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Posted by on May 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



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 Aug 18, 2018 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Las Vegas, Personal | 5 comments

The Night Gary Busey Threatened to Break Steve McDonald’s Arm




A few weeks ago, BARGE was held at Binion’s Casino in Downtown Las Vegas.  This marked my 22nd consecutive year to attend the annual poker and social gathering, which is a week-long festival of fun.  This year might have been the last such event at Binion’s.  We’ll see about that.  However, BARGE is certain to continue being held somewhere in Las Vegas.  Visit for more information.

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Posted by on Dec 28, 2015 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Politics | 45 comments

Who’s the Greater Financial Risk — Daniel Negreanu or Bank of America?




Bank of America, one of the world’s largest financial institutions, has terminated all of Daniel Negreanu’s personal accounts.

What would cause a gigantic bank to refuse the business of someone who’s proven to be immensely successful in his chosen profession and poses virtually no financial risk?

Because — Negreanu plays too much poker.


As reported last week by (Bank of America Closes All of Daniel Negreanu’s Bank Accounts), Negreanu is one of a significantly larger number of full-time poker players and industry professionals who have experienced similar snubs from banks.  Because Negreanu just so happens to be one of the wealthiest, and most publicly visible media personalities, his indignity is the most baffling.

Other poker pros too, including Doug Polk, not only had their bank accounts frozen recently.  Their funds were inexplicably tied up for extended periods of time while their financial institutions (in Polk’s case — Chase Bank) piddled around and played the poker is “too risky” card as an excuse to cut off established ties.

Banks — what a bunch of hypocrites.

Mind you, Bank of America and other huge financial cabals within “Too Big to Fail” monopoly are the same swindlers squeezing college students and graduates by the millions, leveraging hundreds of billions in crushing student debt.  They’re the street corner loan sharks who rip-off consumers with whopping 29 percent interest rates on credit cards and impose hidden banking fees that no one can keep straight.  They’re the racketeers who have essentially bribed members of Congress and de-fanged federal regulatory agencies.  Yet, these are the same banks that once cupped their hands together and begged for tens of billions in bailouts from American taxpayers between 2008-2011, due purely to their own greed and mismanagement, which nearly triggered a worldwide depression.  Now, with bloodstains on its balance sheets, BofA has cut off one of the most successful (not to mention famous) poker players in the history of the game.

Oh, the irony.

Just when I didn’t think it was possible to have more disgust towards the American banking industry, they’ve sunk to even lower lows.  Indeed, for poker players, this has now become personal.  Here’s why Negreanu’s situation matters and why you should care.  It’s time to fight back.

If you’ve been involved in poker for any length of time, you’ve probably been screwed over by a bank, perhaps numerous times (like I have).  Perhaps the teller or the banking official looked at you like you’re a drug dealer when you’ve tried to conduct your normal business.  Maybe the bank flagged your accounts and placed extended holds on checks deposited from casinos.  Or, your bank delayed critical financial transactions inhibiting your ability to wire money somewhere or enter a tournament.  Then, maybe its the subtlety of being treated like a second-class citizen based on what you do for a living.  Fact is — these are the all-too-common hazards of the poker trade almost every player faces.  It’s a level of scrutiny that most certainly never gets applied to other occupations.  Even here in Las Vegas, which should be well accustomed to the unique culture of gambling (there are most certainly hundreds if not a few thousand professional gamblers living in this city), I’ve encountered numerous awkward situations which caused me considerable hardship, entirely because the transactions were poker (or gambling) related.  I could tell you stories that you wouldn’t believe.

READ:  “Bank of America:  Too Crooked to Fail”

When big banks start screwing over the Daniel Negreanu’s of the world, what does that mean for the rest of us — including the many hundreds, or perhaps thousands of other poker players out there who don’t get publicity?  We never hear those stories.  Like Negreanu, many among us have had our credit and debit cards canceled.  We’ve been turned down for mortgages and car loans, despite demonstrating consistent earning power for years and paying taxes.  We’ve had sizable check deposits put on hold unnecessarily for ridiculously long periods of time.  However, since they’re not famous like Negreanu, no one pays much attention.

We all like to think poker’s come such a long way since the bad old days of smoky backrooms and disreputable characters.  But let’s wake up to stark reality, perhaps most glaring in the way we’re often treated by financial service companies.  Have we really escaped our undeserved reputation?  Not really.  BofA’s decision to openly insult one of the game’s verifiable superstars speaks volumes about how much further we all have to go until we’re afforded the same rights and courtesy as professionals which frankly, do not merit an equal level of reverence.  Let’s look at some other professions, for comparison sake.

Here and now, I could give you a lengthy list of professional athletes who have declared bankruptcy — leaving banks holding the bag (passed on to consumers, no doubt).  These are clear cases where banks, among other financial institutions, failed miserably.  And so, I will:

Kenny Anderson, Wally Backman, Charlie Batch, Bruse Berenyi, Riddick Bowe, Randy Brown, Mark Brunell, Bill Bucker, Jason Caffey, Dale Carter, Jack Clark, Raymond Clayborn, Derrick Coleman, Dermontti Dawson, Jim Dooley, Lenny Dykstra, Luther Elliss, Eddie Edwards, Chris Eubank, Rollie Fingers, Archie Griffin, Ray Guy, Tony Gwynn, Dorothy Hamill, Scott Harrison, Steve Howe, Harmon Killebrew, Bernie Kosar, Terry Long, Rick Mahorn, Harvey Martin, Deuce McAllister, Darren McCarthy, Denny McLain, Craig Morton, Greg Nettles, Jonny Neumann, Gaylord Perry, John Arne Riise, Andre Rison, Rumeal Robinson, Manny Sanguillen, Warren Sapp, Billy Sims, Leon Spinks, Sheryl Swoopes, Roscoe Tanner, Lawrence Taylor, Duane Thomas, Bryan Trottier, Mike Tyson, Johnny Unitas, Michael Vick, Antoine Walker, Danny White, Ray Williams, and Rick Wise.  [Note:  This list is incomplete — there are many more]

I could also give you a list of well-known celebrities who have declared personal bankruptcy — leaving banks holding much of the debt (losses also passed on to consumers).  Check out this link for 33 names that you’ll probably recognize:  “Celebrities Who Have Declared Bankruptcy

There’s even at least one major presidential candidate running who has defaulted on his loans and screwed his creditors, including banks, not once, not twice, not three times, but FOUR TIMES, not counting his other foolish investments that all went bust.  His name is Donald Trump, and he’s leading the Republican field of candidates in the polls right now.  Something tells me the brain trust at BofA won’t be pulling the plug on Trump’s bank accounts anytime soon.  They won’t be closing down the accounts of star athletes or celebrities, either.  Nope — it’s gamblers they’re worried about.

What a crock of shit.

Come to think of it, relatively few poker players I know have declared bankruptcy (and I know a great many).  Oh, I’m sure there are some who have taken that route.  But unlike the pro athletes and famous celebrities, no significant poker pro has been scrutinized widely for his or her financial failings.  Deadbeats are one thing.  Defaulting on mortgages and declaring bankruptcy is quite another.  In fact, I’m even willing to bet the level of bankruptcies (defaults, foreclosures, etc.) for professional poker players is lower than the national average.  It’s certainly lower than other high-profile professions (with guaranteed contracts), including athletes and celebrities.  The reason for this is simple.  Poker players have to manage their money and expenses responsibly.  Otherwise, they’re out of business.  Sure, some poker players struggle financially, and quite a few even end up broke.  But they pose considerably less risk than most other professions to financial institutions, maybe even less risk than the banks themselves.

Here, take a look at Negreanu’s declared net income (after entry fees and expenses) over the past three years, and last year.  Here are two tweets from Negreanu which were posted yesterday:



Hmm, I wonder if the CEO of BofA made “$6,426.74 an hour” over the past three years, as Negreanu has managed to achieve?  Perhaps he has, with Wall Street’s shameless bonuses and scandalous compensation packages.  That said, the figures quoted by Negreanu above apply only to his tournament earnings.  We can presume he enjoys a significantly higher income with his lucrative sponsorship and endorsement deals.  Put another way, I’d rather have Negreanu’s income over the next decade than many overpaid CEO’s who are one stock plunge and board vote away from being kicked in the ass right out the door.

Speaking of risks, BofA may be the riskiest investment of all given how poorly they’ve managed their affairs during the last decade.  Here, check out just a few of the misdeeds:

“Bank of America:  Too Big to Follow the Law”

“NY AG Cuomo Hits Ken Lewis, Bank of America with Fraud Charges”

“BofA Bonuses:  Bank Pays Millions, Despite Bailout”

“Bank of America to Get Millions More in Bailout Funds from Treasury”

“Bank of America Needs More Money:  Analyst”

“The Greatest Swindle Ever Sold”

At least Bank of America managed to win one prize that’s noteworthy.  They were ranked DEAD LAST in customer service in a recent study.  The scored near the bottom of the “worst customer service” rankings for the seventh consecutive year.  See:  “Customer Service Hall of Shame.”  At least they’re consistently awful.

I could go on and on about this blatant hypocrisy by the banks.  Fact is, Bank of America has demonstrated a long pattern of disgraceful deeds.  Financial institutions have exhibited a lengthy habit of unfair treatment towards poker players and other forms of gambling.  They’ve also insulted not just Daniel Negreanu, but all poker players by cutting off one of gambling’s biggest successes.  Bank of America doesn’t merit our business.  They deserve our disdain.

Bailout Scoreboard:

Bank of America — 1

Daniel Negreanu — 0

If and when, the time eventually comes when Bank of America asks for another big bailout (and it will probably happen), I have a few choice words not only for them, but for all the banks.

Fuck off.  Given your past dirty deeds, you’re not worth the credit risk.  


Credit:  Photo of Daniel Negreanu courtesy of

Postscript:  My position is that the big banks should be broken up as trusts and should not be permitted to engage in riskier forms of financial speculation.  At the very least, previous Glass-Steagall regulations should be reinstated which would return banks to the constructive role they once played in the economy. 

Edit note:  An earlier version of this post included the word “shylock,” which is apparently a disparaging term associated with antisemitism.  Accordingly, I’ve replaced the word used earlier in the text.


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Posted by on Apr 16, 2015 in Blog, General Poker | 5 comments

Brain Games: Does Playing Poker Help to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?




Yesterday, at the annual iGaming North America Conference currently taking place in Las Vegas, Rich Muny from the Poker Players Alliance led a most enlightening panel discussion which included two of the game’s experts — David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth.  Aside from being longtime players, both are perhaps best known as prolific authors via their association with the poker and strategy website

As the panel discussion neared a conclusion, I asked Sklansky what factors might contribute towards igniting another poker boom similar to what we experienced during 2003-2007.  I also inquired as to whether a repeat of those golden years was even a remote possibility given the perfect storm of circumstances which must align in order to create a new popular phenomenon.

Sklansky, true to his reputation for thinking way beyond the usual parameters of expectation, noted that if scientific research could somehow prove a direct link between playing poker and preventing Alzheimer’s (and other diseases of dementia and mental deterioration), such news might trigger another tidal wave of enthusiasm for the game.  Naturally, if a link was indeed established, such news would not just bring new people into poker rooms and cardrooms, and particularly more older players, it might even change the way we manage senior care.  Such news would certainly have an impact on the study of geriatrics.

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Posted by on Nov 19, 2014 in Blog, World Series of Poker | 8 comments

Robert Varkonyi Re-Evaluated




Writer’s Note:  Last week, Martin Jacobson won the 2014 World Series of Poker Main Event.  Yet, as one former winner reveals, like a fine wine, sometimes a true champion in every sense of the word materializes not in a flash of victory, but instead following more than a decade of deeper reflection.


Of the 15 world poker champions crowned in this, the current century, has any winner been more erased from the game’s recent memory than Robert Varkonyi?

The 2002 World Series of Poker Main Event champ never quite received the respect nor the fame he was entitled to — acclaim whether deserved or not just about everyone else that won since 2000 was able to enjoy.  While other champions profited from cozy seven-figure endorsement deals and lucrative public appearances, Varkonyi went back to being Mr. Anonymous — Robert Varkonyi, the forgotten champion, as in the fill-in-the-blank subject of “whatever happened to…?”  Not that the 53-year-old Everyman seems the least bit fazed by this concerted oversight.  Yet, somehow that makes our collective abandonment even more egregious.

Talk to Varkonyi and he’ll readily admit that he prefers a day-to-day existence of relative obscurity, even within the poker world when he so chooses to grace it, which has become increasingly rare nowadays.  An argument can even be made that staying out of the spotlight became a sort of hidden blessing for the low-key financial investor who still lives a quiet life along with his part-time poker playing wife Olga, and two daughters Victoria and Valerie, in Brooklyn, New York.

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