Sunday, July 22, 2012


I ran into Julian Thew the other day on the second afternoon of a WSOP $1k. Julian was as kind and cordial as he was when I first met him in the fall of 2007, as he was when we had dinner with four players left at the final table of the EPT Baden that year, as he has been every time we’ve crossed paths since.

I have played something like a million hands of poker; financially speaking, by far the most significant was this one (starting at 1:54) against Thew at that final table. Win that hand and I probably would have won the tournament and its $947,406 prize. Instead, as had been preordained, I was eliminated in fourth place for $720k less. It didn’t feel like a $720k beat. I was half-rooting for Julian to win it. He was so nice, he played the hand properly, he had young ‘uns, he needed it more than me.

I think often of that fateful hand, of what might have been, but rarely in wistful fashion. I would probably be a lot richer. I’d probably be a better poker player. I would have had opportunities to do some special things.

But would I be any happier? I have no idea. Would I hang out with the same friends? Would I still live in Boulder? All unanswerable questions, as unfathomable as how the flap of a butterfly’s wings could cause a hurricane a thousand miles away.

Julian and 4,589 other competitors had been terminated from that $1k by the time Dominik Nitsche shoved all-in for about fifteen big blinds from early position and I woke up with pocket kings and a covering stack a couple slots behind. A moment earlier Dominik had been in truly dire straits, residing in the big blind with a fifth of his paltry stack already in the pot. An amateur player made an oversize raise to five big blinds, the size of Dominik’s stack, forcing a fold out of a European pro on the button. Dominik called all-in with ace-ten, the amateur flipped over ten-eight suited, Dominik doubled on a painted board, and the furious young button announced that he would have busted Dominik if the amateur hadn’t played his ten-eight. The next hand Dominik shoved in over the other European’s raise, the latter folded after disgustedly dwelling on the previous hand for a second time, and that was how Dominik had recovered to fifteen big blinds before shoving pocket sixes into my kings a few hands later.

Before the dealer spread the flop, I felt butterflies in my stomach at a poker table for the first time in two and a half years, when I found myself all-in against Sam Stein on the final table bubble of the $5k NAPT Venetian. I would survive that hand, but expire after a miserable final table in sixth place. Stein would finish second to Tom Marchese, just another in a string of six-figure scores each has made since hitting the circuit in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

In my last tournament in Vegas, the $5k main event of the Venetian Deepstack series, I had the pleasure of playing with Marchese and some other universe-class players. After a summer spent swimming amongst fish, I caught a glimpse of the shark tank, the habitat I used to call my home but haven’t visited in years. I fought with the best, and I fared just fine. That tournament was more meaningful for me than many of those beastly antagonists: it might be my last big buy-in for eleven months. The Marcheses and Steins have had and will continue to have many opportunities at Big Money; mine – because of both the skill and frequency with which I play – come far less often.

Yet it is not that Big Money that matters to me. I care even less about the cash than I did when I started playing this beautiful game. Money is caprice. Victory is immortality.

Perhaps it was that disregard for money that allowed me to play so well this WSOP. Perhaps it was patience earned from 2 ½ hour kindergarten recesses in Ethiopia. Perhaps it was the impassive experience – eight years of grinding the WSOP, a hundred $1 and $1.5ks in the archives, a thousand scenarios repeating like broken records. Whatever it was, it was the best, most consistent Series I’ve ever strung together. I regret perhaps three or four hands from the summer, none of them clear mistakes. Time and again I asked the best players I know what they would have done with X, Y, & Z, and every time I’d played 'em just as they would have.

I had Dominik’s sixes covered in one suit but his six of spades was unfiltered, immediate and terrifying once three spades hit the flop. Butterflies swam up my throat as the dealer peeled off a harmless turn card. One more and I’d have vanquished the most dangerous adversary remaining and be sitting with close to double average chips for the stretch run. It wasn’t a spade on the river, but the snake in the grass six that doubled Dominik up. Just seven hours later, while I drifted off to sleep pondering the flap of a butterfly’s wings, Dominik won the tournament and its $654,797 first prize.

Monday, July 16, 2012


A big congratulations to one of my oldest and truest friends - and this blog's most allegiant followers - Ben "TheGraveWolf" Greenberg on an 88th place finish in the World Series of Poker Main Event. Like the rest of Ben's crew, I was really proud of the way he played throughout his run. The Wolf held a large chip lead for several hours on day four of the Main and played the best tournament poker of his career. It was a joy to watch.

Friday, July 06, 2012

The One Drop

I’m generally against anything that constricts the democracy of poker, so I wasn’t initially excited about the million-dollar buy-in One Drop event that took place last weekend at the WSOP. The One Drop wasn’t an invitational, but its outrageous prize money would limit accessibility while forever skewing the earnings rankings which are becomingly increasingly weighty in the poker world. However, once I learned a little more about the One Drop mission, I grew increasingly excited about the event. One Drop’s impetus in conserving and regurgitating the world’s water supply rather than simply using more was particularly appealing for me personally. One Drop’s supply of water coolers at the Rio this summer was a wonderful idea, though they have been wretchedly underutilized by a community more focused on reshoving than recycling.

The agreement made between One Drop, Harrah’s, and the players – giving 11.11% of each player’s million to the charity while the WSOP took no cut – further glorified the tournament. Since One Drop reached its cap of 48 players, $5.3 million was raised for the org, leaving a staggering $42.7 million in spoils for the eclectic, entertaining gamblers who comprised the field. It was like James Bond or Maverick or something – 48 gamblers from all corners of the Earth summoned to Vegas to play the highest-stakes tournament in the history of the game. You had philanthropic hedge-fund managers, mysterious Russians, billionaires out of the Orient, a D-list celebrity, old-school desert denizens, and of course, many of the greatest poker players on the planet.

The pageantry enveloping the first day of the One Drop was overshadowed by The Hand, which spread like wildfire through the poker world immediately after it went down. Within minutes, everyone with a serious interest in poker had heard through some sort of social media that Russian businessman and semi-pro Mikhail Smirnov had folded four eights – quads – after Minnesotan businessman John Morgan pushed all-in on the river on a board of Js8c7s8sKs. The legend of the four-eights-fold grew throughout the day and night as the hand history circulated amongst the community:

Tom Dwan had opened and received a call from Smirnov and Morgan before the Js8c7s fell. Dwan checked and Smirnov bet. Morgan called and Dwan folded. The turn was the 8s and Smirnov bet 200,000. Overhearing a conversation from Smirnov, he said Morgan called within five seconds and looked extremely excited about the hand. The river completed the board with the Ks and Smirnov bet 700,000. Morgan raised all-in for 3.4 million total and Smirnov tank-folded 8h8d face up for all to see.

Not only did Smirnov fold the four eights, but he laid em down to a single raise on the river. Folding quads is the stuff of fairy tales; that it happened in a million-dollar buy-in might make the hand the most legendary in the history of tournament poker. If Smirnov had gone on to a big-money finish, it certainly would have been.

Morgan has stated that he will not be revealing if he indeed had the straight flush, but that didn’t stop me from placing a couple even-money bets against friends that he did have it. Folding quads is certainly an almost inhuman thing to do, but it’s easy to narrow Morgan’s range down to just a few hands. If we assume that Morgan would never be moving all-in for value on the river with less than a full house (a safe assumption considering Smirnov’s massive bets, including over-pot on the river), that leaves him with pocket sevens, jacks, kings, bluffs, and the straight flush.

The bluff seems pretty ludicrous considering the line, the board, the stakes, Smirnov’s river bet, and who John Morgan is and how he played in general. You can never completely rule out the bluff, but it’s easy to limit it to a tiny percent of his range here.

You can pretty much rule out pocket kings based on Morgan’s smoothcall preflop, as he wasn’t the type to get tricky with a huge hand and had been consistently three-betting his strong hands preflop. That also makes jacks unlikely, though not inconceivable. Just like that we’re basically down to sevens with some chance of jacks. Then the question becomes, would Morgan have smoothcalled the flop and turn with sevens, then shoved the river? Seems unlikely considering Smirnov’s overbet. Jacks too seem unlikely based on the preflop and especially flop action. It all adds up to a fold, though it certainly would have been quite a challenge in real time.

The final table went just as expected, with Antonio Esfandiari and Sam Trickett artfully wielding and extending their chipleads, Phil Hellmuth snaking his way to a fourth-place finish without holding many cards, and hedge-fund manager David Einhorn scoring an additional $4.35 million for charity. As always, it was a pleasure to watch Olivier Busquet’s analysis of the final table. I’ve said before that last year’s live WSOP coverage with Busquet and Esfandiari commentating was the single greatest learning tool in poker history; after watching Busquet dissect the Magician’s $18.3 million flogging of the final table, I instantly felt my own game was improved.

Monday, July 02, 2012

June Top 15

15. The Darkness - Dinner Lady Arms
14. Live - The Dolphin's Cry
13. Jimmy Eat World - My Sundown
12. Jimmy Eat World - Cautioners
11. The Darkness - One Way Ticket

10. The Quick Six - County Line
9. Live - Shit Towne
8. LCD Soundsystem - Losing My Edge
7. Kenny Rogers & Sheena Easton - We've Got Tonight
6. Jimmy Eat World - The Authority Song

5. Midlake - Roscoe
4. Brendan Benson - Insects Rule
3. Brendan Benson - Crosseyed
2. Jimmy Eat World - Get It Faster

Song of the Month: Jimmy Eat World - Hear You Me