As I’ve been preaching over the past months, and despite what various TV networks and poker training sites and would have you think, poker is, even for the best of the best, hugely a game of luck. I don’t remember exactly what the percentages were, but Annie made the point to me years ago that drove how huge luck factors. She’d tell me that she only hoped to cash in a small percentage of tourneys (maybe 20%?) and even in those, could hope to go deep, where the real money is, a fraction of that percentage – as a poker player, luck beats you time and time again – you lose and lose and lose, and when you win, you hope to beat the odds and win big. A few years back I remember Greg Raymer, former Main Event champ, happy after making final tables in two big WSOP events, talking about how great it felt to be back after four years without a major cash. Four years of LOSING. My point is that losing is pretty much what you do as a poker player, because of luck, and a one-table tourney will be decided by who gets good cards in perfect spots as much as how well he can use those cards. That said, here are the payouts, and below that my predictions:
Picks and Notes from a guy who “never said I was any good.”
In a world where all luck balanced out equally over a couple hundred poker hands, where one table sit-and-go tourneys were won by the best player more than 40% of the time, more like, say, 70% – and the NN really is a one table sit and go – one could successfully handicap this event. There is no such world, and luck will do a ton of the deciding today. But, just for ducks, here’re my picks in ascending order (or is this descending? I’m starting with 9th), with a little info about each and their chip count.
9. Mark Newhouse. USA 7,350,000. His stack is so short, that’s my main reason to put him ninth, but if he doubles up early, all bets are off. He’s got the skills and has played his short stack very well so far. But, from what I hear, he’s got some Karma waitin’ to smack him right in the face for some gloating over Morgenstern’s incredibly quick demise. Newhouse is also part of the young, Vegas, partying poker crew, so sure to have a loud and boisterous rooting section.
8. David Benefield. 6,375,000. Like Newhouse, short stacked – if he doubles up, look out world. He’ll play his short stack like a pro, and one lucky break could change everything. One personal note. Yes, he’s the kid some of you non-poker heads out there will want to root for. He quit the game while at its highest level a few years back to go back to college (Columbia) not to study business (ie how to play games and make more money, as many poker pros do who return to school), but to study Chinese and Political Science because they just plain interest him academically. Horrible podcast host Bernard Lee, who interviews the November Niners every year, seemed almost disgusted by Benefield’s choice, asked in a tone of why would anyone want to go back and study that?-ttreated Benefield like a freak for wanting to go to school to actually learn shit, not obtain a moneymaking goal. A little more of a sidenote about Lee’s radio sho. It’s awful. He never asks an interesting question, the audio quality is wretched, the list goes on. The first eight of the Niners went on the show and then Amir, at the last second, said no thanks. It was certainly in part a tactical move on Amir’s part, but perhaps a smidge was a response to Lee’s way of asking more than telling people they’re going on his show. Either way, while I was sad to turn in on the day Amir was supposed to be on, I was tickled to death that he pulled that move. Last note: The Benefield quitting story is a bit more hype than reality, he reduced his playing but never gave up the game. Benefield will surely have some big-time pros on his rail, offering advice, should he need it.
7. Jay Farber 25,975, USA Many see him as the only true amateur in the field. He’s definitely a young party kid who may make the mistake of playing a bit too tight to cover his inexperience. Or, if he loses a few, could become desperate and too aggressive to get them back. So far, we haven’t seen much but pretty standard tight aggressive play, with one maybe a tiny bit loose call, doubling Newhouse up on Day Seven. Of course, he may also be a guy, at his age, with no particular other profession except escorting high-end bachelorette parties to fancy Vegas clubs, who’s more concerned about climbing the prize latter than others are. It is a latter in which every player you let bust before you is worth a MILLION dollars. That may matter more to Farber than some of the other poker pros, in it for their legacy, and glory, as much as the money.
6. Michiel Bruumelhuis. Netherlands. 11,275,000. In an interview I heard, he talked about some mistakes he’s made during the tournament so far. He’s run out of time to make mistakes, especially with his stack size. For no reason but intuition, I think he’s done running great. Should have a big Dutch squad railing him.
5. Ryan Reiss, 25,875,000. USA He’s 23 years old, with one huge cash last year. Young gun on the rise, on a roll, confident, will have great rooting section. Being on a hot streak counts for a lot. Will the inexperience show, or will he go even deeper?
4. Marc-Etienne McLaughlin (this link can take you to pretty good Poker News Daily profiles of all Nine), 26,525,000. Canada. Also young, just 25. Calls himself a “businessman,”doing Canadian Import-Export to China, but has managed to take the time off to make deep runs in the Main event in ’09, ’11, and this year. Sometimes the announcers have called him a tattoo artist, but he’s never mentioned it and has not tattoos, so I’m wondering if it was all a hoax. I haven’t seen enough of him to know much, but players clearly respect his game. It’s a volatile game, though, so he could as easily end up 2nd as 7th in the end.
3. J.C. Tran 38,000,000. USA. The most experienced guy with the biggest stack, who’s known for loose, aggressive play. He may try to run over the table. If it works, he’s taking home a bracelet. If it doesn’t work, the veneer of ESPN’s poster boy for this year could start to crack. This table is a tough one for his aggressiveness, a lot of his opponents know how to handle it. But still, he should be the odds-on favorite. I saw him playing craps last night and I don’t know, I just don’t think he’s gonna take the whole thing down. Tran’s rail is where I’m guessing you’ll most likely see prose you know from TV, Mizrachi, Matusow, Hellmuth. Whether they’re friends with JC or not, some “old” pros are always hangin’ out hoping to see one of theirs take it down.
2. 1. Sylvain Loosli 19,600.000. France. The ultimate live tourney challenge for the French online and cash pro. So far he’s ben up to it at every turn. Scary player. Seems to me, based on interviews I’ve heard and the few hands we’ve seen, to be poised, ready, and to really know his shit. Should be a big french contingent in red white and blue chanting soccer cheers.
1. Amir Lehavot. 29,700,00. Israel. (though he’s lived in the U.S. since he was a child, and people call him American, although he’s flying the Israeli flag as a player.) I’ve said all I can say. In terms of poker skill, demeanor, stack size, there’s no reason Player X can’t finish the job. He’s also a guy you just wanna root for, in part because ESPN has come as close to ignoring him as they have to any Niner I’ve ever seen, In part because he doesn’t play the media and clique-y game, in part because he’s not a psycho gambler who’ll just blow it in a year, in part because he’s just an nice guy, a sensible businessperson who happens to excel beyond all expectations at a game he enjoys. I pick him to win it all be cause why the hell not!!!
Interested in knowing more about these guys? Google them and you’ll have plenty of articles and video to choose from.
“They wanted the show to be honest, and they kept it honest. I didn’t watch the show, but I didn’t hear any edits that were really disingenuous. They had to tell a story, and stories are never real, but they showed a view of the show that was certainly as accurate as the one you’re reading now. They just let it happen with honesty and integrity.” – Penn Jillette
The show Penn’s talking about may surprise you. He’s writing about his experience on “Celebrity Apprentice,” a show that this quote, out of context, might make you think he supports and was proud to be on. Just to be clear, that’s not the case, but while Penn rips the Donald, and one of his fellow contestants in particular, new ones at several points in the essay “Here come our “celebrities” – cue the freezing rain,” he respected the producers, and what he saw as a kind of integrity to the show. THIS COULD NEVER EVER EVER BE SAID HONESTLY BY ANYONE EVER ABOUT ESPN’S WORLD SERIES OF POKER SHOW. It tells lies about time, about personalities, about just about anything it can to make drama out of bunch of guys sitting at a table playing cards. It tells nonstop lies of over-inclusion and omission. The announcers tell lies, the editing is horribly dishonest. The show does its network a horrible disservice. Okay, I feel better now.
And yet . . . we who love poker keep watching – as I’ve said before, it’s the only game in town if you want to watch the WSOP.
That all said, if you like/love poker but don’t watch it on TV for the reasons stated above, there are two days every year to watch, and those days are tomorrow and Tuesday, because on those two days, ESPN offers extended, nearly real-time coverage – you get to actually watch people play poker.
So tune in! I’ll be lining up outside the doors of the Penn & Teller theater like a Deadhead with an “I need a miracle” sign, at 2pm for the 6pm start time, to get good seats (it’s first come first serve, apparently).
I’ll be posting all night (long after the TV ends, alas), both here and tweeting (@jamieberger) and Facebooking and all that jazz too. Join me, and, hey, regardless of how X does tomorrow, I’m sticking it out til they’re done for the night/morning, so please consider dropping a line, retweeting – let me know you’re out there! Thanks!
After meeting Amir “Player X” Lehavot (and his sis and his mom and his dad and his wife and his baby boy) last night for the first time in person, I’m more on board than ever. The impressions I’ve had from our online acquaintance were reinforced and then some – he’s just a really sweet, soft-spoken, understated guy, reminds me of friends and neighbors over the years. Below is another interview with him. Consider hopping on board Team Amir – as I think you’ll see, there are gonna be some VERY loud, boistrous, dare I say obnoxious, crews on hand for the younger players (ie everyone but Amir), and sending good vibes this way can’t help!
Here’s one intro to Amir which can lead lead to intros of the other guys (along that right-hand column), if you’re interested:
(sadly, this is another one of those posts that’s inexplicably appeared all in italics – thanks wordpress.)
So after Penn gave me back my table at Greenfield Coffee a couple days ago, what with the serendipity of my heading off to an event at the theater that bears his name, I felt I had to buy his latest atheism book and go listen him talk at GCC. He’s a gigantic man with a gigantic brain full of gigantic thoughts and even gigantic-er opinions (that he expresses very eloquently in speech, less so on paper), and he seems to have a gigantic heart to match, and a gigantic ego to go with all that. He EXPANDS on subjects grandly and eloquently, from atheism to magic to music to comedy to racism to having children to being friends with Glenn Beck, to being from Greenfield, MA, to behaving with integrity and being kind, and back again.
Penn’s polymathicity and opinionated-ness, with moral integrity and generosity thrown in, remind me a lot of the many attributes beyond pure skill at cards needed to be great poker player and, in particular, of my friend Annie Duke – without Annie’s intense confidence, a brashness bordering on arrogance to go with her intense intelligence, drive, and beliefs, she could never have become such a success in the world of such egotistical, smart, often deeply cynical men as most poker players are.
(I met Amir and his family in person yesterday. His gentility and unassuming nature were beyond refreshing to find in a poker pro under the age of fifty. He’s 38, the oldest at the Final Table, btw.)
At this point, there may be someone out there reading this and thinking wtf did I just click on wasn’t this supposed to be a poker blog? Well, yes, sir or madam, it was, and it will be again.
The Penn lecture was one of those experiences I have sometimes when watching a famous person speak when, as the event progresses, I really start to feel like said famous person and I really have a lot to say to each other and we should sit down and have a conversation sometime and see where it leads. But that’s not usually going to happen. It’s frustrating and inspiring at the same time.
I’ve never been a fan (or a hater) of the man they call Penn. He was erudite and thoughtful and seemingly appreciative of his audience. Or, well, he was both appreciative and was doing that thing that happens to some people when they get very famous and/or rich. They OVERgive. They strain just a bit (in Penn’s case) or way more than a bit to be SO gracious because the spotlight is ALWAYS on and they’re good people and they know they’re good people (pretty much) but if someone sees them doing just one bad thing the world will think they’re BAD people so they act just a bit TOO good all the time. Penn’s excessive adoration of his home town, Greenfield, during his first visit back in years smelled a little of this kind of well-intentioned pandering. There’s the general embarrassment at extreme and extremely public success that comes into play here, as well, of course. And I’m pretty sure that’s somewhat how I’d act at times, if I were in Penn’s shoes, and I’d hate myself for it, so I don’t blame him, and, at such moments, I’m very happy I’m not rich and famous.
Which is not to say I’m not jealous as well, less of the money and fame than of the ability to collaborate with amazing artists on interesting projects all the time and get very well paid for doing so. And I should note that I’m typing from my hotel room in a building the outside of which is plastered with a twenty-story Penn Jillette.
But what I began writing this to tell you is that was a really inspiring talk that ranged from the Bible to parenthood to the history of American comedy and magic, to the greatness of Martin and Lewis, to how to make a long-term collaboration work, one that made me consider large issues about my own existence.
I like to think that I’m not a superstitious person, but, well, I’m a pretty fucking superstitious person, especially about the number nine (In fact, one of my worst poker leaks is playing A-9 and 99 in spots where they absolutely should be mucked), As I said, having run in to Penn as I was sitting down to write a post about travelling to his theater told me it was fated that I had to go to his event. During that day leading up to the event, I thought, well, he’ll probably be kinda interesting and then afterward maybe I can tell him about the serendipity (although, admittedly it’s way more interesting for me than him, as he has a theater with his name on it and people run into him before heading off to it every now and then, I’d imagine), and then I’ll give him one of the spiffy new business cards that had just arrived Friday morning. And he will take the card, scan the magic QR code on the back, take a look at the blog, think, hey, this looks kind of cool, I should tweet this, and I’ll have a few thousand more readers for the Final Table posts. That is what I felt fate had offered me, best case scenario.
But what I realized during the speech was that although I still wanted to give him the card (which I did, hurriedly, awkwardly, on the book-signing line, no time for even an elevator pitch), the real reason I was meant to run into him and go see him speak is that he made me think about what and why I’m writing here, why I’m here in Vegas now for the November Nine. I don’t know the answer, but I’m pretty sure that because of Penn Jillette the coming days’ posts, while chock full of November nine poker-y tidbits, will also have a bit more of the “Mom, and everything” stuff in them than I thought they might, and I hope that works for you.
We’ll be back with more great stuff, in just a few, live from LAS VEGAS!!!!