And the Big One goes to Daniel… Colman?

wsop 2014It’s been a good year at the World Series of Poker for new crop of young, high stakes internet professionals. Jason Mo, Doug Polk, Dominik Nitsche… now, the latest guy you’ve never heard of to have put the live poker world on notice is Dan “MRGR33N13” Colman.

And boy has he ever.

Colman has appeared just about out of nowhere to win the Big One for One Drop, the highest buy-in event in the entirety of poker. His heads-up opponent? None other than Daniel Negreanu. Colman was a complete unknown in the world of live poker prior to 2014, his biggest cash being a measly $69,787 in the 2011 Bellagio Cup. In April this year, he exploded onto the scene by winning over $2 million at the EPT Season X Monte Carlo Grand Final. He then showed up in the $10,000 Heads Up event at the WSOP and came 3rd, for a six-figure score… and now this.

Negreanu was happy to give an interview after the event and discuss the fact that his second-place finish is enough to put him ahead of Antonio Esfandiari atop the all-time money list. Colman, conversely, seems to shun fame, quickly exiting the casino before any journalists could approach him.

There’s a good reason he doesn’t want the world to know much about him: his primary source of poker income has, until just now, been grinding hyper-turbo heads-up sit-and-gos on PokerStars. Although favoured by modern internet professionals because of the volume of play they make possible, heads-up hyper-turbos can offer only the slightest of edges, so it’s vital to find weak players to play against. Colman justifiably fears that having his name and screen name publicized would dry up his action.

Just how profitable is Colman online? Last year, he became the first hyper-turbo player in history to turn over $1 million in profit in a single calendar year… and he’d done so by August. He was taught the game by Olivier Busquet, who he’d been railling online back in 2007. Busquet saw Colman calling out his hands in the chat box and was impressed by his accuracy. Recognizing his potential, Busquet took Colman under his wing and staked him, starting him down the road to high-stakes play which has now led him to his platinum bracelet.

Colman’s win over the star-studded One Drop field really drives home an uncomfortable point that many would rather overlook, that poker celebrity might start to become a thing of the past. The online poker world is largely anonymous and evolves much more quickly than the live game. Although the top online players are usually too busy making their millions digitally to play much live, the high roller events can tempt them out of hiding. That means that these days, once there’s enough money in play, you never really know who the greatest threat at the table is.

Phil Ivey wins 10th bracelet, comes through on prop bet

wsop-bracelet2Phil Ivey has come out on top of World Series of Poker Event #50, $1500 8-Game, winning $167,332, his 10th gold bracelet, and most importantly, the joint bracelet proposition bet that he made in tandem with Daniel Negreanu.

Ivey and Negreanu’s bet has been the subject of much discussion both before the series kicked off and as it’s worn on. The two of them got together and decided to bet at even money with anyone interested that one or the other of them would win a bracelet this year. Opinions on whether the bet was a good one have been divided, but the general consensus seems to be that it was close either way.

49 events in, those who took the bet would have been feeling pretty good about their choice. Negreanu gave everyone a sweat in Event #13, but came up short against Paul Volpe and ended up finishing second. For a while, that seemed like it might have been the pair’s best shot at winning the bet.

Mixed games tend to favour the most skilled and experienced players, however, and so the 8-Game tournament was always likely to be a good chance for the two of them. Indeed, both Negreanu and Ivey made it through to the final day, Ivey standing in 3rd place and Negreanu 9th in chips with 14 players left. Although still far from a sure thing at that point, it was beginning to seem like destiny that one of them would come through.

Negreanu ended up falling in 9th, just shy of final table, first getting crippled and then busted in a single orbit of Pot Limit Omaha. Ivey, however, was running hot and was far and away the chip leader by that point. He never looked back, dominating all opponents at the final table and finally crushing Bruce Yamron in a few hands of Stud and finishing him off in Omana-8.

In winning his 10th bracelet, Ivey joins a rather exclusive club, which now consists of himself, Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan and Doyle Brunson. Chan and Brunson also have exactly ten, while only Hellmuth has more, at 13. Fame and setting records have never been Ivey’s priorities, however; for him, it is likely all about the money. No one but Ivey and Negreanu know exactly how much action they got on their prop bet, but it is certainly a lot more than the $167k Ivey took home for winning the event, and, one would guess, is probably in the seven figures.

Having won their bet, Ivey and Negreanu can now relax for the remainder of the series and look forward to the Big One for One Drop, in which they’ll both be playing. Certainly, they’ll both be feeling much more relaxed about that million-dollar gamble now that this one has gone their way.

Alex Weldon is a game designer by day and poker tournament wizard by night. You can read more from Alex at and follow him on Twitter at @benefactumgames

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Danzer wins second bracelet of the year, leads for Player of the Year

wsop-bracelet2The German professional George Danzer has won World Series of Poker Event #38, $10,000 Stud Hi/Lo, taking home $352,696 and putting himself in a dominant position to be the WSOP Player of the Year.

Germany is having a truly remarkable showing at this year’s World Series of Poker, led largely by Danzer and Dominik Nitsche, both of whom now have two gold bracelets in 2014. Whereas NItsche’s first came in the World Series of Poker Circuit National Championship, Danzer has won both of his in the series proper, with his first coming in another $10,000 Stud event – #18, in which the game was Razz. Danzer confirms that Stud games are his specialty, asserting that there’s no doubt in his mind that he’s a better Stud player than Nitsche, while he would steer well clear of the latter in a game of Hold’em.

Two bracelets are only the tip of the iceberg of Danzer’s success at this year’s series, however, and with just a little bit more luck he could easily have had a hat trick by now. He’s been playing all the events he can cram in, and has three final table appearances and five cashes, making his performance a tough one to beat for anyone else with their eyes on WSOP Player of the Year. His closest competition is early frontrunner Justin Bonomo, but while Bonomo has been sitting stagnant at 413.63 points since his early scores, Danzer now has a staggering 726.20.

On paper, the $10,000 Stud and Mixed Game events are the easiest bracelets to get, due to low registration, but that’s partially compensated for by the high caliber of the players who do play. There’s been nothing easy about the fields Danzer has had to get through to score his two wins. His final table opponents this time around included five-time bracelet winner Jeff Lisandro and 2010 Main Event runner-up John Racener.

What’s more, the final Stud championship event is still to come. Event #61 – $10,000 Stud Hi – starts up on July 1st, and it’s a given that Danzer will be playing. If he could win that as well and make it a Stud Triple Crown, it would likely be the story of the series, and an accomplishment you wouldn’t expect to see repeated any time soon.

Dutch Boyd takes home a third career bracelet at the 2014 WSOP

220px-DutchBoydIt’s been a good World Series of Poker for repeat bracelet winners. Right out of the gates, Vanessa Selbst won her third bracelet, then Dominik Nitsche did it, and now Dutch Boyd is the third to get a third, winning Event #33, one of several no-frills, $1000 buy-in No Limit Hold’em tournaments at the series.

Boyd is a controversial figure in poker. He certainly has his fans, but his is also a life embroiled in scandal; his poker site, PokerSpot, failed back in 2001, with $400,000 in player funds never having been refunded. Understandably, many in the poker world are still angry about this, and his detractors are no less vocal, and probably more numerous than his supporters.

The win comes at a convenient time for Boyd, who has just released an autobiographical book about the early days of the poker boom, titled Poker Tilt. PFO’s own Steve Ruddock, despite an avowed dislike for Boyd as a person, has reviewed the book very favorably, describing it as “poignant,” and “a story that needed to be told,” about an era no other poker book has covered. There’s no doubt that getting his name in the headlines this way will help boost the book’s sales.

Boyd played solidly for most of the final table, but nearly self-destructed when down to three players, losing most of his chips making an all-in bluff with nothing but a gutshot, in a spot that seemed unconvincing both to two-time bracelet winner Joe Cada, who was commenting on the live stream, and to his opponent, Steven Norden, who snapped him off with middle pair. His error was compensated for by a few good run-outs, allowing him to chip back up and get back on his A-game.

Norden, who eventually finished second, was an interesting character in his own right. A complete unknown, he described himself only as “a very boring person” to reporters when they attempted to find out more about him, and conveyed an amateurish image with awkward body language and unusual attire. He turned out to have very strong poker skills, however, and impressed Cada, who declared him to be his “new favorite player.” It has since come out that Norden is one of the first people who figured out how to beat video poker, a grind he’s been on for some years now, but has recently started playing live poker. He clearly knows how to play, and we may see more of him in future.


Joe Cada wins 2nd WSOP bracelet; does this make him the Real Deal?

wsop 2014Joseph Cada has won World Series of Poker Event #32, a $10,000 buy-in 6-max event, known for bringing out the talent. This is his second bracelet, the first being for the 2009 Main Event.

Ever since the poker boom began, the Main Event has consistently drawn larger fields than any other event in live poker. This gives it a reputation as a complete minefield, and indeed the odds are against it being won by an established professional in any given year. Inevitably, then, whoever wins ends up subjected to the ire of opinionated poker fans the world around. It hasn’t helped matters that none of the last 12 Main Event winners has managed to follow up on their success with a second bracelet in subsequent years – the last one to do so was Carlos Mortensen, who won back in 2001 when the field was much smaller, only 613 players.

Cada has changed that with his win, simultaneously proving that he is a serious pro and that the Main Event isn’t simply the giant lottery some people make it out to be. Although Chris Moneymaker is the go-to guy for Main Event hate, Cada has been a close second; by 2009, television viewership of the Main Event was very high, and Cada had several high-profile strokes of luck on his way to winning it, leading some to declare him the worst player ever to do so.

What’s more, Cada could scarcely have picked a better event to win, or a better group of opponents to beat, in order to establish his credentials once and for all. His adversaries held a combined $27.5 million in cashes, and included names like JC Tran and Erick Lindgren, each with two bracelets of their own.

Poker is the game it is, however, and appropriately enough, the deciding moment for Cada turned out to be a classic coinflip. Cada and his final opponent, Jeremy Ausmus, had nearly identical stacks when they found themselves colliding, Cada needing his eights to hold up against Ausmus’s Ace-Jack suited. They did, and Ausmus was left crippled. A few hands later he was out, taking home $414,104, while Cada received $670,041 and this historic bracelet.

Alex Weldon is a game designer by day and poker tournament wizard by night. You can read more from Alex at and follow him on Twitter at @benefactumgames

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Liv Boeree and Allen Kessler star in the “Case of the Dubious Ducks”

There’s some minor drama taking place between Liv Boeree, Allen “Chainsaw” Kessler, and their respective camps over what seems like it should be a relatively simple question. Are pocket deuces a standard shove or a standard fold from under the gun, at an eight player table, for 13 big blinds with antes in play?

Recently faced with this specific situation in WSOP Event #35, Boeree opted for the shove. She was called by Ace-King, lost the coin flip and was out. Witnessing this, Kessler expressed disapproval for her choice, saying the shove was “not Chainsaw approved,” and going on to state the obvious fact that you’re never going to be called by worse. Boeree fired back on Twitter, saying “lol, well Mr Nash disagrees!” suggesting that she believes the shove is part of an unexploitable range according to game theory.

The actual fact of the matter is that the spot is very close, and that both of them are being over-simplistic in their reasoning.

Kessler’s argument

Not knowing anything about the makeup of the table, Kessler’s opinion is probably the correct one, though just barely. With 10 big blinds and no ICM taken into account, 22 is just barely a shove with seven players left to act, so with a slightly deeper stack and any ICM at all, you would have to guess that the default move should be to fold.

His argument is weak, however; it assumes that when playing push-fold poker, the goal is to get called and double up. With a stack as deep as 13 BB, however, that’s not usually the case. Stealing the blinds and antes is the objective, and one’s main concern is not to be ahead when called, but not too far behind. Jack-Ten suited is usually a good shove, for instance, but always unlikely to be ahead if called – what makes it a good shove is it has blockers to two potential shove-calling hands (TT and JJ) and good equity against almost anything, because it is suited and connected.

Deuces, of course, do not block anything useful, and are utterly crushed by any other pocket pair. What they do have going for them is that they’re a coin-flip against a large part of an opponent’s calling range in most situations.

What Kessler should have said, to support his opinion, is not that they don’t beat anything, but that most people’s ranges to call an under-the-gun shove from a 13 BB stack are heavily weighted towards pocket pairs. Shoving shorter, or from later position, you’ll get called by a lot more broadway and Ax hands, so the deuces’ coin flip potential is a big plus. In Boeree’s case, however, the only hand she’d likely to be flipping against is the one she actually saw: Ace-King.

Boeree’s argument

For her part, Boeree is placing undue emphasis on game theory. For one thing, she may not even be correct once ICM is taken into account. But even if she’s right and 22 is part of an unexploitable shoving range in that situation, correcting for ICM, it’s just barely so. When you’re dealing with a borderline hand, what’s important isn’t whether it’s barely within the theoretically optimal range or just barely outside; what really matters is how the table is playing.

gop debateThe worst hands in an unexploitable range are always going to be neutral EV at best, and are included mostly to make opponents’ ideal calling ranges wider, thus earning more value for the better hands in the shover’s range. If the table is playing any looser than normal, then these hands will get called too often to break even on the blind steals and thus be loss-making. Conversely, if the table is a little too tight, then these marginal hands will actually turn a profit, and even some hands outside of the optimal range can be included.

Thus, rather than arguing about whether deuces are just inside or just outside an optimal range for that situation, Boeree would make her case much more convincingly if she simply said that she felt the table was tight and that her steal would go through often enough to be profitable.

The final verdict

In the end, all that can really be said about the spot is that it’s a close one. If the table is too tight, it’s a definite shove. If there are players who will make loose calls with Ax hands and broadways, it doesn’t matter too much, because coin flips are fine too. But if there are players who will call loose with small pocket pairs, it would be a mistake to shove. No matter what, though, neither shoving nor folding is ever going to be a huge mistake, as the margins are very thin either way. Both Boeree and Kessler, for all their skill as poker players, are making poor arguments in a fight about nothing.

Alex Weldon is a game designer by day and poker tournament wizard by night. You can read more from Alex at and follow him on Twitter at @benefactumgames

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Jason Mo takes Marvin Rettenmaier up on $100,000 bracelet challenge

wsop-bracelet2The enigmatic Jason Mo has announced that he’s the first – and so far the only – person to take “Mad” Marvin Rettenmaier up on his open bracelet challenge, and for the maximum amount on offer, $100,000. Rettenmeier was Bluff Magazine’s Player of the Year in 2012, and currently plays for Team Party Poker.

It was on the Party Poker blog that Rettenmeier threw out his offer, the terms of which are simple enough. Anyone who believes themselves more likely than Rettenmeier to win a World Series of Poker bracelet is invited to put up an amount of their choice between $1,000 and $100,000, which Rettenmeier will match. As soon as one participant or the other wins a bracelet, the loser pays up. There’s just one catch: the only events which count are No Limit Hold’em events in which both Rettenmeier and the challenger participate.

Mo came into the public eye a few weeks back when he came second to Vanessa Selbst in WSOP Event 2, $25,000 Mixed-Max Hold’em. Since then, he has seemed ambivalent about that fame. On the one hand, he clearly doesn’t want the general public to know much about him, giving no interviews and avoiding tying his real life and online identities together.

On the other hand, he is obviously well-known by his fellow poker players, and playing up his success for those in the know. Rettenmeier, in announcing his bet with Mo, describes him as “one of the top five heads-up players in the world.” Another pro, commenting on the final duel in the $25,000 Mixed-Max, said he felt that Mo held the skill edge over Selbst. Neither of these is a claim to be made lightly.

Aside from making this bold bet with Rettenmeier, Mo has teased his Twitter followers by suggesting he might play in the Big One for One Drop, though this remains to be confirmed. He has also made himself conspicuous on the rail at various events to cheer on his friends, most of them also big up-and-comers, including Dominik Nitsche and Douglas Polk, both of whom have now won bracelets at this year’s WSOP.

*Editor’s note: This Saturday Night Live shit went through my head the entire time I read this post: Just replace cowbell with Jason Mo.

UK poker pro John Kabbaj brings home the cabbage in Event 25

wsop 2014British professional John Kabbaj has won his second career World Series of Poker bracelet, taking down Event #25, a $2,500 mixed-game event with alternating rounds of Limit Omaha/8 and Stud Hi/Low. Like most non-Hold’em events, the tournament attracted a relatively small and tough field. Alongside Kabbaj at final table were Erik Seidel and Mike Leah, while other big names like Matt Glantz and Robert Mizrachi made the cash but fell short of the final table.

The final day began with 18 players, of which Kabbaj had the third-largest stack, behind Seidel and Leah. Both of these veterans ran badly in the final 9, however, and busted in 6th and 7th respectively. Seidel was crippled when he got most of his stack into the pot against two all-in opponents with a relatively monstrous [65]346 with three Diamonds on 5th street, but bricked out. Leah busted out in the following round of Omaha H/L with a pair of Aces and reasonable low draw against a turned full house, and Seidel lost his last chips once the game switched back to Stud, being too short-stacked to get away from a rather feeble [76]7J5.

With his two strongest adversaries taken care of for him, Kabbaj began to run good and came into heads-up play with a 2-1 chip advantage over Thomas Keller. Keller is no slouch, holding a bracelet of his own, having won a No Limit Hold’em event back in 2004, but Kabbaj finished him off in just a few hands, without Keller so much as splitting a pot.

Although the $267,327 payday is relatively modest by WSOP standards, both the bracelet and the money are extremely meaningful to Kabbaj, who is coming off what he describes as “the worst two years of my life.” Before this, Kabbaj’s last major score was a 6th place finish in the $10,000 Pot-Limit Omaha Championship at the 2011 WSOP. Given the stakes involved in being a professional tournament player, two cold years back-to-back could devastate almost anyone’s finances, so it’s good to see Kabbaj bounce back in a significant way.

Amaya acquires PokerStars, but where’s the money coming from?

100billion-hand_orig_full_sidebarIn a move which seems to defy basic arithmetic, a Montreal-based company by the name of Amaya has, in a single bite, acquired PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and their umbrella company, the Oldford Group. Unsurprisingly, the poker world is freaking out. The first question on everyone’s lips is what this means for online poker players, but perhaps a more interesting question is how this even happened.

What it means for players is probably very little, at least in the short term. Amaya is stressing that, although the Oldford Group is essentially being dissolved, with its shares going to a subsidiary of Amaya and its principals resigning, the executive management team of Rational Group (who are in charge of PokerStars and Full Tilt) will be unchanged, and the sites will continue business as usual. They promise that players’ access to and experience of these sites will remain undisturbed, and there’s no reason to doubt this promise. In terms of visible impact, the most likely change brought about by the deal will be to facilitate PokerStars’ entry into the US market.

So, who are Amaya? If you’ve never heard of them before, you’re not the only one. They’re a business-to-business company operating in the digital gambling sector, producing slot machines, offering IT services to gambling websites and so forth. But here are the most important facts about the deal: prior to it, Amaya was valued at about $177 million and they are buying the Oldford Group for $4.9 billion. At first glance, this sounds like an absurdity – a mouse swallowing an elephant. Where has Amaya found that kind of money?

Their press release provides some, but not all of the answers: $2.9 billion is being lent by Deutsche Bank, Barclays Bank and Macquarie Capital, who are presumably comfortable that Amaya will be able to pay off these debts with their newfound income from the properties. Approximately another $1.7 billion is being raised by the private sale of new shares, and the rest – which still amounts to more than Amaya’s book value – is being paid out of pocket.

Obviously, for a company Amaya’s size to raise $1.7 billion through issuing new shares, they have to be issuing a whole lot of shares; a lot more than they had to begin with. In other words, it is effectively the purchasers of these new shares who are really buying Oldford Group, rather than Amaya. $655 million worth are going to GSO Capital Partners LP, but the other billion plus are going to persons or organizations unnamed.

On top of this, Amaya is also giving away 12.75 million share purchase warrants (effectively stock options allowing shares to be purchased at a penny apiece) to GSO and to an unnamed investment manager as payment for brokering the deal. At an initial price of $20 a share, which will likely go up in time, these payments effectively amount to $255 million.

Putting all of this together, it seems likely that the initiators of the deal are GSO, the unnamed investment manager, and the principals of the Oldford Group. Amaya seems more like a tool of convenience to allow them GSO and the mystery investors to purchase Oldford indirectly. They probably have their own reasons for wanting to do so, perhaps to ensure that it will be Amaya’s board of directors rather than any of them who take the fall if PokerStars and Full Tilt find themselves in any further legal difficulties. As for why they chose Amaya specifically, that’s anyone’s guess, but Montreal is a convenient geographical location, being a hub for the tech and digital gaming industries, and now suddenly a hotspot for poker as well, with the appearance of the Playground Poker Club, the newest big stop on the World Poker Tour.

Again, in all likelihood, PokerStars and Full Tilt players will see no immediate effect from this reorganization. Whether the parties involved have bigger plans for the long term remains to be seen, but it will be an interesting story to keep tabs on.

Alex Weldon is a game designer by day and poker tournament wizard by night. You can read more from Alex at and follow him on Twitter at @benefactumgames

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PokerStars announces more All-In Shootouts for World Cup

online-pokerPokerStars has announced its latest promotion, a series of $10,000 All-in Shootout freerolls tied in with the World Cup. Like previous All-in Shootout promotions, entry to the freerolls is earned by completing a variety of simple “missions,” such as making a deposit, or playing a certain format of game. The twist is that each completed mission gives the player a ticket to one of three tournaments, corresponding to the result (Team A, Team B or Draw) of a specific group stage World Cup match.

PokerStars introduced Mission Weeks and All-in Shootouts last November, and it appears that the experiment has been a success, as they’ve held numerous similar promotions since. In all cases, players have to opt in to a given mission to participate, and then complete the corresponding task. In return, they gain entry to what is effectively a lottery which borrows the superficial structure of poker – a tournament in which players are assigned to tables of 4 and are automatically all-in every hand, with the winners advancing to the next round and earning progressively higher payouts.

The current promotion seeks to capitalize on the buzz surrounding the upcoming World Cup in Brazil, by tying each mission to one of the tournament’s group stage matches. The interface has also been considerably slickened, with a button appearing in the PokerStars interface which pulls up a browser window to opt in, rather than requiring users to find a specific menu option and manually type in a code.

What’s interesting this time around is that the promotion isn’t purely a lottery, because players still have to make a decision, choosing one team or the other to win, or betting on a draw. The thing is, whichever option one chooses, the $10,000 prize is going to be randomly distributed between all those who chose that option. So if you choose a dominant favorite, you’re likely to get your entry into the draw, but be drawing at slim odds once you’re there. Alternatively, you could pick the underdog, or a draw, and be less likely to qualify, but have considerably more equity if you do.

Alex Weldon is a game designer by day and poker tournament wizard by night. You can read more from Alex at and follow him on Twitter at @benefactumgames

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