Sunday, October 23, 2011

My fight in pictures

Everyone keeps asking for video, video, video. Still none yet; Battlefield told me after November they can put it up on Facebook. Let's hope. Anyway, my old poker friend Kevin Wong is apparently now an MMA photographer. He was kind enough to send me close to 300 photos which pretty much sum up the event in pictures; I've selected a few dozen of them:

Monday, October 17, 2011

My WSOPE is officially in the Cannes

I busted early on Day 2 of the main event of the WSOPE, meaning my chances of bringing my 2011 tournament year to even a respectable level are starting to slip away. The only poker tournaments I plan to play for the remainder of the year now are the BC Poker Championships in two weeks and the APPT Macau in November. I've always been a cash game player and I've never played more than 30-35 poker tournaments a year, but this is the first year since I started playing them seriously at all that has just been a total airball. Overall I'm down about $70k playing tournaments this year, which is basically an insignificant amount in the poker tournament world, but annoying nonetheless.

Regardless, there is much to be thankful for on the week following Canadian Thanksgiving.  I've done well enough playing limited hours online.  I have a sponsorship deal, which puts me in a seemingly shrinking minority of poker players every day.  The real estate I own has done well and my financial health is solid. My physical health is just as good, and while I've enjoyed this trip I'll be glad to get back to the gym, where three of my teammates are fighting on next month's Battlefield card.

Cannes was a great getaway though and everything I wanted in a post-fight getaway (other than winning millions of Euros).  I worked out a bunch and stayed in shape here, working with Elky and his trainer, Lincon, but it was not the relentless, stressful grind of fight camp.  While not training, I ate wonderful food, hung out with people, and got as much sun as I could in the context of playing a poker tournament (and more than I would have gotten in Vancouver anyway).  And even if the results were lame, I played well and had fun doing so.

Just call me Mr. Glass Half Full, I guess.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Cannes't think of a good pun - WSOPE prelims report

I've played five of the six WSOPE prelims, skipping only the €5000 pot-limit Omaha. Despite the lack of a big score, the events have been a lot of fun!  The tournament schedule is great. Seven events, and four of them (6-max NL, shootout, split format, and this one) involve shorthanded play in one way or another.

I continue to be extremely impressed by the level of service here. I've been critical of the WSOP (Las Vegas) in the past and have no problem calling them out when I think they're in the wrong or when they've treated non-A-list players poorly.  So since I've put them on blast, it's now time to give them credit where it is due. Here in Cannes, the WSOP team has left me virtually nothing to complain about.  They have definitely made me feel like they genuinely care about my experience here.  I think everyone -- or at least the better tournament organizers -- are slowly realizing that with the tough year that poker has had, that there is serious competition for the tournament player's dollar.  They're starting to figure out that things like word-of-mouth, blogs and Twitter are democratizing and influencing factors.  And the end result is that they're doing a better job taking care of us and it seems that all the circuit regulars I've been talking to have also come away impressed with the things they've done here.

As for the prelims, I'll talk about my series so far after the jump:

Monday, October 10, 2011

I think I Cannes: Why the WSOPE is better off on the French Riviera

As I've written in this space previously, I've been excited for the WSOP in Cannes for a while now. The WSOP management team further increased my expectations about a month ago when I received an e-mail out of the blue from Ty Stewart representing the rest of the WSOPE team. It was sent to me "as one of the world’s prominent players" (not sure what qualified me for that distinction) with some additional info and an invitation to e-mail him or the others directly with my WSOPE concerns, and later on even offered shuttle service from Nice to Cannes.

For the most part, they were fairly responsive, but there were a couple snags and a few seemingly missed or ignored e-mails. My biggest complaint was that they didn't confirm either of my e-mails with my arrival flight info, so I had no idea whether or not I should expect pickup upon arrival in Nice. Nice has two arrival terminals and even though I sent an e-mail saying I'd be at Terminal 1, I was later told by Mike Watson that the driver who picked him up was waiting for me at Terminal 2. So the end result was me wandering around Terminal 1 for about 45 minutes before giving up and fading the 90 taxi to Cannes. Now they didn't have to offer shuttle service in the first place, but it turns out I'd have been better off if they didn't; if I hadn't been expecting it at least I could have been prepared and made some kind of arrangement for it. By failing to confirm the e-mail, I missed the shuttle and the people getting picked up at the other terminal had to wait around for someone who never showed up. It's all about managing expectations and I think there was some ball-dropping on this one.

One area in which they were pretty solid was pre-registration. Registering for poker tournaments in European casinos is often a lengthy, highly-tilting process. But wiring and pre-registering for the events I'm playing went pretty smoothly; in fact, it was probably better managed than my annual wire to the WSOP in Las Vegas, and I don't have to carry cash/chips all over town. So props to them on that.

And then there is the move to Cannes itself, which seems to be the topic of much discussion. I count myself in the camp that's solidly in favour. Aside from a day in Nice prior to EPT San Remo, it's my first time in the Cote d'Azur, and I like it here. I'm not really the biggest fan of London either, which I've always found expensive, lacking in quality mid-range priced food, and not terribly interesting. And anyone who had played the WSOPE in the past realized how poorly designed the London casinos are for holding big poker tournaments.

So I was pretty surprised by the tone of this article which came across my Twitter feed and was highly critical of the move to Cannes. Among the reasons cited by the author:

"For Europeans, getting to Cannes and finding somewhere to rest your head is far from easy...For Americans, flying direct from Vegas to Cannes is a non-starter, so the big hitters from America will have to find an alternative route."
I'm not European so perhaps I'm missing something, but I had absolutely no trouble finding accommodation. I sent out 6 e-mails on a furnished apartment rental website and got 6 responses. I'm renting a very nice furnished 2-bedroom apartment just a few minutes from the water for just over €100/night. I'm not sure you can get a cardboard box near the Thames River for that. Instead, I'm writing this post while looking at this view:

And yes, I did complain about spending €90 to get from the airport. But the cabs I've taken from Heathrow to anywhere in London were pretty much the same. In fact, I'm a little scared to know what my cab fare in London would have been had I arrived at 5 PM on Friday night like I did in Nice.

"Secondly, poker in France is now regulated and therefore taxed. That means that 4% of every price pool will go straight to the French Government and in all the players will be losing eight to 10% of the prize pool in deductions, and that’s before you’ve tipped anyone."
The 4% surtax is certainly a very legitimate complaint, so I'll concede that point. However...

The WSOPE was such a special event because of the concentration of superstars, now this move will dilate that two-fold, with more locals and less big names making the journey across the pond.
This one makes me shake my head, especially because I looked up the author and found that he's an accomplished player with a long history of tournament results. I expect these words from some media or a fanboy, but not a poker pro. Presumably someone who has been around the block a few times realizes that when we're talking about southern France and the Mediterranean, "more locals and less [sic] big names" is a good thing?! If my starting table in the €1000 NL was any indication, I think the change in the quality of opposition is well worth fading the extra 4%.

"For the past couple of years London has been the centre of the poker world for a month every Autumn, making it worthwhile for players to travel and play a European series of events like we travel to the WSOP."
This just generally reeks of "I used to have majors just come to my doorstep and now I don't" whining, plain and simple, and if you read the whole article that attitude permeates it. Of course if you're a UK-based player you're going to lament the loss of the largest event on this side of the Atlantic, but unfortunately for you guys, the world doesn't revolve around London. So sad.

"Making the World Series of Europe as special as the actual World Series, and the bracelets as special as those dished out in Vegas, has been the biggest problem for the powers that be since the WSOPE’s inception. Just as it was becoming part of the poker establishment Harrah’s have made this move to France."

I'm sorry, but really, this was "the biggest problem"? Other than media people looking for storylines, and a few prop bettors, I don't really think the majority of poker players care very much about how "special" WSOPE bracelets are. I'm sure that tournament organizers love to have big names, but only inasmuch as big names draw attention and casual players and increase their bottom line. I wonder how they've done? Through two comparable events:

2010 in London:

Event 1: £2,650 Six Handed No Limit Hold'em
Entrants: 244, Total Prize Pool: £610,000
Event 3: £1,075 No Limit Hold'em
Entrants: 582, Total Prize Pool: £582,000
2011 in Cannes:

Event 1: €2,680 Six Handed No-Limit Hold'em
Entrants: 360, Total Prize Pool: €753,600
Event 2: €1,090 No-Limit Hold'em
Entrants: 771, Total Prize Pool: €740,160

Registration for Event 3, the €5,000 PLO, is still open as of this writing. The equivalent event drew 120 players for a £600,000 prize pool last year in London. According to PokerNews, there are currently 164 registered with two hours left in late registration.

And now remember that these results are occurring in what is considered by pretty much everyone to be a disastrous year for the poker economy and it seems like a slam dunk. While I admit to some personal bias against London, the numbers make it pretty clear that Ty Stewart and the WSOPE gang have done the right thing in moving here. Cannes is less expensive (though still plenty expensive), prettier, boasts a superior climate, has great food for all budgets, and there's way more value in the tournament itself. Easy win, n'est-ce pas?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Switzerland 48-hour trip report

On the list of exciting and cosmopolitan European destinations Basel, Switzerland does not usually register among them. Nevertheless, that's where I found myself just a couple days before the first WSOP Europe event in Cannes. I was there to see decorated grappler Ryan Hall, one of the most brilliant minds in jiujitsu. For poker players, I've always thought that if Ryan had dedicated himself to poker instead of grappling, he'd definitely be a winning high-limit pro. Ryan runs a school in Virginia and if not for my well-publicized issues traveling to the U.S. to train MMA, I probably would've already gone down to that gym. But thanks to the wonderful people at Immigration and Naturalization Services, we met on the most neutral of neutral territories, as I tacked on an extra flight from Nice to Basel to my Vancouver-Calgary-Frankfurt-Nice journey.

It was my first time in Switzerland, but if Basel (with 400,000 people, Switzerland's third-largest metropolitan area) is a good representation of at least the German-Swiss portion, it's certainly way different than any other European city I've visited. In preparation for the trip, I had read all the stuff about how the Swiss people take a tremendous amount of pride in things, being renowned for quality, precision, professionalism, and following the rules.

Reading all that stuff makes you aware of cognitive bias and makes you want to be careful that you aren't just seeing things through that lens, but it is quite apparent that this perfectionism and pride permeates their culture. In my first meal in Basel, I ordered sparkling water (in English). When I was given still water by a different waitress and corrected her, I was able to overhear a lengthy conversation in German between three of the wait staff, the topic of which was clearly them explaining to my original waitress which was "still" and which was "sparkling" in English.

And it is true that everything is orderly in Switzerland. I feel like you couldn't get hit by a car in Switzerland if you tried. Cars always stop for pedestrians: sidewalk, traffic light, or otherwise. In one instance, I started to cross the street and a delivery truck failed to see me and thus failed to stop for me. It was not like I was anywhere near the middle of the street when this happened and my safety was not jeopardized in the slightest, but the driver made quite the show of gesticulating an apology.

On the same walk, I noticed a large crowd, 40-50 deep, gather around a police car. I walked over to see what the fuss was about, and it was simply a guy being either detained or fined for drinking in public. The guy was just sitting there, still with the beer in his hand, while the cops wrote up the paperwork, but all around, people were staring and laughing. I guess in a place where no one ever breaks the rules, this was kind of a big deal. I also saw a women's shoe store that had expensive, brand-name leather shoes just sitting out on display, unattended. Switzerland is truly, in many ways, just a society of model behaviour.

Does all of this rigid adherence to rules and good behaviour equate to a lesser joie de vivre? It was unclear to me in the 48 hours I spent in Basel. Certainly the people I met at the jiujitsu seminar were very friendly and welcoming. But one guy I chatted with -- a walking, talking contradiction of half-Brazilian, half-Swiss descent named Marco -- certainly expressed the idea that Switzerland is not the most exciting place for a young, single guy. Although it should be pointed out that Ryan and I agreed that the Swiss girls we saw were extremely attractive, which surprised both of us since Switzerland isn't like a Brazil or Colombia with a reputation for gorgeous women. Luckily I remembered to bring European woman repellent uniform: a stained grey sweater, skater jeans and runners.

Switzerland is also shockingly expensive. Evidently, Basel is cheaper than Zurich, which is scary. Paying 5 Swiss francs ($5.40 US) in the hotel for a 500mL bottled water is one thing, but it's even 3.50 CHF at a news stand out in the sticks. A donair (not a particularly good one) was 12 CHF while the sit-down meal with the aforementioned sparkling water ran me 40 (with no appetizer or dessert). I guess in a place where minimum wage is close to $4000/month, they can handle it. I also feel like really high prices only adds to the mystique of quality and perfection, almost as though the idea implicit in the high prices is simply, "we're going to charge you a lot, but we're going to do it right." But that's probably reading too much into it.

Overall, Switzerland was a very interesting cultural experience. As for the actual purpose of my trip: learning from Ryan was great, and I hope one day to get down to his academy. He was a great teacher; highly eloquent, candid, invested and passionate about his sport. The first thing I did upon getting to the airport in Basel was try to write down everything I'd learned. The irony of this trip to Basel was that I booked the trip to Cannes in the middle of my long fight camp because I felt I needed a reprieve from all the hard training. So, of course, what do I do on this trip as soon as I get 3000 miles from home but train grappling?

Anyway, I'm here in Cannes now at last. We have a great apartment, the weather is beautiful, and so too are the people, the beach, and everything else you expect about the French Riviera. Hopefully I can make some big money to continue to feed my MMA habit! (Oops, gotta go: I have to get ready to train boxing with Elky and his trainer.)