Monday, August 13, 2007

The Zogman Game

"A lot o' people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch o' unconnected incidents 'n things. They don't realize that there's this, like, lattice o' coincidence that lays on top o' everything. Give you an example; show you what I mean: suppose you're thinkin' about a plate o' shrimp. Suddenly someone'll say, like, plate, or shrimp, or plate o' shrimp out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin' for one, either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness." --- Miller, from Repo Man

It was Tuesday, July 31st, and John Caldwell (a.k.a. Schecky) and I were swapping e-mails and Skype messages, as we do most days. John's the editor-in-chief of, and, oh yeah, my boss. We were having a slow news day, a common malaise in the weeks immediately after the WSOP, and we were scrounging a bit for stories.

"What do you think of this one?" John asked, as he forwarded a release from the Heartland Poker Tour, detailing the rags-to-riches tale of Dan Zogman, the winner the day prior of the HPT event at Majestic Star over in Gary. The release stated that Zogman did something not quite Moneymaker-esque, if along the same lines, in running a $100 satellite seat all the way to the championship of the Majestic Star main event, worth some $228,000.

It being the aforementioned slow news day, I suggested we go for it, and I did the quick rewrite myself. I had to scrape a bit for details to flesh it out, in the process learning that Zogman was a resident of McHenry, IL, which is three suburbs north of Carpentersville, where I live. Which was also kinda cool, if hardly stunning: five of the six finalists in this HPT event came from the Chicago area. But to make a long story short, we got the story up for overnight, where it appeared on August 1st. I also sent off an e-mail contact late in the day to Byron Liggett, who was the press liaison for the HPT. Byron had sent the release over to John along with a photo, and just because a lot of photos don't work well in our system, I wondered what else he might have from the event. A couple of days later Byron sent over a couple of other photos, too. We ended up not being able to use them because of a technical hitch on our end, but it wasn't a big deal; the story was already aging a bit and it did have the HPT logo tied in when we first ran it, anyway.

Now, the segue:

Back in March or April, while doing some web surfing, I had encountered something called the McHenry Poker Club while searching through listings on a site called One of the banes of my moving down here is that I was no longer in contact with a live poker game, as I had been (with several) up in Wisconsin, and while I hadn't been looking for any particular game, I'd definitely missed a live home game in general. That said, however, this McHenry Poker Club looked like it was a struggling entity at best, with between two and five people showing up for very occasional tournaments at a member's house.

It was about that time that my workload increased dramatically, with the WSOP looming. So I pretty much shelved any idle thoughts about learning more about the McHenry Poker Club that I had for a few months, while I took care of other business.

Funny, though, as on Thursday of last week, another message from that board popped into my inbox, saying that they were getting ready for another meet. So I thought about it, and finally typed out a message to the group saying I hoped to check them out in person and play, despite being an idle/new member, as soon as I could figure out a convenient time, since the dates they mentioned didn't work.

A few hours later, channeled through the same list, I get an e-mail from... Dan Zogman. He had also just been doing some web searching, I later found out, and also uncovered the McHenry Poker Club linkage and extended an open invitation of his own. In it, he said he knew of plenty of games in the immediate area and that new players were always welcome to show up.

So, since there was already three- or four-sigma synchronicity in play (and since I really was dying to find a live game that would fit my schedule), I e-mailed Zogman back. That was on Thursday, and I ended up being invited to his private game on Friday night the 10th, which drew 21 players (smaller than normal, for what I've been told), for both a fun NLHE tourney and a later cash game for the losers.

The poker itself isn't important, nor the stakes --- which as far as anyone is concerned, were for play money. Let's just say that I only played three pots of note in the tourney. In the first, I took down a sizable multi-way pot with a strong post-flop raise. The other two were against Dan himself. In the first, he had me in a flush-over-flush situation when we both had two clubs buried, and somehow, when he check-raised me on the turn (both of us having already made our flushes), I got away from my made hand. Then I found aces a few hands later and ended up in a pot against Dan again. In this hand, I pushed after the turn and was ahead of Dan's top pair/OESD with one card to come, but he rivered a five to make his straight and knock me out. I got my chips in with the best of it; the rest, as they say, is poker --- busted with honor, but busted nonetheless. As for Dan, a very likeable guy, whatever horseshoe he was riding was still intact, for he won the thing a few hours later. But as I said, this really wasn't about the poker.

Despite the small crowd, it was a bit of a circus atmosphere, with a news crew from the Northwest Herald there to take photos of Dan and his home game as well. Dan's got a basement decked out for poker, lemme tell ya. You'll see a glimpse of it and him by clicking here.

As for me, I'd checked my press badge at the door... almost.

When I arrived there, he and and his wife, Mary Jo Belcore-Zogman (who also plays, and plays very well) were checking out some of Dan's online press clippings from his HPT win. They happened to click on the writeup while I was literally walking in the door and introducing myself to the early-arriving players, and after a couple of minutes of small talk I said to Dan and Mary Jo, "You know, there's one thing I'm curious about. The release said that you'd won your way in on a $100 satellite, but you had to win two or win a super-satellite, right?"

The reason is because HPT main event seats go for $4,000 or so, not counting the juice. Winning a $100 single-table sit-'n'-go isn't going to pay for that $4,000 seat, and it had been nagging at me, because I knew something in what had been sent to us was somehow incomplete or not quite fully explained. Not necessarily wrong, but goofy, somehow.

But Dan said, "Yeah, all the stories are wrong. I won a $450 to get in." He meant one of the regular satellites to the HPT main event, which were $400+50 to enter, not $100. And of course, all the stories would then be wrong, since they were all just rewrites --- or in the lazier cases, copy-and-pastes --- of the release that the HPT had sent out.

I asked Dan if he wanted me to fix it the following day. He wasn't concerned about it, so I didn't worry about it much more. Besides, I wasn't at his house as a reporter, even if I did make a mental note of the error; I figured I could write back to Byron Liggett (who had sent out the release) and see if he knew what was up; I'd never met Liggett but had corresponded with him just a couple of times in recent months.

Anyhow, after about seven hours of poker and one superb roast beef sandwich, I had finally exhausted my supply of play money. So I bid the night's late stragglers adieu, promised to return, and hopped in the car for the 35-minute drive back home. And I still had a little bit of work to do, though it was nearing 3:00 am. I wanted to get a story into the PN system for the overnight crowd, which my bosses like to see done, and by 4:00 am I had that already-edited story loaded in and available for public view.

I was overtired, but still not ready to sleep, so I jumped over to Bloglines to see what latest news and gossip was about. I also still had that nugget in my mind about the HPT story not being correct, when I stumbled across this post by flipchip on the blog. This was the first notice I'd seen that veteran poker writer Liggett, who I had just been about to contact, had passed away on Reno on Monday. And that was a wake-up slap at 4am, lemme tell ya; if it hadn't been for Liggett's HPT press release just a week before, I never would have heard the name Dan Zogman, whose house I had just spent the night at, playing cards. And about the mystery of the $450 buy-in, versus the $100 as stated in the release?

Meh. Some things just aren't that important, after all. I'm sure the HPT has other concerns at the moment, as does Liggett's family. My condolences, of course, though I barely had contact with the man. As for the wrong factoid in the release we ran, there was no way of knowing if Liggett even assembled the original information for the story... and if he was working from his home in Reno, then the answer would be very likely not, and he was just repackaging bad info that had been sent his way in the first place. Mary Jo wrote me later that they (she and Dan) hadn't met Liggett, again suggesting that Liggett wasn't at Majestic Star. Nor is this unusual. A lot of working media --- yours truly included --- do the majority of their work in a remote manner.

The HPT story as it initially ran was in error, I guess, but it's a story already losing its freshness. Zogman still won it, even if it wasn't quite as much a rags-to-riches tale as pitched. In the long run, no one will care how much Dan started with; it's the big payday on the end that's important. I quietly updated the detail in the story and don't plan on visiting it again.

But synchronicty? Oh, yeah, in spades. Sometimes life is just very spooky, know what I mean?

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