Saturday, September 24, 2016

Travel Report: LAPT9 Uruguay, Day 1b -- Going for Three

The second and last Day 1 flight for the $1,500 buy-in Latin American Poker Tour Uruguay Main Event was bigger -- no surprise there -- with the ultimate number being 438 entries, making a prize pool of $571,590 with $110,870 up top (barring a final table deal).

I mentioned how the event is a re-entry, and today it was Oscar Alache busting just prior to the dinner break (after which late registration concluded and the re-entry option ended), then he bought in again and in just four levels spun up a tournament leading stack heading into Sunday’s Day 2. Both he and Nacho Barbero made it through today on what was each player’s third entry in this sucker (both entered once on Day 1a, then twice on Day 1b).

Alache, of course, has won two LAPT titles before, as has Mario Lopez who’ll return to a top five stack and Barbero (who is sitting just outside the top 20 with 155 players left. Only Fabian Ortiz is missing from the two-time champs club, as he didn’t make the trip this time. No player has ever won three.

I suppose these references to all-time records during the nine seasons’ worth of LAPTs will be set aside starting next year, although we’ll probably find a way to keep bringing back what has become a fairly invovled history of events in the various LAPT stops.

And from what I’m gathering, they’ll probably be going to back to all of the current ones next year, mostly as “PokerStars Festivals” with the one in Panama being a “PokerStars Championship.” In other words, while the LAPT may technically be ending this year, the “tour” of Central and South American stops will continue as usual, only as part of the larger global tours.

It strikes me that the players who typically populate the fields in these events in places like Chile, Uruguay, Panama, and Brazil (and Peru, Argentina, and a few other places in the past) are all still likely going to come to the newly-branded series when they come around. (Truly, if you step back and take a look, when the LAPTs come around they fit into ongoing, year-round tournaments being offered at all of these stops, anyway.) And if the new “Championships” and “Festivals” work to draw a few more players from North America, Europe, and elsewhere, so much the better.

More mañana. Check that PokerStars blog to see if any of these two-timers really get close to making it tres.

Photo: courtesy Carlos Monti / PokerStars blog.

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Friday, September 23, 2016

Travel Report: LAPT9 Uruguay, Day 1a -- Getting to the Meat of It

The first of two Day 1 flights is in the books here in Punta del Este at the LAPT9 Uruguay Main Event.

It was a standard noon-to-midnight day of reporting, with the prep and loose-end-tying adding up to a typical 13-hour day of work. We were able to work in meals along the way, including a dinner where along with Sergio, Reinaldo, and Will we made quads with our orders of steaks.

I tweeted out the picture above, captioning it “Meat and Greet” thanks to the four of us having all ordered the same entrees.

As far as the tournament is going, that word “entrees” always seems to threaten to rise up and make for a humorous typo whenever I’m aiming for the word “entries.” As in, there were a total of 176 entrees on Day 1a, which would make sense if catering some sort of huge get-together, but would be strangly surreal at a poker tournament.

Make that 176 entries, counting some folks buying in twice, a few three-timers, and at least one who fired four times. The tournament has a $1,500 buy-in -- half what it was last year -- which encourages the re-entering for many. Of that starting group, 59 made it through to Sunday's Day 2, with Fabian De La Fuente leading and his fellow Argentinian and two-time LAPT winner Mario Lopez with a big stack as well.

Should be a bit more than that tomorrow, when we’ll see how big this last LAPT Uruguay Main Event turns out to be. And after that get to the money (on Day 2) and the “meat of it” heading towards Tuesday’s final table. Head over to the PokerStars blog to see how it goes.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Travel Report: LAPT9 Uruguay, Arrival -- Hemispheres

Hello from Uruguay!

My flights down to Montevideo were fine. No movies for the super long one from Miami, I’m afraid. Just the words “Fasten Seat Belt While Seated” stitched on the back of the seat in front of me to look at the whole nine-plus hours we were on there.

My neighbor removing his shoes (and -- horror -- not wearing socks) before we even backed out of the gate didn’t necessarily help improve the situation much. But all in all, it could have been worse.

Actually shared that flight down with my blogging partner for the week, Will, so the two of us had fun catching up during the long shuttle to Punta del Este. Had to wait a little while before rooms opened up, but it wasn’t too bad. By the time of unpacking I was around 20 hours or so removed from having loaded up my suitcase back on the farm.

Always marvel a little at how it is possible to traverse the globe this way, traveling from the middle of the northern hemisphere down deep into the southern hemisphere -- like 5,200 miles, as I was calculating yesterday -- in less than a day. Probably challenges these two cerebral hemispheres knockin’ around in my noggin more than it should.

Then later we met up with Sergio for what turned out to be a delicious dinner at Las Brisas, one of the restaurants in the Conrad Hotel & Casino (shown above) which will be our home away from home for the next several days.

Capped the day off with some NFL football at the large, comfortable hotel lobby bar, and with the Patriots’ win over Houston I managed to nudge into an early lead in the Pigskin Pick’em pool, making for a nice conclusion to the long day.

On the drive in and during the short bit of walking around I did today, I found it hard even to remember having been here before. It has been three years and I’m staying in a different part of the city, so that’s part of the reason. Also the Conrad is a big contrast (a good one) from the earlier digs, and so the whole feel has changed in part because of that, too.

Gonna hit the hay now and try to recuperate a few of those lost hours of sleep from the flight before the tournament gets going tomorrow.

Photo: courtesy Carlos Monti / PokerStars blog.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Long Yardage Down to Punta

Hastily sharing a message here from the Miami airport, having flown down this evening on my way to Punta del Este where I’ll be helping cover the Latin American Poker Tour Uruguay stop that runs from Friday through next Tuesday.

This’ll be my third trip to Punta del Este, if I’m counting correctly, although it’s been a while since I’ve made the lengthy voyage all of the way down to the southeast coast of South America. I’ll fly to Montevideo, then it’ll be another couple of hours or so via shuttle to get to my ultimate destination.

Ultimately I’ll be traveling something like 5,200 miles from the farm to get where I’m going. That’s more than nine million yards.

I’m looking forward to this one, thinking a little about how it will technically mark the last LAPT festival, at least in terms of the full-fledged, dozen or so tournaments they usually run at each stop. There will still be one more event with the LAPT name attached to it -- the Grand Final in São Paulo -- which won’t be an entire series but just one cross-listed event (the BSOP Millions High Roller, I believe).

That said, this really isn’t the “last” anything as far as these PokerStars tournaments in Central and South America are concerned, as they’ll continue going to just about all the stops they are currently, making each of them into a “PokerStars Festival” and at least one -- Panama -- a larger “PokerStars Championship,” starting next year.

Won’t have a lot of time during the upcoming tournament to run around that much (or write here, I’m guessing, although I’ll try nonetheless to keep checking in). I do have a day at the end where I don’t fly back until the evening, though, and so anticipate getting to sightsee a bit on that day for sure. It’s a pretty place with especially good eats, as I recall, and fun to explore even during the offseason (which is where we are at present).

More soon. Talk again from the other hemisphere.

Image: “Port of Punta del Este,” Daniel Stonek. CC BY 3.0.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Judgment Calls

Been watching the 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event coverage on ESPN again which finally got going a week-and-a-half ago. There have been four episodes thus far, picking up the action on Day 4 (post-bubble) and now already around halfway through Day 5 with just 140 players left.

This week’s episodes featured a ton of table talk, thanks largely to Alex Keating being on the feature table where he was engaging everyone fairly constantly, and William Kassouf drawing the cameras’ attention at other tables.

A bit of buzz this week over Kassouf’s performance, in particular in a couple of hands with Stacy Matuson. Both involved Kassouf pushing all in and putting Matuson to a test for the rest of her stack, and in both cases -- after an avalanche of disorienting chatter from Kassouf -- she folded (once correctly, once after being bluffed).

I remember when these hands happened back in July, in particular the one following which Kassouf was actually given a one-round penalty by WSOP tournament director Jack Effel for “taunting” (as Effel described it).

Following it online at the time over Twitter and then via the hand report on WSOP.com, an admittedly partial view of the affair. Seemed perhaps as though Kassouf must have crossed some not-so-obvious line somewhere with his behavior, but it was hard to say.

The way things were shown on ESPN revealed more of the interaction, but it remains incomplete evidence for those of us who weren’t there. Indeed, even the two hands featured between Kassouf and Matuson are only partially shown, with the action only being picked up postflop when the “speech play” (as Kassouf refers to his table table) began in earnest.

It’s interesting following some of the belated back-and-forthing about it happening thanks to the ESPN coverage finally being shown (here, some two months later). Deservedly or not, Kassouf is clearly being set up to fill the “villain” role for ESPN right through to the final table which starts in late October.

Hard for me to make any profound judgments about those Kassouf-Matuson hands, though, or about how the WSOP staff chose to respond to them. From afar I want to say everything we witnessed is “part of the game” and shouldn’t be proscribed, but who knows, really? Just too much we can’t see or be sure about here -- including a lot of obviously relevant context -- although that doesn’t make the speculating any less interesting.

Kind of like how poker works -- we know what we can see, and have to guess about a lot else.

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Monday, September 19, 2016

Panels and Processes

Was reading this curious article earlier today by someone who had been part of the group of “poker media” who voted for the Poker Hall of Fame in which he says he’s giving up his spot on the panel.

The author is from the United Kingdom, and after talking about how he generally doesn’t vote (e.g., he passed on Brexit), he’s giving up voting for the PHOF, too, because he doesn’t feel informed enough about the nominees to be able to vote in a way that wouldn’t be overly biased toward his personal, limited experience.

In his case, he says, he’d cast all 10 of his available points for Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott, mainly because of having met him early in his poker writing career and having a personal liking for him.

While he says “a Hall of Fame means jack diddly squat to me,” he also notes how he’d felt honored to be part of the PHOF voting process. But he’s giving that up, mainly because of that feeling he’s not quite qualified to assess the nominees adequately, while also adding some doubts about the process by which the nominees are selected (which might have discouraged him further).

I suppose it’s a good move for the fellow to step away and let someone else who cares more about it all to get involved. Kind of weird how it comes off as vaguely suggesting some kind of criticism of the process, but I don’t think that’s the intention.

I’ve mentioned here before how I used to be part of that group of “poker media” who voted for the PHOF. The votes come both from the writers and from living Poker Hall of Famers, and from 2010 through 2013 I spent a lot of hours each fall going through the nominees and deciding how to fill out my ballots.

Before the 2014 vote I had switched email accounts and missed a note regarding that year’s PHOF, and as a result ended up not being part of the voting process anymore. In other words, I think my losing my spot was mostly inadvertent, although I did talk with the WSOP then and learned how they were interested in getting more Europeans involved in the voting, which made sense to me.

I also feel like it is good for the panel to have at least some turnover as a general principle -- after all, “poker media” has a lot of people coming and going constantly, and thus isn’t necessarily represented so well if the exact same people are involved every single year.

I wouldn’t have given up my spot as a PHOF voter willingly. I have too much interest in the game and history of poker, and I always felt like my vote was well informed and a positive contribution to the process.

But as I say I didn’t mind letting others get in there and have a crack at it, too -- if they wanted to, that is.

Image: “Personal preference,” Kevin Dooley. CC BY 2.0.

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Friday, September 16, 2016

A Super High Roller “What If?”

I started the week recommending some poker podcasts. Gonna sign off here talking a little about another one, the PokerNews podcast.

Today I was listening to the most recent episode of the “PNPod,” now hosted by Sarah Herring and Matthew Parvis. Among the topics covered was that $102,000 buy-in World Championship of Online Poker event that went off earlier in the week on PokerStars, the biggest buy-in event ever for online poker.

I followed that one a bit last Sunday in between watching football, then again on Monday when it finished up with a two-way chop involving “bencb789” and Fedor “CrownUpGuy” Holz, both of whom ended up earning seven-figure paydays.

Holz had won that much online before, taking away $1.3 million for winning the WCOOP Main Event two years ago. He’s also won more than $1 million in live tournaments no less than four times in 2016 alone, and a fifth time in December 2015. Just nuts.

Frank Op de Woerd did live updates on the $102K event for PokerNews, and he appeared on the PNPod to talk a little about the tournament. He brought up an interesting point about how the event began with only five players there at the start time. That’s a screenshot up above of the five-handed action, included in Frank’s coverage.

Late registration (as well as the ability to re-enter) lasted five hours on Sunday. As I recall they were still only at a single table after three hours or so, then finally the field filled out to the 28 total entries. That made the prize pool $2.8 million altogether, comfortably over the $2 million guarantee.

Frank wondered what would have happened had the five players who began the event went all in on a hand, thus “ending” the tournament even before late registration was over. With that $2 million guarantee, the players had contributed only half a million total to that point, which (theoretically) would have meant a crazily huge overlay if all $2 million were paid out.

Frank’s wondering about that five-way all-in scenario made me think of others -- say, one where only a couple of players showed up for the start of the event, then one felted the other before anyone else signed up (a much less implausible scenario than a five-way all-in).

I’ve got to imagine there was some provision in place for the event that would have prevented it from being decided in this fashion. In fact, the very first item listed among PokerStars’ “Tournament Rules” would, I suppose, allow the site to come up with some procedure to avoid any of these imagined scenarios from affecting how the $102K Super High Roller played out:

“We will, at all times, consider the best interests of the game and fairness as the top priority in the decision-making process. Unusual circumstances can, on occasion, dictate that decisions in the interest of fairness take priority over the technical rules.”

Still kind of funny to imagine those other possibilities. I suppose when constructing them, we should by matter of course have Holz winning in all instances.

Image: courtesy PokerNews.

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Looking Back Along the Long and Winding LAPT Road

Was just reading a nice post from my friend Sergio Prado for the Brazilian PokerStars blog in which he looks back at nine years of the Latin American Poker Tour.

I’ll admit I had to use Google translate, as my Portuguese is essentially limited to a single word. That said, I think I can make out what his title means well enough: “Minha homenagem ao LAPT.”

Sergio has been an important part of the LAPT for the entire way, ever since the first LAPT event took place back in May 2008 in Rio de Janeiro. As he recounts in his post, tournament director Mike Ward and Reinaldo Venegas (who like Sergio has blogged while also serving other roles with the tour) have both been there throughout as well. A number of others have been there for much of it, too, and Sergio does a nice job remembering them while sharing some nice photos along the way.

My first time visiting the LAPT was way back in June 2010 during Season 3 when I went with Brad Willis to Lima, Peru and we helped cover Jose “Nacho” Barbero’s second straight LAPT Main Event win. I believe that was my first time ever in South America, and the trip was followed by more visits to Peru, as well as to Chile, Uruguay, and Brazil, then also to Panama a couple of times and to the Bahamas where the LAPT likewise added an event.

Sergio’s post got me thinking again about the new branding by PokerStars of its tours and how the introduction of the new PokerStars Championships and PokerStars Festivals will mean the end of these regional tour designations like the EPT, the LAPT, the APPT, and so on. In some ways it’s just a change of name, but then again it signifies something more, given the way each of these tours developed its own history and character as shaped by the players and personalities involved.

I’m slated to go to Punta del Este next week where I’ll meet up with Sergio and along with others we will report on the LAPT9 Uruguay stop, which I’m only today realizing will be the very last regular LAPT series. There’s still the LAPT9 Grand Final to go in Brazil in November, although that will only involve a single main event, not an entire festival. I won’t be making that November trip, as I have other things happening, so the long voyage down to Uruguay will represent my last LAPT ride.

I imagine I’ll be having my own homenagem to share afterwards once that’s done, given how much I’ve valued the experience of covering those tournaments and most importantly getting to meet and work and laugh with the people Sergio lists in his post. To him and all them I gratefully deliver my only Portuguese word...

Obrigado!

Photo: courtesy Carlos MontiPokerStars blog.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Talking Versus Listening

I’m a social person. I generally enjoy meeting new people and love having conversations, sharing stories, and joking around. I’ve also been correctly pegged by others as “laid back” or hard to get upset. A “Type B” personality, some say. I suppose I’d have to accept that as a label, and don’t mind it a bit.

I remember once teaching an especially challenging summer school college course, one for which the students had all been admitted for the fall but on a contingency basis. It was a program for which this particular population of students -- ones who were on the margins for having the qualifications to be accepted -- had to pass three courses that were essentially meant to be preparatory for college work, and mine was one of them.

The idea was both to get them ready for the real thing and to see if they could handle the daily demands and responsibilities of being college students. It was a weird “college-but-not-quite-college” kind of situation -- I suppose the closest I’ve come to teaching high school.

I thankfully never had to deal too greatly with unruly students during my full-time teaching days. But this class was probably the nuttiest in terms of in-class behavior, and I often had to exert a lot of extra energy to keep everyone focused and prevent the sucker going off the rails.

We were several weeks into the course when a student called out over the mild roar to say something I still remember. I guess I regard it as an unwitting compliment about my teaching style, although it also said something about my personality as well.

“I wish just once you would get reeeeally mad!” she said.

Everyone suddenly grew strangely quiet to hear what I’d say in response. I just smiled and shook my head, and everyone laughed. I had already well established that my getting upset or angry just wasn’t going to happen -- that no matter how crazy and loud they became, they weren’t getting me riled up enough to yell and scream in response. For better or worse, that just wasn’t my style.

When playing poker, I tend to keep quiet, too, particularly when involved in hands. I’ll speak up and be social, but mostly stay out of the way of “table talk,” finding it easier to reveal less myself than to try to get others to spill more.

On Monday of this week I had surgery on my vocal cords, which if I remember correctly is the first time I’ve had any kind of surgery since I was a child. Had some kind of bothersome growth appear over on one side that for much of the summer actually made it hard for me to talk at all. I was always hoarse-sounding, and sometimes I’d open up my trap and nothing would come out whatsoever.

The surgery went very well. I don’t remember a thing, of course, having been knocked out well before and only waking up after being wheeled back out of the OR. Still have to sweat a biopsy of what got clipped out of there, but the chances are very high it isn’t anything to fret.

Anyhow, as part of the post-op instructions I’m now on what they call “voice rest,” which means I’m not allowed to talk for five days. I found a cool free text-to-speech app for the phone I’ve used some, and I’ve also found out how to do the same on my laptop, so with Vera I’ve been conversing that way.

Otherwise, since I work at home I’m not having to speak much anyway, and so I haven’t missed being able to talk. Weirdly, I’ve discovered it hardest to keep quiet when with our cats and horses. I’m realizing I constantly talk to them when I’m around them, usually just saying their names over and over. But I’m having to stifle that urge this week.

Another thing I’ve realized this week is how much more I value being able to hear over being able to speak. It would be a devastating choice to have to make -- whether to give up talking or listening -- but for me it would be a trivially easy decision. Perhaps most would choose the same way, I don’t know.

Anyhow, no talking for now. And no singing for four weeks (say the instructions)! I’m not much of a singer, but if you want to hear me singing you can on my newly-released album, Welcome to Muscle Beach (one of seven albums I’ve released and the only one with vocals.)

Wish me well as I quietly wait out my five days here. Meanwhile, talk among yourselves.

Image: AskLisaAnne.com.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Bert Williams’s “Poker Pantomime”

Today’s installment of “Poker & Pop Culture” shares a bit from a collection of stories I found a few years back -- actually a couple of collections -- about the invented Thompson Street Poker Club originally written for Life magazine way back in the 1880s by Henry Guy Carleton.

I’m discussing the books as part of a short series of articles about early “poker clubs” (both real and fictional), but they are probably most notable because they involve the earliest “poker books” featuring African American characters.

As with all of these columns, there are long, interesting detours that I usually need to cut out both because of space considerations and because those side roads tend to be a little too obscure or too far off the beaten path.

For example, a couple of weeks ago I wrote about Bret Harte’s 1869 story “The Poker Outcasts of Poker Flat” and near the end got into some of the many film adaptations. One such adaptation came in the 1970s from the Italian director Lucio Fulci, a film called Four of the Apocalypse that actually draws from two different Harte stories and adds a lot else to fill out the plot.

Fulci is better known for several horror films, including some “giallos” and gore/exploitation films like Zombi 2 and City of the Living Dead and others that have been met with varying degrees of controversy. As someone curious about some of these films, I had to resist going too far down the non-relevant-to-poker road of exploring how this latter-day “spaghetti western” fit into Fulci’s overall oeuvre. (I still couldn’t resist mentioning his background, though.)

I ended this week’s column about the Thompson Street Poker Club bringing up the 1914 song by Bert Williams, “The Darktown Poker Club.” It’s a legitimate reference, as the song was said to be inspired by the stories. Doing so also gave me a chance to mention in one article both the earliest poker books about African American characters and Williams who was the first black American to appear on the Broadway stage.

I’d known about the song for a long time. In fact, I included it in the very first episode of The Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show (from over eight years ago) -- which, by the way, I still don’t regard as having been abandoned altogether (even though it has been three years since the last episode).

When revisiting the song and Williams career a little for today’s column, I found a cool clip of a famous routine of his, called the “poker pantomime,” that he first performed on Broadway in a 1908 production called Bandanna Land and which became an oft-repeated part of his act in other contexts.

The routine was later included in a silent two-reel film called A Natural Born Gambler (released July 24, 1916), Williams’s first film that was longer than a short. I’ve not seen the entire film, but reading the synopsis it is clear this poker pantomime scene comes at the very end as a kind of tacked-on postlude -- it’s Williams pretending to deal a hand of poker in jail.

Like I say, this was intriguing but a bit out of the way for today’s column. In fact, to have included the clip would introduced the need for a lot of contextual discussion both about the film, Williams’s career, and -- as anyone looking at the clip can see -- the Williams’s use of blackface.

Those familiar with early 20th-century film know about white performers famously using blackface makeup to portray black roles, a practice dating from minstrel shows of the mid-19th century and lasting into the the middle of the 20th century (and occasionally afterwards).

Al Jolson’s turn in blackface in 1927’s The Jazz Singer is probably the most widely remembered instance. I remember once seeing the 1936 film Swing Time in a theater -- an amazing movie, really -- in which Fred Astaire appears in blackface for one scene (and thus kind of makes it hard to recommend the movie without an additional disclamer).

Whites’ appropriation of black identity is troubling enough, but blackface almost always tended to exaggerate racist stereotypes even further. Meanwhile black performers’ use of blackface -- done in part to assuage white audiences -- adds another layer of complexity to the issue.

In any event, I say all of that as I introduce this clip featuring Williams doing his poker pantomime, to which the uploader has conveniently (and appropriately) added his singing “The Darktown Poker Club” as a soundtrack.

It’s a genuinely funny clip, offering as it does a glimpse of Williams’s larger talents. I wanted to share it here -- not that long after the 100th anniversary of its release -- as an interesting cultural expression of poker.

Photo: Bert Williams, public domain.

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