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Posted by on Sep 9, 2020 in Blog, Essays, General Poker | 0 comments

Remembering Mike Sexton

 

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Remembering Mike isn’t a sad occasion.  When I think of him, I smile. So many dinners, conversations, and fond memories. This photo was taken in 1997 at Puggy Pearson’s house, with Mike and Stu Ungar.

Three legends.

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As I looked through my own archive of photos, I realized just how important Mike was at various junctions of my life. I’m sure many others feel the same and, like me, credit Mike for making a difference and always providing just the right inspiration or motivation to do the right thing.

Here’s one more photo worth sharing, taken sometime in the 1990s. Mike and I are at Stu Ungar’s house.

Wish I’d taken more photos, but back then we didn’t have camera phones.

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I appreciate being quoted in this article on Mike’s passing by one of Las Vegas’ top journalists, Howard Stutz.

READ ARTICLE HERE

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Bill Ordine, a longtime sportswriter for the Baltimore Sun and Philadephia Inquirer, wrote this nice tribute to Mike, and asked for my thoughts.  It was tough to list all of Mike’s contributions in a simple statement.  In fact, Mike’s legacy would require volumes, especially if written and spoken by all the thousands of people whose lives he touched.

READ ARTICLE HERE

 

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What a beautiful tribute to Mike on this podcast, thanks to Chad Hollaway, Sarah Herring, and Jeff Platt at Poker News:

01:30 First news that came as such a shock
09:25 Maria shares her thoughts
26:30 Linda Johnson joins the show to give deep insights into Mike Sexton
34:30 Mike Sexton was a dancer!!
39:15 Jan Fisher shares Mike Sexton hustle story
42:50 Nolan Dalla explains how Mike was essential in his book about Stu Unger
52:48 Remko Rinkema reveals his experience and understanding of Mike Sexton
01:06:00 Adam Pliska & Vince Van Patten from Mike Sexton’s WPT family
01:28:00 Some unknown elements of Mike Sexton through the eyes of Tony Dunst
01:33:45 Why every poker player should be more like Mike Sexton according to Antonio Esfandiari
01:36:20 Mike’s brother Jeff Sexton shares thoughts on Mike Sexton from outside of poker

LISTEN HERE

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Posted by on Apr 13, 2020 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, World Series of Poker | 9 comments

A Stu Ungar Story

 


Ungar

 

Sometime during the mid-90s, each year, I began posting odds on who would win the World Series of Poker Main Event, otherwise known as poker’s world championship.

A few gambling websites picked up on the odds and began posting them for discussion.  This was back when only 300 people or so entered the $10,000 buy-in Main Event each year.  And it was usually the same 300 people.  So, handicapping a field of well-known players with verifiable records wasn’t too difficult. Most insiders generally agreed with who should be the favorites and the longshots.

Nevertheless, one year my betting odds managed to piss just about everybody off — especially players who thought they got shafted when I listed them as longshots.  Naturally, everyone thought they should be one of the favorites to win.  If the average odds of winning came to about 300-1, then those who were listed at 500-1 and 600-1 or worse felt downright insulted.  Some people saw my odds and wouldn’t talk to me.

Poker legend Doyle Brunson read my odds and was incensed.  He posted at one forum, “You don’t have a clue.”

When Puggy Pearson heard he was listed 600-1, he came hunting for me.  That’s funny because I think 600-1 was too generous.  If he knew what I really thought, Puggy might have killed me.

But no one was more furious about my WSOP odds than Stu Ungar.

One year while my WSOP odds were out, Mike Sexton and I joined Stuey for dinner.  We went to the Tony Roma’s restaurant on East Charleston.  That’s the same parking lot where Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal was blown up in his Cadillac.  Recall the opening scene from the movie Casino.

Stuey had absolutely no knowledge of the Internet.  He didn’t even know how to turn on a computer.  He never had an e-mail address.  So, he never actually saw my WSOP odds.  But he was about to learn about them and react in a way that I’d never seen anyone act before, or since.

When Mike brought up the odds, Stuey was advised that he was listed at 75-1 to win.  Stuey wasn’t too upset about that, at least not until he heard the names of other players who were ranked ahead of him.  That set off a tirade that would last for the rest of the evening.  Stuey had a tendency to stutter when he got excited:

Who-who-who you got ranked ahead of me?  Nobody can beat me when I’m playing my game!  How can you not have me ranked as the favorite?  Tell me!

Arguing with Stuey was pointless.  But I ignored the obvious warning signs and danger zone and plunged mouth-first towards my own demise.

While the discussion continued on and Stuey became more curious to know why I’d listed him at 75-1, dinner was served.  I hoped full racks of baby-back ribs laced with tangy barbecue sauce might extinguish the flames of tension, especially since it’s hard to talk when everybody’s chewing pig flesh.  But a towering plate of ribs wasn’t about to interrupt Stuey’s obsession to know why he wasn’t the favorite to win that year’s WSOP.

I’ve written about this before, but watching Stuey eat a meal was a comedy act.  He utterly devoured what was in front of him.  It was like a wild beast devouring prey.  While talking, he’d gesture with rib bones, pointing and pushing the baby backs directly into your chest when he felt particularly passionate about a certain point.

Stuey had asked me a direct question, and he wasn’t about to let this go without an answer.  He kept repeating himself, and stuttering:

Seriously, who–who–who you got ranked ahead of me?  Who!

Mike just looked straight ahead like a mute and continued eating his meal without saying a word.  He let me swing the hangman’s loop.

“Uh, well.  Uhhhhhhhh.  Uhhhhhhhh.  I think I had T.J. ranked number one.  Then, there was Huck Seed.  Johnny Chan’s up there,” I said, grappling for straws that were elusive to any common agreement.

Who else?  Who-who-who else you got on that list ahead of me?  Who!

“Uhhhhh, Dan Harrington was 65-1.  I think Barbara Enright was 70-1…..”

Wait!  Stop!   

Did you say Barbara Enright?  Are you fucking kidding me?  Please tell me you’re fucking kidding.

“Yeah, Stuey.  I mean, she made the final table last year.  She’s a goo………………”

Wait!  You mean, you ranked a woman ahead of me?

There was particular emphasis on a woman, almost as though the words were painful for him to say.

“Yeah.  I mean she…………….”

At that point, Stuey stopped eating completely.  Just a few bites into the scrumptious platter, he plopped his ribs down onto the plate as if the entire meal was completely ruined.  Stuey sat stoically in a state of disbelief, starring at no place in particular as though he’d been told something impossible to fathom.

You want to write about me and tell everybody my story, and you’ve got a woman ranked better than me?

“Stuey, it’s not that big a deal.  It’s just some odds that I posted on a website.”

I can’t believe you have a woman ranked ahead of me.  That’s fucking ridiculous.  I’d like to see the rest of your odds.  That’s a fucking joke.

Gee, I guess Stuey agreed with Doyle.

“Stuey, c’mon.  She’s the very best woman player in the world right now.  She’s won three gold bracelets.  Why do you think……”

Reasoning with Stuey was to no avail:

Really, seriously — you ranked a woman ahead of me?  This is a joke, right?

Stuey wouldn’t let this go.  The disgust in his voice became more loathsome with each outburst.  Mike saw this exchange was going nowhere and finally came to my rescue, making a futile attempt to change the subject.

“Stuey, the most important thing right now is that you get your act together and just be ready to play.  I mean, no one even knows if you are going to show up — and if you do show up, what condition you’ll be in.”

Of course, Mike was absolutely right as he always is about matters like this.  I didn’t have the balls to say it and Mike was much closer to Stuey than I was at that point, so he could get away with tough talk.  But Stuey wouldn’t listen.  Mike might as well have been whispering into a pillow out in the parking lot.  There was a tinge of sadness and disgust:

He ranked me below a woman.

It didn’t matter what I did or we said and did after that–Stuey’s night was completely destroyed.  He didn’t eat another bite for the rest of the evening.  Later, we did some other things following dinner and even talked a bit more.  But every 20 minutes or so, Stuey would interrupt the conversation completely out of nowhere and mumble to himself while shaking his head as though he’d been shamed beyond redemption.

You ranked me below a woman.

I’m ranked below a woman.

I can’t fucking believe it.  He ranked me worse than a woman.

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Posted by on Apr 12, 2020 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Las Vegas | 1 comment

My Thoughts on Live Casino Poker Returning in the Shadow of COVID-19

 

CV19 Proof Poker Table

 

MY THOUGHTS ON LIVE POKER RETURNING IN THE SHADOW OF COVID-19

The main reason why poker will struggle in Las Vegas and elsewhere after reopening isn’t about safety. It’s because the games will suck.

 

1. Let’s ponder the reasons why most people play casino poker. The two primary reasons are:

(A) To make money and

(B) To socialize.

2. Now, let’s take a look at the prototype that’s been “trial ballooned” in the gambling media as just one of several possibilities for a functional poker table in the post-CV19 era. It’s a standard table with glass (or plastic) partitions. Presumably, this design will reduce the chances of contamination and/or infection spread between dealers and players and each other. Similar designs have surfaced elsewhere, and a few are reportedly being used now as some casinos begin to reopen.

3. Aside from the many questions as to whether this table design is truly safe to consumers and provides an acceptable level of protection while in the midst of a global pandemic that has infected more than a million Americans, even under a best-case scenario, how “good” will poker games be?

4. Returning to the original point raised in #1, will live poker games played in the shadow of CV19 be either (A) potentially profitable and/or (B) sociable? My conclusions are — no and no.

5. When Nevada casinos reopen, poker tables will reportedly be played with a maximum of four players. Now ask yourself this:
What kinds of poker players will play under these highly unusual, short-handed conditions? Pros and semi-pros? Yes. What about more casual players? Probably not. What about weak and inexperienced players? Absolutely not. Prediction: Standard four-handed games will be terrible. They will be virtually unbeatable, with only a few exceptions, noted later.

It will be like a pond of sharks feasting for any sign of a juicy morsel, all but impossible to find.

6. What about the social aspect of these games? Four-handed poker with dividers might be an interesting conversation piece for a few minutes but will quickly become very annoying. Partitions where players might have trouble speaking, not to mention problems with glare, will kill any prospects for fun and spirited games. Let’s face it: Live poker was already becoming unsociable, almost robotic in nature, *before *the pandemic and crisis. Smartphones and iPads had all but destroyed casual table conversation leading up to the events of early 2020. Now, remove half the players at any given table since seats are reduced from 9/10 down to 4 and set up dividers, and the social attraction of poker is obliterated.

7. So, games will be terrible in most situations. What’s the fallout of all this? Simple. Table draws/seating position will be so paramount to profit that managing the room will become far more difficult. Smart players will scout the room and try to find seats with weak players, which will be few and far between. However, a small number of players — primarily short-handed specialists — might enjoy a significant uptick in profit. But this will be only a small number. The vast majority of marginally-talented players who were grinding out modest profits before will instantly become break-even or even losing players. For virtually everyone, certainly in poker markets with tougher and more experienced players, the games will become unbeatable. With players’ portion of the rake likely to increase, as well as the occasions for tipping dealers (fewer players means higher percentages of pots won), this will only add to the stress of trying to earn a profit.

8. A very small number of locations, games, and players will benefit from the new conditions. Some markets do have broader skill disparities between skilled and unskilled players, and the better players will win more money faster. However, this could also be dangerous for losing players who might go broke faster and not be able to replenish funds. If they bust, who will take their places? So, even the winning players in the short term could end up suffering in the longer-term, especially if short-handed play is the norm for a while.

9. As for attracting new players to the game, forget it. Casino poker was already intimidating before. However, full games will up to 10 players often allowed novice players to blend in and not be forced into as many decisions. Short-handed games with blinds racing around and faster action will fail to attract new players who are essential to the prosperity of any poker room.

10. Thus far, I have not touched upon health and safety. I’ll leave it up to medical professionals to offer their assessments. Nonetheless, no other casino game typically includes as much personal interaction with others and touching common items as poker. While video poker and slot machines can be sanitized frequently, one must wonder how healthy it will be to play poker for many hours in a session, which is typical behavior for most players. It seems poker is far riskier than other casino games and activities.

Hence, I conclude the games will mostly be unbeatable. Poker games will be less sociable. And games might even be unsafe.

Is there any upside or positives? Well, online poker should fare well where it is now legal and/or quasi-legal. I strongly suggest players gravitate to trusted sites where consumers enjoy some protections. Too bad that so many “poker professionals” did so little to advance online poker years ago when they had the chance. Now, the game will struggle, at least for a while.

Personally, I have no interest in playing live casino poker until there’s a vaccine or the threat of infection almost entirely disappears. And I certainly have no interest in playing ina four-handed game boxed into a cubicle that resembles a jail visit.

I’m neutral on the question of poker’s greater future. I just don’t know and can’t offer any projections, and this is from someone who spent a few years on all sides of the game. How might our recreational and gaming habits change if these social distancing guidelines continue much longer?

I’ll offer one more assessment soon in a future column on the prospects for dealers and staff, who I genuinely have concern for in the months and years ahead. As for poker pros, it’s probably time to go out and get a real job, provided you can find one.

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Posted by on Apr 2, 2020 in General Poker | 0 comments

Ways in Which the Gaming Industry Shall Function Post COVID-19

Since the time the pandemic has hit humankind and proved itself to be a more fatal virus than the common cold (COVID-19 is not the flu), the world has come to a sudden halt. The virus has not only claimed lives around the planet and severely impacted the health of millions, but also cause a major slump in the world economy. Industries have found themselves going out of business and families have lost their primary source of income. A pandemic of this scale was probably never anticipated or seen before, and that is what has shaken the core of our very lives. The only way to survive the tanking economy is to adopt appropriate social distancing measures, frequent hand-sanitizing, wearing masks and including these same in workspaces. Let us just face it, we cannot live all our lives inside our homes and without going to work. Therefore, what we require at this point in time is education and awareness to combat the spread of the virus in the workspace.

Speaking of industries shutting down and families going out of work, one such industry that has been impacted by the pandemic is the gaming sector. Not many of us might know, but the gaming and gambling sectors contribute a significant amount to the economy of the world, and with these land-based establishments shutting down for an indefinite period of time, the economy has taken a hit. Therefore, what we must look forward to right now are the ways in which this sector will resume work once things start settling down. 

 

Masks, Sanitization, and Social Distancing:

This needs no telling, but for the sake of a wholesome discussion, we need to bring into light that land-based casinos, sports betting centers and other gaming establishments shall function keeping in tandem with the appropriate social distancing and sanitizing measures. Visitors to these gaming floors who are not wearing masks must not be allowed inside, and pre-booking of the floors could be very much entertained as a possibility. With a few number of people on the casino floors or any other gaming center, social distancing measures can be followed easily, and the spread of infection could be curbed. This way, the gaming centers do not have to shut their businesses down, and neither do they have to run the risk of community transmission. 

 

Online Casinos and Gaming Websites Shall Continue to Fill in for their Land-Based Counterparts:

People have turned to gaming websites and online casinos in their gaming and gambling pursuits ever since the period of quarantine began. These online counterparts of the land-based establishments have come in as a welcome relief and kept the industries afloat even in these difficult times. Gaming and gambling enthusiasts have found relief in these online sites. They do not have to make safe arrangements to step outside their houses to visit the gaming parlors because all that they would ever want to play are available right on their computer screens. For instance, online gambling California is now being treated as the primary source of gambling in lieu of land-based gambling in California, and the results have been quite impressive.

Fewer Staffs on the Gaming Floors, Weekly Rotation of Staffs:

Another brilliant way for these land-based gaming establishments to function even in these times is by involving only the necessary number of staffs on the floors, and getting them to work on a weekly basis. This way, they do not have to risk the lives of their employees, and neither do they have to lay off their staffs. Fewer people on the floors mean that adequate and appropriate social distancing can be followed and the chances of the infection to spread can be substantially minimized. Therefore, it is important that gaming centers work with less than half of their total number of staffs in order to get the spread of the infection under control and manage the pandemic to the best of their efforts.

Wrapping Up:

All that one can do right now is to be aware and enlightened about the ways in each one of us can handle the crisis and do our best to follow the protocols in the respective workspaces. It is important for industries and offices to open up if the sinking economy is to be saved from the stage of irreparable damage. Hopefully, the points that we have mentioned in this article are how the gaming industry would function once they start opening up and do their bit in the recovery of the economy. 

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Posted by on Feb 16, 2020 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Las Vegas | 1 comment

Sahara Poker Room (Las Vegas): A Short Review

 

sahara-poker-room

 

SAHARA POKER ROOM (LAS VEGAS) —
A SHORT REVIEW

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Yesterday, I visited the new Sahara Poker Room, which opened the previous day. Sahara management’s bold decision to dedicate considerable space and cost to poker deserves praise. If you are a Las Vegas poker player (or a visitor), it seems to me this is the sort of thing that should be supported. At the least, the Sahara Poker Room deserves a visit.

This is the first poker room to open in Las Vegas in ten years. The Las Vegas poker market, which has been flat for quite a long time, has experienced consolidation. The biggest rooms have done fine. Meanwhile, several smaller rooms have been reduced in size or have closed.

Typically, a new poker room opening would not interest me. However, two key attributes attracted my attention.

First, this was my first visit to the new Sahara property since it was rebranded from the (previous) SLS Resort. That failed experiment turned into a half-billion-dollar disaster. Bringing back the classic Sahara name and updating the property is certain to jump-start enthusiasm for the northern area of The Strip, which has been a ghost town for anything north of the Wynn. Once some other properties in the area open up (namely Resorts World across the street), the Sahara should do quite well with both hotel stays and foot traffic.

Second, I’m a big fan of Steven Pique, who is hired as head of poker operations at the Sahara. I worked with Steven for years on the WSOP Circuit traveling around the country. He was always thoroughly professional and knowledgeable. His impact on the new room should be both immediate and long-lasting. I’m glad to support Steven, who deserves every bit of success.

So, what is it that’s special about the Sahara Poker Room. Here are a few observations:

1. Free parking and easy access from the garage. Other casinos charge for parking or require long walks. I was able to get into the parking garage easily (from both Paradise and Las Vegas Blvd.), park on the 4th Floor, and walk to the poker room within 5 minutes.

2. Comps are awarded at $2 per hour, which is a nice perk. Check with the room on exact hours, but during the day shift, the comp rate is $3 an hour.

3. I really like the giant screen television on the wall. Most poker rooms have TVs with sporting events high overhead. It’s not always easy to see the action. For those who enjoy playing poker while watching sports, the giant screen is an attraction (see photo). Whoever made that decision got it right.

4. While I was visiting, a player ordered food inside the room. Imagine that, a cart with a plate and silverware was wheeled up next to the player. So, instead of fast-food garbage brought to tableside, the Sahara offers real food with a wide range of menu items combined from several restaurants. I’m really big on food served at tableside, and this right up there with the Aria (best food service in the city) in terms of poker and dining options.

5. The room is new and will take a little while to develop a loyal fan base. However, I noted they’ve already spread Pot-Limit Omaha and are eager to expand to more games than just Hold’em. Talk to Steven or any of the managers, and I expect they’ll do everything possible to accommodate a request. Once again I stress, these are POKER people running the room, not flunkies assigned from other areas of the casino floor.

6. Tables and chairs are spacious and comfortable. I can’t stand cramped poker rooms where players are sardined into seats. This is common in Las Vegas, where players are treated like chattel. Smoking is banned, of course, and there were no signs of second-hand smoke.

7. The Sahara Poker Room initially was advertised to be a room that would close at 2 am. However, the first night one of the games lasted until 7 am the next morning. Steven noted that no poker game will ever be shut down. So, the room might close overnight during slower times midweek, but so long as a game is going, it will run as long as players want to play.

8. Not really poker-related, but I love the restaurants at Sahara. The steakhouse (Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres) is probably the best in the city. The Italian restaurant is also very good. There are also some burger places, including one inside the race and sportsbook. Again — this is another difference: Most sportsbooks don’t offer food. But Sahara has a full-scale restaurant inside the sportsbook (a carryover from SLS).

9. I love the location of the poker room. It’s right next to the casino floor, but still far enough away not to be bombarded with the noise from slot machines. It’s always a good indication as to how management feels about poker by the placement of a poker room, and it’s obvious this establishment is taking the game and its players seriously.

Let me be clear. I’m difficult to please. I’m opinioned. I don’t do fluff pieces. I blast failure. But I also praise commitment and effort. At the Sahara what I see is exactly that — commitment and effort.

I wish the new Sahara Poker Room well. They’ve spent serious money and have designed a beautiful room. If they build it, let’s hope they come. I recommend making a visit.

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