Phil Mader, poker player and erstwhile farmer (WSOP Day 3, part 3 of 3)

Down near 1,000 left, around 160k average stack.

Player X has yet to appear, but then again, none of the eventual final nine has appeared on camera either.

As coverage continues, controversial poker icon and loose-aggressvive, intimidating motherfucker, Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi, takes his seat at the table with Ivey, Mader, and Co. Also at the table now is Max Steinberg, a moppety goofball, but a rising star over the past couple of years. They all have 300k-plus stacks. So does James Hudson, who hit those quads.

Speaking of which, here’s what it’s like, soon after hitting quads while sitting at the TV table in the Main Event of the World Series of Poker, to play a hand wedged between Phil Ivey . . .

photo (33)

photo (30)

. . .  and Michael Mizrachi.

It’s also an example of how you can envy someone and not envy him at the same time.

Hudson had flopped top pair top kicker on a reasonable board, but got the hell out of the way when Ivey bet the flop, and Mizrachi was waiting to act after him. Turns out Hudson was right, he was way behind Ivey’s set of tens, but it was an awfully tight fold. Sometimes the intimidation factor can work against an Ivey – facing less formidables opponents, Hudson could very reasonably have likely stuck around and paid the set off.

Soon after that, Mader takes down a nice 180k pot and earns tons more respect with an extremely gutsy four-bet into Grinder on the flop when his A-8  hits the 10-10-8 flop, while Grinder’s K-J, off, missed. Several noteworthy bits here:

First, Phil Mader is starting to seem like a poker pro whose bankroll happens to come from farming.

Second, I’m a long, long way from ever being able to make that play into Grinder, no matter what my read. Dang.

Third, Mader showed one of the few advantages that unknowns can have over famous pros: Mader clearly knew who he was up against and what Grinder was capapble of (in terms of three-betting with air), while Mizrachi clearly didn’t.

One other element to note on the video below is when Steinberg walks over to his friends on the rail during the hand, he is openly dismissive of Mizrachi, although I’m guessing he didn’t realize he was that well mic-ed – I mean, it’s gonna be on TV later, there’s no point in making enemies with someone you see several times a year all over the world.

Young players have such little respect for Mizrachi and Hellmuth that it’s led me to almost root for these two guys I really don’t like at all. Mizrachi is 8th on the all-time cash list for tournament poker – 8th out of, like, zillions. Among his wins is last year’s WSOP $50k “Players Championship,” considered the pro’s pros’ tourney. Hellmuth is the all-time WSOP Bracelet winner and WSOP-cashes leader. Like ’em or not, these titans have thrived before, during, and after the boom. And yet, while young players respect Ivey, Doyle, even the detestable Daniel Negreanu for their skills, these two get nothing but grief – one, ostensibly for being too tight, the other for being too loose.

But enough yappin’, let’s watch the hand.

Advertisements

This is a stupid game

A few months ago, at a a tournament at Foxwoods, I was seated next to a guy who was maybe seventy-five. He was a bit round and a bit gruff and a bit grim. His clothes were the clothes men who spent a lot of time sitting around a table playing cards all the time used to wear. That is, clothes you wear if you don’t give a shit what clothes you wear. He looked like a gambler before gambling was fabulous. He wore a nice old, gold Rolex with a gold strap, though, and had a matching wedding ring long-wedged onto his stubby finger. He had maybe a hint of a foreign accent, one I couldn’t quite place from many years steeped with New York, or possibly Providence. He played solid poker and had very little to say.

dan-harrington

Dan Harrington

It was about 8pm. We had succeeded in making it past the dinner break of an 11am tournament. Sadly, in most one-day, or even some two day tournaments, making it past the dinner break is nothing but a point of pride; the cash doesn’t come for another few hours (if, say 160 start the event, maybe 18 cash, which might happen at 11pm or so).  We were at one of those points Dan Harrington, author of perhaps the greatest poker books ever, and a legendary player, calls inflection points (want to see some SERIOUS poker-math geekiness? Click that there link). In these tourneys, when blinds rise faster than most stacks can grow, these points are when a huge number players bust. In essence, they’re points in tourneys when shit hits fans, when rubber needs to meet road, when . . . (you get the idea, it’s chaos).

As the blinds (the forced bets two people put in each hand) have risen all day, most stacks have grown just a little, stayed the same size or dwindled, and people are having to go all in right off the bat, sometimes with much less than good hands. That is, for the majority of players, even big stacks who’ve played well and/or gotten lucky, for about nine hours, a day’s grind suddenly becomes a crap shoot. Right about then is when you start to see players with big stacks lose huge pots with hands like A-Q to hands like A-6 when the 6 or the straight hits. It’s when you see how hugely luck trumps skill. It’s when shit gets stupid.

It was around this point that my neighbor started shaking his head after one bust-out after another and resignedly murmuring, “This is a stupid game.” It became almost his chant, his mantra. We watched as a player at the other end of the table who’d played good, tight aggressive poker and worked up to a big stack, saw himself get in ahead and then lose half of it in just two hands against two much shorter stacks. The former huge stack had became an average stack, and soon it was his turn, got it in good with AK, only to lose to a loose call from a bigger stack with 78-suited, who caught a 7 on the turn.

In a few minutes, it was my turn to stand up and walk away. My neighbor remained, his stack still solid. As I left, I wished him luck. He gave me a gruff, “Take care,” shook his head, and said, “Stupid game.”

The Kroon Swoon

(NOTE: Gentle readers, once again, I’m having the WordPress problem of everything being in italics, and no matter what I do, it just won’t go away, thus, once again, I ask for any assistance, as any wordpress forum stuff I’m finding about hidden open “em” tags is not helping me with this one. Thanks!)

ESPN Episode 2’s intro is all about Ivey, sitting with a good stack and oh so dangerous, with replays of his near bust-out of Mader. They will definitely be in the spotlight again.  In previous posts, I’ve mentioned how incredibly improbable it would be for him to get back to that spot where Moneymaker felted him back in ’03. What I didn’t mention is that he DID make it deep again, all the way to the final table, in ‘09. Sadly, Ivey started the table with short stack, and busted pretty quickly, by perhaps an even more inexperienced player than Moneymaker, Darvin Moon. Ivey’s unreal greatness (making five WSOP Event final tables in a row over a thirteen-day span last year) and a likeness that went at least a smidge beyond race, at one point led to some calling him poker’s Tiger Woods, but comparisons faded away (although a few diptychs like this can still be found on the interwebs).

PhilIveyTiger

ESPN cuts away from the final table to show us the requisite annual bust out of Johnny Chan. As Chad tells us, the legend (for his pre-Moneymaker greatness, from “Rounders”), has only cashed in the Main Event twice in the past twenty years.

Quick cut to Mark Kroon, whose stack has grown to 700k, still top o’ the pile.

Focus back to Phil v. Phil. At one point, Ivey asks Mader where he’s a farmer. Mader tells him, Nebraska, then asks, “You know where that’s at?” Then, in a key hand between them, Ivey flops two pairs, and shoves, Mader calls with JJ (a tough call for all his chips, but not necessarily a bad one with such a dry board). And suddenly, Phil Mader, cinderella farmer, is in big trouble. He stands up to leave, and the turn is a blank, but then Mader hits the trip jack on the river to take the hand and double-up. Here it is:

After the hand, so un-Ivey like, the great one complains about his luck, is really openly annoyed. The cameras roll and Ivey continues chattering, even going to far as to ask the farmer what he had in the hand earlier where Ivey had the full house and Mader somehow folded his QQQ. Mader tells Ivey about the Q’s and Ivey’s even more tilted. The farmer stands up between hands and chats with his wife. He’s ESPN’s poker wet-dream – a regular guy having the time of his life. (Watching again later, a second time, Ivey’s behavior is that of someone who’s just not quite right. Later, McEachern calls him “smart Farmer Phil Mader,” which, if I were a farmer, I’d sure find a tad offensive.

Meanwhile, Sheikhan continues to needle his table, calling opponents hands when he folds (he’s by no means untalented, just, at least when cameras are rolling, one horrible human being), even calling Doyle’s hand once (he was wrong on that one, but not by much).  At one point, he says to Doyle, “Once I win this, there are going to be changes in the poker world.” The difference between Sheiky’s antics and Hellmuth’s, to me, are substantial. Sheikhan is just a jerk – Hellmuth is a clown, an entertainer, a WWF-worthy bad guy. In a profession where, even for the elite, a dry spell of several years is normal, he’s branded (and thoroughly monetized) himself  “Poker Brat,” and the money has followed in terms of endorsement deals, product lines, the list goes on, and on, and on, like Phil himself.

After a break, we see replay of Ivey bubbling the ’03 final table that I showed you a few posts back. It flashes through my mind how many phenoms have risen and then vanished in those ten years. Where are the LAG (loose-aggressive) Europeans, Antonius and Hansen and Elky, Where’s Paul Wassicka? Where’s Dennis Phillips? Where is Tom Dwan?!!? For the most part, they flamed out. Some probably just haven’t cashed in big TV tourneys. Some switched to just playing cash games, which can be easier on both wallet and soul for many players. What makes players like Doyle, Ivey, Hellmuth, Negreanu (the little shit) so impressive, and such fascinating characters, is that they just keep grinding tourneys, sometimes cashing, occasionally going deep, mixed with lots of losing, but then persevering, re-emerging time and time again, gritty little poker phoenixes. All those years of losing such a huge percentage of the time, and they keep grindin’. How? Why?

At one point, Sheiky wants to make a bet with Doyle about a hand. Doyle, who’s been mostly smiling or ignoring Sheik to this point, replies, “You don’t really want to bet, you just want to talk.”

Cut to Ray Romano busting out, his KK vs. AA. He takes it like a champ, which of course is easier when the money is no issue. It’s markedly easier to play poker if money is no issue, which is why bankroll management and playing at one’s proper level are so important. X tried to teach me this a few years back. I’ve only learned it recently. On a tangential note, most pros have backers, people who buy substantial pieces of them in tourneys. X once told me he doesn’t sell pieces of his action.

ESPN does it’s usual highlight real: one bust-out after the other, and as I watch the TV, I realize, OH MY GOD, X WENT SOOOO FRICKIN’ DEEP!!! (and I can’t wait for when we’ll start seeing him on TV).

Mark Kroon is starting to look as invincible as he apparently seems to feel . . . and then, as the announcers wonder why he’s taking so long to fold, he inexplicably five-bet reraises all-in on the river with no pair to an opponent with a straight, donking off more than half his stack. Kroon lost his mind for just a second, got way too happy, and, BOOM, one big  mistake, borne of fatigue, and of believing your clippings more than a bit too much. When fatigue sets in, when that third 12-hour day starts to drag, people will suddenly “blow up,” make a huge, often deadly lapse of judgment. Steadiness, calm, focus, so crucial. Kroon is clearly embarrassed. Let’s take a look:

Ah, hubris. And just like that, a complete unknown German amateur named Somar Al-Darwich (with two tourney cashes for $6k before this) is handed the gift of being overall chip leader in the Main Event as Day 3 ends.

The more I watch this with my analytic glasses on, the more I realize ESPN does a heckuva at making people sitting and playing cards into great TV, if not honest sportscasting by any means. Even the obnoxious Chad and bland McCairn, who seemed like awful choices a decade ago, and still annoy the hell out of so many, have helped build their brand consistently.

(next: hitting quads in the big one)

How to go deep in big tourneys, Twitter edition, by Player X

Our friend X read the first posts and suggested it might be interesting to look back at his tweets from the Main Event (link is to various poker pros twitter handles), to keep track of him in the Main Event, especially since he somehow manages to duck ESPN’s cameras for quite some time, as you’ll see. Each day starts at noon and ends . . . late. Tournaments can be a roller coaster ride, especially for more aggressive players (which X can certainly be, at times),  but X’s ride on the first days was pretty steady. So, yeah, wanna go deep in the Big One? Just do this:

(Starting stack for the Main Event, once again, is 30k. Text in parens is mine):

 

The Selected Tweets of Player X, WSOP Main Event, 2013, Days 1-3:

(End of Day 1)

39.5k at end of day – had a very soft table, got coolered post in a few big pots; happy with my play

*** 

(Day 2)

100k on dinner break, won a big flip my AhJh>QJ on Qh Jx 7h board

Not a great level, misplayed a few hands 85k now

Good last level, finished with 201k guy bluffed a bunch into my top pair then got a bunch with a set

 ***

(Day 3, 7/11/13)

200k on first break

Chipped up some, 320k on break

355k on dinner break

550k at break, got 60k from a shortie AJ>A6 and won a few more pots

Bagged 679k 

(at the end of each day, players count and bag their chips)

***

Seems simple enough, right?

(next: back to TV coverage: Phil v. Phil, pt. 2 and much, much more!)

WSOP 2013 – Shuffle up and deal!

(Technical Note: Well, it took a few posts, but I’ve finally hit a WordPress glitch – no matter what I do or how it looks in the edit, this post keeps appearing in all italics. Any tips? Please drop me a line!)

Okay, gang, let’s check us out some WSOP 2013!

ESPN Day 1, WSOP Day 3

“This is beyond fairy tale, it’s inconceivable!”  -Norman Chad, 2003

TV Coverage of the Main Event starts with Day 3 of the tourney, perhaps because Day 1, with the 6,000+ entrants, is just too huge to manage.

After a brief reminiscence of the Moneymaker 10-year anniversary and a montage of other champs and legends, actual tourney coverage starts with shots of hopeful players entering the room (later on we’re updated that 1,700 or so are left, about 1,100 til the money).

Mark Kroon, 50-something Michigan bar owner, former online pro (Screen name: Poker Ho), old pal of Phil Hellmuth, is the chip leader. Cut to Ray Romano and Kevin Pollack and Jason Alexander, the obligatory tip of the hat/pandering to the Hollywooders still in it.  Then we see Phil Hellmuth (loved and hated, incredible poker player, incredibly obnoxious, “The Poker Brat”). Over to Jean-Robert Bellande (another huge ego, former Survivor contestant – viewers, and announcer Norman Chad, love to see him lose). Then there’s Shawn Sheikhan, trash talker, but not a clever one only player to ever make Mike “the Mouth” Matusow look like a good guy.  And finally, a hero: Doyle Brunson, beloved by players and fans alike. Doyle’s A big, soft-spoken, 80-year-old Texan in a ten-gallon hat, what poker used to look like – his survival to Day 3, and with a healthy stack, no less, makes for great TV. These are the familiar faces, with one semi-Cinderella (Kroon). ESPN rolls the dice on where to focus most of its cameras and lights, on one “feature table” and a couple of others. Kroon is at the second-feature table.

At the feature table, along with Phil Ivey “the greatest player in the world” (not that it isn’t true, it’s just repeated so much it’s become a kind of poker truism), is a bespectacled young black man with a historically-bizarre name Willie Horton (not Bill, not William – Willie. Were his parents making a bizarre statement? Didn’t care? Didn’t follow politics in the 80s? Doesn’t matter much, as we won’t see him for long.)

Willie is an athletic, openly nervous guy with chunky glasses and a high voice, sitting next to Phil Ivey, one of the best – and most intimidating – players in the game, who’s also, in an odd coincidence, black. (There are about as few black poker players as women. Around 5% of Main Event entrants are women). As cynical as I am about ESPN’s poker coverage, the network has no say in seat assignments, which are random. What ESPN has is the ability to choose which of the nearly 200 tables left to focus their lights and cameras on – and they often choose well. People complain a lot about the sensationalization of poker, about how ESPN only shows a tiny fraction of a 12-hour day of play, which the network edits and angles to make it all seem “live.” Such coverage gives a completely unrealistic picture of tournament poker. But the same can be said for any sports highlights on Sportscenter. Said critics still watch, though, it’s the only game in town for WSOP coverage, after all. And so we watch the huge hands, the all-ins and bust-outs, hopes dashed by the turn of a card; shell-shocked amateurs and pros alike stand up, one by one, shake their heads, walk away. Bellande, sitting on a good-sized stack, gets it all in with KK, but his opponent, a British theatre director, has AA, Three days grinding, he gets the second best starting hand possible, and . . .  nearly all his chips are gone, just like that – a few minutes later, Jean-Robert exits stage left.

At the secondary table, a giddy Mark Kroon celebrates a hand with Phil Hellmuth, his old Michican pal, sweating him. I met Kroon in Vegas at the WSOP Academy three-day sleep-away camp Annie invited me to way back when. Kroon was very buddy-buddy whenever we were out with Annie (if you’re just tuning in, see post one), told me to look him up after for tips, training, etc. When I emailed him with a couple of questions after returning home, he never responded, not even with a polite demurral. But I’m not bitter.

By way of intro to Hellmuth and Kroon, and to eleven-years-running-WSOP announcing team of Lon McEachern (WASPY straight man) and Norman Chad (shticky “ethnic” type), here’s the hand, I report, you decide, whether Kroon is the guy you want to see at the final table:

Willie Horton busts, keeps his chin up. What did he learn?

“I can play poker with the best of them, and make it,” Horton tells us, and it’s clear he means it.  In fact, though, he didn’t make it at all – he made it to Day 3, sure, outlasted 4,000 or so players, but, while he had a good run, and got to play beside the man he called his “idol,” he still lost his ten grand, same as the guy who busted first on Day One. And yet, Willie Horton tells us, he’ll be back, he’ll do it again. It’s a story you hear every year. About 10%, 650 of the 6,000+ entries, will cash, with the smallest amounts being about double the $10k entry fee. Six thousand people show up, and if you polled them, I’m sure more than five-sixths of them will tell you they’ve definitely got the chops to cash. Watch the WSOP, or heck, play poker with anyone on any night anywhere, and watch the concept of illusory superiority borne out in spades, as it were.

Back at the feature table, we’re introduced to this year’s Cinderella, “farmer” Phil Mader, whom I mentioned previously, which leads me to our first major video hand of the tourney!

While “I never said I was any good,” I feel safe, at this point, giving two pointers. 1. Don’t play poker with Phil Ivey.  But, 2., if you must play poker with Phil Ivey, BE CAREFUL!  Patience and discipline are two fundamentals of poker success, perhaps the two that are hardest to come by, or at least the two that abandon so many in moments of crucial decisions, especially when being stared down by Ivey. Antonio (Esfandiari, aka “the Magician,” who won the inaugural One Drop tourney last year, the most expensive tournament ever, with a MILLION DOLLAR buy-in) said it best in the video – just because you have a great hand, doesn’t mean you have the best hand, and in a tourney, if you push all your chips in the middle and lose, as opposed to in a cash game, you don’t get to go back and buy more, you’re just done.

A couple of times in the hour, coverage cuts to Doyle, winning a couple of big hands. Sitting to his right is Sheikhan, arguably the biggest, bitter-est asshole in a big-bitter-asshole-infested world, who yammers at the legend nonstop, tries to goad Doyle into saying something negative about Moneymaker’s picture hanging on the wall right behind them next to Doyle’s. He wants Doyle to show some disgust, some contempt for the amateur who changed everything a decade ago. Doyle just smiles – Moneymaker has made the latter end of Doyle’s long career incredibly lucrative. People buy Brunson’s books (His Super System is considered the first great poker guide), rich fish who never would’ve cared before ’03 flock to Vegas for the honor of losing to him, and he’s now a hero well beyond the world of high-stakes gamblers. It’s the cash games – not these tourneys – that make the Brunsons their bread and butter, and those games have gone through the roof since 2003.

Coverage shifts again, to a boat over boat (full house over full house, very unlikely, and unlucky for the smaller boat), a middle aged white guy losing all his chips to young pro Melanie Weisner, in a very tight and low-cut shirt, accentuating one of several advantages Annie used to tell me she has against men, even seasoned pros. They were distracted, or overly polite, or they just didn’t think she could possibly know what he’s doing; they let their dicks do the betting, and they pay her off time and time and time again. On a quick side note, Weisner is sitting next to a young gun I recognize from Foxwoods, Ronnie Bardah (who finished 541st in the Main Event last year, for $21,000) – I’ve sat at tables with him and with his father – so close yet so far.

Cut to Greg Merson, the reigning champ, still in it, short-stacked, catching cards and winning a big hand. And that’ll do it for Episode 1. As for our friend Player X – no sign of him on TV.

(I’ll be alternating coverage of this year with looks back at the last hands or another big hand) from the last decade’s final tables, so next post feature be the final hand of 2003, and some tweets from X from Days One through Three.)

Dad/fandom – Big Guns & Regular Joes – WELCOME! (Intro., pt. 3 of 3)

Five-point-five – Fan/Dad

While my mom and her five-years-gone-iversary were more on my mind when I thought of this blog, my father is fundamental to my fandom in general and to my love of poker. I grew up sneaking peeks at (and wishing I could play in) his weekly game with colleagues. When I finally did get to play with him and his friends, about a decade ago, I don’t think any of them realized what an honor it was. My pops also taught me most of what I know about adoring/despising athletes for no particular reason beyond what we glean from games on TV. In fact, one of our longest running arguments is about Patrick Ewing, whom I love and think never got the supporting cast he deserved, while my father can’t stand Ewing and blames him and his “little hands” for over a decade of Knicks woes. He and I have also watched poker on TV together since—well, I know it started well before some 24-year-old punk named Hellmuth took the Main event from Johnny Chan back in ’89. And not only was Mark Berger there when I won my first MTT at Lucky Chances (outside San Francisco), but I even busted him out of the tourney. Looking back at a short piece I wrote for McSweeney’s online about that day, I can’t believe it was only nine years ago – it feels like a zillion poker lifetimes ago.

Image

Coupla riverboat gamblers?

Six – Big Guns, Regular Joes

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been blessed (as my friend Hearty White would put it) to know a few people close to the game, and through them, now and then I’ve been able to indulge my fandom from a suffocating proximity. On TV, for more than a decade, I’ve watched each year’s poker Icarus (more than any other pursuit I’ve ever seen, that luck factor leads to meteoric rises and flame-outs) over and over, trying to figure out why on earth I’m rooting for some of these guys (and it nearly is all guys, white guys), against others, and vacillating on a couple more.

I’ve sat at felt-covered tables trying to trick other people out of their money, and been thrilled when I’ve succeeded. I’ve never rooted for people like these before, much less wanted to be one of the “best” of them: the rich, debauched, and clever, who thrive more or less stealing from those less rich, debauched, and clever. In fact, in all my life outside of this game, I’ve rooted and often worked for those without advantages of wealth or genetics or dumb luck, to get their fair share.

Poker geeks (often a very different group from those who are actually any good at the game) tend to root for established pros, as if pros deserve to win. Someone who plays with his pals in the garage once a month and catches a few episodes on ESPN now and then might well root for the nice-guy trucker on the roll of a lifetime, but the pros and the geeks definitely don’t, although perhaps they should.

The ultimate example of the regular-Joe-on-a-tear that poker insiders were rooting hard against (but clearly shouldn’t have been – he spawned the exponential influx of money and players to the game over the next decade) is Chris Moneymaker. The ultimate crushing of the Main-Event dream of an exalted pro came right before the final table of that 2003 WSOP, when Moneymaker eliminated the player nearly unanimously called the greatest poker player in the history of the game, Phil Ivey, in 10th place (out of a mere 893). In ’03 , the geeks were disgusted by Moneymaker’s loose calls and suck-outs. And they were crushed by Ivey’s loss. But that loss, and Moneymaker’s win, even though it probably means Ivey will never have another chance at that ultimate prize, has meant millions and millions of dollars to him and other pros. For our first video segment, here’s that legendary ’03 hand,

Back then, I too was crushed by Ivey’s demise, and hated the seeming donk/cracker who took him down. In fact, though, while no one would ever mistake Moneymaker for a poker genius, and he hasn’t had much success on the felt since that incredible run, his decisions were sound more often than not, and his play improved markedly as the tournament progressed – he absolutely rose to his moment. (see that Grantland history for more on that – it’s a great read for even the most cursory fan).

Until this year, I too, tended – as I thought myself more and more sophisticated about the game, if not necessarily successful at it – to root for a big gun to take the Big One. This year, though, that started to shift for me, as I found myself rooting for Nebraska farmer Phil Mader, a player who was clearly an amateur (although not nearly the rube ESPN made him out to be, with several five-figure cashes to his name, including 453rd Main Event in 2009 for $25k).

Besides cliquey insider-ness, the reason the poker community roots for pros is that the pros grind it out every day – they suffer for the game, so they deserve to win. Grinders and their fanboys feel it’s somehow unfair that the odds against them have risen as more and more “donks” (unskilled amateurs) take their shot at the big one. The flaw in this logic is that these pros are often an arrogant bunch of punks (strictly objectively speaking) who already make damn good money sitting around feeding on fish (amateurs, tourists . . .) at cash tables, and besides, what’s more exciting than a farmer from Nebraska having a life-changing experience, and winning a life-altering amount of money?

The chance of any of the top pros making the final table of the Main Event in their lifetimes is thousands and thousands to one, against. Multi-table Tournament (MTT) poker, is, many argue, as much as 90% luck. But, as Branch Rickey said, luck is the residue of design, and a winning lifetime percentage (or, as the more mathy poker geeks put it, ROI, return on investement)  comes from honing that remaining 10% (logic, math, memory, focus, psychology, endurance, discipline, White Magic) as finely as possible, to combine with great luck at perfect moments.

Up against 6,000+ opponents, one week a year, that 10% skill (or even if it’s 20, or even 30%) isn’t going to get even the best of the best to that final table, not in one person’s lifetime, no matter how good he or she is, not without a whole lotta luck to boot. Hellmuth, the all-time leading WSOP bracelet leader, is infamous for saying, “If it weren’t for luck I’d win them all.” But if it weren’t for the, as poker players like to say, sick luck skill and modest skill a Georgia accountant brought to the table ten years ago, the Hellmuths of the world wouldn’t have a fraction of the cash they have in the bank now, and certainly not even a tiny fraction of the media attention that they, and he in particular, so crave.

Seven – Welcome!

The November Nine starts four weeks from this past Monday, and there’s a lot to catch you up on, starting with the first fourteen TV episodes. My crispy-clear iphone-camera recordings of and commentary on a hand or two per episode will begin next post. I’ll be looking at this year’s Cinderellas, the legends, and the quirky, faux real-time nature of the coverage itself. And eventually, we’ll follow Player X on his potentially career-making run.

This isn’t going to be a pro-gambling blog. Nor is it an anti-gambling one, a story of recovery, an addict’s nostalgia trip. I will cover some obsession and regret – as a Foxwoods tourney grinder I’ve gotten to know a little put it, after an awful beat knocked him out of a tourney we were playing: “That’s the cruise we signed on for.” A few years, back, a long-time Gamblers Anonymous member (is “member” the term? ) and friend, said to me, about my teaching and tutoring and nonprofit work, “See, isn’t this just better, more satisfying, than poker?” The question, as he saw it, was rhetorical. But a straight yes was definitely not my answer, and it never will be. They both satisfy, and frustrate, in utterly different ways. And while I have opinions on gambling in general, the legalization of online poker, the growth of casinos, as I’m sure you do too, that’s not why I’m here.

This is a blog for people who love poker – who play, watch and fantasize poker and/or follow professional poker but aren’t looking for wise-ass twenty-something strategy tips and are sick of Nate Silver making you feel stupid. I kid, of course, Silver is great. If he’s such a mad genius, though, why doesn’t he play and crush poker tournaments? We’ll get to that, but it definitely has something to do with it being a lousy way to invest your money.

But this is also a blog for those who are just kind of curious. It’s about how poker culture has infiltrated pop culture. It’s for people who are interested in digging around to figure out why they are obsessed with poker, or why others of us are to the extent that we’ll not just sit at a table playing cards with strangers for hours and hours and hours on end, we’ll watch others do so on television. (“Hours of boredom followed by moments of sheer terror,” the saying goes).

I hope you enjoy it. I’m awfully excited, myself!

(next: The 2013 Main Event!)