Reflections on the 50th WSOP


Poker is alive and well if the numbers for this year’s World Series of Poker (WSOP) is any indication. The WSOP kicked off with a bang opening weekend with the Big 50 shattering records for the largest live tournament in history with 28,371 entries.

This momentum carried through the entire series culminating with the Main Event drawing the second-largest number of entries in its 50-year history. 8,569 players vied for the title of poker’s world champion. In the early morning hours of July 17, Hossein Ensan beat Dario Sammartino and claimed the gold bracelet and $10 million.

ESPN did an outstanding job broadcasting live poker which can be a challenge to keep both entertaining and educational. You could learn so much from watching poker live and not just an edited version showing the most exciting hands and situations to hold the audience’s attention.

Nick Schulman, a three-time WSOP bracelet winner and well-respected poker commentator, made a comment about this year’s Main Event, which drew some major criticism. When he said don’t watch the Main Event  to learn how to play poker, a Twitter war erupted which may have resulted in Nick being removed from being a guest commentator for the rest of the event. 

Schulman, an excellent game analyst, gave some expert insight into the game, which he plays at the highest levels. He was spot on about the level of play, and I agree with him. Nick did not back down and went on Twitter to defend his opinion: “The tourney is soft with some incredible players battling.”

Nine New Millionaires

The final nine were playing so much small-ball poker it made the game play very slow. 

One young amateur player named Kevin Maahs from Chicago decided to slow the game to a crawl, which really hurt the live broadcast. I am sure the final nine, except the winner, wish they could go back to that table and replay their hands again.

Most said in their exit interviews it was the most exciting time of their lives and thanked their family and friends for the support. I salute every single player who had to navigate through 8,560 players to get the final nine and a guaranteed payout of $1 million.

I think the money, which for most young poker players, was life changing did effect the decisions being made at the final table. Italian poker pro Dario Sammartino, who finished second, was impressively dressed in a tuxedo and had the most experience of any players at the final table. the crowd favorite. All-time bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth, along with my wife, thought he would win it all.

Sammartino made some great reads of other opponents’  hands but also made some big mistakes that will haunt him when he watches the replay of hands after the event. He had friends fly from Italy to root for him as part of a singing cheerleading group of fans that kept us entertained.

New Poker Champion Crowned

At one point Ensan, who also had a loud group of fans on the rail, had to raise his hand to ask Sammartino’s fans to cool it. The final table players seemed to bond as friends and not as rivals which was a pleasure to watch. They were all living the dream.

In what turned out to be the final hand of the Main Event, Ensan had pocket kings, and his opponent had a flush draw and a straight draw, Pocket kings held up, and Sammartino had to “settle” for $6 million.

It was a great end to a historic WSOP. One thing is for sure–for those of us who love poker, we are ready for the 2020 WSOP.

Daily Fantasy Sports: Where Are the Regulators?

DFS2

The daily fantasy sports (DFS) industry was rocked by a scandal last week when it was revealed that Ethan Haskell, DraftKings’ written content manager, had mistakenly leaked player ownership percentages for his site’s Millionaire Maker prior to the start of some of that week’s NFL games. Haskell then went on to win second place and $350,000 in the NFL Sunday Million at rival site FanDuel that same week.

This incident has led to speculation that Haskell’s success may be attributed to his improper use of insider information. Though DraftKings bans employees from playing on their own site, there were no prohibitions from playing on rival sites—until the scandal broke.

As of Monday, October 5, both DraftKings and rival FanDuel released a joint statement which says in part, “We are temporarily restricting employees from participating in DFS contests as an interim measure while we work with the fantasy industry to develop and implement a more formal policy.” The key words here are “fantasy industry,” which points to the glaring fact that there is no outside oversight of this fledgling industry.

Even before this story broke, many were asking, “Where are the regulators?”

Fantasy sports benefitted from a special carve-out in the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA), which essentially sounded the death knell for online poker. Unlike online poker, fantasy sports holds a special status as the UIGEA classifies it as a game of skill stating, “All winning outcomes reflect the relative knowledge and skill of the participants.”

Launched only in 2012 during Major League Baseball’s opening day, DraftKings seems omnipresent now due to the fact that you can’t miss being bombarded by ads every time you turn on your television. The massive marketing budget is funded by the money flowing to the site from investors and players alike.

According to an article on Fortune.com called “Fantasy Sports Site DraftKings Takes Bets from More Big Name Investors” dated July 27, 2015, DraftKings announced a new round of funding worth $300 million lead by FOX Sports and the Kraft Group, owners of the New England Patriots. This round also included investment from the National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Soccer (MLS) as well as the Madison Square Garden Company. Major League Baseball (MLB) also increased their stake in the company after investing an undisclosed amount in April 2013, becoming the first US professional sports organization to invest in DFS.

In addition to the funding, DraftKings has also benefitted from valuable partnering agreements. In April, DraftKings and Major League Baseball announced a multi-year deal making DraftKings the league’s “Official Daily Fantasy Game.” The agreement allowed individual teams to offer in-stadium fantasy-related experiences. And in July, DraftKings entered into a three-year advertising deal with ESPN Inc. valued at $250 million.

DraftKings seemed to be on top of the world claiming to have over 1 million registered players, the same position online poker held in 2006 at the peak of the poker boom. And in one fell swoop, the government seized the domain names of the three biggest names in online poker on April 15, 2011, the day dubbed “Black Friday,” and the poker industry has never been the same.

As I write this article, “a federal grand jury focused on DFS has been convened in Florida,” according to legalsportsreport.com. The US Attorney’s office in Tampa, Florida, is investigating whether DFS operators are acting in violation of the Illegal Gambling Business Act (IGBA). And the New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has sent a letter to both DraftKings and FanDuel requesting the names of employees who had access to data that could have been used gain a personal advantage. The parallels to “Black Friday” are eerily similar.

This story is evolving with new developments seemingly every day. I have no idea how it’s going to end, but I do know one thing: It’s time for the gaming regulators finally to step up and regulate this new industry.

Regulators have a duty of care to protect the industry and public alike. It seems in this case they were asleep at the wheel. DFS is hindered by a lack of regulation and transparency. Players deserve a fair game. Like anything else in life, without trust, you have nothing.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and casino/billiard marketing expert. Robert is most well-known for creating the game of Omaha poker and introducing it to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995. He also helped create Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development. He has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM. He is currently working as a casino consultant.

Robert can be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and coaching. Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. Subscribe to receive Robert’s articles as soon as they are published.

Before the Poker Boom: Poker in the 90s

Trump

In the 80s poker had become primarily a west coast phenomenon, but thanks to poker pioneers like Steve Wynn, Jack Binion, Lyle Berman, George Hardie and even Donald Trump, poker would expand across the United States in the 90s.

I became casino marketing director of the Bicycle Casino in 1991. Knowing I was from Alabama, the Bicycle Casino’s founder George Hardie sent me to Tunica, Mississippi, to scout the area for a large poker casino he had planned to develop there.

As I looked out at the cotton fields and the raging Mississippi river, I remember looking forward to running a poker room in the south; it would be going back home for me. I had hosted many games in that area for years and finally would have a chance to offer the players a legal and safe environment to play where they would not have to worry about law enforcement or hijackers.

Hardie had options on land around Robinson and the Tunica area, which would later be sold to Lyle Berman. Berman is one of the best Omaha players in the world. He would visit the Bicycle Casino to play in the Diamond Jim Brady tournaments and became good friends with Hardie. Hardie had an ambition to build the largest poker room in the world in Mississippi and purchased a piece of property called Buck Lake around Tunica.

Hardie had lobbied to have the nearest casino to Memphis, Tennessee. He would later sell that property to Berman, who built the Grand Casino in Tunica in 1996, which helped establish poker in Mississippi. Jack Binion also purchased land to build the Horseshoe casino, which opened the previous year. Poker had finally arrived in the south.

Ken Lambert Jr., Regional Director of Operations for the Heartland Poker Tour, recalls opening day of Jack Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in Tunica where he was director of poker operations, “We finally opened in February of 1995 to long lines of excited players. The lines extended hundreds of feet. It was a cold day, but to warm as many of the guests as he could, Jack emptied out his gift shop and began handing out any type of cold apparel that was on hand.”

Lambert continues, “I had 10 poker tables opened and ready to go as players rushed to the room to be the first to play a hand in Tunica at Jack Binion’s Horseshoe. Not long after opening, the poker room expanded to 12 tables and the rest was history. We had the biggest players in the world come play. The new dealers were dealing games they had only heard about, $4,000/$8,000 limit Hold’em and the Pot-Limit Omaha had a $75,000 max bet.”

When the poker explosion happened in the 1980s and 1990s, I felt like Forrest Gump. I was lucky enough to see landmark events in poker history firsthand and even established a record myself. I became the first player to have four consecutive cashes in the WSOP Main Event in 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994. My highest finish was 6th in 1994. Ronnie Bardah set a new record in 2014 with five consecutive cashes in the Main Event.

On the east coast, poker was also having its own boom. In Nolan Dalla’s article “The Early Years of the Atlantic City Poker Scene,” Dalla says, “The epicenter of the East Coast poker universe instantly became the Trump Taj Mahal, which opened the sparkling 50-table room in the Summer of 1993.”

Poker Hall of Famer Jack McClelland was hired by Donald Trump in 1996 as poker tournament director to establish a major poker tournament on the east coast. Trump created the United States Poker Championship tournament, which was a prestigious stop on the professional poker circuit for years and was televised on ESPN. McClelland recalls Trump as a no-nonsense, get-it-done-right kind of guy. He really enjoyed working for him.

I remember going to the opening of most of these new poker rooms in the south and on the east coast. Poker now had a showcase across the United States. This developed thousands of new poker players. Poker had arrived as a must-have amenity in casinos to reach out to a new demographic of gamblers.

The 90s was a great decade for me personally, as I found success both in casino boardrooms and on the felt. In part 2, I will discuss the poker boom in Las Vegas. Steve Wynn, with the help of Bobby Baldwin as his president, opened Bellagio, which would be a game changer in the history of poker.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiards/casino marketing expert. Robert is most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created the Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995. He also helped create Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

Robert has over 30 years’ experience in casino marketing and player development. He can be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and coaching. Follow Robert on Twitter @thechipburner.

Billiards International Presents Tournament of Champions at Harrah’s Resort Southern California

Ga-young Kim

Ga-young Kim

You’ve watched them all on ESPN, now it’s your turn to see the Champions of Billiards performing live at Harrah’s Resort Southern California October 6 through October 9, 2014. Be a part of the ESPN filming and win fabulous prizes (must be present to win). Admission is free.

On Monday, October 6, 2014 at 7 p.m. come challenge the champions and share a rack with the world’s best and get some pointers, too.

Thorsten Hohmann

Thorsten Hohmann

Tuesday, October 7, 2014 at 3 p.m. come see Darren Appleton, Shane Van Boening, Thorsten Hohmann and Dennis Orcollo compete in the Men’s International Challenge of Champions for $25,000 in a 9-ball event.

On Wednesday, October 8, 2014 at 3 p.m. the Women’s Tournament of Champions will feature Karen Corr, Allison Fisher, Kelly Fisher and Ga-young Kim compete for the $25,000 prize in a 9-ball event.

Come watch Florian “Venom” Kohler, Nick Nikolaidis, Andy Segal and Gabi Visoiu perform Trick Shot Magic on Thursday, October 9 at 2 p.m.

Andy Segal

Andy Segal

Don’t miss this opportunity to see the best of the best compete in this ESPN event. Free admission.  Must be 21 to attend.

Discounted rooms available. Call Harrah’s Resort Southern California at 888-242-7724.

For more information, contact Robert Turner at 562-922-9011 or robertturnerpoker@gmail.com.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiards and casino marketing expert. Robert is most well- known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995. He also helped create Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM. He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing group.

 Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. He can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting and teaching.

Nothing Left to Lose: Champion Ryan “the Beast” Riess Dominates WSOP Final Table

2013 WSOP Champion Ryan "the Beast" Riess

2013 WSOP Champion Ryan “the Beast” Riess

I am often asked if poker is a young man’s game. Based on my almost fifty years of playing, I would have to say yes.  Let me explain.  The 2013 World Series of Poker November Nine, which was played this week, featured a final table with an average age under 30.  In fact, Ryan “the Beast” Riess, the youngest player at the table at 23 years of age, won the championship title after eliminating four players before entering heads-up play against eventual runner-up Jay Farber.

When I was young myself and had no responsibilities, I played a hyper-aggressive style. I did not care who I played even if they were legends.  I remember playing a pivotal hand the first couple of hours in the Main Event of the World Series of Poker against Doyle Brunson when I was much younger.  I called a small raise from the big blind with 3 5 spades, and the flop came 2 4 6.  I flopped a small straight, but there was a flush draw on the board.  I was very nervous staring at this poker legend across the table, so I just said all-in.  He said, “Kid, I hate to go broke so early, but you must be on a draw to move in or have a pair.  I call.” He had a big pocket pair, so I won the hand and knocked out a legend.  When he got up, he said he could not believe he played the hand so poorly.

That hand helped reinforce my belief that being aggressive was the best way to play poker because it gives you more weapons in your arsenal, and it worked well for me for years.  It helped me to achieve the record for most consecutive cashes in the Main Event from 1991-1994. Dan Harrington said in one of his books on Hold‘em that Stu Ungar, Jack Keller along with myself started the aggressive style of play. I earned my nickname the Chipburner based on this style of play.  My younger kids still tease me about it and say, “Dad, why don’t you change your name to Chip Earner?”  They have a good point.

When you are young, going broke is just another way of saying “in between bankrolls.” According to media reports, WSOP champion Ryan Reiss was broke a year ago before winning second place in the WSOP Circuit main event in Hammond, Indiana in October 2012. However, once you cross into your mid-thirties, many players have families and mortgages.  With these added responsibilities, the prospect of going broke is scary and will affect one’s poker decisions.  When you are young, you have nothing to lose. It’s like that line in the Janis Joplin song Me and Bobby McGee: “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”  When you are young, you can afford to take risks you are not willing to take when you are older.

Lyle Berman once said if there are 100 players in a tournament, and you are the best player in the world, you may still never win a title in your lifetime.  The combination of aggression and luck makes No Limit Hold’em very volatile.  Most of the best players now play mixed games to protect their bankroll because so many decisions in No Limit are little more than a coin flip.

There is no question that today’s young players have more information available to them that allows them to become expert players faster than we did in the early years, and it has definitely elevated the game.  The internet changed everything.  The explosion of internet poker has allowed many young players to hone the art of aggression, and they are very hard to beat. It has allowed these kids to get rid of their inhibitions. They do not play the person so much as they play the numbers.

Poker is now much more a math game, whereas in the old days it was more a people game.  We would look for certain players to play and avoid others.  Now you are just an anonymous seat number. This style has also made poker more of a lottery than a skill-based game.  Even though you are the best player, it does not mean you will always win.

After nearly a half a century of playing poker, I have to admit it is a young man’s game.  After seeing it from both sides, I will say this about age.  Playing poker for a living requires stamina.  The effects of aging on one’s poker game cannot be overstated. In 2005 I finished 97th in the Main Event at the age of 58.   The toll it took on my body affected my play. It was extremely tiring.  I blame myself for not being in the best shape, but as a young man, playing three days was nothing.  After a marathon poker session, I would take a shower and look for another game.

Nowadays after 10 hours, I can feel the pain.  My wife has introduced me to yoga recently, and it has helped me immensely because poker is both a mental and physical game.  Once you cross 50 years of age, you have to prepare more for the physical demands of these multi-day poker tournaments.

Now to answer the question I posed at the beginning of this article.  Youth clearly is an advantage in poker, but experience has its place, too.  Doyle Brunson once said, “When we put our feet under the table, we are all one big family.”  And I’m proud to be part of that family for nearly half a century.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiard marketing expert. He created Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the internet in 2002. He also created the Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino and the National Championship of Poker for Hollywood Park Casino both in 1995.

Robert is most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986.  In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker.  He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM.  He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing and managing group.

Follow Robert on Twitter @thechipburner.  Robert Turner can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and teaching.