Posts Tagged ‘WSOP

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.

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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.

07
Jul
10

World Series of Poker – Winners and Losers

So, the Main Event is upon us. That all happened rather quickly.

This year’s World Series of Poker has been unlike any other, with only one double-bracelet winner and a number of new faces bursting onto the scene.

There have been a number of talking points, not least Tom Dwan’s efforts to reshape the poker economy and Phil Hellmuth’s fruitless quest for bracelet number 12, culminating in the duo falling by the wayside just shy of the final table in the Pot Limit Omaha World Championship.

Of course, some have fared better than others in the 41st World Series, and I thought I’d take a look at the big winners and losers in Las Vegas this summer.

Winner #1 – Frank Kassela

The only man to win two gold bracelets at this year’s World Series, Kassela finally achieved the breakthrough he has threatened for several years.

The 42-year-old pro has been racking up decent results on the tournament circuit for a while, but none will be as rewarding as his victory in the Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo World Championship.

Incredibly, he followed up that result with another triumph in event #40, the $2,500 Seven Card Razz event, and came close to a third bracelet when he fought through an incredibly strong field to finish third in the $25,000 6-max No-Limit Hold ‘Em event.

Kassela’s World Series earnings this year top $1.2 million – not bad for someone who had never won more than $200,000 in one event before 2010.

Winner #2 – Allen Kessler

My second winner is the man who finished second to Kassela in that $10,000 event.

King of the min-cash, ‘Chainsaw’ Kessler is often a figure of fun around poker forum Two Plus Two. However he silenced his critics, achieving eight money finishes in this series including a $276,485 score for that second place.

If he can make a deep run in the Main Event, he will finish just one shy of Nikolay Evdakov’s record of 10 cashes, achieved in 2008. But what makes Kessler’s series even more remarkable is that his eight cashes have come in eight different variants of the game.

Winner #3 – Eugene Katchalov

The best player you’ve never heard of, Katchalov is best known for taking down nearly $2.5million at the WPT Five Diamond Classic in 2007.

Since then, the New Yorker has threatened to make a World Series breakthrough but bad luck and bad timing have stood in his way.

This year, however, Katchalov showed the poker world he is more than a one-hit wonder, reaching final tables in three $10,000+ buy-in events and falling just short in the $5,000 shootout event.

That elusive first bracelet still awaits, but this year’s performances suggest it will only be a matter of time before the 29-year-old pulls off the World Series result which those close to him know he is capable of.

Loser #1 – Chris Ferguson

The man known as ‘Jesus’ has endured a difficult World Series so far, and will need a deep run in the Main Event just to break even for the month.

Ferguson has only a handful of cashes from his 47 events, and he finds himself over $200,000 in the hole for the series, with a cash for $16,607 in the $5,000 NLHE Shootout representing a rather underwhelming highlight.

Still, at least the 2000 World Champion has his Team Full Tilt millions to fall back on. It’s a tough life.

Loser #2. Joe Cada

As the series got underway, all eyes were on last year’s Main Event champion. Sadly for Joe Cada, those eyes were soon distracted by players who actually achieved something this year.

After becoming the youngest ever world champion last year, Cada couldn’t repeat his success on the felt.

The stats speak for themselves: 3 events, 0 cashes, $29,000 in the hole.

Loser #3 – Yueqi Zhu

This should have gone down as a good WSOP for Yueqi ‘Rich’ Zhu. But five cashes, including a third-place finish in the Omaha Hi-Lo World Championship (netting him over $225,000) were overshadowed by one incident in the Limit Hold ‘Em Shootout.

Zhu was disqualified from the event for allegedly cutting a deal with an opponent during heads-up play on his first table, costing him $4.135, a shot a bracelet, and – most importantly – a chunk of his reputation.

Whatever the reason for the deal-making (and Zhu issued a statement claiming a floorperson refused to help out when summoned), it is the ignominy of the disqualification which will go down in poker history – a sad end to a World Series which had, to that point, been free of major controversy.

Honourable mentions:

  • Michael Mizrachi – ‘Grinder’ won the $50,000-buy-in Players’ Championship and final-tabled two $10,000 buy-in events
  • Vladimir Schemelev – little known Russian, absent from the World Series since 2007, made four final tables including a second-place finish behind Mizrachi
  • John Juanda – five cashes, four of which were for over $75,000. ‘Luckbox’ Juanda also bubbled the $25,000 event.

21
Dec
09

The Lost Boyd

Let me take you back to 2004. Poker was in the midst of the ‘Moneymaker Effect’, the world was captivated and confused in equal measure by Greg ‘Fossilman’ Raymer, and The Crew were set to take over the world.

Led by Russ ‘Dutch’ Boyd, and featuring an assortment of exciting young players including bracelet winners Brett Jungblut and Scott Fischman, The Crew were seen by some to be emblematic of the first wave of young internet pros.

But the game has passed them by somewhat, with Fischman the only member of the group close to keeping pace with the even younger and even more aggressive twentysomethings coming through towards the end of the decade.

Even Fischman’s final table at 2008s WSOPE Main Event pales in comparison to the expectations surrounding The Crew when they burst on to the scene in the first half of the decade.

Now Boyd is back in the news, but it’s not for his poker play.

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=scott+fischman&iid=1861118″ src=”0/1/d/3/NBCs_4th_National_b189.jpg?adImageId=9578592&imageId=1861118″ width=”428″ height=”594″ /]

Crew member Scott Fischman

……….

2+2=5

It emerged recently that the 29-year-old is being sued by popular poker forum Two Plus Two for trademark infringement, with regards to the domain name ‘twoplustwopoker.com’ which he registered in 2004.

Despite the name having expired, Two Plus Two owner Mason Malmuth continues to seek damages from Boyd for what he has described as a “blatantly infringing, bad-faith registration.”

As Boyd’s site – when it existed – offered links to other poker-themed websites, so it is easy to see why Malmuth would take issue with what he might see as an exploitation of the respected ‘Two Plus Two’ banner for Boyd’s personal gain.

So, what has caused someone like Boyd, who once had the potential to let his poker do the talking, to find himself back in the headlines for all the wrong reasons?

Spot of bother

This is not the first time controversy has courted the University of Missouri graduate. Back in 2001, before his WSOP breakthrough, his ‘PokerSpot’ online cardroom landed him in all sorts of difficulties.

When PokerSpot closed down, it was alleged that the company failed to return players’ funds to the tune of around $400,000.

After months of silence, during which a number of players were unable to withdraw funds from the site for a variety of reasons, Boyd provided this open letter.

And the main issue to this day is arguably not the failure to recompense people who deposited money on PokerSpot per se, but rather the alleged reneging on promises – that’s right, promises – that the money would be returned.

Of course I’m just playing devil’s advocate here, but if this money is still yet to find its way back to its rightful owners, then might Boyd be able to pay back any existing debts with the money earned through his more recent venture twoplustwopoker.com?

Dutch courage

It is certainly true that the online game is not what it once was. The top players are increasingly aggressive, the pots are getting bigger, and the variance is growing to unprecedented levels.

And while many pros have no trouble making money from the online game, several of them have begun looking elsewhere to generate a more steady income to augment the money they make playing poker.

Howard Lederer, once one of the best players in the world, has arguably found it hard to compete with the best of the best as the structure and makeup of the game has changed.

But he is now seemingly set for life due to his involvement with Full Tilt Poker, a company which brings in many millions a year for the 14 pros who make up ‘Team Full Tilt.’

With this in mind, Boyd’s early venture with PokerSpot showed him to be ahead of his time. But the bottom line is it didn’t work out for him, in terms of income and reputation.

And surely the best option for Boyd is to stay away from controversy, stay out of the headlines, and go back to doing what he does best so he remains well-known as a poker player.

At this stage I do not want to say too much, as as far as I can tell the talks between Boyd and Malmuth are still ongoing and the argument – if not necessarily ‘raging’ – is still very much alive.

All I feel justified to comment on so far is the fall from grace of a player who had the potential to become one of the game’s greatest.

Now, unless a resolution can be found, it looks as though Boyd may be travelling down the same road once trodden by his namesake Russ Hamilton – a road which may end in him being remembered for something other than his poker ability.

And I think we can all agree that this would be a huge shame, as – regardless of the dated and sometime-ridiculous marketing of the crew – there is no doubting the talent and intellect of Dutch Boyd.

Scott Fischman’s website: http://www.scottfischman.com/

Howard Lederer profile: http://www.fulltiltpoker.com/howard-lederer

Team Full Tilt: http://www.fulltiltpoker.com/our-team

11
Nov
09

Congratulations Joe Cada – 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event winner

So, after a marathon final table, the World Series of Poker 2009 has come to a close.

Congratulations to Joe Cada, who – at 21 – has become the youngest player to claim the world title.

But it was not easy for Cada to break Peter Eastgate’s record. He had to survive 17-and-a-half hours of play just to reach the final two.

And, despite holding a dominant lead over Darvin Moon after eliminating Antoine Saout in 3rd, the pendulum swung back and forth over the 86 hands of heads-up play before Joe’s pocket nines held against Darvin’s queen-jack of diamonds.

World champion Joe Cada is mobbed by his team of supporters

It marked the end of a remarkable comeback for Cada, who was down to under 2.3 million in chips at one stage during the final table.

But the 21-year-old managed to fight back with a lot of nerve and a bit of luck to take the crown.

A long and winding road

In the lead-up to the final table, all the talk was of Phil Ivey, and whether he could reaffirm his tag as the best player in the world by taking the title.

It was not to be, however, as Moon got lucky when his ace-queen outdrew Ivey’s ace-king to send the Vegas pro packing in seventh place.

Phil Ivey hoped to be celebrating an eighth WSOP bracelet, but at 32 his chance will surely come again

Before Ivey’s exit, two other players had hit the rail after two very different aces-vs-kings encounters.

First out was James Akenhead. After having his chip-stack decimated when his kings ran into Kevin Schaffel’s aces, Cada finished him off to send the Londoner home $1.2million richer.

The next to follow was Schaffel himself. He looked to have put himself back in contention to win the event when he moved all-in with aces again and got a call from Eric Buchman’s kings.

But if the king on the flop wasn’t demoralising enough, Buchman made four of a kind on the turn to end the 52-year-old Floridian’s dream of Main Event success.

And then there were six

Following Ivey out of the door was Steve Begleiter. The former Bear Stearns exec was few people’s favourite to win after making some questionable plays en route to the November Nine, but he seemed to have improved his game after receiving coaching from multiple WPT champion Jonathan Little.

And ‘Begs’ was hugely unlucky in a hand against Saout, where he made a wonderful call on the flop with second pair against the Frenchman’s flush draw only for Saout to leave the New Yorker drawing dead after a third heart hit the turn.

To compound his ill-fortune, he got the last of his chips in with pocket queens against Moon’s ace-queen, but gt outdrawn once again.

Jeff Shulman was unable to emulate his father Barry's success, but he should be pleased with his performance

Next out the door was Jeff Shulman. The 34-year-old pro, who had finished 7th in 2000, didn’t really put a foot wrong throughout the final table. He played a patient game, no doubt influenced by the coaching of former world champion Phil Hellmuth, but it was not his day.

Shulman still managed to get his chips in with the best of it when his pocket sevens led against Saout’s ace-9, but a 9 on the flop ended his main event agonisingly short of the $8.5million first prize.

Crunch time

Eric Buchman must have thought the bracelet was his to lose after his elimination of Schaffel early on, and the New Yorker continued to bide his time and stay out of trouble throughout the early proceedings.

But he opened up his game when the tournament got four-handed, and lost a monster pot with ace-queen against Saout’s ace-king and exited soon after.

Yet again it was a questionable call from Moon which ended a player’s tournament, after the logger’s king-jack outdrew Buchman’s ace-five to send the 30-year-old back to New York with over $2.5million.

With three players left, Saout was most onlookers’ favourite to claim the crown, but two pivotal hands sent the chip-leader crashing out in third place. Who knows what would have happened if the Frenchman’s pocket queens had held against Cada’s pocket twos, or if his eights had held against Cada’s ace-king?

Antoine Saout probably deserved better than third place for his play

The final countdown

But in the end that coinflip ended Saout’s main event. He had turned an original stake of $50 into $3.5million, but still had cause to feel disappointed.

And his exit left Moon and Cada to fight it out for the bracelet. At the start of heads-up play Moon’s stack had barely deviated from the $58.93million with which he started the final table, while the chips of the other eight players had somehow all found their way to Cada.

Despite being less than half the age of his opponent, Cada’s greater experience of heads-up play (as well as his chip advantage) made him a strong favourite to defeat Moon, but it was far from easy.

The chip-lead swung back and forth over nearly three hours of play between the two rivals, but in the end Cada edged across the finish line and stepped into poker history.




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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