Author Archive for

26
Nov
10

More from me elsewhere

You may have noticed a lack of updates on Six Seven Suited recently. This is because I have moved a lot of my poker articles to Suite101.

Click here to read my thoughts on the safety of live poker in the light of recent events in Berlin, Cannes and Barcelona.

And if you want to scroll through my November Nine articles, you can find them here.

Happy reading,

 

Tom

29
Oct
10

Filippo Candio v Joseph Cheong – Capturing the Moment

Recently I wrote a piece about the balance between entertainment and information in televised poker, but now I feel it is time to look into another facet of broadcasting the game – the ability for television to completely alter our reaction to certain events.

Cast your mind back to July. The World Series of Poker was in full swing and likeable Californian Joseph Cheong was in cruise control at the head of the field. Then came a hand with the unknown young Italian Filippo Candio: Cheong set Candio all-in with aces on a flop of 5-6-6, and the 5-7 of the man from Cagliari made a straight on the river.

The vast majority of commentators were observing from behind computer screens, unable to make it to Las Vegas to give the action any sense of perspective. Their attitude towards Candio was far from complimentary.

While not going quite as far as basing their entire criticism on the player’s nationality, a subliminal xenophobia was present as criticism after criticism was levelled at the ‘Italodonk’. How could an intruder into the American-dominated World Series get away with such an inexcusable play and damage the hopes of one of America’s own?

Filippo Candio

This attitude was preserved – albeit less vocally – throughout ESPN’s World Series coverage. Judgement of Candio’s earlier televised plays was clouded by the one hand to follow, and moves which might otherwise be considered brave were deemed a sign of poor play by those keen to vindicate the opinions they had developed with minimal evidence.

Then, this week, the 5-7 hand was shown, in the full context of the day’s play. A clearly tired Candio had – a few minutes earlier – played a hand against Cheong where an innocent mistake cost him 1 million in chips on the turn and the ensuing tilt a further 2 million on the river.

The Sardinian was noticeably shaken by the incident, with the frustration arguably multiplied by his limited grasp of the English language and a related inability to fully express his concerns. Parallels might be drawn with Nikolay Losev, the Russian pro who suffered a meltdown after a run-in with Brandon Cantu in the 2008 Main Event.

Scotty Nguyen

Plenty of players – many far more experienced than Candio – have suffered blow-ups deep into the main event: Scotty Nguyen in 2007 and William Thorson the year before to name but two. To expect faultless play for eight straight days from a 26-year-old in his first ever World Series is, quite frankly, ridiculous.

Even if ESPN had wanted to present Candio as a villain, they would not have been able to. No amount of editing could have disguised the moment his heart sank as Cheong turned over his aces. Seconds later and the unmitigated joy he felt when the four of clubs hit the river is surely what televised poker was made for.

The romance of sharing in the happiness and good fortune of an individual to whom we had no prior emotional attachment captures the essence of televised sport in all its glory, be it a World Cup Final, tennis Grand Slam, Super Bowl or World Series of Poker. The difference in this case? Candio wasn’t even celebrating a victory, the river merely kept him alive in the tournament.

Imagine the reaction if he wins the whole thing.

26
Sep
10

World Series of Poker Europe Main Event – Day 2

The moment the clock struck midnight to signal the close of play, Phil Ivey got up from his seat and made his way out of the media spotlight.

He raced up the stairs of the Empire Casino, stepped out into Leicester Square, and disappeared into the cold London night.

Day 2 of the World Series of Poker Europe Main Event was mixed at best for Ivey, who is looking to add to the bracelet he picked up in a $3,000 H.O.R.S.E event in Las Vegas this summer.

Phil Ivey

The eight-time bracelet winner began the day well, racing into an early chip lead as his stack shot up to the 300,000 mark. He has since slipped back a little, but still sits comfortably in the top 10.

He is joined there by Andrew Pantling and David Peters, who both final-tabled the £2,500 6-max tournament won by Phil Laak, but the man everyone is chasing at the moment is Swedish sensation Viktor Blom.

The man believed by many to be online genius/maniac/degenerate gambler (delete as applicable) Isildur1 has amassed a monster-stack of 443,200 chips, a mere 1,100 ahead of Serbian pro Bojan Gledovic but a massive 70,000 clear of the rest of the stacked field.

Free from the attention of the TV cameras (which were largely focused on Ivey and table-mate Gledovic) and surprisingly free from any patches from online cardrooms, Blom seemed at ease, sharing jokes with the rest of his table.

A couple of big pots probably helped, including a superb read to all-but knock out Heather Sue Mercer, and a set-over-set encounter which saw him get the better of Jason Gray. But unlike last year, when a huge bluff-gone-wrong saw him eliminated from the tournament, Blom has been playing impeccable big-stack poker to increase his lead.

Elsewhere, a number of big names remain in contention for the penultimate World Series bracelet of 2010.

Barry Greenstein

Barry Greenstein, Hoyt Corkins, JP Kelly and Greg Mueller are among the bracelet winners remaining, while 1996 World Champion Huck Seed will be coming back for day 3, as will Daniel Negreanu, still in the hunt for a third successive final table in this event.

They will be joined at the felt by reigning Aussie Millions champ Tyron Krost, triple-crown winner Roland de Wolfe and November Niner John Dolan in what remains an incredibly tough field.

Unfortunately some other stars of the game did not make it to midnight with their chips intact. Dolan’s November table-mate Filippo Candio fell by the wayside, as did reigning champion Barry Shulman and bracelet-holders Mike Matusow, Praz Bansi and Phil Laak.

With a field so strong, it is near-impossible to centre in on one table as the toughest of them all, but table 13 is definitely staking a claim for that particular title:

Table 13
Seat 1: John Eames (152000)
Seat 2: David Baker (207000)
Seat 3: Vincent Chahley (122400)
Seat 4: JP Kelly (84900)
Seat 5: Rudy Blondeau (166700)
Seat 6: Huck Seed (147600)
Seat 7: Barry Greenstein (175300)
Seat 8: Thomas Bichon (257700)
Seat 9: James Bord (195000)

Sports bettor Bord, cheered on by friend and event 4 third-place finisher Andrew Feldman, will have his work cut out if he wants to make his second World Series of Poker final table.

Play is set to kick off again at noon today, and it will be interesting to see who emerges at the top once the money bubble has burst. Will Blom hang onto his lead? Will Ivey still be up there? Will Negreanu keep up his phenomenal main event run? We’ll have to wait and see.

06
Sep
10

Poker in the Park

Last week, the biggest names in the poker world descended on central London from all directions.

But while Phil Ivey, Erik Seidel and others headed to the Mayfair Hotel as the WPT visited Britain for the first time, the real excitement was taking place in Leicester Square.

Poker in the Park came to the capital for the third consecutive year, with some of the leading lights of British poker in attendance. EPT San Remo winner Liv Boeree opened the free poker festival, which got fans in the mood for the upcoming WSOPE Main Event and introduced countless locals and tourists to the game just in time for the showpiece event at the nearby Casino at the Empire.

Other players to get involved were Dave ‘Devilfish’ Ulliott, Paul Zimbler and Neil Channing, while Mel Judah and Andrew Robl made the journey over from Australia and America respectivly to offer free advice and anecdotes to wide-eyed fans in the Unibet tent.

But even among all the stars of the game, the biggest attraction was former World Heavyweight Champion Evander Holyfield. The boxer came along to promote Real Deal Poker, and fans could play for the chance to knock him out…of a single table tournament.

Holyfield played two tournaments in a purpose-built poker ‘ring’, and players could qualify by winning one of several half-hourly freerolls. While crowds gathered to watch the champ limp-raise with king-three offsuit, I got a chance to speak to Real Deal Poker CEO Gene Gioia, who explained the unique new online poker room.

Real Deal Poker uses a real deck of cards, including a cut card, in order to guarantee fairness for online players, something which Gene sees as very important.

“Players should demand that everything is transparent and fair, given the amount of money that’s at stake,” he said.

“I have been playing poker online for 10 years, and I didn’t realise how much enjoyment I lost from not entirely trusting the games. We want to make sure every game is a fair game, the way it should be.”

With companies like Real Deal Poker unable to complete on a level footing with established poker rooms who have bigger budgets, Poker in the Park provides a great opportunity for people like Gene to get their product known.

Another poker stalwart in town to promote a new venture was former WSOPE runner-up and CEO of Bidibot John Tabatabai.

He was a busy man throughout Friday, playing heads-up poker against a shark in the G Casino tent and taking on other poker pros in Red Hot Poker’s Ferrari simulator, while still finding time to share his expertise with fans in the Unibet lecture tent.

“I gave a talk last year as well, but I think it could have gone better so this year I changed it to a Q&A,” said the Welsh pro.

“I let people ask their own questions rather than coming armed with a script, although I did do a bit of a Channing and rambled on for a while,” he joked.

And John spent most of Friday drumming up enthusiasm for Bidibot, his penny-auction site which allows players to bid for credit in a whole host of poker rooms.

“Me and a couple of friends have been working on this for a year or two,” he said of the site, which launched only last week.

“We looked at other auction sites and thought: why can’t we do this for poker and other stuff that people want to get involved in but until now haven’t had the opportunity to bid on.

“Part of it is about trying to make poker more accessible to people who might not be able to afford to play in satellites – you can treat the bids as a cheaper way to satellite into a big event.”

And there was plenty of opportunity for newcomers to poker to get a taste for the game, with free tournaments whetting people’s appetite.

Bluff Europe ran a series of best-of-three heads-up battles on state-of-the-art poker machines, with winners getting the chance to compete for a trophy on a dealer-dealt final table.

Elsewhere Red Hot Poker and Unibet ran hourly freerolls, while Neil Channing and others offered free tuition in the Black Belt Poker tent.

But the real crowds were drawn to the Bodog poker dome, which offered hourly freerolls hosted by various poker rooms, with players treated to free massages from the Ibiza Angels during play. As well as receiving a trophy, winners of the shootout tournaments could get their photo taken with the beautiful Bodog girls.

Steve Bellis, of the Nuts Poker League, was the driving force behind one of these freerolls, and was impressed by how Poker in the Park has grown in his three years at the event.

“I really like how events like this make poker more accessible,” said Steve.

“The location is excellent, and it really does have something for everyone. Maybe in a few years time it could take over the whole park.”

And there were no shortage of suggestions for how the event might be improved next year.

Steve suggested adding a second event further north, to open up Poker in the Park to a whole new audience, while John Tabatabai devised a plan to bring fans from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the North of England down to London at no extra cost.

“It would be good to get buses down from poker clubs all around the UK,” he said.

“Maybe if you charged £1 to people who turn up on the day, you could use that money to fund these buses. That way we could get more of the sort of people we want coming down, as well as getting new people into poker.”

But perhaps the best suggestion came from Garth Borain, a poker fan who was at his first Poker in the Park after moving to London from Durban, South Africa.

“It’s nice that it’s free to the public, and I enjoyed playing in the freerolls, but it would be even better if they brought in a beer tent,” he said.

20
Aug
10

Televised poker: light entertainment or overblown reality show?

This week saw the second week of World Series of Poker Main Event coverage on ESPN.

The broadcaster had altered their coverage for the earlier events, adding a breakdown of position for each hand, and this was met with a mixed reception. Much of the criticism initially concerned the confusion which might arise in describing the blinds as “late position”, perhaps a mistaken attempt to simplify the concept of position for newcomers to the game.

While a small percentage of ESPN’s audience may be watching the World Series in an attempt to improve their game, they are almost certainly in the minority. A larger proportion of the viewership will be comprised either of those who already have a firm grasp of the game, or those who watch it purely for entertainment purposes.

WSOP presenters Norman Chad (l) and Lon McEachern

Those in the former category will be eager to point out the flaws in the approach – notably the fact that position is fluid and changes after the flop (an issue belatedly addressed after being ignored in the Players’ Championship coverage). The latter group, meanwhile, may be confused to the point they stop watching, reluctant to leave their comfort zone of watching the big pots and remarkable stories develop. Perhaps unsurprisingly therefore, the detailed positional analysis was gone by the time the main event shows came around, a simple ‘UTG+1’ in-hand graphic a tiny reminder of what we were missing.

This makes some sense, as it is no secret that footage of the World Series of Poker has in recent times begun to cater to a more mainstream audience. Hand analysis has taken something of a backseat as the programme becomes a platform for Norman Chad’s schtick, book-ended by fairytales and sob-stories which would make Simon Cowell blush. Detailed hand analysis has become the domain of podcasts and instructional videos, only occasionally creeping into even the more serious shows.

Indeed the mainstream appeal of World Series coverage is demonstrated by the fact that the programme goes out at prime-time in America. This is in stark contrast to British shows: in particular, the enduringly-popular Late Night Poker has remained late-night, failing to extend its appeal beyond the poker enthusiasts drawn to the show when it first came out.

Jesse May, the voice of UK poker

Even newer shows seem confined to the graveyard slot of midnight-1am, and broadcasters in this country seem more content with sticking to a moderately successful format than they do gambling on a style with a proven track record abroad. Something of a middle-ground has been established in some cases, with the enigmatic Jesse May recruited in an effort to provide larger-than-life American ‘excitement’ in the form of a raised voice and confused cries of ‘Holy Toledo’, but by-and-large the more subtle, low-key approach has been retained.

It is tough to gauge where we can go next in terms of televised poker, particularly with no noticeable intentions to replicate the grandiosity of the successful American format. Perhaps this goes hand-in-hand with the way poker is received in the UK, where there are few ‘celebrities’ in the game to draw an audience in the same way as Phil Hellmuth or Daniel Negreanu have done across the pond. Or maybe there is a fear that elevating poker beyond a diversion restricted to aspirational Euro-casinos or seedy backrooms may threaten the enviable tax-free status of the game.

Either way, for the time being we can be grateful for the choice we are afforded, allowing us to watch one of many British poker shows one week, and US-produced World Series or WPT broadcasts the next. Just think: it could be far worse.

10
Aug
10

Where do we go from here? – Cake Poker’s vulnerabilities

Online poker has been no stranger to controversy in recent years. Many believe the scandals at Absolute Poker and UltimateBet set the game back a few years, with some casual recreational players – perhaps the most common “donators” in the game – reluctant to trust a system under which seemingly blatant cheating went undetected for such a long period of time. Rather than placing trust in the fact that such cheating was eventually detectable, many may have been more eager to cry foul and explain away their losses – although of course the poker economy will have suffered as much through a failure to attract new players as through existing players dropping off the spectrum.

Perhaps equally significant is the realisation that the support or endorsement of a recognised pro can no longer be taken as a guarantee of safety. You need look no further than former World Series of Poker Main Event champion Russ Hamilton’s involvement with Ultimate Bet to understand that. In an age where television producers are peppering our screens with poker show after poker show, creating celebrities out of the likes of Negreanu, Hellmuth and Matusow (not to mention the appearances of Annie Duke and Jean-Robert Bellande on more mainstream shows The Apprentice and Survivor respectively), one might expect the idea of a name pro drawing punters to a poker site to be little more than a formality. However when some prospective players look, for example, at Antonio Esfandiari endorsing Victory Poker, they may be liable to think “what does he have to gain from this venture?”

It seems as though every time online poker looks to be playing itself back into the public’s good books, it takes another step back towards disrepute. The latest site to fall foul of a scandal is Cake Poker, whose security setup has been “exposed” by PokerTableRatings.com (PTR). The suggestion that “superusers” may be able to profit from seeing opponents’ hole-cards hearkens back to the Absolute Poker scenario, and Cake’s cardroom manager Lee Jones has seemingly been burdened with the task of placating critics.

Jones was – at least until recently – viewed by many as one of online poker’s “good guys.” Formerly occupying senior positions at Pokerstars and Cardrunners, few questioned Jones’ motives for joining Cake. And his supporters have by and large been vindicated in their trust up to this point, with the Bluff columnist taking an active role in answering queries and criticism on the Two Plus Two forums. But suspicions were raised when he was seen to be dodging some of the more difficult questions thrown his way.

Cake Poker cardroom manager Lee Jones

Before any more is uncovered about the situation at Cake Poker, it is only fair to look at Jones’ actions at face value. He certainly appeared to be trying his best to defuse the situation, using all the information at his disposal to respond to the queries of concerned players worried their money might be at risk. His failure to keep up the efficiency of his responses – while not in itself suggesting deceit or anything of the sort – certainly raises alarm bells. In an ideal world, all poker sites should be run with a degree of efficiency which ensures there are no “difficult” questions to answer. At the very least it should be easy for sites to deal with those questions which seem difficult at face value, and provide an explanation whenever pressed to do so. Given what has come before in the world of online poker, one man’s silence can often speak louder than even the most dubious excuse, particularly when preceded by such vocal attempts to provide a rational and thought-out explanation.

It could be the case that Lee Jones is a victim of his own efficiency and cooperation, suffering merely as a consequence of being so helpful and trustworthy in the past. We need to understand that this situation is different from minor faults and quibbles uncovered up to this point, and it is not unreasonable to expect those at Cake to take longer to provide answers in the light of their greatest challenge to date. The issue which perhaps should be at the forefront of our inquiring minds is the question of why Cake refused to cease operating once the flaws had been uncovered by PTR. In the long run, such an admission of concern would exonerate Cake’s management of any suggestions of negligence in allowing potential superusers to continue profiting from flaws which are now in the public domain. The longer behaviour like this continues, the more sceptics will look to put two and two together and make five. It is surely only a matter of time before unfounded cries of “inside job” begin to surface and Cake begins to be discussed in the same light as Absolute Poker or UltimateBet.

***

Cake have taken steps to protect their reputation in the last few days, with a comprehensive statement issued by Lee Jones going some way to clarifying the situation and revealing the reasons for some of the decisions taken. It remains to be seen whether this course of action proves to be well-received by those who initally questioned Jones’ prolonged silence. It is not unreasonable to think the level to which such a response is appreciated will correlate to the future security of Cake. That is to say, if no further problems surface, this explanation may be accepted, but Cake run the risk of further criticism if future problems lead critics to view such an explanation as merely compounding existing issues and sweeping concerns under the carpet.

Sites in Cake’s position should always be prepared to let their reputation take a hit from which they are able to recover, rather than sullying their good name to the point that their errors or misdemeanours spread through the rest of the game. Sometimes you must take a step back to continue moving forward.

26
Jul
10

A matter of life and death

The reputation of poker has always been on somewhat shaky ground. Its association with the crime-ridden saloons of the Old Wild West marks a precedent which some outsiders are still reluctant to look beyond.

This state of affairs is hardly helped by some of the players who fans take to their hearts as role models or ambassadors of the game. The “Prince of Poker” Scotty Nguyen displayed deplorable behaviour in winning the prestigious $50,000 H.O.R.S.E event at the 2008 World Series of Poker. The hero-worshipped Stu Ungar spent much of his adult life dealing with a crippling cocaine addiction and died ignominiously at the age of 45. French businessman Cyril Mouly – a wanted man in two countries – regularly plays in the highest-stakes poker games at the Bellagio and has a Facebook page set up in his honour, as if he were a figure of fun rather than a criminal. Even Archie Karas, a professional gambler who won and lost over $40million, had his degeneracy somewhat glorified in a feature on ESPN’s World Series coverage.

Archie Karas, "the gambler's gambler"

But all of these eccentricities and misdemeanours pale in comparison with the story of Ron Fanelli.

Known as the “Mad Yank”, Fanelli had been a popular figure on the London poker circuit before moving to Thailand. But recently his friends and acquaintances were shocked to hear he had confessed to the murder of a Thai prostitute.

Poker pro and journalist Victoria Coren wrote this touching article, assessing the situation from the perspective of a friend, rather than that of a fellow poker player. She touched on his demeanour at the poker table, but the focus of the piece – as it well should be – is that we sometimes think we know someone and then find out we were wrong.

In such circumstances, it is invaluable to have a reasoned perspective on matters, rather than jumping on any pro- or anti- bandwagons. Unfortunately, whether through a morbid fascination or a mistaken sense that any publicity is good publicity, posters on poker forums such as Two Plus Two have dwelled on Fanelli’s crime. Some simply express their shock, others search for humour in the situation. Few realise the implications of their actions.

van der Sloot confessed to murder in June

Parallels may be drawn with the case of Joran van der Sloot, prime suspect in the much-publicised disappearance of student Natalee Holloway, who confessed to the murder of Stephany Flores last month. Does it matter that van der Sloot was a recreational poker player? Of course not. But other recreational players, or even some professionals, may be keen to relate to the fame of such criminals by being able to say “I know that guy” when in truth they sat across from him in a poker tournament in Aruba for about ten minutes.

Whether down to an obsession with commercialised “true crime” figures or something far more sinister, the media and public focus on such stories of violent crime may be unavoidable. However, there should be no excuse for the poker aspect of these stories being jumped on as anything more than a mildly interesting footnote. In an age where efforts are being made to elevate the game to the status of an honourable profession, we should be seeking to do anything in our power to distance it from its ugly past.




Hi I’m Tom. I’m a freelance journalist, and I recently completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism at Cardiff University. In my spare time I like to play, watch and talk about poker. I hope you enjoy reading my blog.

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