

    But I wasn’t. Not really. That’s because without even looking at the photos I remembered them and what I would be finding there.

    Don’t ask me why, but I had used up all of the shots taking pictures of odd, unlikely objects and various landscapes without any people in them. There were a few crowd shots from the ball games mixed in there, though the only people in the photos were strangers. In other words, there wasn’t much of anything in there at all that could be used to indicate that I had actually been the one taking those photos.

    That’s right -- there wasn’t a single picture of my grandfather in there, nor one of me, either.

    I guess I was thinking at the time of taking photos that were somehow more “artistic” in nature, avoiding what to my still-developing teenaged brain thought to have been the mundane business of simply documenting our trip with a bunch of “selfies.” My adult self now laments that decision somewhat, though in a way I still understand it.

    With Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other forms of social media, a whole lot of us are now constantly chronicling our lives and publishing our activities for all to see. In fact, there’s a whole generation of people now who have essentially grown up in such a world, and thus can probably access photos, videos, and other evidence of themselves and their friends and family from just about every week of their conscious lives.

    Such is not the case for those of us who are a little older. For us much of what we experienced from, say, the mid-1990s and before only remains in fading memories. It’s a little like the difference between poker players of that earlier era who only played live and kept records of their play manually and thus often in a very intermittent way and the online players who have every hand they’ve ever played stored in databases to review over and again.

    I think my favorite -- and most absurd -- photo in the bunch is one of the back of a road sign. What in the world was I thinking? What is this a “sign” of, other than a missed opportunity to capture something a little more lasting, a little more meaningful?

    Then again, I guess it is a “sign” of me in some way, too, though to read it that way requires some knowledge of context.

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    A Chance at a Championship

    Date: Fri, Jan 10, 2014 Internet

    The Carolina Panthers at last return to the playoffs this weekend with a divisional round game versus last year’s NFC champs, the San Francisco 49ers. The two teams played a gritty, defensive game earlier this year with the Panthers managing to beat S.F. on their home field 10-9.

    Of the four games this weekend, only the Panthers-49ers game features a point spread that is less than a touchdown, with Denver (over San Diego), New England (over Indianapolis), and Seattle (over New Orleans) all heavy home favorites. In fact, Carolina is the only home dog this weekend, with S.F. a favorite by as little as one point and as much as three, depending on where you look.

    Most of the “experts” are picking San Francisco on Sunday. Over on ESPN their roster of prediction makers features 11 of 13 taking the 49ers. Four out of six of the SB Nation guys are going with San Fran. And 6 of 8 of the ones doing the picking at CBS Sports are choosing the 49ers as well.

    Listening to Charlotte sports radio in the car today offered a predictably blinkered view of Sunday’s contest, with most callers predicting a Panthers win and the hosts similarly expressing optimism and looking ahead to later playoff rounds.

    I was struck, in fact, by a host going off on a tangent regarding the quarterbacks Cam Newton (Panthers) and Colin Kaepernick (49ers), both of whom are in their third years in the league with both also having achieved significant success early in their careers.

    The host spoke of Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino who everyone remembers made a Super Bowl in just his second year with Miami (SB XIX), was crushed by the Joe Montana-led 49ers 38-16, and never made it back to another championship game despite a stellar 17-year career.

    On the one hand, the entire discussion seemed a bit premature given the fact that both Newton and Kaepernick have a couple of tough games standing in their way of reaching the Super Bowl. But I did get the general idea that such opportunities generally don’t come easily in the NFL, or in other highly competitive arenas either, for that matter.

    There are a myriad of examples in poker of players either breaking through to win that first big tournament early in their careers or coming up short, then never getting back to anything close to the same level of success again. Poker more obviously dramatizes the luck involved in having breaks go your way to land you in the winner’s circle, but the NFL and other sports likewise demonstrate the same principle time and again.

    I’ll be on the edge of my seat Sunday rooting on my Panthers, likely thinking back to a decade ago and the last time Carolina made a Super Bowl run. A lot will have to go Carolina’s way for that to happen again, but all I can hope for is that the team manages to take advantage of the opportunity as they don’t generally come around that often.

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    Christie’s Nixonian Moment

    Date: Thu, Jan 9, 2014 Internet

    Was diverted a short while today by that press conference in which Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey who was re-elected back in November by a wide margin, addressed the ongoing controversy surrounding the Fort Lee lane closure back in early September.

    The affair is being packaged by some under the catch-all heading of “Bridgegate,” alluding, of course, to the first “gate” -- Watergate. And indeed Christie’s statements today about staff members acting on his behalf yet without his authority -- or knowledge, as he repeated many times -- certainly echoed some of Richard Nixon’s memorable statements regarding others’ actions and his own culpability from about four decades ago.

    I was most reminded of Nixon’s still-amazing-to-watch November 17, 1973 presser -- well after many of the firings that preceded Nixon’s own resignation -- in which he met with the nation’s newspaper editors (and not the White House corps) and with almost manic energy responded to questions about the scandal. That was the one in which Nixon infamously circled around to the “I’m not a crook” line, actually delivered with reference to questions surrounding his tax returns, not Watergate.

    Without delving too deeply into the specifics of either Watergate or the Fort Lee story, both appear to demonstrate in different ways political leaders failing to control those whom they appoint to work for them. Watergate, of course, developed into a complex cover-up that ultimately unearthed much, much more regarding Nixon’s leadership methods. Meanwhile it appears more is to come regarding the extent of the malfeasance perpetrated by Christie’s senior staff, and perhaps even about the governor himself as far as this particular story is concerned.

    As I’ve mentioned here before, I have been reading and thinking about Nixon quite a bit, studying his entire life and political career and not just Watergate. Looking at his life through the lens of his poker playing, I’ve begun to develop an idea of the man as one who was intensely competitive and who unfailingly believed in the value of hard work and individual effort as a means to accomplish anything, including political goals.

    I’ve also come to recognize him as someone driven to control as much as he possibly could no matter what the endeavor. Thus in his early campaigns -- indeed, in every one of them until the last one in 1972 -- he was involved in seemingly every detail when it came to planning and executing those plans on the campaign trail.

    So, too, did Nixon study poker with a similar intensity when first becoming serious about the game as a Naval officer. (I’ve found that Nixon was introduced to poker well before his days in the Navy, although I don’t think he took the game seriously until he found himself playing for significant money with fellow officers in the Pacific.)

    Something changed for Nixon prior to the 1972 campaign, however, or at least his preoccupations with the responsibilities of his office made it impossible for him to exert the same degree of control over his final campaign that he demonstrated with each of those that had come before. This lack of focus (to carry forward the poker analogy) led to some reckless play, then by the time Nixon finally retook his seat and began playing his chips for himself he was already too far behind to mount any comeback.

    Like Nixon, Christie apparently harbors hopes for a run at the country’s highest office. Losing the “Bridgegate” hand definitely reduced the New Jersey governor’s stack going forward, but it seems he’ll be remaining in the game, perhaps even to recover today’s losses.

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    Latest on Learn

    Date: Wed, Jan 8, 2014 Internet

    Just a quick note tonight to point you to some new pieces over on the Learn.PokerNews site.

    Tommy Angelo has returned with another installment of his “Tilt for Beginners” series, this time telling a short anecdote from a recent visit to the Casino Montreal where he encountered French-style playing cards. That meant he was dealt some Rs, Vs, and Ds and responded with some understandable bafflement.

    The article is titled “Miffed in Montreal.” Click to read, and also check out the ultra-cool photo illustrating the piece.

    Nate Meyvis, co-host of the Thinking Poker podcast along with Andrew Brokos, has contributed two great articles under the heading of “Fighting Back.” Both address the situation of an experienced player targeting a less savvy new player with specific tactics designed to unnerve, and Meyvis offers some concrete pointers the newer player having to deal with such.

    Check ’em out: Part I covers aggression while Part II talks about how to respond to players using talking and trapping as tactics.

    Finally, Jim Dixon is a writer who has been contributing some cool pieces as of late.

    One called “All I Really Need to Know About Poker I Learned From Sherlock Holmes” does some sleuthing through some A.C. Doyle stories to discover some poker-related advice.

    And another one today by Jim called “Mastering Luck: It’s Not the Same As Being Lucky” that talks about the importance of not letting bad fortune at the tables beat you down, with another literary source providing some inspiration again -- Jesse May’s Shut Up and Deal.

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    Fading Rich

    Date: Tue, Jan 7, 2014 Internet

    I’m a little bit in awe of my friend and colleague Rich Ryan for having the cojones to make and publicize his “10 Poker Predictions” at the start of each year over at PokerNews.

    His list for 2014 includes a few provocative prognostications. He thinks four Russians will win WSOP bracelets this year, for example, which seems like a total that would be over the betting line.

    Rich did correctly call for the Canadians to break through in 2013, however, boldly guessing they’d get at least eight WSOP wins (they won 10, plus two more by Daniel Negreanu at the WSOP APAC and WSOPE). In fact Rich somehow got eight of his 10 predictions for 2013 correct, which seems way over the line I would’ve set for correct picks in his list a year ago.

    One other prediction Rich offers for 2014 is to say that “a ‘well-known’ pro will win the WSOP Main Event.” He then usefully narrows the definition of “a ‘well-known pro” down to just the top 100 players in the current Global Poker Index plus the top 50 players on the all-time money list, guessing that with overlap he’s probably narrowed himself down to about 125 players altogether.

    I think I’ll take the field versus Rich on this one.

    Looking back at the GPI rankings as of July 1, 2013, not one of the eventual November Nine from last year’s Main Event was anywhere near the top 100 on the list. The only one of the group who even appeared in the Top 300 at that time was Amir Lehavot in 273rd.

    Meanwhile, I believe J.C. Tran was already inside the top 50 on the All-Time Money List for tourney earnings when he made last year’s Main Event final table, sitting just inside the top 40 before snaring another $2.1 million-plus for his fifth-place finish. But none of the other ME final tablists was close.

    To be fair to Rich, he does classify this prediction as a “shot” and indeed I think it is probably more than 10-to-1 against he gets it right. Being less ballsy than he, though, I’ll go out on a short limb and make one prediction for 2014 here that he misses this one.

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    The Polar Vortex and the PCA

    Date: Mon, Jan 6, 2014 Internet

    Yeah, it’s cold here, too. I’m looking at the headline on the front page of our local paper -- which I think we’re just about ready to cancel, actually, with the move out to the country -- and how it is screaming this phrase “POLAR VORTEX” at me.

    How could I live this long and encounter an entirely new term for some sort of weather phenomenon? This one sounds made up, like something that can’t really be achieved without CGI or something. Reading further it still sounds a bit SF, with some sort of sentient-sounding “lobe” of cold air breaking free in a rogue-like maneuver to descend upon the continent from above.

    Whatever is actually causing the temps to dive so precipitously today and tonight, we’re definitely feeling it here in North Carolina where our skins are thin thanks to the usually mild winters. We’ve got coats and scarves and hats and central heating, though, so no worries for us. Our main concern here on the farm over the last few hours has been to fashion some warm places for our newly inherited barn cats to ride things out as we dip further and further below freezing.

    Meanwhile the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure has already started to heat up -- haha, get it? hooo boy! -- with the $100,000 Super High Roller event kicking off the calendar year. I’m seeing the temperature there in Nassau is in the 70s, making it a nice place to get away at the moment (if one can get a flight).

    This is the 11th year for the PCA and it has now well established itself as a primary stop that kind of brings together all of the different tours as players from all over the globe carve out time to be there. The European Poker Tour kind of claims it as one of its stops, I suppose, and I think in the past the LAPT might have done so, too.

    Really, though, it’s easy to imagine the PCA as existing at the center of all the various tours circling around it... kind of like a vortex spinning about with the Atlantis sitting there comfortably in the eye.

    Image above by the great Joe Giron for the PokerStars blog, which is a good place to follow for features every day from the PCA. Also check over at PokerNews for live reports from the $100K Super High Roller, the $25K High Roller, and the $10K Main Event.

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    Online Poker in the New Year

    Date: Fri, Jan 3, 2014 Internet

    Been perusing some of the “Top Stories of 2013” lists on the various poker sites, including PokerNews where the reintroduction of online poker in the U.S. claimed the top spot on the list. The only other online poker-related story to make that list was the one concerning the process finally getting started for Americans who played on Full Tilt Poker to petition for the return of their funds (#4).

    Of the 10 “most read poker articles” on Pocket Fives during 2013 (presented in two parts: 6-10 and 1-5), none really had to do with online poker.

    PokerListings did a list of “The 20 Best Moments in Poker in 2013” (20-16, 15-11, 10-6, 5-1), five of which concerned online poker: “Isildur1 Wins SCOOP $10k Main Event” (#20), “Online Poker Becomes Inclusive to Rec Players” (#13), “Moorman Hits $10m in Career Online Earnings” (#7), “US Full Tilt Poker Player Claims Processed” (#3), and “Online Poker Returns to US” (#1). They also threw in the release of the BET RAISE FOLD documentary (#15), which chronicles online poker’s glory days.

    Meanwhile on PL’s list of “The 20 Worst Moments in Poker in 2013” (20-16, 15-11, 10-6, 5-1) six had to do with online poker: “WSOP Fails to Get Online Poker Running by Main Event” (#12), “Delays Continue in Never-Ending durrrr Challenge” (#11), “Full Tilt Poker Remission Process Drags On” (#8), “PokerStars Does Not Get NJ Approval” (#6), “Sheldon Adelson Takes Aim at Poker” (#2), and “Gus Hansen Posts Epic $8.4 Million Loss” (#1).

    And of BLUFF’s Top 10 videos of the year (by the great SrslySirius) just one concerned online poker -- a funny satire about the “rogue” U.S. sites presented as a “Shamelessly Honest Online Poker Ad” -- not that the format really lends itself to reports focusing on the online game. Though it does lend itself readily to lots of grins (check all of ‘em out).

    (Have to say I’ve yet to listen to the TwoPlusTwo Pokercast’s episode recounting their Top 10 list of poker stories from 2013 -- I’m looking forward to seeing how Mike and Adam constructed their list.)

    Glancing at PokerScout’s rankings of online poker traffic here at the start of 2014, PokerStars predictably continues to reign supreme with about eight times the traffic of the nearest competitors with the iPoker network -- which includes sites like William Hill Poker and others -- currently leading the chase pack.

    Searching the rankings for U.S.-facing sites, Bodog/Bovada continues to find a place in the upper half of the list (according to PokerScout’s best estimates). But all of the others are unsurprisingly way, way down the page, with traffic in the hundreds (or tens).

    I suppose comparing these lists could be said to highlight the American-centric nature of the poker news sites (or at least the ones I tend to visit). In terms of people actually playing online poker, there aren’t too many Americans doing so. Thus stories about online poker have become predictably scarcer on the news sites on which Americans do a lot of the writing and reading. (Indeed, that the return of online poker in the U.S. has topped some lists indicates as much as well.)

    That said, it’s interesting also to think about how online poker has moved away from the center of the poker world over the last several years, in particular since Black Friday. I haven’t gone back to see, but I’d wager most “top poker stories” from a few years ago were related to online poker in at least a tangential way, with the online game seemingly affecting just about every aspect of the game not that long ago.

    But now online poker is over to the side, big picture-wise. Will be interesting to see if it ever returns to the center, and if so whether that happens sooner or later.

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