August 29, 2006

ESPN and Chuzzle

ESPN just showed a very nice feature about me during the 2006 WSOP Main Event Day 2 broadcast. They had been collecting footage of me for three years and pretty much got tired of waiting for me to make a final table so they just showed it anyway. It's pretty entertaining. See if you can pick out my Phill Hellmuth imitation.

Meanwhile, I'm back in East Ber Washington State, where all forms of gambling are legal except online poker, which is a felony. So instead of 50/100 Hold 'Em I'm playing $1 Chuzzle tournaments on SkillJam, a site marketed by Microsoft through their MSN Games division. Chuzzle is just one of many games of skill and chance offered at SkillJam, which through the wonders of the Internet, we are able to place wagers on. Why is this legal but poker illegal? Beats me. By accepting wagers on the outcome of a contest, Microsoft would seem to be in violation of the Wire Act of 1961, so I'm not too worried about them coming after me.

August 24, 2006

Paul, we'll miss you.

In my first year on the circuit there was a smiling, white-haired young man carrying a hand-held camera taking shots of me every time I went deep in a World Poker Tour event. I got to know Paul Hannum, head cameraman for WPT, and whenever we would meet he would say he thought this might be my tournament. I never did make a WPT final table but it was nice that he believed in me.

Paul suffered an untimely death recently, leaving his fiancee and unborn child. While his passing saddens me and all who knew him, his family is in need of support. Gavin Smith has put together a benefit tournament at the Bike on Aug. 29th at 7 p.m. The buy-in is $1000 and all proceeds go to Paul's fiancee and their unborn baby girl due in October. RSVP to

August 14, 2006

Some tough questions for Harrah’s

Business as usual?
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by the degree to which many in the poker community consider the 2.2 million extra chips found at the WSOP main event “business as usual.” Cheating has been around since before poker and apparently many have learned to live with it, the skillful making money in spite of it and the losers losing anyway. There’s the possibility the chips were added through incompetence rather than dishonesty, and there’s still a tiny chance the reports of the final chip total are simply wrong. I wasn’t there.

But notwithstanding all this, there are some tough questions for Harrah’s, questions which ought to be asked by the Nevada Gaming Control Board:

  • Harrah’s decided to use the same chips in the main event as they used in previous tournaments, including super satellites. Were the chips counted at the conclusion of each event? If not, why not? If so, how many chips were missing after each event?
  • If they did discover missing chips, was there any effort to use the video surveillance to catch the cheaters?
  • Were there official chip counts done at any point in the main event? If not, why not? If so, what was the result? What was the discrepancy between each official count?
  • Were the same precautions taken to guard and log the movements of the house bank of tournament chip as are taken with casino chips of similar value? If not, why not?
  • How many dead stacks were blinded off through errors during day one? What is the list of names of people who were allowed to play on a different day but had stacks being blinded off on another day? Why were so many errors possible?
  • Were there stacks being blinded off for players who had been given refunds? If so, why?
The current explanation by a Harrah’s spokesman, that the extra chips were a result of rounding up during chip races, has been proved impossible both by me and by Jerrod Ankenman, co-author (with two-bracelet winner Bill Chen) of the forthcoming book The Mathematics of Poker. I don’t know if a complaint has yet been lodged by any of the final 27 players, who seem to be the most hurt by the cheating or incompetence. The chip counts reported by poker journalists are full of errors but it seems to me that most of the chips were added during the play from 27 players to the final nine. That should all be on videotape.

I’m looking forward to some answers and, more importantly, to some major reforms in the integrity of these large tournaments.

August 10, 2006

Even more chips!

It's bad enough that no one at the Rio seems to be able to count chips -- the total in play changes by hundreds of thousands with each update -- but with six players left the totals are consistently over 90 million. Since Harrah's is basing the prize pool on 8773 paid entrants, there should be only 87,730,000 chips in play. That is a difference of almost 2.2 million, a difference representing real dollar value. It is also an increase of 1.7 million from the reported total with 27 players left.

What does it mean? There is still a small chance that whoever is reporting the chip counts is consistently wrong. To my knowledge there has never been an official count. That in itself is somewhat cavalier, I think.

If the chip total is accurate, either this is the biggest cheating scandal or the grossest incompetence in the history of tournament poker. The gaming control board should be brought in immediately and videotapes examined, particularly during chip races, to see if evidence can be found.

Pretty much every player in the event is affected by this (including yours truly who got knocked out just before the money, money perhaps won by someone with extra chips).

August 8, 2006

Chip Races

Why is it impossible that chip races added 514,000 in chip value to the WSOP main event?

The 25 chips were raced off during the split day 2, which began with fewer than 3500 players. If all 350 tables were still there and every one of them added the maximum 50 in chip value, that would add 17,500 to the event. Probably more than 1/4 of those tables had already broken and probably only 1/4 of the maximum 50 was added per table.

The 100 chips were raced off at the end of day 3, with 481 players remaining. If all 54 tables added the maximum 200 in chip value that would add 5400 to the event, but the expected add is zero.

The 500 chips were raced off with 288 players remaining. If all 32 tables added 500 that would add 16,000 to the event. The expected add is half that.

The 1000 chips were raced off with 49 players remaining. If all six tables added 2000 that would add 12,000 to the event. The expected add is zero.

So the very maximum possible in added chip value is 50,900.

Now it's still possible the listed chip count at the end of yesterday was inaccurate. But if not...where did the half million come from?

Where did those chips come from?

The total chip count reported in PokerWire for the final 27 players in the 2006 WSOP main event is 88,246,000. That is 516,000 more than the total starting chips for 8773 entrants. It is impossible that so many chips were added simply due to rounding up in chip races.

If the PokerWire chip count is accurate, where did the extra chips come from? That is some serious cheating.

August 4, 2006


With the blinds at 800/1600/200, 7800 players already eliminated and 100 to go before cashing, I picked up pocket Queens in the small blind against an early-position raise to 3500 by the table chip leader, the most active player at the table. I thought about how best to play them and decided to bet 10,000 of my 40,000 chips. He immediately moved in. I got a strong read that he had Ace-King and, after due consideration, I called. He turned over Ace-King and the Ace on the river sent me packing.

It is ludicrous to hold a tournament where you can bust out in the eighth day and go home empty handed. In fact, it's ludicrous to support a tournament where the sponsoring corporation takes $5.6 million out of the prize pool despite making tens of millions on rights and advertising. The online sites should get together and cut Harrah's out of the picture entirely. All they own is the trademark "World Series of Poker" and as far as I can tell they add very little value to the tournaments. Call it something else, have actual intelligent players design the structures and formats, and add money to the prize pool rather than subtract.

Back home to Seattle then maybe I'll go somewhere where online poker isn't a felony.

August 3, 2006

Bill Chen wins challenge match

I got a call from Bill about 10 minutes to noon. Obviously having second thoughts, he claimed he was hungry and wanted something to eat before our scheduled heads-up Hold 'Em match. I offered to meet him at the Rio buffet, where we had a trash-talking contest before he finally got up the nerve to proceed with the match. We went up to his room, ostensibly to get his plastic chip set, but really so he could try to intimidate me by showing the the two bracelets he had won this year. "If I wear a bracelet will it intimidate you?" Bill asked. "If you wear a bracelet you will look like a big teddy bear wearing a bracelet," I said, "Yeah, people always tell me that," he said, and stuffed the diamond-encrusted bling back into the safe.

We held the match in my Palazzo suite, a sprawling testament to my bad luck in the casino here complete with private parking, butler service, wet bar, satellite radio, two suites of bathrooms plus a powder room, and two terraces overlooking the pool, one with its own hot tub. We spread a bath towel over one end of the 16-foot dining-room table. I supplied the deck of cards from the gift basket I had won when I had busted first in the WPT Invitational at Commerce Casino. "Which seat will you be least comfortable in," he asked me." "You choose," I said. He picked the seat with the back to the wall and we began.

Matt Maroon had offered to deal, forgetting that he usually sleeps till four, so I left a message for him to call when he woke up and we dealt for ourselves. I won a few small pots right away but then Bill started catching hands that dominated me at every turn. After an hour I was down to the felt and lost an uneventful all-in hand. I handed over the $100 I had wagered against his $200 and he immediately called all his friends to brag about his triumph.

He offered me a chance to get it back by playing even money for a game of my choosing. I picked Omaha hi/lo and we played for about 90 minutes when Matt Maroon finally showed up. We decided it was really boring and cashed out with me being ahead $15.

I asked the champ how bad I played. "I probably wouldn't make the same bet with you again," said Bill. Vindication!


August 2, 2006

2006 WSOP Main Event end of day 2 update

I finished day 2 with 57,800 chips, up 44,050 from the start of the day. Obviously I'm pleased although I'm still below average. Blinds will be 800/1600 with a 200 ante so I'm still far from desperate when we start day 3 on Friday. The only player I recognize at my new table is Jeff Lisandro, who has a ton of chips.

I get the next two days off. Tomorrow at noon I accepted a challenge from Bill Chen to play heads-up limit hold 'em in a freezeout for 50 big blinds with him laying two-to-one odds. Matt Maroon, who is a golden god with over 200k chips in the main event, will deal.

August 1, 2006

2006 WSOP main event Day 2 dinner break update

I steadily chipped up from 13,750 to a high of 87K before losing several small pots to get down to 43,500k. We're playing down to 500 people today (first half of day 2) from the 769 remaining of 1637 starters. They will repeat this process tomorrow for the second half of the field, going to Friday with about 1000 players left from the starting 8778.

I'm up 30k on the day and now have almost an average stack and over 40 times the big blind so I'm pretty happy overall with the day so far. We resume at 8:30 pm Pacific and you can follow the progress live at