I may have jinxed myself writing about the PokerStars Mega-Path tournament yesterday so cavalierly. Really, when I told people I might have to hire a private plane to make it back for the local quarterly tournament I meant it as a joke!

I lasted all of 18 hands, losing nearly a quarter of my chips early with QhTh and a flop that that paired the ten but drew out to an ace-high straight on the river. The starting stack of 1,000 and the turbo structure with blinds coming in on Level III are unforgiving of mistakes, bad luck, and weak hands. While I got a few face cards and a couple aces in my final hands they weren’t matched with anyything above a six.

Still, I’m lucky to be playing poker at all. It was eight years ago today—just an hour or so after I’m writing this—when I collapsed on the stairs of my office with a pulmonary embolism after having broken my leg two months (to the day) earlier. The doctors said that with the number of clots I had in my lungs I’d had about a 60% chance of dying before I got to treatment. But here I am. That’s in the general ballpark of the chances of getting knocked out of the Mega-Path. I’ll take the trade-off.

Tomer Berda’s in the Czech Republic for the latest European Poker Tour event starting tomorrow. He’s currently #7 on the EPT Player of the Year leaderboard. We’ll be watching his Prague-ress.

Glide Path to Nassau

Today was Round 3 of the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA)Mega-Path tournament and I made it through without much of a problem. The prize at the end of the Mega-Path is a package that includes the $10,000 entry fee for the PCA Main Event, hotel accomodations at the Atlantis Resort & Casino in The Bahamas, and cash for travel expenses. Personally, I’d rather have made it to the European Poker Tour events I tried for this fall in Vienna, London, or Prague—mine is not a hot-weather body—but I’m making a stab at PCA nonetheless.

You can jump into the Mega-Path for ever-larger amounts of Frequent Player Points (FPP). Round 3’s entry cost was 500 FPP but I entered through a 5 FPP Round 1 tournament that allowed for 60 minutes of unlimited re-buys without rebuying myself (later rounds don’t allow re-buys). The interesting thing about the Mega-Path is that between 1/3 and 2/5 of the players in each round get through to the next round. The hard thing is that there are nine rounds.

There’s a mixture of regular-speed games with 10-minute blind levels and turbo games with 5-minute blind levels. Depending on which games you sign up for, even the structure of a specific round can be different. This is my own Mega-Path:

Round (FPP buyin) completed 1 (5+R)
2 (200)
3 (500) 4 (1,500)
5 (4,000)
6 (12,000)
7 (36,000)
8 (107,000)
Final (321,000)
Starting Chips 1,000 2,500 1,000 3,000
Minutes per Level 5 10 5 12
Small Blind/Big Blind[/Ante]




At least in the early stages it’s an exercise in math and patience. Unlike most tournaments where only a small percentage of the field gets any reward and even then only the top position receive a significant multiple of their buy-in, the Mega-Path gives exactly the same reward to someone who has the most chips as it does to someone who has 10 chips when enough players have been eliminated. Presumably, the competition gets a bit more challenging as the field concentrates—something this player seems to have observed as he got knocked out after surviving eight rounds last year—but there’s no need to be a hero to reach the goal. If you can get some traction in the early stages and build your stack you can afford to blind off and glide to a ticket for the next round.

I’m sure someone’s done the real math on this, but in a tournament a third of the field making it to the money, obviously two-thirds of them need to be eliminated. Because the number of chips is constant, at the end of the tournament the chip average will be three times the starting chip value. For example, if a tournament has 900 players with 1,000 chips each, there are 900,000 chips in play and when only a third (300) of the field remains, the chip average will be 3,000. Obviously, not everyone will actually have that many chips at the end and in many cases the chip average is higher than the chip median; a few hogs will have amassed a huge number of chips, offsetting the fact that many players will have less than the average. That doesn’t matter for the Mega-path, though. Everyone’s equal in the eyes of the Mega-Path (except for the folks who don’t make the money at all).

What I did for level 3 is to put together a calculator, into which I enter the number of players at the table, the number of rounds per level, the blind structure, and the expected final level of the tournament. Needless to say, none of this is exact and I made sure I had some leeway in my calculations. A table isn’t always full, meaning blinds come around more often and you burn through chips faster. Hands take a wide variety of time to play out; I analyzed one tournament with hands that ranged anywhere from 14 seconds to almost a minute-and-a-half, with a median of 40 seconds. The length of a tournament is particularly troublesome to predict, as the Mega-Path tournaments are someone unique and are difficult to compare to the lengths of recorded tournaments. Just for a rule-of-thumb I figure for a tournament with a third of the field reaching the money that the last level will be played by the time cumulative blinds and antes have reached a level where the would eliminate a stack about one-and-a-half times the size of the starting chips.

This yields a series of target values for each level that starts off high in Level I and decreases increasingly quickly to the final expected level of the tournament. If I can get to the target value by the end of a level, my calculations show that all I need to do is wait for the blinds (or other players) to take care smaller stacks. The trick is to make the right calculations. And to get to the target.

I put it to the test today in Round 3. I started off OK but got into a bit of a hole on my second big blind, dropping 300 below the 2,500 starting level. With blind just at 20/40 I wasn’t particularly worried. Triple sevens on the next big blind and an AJo on the hand after that put me back up over the chip average before the end of the level. Pocket 7s that tripled up on the flop put me over 1.5 times the starting stack in Level IV. A pair of uncalled jacks pushed me over 4,000 a few hands later. QcTc that I played out from a four-flush on the flop to a flush on the river beat a pair of kings and earned me over 1,000 chips that topped me over 5K. I reached 6,000 chips about 140 hands in during Level VII, but I thought that might be a bit short still.

paired another queen on the flop and beat out a smaller pair (with flush draw), an AKo that missed everything, and another queen with a smaller kicker for a pot of almost 3K that put me up to 7K shortly after the start of Level VIII, well over my estimate of what I needed by that point. From there I folded everything for all but one hand where I accidentally hit the bet button on the turn and drew into a king-high flush with Jd6h, winning 900 chips. Didn’t even play the QdQc I was dealt on my last hand, even with 4,535 chips. According to PokerTracker’s chart of all-in expected value I played the hands perfectly, with no craziness on my part. I won when I was supposed to win and lost when I was supposed to lose.

Round 4 is tomorrow morning. If I make it through that, the next five rounds are stacked up in a row on Boxing Day. The PCA Main Event itself (as opposed to the numerous other PCA tournaments) begins January 8 and runs through January 15. That may conflict with the second quarterly event for our poker league.

Birthday Poker

Apparently I was at the wrong poker tournament on my birthday Monday when the guys I’ve been playing with beat the snot out of me. Oh, sure, my cousin sent a nice cake and a card as well as $5 for the add-on which mitigated my loss slightly, but apparently at one tournament they know how to treat players turning over another year.

Antonio Esfandiari Makes Birthday Magic at Bellagio

At Bellagio in Las Vegas, Antonio Esfandiari outlasted one of the toughest final table lineups in recent World Poker Tour history to grab his second WPT title at the Five Diamond World Poker Classic – and he did it on his birthday, no less.

Then again, I don’t think I could get my cousin to even slightly mitigate a $10,000 buy-in.


My poker and politics obsessions come together in a post at the Cake Poker blog that refers to a story by Randall Lane about Barack Obama’s poker-playing days in Illinois in The Daily Beast:

Lane puts all this information together and says that Obama’s concessions to the Republicans on the tax bill, the federal wage freeze and “unreciprocated health-care and fiscal concessions” that they’re confident in their ability to bluff the president. That’s bad news for him since the Republicans will be in control of Congress for at least the next two years, where they’ll have plenty of time to make him fold his medium-strength hands to their unsuited garbage. If the president is as big a nit as The Daily Beast suggests, he’d better hope his stack doesn’t dwindle to where he has no fold equity before the next election.

You can probably make out the sense of that without knowing the specific terminology, but a “nit” is someone who us si risk-averse that they can often be forced out of a hand they’re not absolutely sure of. “Fold equity” is the amount of money you can bet to force other players to back down; if you don’t have many chips it’s difficult to protect weak hands or to bluff because it costs little for others to match your bet.

As I wrote back in July, poker is a game of imperfect knowledge, unlike tic-tac-toe or chess. You can sometimes be sure you have the absolute best combination of cards but that’s not the usual situation, particularly in the early stages of betting in a hand when you only know about a portion of the cards that will be dealt. This is from Lane’s article:

“He wasn’t a bluffer,” says [Will County executive Larry] Walsh. “When Barack was betting, you could pretty much know that he had a hand.”

[State Senator Terry] Link remembers more bluffing, to a point: “He bluffed, with the cards. He wasn’t going to bluff with a total longshot.” In poker parlance, this is known as a semi-bluff: even if you’re called, you still have a so-so hand as insurance.

And if his opponents bluffed? Both Link and Walsh remember Obama as disinclined to engage unless he already held an overwhelming advantage. “If he was chasing [another card to complete a straight or flush], he’d give her about two shots and then fold,” says Walsh.

If nothing else, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and the GOP Republicans have demonstrated their bluffing proficiency. Obama confirmed as much at yesterday’s press conference: “I have not been able to budge them. And I don’t think there’s any suggestion anybody in this room thinks realistically that we can budge them right now.” There’s only one way to find out, but Obama, lacking an overwhelming hand, has been unwilling to do so over the first two years of his presidency.

Then again, the other possibility is he’s getting exactly what he wanted.

An Ante from Oblivion

My birthday yesterday was brutal at our bi-weekly poker game. I went—despite the fact that it was also Barbara and my anniversary—because I’ve been in the lead for Player of the Year for a couple of months. As it was, I managed to earn just enough points to hold my closest contender to a tie, despite having gone into the night with a 17-point lead. I kept making bad calls.

To make up for it, I decided to focus today for a bit on a game I played back in October of which I’m a bit more proud. I was playing a $5.50 re-buy satellite tournament to one of the weekly $700 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA) qualifiers. There were only 75 players in the satellite but the number of re-buys eventually pushed the prize pool to $1,185, which paid out $100 to second through fifth place and $85 to the sixth-place finisher (in addition to the winner, who got a seat in a tournament with ten guaranteed PCA entry, hotel, and expenses packages).

I hadn’t played many of that type of tournament back then and wasn’t keeping an eye out on how the prize pool was building past the guarantee, so I made (at least) a couple of mistakes in my strategy and ended up two places short of any money. That’s certainly not what makes me sort of pleased with my play in this tournament.

I entered as the second 10-minute level (15/30) was beginning. My second hand looked like it was going to get me off to a great start: AhAs that I played into two double buy-in players ahead of me who shoved with 9sAc and 9hJh. The 6h3h5c was a little scary, seeing as my 1,500 chips were all-in and I tend not to rebuy, but the aces held up and I tripled, with the other ace holder just ending up even.

I lost a bit on hand 7 running TdTc into a flush but made my way up to nearly 6,700 two hands later as my Kc5c pulled a set of fives out of a 5h3s5dAc8s board that had two slightly smaller all-in stacks (2cAd and 4c4s) both all-in on the flop looking for straights and full houses.

The game continued on in that way for nearly two hours (re-buys ended after an hour of play). I went down and up again, and by the last hand of Level IX—with the blinds at 200/400 and a 50 ante—my chip stack was up to 11,000. There’s been eight players at the table for about five hands since the last bust-out. Three players were in the lead, evenly-spaced at 5K intervals between 20K and 30, and the rest of us were bunched down between 8,700 and 12,700 chips. The short stack was on my right, the big stacks were all on the opposite end of the table from me. It was my big blind and I was dealt QhAd. The UTG player with a stack just barely smaller than mine called, as did the short-stacked small blind. I stupidly shoved and was called by UTG. The small blind folded. Cards went on their backs and UTG had KcAs. Neither of us hit anything on the board apart from a pair of sevens. Big Slick took down 22,616, leaving me with 55 chips as we entered Level X.

50 chips went to the ante on the next hand. My last 5 chips were the small blind (which meant I was about 295 chips short). The only caller to the large stack in the big blind was the least of the big stacks, in cutoff position. It wasn’t looking good for my 3hTs as the flop came down 2sQh4d. The big boys checked through as the turned 3d gave me a pair and a 4s on the river paired the board. Nobody put any more money in, and my pair of threes beat the TdAs and Ks9d, giving me the antes (400) and another 15 chips. The big stack, with an ace, got 1,190 chips. Didn’t really seem fair but I was still in.

I picked up a slightly above-averageJcTh on the next hand. The largest stack (UTG+1)had raised to triple the 600 chip big blind and the second-largest stack (UTG+2) three-bet him to 4,800. Now, normally, I wouldn’t be going all in with an off-suit jack and ten but I was pretty sure on the button I was going to be the only caller against a high ace and with my 50 chips in the ante I only had 365 left. Sure enough, it went heads-up, and I won another reprieve: 3c7h8c4d9c gave me a jack-high straight, my opponent had KcAd for nothing better than ace-high, and I picked up 2,160 chips.

By the time the big blind got back around to me we’d lost our big stack to table balancing and the guy on my left who’d almost knocked me out had eliminated the short stack, putting him at over 33K. I had just over 2K. My big blind (still 600 chips) special cards were 6h8h. The cutoff player with about 11K raised to 2K and the small blind called, leaving 16.5K behind. I almost-called with 1,960 (what I had left after paying my ante) and crossed my fingers.

Again, it was a pretty ugly-looking flop: 5sThQd. Nobody liked it, or the 8c on the turn or the Qh on the river because they checked it down. I, on the other hand was pretty happy aqbout that eight, because it paired my hand and against the cutoff’s 9cAs and the Ad2h of the small blind it was good enough to pop me up to 6,180, which was 112 times what I’d had six hands earlier.

By the second hand of Level XII (500/1,000/100) I’d been moved to another table that contained a couple of the players from my previous table although there were only seven seated. I was down to 5,450 and in the cutoff position when I was dealt TsTc. The players ahead of me folded and I raised all-in. The three players left to act had me covered by factors of 10:1 (button), 6:1 (small blind), and 2:1 (big blind). Nobody else at the table had less than 10K and the median was over 25K. My only caller was the big blind with 6dAd. The board rolled out 9h7sQcKdJh which might have been worrisome if I hadn’t been holding half the tens in my hand. I doubled up to 11,900 then picked up another couple thousand on the next hand with a raise holding Ac9c.

Another player had been eliminated by the start of Level XIII (600/1,200/125) fifteen hands later leaving us with six at the table. I was once again the big blind with 12,475 chips left after my blind was out and a not very appealing 6c5h. The cutoff stack was about twice my size and raised to 2,550. Action folded to me and I decided to take a stab with my unsuited connecters, figuring nobody was likely to put me on sub-average hand like that when I was risking nearly a fifth of my chips. The Qd9s6s flop gave me bottom pair and not much else but I bet at it with 2,400 and drove off the other guy. I was up to over 17,500. My next hand the same size bet protecting a semi-bluff heart flush draw (8h5h) on the turn (3h6hQcAc) drove off the big blind/big stack (60K) pushing me over 19K.

I lost a little ground over the next seven hands as the antes and blinds chewed away but picked up 2c2s when the button hit me next. I bet 2,400—double the big blind—after action folded to me and the only caller was the big blind (once again, the guy who’d busted me to 55 chips). The flop was 8dKcJc which was ugly for me but he checked and I did too. 4s popped out on the turn and he put up a bet of 2,400. I called him. The board paired on the river: Ks. He checked. I had a third of my stack in the pot already. He flipped over 6hQc and my two pair picked up a pot of almost 11K, putting me over 21K. A9sAh four hands later netted me a few thousand more when I made a bet after a Js9d5c flop.

Four hands into Level XIV (800/1,600/150) I had 23,675 chips before the antes. I was at the same table I’d been at since my last move, there hadn’t been any more additions or eliminations. The button was on my nemesis who had about 25K in chips. The small blind was just under 30K; the big blind was just over. UTG was the short stack at 16K. I was UTG+1. Our big stack in the cutoff was down a bit from his prime but still well ahead of any of the rest of us, with 54K.

I picked up another iffy hand: Ac9d. UTG folded and I raised to 3,200. The button called and the blinds folded. Another fine flop dropped: 2d7c6h. I bet 1,600 into the pot of nearly 10K and got a call. 7s showed up on the turn, I pushed another 3,200 in, and my opponent folded. I collected 12,900, putting me at 31,625 chips, exactly 575 times what I’d had 59 hands earlier.

From 55 to 30K

Of course, inexperience will out. I almost immediately dropped down back down to the low 20s, then made back some ground, and was sitting on about 28K when we consolidated to the final table. I was the short stack, with most of the players in the 30s and 40s, one at 53K, and one at 82K.

The second hand at the final table (and the first of Level XV: 1,000/2,000/200) I took a hit with 4s4h on the button trying to push the blinds out with a 5K raise. Three over cards on the flop (Tc5sKs) and an 8K bet from the big blind turned the pusher into the pushee.

I didn’t play any other hands until my last. By then there were only eight players; two 50K stacks had collided with the marginally-larger’s queens holding out against a suited ace-king. When the big blind next came around to me I picked up 4hAd. Everyone folded to the small blind who shoved 32K in. I know (and knew) that an off-suit A4 doesn’t even have average odds in an eight-player game: it’s only going to be the best hand 11.3% of the time; picking a winner at random from a hat gives you a 12.5% chance. But I called and the small blind showed Ah8s. We had a decent chance of a tie (21.5%) if a bunch of high cards showed up, but he was a favorite to win at 55%. A diamond four-flush on the board would be great for me, or just about any cards below eight that might give me a straight.

What I got was Td8d9s. A couple of diamonds, sure, but I’d need both the turn and river for a flush. Aces were no help to me. A couple of fours would give me a a set. My chances of a win were down to about 4%. If another ten and another nine showed up, we’d tie, but that was almost as unlikely as a win.

A Js on the turn showed the way to another potential tie, putting an open-ended straight on the board. There was no way I could win, but if a seven or a queen showed up we’d split the pot, essentially earning three blinds each (600 chips). Unfortunately, one of my low cards (2c) picked that moment to show up and I was out in eighth place. The guy who finally knocked me out went out in second and got $100. The guy who just about knocked me out won the seat in the qualifier and finished 199th out of 276 there.

What’s the moral of the story? It’s a story about poker, there is no moral. No lesson, no words of wisdom. I just got into a tight situation, played as well as I could and was very, very lucky. Despite my almost certain elimination halfway through the tournament, I managed to make the final table, and my best attempt bar one at making it to an actual tournament. [A couple of days earlier, in a no-re-buy satellite to a European Poker Tour Vienna qualifier, I made it to heads-up with David “dhilton12” Hilton—the second-place finisher at the 2009 Asia Pacific Poker Tour Cebu event—with a 2:1 chip advantage (I still lost). But there were only 17 people in that tournament (higher buy-in) and I didn’t get clobbered down to 5 chips over the ante. He finished 93 of 145 in the qualifier, with 9 packages to Vienna, another twelve players getting €530, and one player getting €440.]

The Most Popular Internet Video Ever

Explosive-laden Calif. home to be destroyed

ESCONDIDO, Calif. – Neighbors gasped when authorities showed them photos of the inside of the Southern California ranch-style home: Crates of grenades, mason jars of white, explosive powder and jugs of volatile chemicals that are normally the domain of suicide bombers.

Now authorities face the risky task of getting rid of the explosives. The property is so dangerous and volatile that that they have no choice but to burn the home to the ground this week in a highly controlled operation involving dozens of firefighters, scientists and hazardous material and pollution experts.

Bomb experts pulled out about nine pounds of explosive material and detonated it, but they soon realized it was too dangerous to continue given the quantity of hazardous substances. A bomb-disposing robot was ruled out because of the obstacle of all the junk Jakubec hoarded.

That left only one option — burn the home down.

Somehow “controlled burn” and “house full of explosive material” make me wonder if the adults are in charge but I’m sure the authorities know what they’re doing.