Friday, July 18, 2008

In Which He Rambles About Many, Many Things

It's always very strange to get back home after a tournament reporting gig for PokerRoom, and even moreso when it's the Main Event. I'm not sure I could spend 3+ weeks anywhere and it not seem odd to leave and be back home, but the effect is even more dramatic when the backdrop is the pressure cooker of the WSOP, with the oddity that is Las Vegas always looming in the background.

Very glad to be home, indeed, but still acclimating to the notion that the daily routine is going to a day job that increasingly drives me crazy, with a mountain of half-finished home improvement projects staring me in the face, and nine million other things I need/want/feel obligated to get done. More and more the draw of Vegas for me is that it provides the perfect, anonymous excuse to focus on exactly the task at hand, whatever that may be. And that's kind of refreshing, despite how exhausting Vegas can be.

I guess it was a good trip. Plenty of long 14-16 hour work days, a good bit more bureaucratic/organizational head-butting that I expected, and many crappy Pizza Hut mini-pizzas and nachos consumed. I can't say it was more work than I expected, as I was expecting a lot, but it ended up being a narrower sort of work, as covering 70+ players didn't leave much space for color or fluff, basically just how they were doing in the Main Event. One of the nice things about the smaller trips I've worked at WPT events is getting to hang out and get to know the players, which was missing at the WSOP as everything was pretty much a mad rush to keep everything as updated as possible.

As far as the WSOP itself, things ran pretty smoothly, so a hat tip to Harrah's there. The media credential process was a complete clusterfuck but I somehow or other ended up with a press pass, despite being emailed repeatedly to be told I was denied. I just played dumb when I checked in and said I'd never heard back from them, they consulted a list and said "You're right here, you're approved". Mmkay.

The media press box in the tournament room was a nice addition (although I was camped out in the bunker media room pretty much the entire time) and the new color coding system for various areas and overflow rooms was a huge improvement over previous years. Except for one day when tournament staff seemingly lost their minds and started randomly breaking and re-breaking and re-re-breaking tables even in the same area (we had a player that moved tables 7 times in the span of two hours), they did a good job on the crazy busy days of not just finding space for all the tables but in moving people into the main Amazon room as soon as possible.

It was also very cool to watch Iggy feint and dodge his way to a nice cash, and the PokerRoom qualifiers ended up doing pretty well for themselves, with eight of them cashing. The deepest finish was something like 160th, so no huge scores but a big improvement over last year when just one player cashed, and most of the guys that cashed play fairly low stakes, so the money was a pretty big deal to them.

As far as the decision to delay the final table, I went in thinking it was a fairly dumb idea and left feeling much the same. While you can argue that Harrah's was "unlucky" that neither Tiffany Michelle, Phil Hellmuth, or Mike Matusow made it through to the final table, one (or more) of them making it to the final nine players would have definitely been bucking the recent trend. The odds were that Harrah's would end up with a pretty anonymous seven-eight players plus an Allen Cunningham or Lee Watkinson type pro. Instead they ended up with nine pretty much anonymous players, which is a slight beat but should have been largely expected.

My previous chief (and current) complaint about the change is that I never bought into the premise that there would suddenly be a frenzy of media coverage about the final nine (I'm sorry to be the grumpy old man, but "November Nine" is just about the cheesiest way possible to refer to the 2008 Main Event final table participants) that would improve ratings, draw more people to poker, yada yada yada. That premise wasn't based on much hard evidence other than Harrah's and ESPN really wanted it to be true. It also wasn't backed up by any structured publicity plan (such as requiring or buying in the finalists to play in the WSOPE or any other events between now and November) and was floated out there with lots of promise and promises but not much in the way of details or hard facts to back it up.

So now we have our final nine, and the hype machine is supposed to be gearing up, with online sites battling it out over sponsorship rights, interviews and stories of the players filling newspapers, online outlets, and television broadcasting, and the general public coming to know and root for their favorite players.

And maybe that's happening, but if so I'm missing it. I'm sure there's some behind-the-scenes stuff going on to try to lure players to sponsor assorted sites, but that's never going to be the sort of stuff that makes great press, as by its nature its typically private negotiations. From where I'm sitting, it seems like the 2008 Main Event has pretty much already been forgotten. Sure, interest will be sparked again in November when nine random dudes try to win a lot of money, but any explosion of poker interest in the general media seems to be a bit of a dud.

I don't think it's going to be a terrible disaster or a ratings killer, but it's hard for me to see Harrah's/ESPN (or poker as a whole) gaining anything from it, with the disruption in the end being a pain in the ass with little added benefit. I wouldn't be surprised at all if they revert to the old format next year, especially if they end up moving the whole she-bang to Caesar's as they keep threatening to do.

The UB/AP superuser scandal continues to baffle me in various ways, chiefly as far as why the hell people continue to play there (the games aren't THAT soft) and why apologists keep repeating, over and over, that Tokwiro (who purchased AP and UB from the original founders) is doing the best it can to clean up an ugly situation that it inherited.

They didn't "inherit" anything. They bought it. They purchased assets with one motive: to profit from the purchase. It turns out that there were hidden liabilites that they were unaware of. Those liabilities and any resulting consequences are solely Tokwiro's to bear. End of story.

To be fair, based on the info out there so far there's no way in hell they could have known about the liabilities, even if they performed the best due diligence in the world before the purchase. Which sucks mightily for Tokwiro, indeed, but it doesn't in any way affect the reasonably valid argument that the book should be thrown at UB/AP and those sites should cease to exist.

Haven't been playing a ton of poker myself, but still getting in a decent number of hands. Poker play during the Main Event was mostly a wash, as I was about +$1,500 playing 1/2 NL at Mandalay Bay but -$900 from various tournaments, and about -$300 from video poker and slots. I played in four tournaments and outlasted 80% of the field in each but couldn't get any love towards the end. The cash games treated me well and I should have just parked my ass there, as I had pretty decent tables every time I sat down.

Most of the cash game profit came from one three hour session where I sat down and immediately went on a nice rush, running my $200 buy-in into just over $1,000. I doubled up with AA vs. KK and then doubled again about ten minutes later when I cracked aces with 79s.

In other completely random news, the day job still sucks. Mightily. Seriously contemplating a pretty major upheaval on that front (new job + relocating to another entire continent) but it'd take a lot of puzzle pieces to correctly fall into place for it to be a reality.

Had another baby cash in the Sunday $750,000 Guaranteed on Full Tilt but got mega coolered at the end (AK < KJ; 1010 < 77; and KK < QQ). Some day, some way I'm actually going to go deep in one of these. The sad thing is that after playing assorted big tourneys off and on for nearly 4 years now, a trained monkey that just shoves all-in with any hand that has an A in it would likely have managed a deeper run than I have by now. I rocks at teh poker.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Exactly Two Cents on Google and Poker Blogs

Pretty much completely swamped and exhausted after the grind of covering the first four days of the Main Event, but here's my very quick take on what has everyone a twitter regarding Google and poker-related sites suddenly disappearing from search results, coming from someone who has been pretty closely involved in such things for going on 8 years now.

1) Google has been penalizing sites for selling links for quite awhile now. This isn't a new development and it's likely not just the poker niche that's being targeted or affected. They basically declared war on link selling sites such as TextLinkAds months ago. Inbound links and the anchor text attached to those links is still the primary tool that Google uses to order and rank search results, and they actively try to protect that by punishing sites they can identify as link sellers, since that could potentially torpedo their entire system.

2) What is a slightly new wrinkle is that in the past Google was been zeroing out PageRank for sites that openly sell links, but hasn't been penalizing them in search results. So if you sold links on a home page that previously had a PR of 5, the PR would display as 0 after you were "penalized", but your page would still rank normally for various search terms.

Their intention was to scare off advertisers that look only at PR when buying links or ad space without actively harming the site displaying the ads in search results. That sort of worked, but advertisers got savvy and realized the ads and links they bought were still effective, even on PR 0 pages, so they just kept buying and renewing ads.

3) Now Google seems to be stepping it up a bit, and penalizing both the site itself that is selling ads by suppressing their pages in search results, but also penalizing the sites that are buying links and ads. It's the last bit that's important, as those sites would continue to buy ad space on other sites regardless of the PR if buying those ads meant they continued to rank highly for the terms they were targeting. If you render those link and ad purchases ineffective, well, that's a pretty decent way of stopping the practice of selling links and ads on sites.

4) If you're confused and think this is highly hypocritical, hurrah, you're right! Large media sites openly sell ad space each and every day (just take a gander at CNN et al and note all the ad slots available for sale), yet Google allows them to merrily go about their business.

5) As far as what you, a humble poker blogger, can or should do about this, well, the sad answer is not much. Adding no follow links is pretty much all you can do if you want to play by Google's rules, but most advertisers won't renew any ads if you do that. Each advertiser is going to have to make the decision themselves as to whether they will continue their ad campaigns or not. Some will, as not all sites have been equally affected so far. Others won't. Not a lot you can do about it other than sitting tight and seeing how it plays out.

6) There's also a chance that Google will undo what's currently affecting sites, as it's almost guaranteed to be algorithmic in nature, and not penalties doled out by hand. There have been many times when Google rolls out a change to its algorithm and has subsequently backed up and undone it, reverting to the old algorithm when the changes resulted in too much hubbub or crap search results. Its highly unlikely that poker sites were targeted specifically, so other people in other niches will also likely soon start squawking, and if enough people squawk Google has been known to take heed and react accordingly in the past.

7) RIP Waffles' "bankroll".