Posts Tagged ‘Poker


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,




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.


Up top Down Under

This weekend will see the Australian Open, tennis’ first grand slam of 2010, come to a close in the sweltering heat of Melbourne Park.

However, on the other side of the city, an equally important tournament is taking place at the famous Crown Casino: The Aussie Millions.

The links between poker and tennis are quite close, and go much further than Caroline Wozniacki’s friendship with her fellow Dane Gus Hansen, who recently lost a reported €1.4million betting on Rafael Nadal to win the 2009 French Open.

Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniacki

While noted tennis pros such as Boris Becker and Yevgeny Kafelnikov have been seen taking to the felt, you may not know that some of poker’s biggest names were promising tennis juniors.

If things had turned out differently, the likes of David Benyamine and Patrik Antonius could have easily found themselves spending their summers on the green grass of Wimbledon rather than the green felt of Las Vegas.

Indeed Benyamine, now a regular at the ‘Big Game’ in Bobby’s Room, was one of the top tennis prospects in France before injury curtailed his career.

So what has prompted the love affair between poker and tennis?

Anyone for…poker?

On the face of things, the two could not be further apart. One is a physically exhausting endeavour, while the other is one of the sternest tests of mental agility.

But if you dig beneath the surface, the similarities are there for all to see.

Tennis is one of the few major sports focusing on individual achievement rather than team effort. As such, it requires a great amount of self-confidence and self-motivation for anyone to reach the top.

The same goes for poker, where ego is often your friend not your enemy. Mike Matusow, after a number of trials and tribulations, has publicised the importance of taking a positive mental attitude with you to the table, and this strategy has served him well.

Another aspect common to the two pursuits is a willingness to do everything within the rules to increase your chances of winning.

No, I’m not talking about bluffing. I’m talking about what some people in poker circles refer to as ‘angle-shooting.’ It happens in tennis too, you know.

David Benyamine has excelled at both poker and tennis

Since the advent of the Hawkeye system, this has only increased. While the system makes the game fairer in some respects, eliminating the margin for human error which has infuriated the likes of John McEnroe in the past, it also adds to the uncertain morals played out on the sport’s mental battleground.

Now challenges can be made simply to disrupt the rhythm of opponents, or to allow oneself more time to recover between points. It’s all another way of generating even the slightest of edges.

Meanwhile, the mind-games element of poker perhaps reached their logical conclusion at an EPT event last year, in a hand between Roland de Wolfe and Tobias Renkemeier.

After seeing his bet called on the river, charismatic English pro de Wolfe announced ‘king-high’ but declined to reveal his second card. German youngster Renkemeier, fully aware of the rules, demanded his opponent turn over the other card or else send his hand into the muck.

De Wolfe opted for the latter, at which point the German jubilantly slammed his cards down on the table, revealing only queen-high. He could not beat king-high, but the Englishman’s actions meant that Renkemeier, as the only player technically left in the pot, won the hand.

It may have been a morally questionable move, but rules are there to be exploited.

And that demonstrates why poker and tennis are so closely aligned. To get to the top of either you need a never-say-die attitude, a good balance of ego and talent, and a willingness to do whatever it takes to win.


Beating the rush

This week, Full Tilt Poker made an announcement they feel will change the dynamics of the online poker world.

Rush Poker, the company’s new brainwave, will see the waiting time between hands minimised as players are moved to a different table and dealt new cards as soon as they fold.

Former world champion Chris Ferguson has described Rush Poker as ‘the greatest innovation in online poker since poker started on the internet.’

2000 World Series of Poker champion Chris 'Jesus' Ferguson

Still, putting superlative statements from Team Full Tilt members to one side, Rush Poker is definitely something to be excited about.

Original November Niner Scott Montgomery famously described himself as being part of the ‘ADD Generation’, and this new strand of the game should help to tackle issues of patience and concentration within the game.

Many players get bored playing one table at a time online, and some have resorted to multitabling to get round this issue.

And this emphasises how much of a risk Full Tilt are taking with the introduction of this new system.

With some former-multitablers trying out Rush Poker as an alternative, the site may lose rake on tournament and cash table entries.

But the company must feel confident that they can attract more players from rival sites: players who (a) want to be among the first to try out this new and exclusive system, and (b) have until now seen multi-tabling as a necessary inconvenience, and believe they have something to gain from Rush Poker.

More than just a hobby

There is, however, one element of Rush Poker which I would consider to be a potential stumbling block.

Players like myself, who have something of a superiority complex at the table, value their ability to pick up on reads and patterns.

This is particularly true of players in the higher echelons of the game (myself not included, sadly), as evidence by the amount of money spent on programmes like Sharkscope which give insights into the history or playing style of opponents.

Furthermore, the recent controversy surrounding Brian Hastings and his fellow Team Cardrunners members exchanging hand histories before Hastings took on online prodigy Isildur1 demonstrates how the best players in the world like to look for ‘tells’ away from the live circuit.

Brian Hastings recently won over $4million with the help of hand histories

With the advent of Rush Poker, the ability of players to ‘do their homework’ is diminished. They will face different opponents every hand, leaving them insufficient time to pick up on their rivals habits and eccentricities at the table.

On the basis of this, it is difficult to see Rush Poker having a significant impact on the ‘nosebleed’ games, or even on mid-stakes tournaments.

One can only assume, therefore, that Full Tilt will be targeting the lower-level games, where the rake is higher and their is more money to be made. It would seem that they are confident enough of generating significant revenue to overcome the diminishing returns from multitabling.

It will be interesting to see if Rush Poker takes off. And, if it does, how will Full Tilt’s competitors respond?


Tiger Woods and Phil Ivey – a lesson in media management

It has emerged recently that Phil Ivey, one of the best and most famous poker players in the world, has been granted a divorce from his wife Lucaietta.

Phil Ivey with ex-wife Lucaietta

This news marks a sour end to a productive 12 months for Ivey, who won two World Series bracelets and reached the final table of the main event in Las Vegas.

Ivey’s nickname is ‘The Tiger Woods of poker’, and many commentators will be afforded a wry smile at these recent developments coming to light so soon after Woods’ own marital problems.

However – unlike the American golfer – Ivey may feel he deserves more privacy during what is hardly likely to be an easy time for him.

Comparisons will inevitably be made between Ivey's divorce and Woods' marriage to Elin Nordegren

Throughout his career, the California-born pro has made efforts to separate his private life from his professional life, so as not to put any unnecessary stress or attention on Lucaietta or indeed on his parents.

Consequently, any biographical article on Ivey will focus on his numerous poker achievements, and many will say this is the way things should be.

It therefore seems unlikely that fans or outside observers will delve too deeply into his marital situation.

Tiger Woods has lost a number of sponsorships, including a multi-million dollar deal with Gillette

Some might say that Woods is undeserving of the criticism and media attention which has come his way since allegations of unfaithfulness first surfaced.

But the fact is he has – through signing up to multi-million sponsorship deals with the likes of Gillette and American Express – set himself for public scrutiny.

In contrast, the one major endorsement deal to come Ivey’s way is his involvement with Full Tilt Poker, and it is stretching it a little to even call this an endorsement deal.

Instead, I would argue that it is more comparable with Woods’ deals with Titleist and Nike, whose relationship with the golfer fits in with his professional life.

And, to go one step further, Ivey’s position as one of the Team Full Tilt partners arguably alters his association with the company to an altogether professional relationship, in that any promotional work he does directly benefits a group to which he belongs rather than an external party paying him to indirectly boost its own bottom line.

Ivey's relationship with Full Tilt Poker will remain unaffected by his divorce

Some might argue that poker is an easier profession in which to keep a low profile, as its popularity is yet to reach the same heights as golf and other more mainstream sports.

But let us compare Ivey to his namesake and counterpart Phil Laak, whose relationship with Family Guy actress Jennifer Tilly is well-publicised.

Indeed Ivey himself is well-known worldwide, yet by distancing his wife from the poker world he has kept her out of the spotlight.

Jennifer Tilly and Phil Laak, arguably poker's most famous couple

Furthermore, few golfers’ wives are as well-known as Woods’ other half Elin Nordegren: despite no outward efforts to put her in the public eye, their relationship was reasonably well-documented even before the recent developments.

And, while Woods has arguably taken his sport to new heights in terms of popularity and TV viewing figures, such advances have not forced his counterparts at the top of the game to generate such a high media profile.

Although Woods’ supporters might argue that the press are responsible for the attention given to his private life, it is a two-way system and the likes of Ivey have shown that – if you don’t want anyone delving into your life away from the green grass or green felt – you can make every effort to ensure you get this kind of privacy.

Of course, I would never wish ill fortune on anyone away from the sporting arena, even if I may cheer against them on the field of play.

But I think the respective cases of Woods and Ivey are useful in showing the realms of golf and poker – and the sporting world in general – that there are two ways of going about your business.

And, in an analogy which resonates with the professions of both men, when you take risks you have to be prepared to take the rough with the smooth.


Ad of the decade

Hi there,

It’s been a while since my last post. The poker world has not been moving at such a whirlwind pace since the WSOP finished.

But now I will return to the fray with a post inspired by a debate raging in the Cardiff Journalism School newsroom – what is the TV advert of the decade?

This of course follows on from debates about the Sporting Icon of the Decade and the Album of the Decade.

After Ciaran Jones started proceedings, I have decided to throw in my two cents – I feel there can be only one winner in this debate:

A good advert has to be snappy, memorable and easily tieable to the product it is advertising. My choice has all these things.

When you add into the mix humour and a recognisable celebrity face, you can see that Full Tilt’s offering has all the ingredients needed for a classic ad.


Death of a true great

In lieu of a traditional blog post this week, I thought I would pay my respects to Annie Negreanu, the mother of top poker pro Daniel ‘Kid Poker’ Negreanu.

Annie passed away in her sleep in the early hours of Monday morning, after a long illness

Annie Negreanu celebrating with her son after his World Poker Tour victory

Daniel and his mother were very close, and no one would begrudge him some time away from poker as he comes to terms with his loss.

Annie, always a bubbly and friendly character suffered a heart attack earlier this year and, in her son’s words, ‘Has been through a lot.’

She was a devoted mother, caring for her son and cooking him and his poker-playing friends delicious food.

And, far from taking her for granted, Daniel has used his relationship with his ‘mama Negreanu’ as an example which he sets out for others to follow.

So all that remains to be said is RIP Annie

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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