Saturday, March 01, 2008

NBCNHUPC, round of 32

Went to Caesars Palace again today. My own poker went much better today. Won back what I lost yesterday. I realize that that's a completely irrational and meaningless way to look at results, but I see the graph of my earnings, I see a blip down yesterday, I see an equivalent blip back up today, and it feels meaningful, as if I have set aright something in the universe that went wrong yesterday, and harmony and balance have been restored.

After playing, I watched about the last half of the Clubs and Spades brackets of the round of 32 of the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship. It was a lot harder to get a seat today--apparently many more seats went to friends and family members of the players, in addition to more fans having time available on a weekend to come watch. Fortunately, though, they fixed their process for filling the seats, so I had just a short wait.

What the hell is going on with Orel Hershiser? Yesterday he took down Ted Forrest, and today he casually knocks off first Alan Cunningham, then Freddy Deeb. That's just unreal.

Before the festivities started I was looking over the roster of matches, trying to guess which one would be the feature table. Then I noticed that Phil Ivey was up against Johnny Chan. Duh. I wonder how long the NBC executives had to debate about that decision--maybe 5 nanoseconds? Interestingly, it turned out to be the shortest of the eight matches.

My overall record for guessing the outcomes of the round of 64 was 19-13. I improved considerably for today's round of 32: 12-4. For the round of 16 (completed just minutes ago as I write this), I went back down to just barely better than how a chimp would do: 5-3. My guesses for the round of 8 are Ivey, Seed, Bloch, and Ferguson--an all Full Tilt Poker pro finale. Of course, given the rate at which FTP is signing new members onto its team these days, you pretty much can't swing a dead cat in a poker room without hitting a Full Tilt pro. (Interestingly, very few poker rooms have rules explicitly prohibiting players from swinging dead cats.)

Notably, I did not hear any praying from Jerry Yang (or from his family, who were just two rows directly in front of me) during his match with Phil Laak. That's probably why he lost, y'know--not enough praying this time around.

The announcer asked Mike Matusow during his match whether he had any side bets on himself. He said he did--he and Gus Hansen bet $10,000 on whether Mike could defeat Tom "durrr" Dwan. Uptick ten grand for Mikey, courtesy of Gus.

Below are a few photos from today's session, which I'll just post without further comment, since I don't really have anything meaningful to say about them. I also took six video clips, but I'm having difficulty getting them converted to a file format that is usable here. If I succeed, I'll add them in.


One funny story about the dealer shown in that last photo. Last spring I played a tournament at Caesars in the afternoon, then hit Treasure Island that evening. By coincidence, a few of the day-shift CP dealers were now off work, and had also gone to TI to play some poker, and I got sent to a table with them. It was a wild but extraordinarily fun bunch. One of them was the one shown above. I don't remember his name now, so let's call him Dealer 1. The other significant player is Dealer 2. I wasn't in the hand.

I don't recall exactly what the action was or what the board cards were, but on the turn Dealer 1 bet and Dealer 2 called, saying, "I need a king on the river." The river card was a king. Dealer 2 raised his hands over his head and yelled, "Yahtzee!" He then made a huge bet. Well, everybody at the table knows that this is a common gambit--you call for a card that really won't help you, so that the 1 out of 13 times that it happens to hit, you can bet and make your opponent really nervous. When you're on the receiving end of this show, it's not that you necessarily believe what was said, but it would feel so incredibly foolish to have an opponent tell you what card he needs to make his hand, that card comes, he bets, and you call anyway.

So Dealer 1 doesn't believe Dealer 2's ploy for a second, and insta-calls. Dealer 2 turns over the full house that the king on the river gave him, and win both a huge pot and the right to make fun of his friend's call, well, basically for the rest of their lives! I realize that it probably doesn't sound funny the way I've told it--it's one of those "you had to be there" moments. But it was one of the funniest things I've ever seen go down at a poker game.

The rest of the session was chock-full of people calling for cards, then yelling "Yahtzee!"--whether or not the card called for hit. It would have been tremendously fun, if only I had been winning instead of losing that day.


Finally got the videos to convert and play right. As I've said, my camera is old. When it came out, any video capability in what was primarily a still digital camera was still a novelty, so the frame rate and resolution are low. I hope, though, that these clips will help those who couldn't be there get a sense of what the experience was like.

Clements doubles up Raymer:

Hansen eliminates Nguyen:

Laak vs. Yang, AQ vs. AQ:

Matusow eliminates Dwan:

Raymer eliminates Clements:

Tran eliminates Cloutier:

Poker gems, #92

Six-time UFC champion Randy Couture, during a charity poker tournament he hosted, as quoted by Adam Slutsky in Bluff magazine, March, 2008, p. 31.

It's much easier to punch people in the head than to play poker.

Poker gems, #91

Michael Craig, in a blog post earlier today. (It's worth reading the story that prompted this bitter but true observation:

Poker's a bitch mistress who exists to break your heart.

Friday, February 29, 2008

More from Caesars Palace

It's a gorgeous day here in the high desert, 73 degrees, sunny, not a cloud in the sky. Convertible tops are down, though I'm sure the drivers' pleasure is muted by the fact that no car in the city is going over 10 mph, because every road is clogged with NASCAR visitors--a couple hundred thousand of them, we're told. It's a day when your left leg becomes hypertrophied from working the clutch, and you wonder why they bother making cars with five gears, when you just go from first to second to first to second.

But none of that matters, because we've got us a poker match!
You can get updates on the NBC "National Heads-Up Poker Championship" every few minutes here: Michael Craig is also doing live updates:

My guesses for the first-round first bracket were horrible. I only picked two out of eight. (Fortunately, I knew they were mostly coin tosses, so unlike everybody else, I didn't put any bets down. I just highlighted my picks on a printed schedule.) I got Andy Bloch over Shannon Elizabeth and Jamie Gold over Tom Kelly. But who would have guessed Orel Hershiser would knock out Ted Forrest? That's kind of like last year, when Don Cheadle beat Phil Ivey in the first round. I also thought that Antonio Esfandiari would make mincemeat of Vanessa Rousso; after watching her on TV several times, I think that she's just not very good.

There's a lot more disorganization about this event than one would think, given that it's now in its fourth year. I found no fewer than five different starting times listed various places for the first matches today, including two different ones on different signs at Caesars! I arrived at about 9:30, which is what a sign I saw yesterday had said, though I didn't really believe they'd get things underway that early. There was already a long line for spectator seats.

I thought it was pretty dumb to wait for what turned out to be another two hours for a seat. After all, the thing goes on well into the evening, and not many will stay through the whole thing. (People quickly discover that you can't really follow the action, and things only get interesting when there's an all-in.) I noticed in last year's broadcasts that there were lots of empty seats showing in the background, so I decided to--what else?--play some poker and see what developed.

It was another bad poker day for me. After I had taken enough abuse, I went to check out the status of the viewer seats. More complete chaos. There are two clusters of seats, one on each end of the room, totalling maybe 100 seats. The main entrance to the room leads directly to the left bank of seats. But there's another entrance that goes to the right-hand end.

I went to the main one, and there were a whole bunch of people milling around. It was impossible to tell whether they were all waiting to get in, or just watching from the doorway. I asked a security guard what the procedure was. She told me to go back to the front desk and sign in, and as seats opened, they would call off names. I found the list-keepers. But they said that they had ditched the list. All I could do was wait in a line way back at the entrance to the poker room (which is maybe 50 yards from the entrance to the tournament room, where the taping was going on). She said they had been told not to let any more people in until 2:00. This was at about 12:30. I asked how they were going to fill empty seats as people left before then. She said they weren't going to.

I didn't believe this for a second. I think every TV show director wants every seat filled, because empty seats suggest that the event is too boring for people to bother being there. So I wandered over to the secondary entrance to the room. Here there was no cluster of people, no security guards, no list-keepers. Just a few people standing in the threshold to the room watching, and a bunch of empty seats inside. So I just wandered in and sat down in the second row. People were freely coming and going. After being in there a while, I overheard the floor director trying to encourage bystanders to fill the seats, because she didn't want any of them empty--just as I had suspected.

I have no idea where the people at the main entrance to the poker room and the other entrance to the tournament room got their instructions, but they were screwing things up, and couldn't even keep their stories straight between them. What a stupid mess.

Anyway, I was in. I was far enough away from the action that I had to use the maximum zoom on my camera, and that meant amplification of even minor hand movements, so unfortunately most of the pictures still came out blurrier than I'd like. But you can at least see what's going on.

As I arrived, two matches were already done (Cunningham/Brown and Wasicka/Deeb), and one had the last hand just as I walked in (Gold/Kelly). Two matches were finished up shortly thereafter, almost back-to-back.

The first was the Forrest/Hershiser stunner.
Orel was using a baseball as a card cap, which is distinctly odd. He had Forrest sign it. Ted said he had never signed a baseball before. Kind of a turnaround of roles, eh?

Next out was Todd Brunson:

I've read several times that Scott Fischman had to give up poker dealing and turn to playing because of his rheumatoid arthritis. When I've seen him on television, I haven't been able to tell that anything was wrong with the small joints of his hands, but in person it's painfully obvious (and I mean that literally), even from about 20 feet away.

Survivor Bellande was the next victim. T. J. Cloutier dropped in to visit. If you're a big name in the poker world, they let you just kind of wander around the tables in the middle of taping. Apparently "big name" doesn't include me, because when I tried it, six burly security guys tackled me and beat the snot out of me. Or at least that's what I imagined would happen if I walked out there.

Then it was Esfandiari's turn. In the first shot, he's consulting with his family between hands. (There's a ton of down time during this thing. Whenever there is an all-in at one table, everything has to stop on the other tables. When there is an all-in and a call, the players have to wait an agonizingly long time before the cameras are all in place, and the tournament director instructs them to show their cards.) In the second, he's showing us the fine sitting posture that results in poker rooms hiring massage therapists.

The last match to conclude was the feature table, Bloch vs. Elizabeth. (If you look closely, you can see Doyle Brunson in the background.) In the third photo, Esfandiari pops over from his table to watch Bloch's A-K double him up against Elizabeth's A-Q. Antonio predicted a Q would come and eliminate Bloch, but it was not to be.

They went back and forth many times. I saw him be all-in with the worst hand and survive at least three times against her (e.g., K-3 offsuit versus her suited A-Q), and finally won it with, as I recall, a 10-8 offsuit sucking out on her K-Q. After the match, Ms. Elizabeth was comforted by Clonie Gowen, who scolded Andy Bloch for winning (but said that she still loved him). The actress was having a hard time holding back tears. I was less than ten feet away, and could see them welling up, and her lip trembling, and she was trying to force smiles. But basically she was crying. I wanted to yell, like Tom Hanks, "Hey! There's no crying in poker!"

But I didn't.

However, Andy Bloch ended up standing right beside me, so I took the opportunity to lean over and whisper to him, "Now look at what you did, you brute--you made her cry." He just smiled, shrugged, and said, "Yeah, well...." It seemed he couldn't think of any way to complete the response. I don't blame him. Hard to say anything sympathetic--and mean it--in that situation. For every winner there's a loser in this game, and nothing he can say or do changes that fact, or the fact that he's happy that he was the winner. If that makes her the loser, and she cries as a result, shrug your shoulders and move on--there's nothing else to be done. Some days you're the winner. Some days you're the loser. You have to take both in stride, or you'll drive yourself crazy.

As they say, that's poker.

Here's a shot of Clonie Gowen. She has lost weight dramatically in the last couple of years, it appears to me, to the point of looking quite unhealthy. She may have the flattest, skinniest butt on Planet Earth:

Finally, here are some random shots of the amazing equipment the TV team was using. That double-ring aluminum scaffolding is hung from the ceiling by just a few chains that look wholly inadequate to support all that weight. It's either magic, or it's going to come crashing down, killing everybody underneath:

Addendum, about 10 minutes later:

I did much better predicting the outcomes of the second set of first-round matches: I got 7 out of 8 right, wrong only in thinking that Daniel Negreanu would take down Michael Mizrachi.

That makes me 9/16 overall so far. Obviously, that's HUGELY better than random chance would predict. Isn't it?

Addendum, late Friday night:

First round action is done. I hit 19/32 overall. Glad I didn't lay out any $$$ on it. Not that anyone cares, but my picks for the second round are now:

Hearts: Bloch, Fischman, Cunningham, Deeb
Diamonds: Townsend, Mizrachi, Benyamine, Lindgren
Clubs: Kaplan, Raymer, Matusow, Ferguson
Spades: Hansen, Laak, Ivey, Tran

There's a party at Caesars Palace--and I'm not invited

Much of the poker world's best talent is at Caesars Palace, which I just left. Tomorrow begins the NBC "National Heads-Up Poker Championship," and tonight at Pure (the nightclub next to the poker room) is the party at which they draw names for first-round action. This is breaking news, folks--I'm posting these pictures before the event ends!

I chose Caesars for my game tonight partly to see who would pop in. I have not played there since this shameful event: I figure by now I've pretty much brought them to their knees with my boycott, so I'm willing to start letting them collect some rake from me again.

The photos above are the tournament room re-sculpted for tomorrow's fun. It's an amazing transformation. It's as if there's nothing of the old room left.

Anyway, the game wasn't going well. (The correct way to read that sentence is: "I was hemorrhaging money to the worst player at the table, and it was pissing me off.") So I took a break to do a little celebrity watching.

They had a red-carpet area set up, but I was way too late to get in position. So let me admit in advance how utterly horrible most of the pictures are. Without elbowing my way through a crowd, all I could do was hover at the end where the players were just getting into line for their red carpet walk--which meant that I was mostly taking pictures of the backs of heads. You may need a little imagination to see who was there....

This problem was compounded by camera glitches: shutter lag, flash intermittently not working, zoom a bit iffy, etc. My digital camera is now almost eight years old, and showing it. It was one of the first 3 megapixel models in its day, but it's reaching the end of its useful life, I'm afraid.

So no place to get good shots combined with a sometimes-working-sometimes-not camera, well, it's a bit like trying to play 9-2 offsuit from early position. It's an uphill battle, and the results usually won't be stellar. But hey, nobody's paying me to do this, and you're not having to pay anything to see, so keep that in mind before you submit your angry notes of complaint.

This would have been a nice, lucky grouping of William Edler, Greg Raymer, and Huckleberry Seed. But it was only after taking these first few photos that I discovered that my flash had been set to "off" (there were so many flashes going off that it was easy to be fooled), which meant the poor little camera was trying for a long shutter exposure. That wasn't going to work. But by the time I figured this out, my targets had moved on and a security guy had told me I couldn't stand where I was.

See that blurry figure in white in the middle? That's Shannon Elizabeth on her cell phone. Gorgeous, isn't she? Yeah, *sigh*, I could look at that photo of her all day long.

Jean-Robert Bellande, recently of "Survivor" fame. Hey, you can almost sorta see a face in this one!

Got the flash problem resolved. Still wrestling with the position problem. Gus Hansen, Phil Laak, and Huck Seed.

Scotty "You call, gonna be all over, baby" (maybe the best poker teaser line in history) Nguyen.

See that one-quarter of a back of a head with a white cowboy hat on? That's Gabe Kaplan, who had been in nice profile until the one one-billionth of a second before my shutter opened, when he sneakily turned away. You may have to take my word on this one.

That was the last photo I snapped before security shooed me away. I went back to my game, lost another buy-in, and gave up for the night. I thought all of the hullaballoo would be over, but the last few celebs were taking their turn for photos and interviews. The crowd had thinned out a lot, so I was able to get some more normal shots.

Erick Lindgren

Kenny Tran. No, not the one with the red and white earrings.

In terms of height, this was a pretty amusing grouping: Howard Lederer, Huck Seed, and Freddy Deeb. Those two had better not ever get him angry; he could punch them in the kneecaps. Sorry that this little group broke up before I could get a picture with all three of them clear at the same time. Passers-by and the official camera people kept getting in the way.

David Williams. As Williams stepped into the camera for his interview ("All right, Mr. Demille, I'm ready for my closeup"), one bystander near me asked another, "Who's that?" The second one said, "It's Paul Williams." The first one turned around and excitedly yelled at a friend several yards further back, "IT'S PAUL WILLIAMS!"

For the record, THAT is Paul Williams. Not the same guy. Two very, very different people.

Just before this, two young women approached me from behind. One of them tapped me on the shoulder and asked, "Do you know who these people are?" I was trying to think of a polite way to say, "If you don't know, why do you care?" But my struggling brain was rescued by a woman standing nearby who piped up, "They're poker players." The girls seemed dejected, perhaps because these red-carpet people weren't real celebrities.

John Juanda, with a stranger that asked him to pose for a picture, which I leeched off of.

John Juanda and Lee Watkinson. No, not the guy picking his nose in the background.

The games start at 9:30 tomorrow morning. I shall attempt to be there. If they allow pictures, I'll try to get some better ones. With studio lighting, that should be much easier. However, I suspect they'll have a no-cameras rule in effect, so that flashes don't show up on tape. (I should be exempt from such a rule. I can definitely turn the flash on my camera off; it's turning it on that has become dicey.)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Changes in WSOP rules

We have some advance notice about rules changes for this year's World Series of Poker. See:

Rule 36: "Excessive celebration through extended theatrics, inappropriate behavior, or physical actions, gestures, or conduct may be subject to penalty."

Well, I appreciate the effort to bring some civility back into the game. But this is going to require a whole bunch of completely subjective calls on the part of the floor staff, and inevitably they will bring their own views of what is "excessive," "extended," and/or "inappropriate." Those words are just way too squishy. I don't know of any way to write such a rule that wouldn't require highly subjective judgments--but that's just the problem. It may not be the sort of thing that the poker world should handle by a written rule.

I think a better long-term approach is twofold. First, every player should take the responsibility to be part of the self-patroling force. Just a quiet aside will do: "You know, it's really not cool to act like that. You're being a bad winner." We should also decline the boor's invitation to share in the high-fives, etc. If every player at a table actually felt that way and brought a unified voice to the issue, peer pressure would have a decent shot at prevailing. People who cheer up a storm are not primarily looking to express their emotions (though they will always insist they are); they are primarily looking for approval, admiration, attention, envy, etc., from other players. We should unite in depriving them of their treasure.

Second, Harrah's should persuade ESPN not to broadcast this stuff. If the network won't refrain voluntarily, then write it into the next contract. Deny these buffoons their TV face time, which is another prize they're looking to grab when they behave like clowns. That's what Harrah's would do if they really wanted to extinguish and show disapproval of such conduct. Anybody want to lay odds that they will actually take this step?

Rule 89: "iPhones, iPod Touches, Treos, Blackberrys with headsets are not allowed."

Wow. This is another tough one. It appears that their goal is to continue to allow personal music players, but disallow devices with communication (phone and/or internet), through which a player might quietly be receiving advice or other input from an external source, without anybody else at the table knowing it. At least that is the implication of naming particular models, all of which appear to combine an MP3 player with telephone and/or text-messaging and/or internet connectivity.

My first thought is that if I have correctly discerned the intent, then it's a fool's errand to name particular brands and models, as the lineup is constantly and rapidly changing. Besides, with people coming from all over the world, who knows what brands and models, unknown in the states, they might bring along? It would be far better to ban devices by function, i.e., any device that combines music playback with telephone, text-messaging, and/or internet capability.

But what a chore for the tournament staff to be checking on everybody's music player to see if it has a phone or other communication functionality in it! Are they all really technically competent enough to make that determination quickly and accurately? It's not all that easy, necessarily, to tell, particularly with units that have flat-panel, touch-screen displays instead of many rows of labeled buttons. This is especially true in the Bluetooth age, because the headset may not be physically attached by a cord to whatever is driving it. Can the staff really ascertain with confidence whether a wireless headset is receiving its input from the user's MP3 player, or his telephone, or both, if they are separate devices? If a player happens to get seated at a table with a friend, they could even split up their gadgets, so that the telephone that is sending signals to Player A's headset is actually in the pocket of Player B across the table. That would be very difficult to detect, I think.

One might be able to use a "sniffer" type device, with one person on the tournament staff periodically roaming among the tables to see if any telecommunication bands are in use in the immediate vicinity. But I don't know offhand how closely such things can pinpoint the user, so it may not be technically feasible, even if the WSOP were willing to buy one and have somebody assigned to using it.

I think ultimately there will be only two possible solutions. First, ban all electronic devices that use earphones or headsets. As I recall, it was only within the last few years that they were first allowed, so in a sense it would just be going back to the way things used to be. Undoubtedly, though, this would be met with massive player protest, because so many people feel that they would go nuts with boredom (or with being distracted by other players' inane chatter) without their tunes.

The second possible solution involves the penalty. The rule as quoted above doesn't specify what will happen if an offender is identified. Do they seize the device? Give him a 10-minute time-out? I think, if they really want to be serious about this, they have to impose the dealth penalty--expulsion from the tournament and forfeiture of any prize money earned--without exception. If that ultimate disincentive were in place, only a fool would try to evade the rule.

If receiving external communication is the fear behind this rule, there's also the problem of players getting text messages, not requiring the use of earphones at all. It would be pretty easy to at least occasionally look at one's cell phone under the table.

Putting all of these thoughts together, I think a rule to prevent external electronic communication from getting to players seated at a table would have to have these general provisions:

1. No device combining music playback and reception of telephone, internet, or text messages may have its power on while the player is at the table. Buy yourself a music player that is separate from your phone, or leave your combined device with a friend, or leave the thing turned off.

2. Music playback devices must be hard-wired, not wirelessly connected, to the earphones/headset.

3. All telephone/internet/texting devices--whether or not they also have music playback capability--must be fully powered off while the player is at the table. I.e., it is not enough to have the phone on vibrate mode and step away from the table when a call comes in. The thing has to be turned OFF. If you can't go an hour without checking your messages, then obviously you're in far too much demand to be playing a poker tournament. If the tournament isn't important enough to you to let your voice mail handle things for an hour, then don't play. And don't give me crap about how important it is to be able to receive emergency messages. We all know that most communications labeled as such don't actually fit any reasonable definition of "emergency." The fact that we have all gotten used to being constantly and instantly available to family members, friends, and work associates doesn't mean that we actually need such access. The world can wait for two hours until your next scheduled break, or you can step away from the table as frequently as you want to turn your phone on and check in, if you're willing to miss hands.

4. Tournament staff reserve the right to inspect a player's pockets, bags, etc., for forbidden devices, and inspect the devices themselves, for compliance.

5. Any violation of any of these provisions will result in immediate expulsion from the tournament and forfeiture of any prize money earned.

Implementation of these rules would mean that anybody's cell phone ringing at the table means he's gone, done, out of there, zero tolerance. Harsh? Yes. But poker players aren't idiots; we're capable of learning. It wouldn't take long for players to get the message that the tournament staff is serious about this.

I'm afraid that the new rule is really only a feeble and half-hearted effort to stem the potential problem, and players determined to cheat will easily be able to get around it as it stands.