Friday, May 16, 2008


Sorry for the lack of posts. My mom had a heart attack earlier this week and I'm just now back and catching up. She's home and OK now but the whole family is shook up.

I'll be back in a day or two with pokery goodness.

Monday, May 12, 2008

"If I had to guess, I would say about 50 percent of the “name poker pros” you see on television on a regular basis have a negative net worth. Frightening, I know."
Phil Gordon

It's still easier to believe in the illusion of poker than the bitter reality. We can all be the next Moneymaker or online baller if we just focus hard enough and the cards break our way. . . just one time.

It all about selling the dream. And I've been just as guilty as anyone, hell, I quit my job and pursued the folly for two years.

But I don't regret a thing. And why would I? There are no do-overs in life. We play the hands we're dealt as best we can and get on with it. In my case, I just look back and chuckle.

OK, so I pray every night to the poker Gods that Party Poker will someday be open once again to US poker players. Don't you?

No poker here this past weekend. Had some friends heading to the Argosy but I decided to go fishing instead. It was too damn nice out to get stuck inside listening to bad beat stories.

It's funny, I missed two fish this weekend because I was engrossed in listening to the waves lap the shore, the trees rustling in the wind and reading my book. Both times I look up and see my rod popping back and forth wildly only to leap up and miss both fish after attempting to set the hook. There's a poker lesson there somewhere, kids.

Did I mention I'm trying to quit smoking? I'm five days into taking some medication called Chantix. Apparently it's the new Zyban and my doctor has experienced great success with it. I've actually been sitting on my prescription for two months because one of the side-effects is depression and I wanted to be as far away from the winter/February doldrums as possible. No need to pile on.

And it's pretty amazing. Apparently this stuff cuts off the brain receptors for nicotine -- all I can say is I'm experiencing no major craving or urges. I'm down to a few cigs a day, and even those, I'm like, "What the hell am I doing this for?"

It's gonna be the ritual, heavy habitual habits that are the toughest to break. Post-meal. Afternoon break. Drinking.

Wish me luck. I really want to get this fucking monkey off my back.

And so hell, I'm gonna do some linking and other tasty poker goodness here tonight. Nah, not an uber, but once again trying to get back on track.

Let's start off with this insane Harrah's/ESPN/WSOP final table madness. When I first heard about it, I was shocked by the sheer stupidity of the plan. Waiting four months to broadcast the final nine? Really?

But now I'm beginning to soften my judgment. First off, I realize I'm not the target audience for this, despite the insanity of my actually writing a poker blog coming up on five years. This is a play for the masses, which if successful, is smart.

"If successful" being the obvious operative phrase.

I'm actually of the "if it's good for poker" camp, which I've been mocked for several times. But I don't care -- the game is bigger than all of us -- ESPN and Harrah's included. If this ploy actually works: builds up hype and public interest in the interim, then this could be a saving grace in the political arena.

Of course, if a collusion scandal cropped up - that could backfire.

I'm not smart enough to know if this will a good or bad thing for the WSOP, and poker in general. I do know that I've had a fine time reading lots and lots of opinions about it. In fact, I gathered a buncha links on the topic and was gonna blog em all, only to see that Dr. Pauly had the same idea and beat me to the punch.


Go hit Pauly for the big list but I've got a few supplemental ones right here:

One of the original Old-School bloggers, Alan Bostick, put up a rare poker post with his two cents: WSOP to Delay Main Event Final Table by 4 Months

Interestingly, Alan thinks this whole thing could be good for poker, but provides the mitigating reminder from the 1997 WSOP when Adam Roberts threw the $2500 7-Card Stud event to Maria Stern, allowing Stern to claim the bracelet in exchange for the greater part of the prize money, causing a scandal.

Sound familiar?

Also, one of my heroes, Terrance Chan, offered up his quick two cents here and here.

Now I know that the Good Doctor linked up Shamus but it's the one post I'm gonna double-up on, simply because he's writing some of the most insightful poker commentary out there right now: Television & Poker; or, the Search for a Happy Medium

Anyone who quotes Marshall McLuhan gets bonus points in my book.

And let's finish up with everyone's favorite poker pro, Daniel Negreanu. Daniel is all about rolling the dice and taking a shot at the new format: Harrah's and the WSOP.

If you are a poker player and love the WSOP, you should actually be rooting for this idea to work because it is in your best interest.

As I said in the other blog on the topic, if the idea doesn't work, we go back to the original way of doing things, what's the harm in that? In 1997 someone had the bright idea of playing the final table on Fremont street in 110 degree heat! Stu Ungar won that year, and the next year they went back inside (thank goodness).

The sky isn't falling and the WSOP will be just fine...

And I guess I'll throw one more tidbit out there from Lou Krieger's fine poker blog. Lou had Jeffrey Pollack, the World Series of Poker’s commissioner on his radio show and learned of the following changes for the upcoming tourneys:

1. No tent for poker this year. While it might be used to house a food court, no one will have to play poker in the hot, windy, uncomfortable tent.

2. There’ll be a separate room for satellites

3. They are separating the casino cage from the tournament area in order to allow for better processing and keep crowds from interfering with the play.

4. There’ll be a strong effort to reduce unsportsmanlike conduct, with significant discretion given floor supervisors in rendering decisions.

5. No cellphones or other voice enabled devices can be used at the table.

6. Event registration opens May 28.

7. There’ll be more space between tables in the Amazon room.

8. A concierge service will be established to help players with room reservation, dinner reservations, and other sorts of arrangements.

9. There’ll be more food choices.

10. There’ll be more restrooms too.

11. When the final table is established, all players will receive ninth place prize money. The remainder of the prize pool will be invested with interest accruing to the players when the final table is played out in November.

12. Players can wear sponsor logs, but no single company name can be represented more than once on a single clothing item. There’s a maximum size limit of 12 square inches per logo. The 16 week period between the time the final table is established and November, when the final table is actually played, will give the nine finalists a chance to secure all the sponsorship they can.

Damn, after writing this out, I'm actually pretty excited to see how this all works out. I've gotta believe that the knuckleheads at ESPN and Harrah's have done some brainstorming around how to milk the wait for the final table for every last drop.

And if not, there's always 2009. Poker ain't going anywhere.

Per my opening quote, here's a priceless interview of Phil Gordon in the NY Times Freakonomics blog: Phil Gordon Answers Your Poker Questions.

I've another boatload of edifying photos for you but I'm going to hold off. It's late and I'm tired and I have some cigarettes that need smoking.

But for now, allow me to leave you with a link of the day.

Long-time readers know I'm a huge long-time fan of the radio show, This American Life. I just finally caught up on an episode from a few weeks ago about the secret history of Jerry Springer: before he was the king of trash TV, he was an inspiring and talented politician.

In my home town of Cincinnati.

It's weird for us Cincinnatians to rationalize what Jerry has become from what he was. Mayor. Winner of ten Emmy's for TV journalism. An unapologetic Democrat who was loved in this southernmost of all northern cities. A city of hard-core conservatives.

It's surreal. So if you don't know about where Jerry came from and how he may came back, give a listen to the first segment: Act One. I've Got a Secret I've Been Hiding From You.

This American Life producer Alex Blumberg tells the true story of Jerry Springer's life before he was a talk show host. It's the story of an idealistic and serious Jerry Springer, a progressive politician, and the most popular mayor ever of a certain American city.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A friend of mine gave me the book American Shaolin.

It's a story of a guy growing up a ninety-eight pound weakling tormented by bullies in the schoolyards of Kansas, dreaming of one day traveling to the Shaolin Yemple in China to become the toughest fighter in the world, like Caine in his favorite 70's TV series, Kung Fu.

As a college kid, his self-doubt now enumerated in a list entitled "Things That Are Wrong With Matt," he decided the time had come to pursue his dream. Much to the shock of his parents, he dropped out of Princeton, hopped on a plane to China, and set out in search of spiritual enlightenment and ass-kicking power with the legendary sect of monks who invented both Zen Buddhism and kungfu.

No, it's not a book about martial arts, and it's not really about Buddhism either, although you will learn something about both.

I love travelogue books and reading about other cultures, so my buddy knew I'd enjoy this one.

But that's not why I'm writing about this. I wanted to mention one excerpt in the book that pertains to a gambling/drinking game in China.

The most popular drinking game in rural China is hua quan, which roughly translates to "Hand Game" or more directly as "Playing Hands."

The Hand Game is similar to Rock, Paper, Scissors -- a game I am a world champion at.

But instead of three options, there are six. Each opponent throws out a number of fingers (zero to five) on one hand, while shouting out a number he believes will be the sum (zero to ten) of both players hands. If one player guesses correctly and the other doesn't, the loser drinks. If both are wrong or both correct, it's a tie and you throw again.

So if you put our four fingers and shouted "seven" while your opponent put out two fingers and yells "six" then you would drink. On the next round, if you put out a fist (zero) and shouted "five" while he threw five fingers and shouted "seven," he'd drink. I guess as the game progresses and many drinks are thrown back, the yelling gets very loud, which is why the city folks looked down upon the game.

Playing Hands is an inspired game (ala Roshambo) because of the limitations of the human brain. If two random number generating computers played each other, they'd win exactly 50% of the time. But human minds and motor skills operate in patterns that tend to repeat, especially when booze is involved. This is what makes it a skill game, per se. If you are able to discover your opponents pattern -- say, after putting out five fingers, he always puts out a fist or a thumb -- while disguising your own, you obviously increase your odds of winning. And as your wins pile up and your foe sinks into a drunken stupor, his ability to see your patterns decreases while his repetitions increase. Once this tipping point happens, you go in for the kill -- victory by blackout.

The perfect Hand Game champ would possess the mental acuity of Stephen Hawking, the manual dexterity of Rachmaninoff, and the alcohol tolerance of F. Scott Fitzgerald AlCantHang.

In China they play round-robin style, with ten shots being the typical game.

I may have to try this out in my next Vegas trip.

But really, aside from learning this Chinese game, the best part of this story is that Matt, the author, got tired of losing and finally challenged his Chinese friends to America's Greatest Drinking Game.

That's right: Quarters.

And after kicking their ass with plain old bounce shots, he started the ol' roll down the elbow and the roll off the nose shots.


I'll be back with some WSOP thoughts and random poker linkage in a day or two.

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