The World Series of Poker is an immature phenomenon. Like me, its history spans more than three decades. Like me, it is still trying to figure out its place in the world. It doesn't know if it is still simply a gambler's convention. It wants to be something far greater. It wants to be a cultural mainstay, something along the lines of the ball-oriented World Series or the Superbowl. It's somewhere in between and its adolescence is not the easiest of times in its existence. Like any kid moving into adulthood, there's the acne, the hair in places where there was no hair before, and certain atavistic urges that are impossible to explain.
There are a lot of people wishing the WSOP would either grow up or fade into obscurity. Then there others who believe we're seeing a natural process. Whether Darwinism or the hand of an unseen power takes over, what happens with the World Series will happen regardless, and there's not much you or I can do about it.More in this Poker Blog! -->
Part of the World Series' immaturity is its discomfort with the impossible-to-balance relationship between its desire to be well-marketed and the media's natural desire to cover the World Series like a sporting event. In the past three years, the media rules at the World Series have changed three times. Every change has been driven by both Harrah's desire to carefully control the perception of its product and every media outlets' financial interests.
I have been one to criticize Harrah's heavy-handed and jack-booted efforts to control the flow of information from the Amazon Room to the outside world. I think Harrah's did a better job this year of allowing media to do its job. It still was far from perfect and some legitimate media providers got caught up in a few messes. I think this year was better partially because of the leadership provided by John Caldwell and his entire PokerNews crew. Unlike last year's CardPlayer exclusive coverage, Caldwell and PokerNews spent less time protecting their exclusivity and more time actually covering the tournament. The result was better live coverage and an atmosphere of fairness that allowed the media to work as well as they could in the tricky poker tournament world environment. I hope Caldwell and PokerNews get the gig again in 2008. They proved they could do the job and they helped the rest of us prove we could do our jobs without getting in the way of the exclusive provider.
For a long time, I also criticized the general concept of "exclusive providers." It's money-driven, to be sure. I always said, "You don't have an exclusive provider for football games or baseball games, why should you for poker?" Without anyone ever actually pointing this out to me, I decided the answer was simpler than I was making it out to be. In short, the whole of the media can watch a baseball or football game from the press box and get a better-than-average sense for what happens. They can spot the personnel changes, the ground-outs to first, and the grand slams in the bottom of the ninth. In poker, the whole of the media can't watch the same playing field at the same time unless there is a camera on every table. It's logistically impossible. There simply isn't enough space.
Now, a lot of the above is, if you will, Inside Baseball. The people reading on the outside don't care how they get the information, as long as they get it and they get it accurately. What's more, if members of the media start working to work within the rules rather than trying to get around them, they can be just as successful as before. There were many outlets that did just that during the 2007 World Series--the most successful in my opinion were PokerListings, Gutshot, and, sorry about this, the PokerStars Blog. It was a lemons-to-lemonade scenario and it worked out as best it could.
With all of that said--and what a hellish preamble it was--there remains an immaturity to the media situation that is still to be resolved. When there is such a thing as exclusive internet coverage, exclusive radio coverage, and exclusive TV coverage, there is still a certain care given by those providers to protect the game that pays them. I kept a close eye on PokerNews and Bluff Radio during the whole of the World Series to see if they either unfairly slanted their coverage or left out unseemly aspects of the poker world. All in all, I think those outlets did the best job they could. The stories about Vinnie Vinh and Eskimo Clark appeared in PokerNews where warranted and I think the editorial decisions were pretty well-founded.
Here's the thing, though. PokerNews, Bluff, and a majority of the poker media are poker people writing and broadcasting for poker people. Their job is to tell poker people what's going on in the poker world. Yes, their jobs are dependent on whether poker people think they are doing a good job, but they don't have to worry as much about actively offending Joe Public or bringing down the wrath of Suzie Homemaker with their coverage.
ESPN is different.
Now, I'm not going to be too critical of ESPN, because I think the network and its crack team of producers put out one of the best poker broadcasts on the market. Furthermore, they are shooting in HD this year and the product already looks amazing. They are also very good storytellers. Overall, I think ESPN has been good for poker and for that I can't and won't try to fault them. Still, there's still a bit of journalist left in this old boy and I fear ESPN has not yet figured out they are missing a fleet of boats when it comes to the World Series of Poker.
I'm not going to call ESPN out yet, because the producers are still going through tapes and putting together their season of coverage. However, I'm willing to make some predictions about what we won't see in the final cut of the 2007 WSOP coverage.
I predict we will see scant if any reference to the fact that Vinnie Vinh repeatedly showed up for Day 1 of events but failed to show up for Day 2. The oft-repeated and basically confirmed rumor was that Vinh was a hopeless drug addict, hopelessly broke, and hopelessly in debt to a collection of thugs who sought to put Vinh into tournaments in hopes of getting re-paid. Pauly did a lot of good reporting on the issue, but I doubt ESPN will. If this were the Superbowl, there would be a five-minute magazine-style piece bumping in between coverage on the exclusive network.
I predict there will be no coverage of the story of Paul Eskimo Clark's repeated physical collapses during two tournaments. Both tournaments were interrupted in ways that were disruptive to the event. Clark, despite actually failing to the point that he urinated on himself during a final table, refused to leave his seat and stay in the hospital. Several stories went around about why. Some said he was on a romantic quest to win a bracelet or die in his chair while trying. Other stories said Clark owed people way too much money to get up and give it up for the year. If this had been baseball's World Series, we would've seen a feature piece about a player fighting physical adversity or a darker story about the player choosing to fight debt over the cause of preserving his health.
Now, sure, I'm writing here without any knowledge of what ESPN will do. Last year, the network felt forced by PokerNews writers Amy Calistri and Tim Lavali to discuss the 2006 Color-Up Scandal. There is nothing pushing ESPN to discuss the above stories. A good excuse will be that neither story was necessary to tell the tale of the World Series, that neither story was relevant, and that those stories all happened when ESPN wasn't around. All of those excuses fly, I suppose, but I'm waiting for the day when poker has grown enough that ESPN feels comfortable telling both the good and bad stories that surround poker. I'm not trashing ESPN. I think they are pretty good people overall and I enjoy their broadcasts. I just wonder how long it will be--if ever--that poker gets a real sport's treatment instead off World's Strongest Man coverage.
There was somebody from ESPN--and I'll just let you guess who--who in a private moment made a comment that drove it home for me. This person was talking about Tiffany Williamson's improbable run during the 2005 World Series. The quote: "Tiffany Williamson is so bad, she makes Ted Lawson look like Johnny Moss."
After I finished laughing, I wished I had heard that quote on TV. First, because it's funny as hell. Second, because it's true.
Truth is all I ask for.
[Note: I should note here that all of the above is in reference to ESPN's broadcast coverage. Its writing online, headed up by Andrew Feldman, is much more brave. Of course, ESPN.com had a problem with Pauly, so maybe not quite as brave as I would like yet.]
Finally, I have a few notes here and nothing much to do with them. They are also stories that you won't see on ESPN, however even in my addled post-Series mind, I don't think these belong on TV. They are just stories that don't have a place anywhere or even deserve their own blog post. They are good, bad, interesting, and boring. I just need to clear my notebook and start thinking about something else. For lack of somewhere better to put them, I'll drop them here.
The Milwaukee's Best marketing campaign got out of control
There is a marketing wizard somewhere at Miller Brewing who is currently trying to spin the results of his idea in the best way possible. This person decided it was a good idea to put a bar--a bar!--within the stands of the ESPN final table. This might have been well and good if the drinks costs as much as they did at any other bar in the Rio. Instead, beers were $2.50 and sometimes free-daddy-free. The result was poker hooliganism. Drunks shouted at the players and generally made asses of themselves on a regular basis. You know me. I'm all for a good bender. However, there is a certain decorum that goes along with final table play in poker tournaments. The day the PGA allows free beer to be served to the masses on the 18th green at the Masters, I'll go for an open bar at the final table of the World Series. Until then, keep your underdressed hostesses and cheap beer somewhere else.
Gus Hansen and Devilfish make over-sexed pigs look like Casanova
There are a lot of pigs in poker. I am probably among them. However, the stories about Devilfish and Gus Hansen and how they treat women are more than even I could stomach. If I had only heard these stories once, I might have been able to brush them off. However, having witnessed some of it myself and having heard story after story repeated ad nauseum, I'd caution anyone to not allow their daughters, wives, or girlfriends (age 16-40) to be alone around the Great Dane or the Devilfish.
Many of the big-name stars use same traveling masseuse (and it's not the one many of you would guess)
Toward the end of the Main Event, I ended up sitting at the bar with Dan from Pokerati. We were relaxing after a long day and generally minding our own business. Eventually, we noticed a 40-something lady sitting on my left. She had been the source of a lot of speculation among many members of the media for the past several weeks. After a few beers, Dan and I got to chatting with the lady. If her story is true--and based on what she said, I have no reason to disbelieve her--she is the traveling masseuse to the stars of poker. What's more, she is a fixer and tends to facilitate a lot of the things...well, a lot of the things you don't see on ESPN. Around 4:30am, she left to tend to one of poker's biggest names. The stories she told us in the interim were the kinds of things you won't see in print. She claimed to have been offered $750,000 to write a book, but refused based on principle.
I'd buy it.
Bicycle Card Company's PR disaster
The first day of the World Series was marked by the biggest public relations disaster of the year. This year, Copag cards were out and Bicycle cards were back in. The company had put together a marketing campaign for the ages to surround its new cards. Initially designed to make it easier for payers to determine their pocket holdings by only looking at the corners of the cards, the design ended up making it nearly impossible to know what one was holding without picking the cards all the way up and staring at their faces very carefully. Within 48 hours, all of the new cards were gone. While the cards' designer updated his resume, Bike's PR team went into damage control mode. It was a valiant effort, to be sure. I don't have a lot to say on this other than Bicycle's attempts to re-woo the media were long-lasting. Within a few days, every member of the media had a brand new set-up of plastic cards (not even available to the public!). A few days later, we all had brand new t-shirts. A couple of weeks later, we all had a second t-shirt and a stainless steel coffee tumbler.
32-way chop at Venetian
Having played a few single-table winner-take-all satellites at the WSOP, I know the process of convincing people to make a deal. It's generally a lot easier when there are two players left. I played in a 140 player multi-table event at Caesars in which a deal was only possible after we hit four players. So, I was a bit incredulous when I heard about a 32-way chop in one of The Venetian's deep stack events during the World Series. Three days after it happened, it was the stuff of legend. I was hearing about it all over town. The Venetian impressed just about everybody with its $500 deep stack tournaments. Winners were pulling in $50,000-$70,000 at a time--not bad for a $500 tournament. Finally, I found a guy who was involved in the chop and was able to confirm it. Apparently, the top four players took $11,000 a piece and the remaining 28 got $7,500.
Mr. Surgical Mask
This was the greatest maybe-urban-legend of the entire World Series. I heard about the guy from three different dealers and five different players. I never saw him myself, but I'm not going to say he didn't exist. Apparently, late one night, a guy showed up at the $500-max $2-$5 game in the Amazon Room. He was from "out-of-town" and wore a surgical mask while he played. He claimed to have lost $25,000 that night. Not at the tables. Not in the pit. Not by getting rolled by a hooker. He claimed it fell out of his pocket. That was one story. However, as the story went on, the guy apparently pulled out $500 and bet it blind. And then did it again. Then again. Then again. By the end of the story, Mr. Surgical Mask had tilted off $20,000 at a $2-$5 game.
And I picked that night to go to bed early.<-- Hide More
Let's face it. Unless you are part of the full-time poker world, are from Phoenix, or read Pokerati, you probably hadn't heard of Tom Schneider until this year. Hell, I bet only 10% of the people who read this blog actually know who he is now. Yet, Tom Schneider is the 2007 World Series Player of the Year. There's no taking that away from him. Further, there is no taking away the check he earned for getting there. Tom will hold the title--much better than the nickname "donkeybomber" he carries around with him--until at least summer of 2008.
And there's a damn good chance when the next person wins it, Tom will fade back into the same obscurity in which he wallowed up to this point.
Is it right? No. Is it how the New Poker World works? Sadly, yes.More in this Poker Blog! -->
Donkey Bomber: Bracelet Boy
Tom Schneider is the only person who won more than one bracelet in the 2007 World Series of Poker. It remains to be seen how much--if any--of donkeybomber we will see on ESPN or whether Tom will ever be able to parlay his achievement into a sponsored poker career. My guess is that the chances of either happening in any great amount are pretty slim.
That's the biggest shame about this. From what I can tell and from all the people I've spoken to, Tom is more than just a great poker player. He's also a damned nice guy, a pretty good poker commentator, and stands a good chance at making any potential sponsors a lot of money--given that he gets the chance to enter as many events as sponsored players do.
I think Tom is deserving of much more than he has received in the poker world. Because he is a chubby white guy who doesn't make it on TV doesn't mean the guy doesn't have a lot of poker skill. As the only man to win two World Series bracelets this year, he should be turning down sponsorship offers right and left instead of having to use his body-billboard space to pimp his own book. Of course, sponsors don't pick people up for poker skill. They pick people up to get their pictures in magazines and on TV with the sponsor's logo attached. If Tom had a set of perfect C-cup breasts or had once read the news during a bad year of Saturday Night Live, he would've been wearing an online poker site logo after his first bracelet. Instead, he was working overtime on Bluff Radio to work on his name ID during the main event.
In interviews with Tom, I heard poker commentators say much of the above about Tom--he's not a sexy bitch or a celebrity, and thus shouldn't expect to be handed a sponsorship deal just because he won Player of the Year. In a perfect poker world, winning POY should at least get a guy a one-year deal with somebody. I mean, in the name of Johnny Moss, there are people with open-ended deals who have never won a major event, let alone a bracelet. Let alone two bracelets. Let alone Player of the Year.
Next year I recommend Tom shave his legs, wear a short skirt, and yell a lot at the tables. Either that, or he's paying his own fare for another WSOP.
What of the Year?
Tom Schneider is more than a victim of his sex and age. He's also a victim of a victim of a flawed Player of the Year calculation system. A lot of people (me included) didn't think this year's method of point-assignment was anywhere close to correct. Because of that, Tom's achievement didn't get nearly as much attention as it should have.
To be fair, there is no perfect system and no matter how you calculate POY, there is always going to be somebody bitching about how they had a better year. Every year has had its calculation problems. This year, I think, was the worst in recent memory.
The two best years to look at in terms of different methods of calculation are 2005 and 2007. In 2005, there was a weighted system based on number of entries and finishing position. This year, there was no weighting, but the $10,000 championship event and $50,000 HORSE events were excluded. Neither method is fair to the players.
The biggest failure in the 2005 Player of the Year award was it weighted the size of the field too heavily. If you won the main event, you automatically got the same number of points of someone who won three bracelets in events with fewer than 100 players. That's obviously more than a little screwed up. The 2005 system assigned more weight to a field of 5000 than it did a field of 2000. Think on that for a second while I trash the 2007 so-called solution to the problem.
The people behind the 2007 Player of the Year award decided to exclude the Main Event and the $50,000 HORSE World Championship. Without any independent verification, I can only assume the Main Event was excluded because of its size and the HORSE event was excluded because its buy-in was too huge to be considered an open event.
Let's get this straight: It is ridiculous not to consider the Main Event and HORSE events in Player of the Year awards. If the main event is considered to be the world championship and the HORSE event is meant to determine the best all-around player, excluding those events from Player of the Year makes the award rather meaningless.
To solve the problem, one has to first either include the HORSE event or exclude most of the Championship events that include re-buys. The $5,000 PLO re-buy event cost some players as much as an entry to the HORSE event, so to include one and exclude the other doesn't make sense. The abililty to buy into a tournament does not indicate poker skill, but punishing players for being able to buy into an event by not awarding them POY points is not logical or fair. That is, if Freddy Deeb can make it through one of the toughest fields in history but not get POY points for it, it would make Tom Schneider's POY carry less importance. That is, in part, what happened this year.,
Even though Tom won two bracelets and Player of the Year, his POY award comes with an asterix and I think that probably bothers him as much as anybody else.
Re-Scoring the World Series Player of the Year
So, how should the Player of the Year be calculated? I think the solution is pretty simple. You take an amalgam of past calculation methods and apply them fairly across the board. I'd call this the Otis System, but I can't really take credit for it. It's simply the common sense approach to POY point assignment and is based on past years' systems, minus the poor judgment of people making the rules.
First, we include every open event. That excludes the Ladies, Seniors, Media, and Casino Employee events. If anyone is barred from playing because of sex, age, or profession, it doesn't count. What's more, we don't factor buy-in or prize pools into the equation. Poker bankrolls do not equate to poker talent. The only thing that matters is finishing order weighted on the number of entries.
The Points-Per-Place is a fairly arbitrary number, but it seems like people in the past have wanted to award 100 points for a bracelet, so I'm happy to start with that number. Here is a modified version of the 2005 point system (modified because I think some of the 2005 system gave too little credit for some final table spots and too much credit for squeaking into the money).
In the money (Top half) 10
In the money (Bottom half) 5
Now, this is where it gets important. In past years, the size of the field could multiply your points-per-place by up to three times. I think that's obscene. The most a place should be multiplied by is two. Further, while I think the weighting of a field is important, I don't think it should be so complicated that a place-point is mutipled by .1 for every hundred or so players in the field.
When I explained this to Mrs. Otis, at first she gave me a look and said, "Why? Isn't it harder to beat a field of 6000 than it is a field of 2000?" At first I balked and thought, "Hell, maybe I am wrong. It does follow logically that it's harder to beat a field off 6,000 than it is one of 2,000." Then I changed my mind again and stood my ground. Here's why:
Despite what my wife would have me believe, size matters. However, there are a ton of other factors that come into play. Is it a no-limit or limit tournament? Is it a specialty game or standard hold'em? As the title "Player of the Year" would suggest, it doesn't matter whether you're the best for one day or one tournament. Thus, the ability to wade through the $1,500 no-limit events or the $10,000 event but cash nowhere else should not carry a 3x weight. It also doesn't make sense to not give the larger events a few extra points. In the past, the weighting system has been too complicated, but that's not un-fixable. What's more I think it can be simplified.
I don't think there are many reasonable people out there who will argue with me. It simply doesn't take any measurably greater skill to beat a poker field of 6,000 than it takes to beat a field of 2,100. It certainly isn't something that can be quantified by a simple decimal-pointed multiplier. However, I think there is a much greater difference between a field of 500 and 2000. I don't want to be crude, but when it comes to breasts, there's small, average, large, and big. Once you get past big, they're still just big. Sure, there might be different cup sizes, but it terms of breasts, they're just big. Your average joe on the street isn't going to be able to tell the difference between EE and GG breasts. They're just big. So are poker tournaments.
Sure, we could make it a lot more complicated and break down every event by its game, limits, etc. We could assign values based on those factors. However, if we're looking for a simple and fair way of assigning value, size is pretty easy. I think World Series of Poker fields can be broken down into three sizes. There are the 500 and smaller fields, the 500-1500 fields, and 1500+ fields. Using these categories both takes into account size and types of games as far as the World Series is concerned.
0-500= These events usually are made up of big buy-in or specialty events that draw smaller fields. The field of players is either wealthier or more talented at specific games than other fields.
500-1500=This is where most of the fields fall in terms of numbers. If you're playing an event with a $2,500-$5,000 buy-in, you're probably playing in a 500-1,500 sized field.
1,500+ = Ordinarily, if an event has more than 1,500 people, it's a cheap no-limit hold'em event or the main event.
Now, assigning a multiplier to the field size is a bit arbitrary, as well. However, I think this is likely the most fair.
Size of Field Multiplier
0-500 = 1.0
1500+ = 2.0
Tom Schneider actually asked his readers to come up with something like the above and then apply it to the people who might have stood a chance at winning POY this year. Using my scale, here's how Tom's selections would've fared this year.
Tom Schneider: 275
Jeff Lisandro 212.5
Robert Mizrachi 227.5
Phil Hellmuth: 320
Freddy Deeb: 120
As much as I hate to admit it, my system takes Tom's possibilities and awards Poker Brat Phil Hellmuth Player of the Year. Frankly, I don't think it would be far off. Out of everyone on that list, Hellmuth had more cashes and won more money than anybody but Deeb (who is only on the list because he won the HORSE event). Is Hellmuth a better player than the others? That's up for debate. Did he have a better year than the others? That depends on how we define greatness. If it is by bracelets, then no. If it's by consistency an winning, I think the answer is yes. No one can deny Hellmuth's talent. Like Schneider, Hellmuth was also victimized by this year's scoring system.
The Real Player of the Year
Left unapplauded in all of this is the man who likely deserves a little more attention. You won't know who he is until ESPN broadcasts the final table of the main event. He is either the perfect example or the fy in the ointment of my system. I'll leave it for you to decide.
Alexander Kravchenko is a humorless Russian who cashed as many times as Hellmuth, won as many bracelets as Hellmuth, made as many final tables as Hellmuth, and won more money than Hellmuth and Schneider combined. However, you don't see him popping up on many a list. Kravchenko won a Omaha 8/b bracelet, bubbled the final table of a HORSE event, and took fourth in the main event. That's not to mention his cashing in Pot-Limit Hold'em, SHOE, and Stud 8/b events. Under my scoring system, he would edge Hellmuth by about 25 points.
Now, look at it a little closer. Helmuth may have had six cashes this year, but every one of them was in a Hold'em event. Schneider may have won two bracelets, but he only had three cashes, not one of them was in a field of more than 670 people, and the closest he got to a hold'em game was the H of the HORSE event in which he took fourth. All the while, Kravchenko was successful across just about every discipline (where were you in triple draw, Ivan?).
This is not to say Kravchenko is better than Schneider and Hellmuth. It's only to say, under my system and a little bit of logic, Kravchenko had a better year and, thus, should've been named player of the year.
The fact that anyone is arguing about this is another good case that the game has arrived. If there are reasonable people discussing the various merits and talents of players, it's a lot closer to two Boston fans sitting in a bar and running over stolen base and pitching stats.
The World Series of Poker is trying, too. It spent most of the summer sending out various lists of records and superlatives for the media to publish (most cashes, most bracelets, number of times players took a piss next to Pauly, etc). That's really where it gets confusing.
Hellmuth holds tons of records for numbers of bracelets. Schneider won more bracelets than anybody this year. Kravchenko? Well, he's a Russian guy who had a damned good year at the World Series. Much like Tom's pained life in the world of unfair anonymity, my next door neighbor will likely never know the Russian's name. Hell, I've almost forgotten it already.
And he should've won Player of the Year.<-- Hide More
Check out this little article over at ESPN.com and on the right side, you'll see a video box. Click on "All In Access: Blogger Mania" and see one of our own (with some curious facial hair).
Once the World Series main event gets this deep, my time to play poker is nil. So, to stay in action, Pauly and I spend ten minutes a night in what Pokerati has dubbed "The World Series of Lime Tossing." It's about the only way I can get in action.
Dan found us on the Lime Tossing Ledge and wrote it up for posterity. While my prop bets with Pauly and Dan show me officially down about three small bets, I managed to hustle a Brit to make up the difference. With just a few days left in the Series, my time to put Pauly in his place and run the Citrus Gambit on Dan is getting short.
Monday, however, is a day off at the World Series. I'm currently recruiting players for the WSOPgP (World Series of Pai Gow Poker). We'll see how everybody fares there.
Cross posted from Rapid Eye Reality
With limited time and limited mental acuity, I don't have time to properly explain why I'm doing this. To be honest, I don't even want to explain it. It's been a few days since someone said to me, "If I were you, I would kill myself." Since I didn't agree, I vowed to live a life bent on making sure I never said anything to anyone with such vitriol. I've done such over the past few days. Now, I'm taking it one more step. I'm vowing to make sure others feel as good about their lives as I do.
A friend of mine who is with me here in Vegas is on a quest, and far be it for me not to help him. So, I ask my meager readership here to help me. Please, if you can, use your blogs to link to the following blog with the following words.
Linked words: Hairy gymnast Target: http://suffolkpunchpoker.blogspot.com
Please know, this is important work you're doing. Every Hairy gymnast will thank you.
It was early April in Monte Carlo, Monaco. A sport jacket was enough to shield me from the still chill in the air, and anything that Devilfish might have had on his hands as he threw his arm around me in a mutal drunkard's "I love you, man" salute. I was in a club with half-naked women and drunk poker players. It was some sort of launch party for some sort of poker skin supported by some sort of British players. The drinks weren't free, because anything being free--or even affordable--in Monte Carlo is against the principality's laws.
At some point, I saw a friend order four bottles of booze from the bar at a price that I dare not reveal. She'd put it on her own credit card and was hoping to recoup it later. I was moochinig, in part because I couldn't afford to catch a nice buzz on my own, and, in part, because everybody else was doing it.More in this Poker Blog! -->
I was running with an affable British guy named Ed. He was a world traveler turned poker guy turned security specialist. We'd done the Bahamas together and caused enough trouble in one week for an entire year. However, by April, we were feeling like a little more trouble would be okay.
Which is how we ended up in the basement bathroom of a Monte Carlo club with Joe Hachem and a bunch of other poker pros.
Me, I just had to take a leak. The poker guys, however, had other things in mind. They were engaged in a version of Liar's Poker that I'd never seen. All I know is that there were wads upon wads of American dollars and even more stacks of Euros. As we were leaving, Hachem turned to my buddy and asked him to draw a single hundred dollar bill from a stack big enough to fund my trouble-making for the rest of the year. Ed obliged and plucked a Franklin from the wad.
Hachem took one look at the serial number and said, "We're going to win."
A few shouts and taunts later, three guys were handing Hachem a bunch of Euros. Hard way to make an easy living, indeed.
A few nights later, Ed and I were closing down the wrap party when he turned to me and said, "What am I going to do with a $100 bill." He was headed back to England and would've been forced to exchange it for his own currency.
I got a deal: It cost me fifty euros for a hundred bucks and a conversation piece at my next underground game.
The hundred dollar bill was one of the old ones, the kind when Ben Franklin's head hadn't swollen, and the design looked like the hundreds Dad used to carry around.
My rational mind doesn't accept good luck charms, but I have been known to assign some supernatural value to card cappers, poker chips, and even pieces of yarn. Yet, for some reason I thought holding on to Hachem's hundred would be a good idea.
I keep my money rolled around my driver's license and credit cards. A rubber band holds it all together (a PokerStars money band long given away after I got three-outered while carrying it). For the past three months, I carried Hachem's hundred in my pocket pressed up against my American Express card. Every once in a while I would show it to a friend and say, "You know who this used to belong to?"
Pretty stupid, I guess. I didn't win the money from Joe. He didn't even give it to me. It didn't come out of his $7.5 million win, as far as I know, so why I would hold onto it, I don't know. All I know is that that I said more times than I can count, "If I ever get down to the Hachem Hundred, that means I'm in trouble."
The World Series had so far treated me with such indifference that I felt like...well, I felt like the ex-boyfriend of a girl who has just become a Hollywood starlet. Yeah, I used to have sex with her, but you wouldn't know it now. She just doesn't care and all I have are late night memories to keep me company. And now she's screwing everybody. Everybody else, anyway.
Still, I survived the first three weeks without too much carnage. That all changed this week when a guy from the Seniors event three-outered me all-in with one card to come. Then I got it in good three ways in a cash game and both of my opponents caught. I wasn't down to the Hachem's Hundred, but, it was getting closer than I would've liked. Worse, I actually started blaming the Hachem Hundred for my stagnant-break-even cum loser poker play.
And, oh yes, and, I started to hate the Rio again. I realized I hadn't been more than a hundred yards outside the Rio in eleven days. I hated everybody inside it. Including myself.
I was chugging a bottle of Gatorade when the idea hit me. I would get rid of the Hachem Hundred. And I would get rid of it somewhere else.
There was a full moon when I walked outside and hailed a cab.
"Caesars," I said.
This field trip was a stupid idea, I thought as I sat in traffic on Flamingo. There was a girl hanging out of the passenger side window of a car behind me and screaming loud enough I could hear everything she said. My window was rolled up.
Who ventures out on Amateur Night? The traffic sucks, the tourists are at their worst, and every square inch of floor space in the casinos is full.
I am a masochist, I decided. It's the only explanation.
It took 20 minutes from door to door (I almost could've walked it in the same amount of time). Once out of the cab, I was certain I should turn around and go back. And I almost did, but the cab line to leave was about fifty people deep.
Every night at 11pm, Caesars runs a crapshoot $120 tournament. After less than stellar cash game results in the past couple weeks, I decided the best way to start the evening was with a little tournament action. This, I decided, would be where Hachem's Hundred left my roll.
The guy at the registration window looked at me funny as I unwrapped my bills and dug to the very bottom and pulled out the last hundred in the roll.
"Old one," he said, turning the bill over a few times.
A few seconds later I had my seat card, puked in my mouth a little bit over the 33% (33%!) juice, and went for a BBQ sandwich.
Over some exceptionally bad BBQ, I considered the play: Getting rid of a non-lucky charm in a tournament that charges 33% juice, playing a tournament with a structure fast enough to make Linda Blair's head spin in the other direction, trying to find some sense of peace by going to one of the Strip's busiest casinos.
In a word, ridiculous.
And yet, there I was in the seven seat with my 2,500 in chips at the beginning of the first thirty minute level. While a guy talked about the bondage offerings he found on Craigslist, I sat and folded, and folded, and folded. By the end of the second level, I had 1,900 chips and hadn't seen a pair. With a few minutes left before the break, I picked up 88 and raised from the cutoff. Mr. Bondage called in the small blind. The flop came down JJT. He checked, I bet about 3/4 of the pot. He called. The turn was a three. He checked, I checked. The river was another jack. He bet half the pot. I figured he could've easily slow-played his jack or cautiously played his ten. Still, I wasn't about to go into the 100/200 round with 1,200 chips and I figured there was a 33% chance he was bluffing or had a smaller pair than me. I put the rest of it in. He called with a naked ace and doubled me up.
In a word, ridiculous.
I have this picture in my head of one of those tandem bikes with an alabatross in both seats. I carry this picture around in my head when I think about my tournament performance in Las Vegas. Last year, I made two final tables in tournaments and had exactly no money to show for it. One was the 2am tournament at Binion's as featured in Snickers for Wil Wheaton. The second was the World Series of Poker Media Event.
That particular albatross is not quite as disturbing as the fact that I have never cashed in a Vegas-based tournament. I have played in two WSOP events, umpteen blogger tournaments, and a ton of side events. Sure, I've had my share of success on the underground circuit and for a long time enjoyed great success in online tournaments. However, Vegas tournaments have been a monkey on the albatross' back. Which, while being a funny picture, is not a good thing for a guy's confidence.
I thought of all of this as I sat with no chip stack and watched the players fall off one by one. A few hours later, we were down to two tables. I had survived only through the Ryan Kallberg school of push-monkey poker. The entire time, I sucked out only once, and that one wasn't that bad. The rest of the time, I'd been fortunate enough to win every race I'd run. Now, though, I was still short-stacked. With twelve players remaining (nine out of the original 140 getting paid) I was the shortest stack and predicting I would pure bubble.
Again, we were thirty seconds before the break. I pushed all-in with an un-suited AT. I begged the big blind to call. Double me up or send me home. Just don't make me go to break on the short-stack.
Now I was getting a little sick at myself. The plan was to go big or go to the cash games. Now it was after 3am and if I busted without a cash, I wouldn't have had the time to play live games to recoup my confidence.
Back at the table, I gave the old big blind the stinkeye and cursed him for folding to me. Twenty minutes later, he pure bubbled in 10th place and I was sitting at the final table.
Interesting thing about Caesar's tournaments. They have cameras tuned on a featured table and if you make it there, you are broadcast throughout the poker room and--according to people who have seen it--throughout the casino. I happened to draw the six seat, which put me right in the middle of the frame. I entertained any potential viwers by swatting madly at a housefly that had a taste for poker chips and guys who dress in what Pauly calls "Otis Shirts."
Being in the money had an odd effect on me. While making it into the cash was a great feeling, it now made the paltry few hundred bucks I'd win for ninth place seem like a worthless prize. Something in my brain turned over and I became Aggressive Otis. There were two bad players among the final nine--one lady who played aces, kings, and ace-king and a loose-weak guy who was going to have to get his chips in eventually.
I won't bore you with the details. I played well. With four players remaining, I was third in chips and...this is my favorite part...negotiated an even four-way chop that left a grand on the table for first place (bless the chip-leading German guy's heart). I should've won that, too, but my trips couldn't fade eight outs twice.
Officially, it was a third place finish. Wrapped in the rubber band in my pocket, it was a poker player's Viagra.
I'd ordered a beer after we struck the deal and the waitress brought it just as I was shaking hands with the other players. I walked around the casino drinking it and thinking about Hachem's Hundred. Without any evidence that it was lucky, I carried it around like a talisman for three months. Hachem is one of my favorite people in poker, so I guess it made sense for a while.
But as I took the last drink of my beer and headed for the cab stand, it hit me. That bill had been lucky all along.
I just had to put it in play.<-- Hide More
"If you get a bloody nose, they won't let you back in the box." --WSOP dealer
Poker is a game of time. I once told my wife if I don't have six hours to dedicate to a live game, I can't play right.
Time for me at the World Series is in short supply. I've been trying to find six free hours to play and coming up short. I've played one six-hour session since I've been here.
That's just not enough.More in this Poker Blog! -->
When Pauly cashes in an event and Michal Craig final-tables another, it's enough to make a lowly writer like me a little green. Okay, a lot green.
Still, I'm trying to get in a little time at the tables. While not kicking me in the junk, it's not necessarily giving me the lovin' I enjoy. That's made for a lot of frustration where I normally wouldn't suffer it.
Dealers, for instance.
Some dealers don't know to handle a guy sitting down between the button and the blinds, and yet are well-versed in the rules of getting off work and the heretofore unfamiliar Bloody Nose Clause.
The problem with this is that it's unfair to most of the dealers here. In fact, I'd say 90% of them are really good. However, there is one I'll call X (because that's what her name starts with) who literally just stopped the other night and asked me, "What do I do?"
This lady is old enough to have been around the block, but I think the pace of the Series has gotten to her. The game had been on the verge of breaking several times and we had lots of people coming in and out. Finally, after watching her face scrunch up in confusion and, perhaps, fear, I just moved the button to the correct place, told the right people to post their blinds, and gave one guy an option to but the button. That was enough, apparently, for X to defer to me for most decisions over the next 20 minutes.
There are dealers here who have my attention and appreciation however. Stefan is the fastest and smartest in the room and actually stopped me 24 hours after a hand I played to talk about it again. Beth has kind eyes and is one of the roaming Dallas crew. Then there's an old Japanese guy who has three As and two K's in his name.
"My name Aces Full of Kings," he said. "I action dealer!"
Then there was a player I calll Bob's Big Boy. He sat on my right for a few hours one night and talked about every hand.
"Sure, I could've raised my nines there, but I just didn't feel like messing with it. I mean, I raise with my nines, what am I going to do if a ten comes out? I mean, I will raise with nines sometimes, but that time I thought, awwww, why mess with it, you know?"
This happened after every hand and usually in a hand he limp-folded.
I put up with it for a long time and decided that some people just talk too much. However, when he started digging his hand inside his underwear and scratching his balls incessantly, I vowed to bust him.
His friend had just asked him to leave and he said, "Wait, I'm down a dollar. I need to get that back." He came in for a rare raise and I looked down at 45-off. I called with a couple of other people and we saw a flop of A2x. He continued into the pot for $40. I called and everybody else went away.
I told myself that I was done unless...
...that beautiful three came on the turn.
"Should I bet again or should I check?" he asked.
"You're the one who was worried about being down a dollar," I said.
"Same bet," he said and laid out $40.
I paused, maybe a little too Hollywood, and then put out $40 on top of a $100 bill.
He hemmed, then hawed, then called.
The river was an ace, enough for Bob's Big Boy to wake up and bet his ace-king. His stacks became my stacks. Bye-bye ball-scratcher.
"Fucking idiot four-five offsuit."
"Come on, now. I'm a nice guy," I said. And I had been all night. Usually am, in fact.
"Alright, you're a nice fucking idiot."
A guy at the other end of the table came to my defense and told the guy he was out of line. In retrospect, the guy was probably worried about my glass getting tapped.
Regardless, bye-bye ball-scratcher.
Ten minutes later, I flopped a set of queens against a guy who mis-reaed the board and called my all-in river bet for a $1,400 pot. He thought he had a straight. He had J9 on a AQ872 board.
All of this would've been well and good but for me mis-reading the board a few hours later. I was sure I saw AK diamonds on board and thought--since I was holding the queen of diamonds--I could bluff the nut flush. Which would've been fine except my opponent--TheMark, for what it's worth--held the ace of diamonds. I guess it could've cost me more.
I'm still in search of that elusive five buy-in win that makes me feel like I'm doing myself any good at the poker tables.
That's just about all there is here. My time is spent sweating other poker players and writing about them. It's a good life, to be sure, but I'd kill for a week of participatory journalism, you know?
Hell, maybe I'll become a dealer.<-- Hide More
I knew it because I had stopped taking pleasure in my friends' success. Instead, I felt a nagging envy that set my mind wandering to places it shouldn't be. In the past, friends' success would be cause for celebration, a mutual endorphin rush that comes from the home team winning. My feelings had started to become the equivalent of the former leadoff hitter watching his replacement steal another base. The home team may be headed to the playoffs, but for the guy on the bench, it's just another reminder that he won't ever have a chance at being in the Hall of Fame.More in this Poker Blog! -->
I knew it because my heart had shifted. I'd never embraced schadenfreude before. Now, I was taking immense pleasure in watching people fail. If not pleasure, I at least found some sort of sick comfort in watch my enemies implode at the tables. And what was that? I'd never before had enemies. I never actively disliked anyone before. Now, I did.
Each of these things started to manifest themselves into misplaced anger. I wasn't merely feeling sorry for myself. I was starting to get mad at other people for failing to see how miserable I really was. I was feeling unappreciated. I felt like I was giving more than I was getting back. They were never feelings I would express, mostly because I knew how fucked in the head I really was. However, it was all there and I couldn't deny I was feeling it.
It occurred to me in mid-May as I stared at the digital clock on my nightstand: I wasn't me anymore. The guy I always loved to be--was proud to be--was missing. My patience had eroded and now sat like an exposed nerve in an abcessed tooth. My ability to enjoy anyone's company was usually short-lived. I didn't like myself and I couldn't see how anyone could like me either. Once trusting to a fault, I looked at 98% percent of people with a suspicious eye.
When I was thinking reasonably, I realized it was a question of whether I was gone or merely lost. If gone, it was a question of whether I could survive as this new person. If lost, it was a question of along which path I lost myself. Was it the road to attempted poker success? Was it the road to being a good family provider? Was it the road away from traditional career? There had been so many paths I'd traveled in the past four years, it was impossible to say. I could've slipped away on any of them.
"Your mood is not in a good place," my wife said one night over dinner.
"No, it's not," I said, and left it at that. I was unwilling--no, unable--to tell her the truth.
I was lost and had no idea where to start looking.
The only thing that was at all certain was that I was not succeeding anywhere. I hadn't failed yet, but I felt like I was close. I wasn't even sure how to define failure. It would've been easy if failure had a finish line, some easily discernable point at which I could just say, "Well, I guess that's it, then." It wasn't like that, though. Failure seemed to be a slow process, one that didn't kill with a shot to the head. It was a misquito that was never full and always awake.
I wasn't broke financially or morally. Emotionally, though, I was like that old bluegrass song. "I ain't broke, but brother, I'm badly bent."
In short, I was functioning. Getting by. It was stasis in some sort of death embrace with stagnation. I awoke most days--and went to bed each night--with the same overwhelming feeling. It whispered, "You're doing nobody any good. And for no good reason."
What in the hell did that mean? "For no good reason?"
I had the feeling that my attempts to succeed on all fronts was contributing to my slow failure in each of them. If I had any talent in any of the arenas I loved, I was allowing each one to waste away.
That night, over dinner, I must have had that far-off look on my face, because my wife said, "Where did you go?"
After some prodding, I said, "I'm thinking about going to Vegas a few days early."
In the run-up to the European Poker Tour's Grand Final in Monte Carlo, Pauly had e-mailed me and asked if I wanted to go to Amsterdam with him after we finished up in Monaco. I felt the selfish twitch and thought about long days spent with Pauly in the coffee shops. I considered it for about ten seconds, before reminding myself I am a man with responsibilities. Leaving the family to go to Monte Carlo for the third time in three years was bad enough. Taking a week on to the trip to go hang out in Amsterdam would've been a bit too much to ask. In fact, at the time, I didn't even bring it up with the wife. She would've thought I was looking for a Responsibility Medal.
One night in Monte Carlo, Pauly and I stood in the middle of the media room and chatted about his upcoming trip. He talked about the various people he might see there, but said, "Man, I just need to be alone for a while."
And that's when I realize his invitation to me was one he probably wanted to make, but deep down he knew it would be better if he just had a few days to get his head together.
I thought about that for a while. Every man needs some alone time. It's not for a lack of love for the people around him. It's just time to be Away. I'd actually planned for it a couple of years back. It was supposed to be a secret trip to Tunica to be alone and test my mettle. Instead, I decided I'd rather spend time with my friends. We went and turned it into a little tradition.
Since then, apart from one day in tired Milan, I hadn't spent one day alone.
And so, the plan was to go to Vegas alone before the start of the World Series. At the time, I had no intention of being in Las Vegas for the whole Series. I had many a grand plan. And then everything changed and I became a seasonsal resident of Las Vegas.
And here I am.
I've struggled to find a way to express everything that's been happening here. Between the Eskimo Clark stories, Vinnie Vinh stories, and all the other seedy news going on here, there's not been any time for reflection. I say all this because I get the sense a lot of people are searching here, but it's such a hard place to search, like trying to find a needle in a stack of needles.
So, here we are, and I've offered nothing yet in terms of good writing on Up For Poker. I've been working hard to make my paid gig better than it has been in the past. I've succeeded a few times and turned out three or four pieces--out of about 70--that I really like.
The good thing is that, even though this grind is not as enjoyable as it used to be, I get the sense I'm on the cusp of something. It may not be anything resembling success, but at least it will be something resembling peace.
Because of all that, a lot of what I had been feeling for many months is gone. I'm turning back into the guy I like, for better or worse. And if I can find that guy again, I'll be one step toward getting where I need to be.
A couple nights ago, I had the pleasure of having a couple of drinks with Jim McManus and something he said turned a little light on in my head.
He said that he had made more money writing in the past year than he had playing poker.
I'm not exactly sure what, if anything, that will end up meaning as I try to get this soul searching off the ground.
But, it has to mean something.<-- Hide More
The G-Vegas underground scene has briefly transplanted itself to Vegas. Walking around the Rio is like walking into the Depot or Gaelic game on any given night. A guy that G-Vegans sometimes affectionately call "Rebuy" won $300K in an event a couple days ago. Late last night, I ran into several other G-Vegas players sitting at the Hooker Bar.More in this Poker Blog! -->
This afternoon, I found a familiar face sitting at Table 10 in the $2,500 short-handed event. He had just doubled through 2007 European Poker Tour Grand Final runner-up Marc Karam.
He offered me a last-minute chance to buy 25% of him. For some reason, I declined...which means he's going to win the fucker.
So, good luck, buddy. Make me hate myself more.<-- Hide More
"Do you know Otis?" one member of the media asked another.
"Know him? I've practically slept with him."More in this Poker Blog! -->
That coversation happened about 30 seconds ago and it pretty much sums up the bunker mentality of the World Series of Poker media. We're all in this together. We've never slept together, but sometimes it feels like it. This room reminds me of a Las Vegas version of a Lousiana shotgun shack. It's one long rectangle of clicking and clacking laptops. For a moment of respite, I've plugged Ben Harper into my ears and taken a break from my work.
Work and sleeplessness have largely kep me away from the tables so far on this trip. I played a little cash last night and picked up a modest profit. Other than running into a guy who had dealt to me in Tunica a while back and remembered dealing my bust-out hand in a tournament, the session was pretty unremarkable.
What is remarkable here, however, are the little things that keep me interested in this seven-week circus show. None of them are stories on their own. They are just simple quotes that make me remember why this place is ripe for stories if you just listen.
So, here, presented without comment, are a few things I've heard said over the past few days:
The biggest lie I've heard told this week:
Man on the phone to girlfriend/wife: "Baby, I think about your ALL THE TIME while I'm playing."
Staying healthy at the WSOP
Otis: "You're eating an apple and smoking a cigarette at the same time. Are you trying to balance the health scale?"
Dealer, holding up styrofoam cup: "I'm drinking water, too. So, I'm two-to-one."
Dealer #1: "ESPN won't let me deal the final table."
Dealer #2: "Why?"
Dealer #1: "Because I'm left-handed. I told them I was considering a class action lawsuit."
On dealer tipping and cheapskates
Dealer: "I dealt $2/$5 for a while and did great. I dealt $50/$100 for three hours and didn't make a dollar."
On Vinnie Vinh
Anonymous: "I heard he was a crack-head."
(Note: I certainly hope Vinh is okay. Regardless, I've found myself inordinately interested in the story of Vinh's random disappearance after leading Day 1 of the $1,000 re-buy event. As of this moment, there have been no reports of Vinh's return. For more on the story, visit our friends at Wicked Chops Poker)
Seen on hat of poker player: "Jay The Downtown Rounder."
The pride he must feel.<-- Hide More
I was minding my own business when the girl walked up. She was on the phone and hidden behind a pair of big, dark sunglasses. The first thing I noticed--seriously--was her toes.More in this Poker Blog! -->
My wife is pretty particular about painting her toenails when she wears open-toed shoes. This girl was dressed like she cared about how she looked. Tight slacks, a low cut shirt, etc. However, her toes looked like they had been ignored for a couple of months.
Odd, I thought.
When the girl finished her call, she looked up and said, "Do I know you?"
"I can't see any reason why you would," I said.
She paused and then said, "Do you know me?"
Everybody in Vegas looks the same, as far as I'm concerned. I feel like I see somebody I know everywhere.
"You face looks familiar," I said. I didn't say that I'd seen her playing a satellite last night and half of the adjacent table was craning to get a look down her shirt.
Slowly, the girl pulled her sunglasses down to reveal her eyes. She waited for some recognition, but it didn't click.
"Brandi Hawbaker," she said.
I could only say, "Ah. So are you playing any events?" Later, Dan would tell me I should've said, "Sorry, Brandi, I didn't recognize you without the Full Tilt sticker."
It was pretty clear that my media badge was about the only thing spawning the conversation.
I ran away, afraid Captain Tom might see me talking to her and try to huggle me.<-- Hide More
NASCAR, meet WSOP.
Starting this year, it sounds like you'll be able to wear 32 different patches during the World Series of Poker if your heart desires. Harrah's has significantly reduced the restrictions when it comes to personal advertising. Here's what you can and can't wear:More in this Poker Blog! -->
CAN (it's a short list)
Also, any logo for a DOT NET website must contain a clear and visible DOT NET suffix that is at least the same size as the site name.
I'm still trying to figure out if online gaming sites that accept U.S. customers will be permitted to advertise their DOT NET sites. That would, of course, apply to sites like PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Ultimate Bet.
Regarding third-party registrations, the rules state this:
Third-party registrations for players are not permitted unless submitted by Official WSOP sponsors; Official WSOP promotions or product licensees, or civic, charitable, business, casino and other land-based entities officially licensed to conduct satellite tournaments for the 2007 WSOP. No third-party registrations will be accepted from online gaming sites conducting business with U.S. residents.
Does this rule make it harder for PokerStars and Full Tilt to buy their players into the World Series of Poker? I guess we'll have to wait and see.<-- Hide More
Two million chips magically appeared at the tail end of the 2007 World Series of Poker and, for awhile, it seemed like not a whole lot would be said about it. That's until Amy Calistri and Tim Lavalli did their best Sherlock Holmes and shined a bright light on either an unfortunate mistake or a horrible case of cheating.
It's been six months since they first blew the lid off this case and now they're back with a great update. It's a must-read.
Two Million Chips: Six Months After by Amy Calistri and Tim Lavalli
The 46 event schedule at the 2006 World Series of Poker was long... but not varied. Despite the wise addition of a $50,000 HORSE event (which was, unfortunatley, too compacted), the Series was loaded with too many Hold 'Em events, especially NLHE events.
It seems the people running the whole shebang got the message.
There are 55 different events this year. Prior to the Main Event, there are 12 standard NLHE events with open fields (there's also a Casino Employees event and a Women's event). There are also three 6-handed NLHE events, two NLHE Re-Buy events, one NLHE Shootout, one NLHE Heads-up and one Mixed HE event (limit and no limit). Both the Heads-up and Mixed HE events are brand new this year.
The fun part this year seems to be the variety. In addition to the return of the wildly popular $50,000 HORSE event (which is now five days instead of three) we get a more reasonably priced $5000 HORSE event. Event #5 is an interesting $2500 O8/Stud 8 mixed game. There's also a 2-7 Triple Draw Lowball Rebuy event that sounds like fun... for those who actually play the game.
The other addition this year will be space for about 80 more tables giving the Harrah's folks up to 300 tables and seats for up to 3300 at a time (if they choose to start events 11-handed). With that in mind, there are only three Day 1s and only one Day 2. Last year, there were four Day 1s, two Day 2s and an off day before Day 3 even started.
I guess I could take more time and compare this year's schedule more closely to last year's... but I'm a journalist in real life and don't feel like playing one at home. Look for smarter people to bring you more in depth analysis. In the meantime, here's a link to the World Series of Poker 2007 Schedule.