Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Micros: Episode 4 - Heads Up 4 Röfls

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

The Micros are back with a fourth episode... Heads Up 4 Röfls.

And here's a special treat for April Fools Day...

Long live Gobbo.

Thursday 4:20 Nugs: Phil Ivey Schwasted, FT/Station Tag Team, Gus Hansen Diddling Danish Dish, and More Keno Scandals

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

It's 4:20pm and a perfect time for this heady selection of poker newsy items of note on the last day of March and the first day of the baseball season. The biggest waves are being made by the epic 2+2 column starring Phil Ivey. Enjoy that along with these other nuggets...
Photography: Flipchip took photos of the Las Vegas Strip when the lights went out for Earth Hour. (LasVegasVegas)

Poker Legislation: Full Tilt Poker and Station Casinos are teaming up. It's never official until it turns up in the Journal, right? Web Poker Plays New Hand: Casino Owners Team Up With Online Gaming Site to Legalize Internet Gambling. (Wall Street Journal)

Life of Ivey: This is in the running for "thread of the year"... Phil Ivey Wasted will go down in history as another epic, legendary, hysterical photoshop thread. (2+2)

WSOP History: Shamus waxes about a bit about Trivial Pursuit and the 1997 WSOP Main Event. (Hard-Boiled Poker)

Cheaters: I love a good Keno scandal. Kim breaks down the Betsoft Keno Scandal. (Infinite Gaming Edge)

Gossip: Los Hombres have photos of Gus Hansen's latest Danish girlfriend. (Wicked Chops Poker)

Music: Need some music to help kick-start the day? My buddy Jonas published the latest batch of Background Beats. The latest mix is the Good Morning Edition. Perfect music to listen to when working out, riding the subway to work, stuck in traffic, still up late grinding away at the virtual tables... or in my case, early morning writing music. (Coventry)
That's it. You know the drill. NGTFOOMO.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sweating Sachin Tendulkar

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

As a kid, I honed my skills in the South Riverdale Baseball League. I was no where as good as my brother, who would someday become renown as one of the best pitchers in SRBL history. Many of our games were played a couple of miles from Yankee Stadium in Van Cortlandt Park, a sprawling 30,000 acres in the Bronx that was also the location of a Revolutionary War battle.

Van Cortlandt Park also happened to be where I first saw cricket players. I immediately noticed the funny wooden bats and became entranced at the odd piece of equipment. The handle seemed the same, but the shaft of the bat looked more like a massive wooden butter knife when compared traditional scuffed aluminum bat that I had slung over my shoulder and carried everywhere.

Image: Calvin Wilson

When I inquired about cricket, my father explained that the British invented cricket but Abner Doubleday tweaked the game and invented baseball -- the same game that I loved and played as much as possible when I was ten years old.

Doubleday was a name I knew well, because of Doubleday's, a two-story pub where my parents and their friends often consumed copious amounts of spirits, especially after little league games because the pub was conveniently located across the street from the baseball diamonds in Van Cortlandt Park. My world view was rather narrow considering it was the late 1970s during those halcyon days before cable TV and the internet, so I innocently assumed that Abner Doubleday was a former owner of the pub (hence its name) and I created this back story inside my head that Abner Doubleday had to close the pub on Sundays because we were all Catholic. All the neighborhood drunks had nothing to do once church let out and without a bar to waste away in, Doubleday gathered everyone across the street in the park and taught them how to play baseball while they hid kegs in the woods. Thus, Abner double day invented baseball and the South Little League Baseball was born, and eventually, Babe Ruth built Yankee Stadium and the across the street candy story got these awesome new chocolate called Reggie Bars.

Cricket requires a significant amount of space and that's exactly what Van Cortlandt Park offered for its players. The local league was dominated by immigrants from the West Indies and the Caribbean. Many of them grew up playing cricket (but sadly their children would assimilate into American sports and ditch the cricket bat for a baseball bat). When I was a kid, I recall that their games drew impressive crowds. I later found out that some of the participants were former legends of the game from their respective island nations. Some of them had migrated to New York City to find work, but they never ditched their passion for the game. Although the league lacked any sort of international legitimacy, that didn't deter scores of cricket enthusiasts from showing up. Simply put, they were fans thrilled to see cricket in any form.

See That Googly? It's Cricket in the Bronx is a New York Times article circa 1987 that I came across through a quick search for photos of the old cricket fields. The article reminded me about a minor spat between the cricket people and local residents. The cricket games were reduced to a much smaller section of the park near the riding stables. Due to the restricted space, errant balls went into the stables and rolling onto Broadway (yes, it's the same street that's the cross roads of Times Square -- basically, if you walk 200 blocks north om Broadway, you will reach Van Cortlandt Park), the same street that separated the park from Doubleday's Pub. After a talk with one of the local barflys (an ex-cop who regularly drank with my old man), I later discovered that there was an undertone of racism at play. He told me that our neighborhood, comprised of mostly Irish and Jewish families, was predominately white and the cricket players were people of color. Whether or not that is true, is still left to be determined.

I had forgotten about cricket until 2007. I flew down to Melbourne, Australia to cover the Aussie Millions. Due to jetlag and insomnia, I often sat in my room at the Crown Casino and watched Aussie TV, which included three sports stations (in addition to ESPN) and full station devoted to cricket matches. Nonstop cricket. I sat and watched and realized I had no clue what the hell was going on.

I visited Australia twice more within that year. During each visit, I watched more and more cricket. The game slowly seeped into my brain. I had some of the lingo down pat, but the rules were a little confusing. I had yet to bet on it because I still didn't know the ins and out of a sport, but at the same time, I heard wild stories about fixing scandals in cricket. Despite the warm fuzzy memories of cricket being played in the same park where I played second base for the SRBL, as an adult I had pegged cricket as a rigged sport like Jai Alai, horse racing, and Presidential politics.

John Caldwell suggested that I talk to our colleague Gaz, who was a huge cricket supporter in Melbourne. He had season tickets and was known to knock back 25-30 beers during a single match. I never saw a match with Gaz because my tolerance is much lower these days and I'd pass out by the 12th or 13th beer, but it's definitely on my list of "Epic Sporting Feats" that I'd like to do before I die. Drink with Gaz at a proper cricket match.

My first encounter with Shane Warne occurred inside the poker room at the Crown Casino in Melbourne. I had no idea who he was other than the tow-headed guy that was hanging out with Gaz. I bullshitted with him for a few minutes. He noticed my American accent and asked me how I was enjoying Australia and I prattled off all of the beers I tried. Then he told me I should drink Victoria Bitter. We ended our conversation and I walked into the poker room. A random person stopped me and said, "What did he say?"

"Huh?" I said.

"Warnie. What did you talk about?"

"Beer," I said and wandered off.

Later that night I discovered the significance of Shane Warne. At the time, I had no fucking clue he was a pitchman for VB and that I had chatted with the greatest Australian cricket player of all time.

My British friends, usually not phased by name dropping, were uncharacteristically intrigued that I had met Shane Warne.

"Ball of the century," said my colleague Conrad from London. "Type it into YouTube."

During one of my assignments at the Crown, I was covering a tournament and I reported that Shane Warne had gotten a penalty for using his mobile phone at the table. I wrote it up and an hour later, the poker room manager said that I had a phone call. It was an AFP reporter asking me about Warne's penalty. I assumed it was a slow news day. I clarified the mobile phone rule at the poker table and elaborated on Warne's infraction.

I was a clueless sot and unaware about Warne's marriage being broken up because of a text message with his mistress. Regardless, I was still quoted in an AFP article.

Conrad and my British colleagues were impressed. As Conrad said, "(You're the) first American in the history of history to supply an authoritative quote on a cricket story."

My Aussie friends were less than congratulatory. As one succinctly put it: "This is the bloody end of the fucking world, mate!"

And that was the re-introduction of cricket in my life. When I spent time in London on various assignments, I chatted with a few poker writers and they suggested that I cover The Ashes, a historical test match between Australia and Great Britain that happens every 1.5 to 2.5 years. They've been playing the Ashes since 1882 and that is on my list of sporting events to attend. I'd also love to cover it someday as a writer, maybe even write a book about my fish-out-of-water story as I stumble through the cricket world, trying to score hash while perpetually hungover and hanging out with binge-drinking, gregarious Australian reporters and binge-drinking, reserved British beat writers.

And thus brings us to Cricket's World Cup. Australia dominated the last three World Cups and were the favorite to win this year. With March Madness, it was hard to give it my full attention, but once I found out you can bet on matches, I decided... fuck it. I bet on the Final Four matches. Sri Lanka (who upset England) took on New Zealand the other day, and as I'm writing this India is taking on Pakistan. I bet both Sri Lanka and India. I consulted my buddy Graham, who is a Kiwi living in Oz, and we swapped intel on our perspective sports. I gave him my thoughts on the March Madness Final Four and he tipped me off that this is India's year.

Some of the back stories in this year's World Cup are extraordinary. This ESPN article is a must read... Why You Should Care About Cricket. It focuses on the phenomena surrounding India's best player, Sachin Tendulkar, who is Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, the Beatles, Buddha, Picasso and George Washington all rolled into one.

It's upon Tendulkar's shoulders that 1 billion people in India are anticipating India's first World Cup in decades. Along the way, they had to upset Australia. Now, they are pitted against their rival Pakistan for a shot in the finals. Many pundits are calling this one of the biggest matches in the history of cricket. It's certainly gotten a significant amount of hype, probably because the Pakistan squad is currently tarnished by a cheating scandal after players were implicated in spot-fixing a match against England. And how serious is cricket in Pakistan? After the national team lost a tournament, the coach was rumored to have been executed.

Sweating cricket matches are even more grueling than baseball games. The World Cup matches are around eight hours long. The India-Pakistan match began at 2am PT. I crashed for the first two hours or so and woke up to watch the final six hours. I sat in the darkness of my living room, still a bit faded, and waiting until the sun finally came up before I mixed myself an eye-opening rum and orange/pineapple juice concoction. I used to joke that you weren't an alkie if you waited until noon to drink. That societal standard has been lowered to sunrise, which is as low a you can go. Despite being plagued with a short attention span, an 8-hour sporting event like cricket is a definite commitment, both physically and mentally, but due to medical breakthrough and advances in technology, 8-hour long cricket matches are conductive if you have proclivities to specific time-released pharmaceuticals.

Ah, and now it's 9am. An hour or so left in the match. India is looking good, but I'm only understanding about 65% of what's going on. I caught a rare "wicket" in real time, which as pretty cool. The match is being played on Indian soil and the majority of the fervent pro-Indian crowd are waving their flags with swirls of orange, white, and green, while bits of classical Indian-themed music pumped out on the PA with a techno backbeat to get the crowd even more riled up as they can now smell a victory.

I'm sitting on the edge of my couch in LA and secretly wishing I was sweating my bet among the 50,000 fanatics in the stands at Punjab Stadium in Chandigarh, India watching the living legend Sachin Tendulkar showing off his Teddy Baseball-esque skills.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Morning Nugs: Jungleman in the Times, Zynga: Pro or Con?, Ahead of Its Time, Absolute Poker Rigged Keno, and More Silver Bears

By Pauly
New York City

Greetings citizens of Earth and a few intergalactic visitors crashing our wondrous party called Monday morning, which falls somewhere in between Rush Week for Delta Tau Chi and an Irish Wake. Then again, in the neighborhood where I grew up, there's wasn't much of a difference -- just once less drunk.

It's Monday morning, a time of utter misery for some, which is why I want to share a few nuggets of poker news-worthy tidbits to keep you from going completely insane today. Enjoy...
Profiles: It's not very often the online poker appears in positive light in an influential mainstream publication that doesn't entail a non-cheating, non-robbery, or non-piece of legislation angle. That's why it was refreshing to read Online Poker's Big Winner. It's an insightful, slice of life piece on Daniel "jungleman12" Cates. This was my favorite line:
The Cheesecake Factory was mobbed. We found a spot at the bar, and Cates flagged down the bartender to order the filet mignon. In the five meals Cates and I shared over three days, he ordered filet mignon three times. As we waited for the bartender to bring us our drinks, I noted our luck in finding a seat on Valentine's Day. Without a trace of irony, Cates, who speaks in the halting cadence most often associated with World of Warcraft group chats, asked, "Why would a restaurant be any more crowded on Valentine’s Day?"
Read the entire article here. (NY Times)

Social Media: With all the Zynga talk the last week or so, I re-read this thorough, thought-provoking post Why Zynga Poker Will Not Be the Next PokerStars. Maybe Bill can write a follow-up and updated version? Would love to hear about some of his thoughts after the most recent Zynga Con. (Bill's Poker Blog)

Op/Ed: Speaking of Zynga. Katkin wrote an op-ed about his experiences at Zynga Con. ZyngaPoker Pro or Con?: Assessing the impact of a Facebook game’s arrival in Las Vegas. (Pokerati)

Marketing: Kim sounded off on Why Was Five Years Ahead of Its Time. Remember those guys? I always thought that PR was ahead of the curve when I noticed (pre-UIGEA)they were advertising at NY Knicks games and in/on NY City taxis. (Infinite Edge Gaming)

Cheaters: Absolute Poker Rigged Keno! Wait, what? Read Noah SD's latest rant. (Noah SD)

Silver Bears: The Silver Bears are back with a new episode on their series about the manipulation of the silver market. I friggin' love the Silver Bears and their hysterical videos. (Tao of Fear)
That's it for now. I'm working on a few non-poker assignments and fear monger as per usual, but as soon as I'm done I'll write a little more about the Stars-Wynn merger and rumors about Full Tilt merging with Station Casinos.

Until then, GTFOOMO!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Elite 8 Sunday Picks - March Madness 2011

By Pauly
New York City

After a remarkable Thursday and Friday in New York City, my streak came to a grinding halt when both dogs won yesterday. I had bet both favorites. Bleh. Such is life as a sportsbettor. The sharps got murdered last Thursday night betting favorites and the dogs/teams that won played again on Saturday. Guess what? Both dogs won again.

My only saving grace on Saturday was a pair of UNDER totals on the Arizona/UCONN game. I finished the day with a small loss, but I can't help but think how much uglier it would have been without it. By the way, thanks to RJ Bell and company for swaying my opinion on the UNDER. I kept vacillating on that total all morning until I saw one of RJ's videos on and I liked what they had to say about a slower paced game.

Both my Saturday picks had a legit shot at covering, but everything that could go wrong -- did. Both UConn and Florida held leads in the 2nd half only to squander it away. Florida chucked up too many treys and failed to hit their free throws. UCONN was friggin' lucky to advance to the Final Four. Their lackluster playing in crunch time seemed like a sure recipe for disaster, but they somehow stole the victory. It sucked for me because they won, but didn't cover. Ah, fuck me.

Oh well. Some days you kick the dog. Other days, the dog pisses on your leg.

And yes, we got peed on, albeit, a little trinkle, but canine urine is urine nonetheless. But thank God for Sundays and a chance to get back on the (gravy) train. I'm ready to shake off Saturday's malaise and can't wait to get back in the game. No more dog piss. I'm gonna kick the dog by betting the dogs!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Elite 8 Saturday Picks - March Madness 2011

By Pauly
New York City

There's some value (big cheddar on the horizon) on betting dogs (i.e. fading the sharps and leading the sheeple) for the Sweet 16 games, that is to say, only when you bet the proper dogs. And what constitutes a proper dog? One that wins. I got one dog right but missed a chance at the other one during Friday night action. Four games. Two #1 seeds. Two double digit seeds. And I couldn't stay away from betting something, a little taste, on every game because of an inert inability of control the inner action junkie that rules my world for a fortnight after the Ides of March.

I had a relatively fun Friday, all things reconsidered. The only low point? When #1 seed Ohio State got upset by Kentucky. G-Rob sent me a text the other day with a bit of unsolicited advice that I should bet his alma mater Kentucky, and take it to the bank. I should have listened to him. I wasn't 100% sold on the spread and instead I bet OSU money line, but even that conservative bet shit the bed when Kentucky won by 1. Another #1 seed bit the dust. Three down with only #1 Kansas remaining.

On a dour note, I picked OSU to win the majority of my pools, including Pauly's Pub, and now I'm gotta grind out a couple of sports bets to make up for the cashola that I pissed away on 15+ brackets in various pools.

My biggest saving grace? Riding the hot team for a profit -- VC fucking U. I hammered VCU with a pair of moneyline bets and happily gobbled up points, getting +4 against FSU in a battle of the double digit seeds. It was a close match and VCU prevailed. That victory wiped out any loses incurred with OSU.

In the most boring games of the tournament, I added a couple of conservative moneyline bets on UNC and Kansas. The fact that Kansas had an open path to the championship game freaked me out, which made them vulnerable if they were overlooking their game against Los Sipders of Richmond. Ha, what the fuck was I thinking? I was too conservative with underestimating a young UNC squad (who hadn't covered in their previous 5 games) and a Kansas team on a mission. Coulda. Woulda. Shoulda. I shoulda taken off my "restrictor plates" and bet those favorites with the points. Ah, well. That's the past. I shouldn't worry about being greedy, and instead, focus on making well-informed decisions and curtailing the amount of money I place on impulse bets.

Friday, March 25, 2011

March Madness Picks: 2011 Sweet 16 - Friday

By Pauly
New York City

Well, there goes another #1 seed down the toilet. Duke haters rejoiced when Arizona upended America's most loathed #1 seed, which sent a huge percentage of brackets into a tailspin. The first bracketbuster of the year occurred when Butler picked off Pitt, and the first #1 seed got the boot last weekend. You can add Duke to the list of defunct #1 seeds. As much as Duke gets the short-end of the venom stick, I know a significant number of people in my pool(s) who had Duke (at the least) advancing to the Elite 8, let alone most of America who had Duke as a lock for a Final Four. Ah, but Sean Miller's Arizona squad stood in their way and prevented a repeat championships for Coach K and the Dukies.

I picked Arizona +9, but it wasn't because of a scouting report or a hunch, rather out of simple Duke-Sucks-Bias. I just wanted to bet against Duke and I got lucky. No skill there. But man, Derrick Williams is probably the best player in the country after his performance against Duke with 25 points in the first half to keep them in the game. Jimmer Ferdette gets a lot of hype, and the kid from upstate NY can shoot, but he looked awful last night. Meanwhile, Williams solidified the assessment of NBA scouts -- he's the real deal and could/should go #1 in the draft. Whereas, Jimmer's future as an NBA player is a question mark. The kid can shoot but can't play a lick of defense, which means the Knicks will make him their #1 draft pick.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

March Madness Picks: 2011 Sweet 16 - Thursday

By Pauly
New York City

I survived the opening week of March Madness with my bankroll still in tact, but it only grew a small amount. Let's hope that trend changes over the next few days. At the least, I finished off Sunday with a small profit betting the dogs, VCU and Marquette. The damn Heels missed a push by 1 and an outright cover by 2 points. Hit your fucking free throws, UNC!

The most difficult aspect of the Sweet 16 games is controlling your impulse to bet on every game. Unfortunately, I crave action and have zero semblance of control, which is why it'll be impossible for me to avoid betting on every game for the rest of the tournament. Alas, to preserve my bankroll, I varied the betting amounts depending on the matchups. For example, on Thursday I'll have one big bet and three small ones.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Orphaned Cards

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

When I lived in New York City, I occasionally came across an orphaned playing card on the ground just laying there on the sidewalk. I don't know the exact percentages, but it seemed as though the innocuous cards were always found face up. I attributed that to our brain's pre-programmed recognition of playing cards, that spin faster than the gears for online slots. The backs of traditional decks are ordained with a standard red or blue pattern that I can only describe as the traditional "playing card pattern." For whatever reason, I'm struggling to describe what backs of a playing card look like, but you know what I'm talking about. So with regard to orphaned playing cards, while wandering down a semi-crowded street, engrossed in thought, and processing thousands of different images at once, our eyes often overlook the backs of playing cards and recognize face up cards more frequently, especially poker players, because we're used to a specific pattern recognition -- either actively or subconsciously -- of distinct playing cards. Spades. Hearts. Diamonds. Clubs.

A couple of years ago when I first started this blog, I conjured up an idea that incorporated found objects, which is an arsty fartsy term for "turning trash into art." At the time, I lived in New York City and spent many hours roaming the streets aimlessly to kill time as an unemployed wanna-be screenwriter who couldn't hack it on Wall Street. During those navel-gazing excursions, I wandered upon orphaned cards lying on the street.

My idea was simple: I wanted to amass an entire deck of orphaned cards, all 52 cards and a pair of Jokers (if I could find them).

Like most of my grandiose ideas, I probably discussed them with friends over beers or a spliff, but never actually followed through on the project for a number of reasons. Orphaned playing cards is still trash. Even if you take the "three second rule" in account, the cards are tainted. As much as I was inspired to create an art from discarded playing cards found on the streets of Manhattan, the risk of germs was too significant. Besides, did I really want to spend my free time wandering around the city and pick up playing cards that might have traces of urine and fecal matter? Also, a tinge of laziness crept into the mix and reality set in -- this found-art project could take years or perhaps even a decade to complete.

Great minds think alike. An American artist named Kerstin von Gabain was living in Beijing and noticed an inordinate amount of discarded playing cards in the street. Von Gabain collected the orphaned cards and incorporated them into an art project titled Stuggling for Points. Unfortunately, Von Gabain was unable to collect a full deck for the project.

Von Gabain had many theories on the orphaned cards. The most relevant one suggested that Chinese gamblers used the cards to play Zheng Fen, a popular game in which players accumulated points. After running up debts during a bad streak, titled gamblers tossed aside unlucky cards, which Von Gabain eventually stumbled across on the streets of Beijing.

Some losing gamblers loving passing the blame onto others. They blame the dealer, or they cite the poker room as the reason they lost. Online poker players often claim that "online poker is rigged" when they run into a horrendous string of bad luck. Meanwhile, Zheng Fen players exorcised their gambling run bad by discarding unlucky cards.

Those damn cards!

If that practice happened in Las Vegas during the WSOP, the entire parking lot at the Rio would be flooded with a sea of unlucky cards. Billions of them.

So why did I come across unlucky cards in New York City? Why did they get thrown out? I really don't know. I have a few theories, but none of them seem legit. One minor theory was that New Yorkers read more books than the average American and some of them used playing cards as bookmarks, and the bookmarks were lost by accident or tossed aside after someone finished a book. The other minor theory was that a bunch of street hustlers were trying to fleece tourists in an impromptu game of Three Card Monte, but they broke up the game when the heat closed in. They scattered along with the cards (evidence).

It had been a while since an orphaned playing card crossed my path. When I moved to Las Vegas a few years ago, I never saw any orphaned playing card randomly on the ground, something that surprised me considering how much time I spent in casinos and in poker rooms. On the Strip, I saw a plethora of business cards for hookers and escorts that the porn slappers handed out at random spots on Las Vegas Blvd. During the WSOP, the carpeted floor of the Rio's convention center became a refuge for unwanted fliers and coupons that the Sapphire Girls handed out to tourists. The ground was strewn with images promising the allure of sexual deviancy, yet not a single orphaned playing card.

I moved to Los Angeles, a city that has very few pedestrians because everyone drives everywhere, and I might be one of the few people in the City of Angels who takes long walks. After a couple of years of not seeing anything peculiar on the ground, I came across a steady flow of orphaned playing cards this year. Irony? The first two cards I came across? Jacks. I found a pair of Jacks while wandering around the slums of Beverly Hills.
I noticed the first Jack off of Robertson Blvd., shortly after I returned from the Bahamas...

I noticed the second Jack on Pico Blvd. at the end of February...

I came across this one the other day just off Olympic Blvd...

I've embraced the digital era to assist me with a new art project, so now I don't have to collect dirty, nasty orphaned cards off the ground and store them inside my office. Instead, all I have to do is whip out my CrackBerry and snap away.

My ultimate project goal is to take cellphone photos of various orphaned cards that I encountered while walking around domestic and international cities. At this pace, I'm hoping to photograph a full deck by 2015-16. I already have a pair of Jacks and two diamonds...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday Morning Nugs: Greg Pierson, Onyx Cup, Isildur1 Busts Negreanu in SuperStar Showdown, nanonoko, #CampBill, and Anon v. the Fed

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Happy Monday. Are you having a March Madness hangover? Did the SuperMoon cause spooky things to happen in your neighborhood, like the dogs howling and a superfluous number of methheads passing out in the parking lot of Taco Bell?

Anyway, while you slowly get back into the sync of the work week, sit back and munch on these heady nuggets of poker-ish news...
Haley's posted the latest installment of Just Conjecturin', her thorough investigation into the UB cheating scandal. Here's the skinny...
"When I started the series, I didn't have much for facts on the UB side, and some of my early theories turned out to be wrong. As you'll see later in this tale, there was indeed a "jam" of some sort going on, but it appears the jam was Greg Pierson's, not Russ Hamilton's, and the solution to the problem was to enable the superusing and scrape tens of millions of illicit dollars into various endeavors or off the site in its entirety. Now comes the sordid dirt, and the part I've really put off writing about because, well, it's sad and disgusting. But it cannot help but be the key to it all, and so it must be dug back up."
You can read more at Volume 30: Naming Names -- Greg Pierson. (Haley's Poker Blog)

Full Tilt Poker (their pros in suave suits) announced the Onyx Cup, a super high roller tournament series that competes with both Jeffrey Pollack's newly formed Federated poker league and PokerStars' various international tours. (Full Tilt Poker)

F Train asked Three questions about the The Onyx Cup, meanwhile, Shamus offered up his two cents in Another Level: The Onyx Cup Series. (Riding the F Train, Hard-Boiled Poker)

One of the better poker-themed documentaries I've seen in a while... Randy Lew brings "nanonoko" from behind the curtain (PokerStars Blog)

In the most recent edition of the SuperStar Showdown on PokerStars, Daniel Negreanu took on Isildur1 and... lost $150,000 in 1,400 hands. I think they are gonna play again next Sunday. Anyway, here's a creative summary of the Negreanu vs. Isildur1 showdown by a poster on 2+2. H/T to KevMath. (

For some political analysis, check out gamingcounsel's Thoughts on H.R. 1174 (the #CampBill). (Pokerati)

The collective known as Anonymous recently declared war on the Fed. (Tao of Fear)
That's it for now. You know the drill. NGTFOOMO.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

March Madness Picks: 2011 Round 3 - Sunday

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Darkness. The blackness of morning is one of the few downsides to the recent shift in Daylight Savings Time. That's one of the other reasons why March Madness feels like Christmas morning, because I'm awake way before I should be and tip-toeing around the apartment trying to catch a fat, bearded guy in a red suit leaving behind a special present. Except, that fat guy is not St. Nicholas, rather, a chubby tout from Vegas who swears that he has a sure thing for me, provided that I give him $100 and re-tweet his tout services. Everyone is a hustler.

My picks might suck, but they will always be free.

This morning, when the darkness finally lifted, I was greeted by grey malaise on a rainy Sunday. Radiation rain. That's what I've been calling the first droplets of rain that fell on the West Coast of America with the slightest, safe bits of Fukushima radiation. One of my slightly-paranoid inner voices encouraged me to stay indoors today, which was not difficult of a task considering that I had a jar full of "Charlie Sheen" OG, energy bars, and a couple of bottles of rum. I wasn't going anywhere today anyway, because it's the last batch of games before we're down to the Sweet 16. Yep, only 8 teams will advance today. The question of course is -- which ones?

The Earth experienced a minor anomaly yesterday, the so-called Super Moon which marked the closest that the moon rotated around our planet in 18 years. I guess that's the main reason why I finished 5-1 in my picks (not including a money line bet on Florida) and hit not one, but two parlays ... including a rare 5-teamer that paid 27-1 (the other was a pedestrian 3-teamer). The 27-1 shot was a nifty win, but I was cursing myself the rest of Saturday night for not betting more. Even though I shipped a pair of parlays, I'm probably still stuck overall (lifetime) wagering those pesky -EV bets. Parlays and teasers make bookies very wealthy.

I was thrilled to book the rare win, which only occurred thanks to the Super Moon. I need astronomical anomalies and computer-generated picks to win wagers. The computer spit out chalk on Saturday and I was happy to oblige betting mostly favorites. He two dogs I liked, Butler and Morehead State, ended up splitting. I doubled down on Morehead when the line moved to +5. To my dismay, I'm stubborn and Morehead's run got overshadowed by Richmond.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

March Madness Picks: 2011 Round 3 - Saturday

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

You've survived the initial onslaught of March Madness. Are you delirious yet? 32 teams remain and how is your bracket holding up? By Sunday night, will you have properly selected 12 correct Sweet 16 teams? Will you have 13 or more? If so, you'll be in awesome shape in your pools.

I'm in 16 pools yet my best sheet is only 28-4. I'm currently tied for 2nd in Pauly's Pub pool with a 27-3 clip. First place is currently Dave McCarthy,who piggybacked El Presidente Obama's picks! Well, say what you want about Obama, but the guy knows his hoops and went 29-3. I think I'm tied for 18th place in ESPN Poker's pool (out of over a thousand entries). In some odd twist of fate, my girlfriend is tied for first place in a different pool against other alumni from Northwestern. Ah, but most importantly, I'm in a high rollers pool playing Garth heads-up. For an Aussie, he knows his Yank sports. I'm lucky that even though that sheet went 24-8, I'm ahead of Garth by just 1 incorrect game.

Enough about brackets... how about some sports betting updates?

Friday was more than a little strange for me (not strange in a peculiar psychedelic way, but more so in a David Lynchian ironic drudgery way of strange) because I didn't have too much action across the board, yet for some reason I got as schwasted as I've been in a while.

Friday, March 18, 2011

March Madness Picks: 2011 Round 2 - Friday

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Exciting opening day of the March Madness college hoops tournament. It was sort of a waste of a St. Patrick's Day for me because I focused on hoops instead of celebrating the day that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland by shooting laser beams out of 3-leaf clovers.

I lost money with a bunch of bookies instead of pissing it away at a bar slurping back green-dyed beer. On a good note, despite the betting downturn, I had a couple of elongated sweating experiences over a 13-hour stretch, so it was well worth the price of admission as I frantically paced around my apartment when I wasn't wearing out the spot on my couch.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

March Madness Picks: 2011 Round 2 - Thursday

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I feel like I'm 8 years-old. Yep, this is the one day of the year that I feel like a little kid on Christmas. March Madness is officially upon us.

I'm gonna try something a little different this year (well, today and tomorrow at least) for March Madness. Instead of live blogging the my sports betting minutiae on Tao of Poker and distracting myself from the action, please head over to Twitter and follow my progress there. I'm @taopauly if you don't know by now.

Rest assured, I'll be writing something about March Madness on Tao of Poker (probably a daily recap or something) but for now, embrace this little experiment.

If you want picks.... well, here's my picks for the first day of the opening round...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Chop Marks Reprise

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

I'm fascinated with chop marks on $100 bills. Here's five random bills out of my bankroll...

I posted more pics involving chop marks on two separate occasions in 2008: Just Because You're Not Paranoid, Doesn't Mean They're Not After You and More Marked Bills.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Closing the Sahara

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

The Sahara Casino is closing.

The Sahara represented my parents' Las Vegas and the innocent simplicity of the sepia-tinted photos of early 1960s: waking up late, eating room service omeletes, lounging by the pool, sipping tikki drinks next to perfectly-coiffed Don and Betty Drapers, eating a surf and turf dinner, consuming more tikki drinks, catching a glamorous show with Louis Prima or Don Rickles, then gambling the night away in the casino playing roulette, craps, or blackjack until the wee hours -- only to wake up late the next day and repeat the process. My parents and their generation experienced the original desert Paradise, meanwhile, I got Paradise Lost, or the watered-down, sold-out, corporatized version of Vegas. Ergo, Lost Vegas.

One of the original six casinos in Las Vegas, the oasis known as the Sahara opened its doors in 1952. The owner, former bingo parlor magnate Milton Prell, was chummy with Col. Tom Parker (a.k.a. Elvis' manager). Elvis supposedly got married in Prell's suite at the Sahara (although some accounts credited the Aladdin as the location of Elvis' nuptials).

Sahara's designer, Del Webb, owned the NY Yankees in the post-War II era (before selling to CBS, who then sold the team to George Steinbrenner). Webb eventually purchased the Sahara from Prell in 1961-62. Webb-Nevada became the first public company to own a major casino. In subsequent decades (1982, 1995) the Sahara traded hands among other big business interests until it landed in the hands of Sam Nazarian and SBE Entertainment Group. At the turn of the century, the casino added a rollercoaster and a NASCAR theme to capitalize on middle America's fascination with auto racing. A decade or so later, the doors are closing. But for good? Will the fate of the Sahara be the face of things to come in the next few years as more Strip properties close its doors?

A gaming conglomerate could swoop in, renovate the joint, whore out restaurant, bar, and retail shopping space to a bunch of other corporations and then re-open its doors. A hedge fund manager could get bored gambling on Wall Street and on a plutocratical whim, buy an authentic casino instead. Heck, maybe Gahdaffi will finally hand over power to Libyan rebels and relocate in Las Vegas in the top 3 floors of the Sahara? Or maybe a wealthy social media gajillonaire will buy the property, implode the old Sahara, and build a spanking-new casino? But does anyone want to party in a non-hip part of town on the north end of The Strip?

The Sahara in its physical nature will eventually cease to exist, but the once-alluring spirit of the casino will live forever in photographs. I'm glad someone documented the old Vegas. Kudos to those citizen documentarians.

Here are a five photos of the Sahara...

The Sahara
(photo via Vintage Vegas)

Louis Prima rocking the Sahara's Casbar Lounge in the 1950s
(photo via Vintage Vegas)

Sahara Pool in the 1960s
(photo via Vintage Vegas)

Modern Sahara with Monorail
(photo by Wolynski)

Modern Sahara
(photo by Flipchip)

* * * *

Las Vegas rose up out of the nothingness of the sand. A former Mormon missionary outpost had transformed into a gambling Mecca by gangsters, real estate developers, and bankers. Mecca is actually an inappropriate word to describe Las Vegas because there's nothing religious about a pilgrimage to modern day Sodom and Gomorrah -- the epicenter for the orgy of consumption.

Las Vegas has very few relics of the past. When you visit European cities like London, Paris, and Barcelona, you glimpse many centuries into the past with historic churches, preserved ruins, and other very old buildings that blended in with the modern architecture. However, Las Vegas' visionaries look to the future by erasing the past. Casinos used to be sanctuaries of brazen fun, but have since become oil wells that suck the Nevada desert dry of wealth. When the owners realized their well reached peak production, they scrambled to find potential buyers -- clueless new owners who were blinded by greed instead of realizing the the law of diminishing returns of a casino. Alas, when wells were no longer profitable to operate, they were unceremoniously shut down until the skeletal remains of the casino got imploded on local TV.

Instead of rusty derricks and rigs peppering the barren landscape of Saudi Arabia's Gahwar region or tumbleweeds-ridden West Texas, the Vegas barons don't let their old wells sit around for too long. I must admit that the casino/well analogy doesn't exactly fit in this instance because you can't re-tap the same well after all the oil has been extracted, but Las Vegas casinos owners have repeatedly rebuilt new, glitzy, modern monstrosities on top of rickety, languishing dinosaurs of yesteryear. And yes, they still rake in the cash.

The Sahara dominated the Las Vegas universe fifty years ago when it had a lot less competition, but that might has well been 500 years ago because lot has changed in the last century, let alone the last decade, yet for better or worse, the Sahara failed to stay ahead of the curve. The desert oasis is on the verge of becoming completely wiped out from Vegas landscape.

From nothing, it was born, and back to nothing it shall return.

* * * *

October 30, 1998.

"Isn't that adorable?" said the old lady in the hot seat, pointing at a faded pack of four disheveled wooks wandering through the casino in a search of the elevator to their room.

"Yes, they decided to wear their hippie costumes a day early," agreed her husband.

The old lady flashed a peace sign at the quartet of scraggly troubadours.

"Ma'am, they're not wearing costumes. Those neo-hippies dress like that all the time," I said after doubling down on an 11.

"Why would anyone want to look like a homeless person?"

I didn't want to tell them that the kids were in town to see the same band I was in town to see, so I changed the subject. I played a ton of blackjack that weekend, more than poker, grinding it out at a lowly $1 table waiting for forty fucking excruciating minutes to obtain a piss-warm Corona from one of the surliest cocktail waitress I have ever encountered in Vegas.

I played blackjack with a smattering of friends including an acquaintance from Olympia who detailed how she smuggled hash from Holland into Germany, then sold it to troops on the Air Force base where she worked as a sous chef in the Officers Club. Meanwhile the rest of my extended circle of friends sat in the poker room behind the blackjack tables. I lived in Seattle at the time (five years before I'd even opened up a Party Poker account) and a my poker buddies got hooked on hold'em after Rounders was released in theatres that summer. A bunch of us from my home game flew down to Vegas to meet up with another group of friends from New York City for an epic Halloween party weekend bender. We stayed up for two nights straight, gambled on college football at the Mirage, got kicked out of Olympic Gardens, and caught two Phish concerts at Thomas & Mack Arena (highlighted by an entire set on Halloween when they covered Velvet Underground's Loaded in its entirety).

The Sahara was the main base of operations that Halloween weekend with two rooms for 8 people, which cost us $10 a piece per night. Everyone was scattered between the Casbar Lounge, the poker room, and slumming at the $1 blackjack table. That weekend was a long blur. Trying to record the events as it happened proved to be difficult, let alone trying to rewind the events in my head 12.5 years later. Despite the foggy hallways of my mind, one moment stood out: late night after the Halloween concert when we actually walked from Thomas & Mack Arena back to the Sahara via a pit stop at a bar inside the MGM. Sounds so cliche, but it was Halloween, I was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and tripping balls on The Strip after (accidentally) ingesting several double-dipped hits of blotter. Double the visuals, double the fun. I was a lit monkey for a week.

That trip also marked the best buffet fried chicken I had ever devoured in Las Vegas (or the South for that matter). The chicken was so delicious that I ate it at the buffet twice that weekend. Can't say I've ever eaten it since.

* * * *

When I moved to Las Vegas in 2005, I bunked with Grubby in Henderson. We often drove to the Sahara to play in their nightly 7pm tournament -- mainly because the poker room provided free sandwiches to their players during the first break and they let you buy back in if you busted in the first couple of levels. We played a few times a week and Grubby usually made the final table, but I always fucking bubbled the final table. Although I grinded my buy-in back at the soft cash tables, it still used to bother me that I couldn't break the nagging streak of not making a final table.

The free food was a decent promotion. The food wasn't anything special -- everyone got a piece (or two) of a six-foot deli sandwich. I think the poker room order three or four. A homeless guy showed up exactly at break time every night. He snuck into the back entrance to the poker room and filled up on a couple of sandwiches that he stuffed into a plastic bag before he escaped out the side door.

Winning (or chopping) the Sahara tournament (either the 7pm or the 11pm one) became a badge of honor among my friends -- many of whom hold that dubious distinction. Shit, I'm still embarrassed that I couldn't final table that sucker once, let alone win it outright. The Sahara had my number. I just couldn't string together any run good in their tournaments.

After a while, the Sahara nightly tournament lost its luster among perpetually grumpy locals and it couldn't compete when the mid-Strip casinos expanded their poker rooms. Once the Venetian and Caesar's began their daily tournaments, they locked up the hard-to-please locals and it got increasingly hard for the Sahara's poker room to keep up. Same goes for the rest of the casino. The NASCAR shtick in a sluggish economy wasn't profitable enough anymore.

(photo by Flipchip)

I had not gambled at the impoverished Sahara in several years. I'm pretty sure the last time I played poker at the Sahara -- I went busto due to a vicious bad beat, oozed with negativity and was probably thrilled to death to leave that dump. Alas, never had any incentives to go back once I migrated from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. Since then, I spent next to no time hanging out in that demilitarized zone north of the Wynn and south of the Stratosphere, aside from the odd sojourn to Olympic Gardens.

My Sahara poker memories are few but Halloween 98 sticks out as one of my all-time favorite trips to Sin City. Those incriminating stories (many of which occurred inside the Sahara) were trimmed from the final draft of Lost Vegas, but I guarantee those hijinks will be included in the Phish book (as soon as get around to finishing that).

I have one last memory of the Sahara that I want to share. Luckily, the moment was captured forever on film by Hollywood. I'm talking about a scene from Leaving Las Vegas, when Elisabeth Shue's character did the nefarious "hooker limp" in front of the palatial lobby of the Sahara.

Appropriate tribute.

The ghosts of the Sahara limp into the dark of night. The Sahara is nevermore.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday Nugs: California Ready for Online Poker?, Full Tilt's Big Announcement, KevMath aka LA Celebrity, and Nevada's Internet Poker Regulation Bills

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Sunday afternoon. First day after the time change. More sunlight in America, but lots of darkness in the land of the Rising Sun.

Indulge in these newsworthy nugs during the Sunday grind, or while wading through March Madness Bracketology, or if you're reading this on Monday morning while killing time at the office, well, enjoy...
$100,000 buy-in events? Full Tilt Poker will be launching their own uber-high stakes tournament series that will compete against the Federated Poker League and PokerStars' regional poker tours. (Wicked Chops Poker)

KevMath wrote up his Commerce experiences when he visited Los Angeles to play in the WPT Celebrity Invitational. Love the pic with the iPad. (From the Rail)

On the politics front... Nevada introduced a bill to regulate internet poker. They actually had three bills going. (Pokerati)

On the municipal front, California is considering online poker again. Don't know how serious this effort will be, but, California is so broke that they are worse off than Eskimo Clark at the end of the WSOP. They gotta come up with money somehow -- marijuana or online poker -- which one is it going to be? (Sacramento Bee)

The 2011 SCOOP schedule is out and about. Time to play a few satellites. (PokerStarsBlog)

R.I.P. Owsley Stanley
. (Coventry Music)
That's it for now. Back to fear mongering over at Tao of Fear. NGTFOOMO!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Shamus and The Biggest Game in Town

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Every May since 2005, I reread two books as part of my the "Spring Training" preparation that I undertake before I migrate to Las Vegas for the summer to cover the WSOP. One of those books is Al Alvarez's The Biggest Game in Town. I won't reveal the other because it's an obscure book that is non-poker related and not Vegas-themed. During the last two or three years, I took the last week off in May to relax with my girlfriend on the beach in Malibu before the WSOP insanity began. During that mini-holiday, I dug my toes into the sand and devoured Alavarez's words.

The poker community dubbed Doyle Brunson as the Godfather of Poker, so it goes without saying that Alvarez is the Godfather of Poker Writers. I've always said that the Brits are among the best poker writers in the business and Alvarez blazed the trail that has since been followed by Tony Holden. It's no coincidence that some of the best poker scribes in the modern area (Howard Swains and Snoopy, to just mention a couple) hail from the United Kingdom.

Alvarez is a fantastic poet, which is why his descriptions of the WSOP in The Biggest Game in Town are enriched by compact and layered sentences that are hearty, illustrative, and powerful -- all in one punch.

In homage to Alvarez, Short-Stacked Shamus recently completed a sensational and entertaining six-part series titled "Rereading The Biggest Game in Town." It was so damn good that I decided to devote an entire post to linking up each part.
Rereading The Biggest Game in Town: Prelude (1 of 6)
Rereading The Biggest Game in Town: Poker’s Challenge to “Reality” (2 of 6)
Rereading The Biggest Game in Town: Losing (3 of 6)
Rereading The Biggest Game in Town: Playing Jimmy Chagra (4 of 6)
Rereading The Biggest Game in Town: Reality and Romance (5 of 6)
Rereading The Biggest Game in Town: America, Where Gambling is a Form of Patriotism (6 of 6)
Well done, sir. Shamus got me all excited to reread The Biggest Game in Town much earlier than May.

By the way, help support independent writers and buy a copy of Shamus' pulp novel Same Difference.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Pope Seidel VIII

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Chris Moneymaker vs. Erik Seidel
Photo by Flipchip

Erik Seidel beat Chris Moneymaker in the finals to secure the 2011 Heads-Up Championship. Too bad for Moneymaker. As soon as he made a run in a televised event with a rare shot to prove that he wasn't a one-hit wonder -- he ran into the hottest player on the circuit, Erik Seidel.

Seidel embarked upon one of the most epic streaks since the inception of "run good" into poker's every day vernacular.

Let's recap...
Paradise Island, Bahamas - 4th Place, PCA $25K High Rollers

Melbourne, Australia - 3rd Place, Aussie Millions $100K (AUD) High Roller

Melbourne, Australia - 1st Place, Aussie Millions $250K (AUD) Super High Roller

Los Angeles, CA - 1st Place, LA Poker Classic $25K High Rollers

Las Vegas, NV - 1st Place, NBC National Heads-Up Championship

Erik Seidel - 2011 NBC Heads-Up Champion
Photo by Flipchip

So, what's next for Seidel? When will his run good strike next? It seems as though the next step is a bracelet (or three) at the 2011 WSOP. In 2008, I made a prop bet with one of my colleagues that Erik Seidel was going to become the next player to join the 10 bracelets club...before the end of the Mayan calender. He's got this summer and next to do it.

I have faith that one of two things will happen by December 21, 2012 -- Seidel will have won ten bracelets, or the end of the world is nigh.

By the way... for all of you stat geeks and those who love a good ole juicy controversy over petty things like which events should be included in All-Time Money winners, with a $750,000 score at the NBC HUC, Erik Seidel may...or may at the top of Hendon Mob's list in career earnings. I'm waiting for the Vatican to update their standings before I made an official announcement.

At this point, Erik Seidel has become bigger than the pontiff and transformed into the mythical Midas. All I want to know is...which team is Seidel going to pick to win in his March Madness bracket? I'm gonna bet my entire sportsbetting roll on it.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Rolling Out the Magic

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Television executives in poker are faced with two rigorous obstacles: 1) inaction at the tables, and 2) lack of stimulating dialogue. Both are detrimental to ratings. Lackadaisical ratings gave poker a blemish, which is why the suits in charge of programming banished poker to uncoveted late night slots, where stoners and insomniacs alike watched with an indifferent glaze. The few remaining programs were lost in the shuffle at the farthest ends of the satellite spectrum, embroiled in fierce competition against 1,000 other stations.

Both 441 Productions (the crew responsible for producing the WSOP) and ESPN execs (their taut strings controlled by Disney suits) faced similar challenges with creating a viable product after the inception of the UIGEA and the subsequent bursting of the poker bubble. The "November Nine" was created to combat sluggish ratings, but even with a WSOP Main Event final table delay, everyone on the production side of equation had no control over the people who occupied the final nine seats.

There's nothing that you can do with inaction at the tables. That's poker. Most 8 or 9-handed NL hold'em final tables are in excess of 8 hours, but every single hand gets edited down to 90+ minutes of programing (or 45 minutes if slated for an hour time slot). The guys in the editing rooms are true magicians. They sit in the dark and sift through hours of snooze-inducing footage, then pluck out the highlights and produce a slick final table.

Legendary director Alfred Hitchcock said that his films were just like real life, except with all the dull parts cut out. Televised poker tournaments are nothing like real life because you don't get to see all of the down time. And producers get ulcers when they don't have enough exciting hands to show, or the players don't say anything interesting.

The inception of hole card cameras made televised poker fascinating for the audience -- but albeit on a conditional basis. Conflict is one of the most essential ingredients of compelling entertainment. The other main component are likable (or despicable) characters. If your story lacks interesting characters, then the audience will have no one to root for (or against). And if the story lacks conflict, then no one is going to give a shit and flip the channel.

Inherently, poker is boring from a spectator's perspective (even from a player's perspective -- nothing is more excruciating that being card dead at a slow-paced table). The main culprit is inaction at the tables, as the saying goes... poker is 99% boredom with 1% pure exhilaration. Final tables are not recorded live for that primary reason because the majority of the time nothing of major significance is going to happen. In our contemporary short-attention span society with thousands of other competing entertainment options, you have a tiny window of time to hook somebody in before they get bored and move onto more intellectually stimulating fodder like The Jersey Shore.

By the way, nothing gives producers and reporters a bigger set of blue balls than a tense moment during a potential big hand after someone tanks for several minutes -- but then folds. I have almost a hundred reporter's notebooks with thousands of blue balls-ladden incomplete hands that had the potential for fireworks, but went nowhere. Inaction.

If given the opportunity, slimy television executives would love to manipulate the "characters" at final tables, but luckily, that's one aspect that they can't manipulate. There's always been whispers that some professional sporting events have been rigged. I've had discussions with sports bettors, old-time newspaper beat reporters, bartenders, bookies, and even a couple of tin-foil hat wearing schleps, who all shared conspiracy theories about the MLB, NBA and NFL's attempts to fix playoff games, so they could: 1) maximize profits for TV conglomerates by ensuring the series were played out a full seven games, or 2) manipulate the finals to include a big market team over a small market team. Most of that was bullshit, of course, but a few extremely fuzzy grey instances were tough to ignore because of the obvious lopsided calls that favored one team over another.

When Greg Raymer was the reigning world champion, he once joked that he wished poker was fixed like pro wrestling so he (the champ) would make every final table. Everyone knows that pro wrestling is rigged. I practically grew up on the WWF, and my old man took my brother and I to monthly matches at Madison Square Garden. I was absolutely crushed after the infamous "wrestling is fake" episode from 20/20 aired in 1984. Investigative reporter John Stossel blew the whistle, and to this day I have a memory burn of watching David Schultz bitch slap him while screaming something to the effect, "Does the pain feel fake?" Many years later, we found out that WWF head honcho Vince McMahon ordered Schultz to intimidate Stossel by roughing him up.

In the 1950s, network quiz shows were fixed. In the mid-1990s, Robert Redford directed Quiz Show, a film about the scandal involving the most popular TV show at the time, Twenty One, where NBC execs gave reigning champion Charles Van Doren the questions ahead of time -- which allowed him to continue his reign.

If execs could rig the November Nine, they'd have Phil Ivey make the table every year. The fact that Ivey made the 2009 November Nine was a serendipitous gift from the poker gods, but even with Ivey's appearance, the rest of the final table wasn't enough to keep everyone inside the Penn & Teller Theatre for the entire evening. Moments after Ivey busted, the majority of the theatre emptied out.

Therein lies the problem. With a sporting contest, it's impossible to predict the outcome of the final table. And since it's an actual sporting contest with non-performers, you never know what sort of interaction you'll get among the participants. I recall one WSOP Main Event when Phil Hellmuth got moved to the TV table. The rest of his table included amateurs and everyone was quiet -- even Hellmuth. It got so bad that Mr. Showbiz himself bluntly recommended, "If you want a shot at getting on TV so all of your friends and family can see you, then you gotta liven up and say something... say anything. I can't be the only who talks the other time. If everyone keeps quiet, they are gonna move our table out and bring in a new one."

Casting is the key to success. If the cast has believable chemistry, then the program will become a hit and generate a shit-ton of advertising revenue. If I was a TV exec, and I could rig a final table, sort of like casting a reality show, I'd be looking for these types of combatants...
1. Respected old timer - Leathered face. Cowboy hat. Distinct drawl. Anyone come to mind? Yep, good old Texas Dolly. Heck, why not have him at EVERY televised final table. He earned it.

2. Brash young online pro - Online poker rooms are the biggest advertisers, so they want a cocky kid with killer skills to entice younger viewers to open up online poker accounts.

3. Cinderella - Everyone loves to root for the underdog, especially a total fish out of water. This role often went to the middle-aged family guy with a beer gut -- your next door neighbor or the guy sitting in the cubicle across from you. Who would've thunk that Chris Moneymaker and Greg Raymer would have became role models for thirty-something and forty-something all over America. As much as everyone wants the life of Ivey, it's easier for Middle America to identity with a regular looking guy like Dennis Phillips.

4. Phil Ivey - No comment.

5. Sensual Woman - The Don Drapers at big time advertising companies manipulate our suppressed sexual psyche. It's got something to do with our Puritanical roots and the simple fact that men become Pavlov's frothing dog whenever they see a pair of boobies.

6. Funny Guy - You need comic relief, especially during all of those down moments.

7. The Villain - I can't explain it, but we're obsessed with things we despise. My life is too short to get bent out of shape over a dickhead or douchenozzle, but a huge portion of the populous loves to be haters. They get off on it. Like a drug. Hate is our real national past time. That's why Phil Hellmuth is a marketing genius because he plays up to the crowd as the prototypical bad guy. He even dresses the part by wearing all black -- something right out of classic John Ford westerns, where the bad guy always wore the black cowboy hat.

8. Celebrity - You need someone famous because Americans are obsessed with the celebrity culture. A good looking guy would instantly boost female viewers -- even if they don't care about poker, many of them like to look at pretty things.

9. Foreigner - A quirky accent instantly adds intrigue and mystery.
Of course, these roles are interchangeable. For instance the villain could also be a hotshot online pro. The sensual female could also be the celebrity, and the celebrity could very well be an actual comedian.

What eventually sunk Celebrity Poker Showdown was that it became unwatchable for advanced poker players due to the atrocious skill level exhibited by said celebs. Sure, my mother loved the show because she was more interested in the celebrities than which one of them was a better post-flop player. That's why intriguing shows like High Stakes Poker are not palatable for mass consumption because the show can be difficult to follow if you don't have a rudimentary background in poker.

If online poker rooms did not subsidize specific programs (UB propped up Poker Tonite, PokerStars has their Big Game, and Full Tilt's has Poker After Dark), we know those shows wouldn't exist. If the online rooms did not purchase voluminous ad buys on ESPN during the WSOP, would be any poker on TV? I view the WSOP as a battle zone for the ongoing cold war between Full Tilt and PokerStars -- like the Korean War, a proxy war between two super powers.

* * * * *

Enter Charlie Sheen. Say what you want about him, but he's exactly what someone needs for televised poker. Someone who will say anything and stand up to table bullies like Phil Hellmuth and Tony G.
Hellmuth: You friggin' bi-polar donkey. You get it all in with K-J like that and suck out?

Charlie Sheen: I'm bi-winning. I win here and I win there. Now what? If I'm bipolar, aren't there moments where a guy like crashes in the corner like, 'Oh my God, it's all my mom's fault!' Shut up! Shut up! Stop! Move forward.

Hellmuth: Keep playing like that and you'll go broke.

Charlie Sheen: Defeat is not an option. You picked a fight with a warlock.

Hellmuth: I'm not afraid. I can dodge bullets, baby!

Charlie Sheen: I'm sorry, man, but I've got magic. I've got poetry in my fingertips. Most of the time -- and this includes naps -- I'm an F-18, bro. And I will destroy you in the air. I will deploy my ordinance to the ground.

Hellmuth: What have you been smoking, pal?

Charlie Sheen: I am on a drug. It's called Charlie Sheen. It's not available because if you try it once you will die. Your face will melt off and your children will weep over your exploded body. It's too much

And let's not forget a little verbal jousting with The G...
Tony G: I'm gonna rip you apart so hard!

Charlie Sheen: I fire back once and this contaminated little maggot can't handle my power and can't handle the truth. I wish him nothing but pain in his silly travels especially if they wind up in my octagon. Clearly I have defeated this earthworm with my words -- imagine what I would have done with my fire breathing fists.

Tony G: You're the worst player in the world! Get on your bike Charlie and pedal back to Hollywood!

Charlie Sheen: The scoreboard doesn't lie. Never has. So what we all have is a marriage of the hearts. And to sully, contaminate, or radically disrespect this unit with a shameful contract is something I'll leave to the amateurs and bible grippers.

Tony G: Feel my power!

Charlie Sheen: Pfffffttttt.... when you see how I party man, it's epic. The run I was on made Sinatra, Flynn, Jagger, Richards, all of them, just look like droopy-eyed, armless children.
As a member of the poker media, one of my least favorite duties involves interviewing pros. I know a few of my colleagues that turn on their recorders, let the pro say what they want, then type it up verbatim. I refuse to do that. Besides, the majority of pros give dull interviews because they've been coached into not revealing anything too spicy or saying anything incendiary. Alas, they routinely dodge the tough questions especially on hot-button issues. And on the rare chance I extracted anything with a little sizzle, the quote almost always got mercilessly killed by spineless editors at the request of fascist PR ruffians. Killed quotes occurred too many times to me early in my career as a reporter. The KGB-esque means of censoring poker media is one of the many aspects of the industry that I loathe, which is why I rarely interview sponsored pros for publications, because I know that any of the juicy quotes will be extracted from my articles. Luckily, Tao of Poker is one of the few bastions of uncensored self-expression in poker.

Why is the industry as a whole overly sensitive these days? It's not like poker is a milk and cookies entity appealing to G-rated audiences. Its origins have always been shady. Although the rougher edges have been smoothed out, the dark underbelly and criminal element continues to thrive. Maybe poker has become too corporate these days? Or maybe the machine has gotten too big that the PR watch dogs are stomping out dissension?

British pro Luke Schwartz is the closest thing poker has to Charlie Sheen, but even that hooligan resembles Mother Theresa more than the transcendent deviant known as Charlie Sheen, who has admittedly banged seven-gram rocks of pure cocaine and slept with more porn stars than Rocco Siffredi.

Until more tiger-blooded players barge into the limelight, the industry desperately needs Charlie Sheen for a season or two to liven things up and get some well-needed mainstream exposure. Heck, poker has welcomed many other more obscure and lesser-talented Hollywood types in hopes of getting noticed by the glitterati.

It's time to juice up the circus and turn Charlie Sheen wild in the poker kingdom. He'd give us interviews that I'd actually read and watch. Oh, and the best part? We'd get to gawk at his entourage of porn stars hovering on the rail.

"I am special," extolled Charlie Sheen, "And I will never be one of you."

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By the way, check out Change100's new column for Tao of Fear titled: Winning! Charle Sheen News. Oh, and our buddy JT whipped up a new batch of t-shirts inspired by Charlie.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Goldmine and NBC's Heads-Up Championship

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Here's the time of the month when I direct you over to a different corner of the web to read a guest post that I penned for Poker From the Rail (which is a blog affiliated by Full Tilt Poker). Once again, the dynamic duo of AlCantHang and Dave McCarthy asked me to share my half-baked jaded-vet thoughts about the recently announced line up for the 2011 NBC National Heads-Up Championship.

So don't waste any more time, and take a peek at NBC's Goldmine: The National Heads-Up Championship, which is sort of my open letter to the executives at NBC. I gave them a multi-millionaire dollar idea...for free. I didn't even ask for anything in return.

* * * *

Here's a complete list of guest posts that I penned for Full Tilt's From the Rail:
NBC's Goldmine: The National Heads-Up Championship
8 Bracelets, 15-Minutes of Fame, and 12 Donkaments
The Land of Unicorns - Macau Cash Games
Freaky Styley: Durrrr and Jungleman12
Thanks again to ACH and DM for the invite.

Photo credit: Flipchip

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Tuesday Nugs: Bluff Power 20 Reactions (and Podcast), Gold Coast Poker Room Closed, Charlie Sheen/Alex Jones Interview and the Funky President Mix

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Happy Tuesday. Four more days until the weekend. Oh, and Happy March while we're at it. Congrats on surviving the first two months of 2011. You can celebrate this momentous occasion by getting shitfaced at work, or if you're looking to keep your job and not bodacious enough to start drinking at 9:30am, maybe you can just sedate yourself with a happy pill (or happy coffee-flavored beverage) and read a couple of poker news-worthy items...
Bluff Magazine's Power 20 has been the source of blog fodder. Read for yourself at... Kim at Infinite Edge Gaming, Bill Rini at Bill's Poker Blog, F Train at Riding the F Train, Shamus at Hard-Boiled Poker, and Shamus again at BetFair.

And the Power 20 spawned a podcast from los hombres and Bluff Editor-in-Chief Lance Bradley. (Wicked Chops Poker)

A trio of posts... Timtern's This Week’s Big Winners, Mark Gahagan's Winners, Losers, Coinflips, and Michalski wrote about the Gold Coast closing their poker room.(Pokerati)

Haley posted the latest installment of Just Conjecturin', her series investigating the UB cheating scandal... Volume 29: Inside the Makar Email (Haley's Poker Blog)

This made me howl... an animated version of Charlie Sheen's rant on the Alex Jones show. You know you're in trouble when Alex Jones is the more sane person of the two in a conversation. (Tao of Fear)

Change100, the resident fashionista for Tao of Fear, recently broke down everyone's favorite Libyan despot in Dictator Chic: Moammar Gadhafi. (Tao of Fear)

For all you music enthusiasts, crank up the volume for The Funky President Mixtape! (Coventry)
Did you read everything in a British accent? The news sounds more important and classier that way.

That's it. You know the drill. NGTFOOMO!