2015 WSOP on ESPN: Leader Joe McKeehen Pressures, How Do You Respond?

This week came the last pre-November Nine episodes from ESPN’s coverage of the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event. The shows have now set the stage for the start-to-finish coverage of the final table that begins this Sunday.

From a starting field of 6,420 players just 15 were left at the start of this week’s episodes. A couple of themes ran through most of the two-and-a-half hours — Joe McKeehen amassing a huge stack to end Day 7 and Daniel Negreanu trying to hang on with below-average chips to make the final nine.

In this last installment of our “what-would-you-do”-style game from this year’s WSOP Main Event, we’re highlighting three Day 7 hands involving McKeehen and shorter-stacked players, all of whom were of course at risk in hands against him.

Hand #1: Turansky vs. Schwartz vs. McKeehen

Players left: 14

Blinds: 120,000/240,000

Ante: 40,000

Avg. stack: 13.76 million

After Tom Kearney was shown falling in 15th ($411,453) in a hand versus Tom Cannuli from the outer table, the focus shifted back to the seven-handed feature table.

Justin Schwartz had about 10.2 million to start the hand, and he limped in from the hijack seat. Alexander Turyansky then looked down at {Q-Clubs} from a seat over. He had almost 12.8 mlllion to begin, and he chose to raise to 650,000.

The action moved to McKeehen sitting on Turyansky’s left behind the button and his leading stack of close to 26 million. McKeehen also called. The blinds then folded, and Schwartz called the additional 410,000, making the pot 2.59 million total when the flop came {2-Diamonds}{3-Diamonds}{6-Hearts}.

Schwartz checked, and with his big overpair Turyansky continued with a bet of 700,000. McKeehen called, then Schwartz pushed all in for just over 9.5 million.

The pot was up to just over 13.5 million with Schwartz’s shove. Turyansky had a little under 11.5 million behind, with McKeehen still to act after him.

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Turyansky sat with his arms folded in thought for a short while before finally deciding to push his cards to the dealer. He was likely very glad he did when he heard McKeehen instantly announce “call” in response.

As it happened, both of Turyansky’s opponents had outflopped him as Schwartz had {3-Spades}{3-Clubs} (set of treys) and McKeehen {6-Spades}{6-Clubs} (set of sixes). The turn and river failed to bring Schwartz a one-outer, and he unluckily finished 14th ($411,453).

“Daniel, do you fold queens there?” asked Turyansky of Negreanu afterwards. “I don’t know, man,” answered Negreanu. “That’s a great fold.”

“I guess with a guy behind you,” Negreanu continued, referring to McKeehen. “But I mean he just has a flush draw a lot.”

Upon learning what Turyansky folded, McKeehen was likewise impressed.

“You folded queens? That blows my mind,” said McKeehen to Turyansky. “Did you put him on better?” he asked, referring to the departed Schwartz.

“I was really scared of you,” responded Turyansky.

Having boosted his stack up close to 38 million after the hand — nearly twice what his nearest challengers then had — others had reason to fear McKeehen going forward as well.

Hand #2: Negreanu vs. McKeehen

That said, the very next hand at the feature table found McKeehen min-raising from middle position and Negreanu choosing to call from the big blind with {Q-Spades}{J-Hearts}.

“Take on the guy running hot,” grinned Negreanu who had about 6.7 million to start the hand. “Why not?”

Players left: 14

Blinds: 120,000/240,000

Ante: 40,000

Avg. stack: 13.76 million

There was 1.44 million in the middle as the flop came {10-Hearts}{J-Clubs}{4-Spades}, giving Negreanu top pair. He checked, McKeehen bet 525,000, and Negreanu called. The turn then brought the {6-Clubs} and another check from Negreanu. This time McKeehen bet 1.35 million.

Negreanu thought a bit, then called again, leaving himself about 4.3 million behind. The pot was up to 5.19 million.

The river was the {4-Clubs}. Negreanu checked a third time, and McKeehen fired yet another barrel, this one worth 2 million.

That sent Negreanu into the tank, talking as usual as he pondered what to do.

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“Can’t have it every time, dude,” said Negreanu to McKeehen as he studied. Finally he decided to call, saying “must pay” as he did. “Kings,” said McKeehen as he turned over {K-Hearts}{K-Diamonds}, and Negreanu shook his head, having been knocked down to 2.31 million and 14th of 14 after the hand.

“Back to the drawing board,” he shrugged.

Hand #3: Beckley vs. McKeehen

Matt Guan was subsequently knocked out in 13th ($411,453) after running queens into the aces of Federico Butteroni.

Then George McDonald also lost with {Q-Hearts}{Q-Clubs} after calling an all-in four-bet shove from Zvi Stern who held {10-Spades}{8-Spades}. Stern drew a flush, and McDonald’s run ended in 12th ($526,778).

From there McKeehen was shown to be involved in nearly every hand at the feature table, now playing just five-handed. McKeehen had built his stack up over 44 million when the following hand took place.

Players left: 11

Blinds: 150,000/300,000

Ante: 50,000

Avg. stack: 17.51 million

Josh Beckley, with about 11.2 million to begin, looked down at {A-Hearts}{Q-Hearts} in middle position and raised to 675,000. It folded to McKeehen in the small blind who reraised to 1.85 million.

Butteroni then folded pocket eights in the big blind, not wanting to risk getting involved after the leader’s three-bet. Like others, Butteroni was perhaps mindful of the extreme pay jumps in play, as 11th paid $526,778 (the same as 12th), 10th paid $756,897, and making the final nine guaranteed at least $1,001,020.

Beckley called McKeehen’s reraise, making the pot 4.25 million. The flop came {Q-Clubs}{K-Diamonds}{K-Spades}, giving Beckley kings and queens, and he watched McKeehen lead for 1.15 million. Beckley called.

The turn was the {4-Spades}. McKeehen bet again, this time 2.7 million. The pot was up to 9.25 million, and Beckley had 8.15 million behind.

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Beckley chose to let his hand go, and since we knew McKeehen’s hole cards — {7-Hearts}{6-Spades} — we could see Beckley had folded the best hand.

A few hands later came Negreanu’s dramatic final hand, with McKeehen again involved. Click here to read all about Kid Poker’s exciting Day 7 and 11th-place finish ($526,778).

After making that big fold earlier with his queens, Turyansky would then be the one to exit in 10th ($756,897) when his ace-king couldn’t top McKeehen’s pocket queens, giving the latter a stack of 63.1 million or just under a third of the total chips in play to begin the final table.

As mentioned, ESPN’s coverage of the final table from the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino begins on Sunday, November 8. Three days have been reserved to play down to the winner who will be claiming a $7,680,021 first prize. Here’s the schedule:


Sunday, November 88:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.ESPNStart of final table

Sunday, November 811:00 p.m. to ?ESPN2Play stops when 4 players remain

Monday, November 98:00 p.m. to ?ESPN2Play stops when 2 players remain

Sunday, November 109:30 p.m. to ?ESPNPlay down to winner

Want to stay atop all the latest in the poker world? If so, make sure to get updates on your social media outlets. Follow us on and find us on both and +!

2015 WSOP on ESPN: Leader Joe McKeehen Pressures, How Do You Respond? 101



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Play Fantasy Football at Draftpot and Win Free Tickets to an NFL Game! 102

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Lead image courtesy of pixlboom/FreeImages.com.



Dwyte Pilgrim Shocks Poker World Amid Accusations of Hustling Players

Few things are more valuable to a professional poker player than a solid reputation. Talented players known to be honest and upfront seemingly always have a stake. Even if they go broke, more often than not someone will lend a hand.

Unfortunately, the foundation of the poker world is built upon money, and while many pursue it fairly, others deceive and cheat. Oftentimes such swindlers run a ruse for years, either knowingly or unwittingly building a house of cards that inevitably comes crashing down.

This past summer, Ben Warrington’s reputation took a hit when it was revealed that he oversold packages while competing in Las Vegas. It was the latest in a long list of similar infractions. Now, poker pro Aaron Massey has called out World Poker Tour Borgata Poker Open Dwyte Pilgrim.

Massey accuses Pilgrim of defaulting on a loan and vehemently refusing repayment. Since going public, Massey claims his accusations have been echoed by others. PokerNews recently spoke to both Massey and Pilgrim to get to the bottom of the story, which began when the two became friends in 2010, shortly before Pilgrim won the WPT Borgata Poker Open for $733,802. Over the next couple years the two stayed close, and in September 2012 Massey found success of his own when he won the Winstar River Poker Series Main Event for $651,559.

"We both played every live tournament and were at almost every stop together," said Massey. "In September 2012 I had my big win at Winstar and finally had money for the first time. He was ecstatic for me, and over the next four months we got even tighter. He would always text me encouraging things, building me up. He would talk about how we are about to do this thing together, and stuff like that. I kind of knew that he may be treating me differently because I won Winstar, but a lot of people were."

If this story isn’t true, and I lend you money based on a lie, and I don’t get paid back then it is the same as stealing.

In December 2012, Pilgrim proposed a bet with Massey – whoever finished higher in the CardPlayer rankings at the end of the calendar year would win $5,000 and a vacation costing a minimum of $2,500. Massey accepted and even outlined in his blog.

"In January 2013 we were at Borgata," Massey continued. "It was the day before the WPT Main Event. I had just won a prelim a few days prior, and Dwyte knew I had money in the safe in my room. He texted me and asked if he could come to my room to talk about something very serious and it had to be in person. He showed up somber, and started to tell me a story. He said that his bank account had been frozen just days prior. He said he got a notice that it would be frozen for 40 days as they cleared up the issue. He explained his story and then asked me if I could lend him $7,500."

At first Massey was reluctant, even asking for proof of Pilgrim’s claims, but amid excuses and assurances, he eventually he gave in.

Aaron Massey

"I was weary, and I said to him, verbatim, ‘If this story isn’t true, and I lend you money based on a lie, and I don’t get paid back then it is the same as stealing.’ He agreed, got defensive, and once again mentioned our friendship as reason why he would never lie or steal from me."

Even though it wasn’t to his advantage as far as the bet was concerned, Massey loaned Pilgrim $7,500 for two bullets and pocket money. Fast forward 40 days and Pilgrim hadn’t repaid the loan, circumstances that haven’t changed to this day.

"From that point until now, I have tried to setup every/any payment plan with him," said Massey. "I have asked for as little as $1/day. Then $1/week and he still said no. He has lied to me many more times about money coming in but he never follows through."

When Massey took the situation public, others who claimed Pilgrim had similarly fleeced them reached out. Some even revealed that Pilgrim had dropped Brian Hastings name to vouch.

"I immediately send it to Hastings and it turns out that Dwyte had scummed him too," Massey explained. "Hastings put Dwyte in some tournaments, including a Purple Chip bounty tournament at Parx that he chopped. Hastings never saw any of the money, and Dwyte claimed that Parx refused to let him cash out. Hastings also confirmed that he would never, and did not vouch for Dwyte. It was crazy. Weeks earlier I checked Dwyte’s Hendon Mob and saw that cash at Parx. I immediately contacted him to pay me and he gave also gave me a story about not being able to cash out. He never mentioned someone put him in the tournament, and most of everything he says through text makes no sense, it’s just a ramble.

The cash Massey is referring to is the $7,090 Pilgrim won for taking down the Parx Casino Big Stax XII $1,000 No-Limit Hold’em Purple Chip Bounty. PokerNews reached out to Hastings to see if he was familiar with the situation.

Dwyte Pilgrim Shocks Poker World Amid Accusations of Hustling Players 102A text provided by Massey.

"I staked him in a few live tournaments this summer/autumn, he chopped a $1k bounty tourney at Parx for $9,600 total — including five $500 bounties — then claimed he couldn’t get the other $7,100 from Parx due to his license being in poor condition and unverifiable," Hastings said. "He claims to date that he hasn’t been paid out, but I have strong suspicion that he’s not being truthful about that."

Massey provided PokerNews with texts between him and Pilgrim as proof of his attempts to recoup the loan, as well as Pilgrim’s reluctance, or inability, to repay.

"He basically told me that if I kept talking to him that way that my life may be in jeopardy. He was even brazen enough to text me threats as well," said Massey. "As you can see, Dwyte will take advantage of anyone. The haves, the have not’s, the flush, the bust, it just doesn’t matter to him. He’s a preservationist, a parasite, willing to survive by any means necessary. His prey is any human being with money. Anyone he can take advantage of. He is a self-serving con artist.

Massey continued: "It’s unlikely that Dwyte will pay me back, because he has zero honor or integrity. I thought his name meant a lot to him. He always seemed very proud of his name, and his legacy. That is why it baffles me that he would risk ruining it all, instead of doing whatever he could to restore or maintain it. Had he agreed to pay me $1 or $10 or $20 when he saw me, I would’ve continued to protect his name. If he showed me any consideration at all as a friend, or even as a human being, I wouldn’t have gone public like this."

When reached by PokerNews, Pilgrim issued the following statement:

In January 2013, Aaron and me had a POY bet. That same January I asked Daniel Negreanu if he wanted a POY bet. I was in a great situation, no worries no problem, you got to be if u ask Daniel if he want to have a POY bet.

Shortly after I had some problems. I asked three friends to help me. I needed cash for a month or two. They did, and everything was cool. In February, right after playing a $10,000 Main Event, I got some life changing news. From there I had some of the toughest times of my life.

I was in a financial bind that which took me out of playing for the rest of year. I wasn’t able to pay back my arrangements on time. I’ve had some of the toughest years over the last couple years and never got back on track.

I never duck a call or text from anyone. I’ve always intended on paying, but honestly did not have it. If it wasn’t for the thing that happened, I would have paid back on time. I’m sorry my mishaps hurt anyone, but it wasn’t done with malicious intent.

I’ve got nothing but love for everyone who ever helped me. Moving forward, after I owed Aaron for a while he would call and his text would get aggressive. He called me on a rough night and I quoted a rap song, which he took as a threat. I instantly replied and apologized.

I play with hundreds of players a week. My family and friends all know my character. I’m ok with this whole situation, but hopefully we can fix it ASAP. At the end of the day we all take hits, but it’s how you bounce back. Real homies ain’t hating, and hating homies ain’t real.

My pride and ego was high when I took myself out of the game. I was one of the strongest players in the world. It was easier to walk away than ask for help, especially when you are the one that everyone expects to be the one helping.

When you’re at the top, no one knows who their friends are. When you’re down, you know whom your friends. See you at the top.

Massey realizes that going public with the situation greatly decreases the chance he ever gets repaid, and he’s fine with that it prevents anyone from finding themselves in a similar situation.

"I feel that we need to self govern in the poker community," Massey concluded. "Our voices together are loud, and at times we have been able to make a difference. It should be the same when it comes to issues like these."

To learn more about Massey’s side of the story, which includes more specific examples of those he claims ahve also been affected by Pilgrim, check out his most recent post on the BCP Blog.

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Open-Face Chinese Poker by Isabelle “No Mercy” Mercier, Part 6: The Two-Pair Pickle

Tonybet Poker ambassador Isabelle Mercier returns with more tips and advice for playing open-face Chinese poker.

Hello all, and welcome back again to my “Open-Face Chinese No Mercy Little Guide”! Up to now we’ve gone over OFC’s history, talked about basic rules and variants, and in the last couple of articles gone through several pieces of fundamental advice for OFC Pineapple.

Today let’s start looking more closely at some tricky situations that often present themselves in OFC Pineapple. I’m going to draw from some of my own plays at Tonybet Poker to help illustrate the situations better.

Tricky Situation #1: Two-Pair Scenarios

This situation will happen very often in open-face Chinese poker and will give you a headache every time! Take a look at the following example:

This exact play presented itself to me yesterday. Obviously here my {J-Diamonds} will go in the back, and instinctively I’ll tend to put the {5-Hearts} in the middle. But here comes the tricky part.

My initial game plan with this hand had been to make at least two pair in the back and try to secure a pair of aces in the middle and a pair of kings on top in order to go to Fantasyland. But now when I place the {J-Diamonds} in back and {5-Hearts} in the middle, I will not be able to hit my ace and place it there on the middle line unless I make at least trip jacks on the bottom.

This situation will present itself more often than you think. In order to make the right decision, you’ll have to look at your opponent’s board carefully. First of all, you’ll want to see if there are indeed some aces left in the deck (because if there are none, there’s no need to worry about making two pair with aces in the middle). Secondly, you’ll have to look for what your live cards you have in the back — that is, the ones that could come along to beat your two pair in the middle.

Eventually, after looking at the board, I did decide to place my {5-Hearts} in the middle, even though my sole ace in the middle was already covering my sole king on top. I thought I could also make two smaller pair in the middle, or perhaps even catch a jack in the back with an ace in the middle!

Obviously, this was my next draw:

Open-Face Chinese Poker by Isabelle “No Mercy” Mercier, Part 6: The Two-Pair Pickle 102

Had I not put the {5-Hearts} in the middle, I would have been looking good to go to Fantasyland by placing the {A-Hearts} in the middle and the {K-Spades} on top. Indeed, knowing that all my jacks and nines were still alive, I would have taken that risk with great enthusiasm!

However, since I positioned the {5-Hearts} in the middle, I was much less inclined to try to catch a sole jack in the back, so I had to compromise and go for a conservative move. I placed the {A-Hearts} on top to secure my ace-king there, and put my {3-Diamonds} in the middle, hoping to make two pair in the back, two smaller pair in the middle, and still be in a position to go to Fantasyland if all that happened while I caught another ace or a king.

As it turned out, in that hand I did catch a {9-} and would have been able to go to Fantasyland, had I not placed the five in the middle on the second draw.

Just like in hold’em or other poker variations, it’s always easier to analyze a play after the hand is finished and knowing the ultimate results, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right play to place the five in the middle! It only means that in those special cases, you’ll have to be more observant than usual, looking closely (as always) at your live cards and your opponent’s board before you make the decision.

Similarly, always keep in mind that your two pair in the back have to be stronger than your two pair in the middle. With that in mind, let’s look at this play:

Open-Face Chinese Poker by Isabelle “No Mercy” Mercier, Part 6: The Two-Pair Pickle 103

Amateurs have a quick tendency always to use their bigger cards and so here will place the {J-Spades} and the {6-Spades} in the middle. Certainly a pair of jacks is stronger than a pair of sixes or fives. However, if you look at the big picture, what will you do if you catch your jack on the next draw?

You’ll put it in the middle for sure, completing your pair of jacks, but look at your board — doing that would prevent you from being able to make two pair in the middle, unless you fill a full house on your bottom line! Therefore, in this particular case, I’ll prefer to go with the {6-Spades} and {5-Hearts} in the middle. That would enable me still to make two pair in the middle that would be smaller than my two pair in the back, not requiring me to make a full house on the bottom and still leaving me in good shape to get to Fantasyland.

And if I do make my full house in the back, the {6-Spades} and {5-Hearts} are also connecting cards, so I could eventually make a straight in the middle. Obviously, again, your live cards will be highly important when making choices in these kinds of situations.

This brings me to my last point regarding these tricky two-pair situations, one having to do with the initial deal when you receive two pair in your first five cards. Let’s look at the following draw — would you place your cards this way to start the hand?

Open-Face Chinese Poker by Isabelle “No Mercy” Mercier, Part 6: The Two-Pair Pickle 104

A lot of players would do just that, hoping to make a full house in the back. Personally, for the reasons we just covered and since here my two pair in the back are so small, I would prefer to split them and place {8-Spades}{5-Spades}{5-Clubs} in the back and {4-Hearts}{4-Diamonds} in the middle. (That is assuming I am first to speak and have no information about my live cards.) Otherwise, if I don’t complete my full house in the back, I will probably not be able to make two pair in the middle, unless I miraculously catch two pair of deuces and treys to place there.

As a general rule, I’d say it’s usually the correct play to split two pair lower than sevens rather than play both in the back. Then again, it always depends on various factors, including your live cards and the playing style of your opponents.

Rendez-vous next time for more of my “OFC No Mercy Little Guide” when we’ll consider more tricky situations in Pineapple OFC.

Start playing OFC today by downloading Tonybet Poker and using the bonus code NOMERCY to receive 100% bonus up to €500 and a free ticket for a weekly Pineapple NoMercy Ride tournament!

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Open-Face Chinese Poker by Isabelle “No Mercy” Mercier, Part 6: The Two-Pair Pickle 105



2015 WPT UK High Roller Day 1: Steven Warburton Edges Out Simon Deadman for the Lead

The 2015 World Poker Tour UK £5,250 High Roller kicked off on Monday evening after a delayed start due to adverse weather conditions gripping many parts of the United Kingdom. When play did commence, the light and energy given off by some of the world’s top poker talent burned a hole through the fog and dazzled everyone inside Dusk Till Dawn.

Play started with 16 players in their seats, a figure that increased to 29 by the time Day 1 drew to a close. The total attendance should rise higher because players are permitted to reenter, or buy-in for the first time, up to the end of the first level of play on Day 2.

Top 10 Day 1 Chip Counts


1Steven Warburton149,000

2Simon Deadman148,100

3Terry Jordon118,300

4William Chattaway92,900

5Jason Wheeler85,400

6Paul Newey84,600

7Daniel McAulay75,200

8Kuljinder Sidhu69,300

9Mario Sanchez Cano58,900

10Sam Trickett56,000

A total of 23 players managed to progress to Day 2, but nobody managed to accumulate more chips than Steven Warburton. If his name sounds familiar, it is because the talented youngster recently finished as runner-up to John Juanda in the European Poker Tour Barcelona Main Event. After bagging up an impressive 149,000 in chips from a 50,000-chip starting stack, Warburton looks on course for yet another deep run in a major live poker tournament.

Hot on Warburton’s heels was Simon Deadman, who finished the night with 148,100 in chips. Deadman won a large pot halfway through the day’s proceedings, committing his stack with a full house when his opponent, Terry Jordon, had made a worse full house.

If poker had a man-of-the-match award, then it would go to the aforementioned Jordon. Down to 8,000 in chips after a cooler that gifted Deadman the then chip lead, Jordon rode his luck to claw his way back into contention. The big comeback point was his {6-Diamonds} getting there on the turn of a {J-Diamonds}{Q-Hearts}{8-Clubs}{6-Hearts}{a-Clubs} board to crack the {K-Spades}{K-Hearts} of Sergio Aido, with the chips piling in on the flop.

Aido failed to advance on his first attempt.

As the end of play drew near, Jordon flopped a straight at the same time as Tamer Kamel flopped a set. All of the chips went into the middle and, when the board didn’t pair, Kamel bused. With that, Jordon ended the night with 108,300 in chips, and he is one of only three players to start Day 2 with a six-figure stack.

American star Jason Wheeler struggled to travel from Amsterdam to Nottingham due to the his plane being diverted, yet had a fruitful session at Dusk Till Dawn and he will return to Day 2 with 85,400 in chips.

Other notables to progress to Tuesday’s Day 2 included William Chattaway (92,900), Paul Newey (84,600), Sam Trickett (56,000), Adrian Mateos (48,500), Tom Hall (45,700), Ben Dobson (29,300), and Richard Kellett (28,800).

Play resumes at the later-than-advertised 1 p.m. local time and will continue until a champion is crowned.

Will Warburton go all the way? Can Deadman build on a great start? Or will one of the chasing pack emerge victorious?

All these questions will be answered on Day 2 of the 2015 WPT UK High Roller and PokerNews will be providing coverage every step of the way.

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888Weekly: "sheeeeeeeeet," "ShowMeUrBalz," and "bob.com" Dominate In October

October was a very good month for a couple of players over at 888Poker, with both "sheeeeeeeeet" and "ShowMeUrBalz" picking up two cashes each.

In fact, "ShowMeUrBalz" scored both of the cashes on the same day, putting together an eighth-place finish in the $100K Sunday Challenge for $2,413 and then following that up by going one better and finishing seventh in the $150K Mega Deep for $5,011.

Meanwhile, "sheeeeeeeeet" enjoyed success in the Sunday Mega Deep tournaments. On Oct. 4 in the $125K Mega Deep, he finished in fifth place for $7,717, and then made the most of a guarantee boost two weeks later finishing fourth in the $150K Mega Deep for $11,667.

However, it was [B"’bob.com"[/B] who was the big winner last month after winning the $125K Mega Deep on Oct. 11, good enough for a sweet $27,562.

Oct. 4: $125K Mega Deep











888Weekly: "sheeeeeeeeet," "ShowMeUrBalz," and "bob.com" Dominate In October 102
Oct. 4: $100K Sunday Challenge











888Weekly: "sheeeeeeeeet," "ShowMeUrBalz," and "bob.com" Dominate In October 103
Oct. 11: $125K Mega Deep











888Weekly: "sheeeeeeeeet," "ShowMeUrBalz," and "bob.com" Dominate In October 104
Oct. 11: $100K Sunday Challenge











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Oct. 18: $150K Mega Deep











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On Improbable Events in Poker: Learn How to Take Your Lumps

In a weekly home game in which I frequently participate, we had a new player join the game recently. I suspect he’ll be eager to come back, because his first outing with us was one of those nights that seems statistically off the charts.

Playing no-limit hold’em with a $20 buy-in and blinds of $0.25/$0.25, he made $221 in four hours, or 221 big blinds per hour profit. Nice work if you can get it!

The main driver of his winning was an incredible number of full houses when opponents had trips, straights, and flushes. This happened enough that a couple of us kept teasingly repeating a line from Rounders:

“F*&# you and your never-ending string of boats!”

Watching such improbability come to life prompted me to think about the nature of unlikely clusters of events in poker. I thought it would be worth writing about here. My goal is not to give you any practical lessons in what to do about such improbable outcomes, but rather some insight into how to think about them.

The Probability of Improbable Luck

First, let’s try to calculate just how rare a night New Guy had, in terms of hitting full houses. Caution: there is math ahead — but I think it’s worth knowing how to do this kind of analysis, because it can be done with all sorts of specific kinds of outcomes in poker, in gambling more generally, and even in life outside of poker and gambling. (There is such a thing, you know!)

Suppose we play 30 hands an hour. That’s 120 hands in our four-hour game. If you wanted to maximize your chances to get boats, you’d play every hand all the way out. So we need to figure the probability of a full house appearing in a random set of seven cards (your two hole cards plus the five community cards). This part of the math is too complicated for present purposes (though you can see an explanation of it here), so let’s just jump to the answer — 0.026, or 2.6%.

In 120 hands, then, the expected number of full houses is about three. Nobody was counting, but New Guy had at least 10.

Understanding what’s rare can get lost in the shuffle

Now we’d like to know how far out of the ordinary his night really was. This requires a mathematical tool called a binomial calculator. You can find many of them online — this one is easy to use and has a good explanation of what’s happening, should you want a deeper understanding. The inputs are “n,” the number of trials (120 hands); “p,” the probability of a full house on any one hand (0.026); and “k,” the target number of full houses we’re curious about (10).

The calculator spits out two useful results. The probability of getting exactly 10 full houses in 120 hands is 0.0009, or 0.09%. The probability of getting 10 or more full houses in 120 hands is very slightly more: 0.001, or 0.1%. That means if you played 120 hands per night in our home game, you could only expect to get 10 or more full houses in a session one time out of every 1,000 times you played. That’s 20 years of weekly attendance.

New Guy’s night becomes even more astonishing when you consider that he certainly didn’t play every hand. He was quite loose, and may have played half of his starting hands. (At 25 cents to enter, it’s easy to be tempted.) Of those, he obviously didn’t play all of them to the river. These factors greatly reduce the “n” that should be entered into the calculator, but I won’t try to churn out an answer, because I could do no more than guess at how they should be accounted for.

Still, I hope this gives you (1) the basic tools for determining the rarity of a cluster of events, and (2) a sense for how out of the ordinary New Guy’s luck was.

Having “Average” Luck Is Less Common Than You Think

Luck — both good and bad — is notoriously “lumpy.” Though over the long run your full houses will tend to average around 3% of the hands you play, you can be sure that they will not come every 33rd hand with clockwork precision, or anything even remotely approaching it. We can again turn to the binomial calculator to tell us about the distribution of these uncommon events.

We’ll keep our “n” at 120 to represent a typical poker session and our “p” at 0.026 for the probability of any hand turning into a boat, then we can insert various values for “k,” the number of full houses. Here are some of the results. (Remember that these assume, unrealistically, that you play every starting hand, and see every river.)

Only about 4% of the time would you get through a session with no full houses; 96% of the time you’ll hit one or more. It’s at about seven full houses that I think your luckiness would start to really catch your attention, as this will happen only about 2% of the sessions you play. The most likely number of full houses you would hit is three, happening about 23% of the time. About 38% of the time you’ll have more than three, and about 39% of sessions you’ll have fewer than three.

The point here is that the most likely number of boats (three) will actually occur a relatively small minority of the time — just under one-quarter of the four-hour games. All the other times, measured just by number of full houses, you will either be luckier or unluckier than average. Put more starkly, most of the time you will not have average luck. That is what we mean when we say that randomness produces “lumpy” results.

In college classes on probability, instructors will sometimes divide the class into two groups, one of which is assigned to toss a coin, say, 200 times and record the heads/tails results as a string of H’s and T’s. The other group is assigned to just make up such a string of H’s and T’s in a way that would simulate what they think tossing a coin would produce. Virtually every time, the instructor can look at the resulting strings of letters and almost immediately determine which was from the actual experimentation and which was from the group trying to emulate coin-tossing.

On Improbable Events in Poker: Learn How to Take Your Lumps 102Just like cards, a tossed coin has no bias

How does the instructor know? It’s given away by the presence or absence of long strings of H’s or T’s in the real results.

When the group just making up results gets something like HHHHH, they will almost never follow that with another H, because HHHHHH seems so obviously artificial that it would give away the fact that they’re not actually tossing a coin. But this is wrong.

Because each coin toss has an equal chance of being heads or tails, completely independent of the previous tosses, once you have HHHHH, it is just as likely that it will become HHHHHH as that it will become HHHHHT. But humans will tend not to write a string of six consecutive heads or tails; they will strongly bias the results of that sixth letter to T in an attempt to balance things out, because that’s the way we think the universe works. A fair coin has no such bias.

The actual calculation is extremely gnarly (but well explained here, for brave souls). But it works out that in 200 tosses, you will get a string of six or more consecutive heads or tails about 97% of the time — even though the probability of any one trial of six tosses all being the same is only 1/32.

How We Deal With Improbable Seeming Deals

The point of the experiment is to show how our brains and life experience are poorly equipped to deal with things that are truly random. We tend to believe that randomness causes results that are a little irregular, but never too far out of the ordinary. The “law of averages,” we tell ourselves, ensures that things won’t get too much beyond the bounds of ordinariness.

The reality is far different. True randomness serves up all sorts of completely wacky, unexpected results. And the more different parameters you monitor, the more often you’ll see what appear to be anomalous coincidences.

Sure, your chance of having 10 full houses in a session may be only on the order of one in a thousand, so that particular rarity will be, well, rare. But you’ll also notice when you get pocket aces three times in a row — or {7-}{2-}-offsuit three times in a row.

You’ll notice if the boards keep coming up double-paired. You’ll notice if club flushes are occurring much more often that those of other suits in some session. You’ll notice if pots keep getting pushed to one end of the table a lot more than to the other. You’ll notice if four times in a row your table breaks in a tournament and you get seated just in time for the big blind at the new table. You’ll notice if the same guy wins two random hourly drawings in a poker room filled with a hundred players.

All of these results — and a thousand more we could name — are “lumpy,” and will have unlikely occurrences, just by pure chance. The only thing to do is understand that that’s the way randomness works, and accept it.

Photo (lower): “Coin Toss,” ICMA Photos. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Robert Woolley lives in Asheville, NC. He spent several years in Las Vegas and chronicled his life in poker on the “Poker Grump” blog.

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On Improbable Events in Poker: Learn How to Take Your Lumps 103



Ben Cade Wins World Poker Tour Emperors Palace Poker Classic

Season XIV of the World Poker Tour saw another event come to a completion over the weekend, as the WPT Emperors Palace Poker Classic wrapped up. The R36,000 Main Event (approx. $2,600) was won by Ben Cade for R1,382,000 (approx. $100,000) after he defeated the field of 135 entries.

Final Table Results

PlacePlayerPrize (ZAR)Prize (USD)

1Ben CadeR1,382,000*$100,000*

2Mark LifmanR797,200$57,684.52

3Aaron OvertonR517,100$37,416.79

4Nipun JavaR355,510$25,724.31

5Diana SventzR273,640$19,800.29

6Dean DouchaR213,310$15,434.88

*First-place prize includes a $15,400 seat into the season-ending WPT World Championship.

It didn’t take long at the final table for the first player to be eliminated, as Dean Doucha fell on the third hand of play. He went out when he ran pocket tens into Cade’s pocket jacks.

A handful of hands later, Diana Sventz hit the rail in fifth place on the 28th hand of the final table. The man ho eliminated her, Nipun Java, followed her out the door when he ran the {J-Hearts} into Cade’s pocket kings.

Shortly into three-handed play, it was reported that Cade took a big hand from Aaron Overton to move into the chip lead. Overton couldn’t recover from that and fell on the 70th hand of the final table to Mark Lifman.

Cade took a lead of 2.15 million to 1.84 million into heads-up play against Lifman, and it only took one hand between the two to seal the victory for Cade.

On the 71st hand of the final table, the two found the money in preflop in what turned out to be a bit of a cooler of a hand. Lifman had the {A-Clubs}{K-Hearts}, and Cade had the {K-Spades}{K-Diamonds}. The flop, turn, and river ran out {Q-Diamonds}{6-Spades}{4-Clubs}{9-Hearts}{9-Clubs}, and Lifman was eliminated in second place. For his runner-up finish, Lifman earned R797,200 (approx. $57,684).

For Cade, the win marked the largest score of his career. Previously, his biggest cash was worth $26,143 from a previous WPT Emperors Palace Poker Classic event in 2014.

*Data and photo courtesy of the WPT.

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Inside Gaming: Melco Opens New Casino in Macau, Nevada Revenue Up, More DFS Drama

This week’s installment of Inside Gaming looks at the newest casino to open in Macau, Nevada casinos bucking a downward trend to enjoy a positive month, the latest on daily fantasy sports and regulation, and how the new Speaker of the House’s chief of staff previously lobbied on behalf of Sheldon Adelson.

Melco opens Hollywood-themed Studio City casino in Macau

On Tuesday Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd., one of the six main casino operators in Macau, opened its newest casino, the $3.2 billion Hollywood-themed Studio City resort on the Cotai Strip. It’s the third casino in Macau for Melco which also operates the Altria Macau in Tapai (opened May 2007) and another Cotai Strip casino, the City of Dreams (opened June 2009).

As Reuters reports, the opening ceremony was marked by the attendance of government officials, a performance by Mariah Carey, other acrobatic acts and jazz performances, and a screening of The Audition, a 16-minute “mutimillion-dollar advertorial” produced by Martin Scorcese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro.

The opening comes amid what has become a protracted decline in gaming revenue in Macau stretching back nearly a year-and-a-half. Partly in response to that trend, Studio City features a number of non-gaming activities for patrons. Additionally, unlike other casinos in Macau, “it has no VIP baccarat lounges and will focus instead on mass-market casual gamblers.”

That concentration on non-VIP revenue directly reflects an ongoing problem for many of Macau’s casinos. Chinese government reforms designed to eliminate corruption and money laundering have negatively affected many casino junket operators who previously helped facilitate the movement of funds, the settling of debts, and the management of loans for high-stakes gamblers traveling to the Special Administrative Region to gamble.

Melco had requested an allocation for 400 gaming tables in the new casino, ultimately receiving permission to operate 250 of them. That was more than some industry observers thought they would be allowed to have.

For more on the big Studio City opening and its prospects going forward, see Reuters’ report.

After Three Down Months, Nevada Gaming Revenue Up in September

After three months’ worth of declines in gaming revenue in the Silver State, the Nevada Gaming Control Board reported an increase in September. The $916.35 million collected by casinos in the state represented a 1.52% increase year-over-year. Meanwhile casinos on the Strip enjoyed a revenue increase of 2.01% for the month after taking in $504,801,000.

Analysts have been watching in particular figures associated with baccarat which has endured significant decline in revenue this year in Nevada. We were discussing here a month ago how the precipitous downturn in Macau has in fact affected revenue in Nevada, with there often being a direct correspondence between what is happening in Macau and baccarat numbers on the Strip, which in turn significantly affects overall revenue totals.

In August there was a greater than 24% decline in baccarat revenue on the Strip, but things turned around in September with an increase of 23.29% and win amount of just over $100 million. As the Las Vegas Review-Journal points out, that marks only the third month this year that baccarat revenue on the Strip has enjoyed an increase.

Michael Lawton, Gaming Control Board Senior Research Analyst, explained to the LVRJ that a “strong events calendar” in Las Vegas in September that included the MGM Grand hosting both a UFC fight card and Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s purported final bout helped contribute to the positive turn.

For more on the September numbers, check out the LVRJ.

More on Daily Fantasy Sports and Regulation

The daily fantasy sports talk continued this week in a variety of contexts.

On Tuesday the Fantasy Sports Trade Association announced the creation of the Fantasy Sports Control Agency, “independent agency charged with creating a strict, transparent and effective system of self-regulation for the businesses that comprise the fantasy sports industry.” Seth Harris, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor and Acting U.S. Secretary of Labor in the Obama administration, has been appointed to chair the agency.

Speaking of regulation and DFS, the Massachusets Gaming Commission met on Thursday to discuss that very topic, concluding that the industry is in need of some form of regulation. The Boston Globe reports that the MGC’s legal team determined “there are gaps in current Massachusetts gamblign laws that seem to leave a space for fantasy sports contests with cash prizes.”

That said, the MGC appears ready to proceed with caution, not ready as yet to make the step the Nevada Gaming Commission did two weeks ago when ruling daily fantasy sports to be gambling and thus subject to licensing procedures in order to operate within the state, a move that prompted DFS sites to stop serving Nevada players until such licenses could be secured. That ruling in turn led to the decision by DraftKings to request of the World Series of Poker that the site cease its sponsorship activities, which meanswe won’t be seeing the site’s familiar logo at the November Nine when it starts November 8.

The topic of daily fantasy sports even came up briefly during Wednesday night’s Republican primary debate when a CNBC moderator asked presidential candidate and former Florida governor Jeb Bush if he considered daily fantasy sports to be gambling. After joking about his own fantasy football team, Bush characterized DFS as “day trading without any regulation at all,” adding that if the industry cannot regulate itself, there should be some form of regulation although he was reluctant to suggest the federal government should be the ones to handle such a task.

At that Chris Christie, who as governor of New Jersey signed into law an online gambling bill in early 2013, expressed dismay at the subject of DFS even being raised in the context of a presidential debate.

“Enough about fantasy football,” said Christie. “Let people play… who cares?”

New Speaker Ryan’s Chief of Staff Former Adelson Lobbyist

Finally, we’ll round out this week’s look at the industry with another political note, this having to do with former vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, the Republican congressman from Wisconsin who yesterday was officially elected as the new Speaker of the House. Ryan begins his tenure today, succeeding John Boehner who served in the role since January 2011.

The Washington Post reported earlier this week that Ryan had appointed David Hoppe, “a former adviser to Republican congressional leaders and a longtime Washington lobbyist,” to serve as his chief of staff as he takes over the Speaker position.

After delving into Hoppe’s lengthy background, ThinkProgress reported on Hoppe’s extensive lobbying career, noting how among the groups he’s represented is the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling launched by Las Vegas Sands Corporation CEO Sheldon Adelson. Whether the new Speaker’s chief of staff’s previous work for Adelson and the anti-online gambling cause portends anything with regard the future of federal legislation remains to be seen.

Read more about Hoppe’s lobbying and the possible significance of his appointment at ThinkProgress.

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Artificial Intelligence and Hold’em, Part 3: No-Limit Hold’em, The Next Frontier

Poker pro and software developer Nikolai Yakovenko concludes his three-part series examining how far researchers have gotten in their efforts to build a hold’em playing AI system.

In the first two parts of our consideration of the role of counter-factual regret minimization (or CFR) in the advancement of poker-related artificial intelligence, we explained how CFR works and how its implementation has helped researchers come close to “solving” heads-up limit hold’em.

To conclude the discussion, let’s delve a little more deeply into recent efforts to discover solutions for no-limit hold’em and talk about CFR’s important role in that endeavor as well.

NLHE: Five Minutes to Learn, How Long to Create an AI?

It goes without saying that while limit hold’em provides plenty of challenges to researchers, no-limit hold’em is a whole different ball game.

It’s still hold’em, so the boards are the same, and it’s still possible to visit every canonical board, just as many multiple times. However, these similarities ignore the betting. And as anyone who started out with limit hold’em then moved over to no-limit well knows, the betting is hardly something that you can ignore in NLHE.

Of course, we never really ignored the betting in the limit hold’em implementation of CFR. It’s just that for each state, let’s say on the flop, there were two or three possible betting actions, and no more than 20 possible pot sizes, into which we could enter the specific game situation. Furthermore, if we use enough buckets for previous states, the buckets are grouped in a logical way, and we have decent approximate solutions for those other buckets, it is possible to solve each limit hold’em state, largely ignoring how we got here and just looking at the cards and a small number of possible betting contexts.

Once we try applying CFR to no-limit hold’em, it’s less clear that this approach will work. Can we really ignore the order of previous bets and just look at the cards we know and the pot size? And what happens when both we and our opponent can make many differently sized bets, not just the two or three actions of limit poker?

We started with a game that was too big to solve, but figured out that at least you can visit every possible state with a few tricks. You can solve the simplified game, where some of the simplifications are exact and others are very close to exact. Now, if you’re playing NLHE with stacks 100 big blinds deep, you can’t even consider every possible opponent response for a single one of your actions.

In an interview during the man-vs.-machine no-limit hold’em match from earlier this year, Doug Polk talked about the Claudico AI taking 20 seconds to move on the river, even in small-pot, no-action situations. It was not so simple for Claudico to look up the position’s bucket, and to apply an instant strategy.

Even so, counter-factual regret minimization is a great way to start building a no-limit hold’em AI. Suppose you are playing heads-up no-limit, but only 10 big blinds deep. Can the CFR solve for that? Sure it can. What if you are playing a bit deeper, but limit your bets to a min-raise, 2x a min-raise, half-pot, and all-in? That’s still a much more complicated game than limit hold’em. But while the variance will be higher and you’ll be folding a lot more often, you will get a solution.

Would this CFR play within 1% of a perfect no-limit player (as it can do with LHE)? Not even close. It’s easy to see cases where, if you’re not careful, an opponent could just overbet on any weak board and pick up the pot unless the AI learns to call off sometimes with no hand. That’s tricky to do. That said, the CFR will quickly produce a player that plays every board with at least some semblance of balanced logic.

It’s not hard to imagine such a heads-up no limit player being hard to beat even if it only sticks with a few specific bet sizes, as long as it can handle all different bets made by its opponent. Even if it does fold too much when you overbet on weak boards, sometimes the AI will have a strong hand, which limits your ability to take away every pot, to a point. You’re also less likely to beat the no-limit CFR with small ball, as this is the type of game that you’d expect a balanced Nash equilibrium player to be good at.

Heads-up no-limit hold’em is like a passing down in the NFL. There are too many possible plays for the defense to be able to solve for every possible route that can be taken by the eligible receivers. The CFR approach to this situation would be like playing a zone defense. A pass catcher will always be open, but it won’t be easy for the offense to locate the holes. You can try, but you won’t be able to find the same throw every time, even if the zone defense is not actively adjusting to your play and is just mixing up looks with an balanced approximate Nash equilibrium strategy.

There will be systematic weaknesses, then, but it doesn’t mean you could exploit them on every play. At the very least, you’d have a tough opponent, even if that opponent doesn’t look like a real football team, with its bucketed game situations and Nash equilibrium blitzes.

Then again, if you removed the forward pass, and simplified the game to 5-on-5 football with a single set of downs on a narrow field, it might be possible to solve the game outright.

Imagining a Strong NLHE AI: The CFR Hybrid

We’ve spent a lot of space considering how Texas hold’em can be solved by a equilibrium-finding algorithm. More specifically, we looked at simplifying the game to something close to Texas hold’em but with a magnitude fewer game states, and then applying counter-factual regret minimization to the smaller problem. This yields a near-equilibrium to the faux-hold’em problem, and in practice, often a very good solution for the real Texas hold’em game.

The better we model the game in the simplified problem, the closer we get to an unbeatable strategy for real poker.

However, this isn’t the only way to come up with a strong hold’em AI. Rather than taking another 5,000 words to examine the weaknesses of CFR and the strengths of other methods, let’s think about what we might want to see from a strong hold’em AI, once we have that bucketed situation, zone-defense approach described above.

You’d want the AI to play in three-handed and six-handed games, but before we get to that, I think you’d also want it to be able to adjust to opponents. I don’t mean to adjust on the fly, but at least to see what it can learn, say, over the course of playing 10,000 hands against a particular opponent. CFR has no methodology for doing that. By considering every possible response, albeit in a simplified way, there’s no scope for adjusting to the moves that are actually being made against it, and thereby giving those moves more weight going forward than game states that never develop.

Perhaps an even bigger problem is that the no-limit hold’em CFR is pre-trained to play every hand 200 big blinds deep. It could also be trained to play 100 BB deep, or just 10 BB deep, since CFR is a general algorithm, but each stack size would involve a separate week-long training process. Of course, if you have enough computers, you could run a dozen such processes in parallel, then apply the closest one, given the effective stacks. In practice, this should be good enough to play a wide range of stacks, and not really possible for a human to exploit by buying in short.

As with the case of Claudico thinking for 20 seconds on the river, likely because it was running a simulation when it could not simply look up a strategy, the future of strong no-limit hold’em bots appears to be some sort of CFR hybrid. The unexploitable solution to an approximation of hold’em serves as a good baseline. With online search or other methods, it should be possible to fix many of CFR’s weaknesses, one by one, by tweaking that baseline.

One thing it’s hard for CFR to do is to play like a human. A simple tweak to CFR can’t get away from the fact that it’s based on an equilibrium strategy, which plays each hand in a vacuum and restricts itself to a fixed number of bet sizes. Otherwise the problem is too big for equilibrium solutions.

Trying Neural Networks

Another avenue to consider is how applying a neural network on top of CFR might help create what could be regarded as a more adaptable, more human-like player.

It wouldn’t actually have to be a neural network — it could be any machine-learning algorithm that learns to map a game state to a betting strategy. But a neural network is often used in such a context, so let’s ignore other function-learning algorithms and assume we’ll use a neural network to learn our betting function.

We need our betting function to give us one of two things: either a chip-value for each possible bet or a recommended betting policy. What we will ultimately need to use is a betting policy, but as I discussed in “Teaching an Artificial Intelligence System to Play 2-7 Triple Draw,” if you have a value estimate for each action, that also gives you a betting policy.

A machine-learning algorithm needs training data, and in this case, we can get as much data as we want by playing against the CFR’s pretty good (and very fast) algorithm. Better yet, CFR can play itself, and we can train a neural network on the hand histories. The resulting neural network will learn to play much like the CFR.

Why not just use the CFR? The nice thing about a neural network that imitates the CFR strategy is that now you have something that can adapt to human play. For example, you can train the neural network for a week until it plays very close to the CFR. Then you can swap out that training data and keep training — say, just for an hour — on a sample of human hands, or even a single opponent’s hand histories. There’s an NFL comparison here, too. You’re taking a player with years of football experience, and adding a walk-through against this week’s opponent’s offense and defense.

They don’t explain how it’s done, but I assume this is how the ”No-Limit Texas Hold’em” slot machine in Las Vegas that many played against at this year’s WSOP creates a ”Phil Hellmuth” mode and a ”Johnny Chan” mode that you can play against for real money. I know that they use a neural network for their player, and I’d bet they took the original amorphous neural net and trained it against Hellmuth and Chan hands to create slightly different versions of the network. The long-run ability is about the same, but the ”personality” of each network appears different.

You might ask — do you really need to train a neural network to copy the CFR player, just to modify it? In a sense, you don’t. CFR is a specific method for solving for an equilibrium, and it’s very good at it, so you could just use the neural network to adjust those CFR outputs rather than needing the neural network to produce both the baseline and the final answers.

Suppose you have a strong CFR player, but you absolutely need to avoid it betting in 2x min-bet, half-pot, pot, and all-in bet sizes. You could just get an answer from CFR and add random noise to the bet, so that it’s effectively playing CFR but splashing the pot a little bit. Instead of the random noise, a neural network could learn better noise outputs in various cases. In the simplest version, you could play (CFR + noise) against (CFR + noise), and the neural network could use that data to learn what noise sizes worked in different cases over a moderate sample.

There’s even a name for this — it’s called an ”actor-critic” model. The ”actor” network learns all of the action values, and recommends an action policy. Meanwhile the “critic” suggests tweaks to this policy.

Separating these two functionalities is especially useful when learning control over a continuous action space, where it might be possible to count all of the possible actions, but a bit silly to treat them as disconnected buttons. Scientists at have recently demonstrated an actor-critic neural network that learns to play a car-racing game just by observing the screen pixels and pressing random buttons. In this case the continuous inputs are left/right and go/brake.

On the down side, neural networks are slow and not as accurate at solving for an equilibrium as CFR. However with a neural network we can be more flexible with the inputs for training, and with how we respond — we haven’t even looked at how a recurrent neural network can remember information from previous hands against an opponent. But it will not be possible to traverse every game board with a neural network, and compute a balanced strategy as we do with CFR.


Perhaps a third method will emerge, but it looks like some combination of an equilibrium-solving strategy like CFR, and on top of it a neural network-based critic, might create unbeatable poker players that can also play a bit like humans, minus the trash talk.

Some players will be concerned about these advances in AI and what they might mean to the future of poker. There is no reason to be. Putting all of these pieces together takes a lot of work, and as an AI problem, poker is not very lucrative. Most of the cutting-edge poker AI work is done by academics (and by amateurs) for science and for the love of the game. Meanwhile beating the stock market with AI might be worth billions, and efficiently routing Ubers might be worth a lot of money as well.

Heads-up poker is not that kind of problem, although it’s a unique crucible in which to test the strength and adaptability of artificial intelligence, especially as poker AIs learn how to play full ring games, adapt to multiplayer dynamics, and deal with variable stack sizes. Perhaps later, they will also tackle games like Omaha, which consists of something like 100 times more game states than Texas hold’em.

I’m especially intrigued by the idea of an AI system that produces a baseline — be that CFR or a neural network that holds its own against a CFR — then uses another network as a critic to adjust that baseline for specific cases, against specific opponents, or to reflect something local over recent hands (be that tilt, the mood of the competitors at your table, or something else). There’s something nice about seeing a baseline, balanced over all possible hands, and then seeing how we might want to deviate from this ”standard” play.

I think that best summarizes how we humans think about poker decisions, or at least how we talk about them with other players. Everyone’s a critic.

Nikolai Yakovenko is a professional poker player and software developer residing in Brooklyn, New York who helped create the ABC Open-Face Chinese Poker iPhone App.

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RunGood Poker Downstream Kicks Off Next Week; $100K GTD Main Event for Just $675

From November 4-8, the RunGood Poker Series will be at Downstream Casino to host two side events and a $100K GTD Main Event. Not only that, a dozen $2,000 Blaycation Packages will be awarded at the stop – one to each side event winner, and nine to those fortunate enough to make the Main Event final table.

Those packages contain a three-night hotel stay in New Orleans’ French Quarter, two tickets to the RunGood Champions Dinner, two tickets to a Pelicans vs. Wizards game, a pair of tickets to the RG Ghost/Pub Crawl Tour, and a seat into the RG Championship Cup Main Event, not to mention $300 in travel cash.

The RunGood Downstream stop will kick off with a $180 RG DeepStack $25K GTD event on Wednesday, November 4. Other highlights on the schedule include a $200 RG $50 Bounty Hunt, $40 All-In or Fold Satellite, and of course the $675 Main Event, which will feature three starting flights.

"The RunGood Poker Series continued with another successful event in Tulsa, drawing a 281-player field that saw Troy Repp walk away with nearly $34,000 in prize money plus a $2,000 Blaycation package to the season-ending championship in New Orleans," said PokerNews Editor-in-Chief Donnie Peters. "The tour hits Downstream Casino Resort next, and last time there a field of 328 entries came out. PokerNews is very excited to be working with RunGood as the tour’s live coverage provider, and we’ll be on hand all the way to the RunGood Cup Championship in December. These are great events to be a part of, and we hope to see you there."

Of course the PokerNews Live Reporting Team will be on hand for the RunGood Hard Downstream to capture action from their Main Event. That means players will have opportunity to use the My Stack app to update their hands and chip counts straight into the live blog. To download the My Stack app absolutely free on either Apple or Android, click here.

Here’s a look at the full RunGood Downstream Schedule:

Call (918) 919-6000 to book your room at the poker rate using promo code "POKER." For more information, visit rungoodpokerseries.com.

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Overbet Shoves: Tread With Caution

Covering live poker tournaments for a living affords me the opportunity to see countless thousands of hands played out, many of which offer interesting and potentially valuable insights into how players — both amateurs and professionals — play the game. In this ongoing series, I’ll highlight hands I’ve seen at the tournaments I’ve covered and see if we can glean anything useful from them.

The Scene

The live reporting schedule has been a little light for me the past couple of months. That opened up some time to put the pen and notepad on the shelf and actually take to the felt myself and play a tournament or two. So, I made the eight-hour trek to Indiana to play the World Series of Poker Circuit Horseshoe Hammond Main Event.

The $1,675 tournament drew 1,376 runners and I managed to run deep enough to make the money. At the point this hand took place, there were around 100 players left and we had reached Level 20 (4,000/8,000/1,000). The winner of the tournament would take home $356,043. The player in the small blind had recently gotten moved to the table. Already, he had three-bet a light opener and showed {2-}.

The Action

I was dealt {A-Hearts}{6-Hearts} under the gun and opened to 18,000. Krzysztof Stybaniewicz called from the cutoff with a stack that covered everyone, and both blinds came along as well meaning it was four-way action as the flop came {9-Spades}{5-Hearts}{3-Hearts}.

The player in the small blind promptly shoved all in for 264,000 into the pot of about 80,000. The big blind folded, and I tanked a while before folding as well. Stybaniewicz then called after confirming the amount of the shove.

Stybaniewicz: {j-Hearts}{j-Diamonds}

Small blind: {8-Hearts}{8-Diamonds}

The turn was the {6-Spades}, making Stybaniewicz sweat a little bit as it gave the small blind a straight draw, but the {k-Diamonds} river was safe for him and he collected the large pot.

Concept and Analysis

From under the gun, I open with a suited ace and ended up seeing a multi-way flop against Stybaniewicz, who had been playing solid poker all day, and the two blinds. When the flop comes a relatively unremarkable-seeming {9-Spades}{5-Hearts}{3-Hearts}, I expect both blinds to check to me pretty often, but the small blind makes a surprising move, shoving for massively over the size of the pot.

After the big blind folds, it’s an awkward spot for me. The small blind, as crazy as he’s been, probably has one pair most of the time and is ahead of my ace-high. At the same time, if he is ever pushing with flush draws, it’s a golden opportunity for me to scoop up a huge pot and be in prime position to win the tournament.

Ultimately, I have to fold since (1) I’m likely behind and (2) there’s still a player behind me who has me covered and could have flopped something like a set of fives that would have me in rough shape. Stybaniewicz has no such concerns and he quickly calls with his overpair, knowing he is almost never going to be behind.

There are lots of ways to make a mistake in tournament poker, but an ill-timed overbet shove is probably one of the worst. Looking at this hand from the small blind’s perspective, what is the shove supposed to accomplish? Presumably, he figured he might have the best hand. Indeed, two eights will be best a decent amount on a flop like that even four-handed.

But what if the eights are no good? He might chase away me or the big blind if we have a nine, but I’m certainly not folding an overpair, and Stybaniewicz is going to call with everything that beats two eights and probably nothing that doesn’t. This shove pulled the double whammy of chasing away the hand he had solid equity against (mine) and getting in only the hand he was crushed by (Stybaniewicz’s). Remember, we want worse hands to call us if they are not getting correct odds.

There’s definitely a time and place for overbet shoves. But doing so when holding a hand that almost always has very little chance to be good if called is a great way to throw away tons of tournament equity. A large bet close to the size of the pot would have given this player all of the information he needed to make a sound decision with eights. Instead, he was out of the tournament.

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Overbet Shoves: Tread With Caution 101



Just How Crazy Was the WPT Pool Party in China? Tony Dunst Describes It All

At any major poker tournament, there’s likely a player party the night before the main event. I’ve been attending such parties for over a decade, and have learned that they’re rarely worth looking forward to; sure it’s good to see everyone, but when I hear "party" I think late nights and wild times… yet most player parties are tame affairs with a gender ratio that makes the military look like a sorority.

So I didn’t get my hopes up approaching the player party here in Sanya, despite the picturesque MGM Grand providing an ideal setting. My superiors at the World Poker Tour assured me that they — and our new Chinese owners Ourgame — were planning an insane event that would attract beautiful women, and that the festivities would shatter my tepid expectations. I knew I’d be drinking regardless, so I planned my day accordingly by loading up on caffeine and having a light dinner before the party.

The event was held around an outdoor pool that usually hosts Wet Republic (the pool party that popularized the concept in Vegas) and started at 7 p.m. For the first half-hour, I lurked behind a stage with Lynn Gilmartin, Mike Sexton, Vince Van Patten, and the Royal Flush Girls, while a group named "Cocktail Theatre" entertained the crowd on a walkway that protruded over the pool.

Just How Crazy Was the WPT Pool Party in China? Tony Dunst Describes It All 102

On our cue, the group proceeded around the edge of the pool, and settled near the edge of the water. A hostess on the stage introduced the WPT family to the audience, then Mike welcomed the players to Sanya with his iconic voice. When he finished, Mike handed the microphone to Adam Pliska and Frank Ng — the respective heads of WPT and Ourgame. The two of them made brief, polite remarks on the new partnership until they were surrounded by the Royal Flush Girls, who tossed them into the water.

Just How Crazy Was the WPT Pool Party in China? Tony Dunst Describes It All 103

From then on, my responsibilities were over, and I proceeded with my plans to loosen up and get lucky. Models in lingerie mingled with players, while bartenders prepared a truly excessive amount of cocktails and champagne. I gorged myself on both, then lost my shirt and shoes and dove into the pool — which was teeming with water guns, beach balls, and inflated animals. Adam was in the water riding a dolphin, so I straddled a Shamu and screamed "DOLPHIN FIGHT!" We pummeled each other into exhaustion, then seized a pair of water guns and started spraying guests and coworkers.

Just How Crazy Was the WPT Pool Party in China? Tony Dunst Describes It All 104

Our fun was clearly infectious, and the party gradually poured into the water… until there were dozens of people in the pool dancing, hurling balls, and playing model-mounted games of chicken.

"You know what I can’t believe about this?” Adam asked, while the model on his shoulders shoved the model on mine.

"That this is our f***ing job!?” I answered.

Anyone reluctant to join was ambushed and thrown in — hopefully without their phones, though I doubt they were asked. I carried a girl in wearing a dress, who thrashed around and tossed water in my face.

"I need to get my bikini from my room," she said.

"Need someone to supervise?" I asked.

*Photos courtesy of Joe Giron and World Poker Tour

To view both the 2015 Player of the Year and GPI overall rankings in their entirety, visit the official GPI website. While you’re at it, follow the GPI on and its page.



Home Game Heroes: Five Reasons Why You Aren’t Winning in a “Great” Home Game

A player in that great home game you’ve heard about has finally invited you to play. You’ve gone to the game, have been accepted by the group, and now you are a regular. It’s a great group of guys, with excellent fellowship, a nice spread, and many seemingly poor home game players from whom to win money. Congratulations!

But there’s a serious problem. You have been losing! And you can’t figure out why.

Here are five things that you should consider about the game which may be contributing to your losses. And when you’ve figured them out, I’ll show you what you can do to turn things around in my next column.

1. You’re Too Clever By Half

Bad players are generally bad for one reason — they call too often with poor hands. The chief difference between a typical home game among casual players and a casino game among good players is that the casual home game players have much lower standards for playing their hands. That means if you’re trying to use clever plays to confuse and exploit your opponents, you may well be costing yourself a lot of money.

I remember a friend of mine, someone I had first met at Foxwoods in a tough Omaha game. I invited him to come play in my home game. He lost an enormous hand and bellyached that his opponent should have folded to his bluff, since he had the ace of a suit and was representing the nut flush with his raise. His opponent had called him down with a lower flush, in spite of my friend’s huge bet on the river.

My friend had brought his tough, clever, and deceptive game to my house — and he had run into a calling station who didn’t know enough to be fooled.

2. You Play Too Aggressively For the Turf

In a casino poker room, the goods often go to the player who is willing to take the most risks with aggressive play. Against the typically tight, aggressive opponents you find in a public room, you can often win pots by representing a strong hand while serious players avoid the risks of standing up to you. But against home game players, you may be hurting your bottom line with your uber-aggressive play, risking much more than you need to on borderline hands and interfering with your opponent’s natural inclination to call.

By playing extremely aggressively in a game that is typically more passive, you may be needlessly sticking out. In the process you might be scaring away opponents who might otherwise be calling you with subpar hands and keeping as opponents only those players with monster hands that are well ahead of you.

Imagine the first round of a flop game with blinds. In a tough casino game, it is typical for at least one player to raise the blinds and not uncommon for a third player to reraise. But in many home games, this is highly unusual. Players whom you want in with their bad hands are scared into folding by an unusually aggressive move (for this game), while players with huge hands stay in to draw against you. In other words, your aggressiveness may be increasing your risk without doing much for your reward.

3. You’re Seeing the Forest, Not the Trees

You’ve noticed that this should be a good game. There are many casual players who are out to have a good time more than they are trying to win money. That’s what attracted you to the game in the first place — all the “bad” players.

But you don’t play against the average level of your opponents as a group. You play against each one of them individually. And in your zeal to exploit their collectively weak play, you may have failed to address each of their particular styles.

Just because you are the most experienced and thoughtful of the players (if indeed you are), that doesn’t mean that you are foreordained to win every contest. You must take specific actions against specific players. At the same time, if your game has been ramped up in a general sort of way, you may well be making yourself exploitable even by the relatively unsophisticated players you’re up against.

4. Not Paying Attention to the Rake

Not all home games are created equal. Gone are the days when the great majority of home games were just free, easy-going affairs among friends, rotating each week with the expectation that everyone was in it for a good time and little else. Today some home games, though still featuring easy lineups of casual players, are run for a profit — occasionally an extremely high profit.

Setting aside legal questions regarding such games, be aware that these profit-driven games can sometimes consist of a 10% rake up to a maximum of any amount. Those who operate games like these try to hide their avarice behind such lines as “it just covers the food” or “the game is so good that you won’t notice the rake.” But believe me when I tell you that both lines are usually bullshit.

With a professional dealer, it is common to be dealt 40 hands an hour. If the house is raking 10% up to a maximum of $7, and you are tipping the dealer $1 a hand, then the game is raking off up to $250 or so every hour. That’s an average of $25 an player per hour. If players bring an average of $300 to such a game and play for 8 hours, the house is raking $2,000 of the $3,000 total brought to the game.

I don’t care how good you are — you are going to lose in that game!

5. Underestimating Your Home Game Opponents

Though home game players tend to be less skilled than those you’ll face in the typical casino game, that doesn’t mean that you are better than each of them. Players vary. Some “casual” players are very strong. Some excellent players find their way into home games — after all, you did!

Though your typical home game opponents may approach the game with a friendly, happy-go-lucky attitude, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have skills that rival or exceed yours. Their laid-back, somewhat passive style may cloak their understanding of what really works best in their home game — something that you may not have figured out.

I recall one regular weekly home game where I initially interpreted the loose-passive style of a couple of the regulars as a sign of weakness and poor play. A few thousand dollars later I realized that they had adopted this style to best exploit their opponents in a way that my hyper-aggressive style didn’t do. Recognize the possibility that one of the reasons you may be losing is that your opponents are simply playing better than you are.

Next time we’ll talk about making adjustments to help counter these reasons potentially preventing you from winning in that “great” home game.

Photo: “Poker Night,” TineyHo. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

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The New Jersey Online Poker Briefing: "selsk32285" Wins the GSSS III Main Event

It was another huge weekend for online poker players in New Jersey with the the third edition of the Garden State Super Series (GSSS) wrapping up its 43-event schedule. At least $800,000 was guaranteed to be rewarded during this online poker festival from Oct. 11-25 on partypoker NJ and BorgataPoker.com.

The biggest event over the weekend, and in the GSSS III, was the GSSS #39 — $150,000 GTD NLH Main Event, which generated a $152,800 prize pool with 764 players ponying up the $215 buy-in. New Jersey’s "selsk32285" scored big with an outright victory in this tournament to collect $27,219. Other top finishers in this event were "dgago003" banking $19,558 for second place, "BeastfromEast" snagging $12,033 for third place, and Brian "pure_reason" Wood helping himself to $9,320 for fourth place.

The GSSS #40 — $75,000 GTD NLH High Roller ended in a heads-up deal where "TheGyph278" won $22,652 as the official winner of the tournament, while "stingerbell24" banked $19,000 as the official runner-up. Other notable players to outlast the 89 entrants to pony-up the $1,060 buy-in to make the final table included Jay "Jonuzi" Deutsch (3rd – $11,748), Jesse "NoXcape" Elliot (4th – $9,879), Daniel "mj23style" Sewnig (5th – $8,188), Michael “Gags30″ Gagliano (7th – $5,073), and Darren “kinginthenorth” Elias (9th – $2,314).

Over in the WSOP.com NJ/888poker NJ Sunday $30,000 Guarantee, it was "HoboJoJo" outlasting a field of 193 players to win $9,640. New Jersey’s "mdubsdeezee" took second place in this tournament for $5,624.

Here’s a full look at the New Jersey weekend results on partypoker NJ, BorgataPoker.com, WSOP.com NJ, and 888poker NJ:

GSSS #32 – $10,000 GTD PLO8 6Max [Re-Entry]

Buy-inDateEntrantsPrize Pool

$69+6Oct. 2495$10,000




3Anthony "nyy214" Maglietta$1,320




7Chris "rumpthumper" White$570



The New Jersey Online Poker Briefing: "selsk32285" Wins the GSSS III Main Event 102
GSSS #36 – $20,000 GTD NLH [Re-Entry]

Buy-inDateEntrantsPrize Pool

$100+9Oct. 24244$24,400






5Chad "flushoff11" Dubik$1,659



8Patrick "my2chis" Shelley$927


The New Jersey Online Poker Briefing: "selsk32285" Wins the GSSS III Main Event 103
GSSS #39 – $150,000 GTD NLH Main Event [Re-Entry]

Buy-inDateEntrantsPrize Pool

$200+15Oct. 25764$152,800





4Brian "pure_reason" Wood$9,320




8Pete "KingFi" Tarsiewicz$3,590


The New Jersey Online Poker Briefing: "selsk32285" Wins the GSSS III Main Event 104
GSSS #40 – $75,000 GTD NLH High Roller [Re-Entry]

Buy-inDateEntrantsPrize Pool

$1,000+60Oct. 2589$89,000




3Jay "Jonuzi" Deutsch$11,748

4Jesse "NoXcape" Elliot$9,879

5Daniel "mj23style" Sewnig$8,188


7Michael "Gags30" Gagliano$5,073


9Darren "kinginthenorth" Elias$2,314

*Reflects heads-up deal

The New Jersey Online Poker Briefing: "selsk32285" Wins the GSSS III Main Event 105
GSSS #41 – $15,000 GTD NLH 6Max Rebuy

Buy-inDateEntrantsPrize Pool

$50+5Oct. 25191$23,350



2Christian "ChinIAM" Soto$3,198





The New Jersey Online Poker Briefing: "selsk32285" Wins the GSSS III Main Event 106
GSSS #43 – $10,000 GTD NLH Turbo [Re-Entry]

Buy-inDateEntrantsPrize Pool

$200+15Oct. 25123$24,600


1Anthony "iamSkynet" Cicali III$6,888





6David "phatchoy" Cheng$1,230

7Jake "takeAwalk" Schafer$984



The New Jersey Online Poker Briefing: "selsk32285" Wins the GSSS III Main Event 107
$10,000 GTD Nightly [R&A]

Buy-inDateEntrantsPrize Pool

$27.50+2.50Oct. 24139$10,210











The New Jersey Online Poker Briefing: "selsk32285" Wins the GSSS III Main Event 108
$30,000 GTD Weekly Sunday

Buy-inDateEntrantsPrize Pool

$185+15Oct. 25193$35,705








7Joshua "JaminOnFaces" Berardi$1,357



The New Jersey Online Poker Briefing: "selsk32285" Wins the GSSS III Main Event 109
$10,000 GTD Weekly Sunday

Buy-inDateEntrantsPrize Pool

$91+9Oct. 25120$10,920



2Ted "olmuggins" Ely$1,769

3Frankie "SirDonksAlot" Russo$1,016


5Keith "T1mB3y_B33F" Donovan$688


7Matt "holla2mlo" Lo$459

8Mike "myGAME" Lavenburg$306


If you play regulated online poker tournaments in New Jersey and would like your real name appearing in future articles, please contact this editor at [email protected].

*Special thanks to PocketFives.com for some of the data in this article.

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Zachery Schneider Wins WSOP Circuit Horseshoe Hammond High Roller

The $1,675 Main Event from the World Series of Poker Circuit event at Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Indiana, wasn’t the only feature tournament of the series to produce a big winner. Earlier this week, Illinois native Zachery Schneider won the $5,300 High Roller event for $101,250 and his first WSOP Circuit gold ring, topping a field of 54 entries.

Final Table Results


1Zachery Schneider$101,250

2Brandon Fish$62,640

3Matthew Shepsky$41,040

4Jared Palmer$28,350

5Aditya Prasetyo$20,790

6Jack Duong$15,930

"I’ve had my eye on this event for a couple weeks," Schneider told WSOP officials after the win. "It feels good to finish it off the way I wanted to."

Schneider entered Day 2 of the two-day event in the lead with 23 players left in the field and kept himself at the top of the leader board almost all day long. After Sanghoon Ouh busted on the money bubble in seventh place, WSOP bracelet winner Jack Duong busted in sixth place for $15,930. Shortly after that, Aditya Prasetyo took a bite out of Schneider’s stack to knock him off his pedestal, but Prasetyo couldn’t get past fifth place, where he finished for $20,790.

After Jared Palmer fell in fourth and Matthew Shepsky his the rail in third, Schneider was heads up with Brandon Fish. Fish held the lead of more than 2-1 on the scoreboard, but Schneider doubled into the lead fairly quickly and never really looked back.

After one all-in clash resulted in a chopped pot that kept Fish alive, things didn’t last much longer. On the final hand, Fish was all in with the {J-Spades} against the {A-Spades}{7-Clubs} for Schneider. The flop, turn, and river ran out {A-Clubs}{10-Diamonds}{6-Hearts}{5-Spades}{3-Diamonds}, and Schneider was awarded the victory.

For his runner-up finish, Fish took home $62,640.

"I don’t have any live results really," said Schneider. "Maybe $12,000 was my biggest score, but I’m a very accomplished online player. In terms of $100,000, it’s my biggest score ever. It’s fairly life-changing. It’s nice to get my first trademark win. It’s a good day."

The 2015-2016 WSOP Circuit schedule will continue on Oct. 29 with the kickoff event from the tour’s Harvey’s Lake Tahoe stop. The WSOP Circuit Harvey’s Lake Tahoe $1,675 Main Event will take place Nov. 6-9, and you will be able to find an event recap right here on PokerNews following its completion.

*Image courtesy of the WSOP.

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Hold’em with Holloway, Vol. 51: The Importance of Not Giving Up in Poker Tournaments

“It goes to show you that no matter how bleak things may seem, no matter how short your stack, there’s always a chance of making a comeback. Stay strong, play your game, and it just might happen to you.”

I wrote those words nearly one year ago to the day in Vol. 6 of Hold’em with Holloway, which told the “chip and a chair” story of Mike Watson at the 2014 World Series of Poker Asia-Pacific. It’s called maximizing your potential, and while it may seem self-evident, you’d be surprised at how often tournament players just flat-out give up when the chips are down (literally).

Usually it happens after they suffer a bad beat and are left with a pittance of what they had just a hand before. I get it. Poker is demoralizing, and in poker tournaments things often seem hopeless. Everyone goes through it, but in my experience it’s those players who are able to drive the negative thoughts from their mind that rebound.

A great example of this recently occurred at the EPT12 Malta festival with Jason Wheeler, a player who epitomizes what it is to be a poker grinder. With approximately 25 players remaining in the €25,000 High Roller and only the top 11 getting paid, Wheeler was down to a stack of 65,000 in Level 13 (8,000/16,000/2,000).

“I folded down from like 240K to 65K, so that was kind of key for me,” Wheeler told me when describing his predicament. “I had hands I could have jammed, but really [they were] kind of… not-so-happy spots that other people might take. I was going to be more patient because I had a really good table and good reads on everybody. I kind of knew what they were doing, so I thought I could get a double easily and get back in it.”

It’s tempting to give up when you’re sitting with a mere few big blinds, or at the very least shove with mediocre hands such as weak aces (something I was discussing here just a week ago in “The Peril of Shoving with Weak Aces”). But Wheeler didn’t give up.

“When you have 4-6 big blinds, you have to put a lot of stuff in, but I was passing those kinds of hands when I had more chips, like weak aces and really crappy pairs,” said Wheeler. “It had more to do with [the fact that] I had a really good feel for the table and the players. I knew their ranges in certain spots, so I thought it was better to take advantage of that information than just use the two cards in front of me.”

Sticking to his game eventually paid off as Wheeler soon found a spot, getting it in with {9-Clubs} against the {q-Hearts}{j-Hearts} of current Global Poker Index rankings leader Byron Kaverman. The board ran out {j-Clubs}{10-Diamonds}{k-Hearts}{7-Hearts}{6-Diamonds} and Wheeler shipped his first double.

“That’s kind of one of those spots where I just knew I was ahead of the guy, so that was the spot I chose,” said Wheeler. “That was kind of the key hand to start the comeback. Other than that I felt I played really good poker. I didn’t make any big mistakes. I didn’t play scared.”

In the very next hand, Adrian Mateos raised to 32,000 from the hijack, Wheeler moved all in for 164,000 from the cutoff, and Mateos called with {k-Hearts}{j-Clubs}, which was dominated by the {k-Diamonds}{q-Diamonds} of Wheeler. The board ran out {7-Hearts}{10-Hearts}{4-Spades}{q-Clubs}{6-Diamonds}, and Wheeler had doubled again.

“When I had about 20 bigs, things got exciting,” Wheeler went on to say. “[Then] when I got to 30-32 bigs, I was like I can win this thing. I’ve always taken that strategy in tournaments, not to give up. I realize poker is that kind of game. Rain comes sometimes when it’s sunny out, and sometimes there’s no rain forever. I just wanted to make sure I was happy with everything I did. [That’s] not to say you don’t bluff or shove some crappy hands, but I just wanted to be happy and proud of whatever it was I chose to do.”

The €25K High Roller attracted 74 entrants and created a prize pool of €1,813,000, and Wheeler went on to finish fourth in the event for €178,580. His momentum from that strong showing then carried him to a third-place finish just a day later in the €10,200 Single-Day High Roller for a €143,630 score.

I know it sounds clichéd, but not giving up on yourself and maintaining a positive outlook is a key to poker success. Bad things are bound to happen over the course of a poker tournament, but that doesn’t mean things won’t turn around.

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Hold’em with Holloway, Vol. 51: The Importance of Not Giving Up in Poker Tournaments 101



2015 WSOP on ESPN: Nearing the November Nine, What Would You Do?

Coverage of the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event continued this week on ESPN, with the November Nine now less than two weeks away.

This week’s two-and-a-half hours’ worth of episodes covered the first half of Day 7, carrying the action down from 27 players to just 15. A theme throughout for those with knowledge of who made the final table were the repeated instances of those players being all in and at risk of elimination.

No less than five of the eventual November Niners were shown surviving with double-ups this week, always in preflop all-in situations:

Federico Butteroni doubled with pocket queens versus ace-kingMax Steinberg’s pocket aces held up against pocket eightsJosh Beckley doubled up on two different occasionsNeil Blumenfield picked up {K-Clubs} and {A-Spades}{A-Hearts} on consecutive hands, doubling both timesand Tom Cannuli doubled with ace-king versus ace-nine

Meawhile there were a number of other hands featured that involved players facing some not-so-simple decisions. Here are three of them — play along and decide what you might have chosen to do if faced with these spots on poker’s biggest stage.

Hand #1: Negreanu vs. Cannuli

We featured a hand between these two last week, and they were back on the feature table battling again this time around.

Players left: 23

Blinds: 80,000/160,000

Ante: 20,000

Avg. stack: 8.37 million

Daniel Negreanu had just over 8.5 million to start the hand, and he opened the action with a raise to 350,000 from middle position. It folded to Tom Cannuli in the cutoff seat who was sitting behind a stack of just under 10 million, and he looked down at {A-Hearts}{K-Diamonds}. Cannuli chose to three-bet to 950,000, and when it folded back to Negreanu he called.

With 2.3 million in the middle, the flop came {5-Spades}{K-Hearts}{4-Hearts}, giving Cannuli top pair, top kicker. Negreanu checked, and after Cannuli bet 675,000, Negreanu called. The turn brought the {10-Clubs}, and Negreanu checked again. This time Cannuli chose to check behind. Pot 3.65 million.

The river was the {J-Clubs}. Negreanu checked once more.

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Cannuli thought a moment, then decided to fire 1.2 million. That sent Negreanu deep into the tank, and while there he ruled out various hands for Cannuli, one by one.

“I don’t think you have ace-queen,” he said, eyeing the {5-Spades}{K-Hearts}{4-Hearts}{10-Clubs}{J-Clubs} board. “I don’t think you have three jacks. You don’t have three tens. You don’t have three kings. What am I worried about then?”

Negreanu also mentioned ace-king as unlikely for Cannuli, perhaps because of that turn check. In any event he finally did call the bet, paying off Cannuli with his {Q-Spades}{Q-Hearts}.

“Would have been sick getting all in preflop,” said Cannuli as he stacked his chips. Negreanu grinned in response.

“I don’t do that kind of stuff,” Negreanu chuckled.

Hand #2: Neuville vs. Sequeira

Following a couple more bustouts, an interesting blind-versus-blind hand was shown involving Pierre Neuville and Mario Sequeira

Players left: 21

Blinds: 100,000/200,000

Ante: 30,000

Avg. stack: 9.17 million

The short-handed table folded around to Neuville in the small blind who raised to 475,000. Neuville had about 12.8 million to start the hand.

In the big blind was Sequeira, who began with about 9.75 million, and he’d been dealt {Q-Hearts}{Q-Diamonds}. He chose to reraise to 1.2 million, then Neuville calmly four-bet to 2.675 million.

Let’s stop here and ask a first question.

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Sequiera decided just to call, creating a pot of 5.56 million, and the flop came {7-Spades}{10-Diamonds}{K-Diamonds}. Neuville rechecked his cards, then bet 2.95 million. That meant there was just over 8.5 million in the middle, and Sequiera had 6.765 million behind.

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Sequiera decided to push all in, and after some deliberation Neuville finally called the raise, turning over {K-Clubs}{6-Clubs}! Sequiera was drawing thin, and when the turn and river both brought tens he was sent to the rail in 21st for a $262,574.

Later we learned that after the hand Neuville talked about his preflop play with Kara Scott of ESPN, to whom he claimed it had been “the first four-bet of his life.” Whether true or not, the rarity of the play may well have encouraged Sequiera to call rather than reraise again preflop. And of course (continuing with these what-ifs), a five-bet there might have helped him avoid the trouble that followed.

Hand #3: Negreanu vs. McKeehen

Speaking of four-betting, probably the most dramatic hand of this week’s episodes came near the end, one that started out involving Matt Guan but eventually was left to just Negreanu and Joe McKeehen.

Players left: 16

Blinds: 100,000/200,000

Ante: 30,000

Avg. stack: 9.17 million

Following an early-position raise to 400,000 by Guan, it folded to McKeehen in middle position who put in a reraise to 1.125 million. Action folded around to Negreanu in the big blind who looked down at {A-Spades}{K-Diamonds}, and he decided to put in a four-bet to 2.6 million.

Guan swiftly tossed away his hand (pocket sixes), and after looking across the table at Negreanu for a few moments, McKeehen announced he was pushing all in. The total bet was for 9.81 million — not quite the 10.69 million Negreanu had left behind.

“You know I don’t usually do that right?” said Negreanu as he began to think about what to do. Like Neuville had claimed to Kara Scott, Negreanu was pointing out how his preflop four-bet wasn’t such a common play by him.

There’s certainly something less than fair about asking “What would you do?” in these situations, given how we’re isolating them — much like the ESPN coverage highlights only a small sample of the total hands played.

Still, it’s a fun game to play…

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As he talked about the hand, Negreanu surmised out loud that many players might lean toward calling here with ace-king. (Did you?)

“I think most people would have already given you your money,” said Negreanu. “But I’m probably not, because I think you have a very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very good hand. Like the best possible hand.”

Negreanu talked and tanked some more, then finally let his hand go — reminding us again of what he had said earlier about preflop all-ins (“I don’t do that kind of stuff”). And indeed, McKeehen did have the best possible hand — {A-Hearts}{A-Clubs}.

That hand would help McKeehen move into first position with 15 players left as the night’s coverage ended.

Just one more week’s worth of shows to go before the final table!

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2015 WSOP on ESPN: Nearing the November Nine, What Would You Do? 101



Artificial Intelligence and Hold’em, Part 2: Clustering & “Solving” Heads-Up Hold’em

Poker pro and software developer Nikolai Yakovenko continues his three-part series examining how far researchers have gotten in their efforts to build a hold’em playing AI system.

According to my buddy Justin, classification and its cousin regression are essentially a science, while clustering is more of an art.

Many of us are familiar with classification and regression problems. Will the dollar go up or down against the euro? Which horse should I back in the next tournament? Is it better to raise, call, or fold in this position, or should I mix it up? There is an objective that you’d like to maximize, and there is a science to maximizing that objective, even if we might disagree what that objective should be.

That last part is not a trivial matter. Coming up the poker ranks in the mid-2000s, I thought the objective in poker was to win the most money, while giving the most action. In our underground New York games, you would get banned if you didn’t play enough hands. It was understood that anybody could break even simply by playing tight, and there was no room that guy.

It goes without saying that nobody in these games was playing game theory optimal poker — that wasn’t the objective. Regulars came to the games to blow off steam after work, and every chip was in play. You were allowed to win if you could, but you had to give action.

Classification tasks are rarely as clear. Given a group of students, who did enough to pass? Which student’s college application should be accepted, and who should be wait-listed? Which players deserve to be inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame? These aren’t arbitrary decisions, and some of them can be very important. Yet for classification tasks, there is not an objective measure that we can all understand or agree upon.

Results are often measured by a post-hoc analysis on the indirect outcomes, made further down the chain. Our admissions system is great — just look at all of our successful alumni! Grades are whack — after all, Albert Einstein got terrible grades and former Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder finished dead last in his Howard University class. There’s also the “LGTM” (looks good to me) measure. How good is your Hall of Fame classifier? Does the selection criteria put all of the obvious HOFers on the right side of the line, and all the obvious non-HOFers on the other side? If so, I’ll keep listening. With non-obvious borderline cases, it’s going to be a case of classification by LGTM.

As we talked about in Part 1, counter-factual regret minimization (or CFR) is a scientific process for finding a Nash equilibrium in a heads-up poker game. Scientists have shown that it can get within 1% of a perfectly unexploitable strategy in heads-up limit hold’em. It’s also at the core of the best heads-up NLHE AIs to date.

The science part is about iteratively solving for this unexploitable equilibrium. However since hold’em contains too many game states to apply the science directly, we first need to group together ”similar” hands, both preflop and after the flop, so that the CFR can be applied to a much smaller problem. In other words, what we have here is an especially challenging classification task.

Enter “clustering.”

The Art of Clustering

If you’re going to group hands together and come up with a common betting policy for each group, it helps if the groups make some kind of poker sense. This is where ”looks good to me” thinking comes in. How about grouping hands together by their all-in value against a random hand? (Sure, looks good to me.) But that means I’m grouping drawing hands together with small pairs. Why don’t we square the all-in values on the river before we average them, so that drawing hands are artificially inflated? (Okay… not really following you there, but looks good to me.) And so on.

Clustering by hand strength on every street worked well for the first version of CFR in 2007. A nice advantage to using a hand-value estimate is that it’s easy to put hands in different buckets simply by sorting. You know that a lot of hands will be about 50% to win against a random opponent, on a random board. That’s a 0.50 value. Most hands will fall between 0.40 and 0.60 on most boards. If you’d like to split these hands into 10 buckets, the top one might be those with 0.99 to 0.80 value, the next one 0.80 to 0.72, and so on. This is crude, and very different types of hands might end up in the same bucket, but it works pretty well. It certainly works better than playing all of the hands according to the same policy.

Eventually better clustering for similar hands was developed, which seem to capture the similarities between poker hands in a comprehensive way that a human poker players might understand. The essence of this approach was to look at the distribution of outcomes for a given hand, not just the average return — i.e., made hands compared to drawing hands, that sort of thing.

Two probability distributions can be compared with the “Wasserstein metric,” commonly known as the earth mover’s distance. It’s pretty intuitive. Consider the preflop hands {4-} and {J-}{10-}-suited. These two hands have the same all-in win rate against a random hand — about 57%. But as a poker player, you know that these two hands get to that 57% in different ways. It’s easy to see the difference in graph form, by plotting the number of full boards against which both hands win 5% of the time, 20%, 50%, and so on:

As you can see, the {4-}{4-} preflop hand wins against 40% to 60% of opponents on most rivers. You’re on the good side of a flip. On the other hand, {J-}{10-}-suited wins less than 40% against many hands, but it also grabs a 70% to 90% win rate on many other rivers. There are actually very few 40% to 60% win rates for {J-}{10-}-suited on the river.

The earth mover’s distance measures how much ”work” it takes to move one graph into the other graph — in other words, how much probability mass must be shifted to get from graph A to graph B (as the above images illustrate). By the earth mover’s distance, it’s easy to see that while {4-}{4-} and {J-}{10-}-suited have the same average all-in value, they are far from the same hand.

It’s a neat trick, the way earth mover’s distance seems to capture the difference between drawing hands and made hands, as well as how vulnerable hands differ from those with a steady chance of winning. By comparing hands in two dimensions (all-in value and earth mover’s distance), it’s possible to organize hands by similar, or similar-enough categories, without explicitly looking for poker patterns like flush draws, middle pairs, or “action flops.”

In order to make logical buckets on any street, we can group hands that are close to each other by earth mover’s distance, by average all-in value, or by using a combination of the two. The chart below shows all 169 possible preflop hands, grouped into eight clusters by earth mover’s distance:

Artificial Intelligence and Hold’em, Part 2: Clustering & “Solving” Heads-Up Hold’em 101

Here are those eight clusters sorted out into list form:

hands with two unpaired cards below an {8-}non-connected hands that are {J-}-, {10-}- or {9-}-highconnected or suited middle cardsweak hands with a Broadway card and {2-}{2-}remaining Broadway hands, and hands like {10-}{9-}-suitedweak aces, weak kings, and small pairsbig aces, big kings, suited Broadways, and medium pairsbig pairs ({8-}{8-}+)

Some of the group boundaries might look a bit arbitrary, but the groups generally make sense to me as a poker player. It’s also nice to see such groupings created by a mathematical process, rather than with rules written by hand. While it’s much harder to see what this process looks like on the flop, it’s reasonable to suppose that it might produce a preflop strategy that also makes sense. That said, you’d obviously want to use a lot more than eight buckets over all postflop combinations.

The best bucketing strategy using no more than 50 million bucketing information sets (which you could reasonably run on a fast modern computer), includes 169 buckets for each preflop hand, 9,000 buckets on the flop, 9,000 buckets on the turn, and 9,000 buckets on the river. These groups were calculated from a mix of the earth mover’s distance and average all-in values against random opponent hands. Once the groupings are established, it’s just a matter of running the CFR equilibrium-finding algorithm over all canonical boards, and pushing the regret from each hand into its assigned bucket.

After CFR runs for a few days (or a few weeks), it will produce a near-equilibrium strategy, with a betting policy for each bucket. Just sit back, and watch the algorithm’s exploitability bounds go down from bet-sized noise, to something less than 1/10 of a big blind per hand, even against a perfect opponent.

Applying the equilibrium to a real game is then as easy as looking up the bucket for your current hand, and flipping a coin if the recommended strategy recommends mixing two or more actions.

Approaching a Limit Hold’em “Solution”

When I learned that heads-up limit hold’em can be solved by a simulation and a few equations, I was excited. But then I became kind of sad.

Although limit hold’em has not been solved as cleanly as games like checkers or Connect Four, the CFR solution to LHE is bit closer to the ones for those games than something like a chess engine. Computers play chess better than any human, but this is largely because they can calculate for positions that haven’t been seen before, they can thoroughly (and quickly) search through possible moves for positions that have been seen, and for opening moves they can quickly find if it has ever occurred in a grandmaster game.

There are still phases of chess where humans outthink computers, and given a tough middle-game position, the computer still has to simulate all of the choices from scratch. It can try an instant lookup, but those evaluations are not close to human strength. On the other hand, an advanced C++ student could write a program that solves checkers or Connect Four, instantly providing a strategy for every possible board position, with little to no online search required. Solutions for heads-up limit hold’em are getting closer to this category.

Visiting 3.2 billion game states takes a while, but it’s possible. And it turns out that every bucketed group of game states can be solved as a sub-problem, in a fairly straightforward way, by simulating opponents’ best responses and calculating the regret of removing options from the AI’s strategy mix.

This is impressive, but it does not resemble artificial intelligence. I guess this is what makes me sad. A chess computer outplays humans by efficiently searching through all possible outcomes, a dozen moves away. It’s sitting there, thinking about the possibilities. Meanwhile the CFR-based limit hold’em approaches an unexploitable solution by solving the entire game with a set of equations, or rather, solving a game that’s smaller, but close enough to real hold’em.

CFR is an amazing piece of math. It’s also a little bit unsettling that this algorithm, which can be applied to any turn-based game theory problem, happens to solve a game that some of us were proud to play very well, and from which a few of us made a living. And it does so within 1% of perfectly balanced play, seemingly gaining much insight into the internal logic of the game.

Putting it another way, it’s impressive that CFR can consider every possible board and every possible response from its heads-up opponent, including moves that would never happen in a real game. At the same time, it’s a little discouraging to think that it spends so much time looking at possibilities that will never happen.

Whatever poker intelligence is embedded in the system, it seems like most of it goes into bucketing the hands along logical boundaries, along with the clever tricks used to simulate an opponent’s CFR best-response quickly (which I didn’t get a chance to get into here). Once that’s done, the action policies are just a table lookup, as if your computer AI was playing off of a blackjack chart.

Next time we’ll conclude our discussion with a closer look at where things presently stand with regard to developing a no-limit hold’em-playing AI, and we’ll also try to imagine what a strong NLHE AI might eventually look like.

Image (foreground): “Artificial Intelligence,” Alejandro Zorrilal Cruz. Public domain.

Nikolai Yakovenko is a professional poker player and software developer residing in Brooklyn, New York who helped create the ABC Open-Face Chinese Poker iPhone App.

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Artificial Intelligence and Hold’em, Part 2: Clustering & “Solving” Heads-Up Hold’em 102



Mina Greco & Julie Anna Cornelius Named RunGood Ambassadors for Remaining 2015 Season

The RunGood Poker Series is gearing up for theirNovember 4-8 visit to Downstream Casino where they will host two side events and a $100K GTD Main Event. In anticipation of the stop, the RunGood Team has announced two new ambassadors — Mina Greco and Julie Anna Cornelius — to represent the tour for the remainder of the 2015 season.

The two will join a roster that currently includes Bernard Lee, Bryan Campanello, Lauren Kling, Joe Serock and Justin Gardenhire, among others.

Mina Greco c/o WPT.

"The RunGood Team and I could not be more thrilled to have these two join us for our 2015 season," Gardenhire said of the two new additions. "Both bring positivity to any table they sit at that is refreshing and very much welcomed in a game filled with highs and lows."

Greco has a little over $175,000 in tournament earnings for 2015, most of which came when she made the TV final table of the inaugural World Poker Tour Choctaw Main Event. Greco ultimately finished in fifth place for a satisfying $167,691 payday.

“I’m a twin and come from a large Italian family," explained Greco, who currently resides in Houston, Texas. "As a kid the family would gather together and play cards, that’s where the interest began. I prefer to play poker sporadically rather than on a daily basis; helps relax the mind. During my down time I enjoy the simple life and surround myself around positive people, it keeps me grounded."

Mina Greco & Julie Anna Cornelius Named RunGood Ambassadors for Remaining 2015 Season 102Julie Anna Cornelius c/o Borgata.

As for Cornelius, she is a World Series of Poker Circuit grinder who has won over $85,000 in recorded tournament cashes. Her biggest cash of $16,672 came in the summer of 2014 when she finished fourth in a Rio Daily Deepstack, but more recently she finished 149th in the 2015 WSOP Event #28: $1,500 Monster Stack for $8,155. In addition to playing the game, Cornelius has developed a presence in the poker social media world.

"I worked at the White House, the American Embassy in London, and was also a chef and flight attendant on private planes for six years," said Cornelius, who is also known as the Emoji Queen in the Poker verse. "All of these life experiences and adventures somehow led me to find my true passion in life, poker.”

The PokerNews Live Reporting Team will be on hand for the upcoming RunGood Hard Downstream, so we’ll be sure to keep an eye on the two new ambassadors. Also, us being there means players will have opportunity to use the My Stack app to update their hands and chip counts straight into the live blog. To download the My Stack app absolutely free on either Apple or Android, click here.

Here’s a look at the full RunGood Downstream Schedule:

Mina Greco & Julie Anna Cornelius Named RunGood Ambassadors for Remaining 2015 Season 103

Call (918) 919-6000 to book your room at the poker rate using promo code "POKER." For more information, visit rungoodpokerseries.com.

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Steve O'Dwyer Defeats Ilari Sahamies to Win EPT12 Malta Single-Day High Roller for €327,030

The €10,200 Single-Day High Roller of the EPT12 Malta attracted many regulars of the international poker circuit, and as such a field of 99 players was created. On top of that came 35 reentries to bring the total to 134 entries generating a prize pool of €1,299,800, which was split among the top 17 spots.

Ultimately, it was EPT9 Grand Final champion Steve O’Dwyer who emerged victorious at the Casino Portomaso after 13 hours of play to scoop yet another shiny EPT trophy as well as a first-place payout of €327,030. In heads-up play, the American with Irish roots defeated online superstar Ilari “Ziigmund” Sahamies, while American pro Jason Wheeler took third place just one day after coming fourth in the €25K High Roller.

Final Result Single-Day High Roller

PlaceWinnerNationalityPrize (EUR)

1Steve O’DwyerIreland327,030

2Ilari SahamiesFinland220,970

3Jason WheelerUSA143,630

4Isaac HaxtonUSA118,930

5Niko SoininenFinland95,925

6Jean-Noel ThorelFrance75,650

7Vlado BanicevicMontenegro57,840

8Julian StuerGermany43,540

Up until the end of the late registration period at the start of level nine, the action was fast and furious. Several PokerStars Team Pros took a shot at the trophy but Theo Jorgensen, Johnny Lodden and Liv Boeree all busted early only to go jump into Day 1b of the EPT12 Malta Main Event. Other notables to miss the money included Ivan Luca, Davidi Kitai, Bryn Kenney, Mustapha Kanit, Martin Finger, Antonio Buonanno, Ole Schemion, Marvin Rettenmaier, Dominik Panka, EPT11 Grand Final champ Adrian Mateos, and 25k High Roller champion Mike “Timex” McDonald.

Polish wonder kid Dzmitry Urbanovich went from the chip lead to out before the money in two hands and shipped his entire stack to Christopher Frank. Meanwhile, Jonathan Roy and Dan Smith fell just before the money before Juha Helppi busted as teh bubble boy. Mukul Pahuja was the first player on the rail in the money with Rainer Kempe, Senh Ung, Ricardo Alvarado and Dario Sammartino following in quick succession.

Frank lost a lot of chips against the nut flush of Jean-Noel Thorel and departed soon after while Jussi Nevanlinna busted in 11th place soon after. Team PokerStars Pro Jason Mercier, who fell in 10th place, narrowly missed out on the final table, and then the elimination of Byron Kaverman set up the official eight-handed final table. Sitting atop the counts were O’Dwyer, Thorel and Niko Soininen.

Julian Stuer lost a flip against the pocket deuces of Thorel to settle for eighth and then Vlado Banicevic experienced the exact same scenario soon after. Twice Thorel made a set with his pocket pair, yet it was the Frenchman who went next. Thorel four-bet shoved with pocket jacks and Sahamies woke up with aces to score the knockout.

Not even half an hour later, the field was reduced to its last three hopefuls. Soininen paired his ten only for O’Dwyer to find an ace on the river to send the Finn out in fifth place. PokerStars Team Online member Isaac Haxton had to settle for fourth place. His shove was called by both O’Dwyer and Sahamies, and Haxton’s deuces ended up third-best to the {J-Hearts} of Sahamies and the {A-Clubs}{8-Clubs} of O’Dwyer.

Wheeler was the shortest stack with three players remaining and got it in with the {K-Clubs}{J-Hearts}, O’Dwyer looked him up with {A-Clubs}{Q-Hearts}, and the board ran out queen high. The American expat, now calling Amsterdam his home when not traveling for poker, made back-to-back final tables two days in a row in High Roller events and picked up yet another decent payout for his third-place finish.

Heads-up lasted just four hands and O’Dwyer won all of them, shoving it in preflop in the last hand with the {8-Spades}{9-Spades} when holding an almost 5-1 lead. Sahamies called with the {Q-Spades}{J-Spades} and watched the board run out {K-Diamonds}{8-Diamonds}{4-Clubs}{2-Clubs}{3-Spades} in favor of his opponent.

The festival at the Casino Portomaso continues Tuesday with Day 2 of the €5,300 EPT12 Malta Main Event as of 12 p.m. local time, and late registration remains open until the first card is dealt. The big buy-in specialists will then return on October 29th for the regular three-day €10,300 High Roller tournament. Of course the PokerNews Live Reporting Team will be there to cover all key hands until a winner is crowned in both events.

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Two Ways To Use Frightening Flush Cards

If I get invited to a costume party this Halloween, I’m going as a flush.

Nothing strikes fear in the hearts of recreational hold’em players like the sight of that dreaded third flush card on the board. Just this weekend, I heard a player tell a story of how he was in a big pot and was so worried about the flush coming in that he mucked his cards without realizing he’d backed into the best hand with a straight.

Knowing how to use the threat of the flush to beat recreational players is an integral part of every good poker player’s game. Here are two ways that you can use flush cards to your advantage.

1. To bluff with your straight draws

Flush cards make great bluff outs for your straight draws. For example, let’s say a tight recreational player raises from early position with a strong range that consists mostly of big cards and big pairs. I call on the button with {6-Spades}. The flop comes {10-Diamonds}{5-Hearts}{4-Hearts}. I call a continuation bet, then the turn card is the {2-Diamonds}.

At this point, most players will check and fold with their big cards that do not contain a flush draw. Instead, let’s say this player bets again. At that point, I’d put him squarely on an overpair-heavy range. This is even more true if he gives off classic bet-sizing tells like betting full pot with his overpairs.

Let’s say he does bet the pot in this case which lays me 2-to-1 on a call. With just eight outs to my straight, I am not getting the right price. In order to continue, I will have to make use of the bluff outs offered by the flush cards on board.

This type of player makes the big turn bet because he doesn’t want me to call and hit the flush. He still has nightmares about that one time some young punk chased a flush and sucked out on him. In fact, he’s probably going to tell me about it after this hand.

If I expect this guy to fold if a flush card comes, then I can treat those cards as outs as well. If I only count the 11 unseen hearts and combine them with the six non-heart eights and treys that complete my straight, I have more than enough outs to call the turn and bluff the river. If this is the type of player who will fold to the backdoor diamond flush as well, then this is a slam-dunk spot. In that case, I have 26 outs which means my 7-high is technically ahead of his {A-}{A-} at this point!

2. To get max value with your made straights

This one is a corollary to the idea of using bluff outs. If I actually hit my straight in the example hand, I can get a huge value bet paid off because it will look like a last-ditched effort with a missed flush draw.

Once again, say my hand is {7-Spades}{6-Spades} and the board is {10-Diamonds}{5-Hearts}{4-Hearts}{2-Diamonds}. The million-dollar river cards in this scenario would be the {3-Spades} or the {3-Clubs}. These cards would not only give me the nuts, but would also give him a hard-to-fold wheel the times he has {A-}{A-}.

However, this is an infrequent result since he is three times more likely to have {K-}{K-} through {J-}{J-} than {A-}{A-}. In those cases, the four-card straight on board may scare him.

Another very favorable scenario is one in which the {8-Spades} or {8-Clubs} comes on the river. Like my friend I mentioned at the start, this guy will be so focused on the flush draws that he’ll never see the straight coming. In fact, if stacks aren’t too deep I may be able to felt him with {J-}{J-} in this spot in which case I’d prefer this scenario over the ultra rare nuts vs. near-nuts one.

A mistake that I often make here is convincing myself that the guy would fold to the huge bet and taper my sizing down a bit. The problem with this is that there will be times that I will actually have a missed flush draw when I show up in this spot. If I want to be able to shove those hands as a bluff, I have to protect them by shoving value hands as well. If anything, I should shove my straights and missed flushes and probably bet smaller with my made flushes.

Lastly, note that the bluff outs help me to win this pot more often than not, but hurt my chances of stacking him when I make a straight with a card that also puts a flush on board.


This may seem like out-of-the-box play to some, but I don’t think it’s even optional. Simply chasing draws and folding when you miss isn’t likely to be the best strategy in the long run.

If you aren’t already making good use of frightening flush cards, this Halloween is the perfect time to give it a try. After all, everyone is already on edge and seeing monsters under the bed.

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Two Ways To Use Frightening Flush Cards 101



Self-Control: Your Most Important Poker Resource, and How to Get More of It

I like Scientific American magazine, but this year I’ve gotten behind on my reading of it, so now I’m doing some catch-up. I just finished the April issue.

In it I found an interesting article by Roy Baumeister, “Conquer Yourself, Conquer the World.” It’s a review of what psychologists have learned about how self-control underlies virtually all successes. The article’s title comes from a line in a novel by Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho: “If you conquer yourself, then you will conquer the world.”

Baumeister starts by reviewing the now-classic “marshmallow test” from the late 1960s-early 1970s. Children were offered a marshmallow, which they could eat immediately. But if they could resist the temptation to eat it right away, after some period of time they would be rewarded with two marshmallows. Follow-up studies tracked the original participants into young adulthood, then into middle age, and found that those who were able to postpone gratification became the most successful adults across a variety of measurements.

Baumeister then summarizes the more detailed research that has subsequently been done. He says that psychologists have found that self-control or willpower is analogous to how muscles work in some key ways:

Self-control is a finite resource, and seems to tire after being used. For example, test subjects who have to exercise self-control to resist chocolates and cookies, then are asked to tackle a difficult puzzle, give up sooner than those who had not first had to resist the goodies. Just like a muscle, self-control can be strengthened by regularly exercising it. Baumeister tells of tests where they would have one group performing exercises in self-control (e.g., not cursing for two weeks) and another control group who would not. They’d then perform tests on the two groups measuring their self-control in other ways (e.g., squeezing a hand-grip for as long as possible), and of the two groups the one that had been practicing self-control performed significantly better.As those examples attest, self-control is a flexible resource that can be expended in a variety of ways, just as strengthening a muscle by weightlifting allows it to perform better at an unrelated task, such as swinging a baseball bat.

Okay, you can probably see where I’m going with this. Nobody can seriously dispute the fact that self-control is absolutely essential to poker success. Discipline is called on in a variety of different ways during the course of a poker session. You could say it begins with the decision to play at all. You should decide not to play if you’re tired, hungry, angry, or feeling anxious about the money you might lose.

Once you’re seated, it takes self-control to throw away one bad starting hand after another. It takes self-control to fold a second-best hand when you believe you’re beat. It takes self-control to keep your hole cards face-down after winning a pot with an uncalled bet, rather than showing off either the nuts or a total bluff.

It takes self-control to react with civility — or not at all — to an obnoxious jerk at the table, when it would be so satisfying to tell him off or punch him in the mouth. It takes self-control to continue playing your A-game after a bad beat — even more so after two or three of them. It takes self-control to focus exclusively on the game, rather than the million distractions that the poker room and our smart phones offer us.

It takes self-control to leave the game with a loss if you know you’re not playing well or it’s not a good game. It takes self-control to leave a winner after getting unusually lucky, rather than stay and hope that lightning strikes twice. And as you leave the casino, it takes self-control to walk past all the other gambling temptations, in an attempt either to recoup your poker losses or parlay your profits into an even bigger win.

Learn What Can Lessen Your Self-Control

Given the need for a healthy store of self-control to draw upon during the course of a poker session, what can we take from Baumeister’s insights that would help us maintain our reserves?

First, we have to be aware of the kinds of things that can sap our reservoir of self-control faster than usual.

For instance, being physically uncomfortable means fighting against a constant, draining force. This can be from hunger, thirst, a hard chair, too-close crowding by adjacent players, being too hot or too cold, needing to use the restroom, or whatever. Taking affirmative measures to ameliorate any such factors will help you relax and make better decisions as a result.

Being annoyed drains self-control, because it requires actively resisting the urge to lash out at what is bothering you. The annoyance can come from a slow or mistake-prone dealer, an overly loud or chatty player, people being slow because they’re all watching a big football game, new players who don’t know rules and procedures, or a thousand other things. Monitor yourself, and if you sense that such factors are taxing your patience, move to another table, or cash out and wait to play another day. (I confess to being a person who is annoyed more easily and by a broader spectrum of things than most people, so this is something I have to watch out for.)

Being unlucky saps your patience. Of course, there’s nothing you can do to change this, but you have to be aware that it’s happening and that it’s taking a toll on your ability to make continued good decisions.

Being preoccupied by unrelated troubles decreases your stock of self-control. A big project deadline at work, a recent argument with a spouse, bills you’re worried about paying, a teenaged child in trouble with the law, or a million other nagging thoughts can be dismissed from the front of one’s mind, but they’re still there, in the back, nibbling away at your attention and self-control.

Learn What Can Increase Your Self-Control

Knowing what potentially gets in the way of self-control, then, how can we exercise our self-control “muscles” so that we have a bigger reserve to draw on when playing? Here are a few to try.

Play from a seat that is not your usual or favorite, forcing you into a visual perspective on the table that you don’t usually have. After all, you won’t always get to choose, especially in a tournament.

If you’re addicted to playing games, checking social media, monitoring work emails, checking sports scores, and all the other things that our miracles of modern technology put into our pockets, set progressively increasing intervals of time that you force yourself to keep your phone put away, completely out of sight. If five minutes is a strain for you, start there, then gradually increase to ten, 15, 20, 30, and an hour. (You really can live without it for a while, you know. We all did for the entire course of human history, up until the last few years.)

Read and think about Tommy Angelo’s wonderful story of forcing himself to fold aces before the flop, simply because it was a difficult thing to do. (If you’re worried about losing value by repeating that exercise, ponder the wisdom of Lee Jones’s observation in that story: “How much is it worth to know that those aces are two little pieces of plastic, that you control them, and not vice-versa?”) It may seem like such advice contradicts the earlier advice about reducing strains. And it is, to a degree. But think of it as analogous to jogging with ankle weights — a modest extra strain in order to become stronger, not so much that it makes you unable to take another step after a few blocks.

Don’t forget that self-control is a flexible, fungible resource, and you can increase your stores of self-control by all sorts of exercises away from the poker table. Force yourself to make healthy choices in your diet, to stop eating when you’re full, or to take half of a piece of pie instead of the extra-generous portion. Push yourself in physical exercise. Pick any bad habit you can identify in yourself, make a plan to replace it with a complementary good habit, then carry out that plan.

All such choices strengthen your self-control, and will eventually result in your having more of it available when you sit down with the cards and chips. And that, in turn, will give you a big edge over all the people at the table who have through laziness and inaction let their self-control muscles get weak and flabby.

You may not conquer the world, but wouldn’t it be nice to conquer these nine players?

Robert Woolley lives in Asheville, NC. He spent several years in Las Vegas and chronicled his life in poker on the “Poker Grump” blog.

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Season 6 of Mid-States Poker Tour Continues with $300,000 GTD at Meskwaki Casino

Season 6 of the Mid-States Poker Tour (MSPT) continues from October 31 through November 8 at Meskwaki Casino in Tama, Iowa. The stop, which only requires players to be 18 years old, will begin with a series of qualifiers, and will culminate with a $300,000 guaranteed Main Event.

The last time the MSPT visited Meskwaki Casino was back in July when MSPT Team Pro Blake Bohn, fresh off a 23rd-place finish in the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event, topped a field of 410 entrants to win the $101,229 top prize and his second MSPT title. Before that, at the March stop, Chad Willett topped a field of 371 entrants to walk away with a $96,760 first-place prize.

"Meskwaki Casino has a rich history on the MSPT," said MSPT owner and operator Bryan Mileski. "Year in and year out it proves to be one of the most successful stops on the schedule, and we expect yet another large field due in no small part to it being centrally located for players in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin."

Located in Tama, Iowa — between Des Moines and Cedar Rapids on Highway 30 — Meskwaki Casino features a huge bingo hall, table games, active craps tables, good blackjack games, horse book, indoor pool, exercise room, spa, and a large number of hotel rooms.

"Whoever said ‘you need your best poker face and winning strategy to win at poker’ must not have played at Meskwaki Poker Room," Poker Room Manager Joseph Fernandez previously told PokerNews. "Whether you are a newcomer, a pleasure player, or a high-stakes thrill seeker, we have a game for you. Our classic card room and cozy players’ lounge exude such rustic and scintillating ambience that makes every poker game more of a friendly art than a gut-wrenching science and, therefore, your winning out of luck is never ever frowned upon."

Here’s a look at the upcoming MSPT Meskwaki schedule:


Saturday, Oct. 31MSPT Qualifier$12012:00 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 31MSPT Qualifier$2506:00 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 1MSPT Qualifier$1202:00 p.m.

Monday, Nov. 2Meskwaki Bonus Event NLHE$1107:00 p.m.

Tuesday, Nov. 3Super Satellite$652:00 p.m.

Tuesday, Nov. 3Meskwaki Bonus Event NLHE$207:00 p.m.

Wednesday, Nov. 4Super Satellite$652:00 p.m.

Wednesday, Nov. 4MSPT Qualifier$2507:00 p.m.

Thursday, Nov. 5MSPT Qualifier$2501:00 p.m.

Thursday, Nov. 5MSPT Qualifier$2507:00 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 6MSPT Qualifier$25010:30 a.m.

Friday, Nov. 6MSPT Main Event Day 1a$1,1004:00 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 7MSPT Qualifier$25010:30 a.m.

Saturday, Nov. 7MSPT Main Event Day 1b$1,1004:00 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 8MSPT Main Event Day 2-11:00 a.m.

The Main Event will be held over three days beginning Friday with Day 1a at 4 p.m. Day 1a will play 14 levels. Saturday’s Day 1b will also start at 4 p.m. and play 14 levels. Players who advance from Day 1a are not eligible to play in Day 1b. The remaining players from each flight will combine on Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m. and play until a champion is crowned. The Main Event final table will be broadcast live (15-minute delay) with hole cards worldwide on msptpoker.com and PokerNews.

The PokerNews Live Reporting team will be on hand to capture all the action from the MSPT Meskwaki Main Event, and players will have the opportunity to use the MyStack app to update their hands and chip counts straight into the live blog.

To download the MyStack app absolutely free on either Apple or Android, click here.

“Meskwaki Casino has been a favorite stop on the MSPT for quite some time now, and recently the $1,100 Main Event there in July saw tour pro Blake Bohn earn the title and over $100,000 when he defeated a field of 410 entries," said PokerNews Editor in Chief Donnie Peters. "With a $300,000 guarantee on the upcoming MSPT Meskwaki stop, you’d be making a big mistake if you were a poker player in the area that didn’t participate in this event. There’s plenty of money to be won and even more fun to be had, and hopes to see you there."

Here’s a look at those who’ve capture titles in Season 6 thus far:


Jan. 15-25, 2015MSPT bestbet Jacksonville421Brian Arbaugh$102,806

Jan. 30 – Feb. 8, 2015MSPT Running Aces354Erv Bjerga$91,941

Feb. 14-22, 2015MSPT Ho-Chunk Gaming Wisconsin Dells463Ben Wiora$114,512

March 5-15MSPT Golden Gates409Kane Lai$101,365

March 21-29MSPT Meskwaki371Chad Willett$96,760

April 4-12MSPT Potawatomi635Jason Mirza$147,529

April 6-19MSPT Maryland Live! Casino270Greg Himmelbrand$72,910

April 17-26MSPT Canterbury Park430Dan Hendrickson$106,182

May 9-17MSPT FireKeepers Casino614Mark Rubenstein$142,637

June 1-5MSPT Venetian1,964Angelina Rich$215,815

July 24-26MSPT Meskwaki410Blake Bohn$101,229

August 14-16MSPT Grand Falls238Alan Curl$64,941

August 21-23MSPT Tropicana Evansville251Michael O’Neill$67,746

September 4-6MSPT Potawatomi462Dan Goepel$114,117

September 18-20MSPT Running Aces328Peixin Liu$85,498

October 10-18MSPT FireKeepers Casino559Michael Ferraroti$134,642

For more information, head on over to msptpoker.com or follow them on @msptpoker.

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