Friday, May 30, 2014

And so it begins . . . WSOP 2014

WSOP - Global Equality

It's official! The 2014 World Series of Poker has begun and this year's schedule of events promises to be as exciting and surprising as those of the last decade or so. Renowned poker personalities, famous actors and actresses, rich guys from all over the world, professionals and hustlers - all hoping for a bracelet but coveting a big payday as well. 

@jtillathekilla2 and @PhilLaak Outside the Rio

But, that's not what makes the WSOP unique - even though it is a singular, no where equaled contest of skill and nerves. What sets the WSOP apart from every other international championship is that here, even you and I can get in the game.

All around the world human beings of every race, nationality and religious persuasion crave contests of skill that end up crowning one kind of champion or another. We, all of us, love winners! Most American football fans can tell you last year's Super Bowl champs but a far lesser number can tell you who they defeated. The 2000 World Cup winner? Soccer aficionados know but they quickly forget those teams that finished behind.

The international competitions designed to crown the best in sport and other games of skill are legendary and ubiquitous - the World Cup, Tour de France, the World Series, the Olympics and the list goes on. Yet, they all share a common quality that inherently excludes the overwhelming majority of the rest of us from participating in any meaningful way other than cheering our team on or wagering the rent money on what we believe is a sure thing - superior skill. But, we live with that. We enjoy worshiping heroes and somehow becoming a part of their victories. And here's where the similarity between the WSOP and all these other events ends because at the WSOP you do not have to sit or stand on the sidelines and root for your hero. You can join right in and maybe become the hero yourself.

Shuffle Up And Deal !!!

 For as little as a $500 entrance fee (for casino employees) or a $1000 fee for the general public, you can enter one of the 65 events planned for this year's WSOP. Come up with the bucks and you are in - no qualifying handicap like in golf, no stint in the minor leagues like most major team sports, no working your way up from the bottom to prove you have the skill to make it with the big boys and girls. Just lay your money down and you get a hand like everyone else. Of course, to enter the Main Event you will have to come up with 10,000 big ones but there are ways to by-pass that expense too. In addition to the 65 events that make up the WSOP proper, there are innumerable Satellite tournaments going on during the event and many that take place miles away in casinos and online venues all over the world and even in home games that set aside funds from a year's worth of play to send their best and brightest to the big game. The WSOP is for everyone and anyone who has a grub stake and the cojones to sit down and match wits and skill with the best is invited.

No matter how much money you raise or how good your mother thinks you are at shooting free throws, you are not getting into the NBA finals. That's an exclusive club reserved for the select few. But, beg, borrow, or steal enough for an entrance fee and learn to play tight and be patient and you just might make it past a few levels in the World Series of Poker.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Rebuys and Add-ons – Poker Frenzy

Variety is the spice of life and the more different kinds of poker tournaments available to casino and online players the better. That being said, I am not a big fan of the rebuy poker tournament.

There are different kinds of rebuy tournaments and the ones I have the least amount of issue with are those that allow for a limited number of rebuys in a short period of time. Predictably, the ones I am least crazy about are those that allow unlimited rebuys during a long period of time.

I have always felt this way and as a result I avoid most rebuy tournaments but last week I enrolled in a PokerStars SCOOP tournament that allowed/encouraged rebuys. Let me be clear, this was probably the “perfect storm” of rebuy tournaments. You see, I reside in the USA and as such cannot play online poker for real money at PokerStars – PokerStars does not allow it and the US government does not allow it. But, in order to keep my poker skills from getting too rusty between my trips to Connecticut, New Jersey, or Las Vegas, I often play poker with “play money.” Following this latest rebuy experience I developed a little equation. It’s quite simple:

PT + OL + PM = D

Translation – A poker tournament (PT) which is online (OL) and for play money (PM) equals disaster (D).

Here is the scenario – Pony up 5000 worth of play money (which you can accumulate by good play after an initial donation from PokerStars (I forget how much) or you can now purchase millions of play chips for a few American dollars, and you are in the tournament. Rebuys (for 3000 or 6000 chips) up to the end of the SECOND break are unlimited and at that point you can purchase an add-on of 5000 chips. All of this made me so dizzy that I may not have the exact numbers right but you get the idea. Rebuys galore for at least an hour and a half.

Pandemonium! I played through two entire levels without ever playing a hand where someone at the 9 person table went all in and was called, often by multiple players. This, in my humble opinion, is not poker. I’m guessing that someone would have better odds spinning one of those huge casino carnival wheels over and over again until they hit the $100 spot.

Poker is a game consisting primarily (not entirely) of skill. In a rebuy tournament, especially one for low stakes or no stakes (play money) skill is reduced to zero.

We all know that casino chips are an illusion – created so that we players disassociate them from real money and consequently gamble more freely. Play money casino chips are a fantasy even greater than the original. Yet, I have played on play money tables (especially Sit n Go tables) where adversaries play pretty close to real life strategy and procedure. That’s enjoyable and a way to keep sharp until we can all play online for real. But a rebuy tournament erases all of that and is really just a waste of time.

Rebuy tournament strategy aside (most “experts” will advocate aggressive play that takes advantage of your ability to keep buying back in) the math of a rebuy tournament usually doesn’t add up or adds up very badly. Each rebuy, assuming it equals the cost of entry (if it’s less, the math is a little different but along the same lines) makes it increasingly more difficult to get your money back or make a profit.

 If a small tournament pays 150 places of nearly the amount of the buy in, after one rebuy a player would have to finish half or more as many places higher (somewhere between 70th and 80th) in order to come away with the same small profit. After two rebuys 40th place would get you your money back. Unfortunately, the mind set of many rebuy tournament players is “Everybody else is doing it; I might as well do it to.” The result is 150 or so players all needing to win outright to get their money back.

Rebuy tournaments are either a losing proposition for most or a frustrating hyper roller coaster ride for an average player. I try (I’m going to try even harder now) to stay away from them. You?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death by Colson Whitehead – A REVIEW

Colson Whitehead’s “assignment of a lifetime” started out as a project for a Grantland magazine article and ended up as a 200+ page opus detailing his experiences in and around the 2011 World Series of Poker. He willingly accepted their offer of the $10,000 entrance fee to the event in lieu of payment for the article with the understanding that any winnings, and any life experiences, would be his to keep.  Sadly, he walked away from the greatest event in the world of poker with nothing to show for it but memories and feelings, even though he’d be the first person to deny any emotional connection  whatsoever to all of this or to anything else for that matter.

What uniquely qualifies Mr. Whitehead as a poker player says he is “a good poker face,” a result of him being “half dead inside.” He spends the greater part of the book attempting to convince readers that he is devoid of feelings, drenched in a flood of depression, and a completely unsocial being – a card-carrying citizen of the gloomy, dismal Republic of Anhedonia (his brainchild). Yet, for one so depressed, so disheartened, so moribund, he has a cutting sense of humor and an uncanny ability to turn a phrase.

This is not a book that will appeal to anyone looking for a primer on poker strategy or playing tactics. Even Mr. Whitehead readily defers to those more capable of and more interested in imparting that kind of knowledge. He praises the work of Dan Harrington, Phil Gordon, and Doyle Brunson not daring to tread on those sacred toes but instead trying to absorb all that he can from their books in the months leading up to his trial by fire. Neither is this a book for those seeking a compact travelogue of a summer’s sojourn in Las Vegas. Nor is it a journey in one time or another through the world of poker in the eyes of a keen dispassionate observer like Al Alvarez or a journalist/player like James McManus.  No way.

What it is, though, is a series of impressions and kitschy references that will probably appeal more to the young savages of poker who have in the last few years replaced the older, honored cowboys and mavericks of the game. This is very much a Gen X book written by an accomplished member of that clan – for older dudes and dames some of this may not compute!

And, while we are on the subject of old people, Colson Whitehead has a few things to say:

On senior citizens on the bus trip to Atlantic City for one of his “practice” sessions – “Sometimes you have to accept a casino trip for what it really is: an opportunity to see old people. There were a lot of old people in poker rooms, genially buying in for a couple of hands before the Early Bird Special. I prefer to believe they were gambling with discretionary funds, enjoying their twilight years after a lifetime of careful saving, and not pissing away their Social Security. If I were an octogenarian looking for love, I’d hit the casinos. The dating pool is quite deep.”

Or his elder references in relation to Sit-n-Go tournaments – “Sit-n-Go’s were not, as I had mistakenly thought, adult diapers for poker players, so they don’t have to leave the table.”

And his observations of the AARP set at hotel check-in – “On our way to check-in, we passed the geriatric zombies in tracksuits installed at the slots, empty coin buckets overturned on their oxygen tanks. These gray-skinned doomed tugged on the levers, blinked, tugged again. Blink.Tug. Blink.”

Cruel?  Insensitive?  Demeaning? I don’t think so. Humor is the fondest form of flattery. Somewhere in Mr. Whitehead’s past I wouldn’t be surprised to find a loving grandmother or a sage of a grandfather.

On his way to the big show Mr. Whitehead realizes that his training thus far, a steady home game where everyone is more interested in sharing and talking than beating the other players to a pulp and a few college gambling forays, is totally inadequate so he engages the assistance of a few key helpers – a coach and a trainer. The coach, it turns out, is an inveterate tournament poker player herself, and more than playing the role of strategist and field commando, serves Mr. Whitehead well as a cheerleader and confidant. The trainer helps with posture, patience and breathing, skills needed to survive the grueling twelve hour days necessary to compete at the highest level in the poker world.

Often reiterating his disdain for all things social, including social media, Mr. Whitehead, nevertheless, seeks out and hangs with a variety of different characters all of whom have made it to some degree in the world of competitive poker. Enduring dinners, casual meetings in clubs and bars, and sundry discussions about poker, most of which he admits are way over his head, he eventually relents to the power of social media, Twitter in particular, in this poker niche. “I’d sent up a flare to alert people on Twitter re: my Vegas plans. . . Social media wasn’t usually my thing, as it had the word ‘social’ in it, but I’d taken to the platform after a personal tragedy. I had a cat, the cat died, and now what I used to say to my cat all day, I tweeted. It helped that 140 characters was roughly my preferred limit when it came to human interaction.”  That’s also about the length of any utterance smart players make at a poker table!

The last 70 or so pages of the book chronicle, in a more traditional sense than the rest of the book, Mr. Whitehead’s entrance into and eventual ejection from the Big Show  at Level 8 on Day 2 in an AA<KK show down with a killer K on the river. We’ve all been there and, depending on one’s mood at the time, it’s either a “good way to go out” or a “terrible way to go out.” One way or the other it’s better than being sucked under by the “Wave of Mutilation” – the relentless surge of the ever-increasing blinds. He’ll do it again, mark my words, if someone pays his way.

While Colson Whitehead’s qualifications as a premier poker player may be up for debate, his skills as a wordsmith (he’d never use that cloying term!) are not. The Noble Hustle is a text fugue, not for the faint hearted, and an acquired taste at best. Otherwise it’s an easy, enjoyable read for those who enjoy clever, sarcastic tomes. If you have a stick up your butt, don’t bother. If you enjoy a good belly laugh here and there, try it out.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The New York Casino Timeline

According to Cara Matthews (@caraloumatthews) of the Journal News, the Gannett outlet that serves Westchester, Rockland and Faiefield, CT counties, the heat is building in the quest for casino dominance in New York. As was sited here yesterday, the lines are being drawn very clearly with proponents and oponents lining up on all sides.

Eventually, as outlined in the Upstate NY Gaming Economic Development Act approved by voters and legislators alike, there will be four casino licenses granted - one in the Capital Region (essentially Albany), one in the Eastern Southern Tier (think Finger Lakes and points east), and one in the Catskills/Hudson Valley (those counties above Westchester, Putnam, and Rockland that border the Hudson River as far as Albany). One area is getting two casinos and all the smart money is on the Catskills/Hudson Valley area, the closest to New York City.

Although there have been 22 applications submitted at a hefty $1 million each there does not seem to be much community support anywhere with concerns about traffic, crime, stress on resources and infrastructure, and bogus job claims the most popular.

The Catskills investors have threatened to pull out if one of the licenses goes to a casino in Orange County, an area that is 45 minutes closer to New York City than the Borscht Belt. Time will tell although it may not heal all!

Here are the deadlines that have passed and what to expect from the future:

The Timeline

  • March 31 - State Gaming Commission issued request for applications
  • April 23 - $1 million application fee due
  • April 30 - Mandatory conference for applicants
  • Early May - State to set minimum investment amount for casino applicants
  • June 30 - Deadline for applications to be submitted
  • On or After July 21 - Oral presentation of applications
  • Early Fall - Selection of four facility operators
In other casino related local news, Journal reporter (@Ernie_G_journo) relayed the concerns that management at Yonkers Raceway's Empire City racino have with the possibility of a full-service casino less than 50 miles north of them. Up to now the Yonkers slot parlor has been easily able to compete with its closest competitor, Resorts World at Aqueduct Raceway a mere 30 minutes away barring a traffic snafu. The specter of a casino nearby with Blackjack, Craps, other table games and surely a poker room is scary.

The only hope that venues like Empire City and Resorts World have is to wait out the seven year moratorium on full-service casinos outside the economic development zones and then apply for the real thing.

More to come.


Saturday, May 3, 2014

New York Casinos . . . continued

The saga of who gets to open a casino in New York and where it will go continues on an almost daily basis with major gaming players like Caesars and Genting Americas doing their due diligence and trying to get local communities to buy in.

The Concord
 Of course, community buy in is a mixed bag with proponents and detractors aplenty. The most interesting development to date is the possibility that one or more casino operations will be located in Orange County. For those unfamiliar with New York geography, Orange County is a good deal closer to New York City than Sullivan County, the home of the Catskills resorts where casinos have been proposed at the site of the Concord and Nevele, formerly famous and popular summer resorts for city folks looking for a respite from the heat. The differences in driving distances are significant – from NYC to Tuxedo, NY in Orange County is 44 miles, less than an hour’s drive; from NYC to Kiamesha Lake, site of the Concord Hotel, is 95 miles, more like an hour 45 minutes ride. 

The Nevele
 The fear that potential investors for sites in Sullivan County have is that most gamblers coming from the south will opt for the shorter drive and dig into their business in a serious way. That is a legitimate fear. Gamblers are a fickle bunch. Regardless of the perks that casinos offer in an attempt to lure patrons to their buildings like points and comps, gamblers will choose convenience over value. In the long run, what one casino offers is very similar, if not exactly the same, as the next casino. A 45 minute drive will trump an hour 45 minute drive every time.

 All license applicants, and the State of New York for that matter, are touting the establishment of 4 new casinos in New York as a way to deal with high unemployment rates and a bleak economic picture for the areas in questions. That’s not happening and the Atlantic City experience should be the proof in that pudding. The new jobs that will be available in the casino industry for locals will mostly all be low-paying service jobs. Casino executives will be out-of-town residents and, in the case of Orange County, will most likely choose to reside in the far more stable counties south of Orange (Westchester in particular) and possible even NYC  proper. A cursory look at the income levels of most casino employees throughout the country reveals that few well-paying jobs will materialize.

There is some concern in all the potential communities where casinos are likely to be located about traffic and crime. The traffic concerns are real, and without major infrastructure improvements of roads and highway exits, may develop into nightmarish proportions. The drugs and crime arguments are more fear mongering than anything else yet these fears may result in more decent paying police jobs for the areas.

Local reporting is probably the most reliable on these topics so here are a few references and links from the Times-Herald-Record’s online version,