Saturday, May 24, 2008

And... Off!! (Or Just About)

Last post here before the mad dash to Las Vegas begins in the morning. My last online poker for the duration, pending unusual circumstances, was a couple of evenings back, and it was another nice night, with several cashes in those $16 Stars turbos I'm becoming increasingly fond of, along with a second-place finish in the $2,500 over at Carbon.

Notice how I don't relate all the specifics of the downswings when those are going on? It's not that I don't have plenty of those as well, but as of tonight it's rushus interruptus anyway. For the next 50 days or so it'll be an immersion into the live game, with tons of work to do and a handful of old friends to touch base with as (and if) time allows. Though I'm admittedly a wallflower, and will likely eschew most of the party scene, I'll still try to say hi to a few folks along the way.

See ya there, kids.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Some Tales Lead to Poker... Some Tales Lead Away

The nice thing about having a poker blog is the way that some stories can start with a random happening and lead to a poker tale, while others can begin with poker and take a left turn into parts unknown. That's the only thing "nice" about this post. I may have already told this story in my blog, long ago, and if I have, then my advance apologies to anyone who remembers it. Fortunately, 80-90% of you weren't readers here back in the era when I might have told this one... and besides, I can't really remember if I did or not. Senility has its consequences.

Occasionally a story comes along dealing with a violent crime that is in some way peripherally connected to poker. Last year it was the murder of aspiring pro William Gustafik by his wife Jill Rockcastle. Just recently there was another, the bloody and violent triple slaying in New Jersey of a family which was quickly "solved" by authorities and led to the arrest of 32-year-old Kang-Hyuk Choi, who was described as a high-stakes poker player who frequented Jersey and California casinos. The murder scene was described as an "absolute bloodbath" by authorities, and Choi, when arrested, had his arm in a cast due to severe slashes that, authorities have stated, occurred during the slayings.

Bad stuff, that. But what I've found riveting are the threads on 2+2 where players who repeatedly shared table time with Choi -- both at the Borgata and at the Commerce -- say that he was as mild-mannered and polite as anyone at the table, and the thought of this player that they thought they knew somehow committing a crime this violent was more than just a shock. One poster even recounted how Choi had been asked about his heavily bandaged right arm, and then didn't say anything before mildly acknowledging that it had been injured in a fight.

Yes, the slayings were said to have been done over a money dispute. It's sure that we'll learn more about this later.

But it brings back other memories, very sad, very bad. A couple of years ago, the last time I was at the WSOP, I encountered not one but two old friends from my original poker home game in Wisconsin who had played their way into the Main Event. One of the two, a man named P., who has now been happily married for several years, was part of a farming family that I'd come to know quite well when I lived up in the Badger State. He was the middle son of three boys to a fairly prominent and hard-working farming couple, and I counted all five family members among my friends. P. was the only one of the three, however, who was really into the farming business in the way of his parents.

His younger brother R. instead worked for one of the major industries in the area, a factory producing windows and other home-construction components. He'd risen enough on his third-shift job to be an area supervisor, minding another few employees, one of whom was a rather shiftless, party-hardy sort who was chronically absent or late and wasn't much of a worker even when he did happen to show up.

There was a gruesome double murder one night, where an elderly couple was senselessly robbed and violently stabbed to death, all for something on the order of $64 or $68, if memory serves correctly. Maybe it was over $100; I disremember the exact amount but know it was paltry.

Sure enough, the shiftless third-shift worker referenced above, along with one of his party mates, was soon arrested in connection with the slayings. It was after our mixed-league bowling or one of our card games when I learned about the connection. P. said, "You heard about those murders? That guy worked with R. R. said he was always worthless but the night after that happened he showed up on time and worked great."

Sick feeling I had, like there was more to the story. And for whatever reason, when there's a really, strange tale or weird question to be asked, I'm the one people confide in. Don't ask me why, because I do not know. But they do.

P. said this: "And R. told me that the guy gave him $20 that night, that the guy had borrowed before, and he thinks it came from that murder. What do you think he should do?"

And I shook my head, because I didn't really know. I suggested maybe making a charitable donation with it, or contributing it to flowers or to the church of the murder victims. Or just to get rid of it, somehow, and try to forget it ever happened. But you don't ever forget the handling of blood money, do you?

I suspect there's a lot of players who've sat down with this Choi who are now thinking these very same thoughts. Were that I had any good advice for them, or a way to guard against bad thoughts, particularly those players who might have done very well against this Choi in recent weeks. I do not, though, have any advice to share. I'm reminded of the famed butterfly effect, action and reaction, one thing leading to the next in unknown and unpredictable ways. Butterflies can be beautiful, but they can be very terrible, too.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Brief Segue to KAP

Not that I can post there much these days, but since a self-described "fan" :-) wondered where my pieces were, I decided to squeeze in a short strategy piece detailing an interesting DSP (dry side pot) situation at casual-level stakes. I haven't had the chance to try much strat stuff lately, so click here if you're interested.

As for me, the tale comes from Monday night, when very late I still couldn't sleep and decided to fire up a couple of turbos on Stars. Duck... duck... duck... goose! I crashed out of three straight 18-player turbos, all while hanging around in one of those $12 180-player turbo things, where I came back from something like 38th with 45 remaining to post an improbable win. I'm not a great front-runner, but I can battle with a short stack nigh unto death. Kathy Liebert is my idol, din'ja know?

Someday the poker gods will explain to me why I must always endure long, dry streaks, then have three or four nice showings at once. You'd think that you'd have stretches where you'd just sprinkle the nice showings in every so often without clumping them together, but for me it never works that way.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Momentary Northwoods Diversion

I snuck back up to the old home country for a couple of days here recently, trying to give my brain a short bit of down time before the grind otherwise known as the WSOP begins. I planned on doing a lot of shopping, a little fishing, maybe a round of golf, maybe a casino visit.

I managed to do a ton of needed shopping on Friday, but the Northwoods weather wasn't too cooperative, so I got in no fishing and only one round of golf. I did get in live poker play twice, though, since my sister and her husband both wanted to go to the casinos, so we made a project of it on Friday night and again on Saturday.

While both me and my brother-in-law Brad had a down night in the $1/2 NL game at Lake of the Torches, the highlight of the night had to be the rinky-dink way the single table in action (on a Friday night, no less) was being run. What follows is a hilarious lesson in small-time poker:

We had reserved our seats for when the game began and were therefore playing soon after 4pm, when the game started up. No one busted out until after 5:00, and that was a kid who claimed to play a ton at low stakes on Stars, but was about the opposite of what I expected him to be. He must have limped in 30 times pre-flop, and to the best of my memory never made a pre-flop raise, but never failed to call if someone raised behind him. He eventually put himself in a position to get his aces cracked, and thus departed. His seat was filled by another of the game's regulars, who in total probably occupied seven of the ten seats.

Then I busted anther one of the regulars, despite being down myself, and another player from the lengthy waiting list came in on the third of three calls for the open seat, bought $150 in chips, dropped them by the open ten seat and went off to the dinner buffet without playing a single hand. And the floor allowed this, despite a waiting list of six or seven names and only the single table in play.

An hour later the guy still hadn't returned and the majority opinion, including mine, was, "What the fuck?"

Eventually the guy did show, spouting some cockamamie about the situation, at which time the floor guy, a native with a bad attitude at the best of times who had an extra bad attitude this night (because he had not been chosen to be the new room supervisor), announced to the complainers that he wasn't going to listen to anyone's complaints, because that was now the new room supervisor's job. Poor new supervisor Debbie is gonna have a fun time with this assclown on staff.

But amid the grumbling, I said, quite loudly, so the whole room could hear: "What kind of bullshit is this? It's the floor's job to listen to complaints -- besides making change and assigning seats, that's basically why he's here."

I got an icy look for that one from said assclown. Ah, well.

The next day Brad and Holly wanted to go up to Watersmeet, Michigan, the home of the fabled Nimrods in the ESPN high-school football series and commercial. The UP is rugged country but quite beautiful, if still a bit barren this very late spring. We went up there because they were running the first of what they promise will be monthly $100+15 buy-in freezeouts, which is relatively high stakes for the area. (They run a quarterly $300+30, too.) The room supervisor happened to be an old Flambeau hand who remembered me from my last visit to that room some months before, and not only was he glad for all of us to be there, he even arranged with the big boss on duty for me to be allowed to take a photo or two of the Watersmeet layout. The disintegrating situation in Flambeau was among the topics of conversation by everyone in sight. Lots of bad crap going on at Lake of the Torches, the type of bad crap that brings S.W.A.T. teams authorized by the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. And when I say buzz, I mean it; at least a third of the players in Watersmeet were people I recognized as regulars from the Flambeau game.

In total, despite a nice layout and friendly staff, Watersmeet drew only 25 players for this event. It's what happens for a smaller, new tourney that gives it its first go just before Memorial Day. It may also be an one of a thousand small indicators of what is likely to be a tough summer for the region's touristy economy. They'll still do somewhat better in the summer and should likely approach the 40-player cap for these things, since the casino has a very nice four-table room.

We started play at about 12:15 with 7,500 in chips each, and for the first hour I went nowhere, slipping down to about 5,000 at one point. I chipped up a tiny bit, then halfway through Hour 2 pulled off an all-in, check-raise semi-bluff against a couple of the table's steadier players, who -- thank heavens -- bought my push and let me take down a pot up to almost 12,000 at that point. Then I came over the top of my brother-in-law's late-position raise when I found 10-10 in the small blind, only to get an all-in push over the top of me from the big blind. Brad went away -- he had only 5-5 -- and I was getting better than 4:1 and was definitely priced in against the guy's range, despite having only about 3,000 behind. The big blind showed A-K and my tens held up, and I was suddenly over 20,000 in chips, and in the hunt.

By the time we consolidated into a final table of ten I'd chipped up to 33,000 and had taken a very thin lead, though the stacks were tight enough and the blinds high enough that it was really anyone's game. I made a jump up to about 60,000 after a couple of big pots, the second of which found me with K-K, where I re-raised one of the event's better players out of the pot. (He had A-Q, though a shorty called with 10-10 and went bye-bye.)

I was pretty sure I'd make the top four and cash in the thing at this point. My brother-in-law was on fumes, though, but correctly made a last stand before becoming Broomcorn's Uncle, the fate which befell the eventual fifth-place bubbler, an old guy who had been solid early but turned weak-tight as the bubble approached. I busted him when my A-3 held against his all-in-with-his-big-blind K-10. My brother-in-law went out in seventh or eighth, and he was happy enough with that performance, it seemed, despite not cashing.

Problem was, I had dropped a few chips in the meantime from my high-water mark, and had roughly just a fourth of the chips in play when the bubble burst, so when a chop was offered for the cash portion of the prize money -- a $330 seat to the quarterly $15K was an added bonus for the winner -- I figured what the hell. It was a straight 40:30:20:10 split on the prize money, so I grabbed the $540 in chop cash and tried for the seat. I eventually went out in third, as 5:30 approached, though I'd have given the seat to Brad if I'd won it anyway.

And that's how my unplanned poker weekend went. The single round of golf was played through a series of popcorn showers, and I struggled to an 87 (from the men's tees, at least) on a shortish course near Tomahawk. At least I chipped one in for a birdie on a short par five.

Now it's back to work for a hard few days, including preparation for my mad-dash drive to Vegas over the Memorial Day weekend. I'll see some of you there, I'd guess, including a handful of you folks I've never met in person before. It'll be a busy seven weeks, won't it?

Pssst.... All this, of course, is an alternate post. I had written a lengthy, lengthy post on another topic, and just couldn't quite talk myself into publishing that one before I headed north. Perhaps I will soon. Then again, perhaps not.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

I Might Have to Put a Buck or Two on Smokkee

Had a big-time ROFL when I saw this Cappers Mall piece on "celebrity" poker odds for the WSOP, including the special poker-blogger category.

Here's the linky.

Hmmm, Pauly at 16:1 and Smokkee at 60:1? Gotta like Smokkee there. Nothing personal, Pauly; it's just that Smokkee's one tough SOB.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

More Projects Than Time

As summer approaches I'm still looking for assistance with some major project work, along the lines of editing poker-related material several hours a day. If you have some available time in the next few months and are interested in a middlin' small amount of scratch, drop me an e-mail. Two requirements: you've got to have a pretty decent knowledge of poker, and you'll need to be able to demonstrate acceptable copy-editing skills. Good working knowledge of English grammar a huge plus. Good working knowledge of poker, including the specifics of the game and well-known players, is mandatory.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The WSOP and the Ratings Sweeps Final Table

[The opinions expressed here are mine alone, and not necessarily those of my employer or employers.]

It was pretty much open knowledge that the announced press conference this week by Harrah's and the WSOP was to confirm that the final table of the WSOP Main Event final table was to be delayed to November, in large part to be able to hype the partipicants and the massive money involved, the better to reinvigorate TV ratings and casual poker interest in a stagnant televised-poker market.

To be sure, ESPN was a big mover behind the new plan, though as spring arrived it appeared that getting it done for the 2008 WSOP was too little, too late. Among the rumored issues was the lengthy time required to have changes of such a major scope authorized by the Nevada Gaming Commission, the official oversight body for such tournaments. NGC approval normally takes months, but this, somehow, made it onto the fast track. Disney corporate muscle, perhaps?

No matter. The move's going to happen, and I don't care about that in a personal sense. The chance of it personally affecting me is related only to the chance I have of needing to return there for work duties, and that's part of my job... Its greater effects on poker I do care about, however. En fuego threads have popped up on bulletin boards of all sizes, most of which has which have featured largely negative comments on the proposed change.

Can't say I blame them. The change benefits the upper crust of pro players, and also benefits the donkeys having the runs of their lives, who will then have a chance to study and improve. It's a distinct dis-benefit to the rank-and-file player who grinds away year after year. It's also a distinct dis-benefit to international touring players. It's a decent enough idea, just poorly executed.

Some of what was said to during the conferences during the conference had me agape with the double-speak being shoveled. One early call had CC phoning in to ask, in part, whether Harrah's was going to sweeten the prize pool with a slice of the added revenues generated by ESPN's switch to make this a ratings-sweep, high-viewership powerhouse. Would Harrah's share the wealth?

WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack circled around the question and then returned to it, avering that Harrah's was indeed padding the pot. That padding in turn, turns out to be the accrued interest generated by the $20 million or whatever will generate in a low-risk CD over the 117 days the ME is placed on hold. That money, of course, is rightly the players' anyhow, so it can be translated as saying that the pool will be padded slightly -- by the players' own entry fees. I find the attempt by Harrah's to claim that this is Harrah's "padding" the player pool to be both inaccurate and disingenuous. They're giving the eventual winner the accrued interest on the portion of the player pool that has to be held for the extra four months. They're contributing nada from the extra corporate sponsorship deals they have or may yet ink.

Another point of contention sure to draw attention in recent days is the oft-repeated mantra that the changes were approved by the Players Action Committee. The PAC has powerful members, and it's unfair to refer to it as "rubber stamp" organization, but the PAC is neither all players, nor do the players who are on the committee free of other business interests that would not make them far more likely togo along with the change.

According to a recent Matt Savage column on PokerNews, the PAC consists of: The PAC is headed up by WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack and is attended by Harrah's executives Howard Greenbaum, Ty Stewart, Gary Thompson, Bruce Benson, Joseph Scibetta, and Effel. Player representatives are Howard Lederer, Daniel Negreanu, Jennifer Harman, Annie Duke, Phil Gordon, TJ Cloutier, Cyndy Violette, Robert Williamson III, Mickey Appleman, Wendeen Eolis, Barry Greenstein, Chris Ferguson, Bob and Maureen Feduniak, Marissa Chien, Tom Schneider, and Steve Zolotow. Also among the PAC members are WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla, and from the television-production side, Matt Maranz, David Swartz, and Jamie Horowitz.

Interesting mix. First, the business side of poker occupies almost as many positions on the committee as those occupied by people who would generally be identified as major pro players. Second, several of the players on the board are exactly among the upper crust that would likely benefit the most from the extra wrinkles the four-month delay would bring. Either these players would benefit from huge endorsement opportunities from being likely the only name star at a final table to be pimp-delayed for four months,or would be the most likely to leverage their own teaching and promotional opportunities regarding the players who are lucky enough to make the final. Such high-end influences and pros are less likely to reflect the interests of rank-and-file players, and are more susceptible to the big-dollar pitch likely offered by Harrah's and ESPN. It's not the true cross-section of the pro-player public Harrah's makes it out to be.

I haven't even gotten into some of the other very obvious issues the delayed final brings up, including the widespread collusive threat the new format is likely to encourage.

In short, I wish it well as a innovative concept, but I think it's a bad move for poker as a legitimate, serious game. Maybe I'm wrong. We'll see.