Monday, May 26, 2008

I Can Has $5K Month (With Rakeback) Playing $100NL?

I'm a bit close to overdosing on teh poker after taking advantage of the long weekend to grind out a ridiculous number of hands in a mad push to get to 50K hands, so I thought I'd shut it down for a bit, as I'm just a bit over 45K hands at the moment and pretty happy with where things are at.

Here are the stats so far from my binge of playing $100NL this month, 4-6 tabling (more heavily with the 6 tabling from hands 20K-40K), which honestly are pretty surprising to me in all sorts of ways:

Total hands: 45,610
Amount won: $3,972
Rakeback: $713
PTBB/100: 4.36
$/hr.: $25.57

I've played full ring tables the whole month, with stats of 15/11/2.5 as far as VPIP/PFR/AF.

I've run slightly on the good side, but not crazily so, and PokerEV was pretty much a wash (when I was still using PT2, as I can't get it to work with PT3.)

Stepping back a bit and poking around on some random threads on 2+2, the interesting thing (to me at least) is that there's not much remarkable in the above numbers. If you're willing to park your ass in a chair and can grind out hands playing pretty straightforward ABC poker, you can make pretty decent money.

Hmm. Interesting.

Obviously this is something I knew, but I think I underestimated just how straightforward you could play at small stakes NL games and still make a decent amount of money. I definitely trend towards the nittier side, as evidenced in the above stats, and I'll sometimes put in 2,000-3,000 hands in a day and never attempt a single three barrel bluff, and can usually count the total number of two barrel bluffs without using my toes.

Despite that (or maybe because of it), it's proving fairly easy to extract a sum of money from the games that makes me pretty happy when everything is said and done. With close to zero stress, too, as the sums involved are more than manageable at the $100NL level.

Lest I sound like everything has been rosy and a steady upward graph, there were some pretty ugly chunks in that 45,000 hand sample. I had a break-even stretch of about 8K hands (down 7 buy-ins in about 2K hands to start off that stretch), and also managed to lose 5 buy-ins in 5 minutes at one point.

It's not exactly exciting poker at the $100NL level, and I can already find myself slipping into a pretty predictable default mode of play that'd get eaten alive at $400NL and upward, but money is money is money. The weird thing is that I'm still fairly jazzed about playing and grinding out hands, as I've been able to keep my head in the place where I can equate x number of hands with y profit, so it's just a matter of getting in the hands, making more correct clicks with the mouse than incorrect clicks, and letting the results follow.

So yeah, long story short, yay poker so far in this grinding out many hands experiment. Not really sure what the plan is after the 50K mark, as I'd honestly be fairly happy for now if I could churn out similar results on a regular basis at $100NL, as far as $4K-$5K months. The tentative plan is to put in another 50K or so hands and try stepping up the tables to 8-10 at a time, then bumping up to $200NL. Based on some of the 2+2 SSNL regular threads, there are more than a few people making very nice livings from just grinding 10-12 tables of $200NL, and I can think of many worse ways to make filthy lucre.

Planning on getting some more posts up shortly as far as adjustments I've made this time around and some other more nuts and bolts things.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Dirty Sanchez Tacos: More Than Just Lip Service

While you're enjoying Memorial Day Eve, here's a little reminder of exactly the sorts of freedoms that are worth fighting for, such as your Jebus-given right to start your very own taco truck business:

That's 100% real, with said truck sitting in parking lot at a storage facility here in Austin where a friend snapped that pic with his cell phone. For realz.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

PokerTracker 3 and Recommended NL Reading

First, a request, and then my thoughts on PokerTracker 3, which I've had up and running for a few days.

(Two posts in one day! Both about poker! Brimstone falling from the sky!)

I've been way, way out of the loop as far as keeping up on poker books of late, especially the rash of books focusing on NL cash games. I know there's a bunch of them out there now and various opinions as to the relative worth. If people could chime in with their thoughts on what to buy and what to avoid, I'd greatly appreciate it.

As far as PT3, I'm kind of surprised to find myself reporting that after 4 days or so of running it, I'm a little disappointed. I've never used Hold'em Manager so I can't compare and contrast the two, but PT3 has been a bit of a letdown.

On the bright side, you get more data points to work with, including 3 betting/4 betting stats and some more very usueful statistics that you can include in your HUD. The PokerAce HUD is now built into PT3, which is definitely an improvement and removes one layer of complexity as far as getting real-time HUD data when you play.

PT3 also has some nice new bells and whistles such as the ability to graph your results, more easily track results on various sites, and (to my eyes at least) an overall look that is much cleaner, easier to use, and sophisticated looking. It looks more like a professional software application and less like a cool utilitarian tool some poker player came up with to help them make more money at the tables.

My biggest issue is that it seems to eat a ton of resources when I'm trying to play 4-6 tables with the HUD on, to the point of everything freezing and causing me to time out occasionally (usually when I try to add a fourth, fifth, or sixth table). Based on assorted topics in the support forum, this seems to be a common issue, as there are many HUD related bugs and issues still unresolved at the moment. Which would make sense, as this is the first release that tries to integrate the two into one product, but so far its been painful to the point of frustration for me, leaving me longing at times for the days of yore when each product ran smoothly enough on its own.

On a related note, I'm running into the same resource issue when I'm datamining tables and auto-importing observed hands. Since I'm not playing there are no playability issues, but datamining 16 FT tables renders my computer otherwise useless as far as the resources that are gobbled (and we're talking a dekstop that's about 1 year old and not a complete PC dinosaur), something that never happened to me with PT2, when I could datamine to my heart's content and still work normally on my desktop as far as using other various applications. Not so much with PT3, even after turning off the HUD and fiddling with assorted settings that I can find. Datamining observed hands is still possible and works fine, I just can't do anything else on my desktop while datamining.

Not huge issues, really, as far as my gripes, and hopefully something that can be cleaned up in future releases. My overall feeling of slight disappointment is also likely a bit due to the levels I'm playing, as I can definitely see how the addition of some of the stats (especially 3 and 4 bet percentages, 3 and 4 bet call percentages, etc.) could be very, very valuable, to the point that you could overlook other issues. At the stakes I'm playing the additional stats just aren't that useful or indicative of much, but for higher stakes those could be huge.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been...

It's a little bit disturbing that grinding out a ginormous number of hands at .50/1 NL has somehow gotten me excited about poker again but hey, there you go...

The human mind is an interesting thing. Especially in regards to its ability to complete all sorts of mental gymnastics and hocus pocus to convince you something is true despite all evidence to the contrary. And you believe it, because its your brain, and cause and effect get lost in a jumbled tangle until all you've got is this thing you believe is true, because you told yourself it was true enough times.

Playing poker of late definitely takes me back to the days of yore (or, you know, late 2004) when I was very much afflicted by the poker bug, wide-eyed and eager to come home after work every day and fire up a bunch of micro-limit LHE tables. Exciting, heady times, trying to build up my wee little bankroll, reading any and everything I could get my hands on, reading poker blogs and forums, you name it. Very excited about poker. Very focused. Very much enamored by the idea that I'd happened upon a readily exploitable system that could produce steady, increasing profits.

If you haven't guessed it by now, money is a good motivator for me. I could lie and say its not the chief motivator in my life, but, well, you know... The lure of money plus a competitive nature (and a genuine love of playing cards) made poker pretty much the perfect receptacle to pour all sorts of energy and thought into. I was definitely playing with an eye on net profits but much of the enjoyment came from exploiting the system, learning the steps necessary to slowly and steadily grind down the opposition and, in the long run, beat the hell out of their ass and bankroll. That's what really got me off, in the end, more than the dollar signs.

I worked my way up through the limits, played lots of poker, made money, and all was seemingly well. Eventually I was playing 15/30 and 20/40 full ring LHE on Party (insert obligatory wistful teary eye), booking fairly steady profits but not really crushing the games. I had plenty of cash floating around online due to affiliate cash I was raking in so there was really no finacial pressure on me to improve poker-wise. There also was a ton of fishy dead money up for grabs back in the day that inflated my results and others, taking players who'd probably be marginally profitable/break even these days and turning them into pretty decent winners back in the days of yore.

Long story short, I got fat and lazy, poker-wise. I started taking stupid shots, playing 50/100 and 10/20 NL, largely as a defense mechanism to the games getting tougher and to compensate for my own laziness. I started propping, playing 6 max games because that's where the cool kids were making all the money, jumping into big buy-in MTTs looking for big scores, chasing anything that seemed to offer a potential big payoff. I stopped grinding and trying to improve because, well, that's not much fun, and let my brain convince me that I didn't want to be that guy who was obsessed with poker, that I'd already put in my time and had to have the tools necessary to play profitably.

Since I wasn't enjoying the game as much, there must be a reason (and surely that reason must be un-related to me) so hey, let's find some reasons. Plenty of mouth-breathers are steadily crushing the online games for huge profits when I'm treading water, so there's got to be a reason. Being married with assorted financial obligations is what's holding me back. That's the ticket. Having a life and being a well-rounded, active primate is holding me back from obsessively trying to improve. Yup. Poker is just a hobby for me, so who cares, have fun. Exactly.

So for quite awhile (years, even), I managed to not only trick myself into not connecting the dots, but blinded myself to the dots themselves. What I really enjoyed about poker wasn't so much the desired net result (more mobneys in my bankroll) but the process itself, when you're working hard and grinding out profits. Using my smarts (limited as they may be at times) to consistently profit from the mistakes of others, over and over and over. And it's taken some serious grinding at the .50/1 tables to remind me of all that, of what I really enjoyed, as silly as that sounds.

I'm actually enjoying working my way through Cardrunners videos, to the point that I almost hesitate to play, even at .50/1, as I feel like I learn something each day/week that adds an incremental amount of +EV to my chips. I actually enjoy datamining the hell out of the tables, enjoy being able to sit down with a wealth of stats and information made possible by tricknology and my willingness/ability to incorporate it into my play. I love the fact that poker allows you to both vicariously and directly enjoy idiots acting like idiots, right in front of you, time after time after time, if you have the right tools and skills to recognize it.

I can't say stakes are unimportant, as I'm not sure I could muster the same enthusiasm at the .02/.04 tables, but I've been surprised at my patience so far. I want to get 50,000 hands in at .50/1 and see where I'm at, and I've got about 15,000 more to go. My bankroll was fairly healthy before I began this whole project, plus I had some decent scores the last week in FTOPS satellites (all of which I unregistered from and took the cash), so I could sit $2/4 if you subscribe to the old timey notion that 20 buy-ins are a sufficent roll, but for once in my poker life I'm not feeling the pressure to push the envelope.

Beating up on players at the .50/1 tables isn't exactly something to brag about, and I'm the first to admit that, so it's with more than a little hesitation that I hit the "Publish Post" button on this. The ego cringes a bit to babble endlessly about the joy of getting home and cranking up some .50/1 tables, but that's exactly where I find myself these days, for better or for worse. An odd place, granted, and a pretty strange circular journey, but not the worst place to be all things considered.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Gentlemen, We Can Rebuild Him...

Who's put in about 20,000 hands over the last 2-3 weeks at the .50/$1 NL full ring tables? Why, umm, that'd be me.

It surprises me too. As far as the explanation for such insanity, well, I'm not sure there's a big honking direct one, but more an accumulation of lots of many smaller indirect ones.

I guess more than anything I just got weary of playing less-than-good poker. Lazy poker. Not bad poker necessarily but just poker in which I took no part of the process all that seriously, as far as the results, the effort I put into it, expectations, etc. Which honestly isn't a bad way to approach the game, if you're content with that, as it makes it a hell of a lot more enjoyable and less time-consuming.

But in the end I couldn't help but be a little disgusted with myself, especially given my competitive and stubborn side. Trips to cover assorted WPT tournaments also helped on the motivation side, as far as occasionally running into not-the-finest-specimens of either intelligence or general humanity who are able to consistently pull large sums of money out of the game of poker. I just felt more and more embarrassed as time went by that I'd not only stalled out poker-wise but laid down, taken a nap, stumbled back a few steps, took another nap, considered waking up, but decided to sleep some more.

So I signed up with Cardrunners a month or two ago and dusted off PokerTracker/PokerAce, and basically just tried to start fresh, seeing how many hands I can comfortably grind out, trying to unbreak myself of past bad habits, learn better new ones, all that happy fun crippety-crap.

Grinding .50/$1 was kind of hard at first as far as getting motivated about the stakes, but that's the old thinking rearing its ugly head, and if anything I should probably have stepped down another level while retooling things a bit and absorbing as much info as my tired old poker brain can handle. I've honestly been a bit surprised by the results even at .50/$1 NL, as I'm averaging $20-$25/hr (including rakeback) running 4-6 tables at a time, which isn't bad for those stakes.

No real goals in mind, as far as plans to crush X limit for Y big bets before moving up to Z limits, etc. Just trying to get back to not playing like a impatient monkey and hopefully making a little bit o' scratch at the tables. So far so good but we'll see if it takes or not.

Monday, May 12, 2008

What I Would Do If I Owned a Company Called Harrah's/Caesar's and Wanted to Make Cash Off of Poker

So again, to recap my previous take(s) on Harrah's/Caesar's changes this year to the WSOP Main Event final table: boo.

With that out of the way, I definitely agree that changes were necessary, so I'm not coming from a belief that the WSOP is sacrosanct and that no sacred cows shall be touched. Last year I got the chance to kick around at five different WPT/WSOP events, from beginning to end, rubbing elbows with players, reporters, spectators, media, and tournament staff, and there were more than a few face-palm moments, where I could only shake my head at the future prospects of poker here in the US.

Tournament poker in the US is most definitely not headed in the right direction, as far as even maintaining the current level of popularity of poker, much less to spur growth to turn it into a spectator sport like NASCAR or horseracing or even, gasp, bowling. And, sadly, the problems are fundamental and running pretty deep, to the point that slapping a band-aid on it by trying to increase the hype surrounding the Main Event final table (which is all Harrah's format change is, even in a best case scenario) is pretty pointless.

The UIGEA restrictions are of course a huge handicap to poker's future (and Harrah's potential to profit from it) but that's outside Harrah's control (well, sort of, if you ignore the whole lobbying aspect), so I'm basically going to ignore that and try to focus on issues that Harrah's faces directly regarding poker that they can directly control.

Once cool thing about my gig with PokerRoom is that I get to hang out with the qualifiers they send to WPT and WSOP tournaments, as my job is more to chronicle the trip and market the experience as opposed to spending my time writing about the same hands and the same pros that other media outlets are doing. Most of the PokerRoom players are playing in their first major live event, so I get to see it through a unique lens, as well as getitng the chance to hear their thoughts on things, what their friends/family/spouses think about the whole thing, etc.

Over and over and over again (and then again, some more) I hear the same thing, which basically amounts to the following statement: "I'm amazed at how un-spectator friendly the entire tournament is." People are amazed that there's now way to see chip counts, no way to identify players and what table they're at, and no way at many tournaments for spectators to even enter the same room that the tournament is being held in. They're usually a little baffled that poker is as popular as it is in the US, as its not like any other sporting event they've ever been to, as far as how difficult it is on spectators and fans to follow the action.

To be fair, the above isn't the fault of Harrah's or the WPT. There's not a dedicated poker room existing in the world right now that can comfortably accommodate tournament fields in excess of 500 players (much less gargantuan WSOP fields), so casinos inevitably have to shoehorn big live tournaments wherever they can, whether that be in generic conference rooms/ballrooms, a mix of the Fontana Room/poker room at the Bellagio, etc. In some cases that space allows for spectators, who are able to watch tables closet to the ropes, but in other cases it doesn't, if the layout of the room prevents it.

Since the spaces used are typically generic and multi-function spaces, there's no infrastructure in place to improve the experience at all for spectators, such as monitors or display screens of any sort to show a camera feed of tables, display chip counts, etc. Likewise, these spaces don't allow for multiple camera feeds of different tables, audio feeds from the tables, or any sort of multimedia experience. They're just big empty spaces that are used for trade shows and conferences or are bars/restaurants that just moonlight as a poker tournament room.

With that in mind, are there solutions to those problems that would make live poker tournaments much more spectator friendly? Well, sure. Chip counts are easy as far as using RFID technology, and slapping up monitors is simple enough to display both chip counts and live camera feeds of multiple tables. Audio feeds are simple enough as well, as far as being able to hear table chatter. Piping all of that to a comfortable location where spectators can enjoy it is, again, pretty trivial. Think sportsbook, but just for poker, with the ability to tune into the table of your choice, kick back, relax, drink a beer, and watch the action. Allowing spectators access to every table in a physical sense is a logistical nightmare but I don't think that's what spectators are really after. Yes, it's really cool to stand a few feet behind Doyle and watch him play, live, in the flesh. But after 15 minutes of that, well, been there, done that, and I think most people would gladly trade standing there for sitting back in a comfortable chair with the ability to watch the action of any table in the tournament.

Yes, it'd just be a live feed without hole cards. Yes, that kind of sucks. But it wouldn't suck that much, and to a random person who walked into that room who'd played poker in college but had never watched a WPT/WSOP broadcast, they'd think it was pretty damn cool.

The above issues are pretty obvious ones to anyone that attends a WPT/WSOP event. Just as the root causes are, as well as the solutions. And again, to be clear, I'm really not blaming most of the casinos for the situation, as they do the best they can given the circumstances. If you host a big live tournament once or twice a year, you make do as best you can to find space for it. It doesn't make any sense for a casino like Fallsview in Niagara Falls to roll out some fancy-dancy set-up such as outlined above if they only host one WPT event a year. It'd make more sense at a place like Bellagio, given the number of tournaments they run each year, but that's a hard, hard sell, given comparatively how little money they make from poker as opposed to a bank of slot machines in the same physical space. Casinos just aren't going to sacrifice the necessary space for such an undertaking when they have more profitable ways of using that real estate.

So is my argument torpedoed then and there, as far as focusing efforts on making live tournament poker more spectator friendly, and focusing on that as far as encouraging future growth instead of random changes to the Main Event final table format? Cool idea but no practical way to implement it? I don't think so, as there's another option. While it's a pretty radical proposal, I think tournament poker would greatly benefit from getting out of the casinos altogether.

I hate to hold up the ill-fated PokerDome as an example of what I'm suggesting, but it's not far off (minus the cheesiness). I'm too lazy to do the math but the majority of big live events are held in Las Vegas, and the trend seems to be heading more and more in that direction. So you're basically talking about creating a space (whether built from the ground up or reconfiguring an existing space somewhere) that's built with poker in mind, and is capable of holding a major live poker event (up to the size of the Main Event) but still provides a comfortable experience for both spectators and players. You'd need raised arena seating where spectators can watch a live featured table, as well as a sportsbook-style lounge where feeds are available for all of the action, free WiFi for poker junkies with laptops, etc. You'd also need the physical space to accomodate a field of 2,000 players, so space for 200 tables, and cameras and mics in place to cover each and every table. You'd need restrooms, food and drink facilities, gaming licenses, and likely nine thousands other things I'm forgetting.

Tall order, indeed. But not impossibly tall, especially considering the resources a company like Harrah's possesses. As far as spectators, you're probably talking about max capacity of at most 2,000-3,000 spectators, as you're simply never going to draw a huge crowd of 50,000+ people to come watch a live poker event. That means you're not talking an impossible large/expensive arena that needs to be created for spectators, or an overall ginormous space, even when you factor in space for the tournament tables. We're used to thinking of it in terms of the cavernous Amazon room packed to the gills with a full starting day field during the Main Event, but there's no reason all the tables have to be in a single big honking room. It's an awe-inspiring sight, true, but you could easily go vertical, and have four or five floors, each with 40-50 tables. That space could be entirely behind the magic curtain and not physically accessed by spectators, with easy access for players to bathrooms and smoking lounges on each level, drink service, monitors with sports of all sorts for the degenerate action junkies, a craps table for TJ, etc.

Another plus is that with a dedicated space it'd be much easier to market poker to the random person that wanders in, ranging from the cheesy sort of thing as far as final table of wax poker legends that you can st with and have your picture taken to a poker Hall of Fame exhibit with assorted memorabilia, as well as informational stuff about satellites, about the game itself (selling the skill versus luck argument), about current legalization efforts and the true realities behind them, etc.

There's also nothing stopping you (aside from gaming regulations and licensing, which I'm glossing over and which could potentially be a roadblock) from running cash games and satellites there as well when there's no big tournament in action, or hosting the final tables of events held at casinos around town (or the US, for that matter, if this delayed Main Event final table format does fly.) Convince some of the big high stakes players to play in a regular big game. Offer space for poker boot camps, tradeshows, and what-not. The facility doesn't necessarily shut down and go dark when there's no major live tournament action going on.

An extra side benefit is that such a setup would make the poker media's job infinitely easier when covering events, which can only be good for the long-term prospects of poker. Any person who has ever covered a poker tournament as media would instantly salivate at being able to tune into a live feed of any table and to know instantly the chip counts and names of every player in the field. What's good for the spectator is good for the media, which can only be good for the game.

As far as drawbacks, well, first and foremost is that it'd be pretty damn expensive. No dodging that, so it'd take someone with deep pockets and a vested interest in poker to make it a reality. It'd also have to be a company with experience of jumping through all the regulatory hoops to make it fly, as well as experience running major live poker tournaments. Someone like, oh, I don't know, Harrah's maybe?

You can argue that basing it outside of existing casinos will make it impossible for the target audience to wander in (casual fan who played poker back in the day but has no idea of the riches that could await them now), but I'm not sure I buy that. Do people somehow wander to the Rio (which isn't exactly located in a prime Strip area) then also walk nine miles down a long hallway away from all bright lights and slot machines only to happen upon, finally, weary and near-death, at this big huge poker tournament that they didn't know about before? I just don't think so, so I think the impact is minimal as far as locating a poker facility outside of an existing casino. It'd be slightly inconvenient to players as it'd be impossible to stumble out of your room and catch an elevator down to the tournament room, but that's already the case for many players, as not all players stay at the Rio, the Bellagio, etc.

So that's my very long-winded completely unsolicited advice to Harrah's. If you want to build up the visibility and popularity of poker in the long run, invest some cash in the short run to make it slick, appealing, and spectator-friendly. Convert all those casual fans to dedicated long-term customers. Stop cramming major live poker tournaments into sterile, unfriendly environments. Do the legwork to build and grow a fanbase instead of milking the WSOP for whatever short-term bang you think you can get. Las Vegas provides you with an unending pipeline of ripe prospects for the picking, who you can easily hook on poker, all of whom go home and then continue to consume your product in televised form (cha-ching). You're currently trying to sell a half-finished product and aren't meeting with the success you'd like. Instead of slapping lipstick on it, take a step back, give it a complete makeover, then take three steps forward.

You're simply never going to see the success you'd like without improving the product and experience itself, which improves its marketability, which increases the chances that television viewership will increase, which improves the odds that more sponsors will sign on, which finally puts you on track to see the sort of revenue and profits that other sports enjoy that offer an intergrated enjoyable experience for fans and players alike. Arbitrary changes such as the new final table format may very well boost interest in the short-term, but that's doomed to fade again in a few years if you don't address some of the root issues plaguing tournament poker at the moment.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

What Should Harrah's Do?

It’s been interesting reading various responses out on the Internet tubes to Harrah’s/Caesar’s WSOP final table changes. I’ve already had my own babble about why I think it’s a bad idea and don’t have much to add, but I find it interesting that perhaps the best argument people can make for it is something along the lines of:

“Eh, why not try it? The more publicity and press that poker gets, the better.”

For me, that gets pretty close to the real crux of the problem, and where I think Harrah’s is truly dropping the ball. Like it or not, they’re in a pretty unique position to drive the future of poker, sitting on not only the WSOP brand but also possessors of many huge honking casinos and an established working relationship with ESPN. If your best answer to boosting poker’s popularity and increasing your long-term profits evokes a shrug of the shoulders and a “Sure, why not, give it a whirl.” from supporters, well, it’s hard for me to believe you’re on the right track.

Harrah’s seems to simply want to cash the checks (and want those checks to be as big as possible) that poker generates for them but shy away from shouldering any responsibility for the future of poker. People have pointed to improvements that Harrah’s has made to the WSOP (simplifying the registration process, improved access to food and facilities, scaling out the tournament to accommodate gargantuan fields, etc.) and granted, that’s all true; Harrah’s has kept the kept the WSOP train on the track despite enormous growth up until last year.

But those are all knee-jerk reactions, really, and not much more. See big problem, fix problem. Ignore small problems until they become big problems. If solution is worse than original problem (i.e. the poker tent), fix problem. They have made incremental progress, which should be pointed out, and each year’s WSOP has been better than the year before from an operational standpoint.

If you look at many of the problems of past years, though, (and foreshadowing problems the new final table format will inevitable cause), a reasonably disturbing trend emerges; Harrah’s couldn’t care less about the spectator or player experience. I mean, sure, they care insofar as they prefer for there to be no problems and for things to run smoothly, but their sole focus is on milking the WSOP for as much money as they can. Which is a reasonable enough focus, but one that potentially is sacrificing the long-term growth and future of poker by chasing short-term dollars.

If someone is willing to pay to sponsor a deck of cards that’s virtually unplayable, sure, sign ‘em up. Wait, what, poker players can’t play with the decks when they’re put into play during the WSOP? Really? Well, shit, okay. Players are squawking about ante chips from a cash game being the same as a big denomination chip in a HORSE tournament? What the hell are they squawking about, we’re talking about cash games and tournaments? People don’t think blinding off an absent stack if a player dies before the final table resumes is a good idea? Why not? If they’re not there, they’re not there, just blind ‘em off. And on and on and on. Pull the stack instead? What does that mean? You're talking Greek or something.

My biggest complaint about the new final table format is that it seems to me a sign of Harrah’s simply giving up and trying one last ditch effort to cash in before unloading the WSOP on someone else a few years down the line, when poker ratings continue to drop and the Main Event field continues to shrink. And who knows, maybe that would be best for poker, depending on who picked up the ball at that point, but the really frustrating thing here is that Harrah’s has the clout and resources to elevate poker into a both a lucrative spectator-friendly and TV-friendly sport, which would be a win-win for both Harrah’s and for poker players.

If you’ve gotten this far (and Jebus bless you if you have), your response to all this blathering is (and should be): “Well, der. Of course Harrah’s is being short-sighted and looking to milk it for what it’s worth. They’re Harrah’s. That’s what companies like Harrah’s do.”

And I can’t argue with that at all. But all this blathering is a bit necessary to set the stage for Part II: What Harrah’s Should Do with the WSOP But Never Will in a Million Billion Years.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Worst. Idea. Ever.

Still suffering from the monkey croup I picked up in Vegas, which as hung around for nearly a week now. Boo.

On the brighter side, I did manage a decent score in the $200 Caesar's 7 PM tournament the last night I was in town, finishing 6th to claw my way back to close to even for the trip. Given that I lost two ginormous pots with AA versus A7o and QQ versus 1010 (both all-in pre-flop), not a bad result, although it was disappointing to get bounced when I did with 1st place paying close to $10K.

Apparently Harrah's is serious about this delayed-Main Event-final-table thing, which leads us to the title of this post. I get the point of the move and I've argued myself that the poker industry and poker powers-that-be need to make some serious changes as far as making tournament poker more spectator-friendly, but this attempt is just about the worst way possible of going about that.

The biggest skeleton in the closet of tournament poker (as far as its potential popularity as far as a televised sport) is the fact that final table deals and players owning stakes in other players happens all the freaking time, and will continue to happen. If the results are largely predetermined (or at least the financial outcome, which is all that matters to most players), that obviously takes a lot of drama out of the outcome, if that fact is made public.

If you can keep those facts under wraps, the potential drama remains. So far that's mostly been the case, as your average Joe watching poker on tv has no clue about final table deals and other shenanigans. But pushing out the final table of the Main Event nearly four months is almost guaranteed to result in much talk and speculation about deals being made, as that's the most obvious pitfall that should leap into anyone's head when such an idea is proposed.

With the amount of money at stake and four months to barter, haggle, and horse-trade, it's inevitable that deals are going to be struck. That's not to say that there have never been deals at a Main Event final table, as there most inevitably have been, but now it's virtually guaranteed. And that doesn't even touch on potential collusion, as four months is plenty of time for 2 or more players to come to a financial agreement and put together a fairly sophisticated, non-detectable plan that significantly increases their collective EV. Again, such a thing wasn't impossible under the old system but was very difficult, as you simply didn't have much time to come to an agreement and concoct a plan.

People have raised the issue of players getting coaching in the four month downtime, but to me that's much less of an issue. I mean, sure, a lucksack could use the four months to markedly improve their game, but you're still playing the chip stack you had entering the final table, and there's always going to be an element of randomness at any final table. A few "bad" calls where you suck out could have propelled you to a win back in your lucksack days, where when you learn a bit more you fold those hands, only to get bounced out the next hand when you make the correct play, etc. Since anyone could receive coaching if they so chose, that one seems a wash to me, as a final table simply isn't enough hands for any accumulation of skill to play a significant role.

Not that I put much stock in the history and lore and statistics of poker, but it's also going to make it hard to compare past winners to winners moving forward. Having the time off to rest, recuperate, and plot out your course of action is pretty significant. Not a huge concern, and times they are always changing, but the new format is an entirely different beast than the old one. You can claim that there will be better poker played at the final table, and true, maybe so, but there'd be better poker played throughout the tournament if every other day was a rest day, so that's a bit of a silly claim.

But I'm mainly concerned about deal-making and collusion, as far as the Worst. Idea. Ever. pronouncement. There's way too much money at stake for such questions and concerns not to arise, which is inevitably going to lead to more talk and knowledge about final table deals and players swapping percentages in general, all of which are major obstacles to the potential mass-market appeal of televised poker.

Would the Super Bowl still retain its shine if the general public knew that losing teams regularly lost on purpose because they were promised a larger percentage of the TV revenues by the NFL than they'd otherwise get so that a more "popular" team in a hot new market would be guaranteed to win? Of course not, yet roughly the same thing happens with regularity at the poker tables, each and every major event.