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August 31, 2014

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The Inside Straight:

Poker series FAQ, 2009 edition

WSOP green felt and beyond: Ethics, sexism, television schedules, verbal abuse, more

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Steve Marcus

Casino workers from across the U.S. compete May 27 in a poker tournament at the Rio.

Expanded Coverage

Beyond the Sun

Q Is it World Series of Poker time already?

Yes. The 2009 World Series officially began Tuesday at the Rio when registration opened and play began in cash games and satellites. After a tournament for casino employees Wednesday, the first major event — a $40,000-entry no-limit Texas hold ’em tournament — begins today.

How many events does the 2009 World Series of Poker encompass?

There’s much more to the World Series than the “main event” — the annual $10,000-entry no-limit hold ’em world championship, poker’s most prestigious tournament. This year the schedule includes 57 “bracelet” tournaments — meaning a gold bracelet is awarded to the winner along with the prize money — with buy-ins ranging from $1,000 to $50,000.

How do players qualify to compete in the World Series?

Anyone 21 years of age or older can enter.

What are satellites?

Throughout the World Series of Poker, the Rio conducts satellites, preliminary tournaments that award buy-in chips for World Series tournaments to the winners. Buy-ins for satellites range from $65 to $6,320 at the Rio.

How many World Series tables will be in play at the Rio during the tournament?

295.

When does the World Series conclude?

Continuing with the revised format adopted last year, the World Series will take a hiatus of nearly four months once the field in the main event has been pared to its final nine players on July 15. Play will resume with the final table Nov. 7 and last until two players remain. Heads-up play will then resume Nov. 10.

Are fans welcome to watch?

Yes, admission is free for spectators throughout the World Series.

What is the parking situation at the Rio for the World Series of Poker?

By major Las Vegas events standards, it’s good to excellent. Compared with a big auto race at the Speedway, a championship prizefight, any sold-out event at the Thomas & Mack Center, or a rock concert at one of the Strip megaresorts, it’s a breeze.

Why was the $40,000-entry hold ’em tournament added to the schedule for the first time this year?

It’s to commemorate 40 years of the World Series of Poker, which began with a seven-man competition at Binion’s Horseshoe downtown. That event took place in 1970, so this year’s tournament marks the 40th annual World Series of Poker, even if it’s not technically a 40th anniversary. The $40,000 buy-in makes it the second-most expensive of the 57 World Series events, behind only the $50,000 buy-in HORSE tournament, which features multiple games. The $40,000 buy-in is the largest for a no-limit hold ’em tournament in North America.

As a point of comparison, what American cultural landmarks are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year?

Let’s see ... the Amazin’ Mets, the moon landing, Woodstock, “Midnight Cowboy.”

There’s an ongoing debate about the merits of moving the final table to November from its traditional slot in the spring or summer. What are some of the benefits of the new format?

There was a palpable electricity in the air last year as the so-called “November Nine” — the nine finalists — reconvened for the final table at the Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio. It had the atmosphere of a major sporting event. Fans responded by packing the theater and even lining up outside the entrance, as many as a couple of hundred deep, for a chance to catch some of the action. World Series of Poker executives were pleased with the TV ratings. Regardless of any debate, it looks as though the new format will become permanent.

What are some of the drawbacks?

Poker old-schoolers remain upset by the breach of tradition. Some believe stamina, or an ability to maintain focus while sticking it out to the bitter end without an extended break, should be a component of a tournament poker player’s skill set. In a separate vein, the same-day TV coverage of last year’s final table did not include enough hands from the heads-up portion of the competition. Let’s have more heads-up hands, please, and perhaps less of that montage set to contemporary country music that closed out the TV broadcast of the final table.

Speaking of “Midnight Cowboy,” if there is indeed another montage this year, will the final-table TV broadcast honor the 40th annual championship event by replacing that country music with the classic folk-rocker “Everybody’s Talkin’ ”?

We can only hope so. That would be a very cool move.

Will there be a Twitter feed from the 2009 World Series of Poker?

I was tempted to respond that the correct answer is “Who cares?” But in the event I’m soon drafted into the world of Twitter myself in this age of new media, I wouldn’t want those words to come back to haunt me.

So anyway, yes. Go to twitter.com/wsoptweets.

Speaking of Woodstock, is that cartoon bird logo on the World Series of Poker’s Web site an homage to the famed music festival, as both are celebrating 40-year milestones?

No. That’s not the Woodstock logo. Unfortunately, it’s the Twitter logo. They’re quite similar.

What else are tournament officials doing to mark the 40th annual World Series of Poker?

They are conducting a Champions Invitational tournament Sunday, open to all previous winners of the main event. It’s a freeroll, and no bracelet will be awarded. Instead, a car and a trophy called the Binion Cup will be at stake.

What else should they be doing?

Well, there’s a famous (in poker circles) sepia-toned photograph taken at the 1970 World Series of Poker portraying 38 gamblers, including Benny Binion, gathered around a poker table at the Horseshoe. The men in the photo are collectively sporting a healthy dose of non-ironic horn-rimmed glasses, cigars way before cigars were ever cool, pinkie rings, ties, cowboy hats, and at least one magnificent, non-ironic cardigan. It’s kind of in the tradition of the celebrated “Harlem 1958” photo of jazz musicians. I’d love to see them pay tribute to the old days by re-creating the 1970 photo with a group of modern-day poker players, maybe even down to the details of the old-timers’ sartorial splendor.

Who is the most famous person, still living, in that iconic photo from 1970?

Doyle Brunson, who went on to win the World Series main event in 1976 and 1977.

Who was No. 16 on the list of the 100 well-known people most likely to die in 2009, according to Blend Celebrity?

Longtime Las Vegas resident Doyle Brunson.

How did Doyle Brunson respond to his appearance on the list?

Brunson, 75, made a $10,000 bet with the author of the list, laying odds of 10-1 (risking $10,000 to win $1,000), that he would survive 2009. The proceeds will go to charity. Brunson also called the author of the list a “clown.”

What is Blend Celebrity?

I don’t know. I guess it’s the organization that puts out the list of the people who are most likely to die.

Which 2009 World Series of Poker events will be televised?

Coverage of the 2009 World Series by ESPN (Cox cable channel 30) will air each Tuesday night from July 28 through Nov. 10. The tournaments scheduled to be televised are the $40,000 no-limit hold ’em event; the Champions Invitational; the Ante Up for Africa charity event; and the main event.

Hey, what about the razz tournament (Event No. 44)?

Nope, that one has not received TV coverage since 2004, when a frustrated Howard Lederer famously called razz a “miserable” game. I should probably be ashamed to admit it, but I was actually one of the few fans of the televised razz tournament.

How many final tables will be streamed online?

The final-table action from a total of 24 World Series tournaments will be shown live at either www.bluffmagazine.com or espn360.com. Among the 24 is the $50,000-entry HORSE tournament. In a surprising result, the big HORSE tournament did not make the cut for regular ESPN television coverage this year.

Do these Internet feeds more-or-less serve as a replacement for the live satellite radio broadcasts of World Series final tables from a couple of years ago?

Yes. By the way, those radio broadcasts were just about what you would have expected: “And here comes the river card ... and it is ... a jack!”

What kind of a sicko would listen to poker play-by-play on the radio?

Probably the same guy who liked watching the razz tournament on TV.

The World Series schedule is heavy on Texas hold ’em. What other poker games are represented?

Omaha high-low; pot-limit Omaha; 7-card stud; deuce-to-7 draw lowball; 7-card stud high-low; razz; deuce-to-7 triple draw; and HORSE (mixed games).

Isn’t the tournament for women (Event No. 17, ladies’ no-limit hold ’em) a relic from a bygone era that should have been abolished years ago? I mean, poker is a mental game, a cerebral and psychological pursuit. It’s in no way a test of physical strength. So isn’t it at the very least patronizing, and perhaps insulting, to women and their intellectual abilities to conduct a tournament for “ladies” only? Furthermore, isn’t using the term “ladies” in this context in 2009 at least mildly sexist, conjuring as it does old Jerry Lewis bits, 1970s lounge lizards, and the soft bigotry of low expectations?

Um, I’m not touching that one.

Is betting on the results of the World Series of Poker allowed?

Wagering on the outcome of poker tournaments is not permitted in Nevada casinos. There is plenty of person-to-person betting as well as myriad betting propositions on the World Series of Poker available at offshore sports books. For example, one Irish bookmaking operation has a prop asking which former champion will last the longest in the 2009 main event. Phil Hellmuth is favored at 8-1. The four long shots are Hamid Dastmalchi, Noel Furlong, Amarillo Slim Preston and Jerry Yang, each listed at 33-1.

Back in the wilder, woollier days of Las Vegas gambling, what was one of the most famous World Series of Poker bets ever made?

Before he won his second of three World Series titles in 1981, Stu Ungar wagered $5,000 on himself at odds of 25-1, according to the Ungar bio “One of a Kind,” by Nolan Dalla and Peter Alson. Casino owner Jackie Gaughan booked the bet and paid out the $125,000 — not a bad score for Ungar, considering he also took home the first-place prize money of $375,000.

After he won his first World Series championship, Ungar was asked what he planned to do with the money ($385,000). What was his classic response, now a part of Las Vegas lore?

“Gamble it!”

Reigning world champion Peter Eastgate of Denmark is known for his quiet, low-key demeanor. Did he utter any memorable quotes at last year’s event?

Yes. He was asked what he did before his lucrative career as a professional poker player. Completely deadpan, Eastgate, then 22, replied: “Before that, I was in high school.”

Speaking of Ungar, what was the most artistically creative design to appear on a World Series of Poker media credential?

That prestigious title is held by the 1998 credential, which featured an image of the granny-style sunglasses Ungar wore, resting on stacks of poker chips. In one lens of the sunglasses, there was a picture of Ungar. In the other lens was the visage of Johnny Moss, who won three World Series titles when the event was in its infancy. Well-conceived and well-executed.

In the midst of a childish tantrum during last year’s World Series of Poker, what slur did Hellmuth use to insult Finnish poker pro Santeri Valikoski and Valikoski’s heritage?

He called Valikoski a “freaking idiot from northern Europe.” Classy. Real good for poker’s image. Way to be an ambassador for the game, Phil.

How many of the finalists in last year’s main event had financial backers or investors who put up all or part of their entry fees in exchange for a percentage of their winnings?

No one knows for sure, but deals involving financial backers or players “trading pieces” of each other have been taking place since the inception of tournament poker. Last year’s runner-up, Ivan Demidov ($5.8 million in prize money), said he was obligated to pay more than half of his winnings to a backer. Peter Eastgate ($9.1 million) was more discreet, saying the details of any arrangement he might have had would officially remain confidential.

What if players backed by the same bankroll, or players who have traded pieces of each other, meet at the same table in a tournament? Doesn’t this present an ethical quandary?

Yeah, it would be difficult to make an argument to the contrary. Some people maintain this is big-league tournament poker’s dirty little (not so) secret.

With fields such as 6,844 entrants (last year), 6,358 (2007), 8,773 (2006) and 5,619 (2005), at some point does the World Series main event essentially become a lottery with $10,000 tickets?

Yes. But it can still be intriguing, and a lot of fun, to follow.

Besides the main event, which tournament is likely to draw the most entrants?

The $1,000-entry hold ’em tournament that begins Saturday. Officials expect it to attract the largest non-main-event field in World Series history.

Besides the November final table, what other topics will generate impassioned discussion at this year’s World Series of Poker?

Because poker players gripe about nearly everything, they’re like the boy who cried wolf. It becomes impossible to discern when they might have a legitimate grievance. It’s a sure thing players will grouse about any lines they have to stand in, the parking lot, the parking garage, the valet parking, the food at the snack bar, the service at the coffee shop, comps or lack thereof — and of course, after they’ve been knocked out of the tournament, how unbelievably lucky their idiotic opponents got.

What? You mean poker players tend to whine and complain?

Naaaaaahhh.

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