Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Goals Assessment

Well well well. It's that time of the year again, when the dorky among us go and dig up their goals for 2007 post, and assess how they did against those goals now that 2008 is mercifully coming to an end. Interestingly, in each of the three years I have done this on my blog now, I have found that some of my goals come the end of the year really changed in many ways from what they were at the beginning, and this year is no different, with one of my goals in particular. So, without further adieu, I turn to my "2008 Goals" post and how I think I fared on each of those points, and why:

1. Win the phucking Mookie!!!

Nope, still no Mookie victory this year. And I didn't really even come close. I think I had maybe three or four final tables in playing almost every Mookie of 2008, but none in which I made the top three that I can recall. I specifically remember having the chip lead at some point at the final table at least twice, one time with a monster lead, but I managed to give it all away in typical Hoy fashion whenever that occurred. I know I regretted some of the plays and decisions I made late in those few Mookie runs, but the bottom line is, I had a horrendous year playing this tournament, unlike my fellow prop bettor Mookie himself, who I'm sure had more final tables and I know made it to heads-up at least once if not twice, once with a more than 2-to-1 chip lead over Carmen. The sad thing about this particular goal is that things are not likely to change for me in the near future. I still look forward to playing the Mook every week, but I care far less about attaining this goal than I once did. Sure the prop bet has been fun and all, and I've been in discussions with Mookie about renewing it in some form for 2009, but even with the prop bet in place I barely ever thought about it. I know I've made a big deal about winning a Mookie here over the years, but the more I have focused on cash mtts and the less on the blonkaments during 2008, understandably the less import this particular goal has taken on.

2. Win at least 15 blogger tournaments.

Wow. It is hard to believe that was even me writing that just 12 short months ago, isn't it? I mean, in a lot of ways, 2007 was the year of the blonkament for me. I ended up focusing far more last year on blogger tournaments than I did on actually winning real money in real poker tournaments, and it clearly showed in my results for 2007. In 2008, my stated goal was to focus more on winning cash in larger online mtts, and at some point during the year after the end of BBT3 I recall specifically making the decision not to focus so much at all on the blogger events, at least not like I had been in the past. That decision clearly helped me to focus on the larger mtts I am really more interested in anyways, and again I would say this has obviously helped my profit and results overall in 2008. But it makes a goal like winning 15 blogger tournaments nearly impossible, and really quite moot as I just haven't viewed that as much of a goal throughout the better part of 2008, regardless of how I was feeling back in early January.

And don't get me wrong -- I think I had a perfectly fine year, blonkaments-wise. I won a couple of Dookies, a couple of Skillz events despite barely playing in those tournaments after the BBT3 ended, four Bodonkeys, at least three Riverchasers tournaments and at least two Donkaments, literally all of which other than the Bodonkeys occurred in the first half of the year. I just haven't played blogger events other than the Mookie with any regularity -- again other than the Bodonkey, which I really enjoyed per my previous posts -- during the majority of 2008. I understand from Al that the BBT4 is on its way back, and I imagine that will pique some interest from me in these events again, but for the most part I have turned into mostly a Mookie-only guy these days. Again, it's not anything to do with the blogger events per se, but the initial fun is long gone for me from these things, and the bottom line is that they make it harder to focus on winning real money in larger events on many occasions. So that's another goal that I failed at during 2008, although it doesn't feel like a failure because I was well on my way to surpassing that goal before I kinda gave up trying, and it's just not something I care a whole lot about at this point.

3. Get back to my cash-payout mtt success from 2006.

In retrospect, this was easily my most important goal of the year, and happily it is also the one where I think I performed the best. Without having to review the numbers in detail, I am quite sure that I exceed my overall profitability at poker in 2008 as compared to any other year that I've been playing seriously. I had a number of big cashes in 2008, surely more than in 2007, and for larger dollar amounts as well. I made the full tilt 50-50 tournament my biatch in 2008, playing it probably about 180 times for total buyins of $9000, and I final tabled it I believe 9 times out of those 180 attempts this year. Basically 1 in 20 times I played a $50 buyin tournament with a roughly 1000-person field, I final tabled. If that ain't making a tournament your biatch, then I don't know what is. I'm too lazy to do it again now, but I recently added up all of my cashes just from the 50-50 alone this year, and it was somewhere in the neighborhood of $25,000. That is a nice tidy profit just one from one tournament alone on one poker site. I was also solidly profitable from the 50-50 equivalent on stars, which quickly turned into a 70k guaranteed event. This one I probably only played maybe 40 or 50 times during the year, but I final tabled it twice for a 2nd and a 4th place finish, netting me over 4k in profits overall. This enabled me to turn a clear profit on stars for all my play for the entire year, in addition to playing profitably overall on Bodog and on UltimateBet.

With the advent of $T on full tilt, I was also able to nab some big scores via FTOPS and other regular satellites and just keep the winnings as cash. This equated to two $1000 seat victories for FTOPS events and/or the Monday 1k on full tilt, plus I recall two $2600 wins in two days over the summer I think in advance of the August FTOPS series. Although I surely need to do better at converting my satellite wins into cash wins at the end of the day, I was able to use juicy satellite formats and structures to my advantage and to keep the cash via the $T process for the first time on full tilt in 2008.

Lastly, Ultimate Bet has proven to be a real find for me here as the year comes to a close. Even though I never thought I would even consider putting a dime on that site, here I am and so far the experiment has been hugely positive. I am up over 10 large in pure profit there over just a week and a half of play. What do you say to that, right? My plan is just to try to keep as little money as possible there on a regular basis, and keep playing the tournaments there with the great structures that are most geared towards my skills and playing style, and take it one day at a time.

In all, 2008 will go down as my best year of poker, profit-wise. And it's not like I'm making a couple hundred g's a year or anything at this game. Far from it. Poker has always -- ever since I was a teenager learning to play at the 1-2 Sutd Hi-Lo games at the Taj Mahal in AC -- been about the entertainment value of playing. The money is just a way of keeping score, and if I end up positive over a given period of time, then that's all gravy. So I will end up a few thousand overall this year -- for all the fun I've had, the personal enjoyment and satisfaction that I've felt, and all the great experiences I have had, to think that I will actually get paid to do all that? Effing awesome.

4. Play some more large-buyin tournaments.

I'm not sure how I fared on this one. I did not play any WSOP Circuit Events this year as I had planned to back twelve months ago, but then I really didn't feel like trying as 2008 wore on, so I'm not sure what all that means. I did manage to play the $500 buyin FTOPS Main Event two times this year -- getting suckout-eliminated from both of them, thank you very much -- in addition to playing the Monday 1k twice and the $1000 buyin FTOPS event on one occasion as well, where I donked out with AJ on an A high flop likea guy who has no business whatsoever playing in a $1000 buyin event. I also made it out to play in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas again in the summer of 2008, making a solid run through about 1100 players before busting in around 250th place in a field that paid only the top 99 finishers. But other than these, I really did not play in too many other large-buyin events, which it turns out I sacrificed in exchange for playing in medium-buyin events like the 50-50 and these $120 UB tournaments to a decent profit on the year.

5. Attend one more WPBT gathering, and play in the WSOP.

Well, 1 for 2 ain't bad. As I mentioned, I did play in the WSOP again, making a solid run with no cards to speak of whatsoever. I lasted nine hours -- the longest I have played in one live tournament in a casino in my very few attempts at the big events -- and I had a great time doing it, and really just capturing the whole Vegas and WSOP experience as I have over the past few years of heading out for my regular summer pilgrimage to poker Mecca. And I did spend a small amount of time with some bloggers while out there -- a memorable nice breakfast with cmitch and Vinnay, both excellent guys, comes immediately to mind -- but the fact was that this was the year when the summer WBPT gathering officially went by the wayside. So there was no summer gathering of the bloggers in Vegas, and I am not the type to try to push for two Vegas trips a year away from my family, and so, since I like to play the WSOP every year I can these days, it is highly likely that you donks will continue to avoid seeing me on a yearly basis going forward.

6. Minimize tilt!!

Man I love seeing this one at the end of every year. Let's put it this way -- I am, and will always be, a tiltmonkey. It's just how I'm wired, and I accept that. I'm always going to blow up in the girly whenever I suffer my lifetime-worst-ever beat (that happens about once a week, just ask my chat friends). I strongly suspect that most of the people who girly chat with me on a regular basis only put up with the rest of my yammerings so that they can be around when I absolutely blow the top off the chatbox after a particularly ferocious screwage by some poker site or some donkey across the table from me. Because I know that shit is funny. I read it the next day, the next week or whatever, and it is really funny to look at some of the stuff that came out of my head, my fingers, whatever you wanna call it. So I'm a tilter, and I don't think that's going to change.

But the fact remains that 2008, much like 2007, saw me improve marginally in the tilt factor as well. Sure, I will blow my ass up in the chat like there's no tomorrow after a bad beat, but every day I get better at dealing with it, at accepting it, and most of all at moving on in whatever other poker I am currently playing without letting it affect the quality of my play. For example, just last week when I won that 30k guaranteed sniper tournament on Ultimate Bet, I took once of the sickest beats of all time in the middle of the third hour. I had some of my girly chat people rolling in the aisles I'm sure reading the shit I was saying about what had just happened to me. But you know what? I perserved. I didn't push allin on the next hand with that J7o just to get myself eliminated so I could steam about it all night. I kept my composure, I played the rest of that blind round, that hour, and that entire tournament like it was important to me, and look what happened three or four hours later. That I am sure would not have happened even a year ago. And I see similar examples all the time these days. I use the girly as my outlet to let off some steam after a bad beat, and although I surely still have my moments where tilt gets the best of me in a big way, where I donk right out of two other tournaments within seconds of an anal rape at a third table, those moments are fewer and further between all the time these days. So I don't know if I would describe me as "minimizing" tilt. But decreasing it maybe, slowly but surely.

7. Tell some stories in my blog.

I'll give myself a B on this goal. I did manage to post a couple of the stories I had going around my head a year ago when I wrote this particular goal down. But in the end, I ended up finding other outlets to write about non-poker topics here, and I did so with some regularity. Sports, the economy, the stock market, you name it and I wrote about it here if I was of such a mind to. And to tell the truth, I am really proud of what I've written here in 2008 outside of the poker context, in particular all of my thoughts about the economy, the bailout and the great crash of 2008. Frankly, on a couple of lazy afternoons I have had a blast going back and reading my real-time thoughts during the collapse of my former employer Lehman Brothers, and seeing what I thought the government ought to be doing to right things and comparing to what has actually been done during the balance of 2008. In fact, if I dare say so, I think a lot of what I predicted and said needed to be done actually makes me look like I know what the F I'm talking about, given what we now know. But it's that realtime-ness that makes blogging as a medium so powerful, and the fact that I took the opportunity to write about the events of the day as they unfolded during this truly unprecedented year outside of the realm of poker is one of my happiest and proudest achievements of 2008. So it wasn't nearly as much fiction as I had expected, but the overall point of this goal was met as I found other topics to write about and clearly expanded the scope of what I do here far beyond all poker, all the time. And I've alluded to this here before, but my readership swelled bigtime during the crash. I picked up literally hundreds of new readers since September, which my traffic stats bear out in a big way. Comparing my average hits per month in the four month period prior to September (May-August) to my average hits per month from September to December of this year, my traffic is up a whopping 37% here at Hammerplayer. And it's not slowing down, with December on track to come in about 12% higher than November's traffic and even a couple percentage points over October's levels. And that is something again that I am extremely happy about, and, frankly, proud of because it means that other people out there feel they are getting something meaningful out of my posts about everything I've written on since then.

So that's it for the goals I set for myself and this blog back on January 4, 2008. In all I think I fared well on the goals that mattered the most in retrospect, and as usual many of the things I had been planning on focusing on earlier ended up not being big priorities for me as 2008 rolled on. Most importantly, playing profitable tournament poker has been a great, fun experience for me all throughout this year, especially in light of what's been going on in the world throughout most of 2008. To be able to win more than 20k in online tournaments in January alone to start the year, and to end it with this 10k+ month just on UB, has been quite an experience, and obviously dwarfs all my other goals from a pure poker perspective. Within the next few days I intend to get up a post detailing some goals I will set for myself for 2009, although to be honest sitting here right now I really have no idea what I am expecting for next year. Not sure if I will post again this week as I am on vacay until next Monday, but if I'm not back before then you can expect me here doing my same thing next week as 2009 rolls in. It's been a great year of expansion in more ways than one here on my blog, and I thank each and every one of you for your interest and for all the great contributions that I get here on an almost daily basis in the form of insightful, well thought-out comments. You guys really are the glue that holds this little corner of the internet together, and I can't wait to see what we do with it next.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Another MTT Score

*****Warning! Warning! DANGER!! DANGER!! Even more Ultimate Bet Content Ahead!*****


I made another final table in the 9pm ET bounty "sniper" tournament on Ultimate Bet on Monday night, threatening to turn what was already my best year of playing online poker into a really nice year. This is the same tournament that I final tabled 10 days ago in my first stab at tournament play on UB with the new tournament structures being offered there. It's a great tournament -- it runs at 9pm ET every night, features a $109 buyin and a 30k guaranteed prize pool (40k on the weekends, and 80k on Saturdays with a $220 buyin), and it still has that great UB structure I have written so much about over the past couple of weeks. Everyone stars off with 150 big blinds at 10-20, and the levels advance so slowly during the earlygoing that at the end of the first hour, you're only up to 30-60 on the blinds, losing usually about 10-20% of the field as opposed to the 50% you are used to if you play the other nightly guarantees on the other poker sites out there.

And the best part of all about my $3474 win, plus another 10 knockout bounties on the night?

I lucksacked my way all the way through this thing. Big time. It was awesome, and lordy lordy lordy knows I have it coming to me. If I had another thousand nights like this, it wouldn't equalize me for all the shitbeats I take on an absolutely consistent nightly basis. Even UB, whom I generally am exceedingly pleased with in all the significant aspects of the online poker experience, has absolutely crushed me with bad beats over the past few days since my last score. Sure I have final tabled three times in 9 days there, but when I say I should have final tabled another 3 or 4 times, believe you me it's the troof. I have had some sick ass stuff go down just over the past week at UB in the worst spots imaginable, so last night's luckdonkery was welcomed and enjoyed by all. OK, maybe just by me. But like I said, I take the bad all day long, so I get to take the good along with it and hope it nets me some cash when it does come.

My first lucksack in this thing occurred around the middle of Hour 3. Hour 3 is where the UB mtts first start to get dicey, where the blinds are finally into the 150-300 range, where the antes kick in, and thus for the first time where stealing the blinds starts to take on a priority. It is like the end of Hour 2 in the normal nightly mtts on stars or full tilt, where making moves first becomes a priority and soon a necessity. So I was shortish, opting to take advantage of the time UB affords the patient players to wait for their spots, and as a result, I ended up reraising another short stack about 3/4 of my own stack from my big blind vs his button open-raise when I held A6o. Only leaving myself a quarter of my already short stack was just a ploy for my raise to appear stronger than it really was, as I would not consider folding and leaving myself with just a few big blinds even if I assumed I was beat by any re-reraise. So when the guy did put me allin, I reluctantly called and prepared to take my medicine. He showed AK, and the raggy board did nothing for me until the miracle 6 hit the river, doubling me up and putting me into position to survive a little longer and hope for my first big hand of the night. Dominated allin suckout #1.

Fast forward about an hour, as we are getting down near the 27 ITM positions in this tournament, and once again I find myself short-stacked, sitting at around 60% of the average stack and needing to make a move quick or risk being out of the tournament for all intents and purposes, given that I derive no pleasure or pride whatsoever from merely cashing and doubling my buyin in these things. That's not the way to win tournaments -- period -- and it's not the way I play although I gleefully play against opponents who will do absolutely anything to limp to the cash on any given night. So there I sat, short stacked, and when I limped into a 4-way pot with KTo in the small blind and the flop came T74 with a flush draw, I found myself check-reraising allin an early position limper with my top pair King kicker. Unfortunately, he insta-called and flipped up T7s, leaving me drawing essentially to just three King outs with two cards to come. Two cards later, on the river dropped what turned out to be the case King if the other players at the table can be believed, and I am proud to say that I once again squeezed victory from the jaws of defeat, due purely to lucksackery and nothing more. Dominated allin suckout #2.

Still later, as we were down to just two shorthanded tables remaining I believe directly on the final table bubble with 10 runners remaining, I restole allin on once again a short stack from my big blind with A2s against another medium stack on the button who I figured was not looking to play a big pot at this point and risk missing the final table where the payouts start at around $750 and escalate up to the $8200 and change first prize. Once again I was wrong, as my opponent flipped up AK, and my tournament survival was once again on life support. Once again, however, a Great Miracle Happened Here and a deuce on the river saved my tournament ass, much to the chagrin of the guys in the chatbox. Dominated allin suckout #3.

Now, to be fair, there was some great play mixed in there along with those three redonkulous suckouts. I had a few railbirds in the chatbox and on the girly and most could not believe how aggro I was being and the success I was having pushing people out of pots and getting in with the best of it time and again. There's just no other way to end up at a final table of a big guarantee tournament like this. Although I started off appropriately patient, I definitely escalated things as I needed to, and I did a great job of extracting chips from my opponents with my few key big hands I made on the night. Most of my reads in the crucial middle stages of the tournament were spot-on aside from my not one, not two but three big miscues, and this helped me to quadruple my stack during the critical third hour and then more than double it again in the fourth.

Unfortunately, my luck ran out in a big way with 10 players remaining in the event, as I limped from my bb with a sooted Queen against just the small blind ahead of me, and when he bet out on a Q54 flop with two of a suit on it, I went for the big pot-raise, going with the odds that at a 5-handed table there would not be another Queen out there sitting in the small blind. My stack was such at that point that his rereraise of me left me feeling essentially committed, and once again not wanting to fold my way to last place when the final table started, I opted not to fold and go with the odds by calling, to which he happily flipped up his foolishly slow-played pocket Aces. I ran into Aces three times during my run in this tournament on Monday, and was lucky to live to tell about all three of them, this being the most damaging of the bunch. I was left with just 24k in chips, a distant last place of the 10 players remaining, and thinking that my dreams of a third UB final table had been premature. But from there I fought back, stealing a couple of pots somehow by open-raising with garbage whenever it was folded to me, winning my third crucial suckout above with A6 vs. AK, and then yet another courtesy double up from someone who I guess thought I was still in push and pray mode.

Before I knew it, I was back in the middle of the pack as the final table began. The action at the final table was fast, much faster than usual given the UB mtt structures, and the first 6 players were eliminated within the span of maybe 40 minutes of play, leaving us three-handed with me the middle stack at around 180k in chips, to about 300k for first place and around 150k for the third place guy. Eventually, after a dearth of bad hands that I couldn't do much raising or calling of raises with, I raised preflop with QJo on the button and got a call from the big stack in the big blind. When the flop came down KT5 to give me the OESD, I figured I had to go with it here since I had been the preflop aggressor anyways. At the time my stack was about twice the amount that was in the pot, and rather than push in a pot-sized bet and then likely be committed with just a third of the pot left behind, I figured it made the most sense to push it all in since I was going to call any raise from my opponent in any event given the stacks involved. He thought for maybe 3 seconds before calling me down for a third of his stack with?

A8. Offsuit. Unimproved. My 13 outs twice did not hit, and IGH in 3rd place for $3474 and change. That's a tough way to go down, and I would be really annoyed about such a horrible call to get donked out of a tournament on, but like I've said, this one was one of the few, the proud, the lucksack runs that even I am entitled to have once in a while. I won over $3500 counting my elimination bounties on a night where I had to luck out when dominated multiple times just to even be alive to make the final table. I'll take it.

Oh, I should mention that my withdrawal check from UB arrived via fedex within exactly three days, just as the site promised. I deposited it today, and it looks like I will be making another withdrawal later this week as well. Assuming this thing clears, it is just another example of how UB is really going out of their way to make their mtt customers happy these days. Compare that time to get a check to what happens when you try to withdraw money from full tilt, pokerstars or Bodog these days. You wait what, a whole month? Two months? More? And then the check bounces half the time anyways doesn't it. UB not only returns emails right away and has live chat available on immediate request on its website, but at least as of now they are sending real life checks drawn on a U.S. company within just a few days. Gotta love it.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

NFL 2008 In Review

What a weekend in the NFL. I'm not sure I recall in my lifetime a crazier final week of the NFL season, or one with more do-or-die games for more teams than we saw in the heads-up matchups here in Week 17. It was Chargers - Broncos, winner gets the division, loser goes home. It was Jets - Dolphins battling it out for the right to make the playoffs, with the fate of the New England Cheatriots hanging in the balance as well with that game. The Buccaneers and the Bears each had a win-and-you're-in scenario working for them this weekend, and when they both lost, that turned the late game between the Eagles and Cowboys into yet another do-or-die game for both teams. The Vikings needed to beat the NFC-best New York Giants in order to get themselves into the playoffs (and win the NFC North). This was an absolutely riveting Sunday of football to end the 2008 regular season, and now we can focus on the playoffs and who has the best matchups to make it to the conference championships and eventually to the Superbowl.

First, just a minute about my Eagles. I knew going into the weekend that, if the Eagles somehow found themselves in a win-and-you're-in situation heading into Sunday afternoon's games, then the Cowboys were gonna be in trouble. That's just the Philadelphia mentality. We hate the Cowboys. Ragingly. And after already losing to them in a shootout on Monday night early this season in Dallas, and with the public troubles the team has had in pressure situations, with Tony Romo's clutch performances late in seasons, and with a shot at the playoffs on the line, the Eagles were going to come to play in a big way if they knew making the playoffs was at stake. And somehow, when the opening kickoff happened, that's just the situation the Eagles found themselves in.

And speaking of that for a minute, you do realize that if either the Bears or the Buccaneers had won their Week 17 games, the Eagles were out of the playoffs, right? I mean, first in line were Bucs, playing the hapless Raiders as double-digit favorites. This Raiders team stinks out loud, and everyone knows it. All the Bucs had to do was win and they would claim the 6 seed in the NFC, with Atlanta nailing down the first wildcard after their wildly successful 2008 season. And yet somehow, Jon Gruden's team found a way to lose to Gruden's old team the Raiders, in a game where the Bucs fell behind early, fought their way back but then gave it all up near the end. If you're a Bucs fan this morning, you just feel like absolute crap. And the Bucs loss opened the door for the Chicago Bears, who merely had to beat the Houston Texans in order to sneak into the playoffs themselves after Tampa Bay's alarming loss. And yet, different team, same story. Andre Johnson ran roughshod over that formerly good Bears defense on their way to knocking the Bears out of the playoffs after the referees all but ensured the Bears would stay alive in last week's game against the hated rival Green Bay Packers.

So the Bears and Bucs' losses turned the late Philly-Dallas game into a true do-or-die situation for both teams. The Cowboys already knew if they won, they were in the playoffs. But the Eagles had needed the help of both the Buccaneers and Bears to lose games which seemed highly unlikely for them to lose, and somehow they both did. So each of Philly and Dallas entered their final game of the 2008 regular season knowing that a win gets them a wildcard spot, and a loss sends them packing until next year. And the Eagles came out and absolutely obliterated this lost Dallas team, capping off a late-season collapse that saw Jerry Jones' boys lose 3 of their last 4 games to miss the playoffs. The Eagles went to the locker room at halftime up 27-3, and soon ran that up to 44-3 before the Cowboys got on the board again with their second field goal and only other score of the game. The Eagles's Donovan McNabb threw for two touchdowns and ran in one more, and our defense came to play in a big way, running back two Brian Dawkins-forced fumbles for touchdowns in a game that was never close and which Dallas barely showed up to play for. Marion Barber fumbled one time just a couple of yards from the end zone and with his body already flying out of bounds. Tony Romo turned in another typical Romo pressure performance, going 21 of 39 for 183 yards, no scores and one interception, along another two lost fumbles as the man continues to drop the ball far too easily under anything even remotely resembling pressure. With his performance, Romo significantly added to his reputation as a step-down quarterback in key spots as his December record as a starter dropped to 5-8 overall, despite being a lofty 22-4 in the other months. Unfortunately for Romo, all the big games in sports come at the end of the season, and almost no truly big games occur in the first few months.

And most of all, I look at the coach. Wade Phillips has always been a clown in my book. I mean, I never understood for half a second why Jerry Jones, with this much talent on his team, would hire that bozo instead of bringing in a real coach with a real track record leading a team. But more than that, owner Jerry Jones insisted all week leading up to this game, and even in the locker room after the devastating loss, that he will not make a head coaching change. Why? Why on earth would you want to keep this guy? Word is today that Eric Mangini, just two years removed from being called "ManGenius" and making appearances on The Sopranos, is gone as Jets coach after missing the playoffs in losing 4 of his team's last 5 games. At least the Jets recognize that there is a problem at the top, and also that there is some solid head coaching talent with real head coaching experience out there to be signed at the moment. The big prize of course is Bill Cowher, but I would be happy to hire Marty Schottenheimer after his incredible 15-1 run with the Chargers, which obviously was a significant over-achievement for that team which has basically stunk ever since his departure. But no, the Cowboys don't want Cowher or Schottenheimer, or apparently even heir-in-waiting Jason Garrett as their head coach. They want Wade Phillips, despite the team losing 3 of their last 4 games, and scoring a total of just 51 points throughout those four games, to lead this team into next season? Wade Phillips, whose offense with Tony Romo, Terrell Owens, Jason Witten and Marion Barber got outscored on the season by 60+ points by both the Eagles and the Giants, and whose defense gave up 70 more points than anyone else in the division? The coach who presided over the dissention in the locker room that only got worse as the season went on? What exactly has Phillips done to make Jerry Jones so sure that he has the coaching staff in place to succeed for many years and bring the superbowl back to Dallas?

My money is on Jerry Jones firing Wade Phillips before the Cowboys' 2009 season begins. I don't care what he's been saying over the past week or two.

A few other fun notes with the NFL -- starting with the Dolphins and the Falcons, the two big comeback stories of the year in the league. As I've chatted with a few of you on the girly, I don't know how you tell either of those two coaches that they are not the coach of the year in the NFL. If ever there was a year made for co-coaches of the year, this is it. Atlanta, mired in the embarrassment of the Michael Vick dog-fighting scandal, plucks this kid Matt Ryan out of nowhere and turns him, Michael Turner and Roddy White into stars, going 11-5 and easily making the playoffs after a disastrous 4-12 campaign in 2007. And Miami, winning just one game last season, bringing in new coach Tony Sparano after serving five years as an assistant coach in -- of all places -- Dallas, nabbing a discarded Chad Pennington, rookie wideout Tenn Ginn, Jr., and putting together another 11-win team, and capturing the division title in the AFC East, known to be one of the toughest divisions in football. What stories for the players, the fans and the coaches and ownerships of those two teams this year as the 2008 regular season has come to an end.

And Chad Pennington deserves mention in his own right. After the Jets managed to woo Brett Favre out of retirement in a shotgun marriage of sorts, they immediately cut Pennington, who had led the team for several years in his typical low-profile and yet consistent manner. The Dolphins quickly signed Pennington, their first "real" quarterback in several years, and immediately the move paid huge dividends. Pennington took the helm of an offense that led the league in giving up the fewest turnovers, in fact tying the NFL record for fwest turnovers given up in a season, period. For Pennington to be able to walk in to New York in Week 17 and knock his old team out of the playoffs, while nailing down his own team's division title in that same division in the process, what a story. One interesting stat is that, after Brett Favre threw three more picks (two of them really, really fugly ones) in the Week 17 game against the Dolphins, Favre threw more interceptions in December (8) than Pennington did in every game he started for the Dolphins this season (7). Pennington has always been one of those guys who's not necessarily glamorous about it, doesn't toot his own horn in public much, but who quietly gets the job done every year with roughly 20 touchdowns and usually fewer than 10 picks. He simply does not make the key mistakes that a guy like Tony Romo or Kurt Warner has been known to make over their careers. What a year for Pennington, and what a vindication here in Week 17 for one of the good guys in the NFL.

Lastly, I should mention the Chargers, who did their part by coming out and absolutely smushing the Broncos to capture the AFC West with the lofty record of 8-8. Although coach Norv Turner is a proven boob whose team will simply not be able to stick with the real class of the AFC in the post-season, the Chargers remain a dangerous team with the potential to blow it out on offense. And most of all, despite what can obviously be said about a team that finishes the season 8-8 and yet somehow wins their division, I for one am thrilled to see a team that got megafucked early in the season by redonkulous refereeing getting and fulfilling their chance at vindication and fighting their way into the playoffs despite the earlier uberfucking by the men in the black and white stripes.

So here are your opening futures bets to win the 2008-2009 Superbowl in Tampa, Florida on February 1, 2009:

Arizona Cardinals 40-1
Atlanta Falcons 15-1
Baltimore Ravens 12-1
Carolina Panthers 6.5-1
Indianapolis Colts 5.5-1
Miami Dolphins 28-1
Minnesota Vikings 18-1
New York Giants 2-1
Philadelphia Eagles 40-1
Pittsburgh Steelers 4.25-1
San Diego Chargers 20-1
Tennessee Titans 4-1

I will revisit this topic in future posts for sure, but my initial reactions to the above odds are to first notice that the Cardinals and Eagles are considered the greatest longshots on the board, which is interesting since the Eagles are favored by 3 points to win at Minnesota next weekend. I do think both the Cardinals and Eagles have very little chance of winning it all this year though, so I would probably stay away from the two longest shots on the board for this postseason. Other teams with essentially no chance include the Vikings, the Dolphins and the Chargers, who come in as 18-1, 28-1 and 20-1, respectively, and whom I would also tend to avoid because I just don't think these teams can win it all.

Among the favorites, I would never bet the Giants at a mere 2 to 1, not since the loss of Plaxico has left the Giants looking supremely beatable -- even at home -- during their last three games since suspending Plax for the remainder of the season, and likely the remainder of his time as a New York Giant. 2 to 1 on that bet is wayyyy to thin at this point. I also don't like the Titans at 4-1, who I think are benefiting from their 13-3 regular season record more than their actual chances of winning the superbowl. Obviously they could win it, but, as much respect as I have for their coach Jeff Fisher, I could not pick the Titans over the Steelers (assuming everyone is healthy), and I think even the Colts are likely to give them trouble given the late-season performance by Peyton Manning and crew, nor do I think the Titans would match up well against any of the likely NFC champion teams. 4-1 is not enough for me to take the Titans in this spot. 4.5 to 1 for the Steelers is intriguing, but at this point I would want to wait a week or so to see about the status of Ben Roethlisberger after Sunday's concussion before committing any serious money there. But dam that Pittsburgh defense is a tempting bet to win it all as I sit here right now.

The other two decent values I see on the board right now are Carolina at 6.5 to 1 -- with the first-round bye and homefield throughout except for the NFC championship game, I expect Carolina to be at New York in a few weeks to battle it out with the Giants for the right to go to Super Bowl XLIII. Of course NY will be favored in that game, but we saw a couple of weeks ago with everything on the line and both teams playing their hardest for the #1 seed in the NFC that Carolina can stick with the post-Plaxico Giants. 6.5 to 1 is decent odds to me for a small bet on a team with a great defense, strong offense and one of the best coaches in the NFL in John Fox. I am also intrigued a little bit by the Falcons at 15 to 1. No, I don't see this team winning any superbowl this year, but they are one of the few teams with big odds that does have the capability to win it in my view. For 15 to 1, I could see dropping $20 or $50 on them for a chance to win some nice coin.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

My Erev Christmas Present

*****Warning! Warning! Alert! Alert! Ultimate Bet Content Ahead!*****

Booo Yahhhh!

Just look at this thing. 160 runners, deep stacks to start, super awesome structure, and over $5300 for first place. 160 runners! This is like playing a 180-man sng on stars or full tilt, only with 20 fewer players, about a 20x better tournament structure and with a whole lot more money on the table. Sure you have to be able to handle a perceived increased risk of shenanigans from all the stuff that's been going on with UB lately, but you know what they say -- with increased risk comes increased reward.

Even with the great structure and deep starting stacks, the whole tournament took just a shade over six hours to win. And just as with my final table run in the 9pm ET bounty tournament at UB, the structure and stacks are so solid that I was able to withstand a bad loss deep in this thing -- running AQ into AK when down to 5 at the final table against the tournament short stack -- and still have enough chips to be able to make a move.

There were not too many big hands on my way to this mtt victory, few enough that I can recap them here. The strange thing about this particular tournament run was that I suffered no suckouts for, and no suckouts against. Dam that is a good feeling, I have got to say. Another strange but not unusual thing was that I received generally very poor starting cards, and most of my big pots were either on big flops to shitty starting hands, or, more commonly, just based on my reads and not a whole lot else.

My first big hand got me about a 50% increase from the 5000-chip starting stacks in the first 20 minutes or so of this event. I open-raised preflop with A4s from mid-late position, and only the small blind called my raise. Being in the blind, and since he didn't reraise me, I'm putting him on a middling to fair hand. No big pair, but maybe two big sooted cards, a medium pair, a connector, something like that. The flop comes 789 rainbow, the small blind checks, and I c-bet around 75% of the pot to try to take it down here:

The small blind smooth calls my flop bet. I still don't have him on much, maybe a pair or a piece of the straight draw, maybe an underpair, or maybe even just two overs. With the deep stacks there is plenty of opportunity to float in the earlygoing in this thing, and I didn't really have any read on this guy coming in to the hand, other than that he had done nothing but play straightforwardly so far in the tournament. The turn card brings another 9, pairing the top card on the board. I believe he would surely have raised that scary flop if he had held top pair or better, so I can't see him having made trips here. But with the pair the board has gotten even a bit scarier, and since I think he has to fear trips now, I opt to bet out strong again, this time around 80% of the pot:

The small blind surprises me by just calling again. Dam. While I already figured I was behind in the hand, two check-calls is a pretty solid line, indicating at least a pair and a draw, or maybe two low pairs, a flopped set or something similar. I don't plan to lose any more chips on this bluff.

But then look what happens, when the river brings a harmless offsuit 3:

Suddenly the small blind insta-bets, leading out for the full pot size after I had raised preflop, bet the flop and had gotten called, and had led out again on the turn and gotten called. This is like a delayed donk-bet -- again this is the poker forum term for leading out into the preflop raiser, and it almost never indicates a truly strong hand. Let's say this guy has a boat or something. I've just bet him preflop and on each street after the flop so far, even after getting called twice. Why would he insta-lead out here, and for such a large size relative to the pot, if he had a big big hand? The answer, it seemed to me, was he would not. Maybe he thinks I was on a straight draw that did not fill. Maybe he thinks he can scare my one-pair hand out of the pot, or that I was betting a hand like AK all along. I don't know. But my gut told me this guy was full of it, so I took my Ace-high hand and did this:

Almost an allin raise, leaving just a short stack behind which I think sometimes looks even scarier than a straight-up allin push. Again, I'm not trying to say that this is such an awesome play -- for one thing, my opponent, who at this point I have on a one-pair hand like a pair of 7s or 8s, could easily just donkey-call my bet, and of course I lose to any single hand he would possibly call with. And I have to give the guy a little bit of credit to think he could fold here. But his insta-donk-bet on the river just screamed out to me that he would fold to big action and didn't want to bust this early with his hand, so I changed my plan at the last second and followed my instinct.

Booom. Who knows what he had. Like I said, I think he had one pair and decided that I was trying to bully the pot, but then figured at the river that I had Aces or somehow had connected big with the board. Nice way to start things off, especially since I never even connected in the least with what proved to be a very scary board.

Near the end of the first hour, I got very lucky in that I picked up QQ and ran it allin against a shortish stack who turned up JJ. We both waited until after the flop to get the big money in, but when it came all rags he overpushed on me and at this point from watching him for an hour I knew he would make that move with any top pair and possibly even a draw. With all the flop overpairs I run into higher overpairs on a nightly basis, this one felt good as it popped me up over 11,000 chips and into the top 5 of the field during just the first hour of play.

I used my instincts in a potentially hairy situation again early in the second hour when I open-raised A9o from the button, and the small blind just called me with a stack of around 2/3 of my own. The flop came Ace-high, and once again my opponent insta donk-bet me, the full size of the 1800-chip pot:

I mean this was instantaneous. Once again as I have discussed many times of late here, I just could not see how this guy would make a play like that if he was holding AK, a set or a similarly strong hand. Most players will check to the raiser and then go for the raise either after I bet on the flop, or the allin move on the turn in that spot. Even the tricky ones who might bet out into the raiser a la Doyle Brunson are typically not insta-pushing there, and typically not for the full size of the pot. The last thing AK wants to do there is scare away a guy who might have open-raised a lower Ace, or for that matter might be stealing from the button and be willing to put in a sizable c-bet given my big stack at the time. So I put him on either a weak Ace or simply an attempt to steal the pot from me. So I smooth called him, opting to see what he did on the turn for some more information before deciding how much I really wanted to commit to the pot. But I felt like I was ahead at the time, that is for sure.

The turn brought a raggy 5, completing a possible heart flush but I could not put him on the flush draw given his insta-bet on the flop. What's more, the guy insta-pushed for almost his entire stack on the turn, to the point that he clearly did not give any thought whatsoever to any strategery on the play. So no way he had the flush here or any other big hand. My biggest worry was that he had called my perceived button steal from the small blind with a hand like A5 or A3 and had made two pairs, but the insta-betting he was tossing my way just did not seem like the moves of a guy with a secret strong hand. It seemed the opposite. With the second lead even after I raised preflop and called his full-pot bet on the flop, I had to put him on something. But try as I might, I simply could not match up his play with a hand stronger than my own. AT or better would at least be taking some time here, trying to draw me in before betting out, maybe not betting the full pot on both the flop and the turn, especially given my perceived preflop steal from the button. The best I could come up with was maybe a lower Ace, or a Ten plus the flush draw, something like that. So I raised him allin for his last 600 chips, and he called and flipped up this:

Blooom. Another spot-on read and another nice chip-up, taking to me third place overall of the then 109 players remaining:

At this point, I started bullying bigtime. I played many, many pots, leading out for full pot bets on almost every raggy flop I was involved in, taking pretty much every one down as no one wanted to get mixed up with my big stack this early in such a well-structured mtt. I also started raising any even remotely raiseable hand any time the action was not raised in front of me preflop from middle position or later -- hands like any Ace, any sooted King or Queen, any sooted connectors, stuff like that. Basically every single time the situation presented itself. And I don't think I had to lay down more than one time during the entire next hour as my stack slowly climbed from 20k to nearly 30k in chips without a single showdown along the way.

Around the beginning of the third hour, I won a race with 55 against a shorty with AQs, bringing my stack up to 37k, good for 4th place of the 52 remaining players. Later that hour, I lost a race when I opted to call a shorty allin reraise with my pocket 7s. He flipped up the JackAce, and of course turned a boat to crush me back down to 23k, which placed me in 13th of 40 players left at the time. The important thing as I have mentioned a few times with the UB tournaments is that the structure is so solid to these things, that even this big drop left me with more than enough big blinds to not let the loss get to me.

Near the end of Hour 3, I had my biggest hand of the tournament to that point, and also probably the only truly questionable decision I made all night. I was dealt JJ in the cutoff, and while I was deciding how best to play only the second quasi-premium hand I had been dealt all night, the UTG short stack pushed allin on a large overbet of nearly 18 big blinds, and then the largeish stack in middle position overpushed for 30 big blinds all in front of me:

Now, I should say, the UTG guy at the bottom of the screen was a proven raging donkey. He had overpushed allin almost every time he was UTG for the past several orbits on a short stack, and to be frank I really didn't give him much credit for a hand here. In fact, that fact alone was the biggest reason I couldn't put the MP player on a huge hand. If he had Aces or Kings, I assume he would not have overraised but rather just flat-called the big allin from the UTG player -- that's what I would have done anyways -- in the hopes of getting in some more action behind him. So what I was most worried about was AK or maybe AQs, both of which were not only possibilities, but highly likely, or possibly QQ. In the end, though, given how blatantly donkishly UTG had been playing with his UTG overshoves, I figured that widened the MP player's range sufficiently that he could be on a hand like 88-TT, in addition to a small possibility of AJs or maybe even ATs. Now, against 88-TT, QQ, AJ-AK, my JJ should hold up well, so I went ahead and made the call.

Like I said, it was questionable for sure, and I think the money move with a nice stack nearing the money in an mtt like this might be to fold the JJ there, but I explained above my reasoning in making the call. Interestingly, it was the donkey who had the two overs I needed to dodge while the MP player I was dominating, so that was good for me already in that I would win the large side pot even if an Ace or Queen fell, but in the end I miraculously dodged three Aces, three Queens and two Tens plus various runner-runner possibilities to nearly triple up and get into great position for another deep, deep run:

At this point I shifted my focus from bullying everyone sickly to playing aggressive poker but doing what I could to preserve my chip-leading position and make a run to the final table where the payouts start getting big enough to really care about. At a $120 buyin, the event paid only about $580 to the 9th-place finisher, but over $5300 to 1st place, so finishing in the teens somewhere really did nothing I gave a crap about to be honest. So no more dumb plays, no more questionable calls given my place on the leaderboard at the time.

With the structure what it is in the 8pm ET UB deep stack tournament, the tables tighten up dramatically heading to the cash, and really remain that tight all the way through to the final table and beyond. With a lot of cash at stake and with stacks that are so deep, there is just not much reason for anyone to push. It took about an hour to get down to the final table. To illustrate why the Ultimate Bet mtt structure is so attractive, when the final table began, the blinds were 1200-2400, and the average stack was 84000. This means the average player at the final table on Tuesday night had about 35 big blinds. 35 big blinds!! Just think about that for a minute -- where else in the world of online poker do you find that kind of average stack on a final table of an mtt, anywhere?. You just don't. Normally you're lucky if the average stack has 6-10 big blinds at any final table on stars, full tilt or Bodog.

Here I am in 5th place as the final table begins, thanks to my pushing my A8s into a short stack's AQ in the big blind with 10 players remaining:

So here I was, at another significant mtt final table just days after writing here about my lack of focus at final tables, and my failure to play solid final table poker over my last few chances in this spot. This time, I insisted on learning that lesson, and I can't tell you how many times I thought about that post and that promise I made to myself earlier this week about not letting my next final table opportunity fall by the wayside. I played the final table the way I believe you should, which is to be tight early and try to let the smaller stacks make mistakes or otherwise drop out so you can move up the money payouts. To this end, I folded 77, 44 and A7s to allin reraises during the first hour or so of final table play, opting to preserve my chances to double up and make the real big score I wanted instead of possibly calling off into a dominating hand. This to me is proper final table poker, and I played it to a tee this night after wasting my last couple shots at some real money.

At the end of Hour 4, I was in 5th of 8 players remaining in the tournament, needing some chips but willing to wait for the right opportunity thanks to the very skill-favorable UB tournament structure. I got that chance very early in Hour 5, when I picked up my biggest hand of the night -- QQ -- against TT allin preflop vs. the tournament chip leader. This suddenly bumped me up to 2nd place with over 138k in chips. Woohooooo! From this point, it was back to even more guarded play, as the players don't drop out of this thing with anywhere near the pace you see on the other online poker sites with single-digit Ms from even before the final table begins. But I really reined it in here while I waited for others to bust and only chipped up where my chances of winning pots without a showdown seemed highest. This meant that I did not bet out behind on the river with the low end of the straight on a TJQKs board, and my opponent flipped up an Ace as he attempted to get me to bluff into his nuts. On a later hand, then down to 5 players remaining at the final table, I opted not to not bet after the flop my A9 unimproved against a guy who called my button raise from his big blind. We checked it down on the all-rag board, and he showed AQ for the win. Plays like that -- surely different from how I would be apt to play these spots in either the beginning or the middle of most mtts -- are exactly what enabled me to stick around and move up the payouts instead of pushing myself into busting or even getting myself stuck with some difficult decisions in key spots.

As a result of my conservative final table play, though, I was in a distant 4th place of 5 remaining about 5 1/2 hours in to this tournament:

But notice, once again, the average stack is 168k, and blinds are just 4k-8k. Still, even with 5 players remaining, over 20 big blinds for the average stack, with 3 of the 5 left sitting on well more than 20 big blinds. Nice!

My biggest screwing of the tournament -- which again saw no suckouts for or against me from start to finish -- occurred with 5 players remaining, when I open-raised from the cutoff with AQo. The button, also the only player with a shorter stack than me left in the event, reraised me allin for about half of my remaining stack, and I pondered briefly and then called, figuring he cannot put me on a hand like AQ fro the button and that at worst I was looking at a race, which I easily had the pot equity for given the chips already in the middle from the blinds and antes and my own preflop raise. Unfortuntely, he flipped up AK, and I did not improve. So I was down to 5th of 5 left, with 46k in chips while even 4th place was sitting on 190k, and the chipleader at 250k. Still, with 6 big blinds I at least had a few hands left to try to make a move and get back into contention. A few hands later, sure enough I am dealt pocket 2s and I obviously push, getting called by the guy in 4th place who had just doubled through me, with him showing A6s, and fortunately I tripped up on the flop -- my only set of the night for that matter -- and even made quad ducks on the river just for good measure. I was still in last place of 5 remaining, but at that point I was back up to 115k and had around 14 big blinds thanks again to the UB tournament structure that is so solid.

Eventually, still in last place and shrinking once again, I called the small blind's open-push with my A5o in the big blind, and he flipped up A3o. Miraculously, not only did my A5 hold, but the 5 actually played thanks to the 4J29A board. Yessss! Suddenly I was back from the dead, all the way up in 2nd place of still 5 players remaining but now sitting on 235k in chips, with the leader holding 320k.

Over the next ten minutes or so, two players busted but unfortunately I was unable to take advantage, leading others to double up and increase their stacks while I was content to sit on my 200k+ rather than make any dumb moves and jeopardize my chance at the top prize of $5300 and change.

When three-handed, I had my biggest hand of the tournament where I believe my opponent overplayed a strong but not nut hand. I called the 8k big blind out of my 4k small blind with 95s:

putting 18,400 chips into the pot to see a flop of 667. With nothing good and only 9 high in my hand, and yet holding a draw to the inside straight for the nuts, I opted to check, and my opponent checked behind, which proved to be his undoing. The turn filled my miracle inside straight, and when I decided to bet the full pot to make this look as much like a steal attempt as I could, my opponent responded with the dreaded minraise:

The pot was getting big at this point, and my opponent easily had me covered, while I was solidly bigger than the 3rd place stack and did not want to get busted here and settle for the third place payout when I had been so far ahead of 3rd place coming in to the hand. But still, he had limped preflop so I wasn't putting him on pocket pair of 7s or 8s for the full house, and while I figured a boat with 67 or 68 was certainly possible, as was a higher straight with T9, an overpair, a pair with a draw, or of course a single 6 seemed like more likely possibilities to me. I made the decision that my hand was hidden enough and strong enough to go all the way, and once that decision was made, I opted for the pot-sized re-reraise rather than the allin, hopefully giving my opponent just enough rope to hang himself:

And he obliged:

And BLOOooooooooooom!

Now if I'm him in this spot, I like to think I would conceive of the possibility of a boat, any of the three straights, or even just a 6 with a higher kicker and at least might wait another street or two before getting it allin. In the end it was a beautiful setup for me and I played it well, but we were probably getting it allin there regardless in most cases. Anyways, this hand gave me a massive chip lead over both of my remaining opponents, of 565k - 143k - 129k.

From here it was just a matter of pushing hard every limp and every rag flop, but otherwise just try to see some flops and win after the flop instead of trying to take down every pot without seeing the flop given all these chips in my stack. The other thing I tend to focus on in this spot is trapping, which I don't normally like to do at final tables (or otherwise, for that matter) but which can be an awesome weapon with a dominating stack late in a tournament or an sng because your opponents will often feel pressure to attack your limps and try to chip up quick by getting you to fold. So a few hands later when I picked up AQo, I went for the limp out of the small blind to just 8k, and my 2nd place opponent across the table from whom I had won the big pot overpushed allin for his last 147k. I called, he flipped up A7s, and I held to get to heads up with a 730k to 107k chip lead.

The generous guy I was playing against informed me in the chat that he would give me just one chance to agree to a 50-50 chop. Not sure if he was joking or not, I ignored the proposal. On the 5th hand of heads-up play, I once again limped for 8k with A6o from my small blind, and my opponent pushed allin for his last 94k:

I made the call, which was my plan all along ever since opting to limp the A6 instead of raising preflop as I had been often during shorthanded play otherwise:

And booooyahh:

So there it is:

Now I just need to get this money off the site before it suddenly disappears or finds itself sitting in Phil Hellmuth's account out of nowhere, and it'll be alllll gooooood.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Problem With the NFL

As fantasy football came to an end on Monday night for many players, I was thinking today about taking stock of the institution of fantasy football and the NFL in general. In one of the two leagues I played in this year, I emerged the victor thanks to a solid Week 16 despite the fact that I ended the 14-game regular season with just the 4th-most points scored, literally only about 75% of the points scored by the regular season champion, whom I thumped this week to win it all. And yet you know what? I don't even give a crap.

I wrote right here before the 2008-2009 NFL season even began that Fantasy Football was dead. And this year has proven to make that statement even more true than I knew. I personally am still involved in two leagues that I've played in for several years in a row, and those two leagues have in the past few months officially become shadows of their former selves. Three or four years ago, the shit was so different. It was 5 or 10 trash-talking posts on the message board every single day of the season. It was an average of 40 or 50 moves per manager. It was maybe 30 or 40 trades offered per every team in the league. We were living and breathing fantasy football, we didn't stop thinking about it or talking about it, and basically every waking moment not spent doing anything else was spent in some way related to fantasy football. But not anymore. Nowadays, these leagues have become devoid of any interest whatsoever. Now there's usually one or two players who don't even update their teams for bye weeks on a week-to-week basis. I don't think we had 3 or 4 trade offers throughout the entire league over the whole season in either of my leagues in 2008. The message boards have been utterly blank for the entirety of the seasons.

Many (not all, but many) of my friends report similar stories in their own fantasy football leagues. The shit is just past its prime; it has jumped the shark. It's not all that different from poker, really, when you think about it. The heyday of poker was what, a good three, four years ago now? Fantasy football is basically the same thing. It turns out fantasy football peaked right along with Marshall Faulk, LaDanian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson and maybe Shaun Alexander's sickass 20- and 30-touchdown seasons. It is clear that the move away from one-stud-runningback systems and more in favor of multiple-back offenses has a lot to do with the dropoff in interest from the peak of fantasy football. But it is obvious to me that there is another glaring problem that is clearly leading to the dropoff in interest in fantasy football these days: the referees.

Yep. The refereeing. These quality of the way these games are being called has steadily declined over the past few years, resulting in more and more blown calls, and, even more disturbing, an increasing number of calls being blown even after using instant replay to try to figure the shit out right. And just like people are losing serious money on these laughable calls in Vegas, us poor saps playing fantasy football realize more and more every year how redonkulous it is that these oldass refs can't even fucking see the field right in front of their nose. These guys don't know the rulebook, they don't know how to interpret the rules when they do make the correct call live, and lately they can't even fucking get the call right after having as much time as they dam well need to review the play in slow fucking motion. Backwards, forwards, freeze it right at the crucial point of the play, study it as much as they want. And they don't just get it wrong -- over these past couple of seasons it's gotten to the point where they are overturning correct calls on the field, which clearly do not have the required "clear and convincing evidence" to support overturning. The NFL really believes that their blindass referees can overturn a call that the entire country can see was correct beyond a shadow of a doubt, again and again and again in slow motion via replay, and not have any longer-term fallout among the fans of the sport. As with any professional sport, the fans are everything, and the NFL has utterly forsaken its fans over the past several years by allowing -- in fact, promoting -- the worst officiating crisis in the history of the league. And this has contributed greatly to the downfall of fantasy football, which a few years ago was universally accepted as being one of the biggest drivers of growth in the sport's popularity, both in this country and around the world.

Just to review a few of the lowest moments for the NFL officials in 2008:

1. A couple of weekends ago, Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Santonio Holmes catches a pass from a scrambling Ben Roethlisberger in the final quarter of a huge game against the AFC rival Baltimore Ravens. Holmes's feet are both clearly in the end zone. But he is facing out of the end zone as the ball comes his way, and leaning forwards, falling forward as he catches the ball just ever so shy of the goal line. The call on the field was -- amazingly -- correct, that it was not a touchdown, but down on the 2-inch line where the ball was when the catch was made, since as everyone knows after years of hearing it over and over from the refs that it is the ball that must cross the plane in order for a touchdown to be awarded. Rightly, the call is reviewed upstairs under instant replay. On television, millions of viewers around the world watch again and again as Holmes catches the ball with the ball just short of the goal line, and continues to fall forward, eventually being tackled around the 1 yard line. While I'm sure there are donks betting on the Steelers who think they "see" a touchdown, the rest of the free world is able to conclude that the call on the field was right. Even though it is admittedly very close, it is crystal clear that this call cannot be reversed based on the video evidence that is so inconclusive, and if anything tends to support the on-the-field decision of no touchdown. Two minutes later, the head ref comes to the field, turns on his mic, announces the following: "Upon review of the play, the receiver had two feet in the end zone when the ball was caught. The ruling is a touchdown." The arms go up, and that's it. So not only was the ball not in the end zone, and not only did the referees have to reverse a correct call that the video showed to be correct no matter how many times it was played in slow motion, but the jackass official comes on national tv and misstates the rule to suggest that two feet in the end zone but the ball out of the end zone would be a touchdown. But there's no more review, no objections to be had, nothing.

And I lost one of my fantasy football games that week by 4 points, to a fonkey who had Santonio Holmes on his team, the guy who had what, two catches for 9 yards the entire day. No recourse for me, just another tick in the loss column. In the other fantasy league I was in, the guy playing the team with Santonio Holmes on it also lost the game by a margin that would not have existed if not for the clearly blown call. Both he and I know we actually won our games, but there's nothing we can do.

2. A couple of weeks before that, on a call that rivals the Holmes call for the worst calls of this dismal season for the NFL refs, the Steelers were awarded an 11-10 victory over the San Diego Chargers despite advancing a fumble by their opposition on the final hook-and-ladder play of the game for a no-time-left score to make the game actually 17-10. The play was called a touchdown, and replays showed it obviously to be a touchdown, a fact with which nobody in America has argued since the moment the call was made. But wait, all of a sudden the referees are conferring, and they decide the play has to be reviewed. With no time left in a game that the Steelers have already won, regardless of the outcome of the play!! Lo and behold, it takes a good 15 or 20 minutes but eventually, with the teams already off the field and in the locker room, the refs decide that the lateral which was picked off by Steeler defense Troy Polamalu was actually a forward lateral, which by rule cannot be advanced by the defense. Never mind the fact that the replay showed this lateral to go at least three full yards backwards. Nope, it's still a forward lateral, can't be advanced, the Steelers don't cover and Las Vegas sports books win $30 million as a result.

3. I wrote about this one at the time so I won't get into it in great detail again, but I simply have to mention the Sunday Night Football game a few weeks ago between the Giants and the Eagles, when Eli Manning was called for throwing a pass after running beyond the line of scrimmage. Which he clearly was, as the replay showed. But then we come back from break, the call has been reversed despite video evidence that validated the call on the field, and certainly could not possibly support a reversal of the call. And what does NBC do to cover their asses? They re-show the replay, this time with the red line indicating the line of scrimmage moved -- a full yard and a half, mind you -- such that now, Manning is clearly touching the line with his entire body when the ball leaves his hand. This was a crucial 3rd down play which led to a Giants touchdown instead of a field goal, and the Eagles lost a close game as a result. And one of the guys in my fantasy league lost his game because of that touchdown which was eventually scored I believe by Brandon Jacobs, the touchdown that clearly should never have been. Yet another call where the referees not only blew a call, but they fucking got it right the first time and then somehow managed to yet again pervert the system by overturning a call when the video evidence clearly showed the call to be correct. So sad.

As an aside on this play, the New York fans once again showed themselves to be the biggest posers alive when discussing it later. Mention the play and NBC moving the red line by about four fucking feet to make it look like Eli was not past the line when he threw the ball, and the NY fans are like "Yeah, obviously. They moved the line to get it right, so what? What's your problem?" For those of you Seinfeld fans out there, this is like when George cheats on his IQ test by sneaking out the window of the testing room and bringing the test to Elaine. When he gets caught later because of a coffee stain that Elaine spilled on the test, George explains that he went to the coffee shop to take it. The tester informs him that she was right outside his room and he never left it while taking the test, to which he answers, nonchalantly and as if it's the most natural and normal answer in the world, "I went out the window!" Obviously, right? That's what you New York donkeys sounded like after the video was literally changed right before our eyes, by a sick amount at that, to make a penalty appear to be not a penalty by the refs. Because we all know, all you Giants fans would have been just as accepting of things if the video had been changed after the fact to award the Eagles a game-affecting touchdown, after you had just looked right at the play in slow-mo and seen clearly that McNabb had committed a penalty. "So they moved the red line, so what, no big whoop." Riiiiiiight. Classic.

4. Although there are many, many other blown calls in huge spots this year, I would be remiss if I did not mention the Chargers - Denver game near the beginning of the season when first the referees were apparently unable to get the replay system to work within the allotted time -- a time limit that is overrun with almost every other replay review in the history of the NFL, mind you -- so they could not overturn a clearly blown fumble call against the Chargers early in the game. Then in the final two minutes of the game, Denver quarterback Jay Cutler clearly fumbled the ball, right in fucking front of top NFL referee Ed Hochuli too -- and he for some strange reason that even he could not explain after the game blew his whistle and called the play dead due to an incomplete pass. Fast forward one minute, and Cutler throws a touchdown into the end zone instead of his team losing the ball, and they win by one point, 39-38. That week in my other fantasy football league, one of the teams lost his game to the guy who had Jay Cutler on his team, losing by 7 points, which would have gone the other way without the 6 points for the bullshit touchdown and plus the two-point deduction for the clear fumble. And now that guy missed the playoffs by one game, just like the Chargers have had to fight their way back to finally be able to get vindication against the Broncos next week in San Diego.

So many blown calls, it's not even funny. Just this weekend alone, on the national games, on Sunday night I watched the Panthers' Steve Smith catch a ball on the 3, get tackled on the 2-foot line (not two inches, but two feet) and step his left foot about a full 12 inches out of bounds right before being tackled on the 1/2-yard line. But there go the referee's hands up in the air, touchdown Panthers. Thank god for once they got the fucking call right in the end with the replay, but you know what? The referee was standing right there. I mean, this guy was right on the sideline, right next to the 2-yard line. He could not have been more than 36 inches away from where the out of bounds happened, and he was looking right at the play. Touchdown. WTF?!

In the Monday night game this week, a game that went into overtime and ended up keeping the Bears' playoff hopes alive when they kicked a field goal early in the OT period, the Packers were driving for the score that would have put the game out of reach late in the fourth quarter, and on a key third-down play, with the referee standing not four feet behind where this play happened, the Bears defender literally held the arms back of Packers receiver Greg Jennings on a slant pattern that would have put the Pack in first-and-goal territory. I mean, this wasn't just incidental contact. The defender held back the arms of the Packers receiver, grabbing them with both of his hands as he also fell on top of the wideout before the ball reached him. The ball sailed to the ground, uncatchable by a player whose arms were both being held by the defender, and although he got up immediately clamoring for a flag, none was thrown. There is simply no excuse for a referee missing a crucial call like that in such a key spot in the game. And yet there it went. That play would probably have led to a good shot of Ryan Grant running in his second touchdown of the game, or to the Packers' quarterback and wide receiver corps, all common starters in fantasy football leagues all around the country, scoring another touchdown. How many fantasy football championship games around the world were affected by that one blown call on Monday night? 100? 1000? 10,000? Who knows the actual number, but suffice it to say that it has been significant.

The NFL has a real problem on its hands. I have no doubt that betting on the NFL will be down this year from last year, and down next year from this year, and a large part of the reason for that will be the referees. Just as surely, the league has ground fantasy football, again one of the key growth drivers for the league over the past ten years, into the ground by its insistence on using referees who clearly do not know the rules of their own game, and who mis-apply instant replay in the most frustrating ways imaginable for viewers of the sport. Fantasy football will never come back to what it was three of four years ago -- that much is a virtual certitude -- but the NFL could always set out to fix its vast officiating problem by implementing an effective system to rate, and deal with, its best and worst referees. But when you have old men who are standing two fucking feet away from crucial plays in crucial spots in crucial playoff-consequential battles late in the season and who still can't get the calls right, something absolutely has to be done and fast. The NBA is still feeling the effects of its big officials scandal a couple of years ago -- I certainly haven't sat and watched a single NBA game since learning of the Tim Donaghy points-shaving scandal, and lord knows I'm not alone in that response -- and the NFL is on the brink of a serious problem if they don't fix their own weakness among those who call their games and help ensure that the play is within the rules. Commissioner Roger Goodell has done a lot with respect to the morality of the players in the NFL, but it is time for him to focus on the refs before this blows up into an even wider problem for the biggest and best sports league in the world today.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Ultimate Bet

So after watching Chad rip up Ultimate Bet like it's his job and hearing nonstop about the great structures available in the multi-table tournaments there, I decided to re-download the UB software and take a looksie for myself. I had an account at UB a good 3 or 4 years ago, played there a little bit, but quickly determined at the time that I did not like the software nearly as much as pokerstars -- the only other site I was playing on at the time -- and with the tournament availability at UB also paling in comparison to stars, I quickly got rid of the client and focused entirely on pokerstars until full tilt came into the picture some months later.

Now, the first thing you may be asking is how on earth can I put my money into a site that recently got caught with a massive cheating scam? The answer is I have no idea just how "safe" or "real" the poker there is, but if Chad has won fifty billion dollars there in the past couple of weeks, then I have every reason to believe that the site is now on the up and up. I certainly would never spend a dime at a poker site that I did not believe is offering legitimate poker (hence why I absolutely love when people claim the sites they play at are rigged or fixed in some way), and I know UB recently joined a new network of poker sites following the "superuser" scandal, so in an attempt to stay afloat it is probably fair to say that right now UB is among the safest of the poker sites. But I'm not trying to make any guarantees to anyone, I just figured it was worth checking out what a site that is bending over backwards right now to keep its users happy.

And what I found, I have to say I really liked. There are two aspects I was particularly into -- the software, and the tournament structures.

First, the software. UB has really got it going on in this department. I will still always be partial to full tilt, which I think has the best "last hand" feature, no problems with accessing hand histories, offers the best stats and the best in-tournament information about your current place in the tournament, stack size, etc. And I just like the look and feel of full tilt more than the other poker clients out there. But UB is right up there. The chat box is not intrusive and is easy to mute or detach, unlike some sites. The size and graphics of the cards is just right. They have a "bet pot" button and a good-working bet slider. You can get an array of stats at the click of one button for any playing session, and the "info" tab for tournaments gives you everything you want to know in one fell swoop. I know that in the past when I first sat down to play at a new site, it has taken me some time in all cases before being able to do well just due to adjusting to the new client, the graphics, where all the buttons are, etc. Not so with UB.

And this leads to the second big appeal of Ultimate Bet -- the structure of the tournaments. Every night at 8pm ET is a 20k guaranteed deep stack mtt, which starts you with 5000 chips and blinds of 5-10. Yes that is 500 big blinds to play with, which makes this totally unlike the daily tournaments at any other online poker site I know of. And the blind rounds in both the nightly 8pm 20k deep stack and the 9pm ET 30k bounty mtt are a full 15 minutes, which as I wrote about last week, make no sense IMO for a $10 buyin blonkament with a $150 first prize but which are awesome for a large mtt with a nice big prize pool worth winning. And the games play differently at UB as a result of these structural advantages, which I can say from just two mtt's played at UB so far. With stacks this deep and structures this slow, these things end up playing more like cash games for the entire first hour or so, if not more. There is far more limping and less raising in the earlygoing, and you can easily see a flop with just about any pocket pair or any speculative hand whatsoever and have sufficient odds to do so. There is far more postflop play for a longer period of time than in any other online site's regular daily tournaments, even the slow-structured mtts on full tilt and pokerstars like I have written about recently.

As a result, as these things get deeper, you pretty much always have the chance through the first several hours to raise, bet on the flop and still get away without decimating your stack. Imagine having just an average stack three hours in to the 50-50 on full tilt. Even at average, if you raise preflop and then c-bet the flop, if you have to fold after that, you just gave up probably 35-40% of your stack. Not so on UB. That would probably amount to 20% or less of your stack given the structure there, a good three hours in to their nightly guaranteed tournaments. And more than that, even at the final tables, the M's are a good 2-3 times higher than they are at the other major online poker sites. Now of course even with 15-minute blind rounds you're not talking about M's of 50 at the final table, but believe you me an average M of 15 is a hell of a lot better than an average M of 6 by the time the final table comes around. Anyone skilled at final table play should be thrilled to know that at UB the final table is not a complete push-n-pray cardrack fest like it is at most other sites.

That said, luck still plays a major factor in the final table play, of course. Here was me in my first mtt on Ultimate Bet this weekend in over three years:

So, a cool $2200 payout, plus 13 $10 bounties along the way to max out at just over a $2200 net profit for the tournament. And this, again, in my very first tournament with the new UB software that I had ever seen. That right there is a real testament to how useable the software really is, and how friendly the tournament structure is to skilled players. But as I said, luck still reared its ugly head in a big way for me at the final table, in two key hands. First, I picked up AA with eight players left, in the big blind no less, and to top it off the shorty in first position pushed allin before the action even got to me. We took the flop heads-up, with him holding JTs, and a totally innocuous flop quickly turned into tunner-runner straight for him and knocked me out of what would have been the chip lead. And, as if that wouldn't have been enough already, down to seven players remaining I got it allin with another shortish stack when I flopped two pairs before he again runner-runner four-flushed me to crush me.

This has been the story of my play of late -- I'm actualy making a fair number of final tables, but for some reason or another I just haven't been able of late to close the deal and home in on the top few spots when the real money is. Sure I am making nice profits along the way no doubt, and sure I've been able to crush at the end of some blonkaments, but those things are more like sng's than real mtts, and when the big money isn't on the line, it's just not at all the same thing. This weekend I thought I was playing well, but I will freely admit that after that second screwage at the final table on UB, my game was shaken badly and I limped my way to the next two spots before making an idiotic reraise against an UTG raiser with some shitty hand, 76o or some point, sitting on a miniscule stack of the five remaining players. But in other final tables recently, it hasn't been suckouts so much as lack of cards, lack of focus, or you name it. The bottom line is, any successful mtt player knows that the only way you really nail down profits over time in mtts is to consistently post top-3 cashes. You could make 50 big final tables a year, but if they are all 9th place finishes, you won't do nearly as well as the guy with 10 final tables, but including 4 wins, 4 second-places and 2 thirds. I need to focus better on final tables here as we head into the end of my best year by far in online poker, and this is a lesson I will not forget the next time I find myself in this situation, hopefully sooner rather than later.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Bodonkey II Tournament of Champions

So Thursday night was the Bodonkey II Tournament of Champions, and if you haven't heard, the real blogger crusher Chad swarmed all over everyone early and often on his way to taking down the $T2000 first prize.

I played quite well in the tournament, slowly but surely building my stack for about 90 minutes straight, but ran into an unavoidable cooler hand where Miami Don limped from his small blind and I checked from my big blind holding 73o, and we saw a flop of 332. Fast forward about a minute, and we were allin, and with Don being the shortest stack in the tournament at the time, there was no possibility of me folding here. Turns out he held Q3, so in blind vs. blind we each had a 3 and the two case threes both flopped. Not much you can do about that, in that I might as well excise my own testicles if I'm not getting it all in on that board. That one took away half my stack, and somewhere around the end of the 45th hour I busted with top pair to an Aposec's overpair.

In the end Wonka made it to heads-up against Chad, but Chad entered hu play with close to a 5 to 1 chip lead, and there was very little Wonka could do to counteract the Tony Soprano tidal wave. I believe it was somewhere during the 114th hour of play when Chad sealed the deal and took down the $T2000 first prize, leaving the $T500 consolation prize to Wonka after a game well played.

Chad's victory means that a bunch of us can cash in our $25 bets on Chad at 10 to 1 in the Bodog sportsbook for a cool $250. I'm not sure who made up those odds to begin with or why, but my lord that was downright silly. 10 to 1 against a guy who is the clear skill leader in the field, on a massive roll and having won the last two regular-season Bodonkeys already as it is. That is the silliest thing ever.

For next time, although I enjoyed adding to my profits related to the Bodonkey overall (it will be about a 250% ROI if you throw in the $225 profit on the 10 to 1 bet on Chad), Bodog should do a better job with the odds. There are two easy suggestions here. First, just wait until all the participants in the final tournament are known before posting any odds or accepting any bets. I wager that almost no bets were placed as it is prior to this week anyways, so they won't be missing out on anything, but I for one would be really annoyed if I had bet on, say, cbags or Buddydank a couple of weeks back, only to find out now that they never even played in the final event. They should just wait until the final roster of players is known -- I mean, you can always pencil me in since I crush Bodog blonkey fields like a peppermill -- but otherwise just wait till the end and then you can open the betting with odds on each individual playing. This will keep the bettors happy, will create more options and lead to more betting and more vig for the sportsbook. Imagine for example a last-longer bet with me vs. smokkee. That one woulda garnered some solid action for sure, and I can see it going either way given our respective playing styles. Or imagine a prop bet on who would drop the most hammers in the tournament. This is the kind of thing that a more inventive and understanding mind could have dreamed up easily for prop bets to really get things going with the ToC.

And the second way to improve the prop betting would be to consult with someone who honestly understands odds and the way that the participants actually play the game. None of the five guys I listed at the bottom of the odds in my post from Thursday were ever serious contenders in the Bodonkey final, which is not surprising because I know their games. I'm not saying I'm the only one, but I would be a great person to help set the odds because I know how these guys play. It is painfully obvious that the actual odds for the Bodonkey final were concocted by someone who doesn't understand things, from the very beginning. Somehow most of the least likely winners were given the absolute favorite odds in the tournament, listed at 73 to 10, which is 7.3 to 1 or basically a little bit better than twice the odds of the "average" player's if 14 players of equal skill all sat down to play randomly-assigned cards. Now of course no one knew for sure when the odds were posted just how many runners would finally be in the ToC, but at that time they basically did know that we were looking at 13 or 14 total runners. How do a small handful of guys with (literally!) zero mtt wins between them all rate as twice as likely to win the final against ostensibly the 14 best players in the field, according to the tournament host? Gotta get some people involved who understand math, odds, and the particular players in question to make more sensible predictions on that front.

The other unfortunate thing about the Bodonkey IMO is the structure of these tournaments. Now I'm not saying that I support super-turbos or anything, but the bottom line is that the structure of the events are all too slow in my view. There's a reason we don't play 15-minute blind rounds and 2500 starting chips for other blonkaments, and it's not because the Bodonkey has figured something out that the rest have not. Rather, it's because a slightly faster structure is much more fun, more action-producing, and leads to less boring play, featuring fewer players just waiting around to get smacked with the deck, which is perfect for a blogger tournament with a paltry buyin. Change those 15-minute blind rounds to 12 minutes, and that alone would make a big difference.

But as someone who has played in most of the Bodonkeys in both tournament series so far, I can say that I do not even close to speak alone when I say that the structure should be sped up somewhat. Many of us feel the same way. And keep in mind, this isn't some kind of "sour grapes" thing coming from someone who can't figure out how to win with the slower structure. I've won four out of about 30 of the Bodonkeys that I've played, and I surely can appreciate the attraction of a slower-structure event. I have written extensively about the 50-50, the 100k and the 250k on stars and how great the slower structures of these events are. But there's a key difference -- those tournaments have $55, $162 or $320 buyins, and they feature prize pools of between 50k and a quarter million dollars. Harrahs has the WSOP Main Event running with two-hour blind rounds and an incredibly slow structure that is totally befitting of a tournament of that size and significance. But when a bunch of blonkeys get together to drop hammers and sling chips for $11 apiece with prize pools in the very low triple-digits, trying to pretend we are playing the WSOP ME structure seems a little silly, and it doesn't really work in my view. Sure I understand how to and have been successful at winning with the slower structure, but that doesn't mean it's preferable. It may be preferable for the tournament host or a few other of the players, but as I said above there's a reason the other blonkaments don't use that kind of structure as a rule.

All this said, I had fun with the Bodonkey this time around for sure. As I mentioned yesteday I didn't really pay much attention for the first half until drawn into it by the typical haterism from other bloggers, but once I did, just like the first time around it proved to be quite fun. To tell the truth this was the first time in some time that I actually looked forward to playing with bloggers on Tuesday and Thursday nights, and I remember being amazed this past Wednesday that I literally almost forgot to register for the Mookie with the Last Chance Bodonkey tournament running that same night. There is a definite opportunity here in my view to turn this tournament into something bigger than it currently is. Some of the changes I have highlighted above would surely help drawm some more people in and make the events more attractive options for everyone involved. But this was a great series, and the addition of the $T to the top finishers is the one thing that really distinguishes the Bodog from all other blonkaments out there right now. With a little skill it is fairly easy to turn a solid profit in the series, and to have fun doing it at the same time. Thanks to Bodog and to everyone who was involved in bringing this to us, and I look forward to the next one with much anticipation.

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