Mister Grumpy in the Hiz


Hi! Long time no post.

A few weeks ago I posted on Facebook about how annoying Upworthy is and got a bunch of great responses, with some great links to funny send-ups. (this one is swell too). Perhaps you’ve seen them.

Since then, I’ve found myself having to resist being Mr. Grumpy about all kinds of feel-good stuff on Facebook. Well, today, I don’t feel like resisting. This video, which many good folks have passed around a little while back, resurfaced today in a friend’s feed, and, well, it bugged me the first time, and it bugged me more this time. It’s all about how much better life is without a smartphone. Perhaps you’ve seen it. I didn’t want to be a Debbie Downer, but then, yes I did!, so I responded, more or less, thusly:

“Meh. Points taken, but still, meh – it’s not one or the other, “real life” = good, fake, technology-life = bad. I try to resist making cranky comments, but this bugged me the first time I saw it and bugged me just now. Self-righteousness and absolutes are blunt, clumsy instruments. That said, I took a tiny step away from my techno-life recently that was great. I set my phone so it doesn’t vibrate when it’s “silent.” Chances are HUGE I’m gonna check the damn thing every few minutes anyway; it’s definitely changed my life for the better not knowing someone is trying to reach me the SECOND they’re trying to reach me. I’m distractable enough as it is. Okay, maybe I **would** be happier to go phoneless for a week now and then, but, sadly, I just don’t have a life that allows for it right now. Maybe I’m just bitter. Insert huge smiley emoticon.”

Yes, that’s me quoting me. No one else is gonna do it.

Next: All you fans of the video “This is Water” (made from a great piece of D.F. Wallace writing, don’t get me wrong), gear up if you wanna defend it!


Expectations and Results, pt 1 of 2


In the lobby, a few minutes after the bust-out. I love how much less exhausted (and not at all disappointed) Amir seems (and in fact, was) of the two of us – watching for nine hours may have been more nerve-wracking than playing!

In the interview video I posted last week, when Amir is asked about the bright lights and the glory (and disappointment after busting out) of his November Nine status, he responds that he felt lucky to have gotten so far and, regardless, was focused on maximizing his “expectation.” A friend wrote and asked whether he meant purely mathematical expectation. While, I can’t speak for Amir, I feel safe in saying yes, I’m quite confident that was precisely what he meant. It’s also one of the elements that make Player X truly a professional in a world where many call themselves pros but only a select few live up to the term by making their living at poker for more than a year or so before “blowing up” or burning out, cutting their losses and going back to college or a previous straight job (Steve Gee, who nearly made the 11/9 the last two years in a row is the very odd example of someone who left the game and then returned, to great success, no less, years later.) All the psychological, mathematical, game-playing talent in the world have time and time again failed to translate into long-term success in poker for people who don’t have incredibly level heads as well.

Extremely long and odd working hours; the temptation to gamble hard-grinded (ground?) poker earnings on sports or table games (roulette, craps, “the pit,” as gamblers refer to it);  and the beating one’s ego takes in the extreme variance of the game are among the elements that require almost unthinkable calmness, psychological stability, and focus on, yes, maximizing one’s expectation over the course of a grueling poker lifetime.

Amir has combined skill and luck and discipline, mixed with what seems an innate steadiness, to achieve what only the teensiest fraction of really great players can only hope for;  in his first five years or so as a pro, he has become an extremely successful online tournament player, has a WSOP bracelet in a prestigious $10k event (Pot-limit Hold-em, 2011, among other WSOP and WPT final tables and cashes) and has fulfilled the second-to-last step of every tourney pro’s biggest dream by making the final table in (and taking third at) the Big One for a huge seven-figure payday. Expectation maximized. Ultimate fantasy perhaps not quite fulfilled, but all reasonable expectation absolutely maximized.

But the kind of expectations I had for the 2013 Main Event Final Table were something different altogether.

Before the trip, I thought a lot about what my own decidedly un-mathematical expectations were for my trip to Vegas. As November approached, it occurred to me that I was looking for what I look for all too often, and which are about as common as unicorns: what Spalding Gray (and, I’m sure, countless others) call  “perfect moments.”

In the first posts for this blog, I wrote about fandom, about how I’ve always enjoyed being a fan of one kind of another. In anticipation of my Vegas trip, I’ve had a good look at the awkward space between fandom and friendship. Amir and I were somewhere in between friends and acquaintances before the Final Table, but certainly closer to the casual, online acquaintance. In deciding to write about him in this year’s WSOP, I was certainly acting as more of a fan than anything. But, in deciding to go to Vegas and root him on, I certainly tipped, at least from my perspective (I’m not sure about Amir’s, although he seemed happy from the git-go that I was making the trip) toward the friend side. In continuing to write and post about the experience, though, I was still very much the fan/observer. You get the idea.

On Saturday, November 2nd, as the plane touched down at McCarran, I was excited, but also anxious, as is my nature. I’d spent several months gearing up for this experience I was about to have, and now here I was, having the experience! My baggage was the first off the belt, the shuttle to the hotel was deadly slow in Saturday evening Vegas traffic, but it got me there. I was handed a WSOP bottle of water as I entered the Rio, I checked in, and headed up to my room . . . the experiences, the moments were piling up faster than I could appreciate them. It was all just fine . . .  but far from perfect.

Once I got settled into my room as best I could with all those images of Penn Jillette staring me down from table tents and fliers on my desk and night table, I texted Amir that I had arrived, and we made a plan for me to stop by his room and pick up my tickets to the big show on Monday. A few minutes later, Amir ushered me into a room where his wife, baby boy, mother, father, sister, and he were hanging out. Amir’s mom didn’t say much, but his father and I exchanged a few words; Player X, Sr., definitely had an accent, I’m not sure what, but one of the many “Florida” accents from my youth. The Lehavots have been in the States for decades, and Amir is listed as Israeli/American and plays under the Israeli flag, but Israelis, of course, come from all over the world. Amir’s dad reminded me of my grandfather and his brother, Uncle Sol – Russians – and of that first poker game back in Ft. Lauderdale.

(next: Mom, Jews, results)



When I arrived at the lobby of the Penn and Teller theater a week ago, there were a whole lotta people dressed more or less like this waiting to get in. It seemed weird, as there was no Irish player in the final nine These were the French-Canadians. Since one of their own, Jonathan Duhamel, one the Big One (click on his name for one of the most brutal and pivotal beasts in WSOP history) in 2010, they’ve had there own poker boom, had a great series this year, and another Quebecois made it to the final table, Marc-Etienne McLaughlin. They told me the green was for his Irish background, but I wasn’t sure if they were putting me on. (They weren’t.)

If you watched on TV, the people screaming “LA-RRY, WAL-KER” once every round (when their man was in the big blind, urging the other players all to fold, to give him a “walk”), were these guys. I haven’t checked the stats, but McL. got a whole lot of walks, certainly the most at the table. They were obnoxious as hell, but unlike the almost vicious Riess contingent, they were also good-natured and very inventive and fun. Their man played some exciting, aggressive poker too, before bowing out sixth.


Blind man’s bluff

Since Tuesday, I’ve written a whole lot of words about my trip, and have been sorting them out this afternoon. I just can’t seem to wrangle ’em into post shape, yet. I wanted to lead off my posts from back home with BIG thoughts and FEELINGS about my EXPERIENCE, but let’s have some fun instead, for now.


From the audience, from left to right, Messrs. Esfandiari, Chad, and McEashern. Somehow, I like Norman (Chad) a little better, or maybe dislike him a little less is more like it, after seeing this. If only poker TV were as good as this more than once a year, with nearly real-time play, and  shockingly in-depth, insightful, enlightening commentary by Antonio. Sigh.


.15 Seconds of Fame?

Last night, I finally got a chance to start watching the (DVR-ed) broadcast. This is from the same pre-show segment as the first pic. That’s my dear friend Case by my side (in the background/audience there) – he came in from LA to watch. He looks as if he’s brought his blind friend Jamie to the WSOP, right?

So many ways to think about seeing and being seen. A minute or so before or after I shot the picture, and a few moments before the trio left the stage (for a soundproof booth at an undisclosed location to watch on a screen while we watched it live), the camera caught me. When I took my shot, I was looking at them in a way one isn’t supposed to, sneaking a peek behind the curtain. The camera had no interest in me, and I’m guessing, not counting my wife, Anja, and me in the living room, (along with dogs and cat, but even they didn’t care about my cameo), absolutely zero of the millions watching around the world noticed me. Yet there I am, not noticing that I’m being seen by an eye that isn’t looking at me.

That’s about as best I can parse it for now without my brain starting to hurt. That’s a lie, my brain hurts.

Serendipity, Fame, Penn . . .


(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!!!!

photo (2)

Day 6: X-MAN REVEALED, (Tran Deified, Alexander Reviled)

(When last we spoke, I mentioned that we’d be  jumping from the end of Day 3 all the way to Day 6 of Main Event 2013 because we’ve only got, well, now it’s just four! days! in real time! until the November 9!!!! So we’ll come back to the “Mom” and “everything” – the fans and hangers-on, the mayhem and hype, the triumph, and for one lucky (and skillful) soul, the triumph of 11/4-5/2013 at the Penn and Teller Theater in Rio. But first, we gotta get down to them nine Niners.)


WSOP, Main Event 2013, Day 6

68 players left

Still no sign of the man known as X.

Phil Mader is still alive, but fading.

So, amazingly, is 2012 November Niner (and Bluffy-McBlufferson-extraordinaire)  Steve Gee, and big-time tournament pro Yevgeniy Timoshenko, and Aussie Jackie Glazier, this year’s “last woman standing” (last year, two women stood all the way until 10th and 11th, incredibly impressive considering the tiny fraction of the field they make up) . The common belief is that a woman at the final table would be a big boon to poker, and that a woman (or a person of color) as champ would be huge.

Defending champ Merson (167th, for $43k, a great follow-up year) is gone, as is, well, just about everyone we saw earlier.

Someone named Sami Ruston is the chip leader, but he’ll be gone by the end of the day, so we’ll skip him. In second stands Canadian Marc-Etienne McLaughlin, a relative unknown to, sometimes called (by those intrepid journalists McEachern and Chad) a businessman, other times a tattoo artist, never called (nor does he call himself) a poker pro, but who’s made deep runs in ’09, ’11, and this year. Also with a big stack, in 4th, is “Canadian Lawyer” Jason Mann. I haven’t said much about Mann because, well, he’s kind of boring – heck, “Canadian lawyer” is just about all Lon and Norman have had to say about him for several episodes. Mann isn’t making any huge mistakes on camera, but is clearly out of his element, unsure of his decisions, yet here he is – with the help of luck, big hands holding up at the right times and okay play – still standing on Day 6. As I always like to say when someone grumbles when I suck out on him, “Luck counts.”

Chad tells us this is the 8th straight year the Big One has had 6k+ entrants, but for the past three years (since Black Friday) the numbers have decreased slightly – many were expecting a huge drop-off. A young bro/guy/duder (and Vegas nightclub VIP escort) named Jay Farber, with pumped up arms covered with tats, crushes pro Noah Schwartz’s dreams as Farber’s AA hold up over Schwartz’s KK, making Farber one of the big stacks. Luck counts, alright – six days grind, one hand played the way it pretty much had to be played, and . . . gone. Some – Schwartz himself among them – have suggested that Schwartz, still with a very solid stack, could have let the hand go, even four bets in; that Farber had to be huge at that point and Schwartz had to know it. And sure, I’ve seen some big laydowns in tough spots, but KK preflop, with millions already in the middle? Could YOU lay it down? Perhaps we’ll take a deeper look at that hand another time.  Well, Schwartz isn’t quite gone after the hand, and he quickly triples back up to 1.7 mil – not much, at this point, but he’s alive. Farber, despite my diss of him as a party-boy-Vegas-musclehead, is playing solid poker (another reason Schwartz, who I believe is friends with Farber off the felt), I believe, could’ve/should’ve folded). In fact, similar to how Annie describes even good players misreading/underestimating her because of her gender, Farber surely gets misjudged because of his looks, as he actually mentions in an ESPN interview. Well, until now, I’m guessing, as you’ll be seeing a whole lot of him on TV a lot next week and his cover will be blown big time.

Players busting are now taking home about $120k, a “sick” return on a week-long $10k investment, but no one seems too happy about heading the cage to cash out. The camera makes sloppy love to each mini-tragedy, one after the other. It’s pretty boring, but focus groups must say otherwise or ESPN wouldn’t  show them all night.

Jackie Glazier joins the TV table, with Timo and revitalized tourney superstar,  JC Tran. Tran has won millions, was a World Poker Tour Player of the year, and has cashed in the Main Event six times in the Boom era, but hasn’t had a big score in several years. The Cali pro (and wife and baby, with another on the way) is the clear ESPN darling.

Down to 60. Still no X.

Halfway through the episode, stoic, yet somehow baby-faced Timoshenko is the new chip leader with 9.5 mil.

And 6,352 are down to 52.

Noah Schwartz finally gives up the ghost, 52nd, $151k

The blinds, by the way, are now at a staggering 30k and 60k, with a 10k ante, for a total of 170k in the pot to start each hand.

Carlos Mortensen (click for some great vintage video), perhaps the most famous pro left and only Main Event winner (2001) wins a big hand, flush over two pair, over Tran, for 1.8 mil. Tran is down to around 3 mil, Carlos up to 3 mil.

Soon, Carlos is shown with KK, as obnoxious Texas bar owner and ESPN poster d-bag of the last few epi James Alexander sits down at the feature table. Sometimes it seems like every other player is a bar or club owner or employee, or the nebulous “businessman,” but we’ll get back to that kind of stuff on the weekend.

On the turn, Mortensen’s opponent (Walthus) hits a set of 7s. Carlos checks the river there’s two mil in the middle – and Walthus bets almost a mil. Mortensen counts out calling chips, and sits and waits, and waits and waits. On TV, of course, they edit it down radically, as players will sometimes think for a, a minute, two, five. Timo is notorious for tanking on just about every decision. The best are subtly, stealthily looking for any hints, tells from their opponents as to whether they make the big call.  Alexander mentions that it’s been twelve minutes (the ESPN emcees point out that it hasn’t been twelve minutes at all). Soon Alexander calls time on Mortensen – an official comes over and starts a clock. Mortensen has 70 seconds to decide. He makes the good fold as time expires. Patience patience patience patience AGRESSSION patience.

Next hand, JC Tran with 88 gets into a hand with Walthus, AA. Tran hits the 8 on the flop. Walthus bets 655, Tran raises to 1.5, Walthaus raises, Tran shoves, Walthaus calls and we’ve got an 8 mil pot, and this, friends, is how you get to the final table of the Main Event. Skill, and a lot of luck, and a the right moments. Sick. Mortensen showed the discipline of an old pro, Walthus the impatience of so many young ones.

Phil Mader busts with A-Q to A-K, 43rd, $185k. And ESPN’s Cinderella 2013 is gone. Jay Farber did the deed, and now sits with a very comfy stack.

And Somar Al-Darwich, a seemingly nice enough rook who rose to first when Mark Kroon lost his mind what now seems like weeks ago, is gone.  He tells the interviewer it was his first time in Vegas!

Someone named Josh Prager sum ups busting deep in the Big One up after his KK loses to AA. “Win this much money, how can I complain?  I made 18x my money and yet I’ll never be here again, so I complain.”

Jackie Glazier busts 31st, for $230k, and somehow, somehow, with four tables left, STILL no Player X. I’m beginning to wonder whether he’s still in it after all.

But finally, FINALLY, at the very end of episode 16, with 27 left, they show the entire leaderboard. German Anton Morgenstern sits on top with nearly 22mil, followed by Loosli (France), thanks to the huge suck-out, with 14mil (quite a jump from 1st to second), with Tran in 4th with nearly 12mil, and Carlos Mortensen in 6th with nearly 11. Timo is hanging in at 18th with 5 mil.  Steve Gee is still grindin’, but with just 3mil. David Benefield (former online super-high stakes pro who went back to college, of all things) sits in last with 1.8, but, wait! Back up a sec! Holding down the 11 spot,  ladies and germ, I give you Player X, Amir Lehavot, with 7 million beautiful chips. We haven’t seen the man, but we’ve seen his name, and his stack.

(next: Meet Amir Lehavot, aka Player X)

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).


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)

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.)