Monday, May 18, 2015


The 2015 WSOP Poker Blog is not here. Please go to UsualPoker and read what I plan to make a more ambitious literary undertaking throughout the six-week (May27 to July 15th) WSOP. Thanks for supporting independent poker writers and authors of old-fashioned prose (there are very few left).

A Very Dark Game website has been completely revamped. The explosive book on the $1 million buy-in tournament and "very dark" backstories is still forthcoming. Just waiting to hear from a publisher if they want to pick it up (in which case it will be expanded and come out a year from now). If not, sometime before the 2015 Main Event is the preferred launch date.

Friday, December 12, 2014

WSOP 14 Final Table - Back in the Day

I got a Stephenson t-shirt from the WSOP Main Event, would have had him sign it if he won. Skipped the Nordic antler hat. It was very interesting covering the World Series of Poker main event. I was able to observe a lot.. it felt like the read deal. The competitors were top class and they gave it their all. I remembered meeting Martin Jacobson back in the day and that is why I favored him in my 2014 November Nine preview.

The evening before the ME there was the HOF induction of Jack McClelland (a legendary tournament director) and "Kid Poker" himself Daniel Negreanu.

Entering the HOF room, a formidable pair. Stu Unger and Doyle Brunson. Recycled of course from use in the Rio's Amazon room in May and June.  I chatted with an older gent who used to play gin and poker with Stuey in Brooklyn.

Ships in the night. Politano passes Negreanu after a staged meeting of the presumed poker minds.

Jack McLelland gave a heartfelt speech about the poker life. Brunson (apparently doing well post-surgery) was there to cheer on his friend. Did not get out of his seat, however.

Negreanu gives Lederer the bird during his induction speech and then spins a Spidey web. Good thespian.

Hellmuth and his "wannabe me" Politano. Smile for the cameras. Hello again Las Vegas, my old friend!  I'm here to play #myBESTpoker

This is the requested close-up of alligator, snake, and frogs legs. No Phil bomb in sight. Not sure what Mr. Vegan DNegs thought of the entrees. Alligator, sittin' in the noonday sun...

The HOF event was held at Binion's Horseshoe Casino in honor of inductee Jack McClelland and featured this food, indicative of '70s high rollers who came largely from Texas and Cajun Country. Think American Hustle meets California Split; poker and backgammon. Big belts and cowboy hats. Oakland Raiders. Dallas Cowboys (cheerleaders).  Know when to hold'em, know when to fold'em. This was back before Cirque, when  Evel Knieval was the acrobatic fallboy.

This is a photo I took that summed up Newhouse's emotions after busting 9th, two years in a row. "I'm an idiot." The knowledgable Kara Scott consoles.

I think the decider in Tonking's call was that aces or kings was not likely, given Newhouse's turn bet. Overpairs would check down the river presumably, once the board double paired. And Newhouse would not have raised the turn with A-J and a single jack on the board (which would also be a pretty thin call preflop). With the Jack pairing, pocket fours was no longer possible. I guess the odds were pretty high that Newhouse was bluffing on a 2-4-J-4-J board.

Plus, Tonking had a really good read.

This was Scooby, who we last saw marking his spot in front of a uniformed K-9. Dejected that his boy Politano lost. 

This is Politano, no false tears or pretense. He is actually very happy he laddered up. He has a Big Heart. You can follow him on Facebook. 

This is my man Pappas, he is looking for a place to rent in some New England town I've never heard of.  Foosball master! And oh yeah, this is Stephenson slinking past him, knowing that he is almost certain to get to day two. Visions of three-way chops dancing in his head. 

This the look of a serious grinder, getting what he earned. Martin Jacobson triumphant. I posted a funny Jacobson story from a 2014 WSOP Side Event here

This is the all-time favorite poker action shot I have taken. From a distance, with a $150 camera. But what a $150 well spent. This is the exact moment Jacobson begins to celebrate with friends, in an avalanche of joy. 

This was the one pic I thought captured Stephenson's true emotion, through his sunglasses, as he came to terms with his "near glory" accomplishment––second place. I have Swedish and Norwegian ancestors, I know how deep the rivalry is. 

Jacobson unabashedly proud. 2013 winner Ryan "Beast" Reiss looks on (he has a vintage Topps card that looks better than his 2014 WSOP results.) 


Stephensen and an Old World supporter, coming to terms defeat. "A hundred Swedes ran through the weeds, pursued by one Norwegian." Not to be.

After his banal interview with the "Politano fanboy" press, I asked Negreanu what his favorite flavor of ice-cream was. Mr. Vegan gave me the inside tip that he doesn't eat ice-cream. Favorite Tofutti? No comment. 

Thanks for taking the time and don't forget to check my latest joint, AVDG. Peace.

Poker enthusiast Damon Shulenberger covered the WSOP series in 2014. He has recently secured an agent for the mystery-thriller Arisugawa Park and plans to release “A Very Dark Game - Inside Poker’s Million Dollar Tournament” in December. The latter book provides a ringside look at the 2014 One Drop tournament and includes stories on participants such as Dan Colman, Guy Laliberte, Daniel Negreanu, Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Ivey, Dan “Jungleman” Cates, and the Macau Boys. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

WSOP Main Event 2014 - Final Table Preview

The 2014 WSOP November Nine constitutes one of the most diverse “graduating classes” since the format was instituted, with players hailing from Norway, Spain, Sweden, Holland, Brazil and the United States. The field includes notables such as November Nine repeat Mark Newhouse (26m), Swedish powerhouse Martin Jacobson (14.9m),  and five-time U.S. foosball champion Billy Pappaconstantinou (17.5m). 

At the top of the heap is the Dutch Jorryt van Hoof, who has amassed 38.3 million chips and is several million ahead of his nearest contender Felix Stephensen (32.7m). On November 8th, PokerNewsDaily reported that van Hoof was the odds-on favorite to take home the World Champion title. Bovada  gave van Hoof 2.85/1 odds, with Stephenson (4/1) and Newhouse (5/1) trailing behind him. The unassuming Jacobson is clearly a competitor to watch for, outperforming his chip count and garnering 8/1 odds. Having seen him methodically pick apart less steely eyed contenders, I thing Jacobson is a solid bet––one double up would make him (along with Newhouse) a favorite in my eyes.

Not to take anything away from Jorryt “TheCleaner11” van Hoof’s overall play, but I have mixed feelings about his reads in a couple of Day 7 situations. I was covering Dan Smith’s table with 20 players left when this unforgettable clash took place. Holding 6.8 million (42 big blinds), van Hoof reraised Smith’s late position 350,000 preflop raise to 900,000. When Smith (6.5m) bumped it up to 1.8 million with A-K, van Hoof pondered for several minutes before finally declaring all-in. With nearly one-third of his stack invested, Smith had no choice but to put in a quick call for his tournament life and see if the right cards came out. 

Jorryt van Hoof ponders the value of pocket fours. 

Dan Smith feels the heat, although he was probably not adverse to a call or raise. If you're going to double up (or bust out), might as well get it in with A-K.

Steeled for a race, waiting for the flop. 

This is one of those situations where I would probably lay pocket fours down to Smith’s pressure––essentially a declaration that he is committed for all his chips. There are simply too many situations where Smith will have a larger pair here. At best, van Hoof will be flipping. (To be fair, given Smith’s active table presence, there are times when van Hoof might expect Smith to bite the 1.8 million and fold). Whatever the case, van Hoof had the correct read that he was flipping or better and the cards played out in his favor. 

Portrait of regret. So close...

"Anyway it worked.” 

Operative thought: f---.

The other story of the night was Newhouse, who surprised everyone (including himself) by repeating as a Main Event final table contender. I was interested to listen to his interview with Bernard Lee, in which he described the pain he felt when people congratulated him at the table on his ninth-place 2013 Main Event finish. This considerable accomplishment was diminished by the fact that all players are paid ninth place money in July and thus falling first in November makes the months of preparation and anticipation meaningless. 
Going into the 2014 Main Event, Newhouse had had a dispiriting 0-17 run in WSOP events, although cash table games brought him close to even for the series. He spoke of feeling much less anxiety this go round––whereas he had essentially folded his way to the final table in 2013, Newhouse opened up his game after taking chip leader status on Day Five. His calculated bossing took advantage of poker’s biggest bubble and ensured that he would have a viable stack heading toward the home stretch. 

Newhouse was involved in the critical Day 7 hand that popped the final table bubble, eliminating Mexican contender Luis Velador in 10th place. With 12 million behind, Bruno Politano woke up with pocket tens and raised to 900,000. Newhouse (18m) smooth-called from the button holding pocket fives and the short-stacked Velador decided to go all-in for his last 6 million with pocket fours. Newhouse’s call was not easy, even after Politano conservatively elected not to risk half his stack and folded his superior holding. In the end, the prospect of bringing a mentally draining week of poker to an end (and adding significantly to his stack) took precedence and he made the call. The call was pretty standard in this situation, considering what Newhouse had already invested in the pot and Politano’s dead money. If he lost the hand, Newhouse  would still have a marginally healthy stack of more than 20 big blinds. He might well have folded in 2013, but the 2014 edition Newhouse was willing to take a calculated risk and it paid off. 

Larrabe - excited that moment of truth is at hand; Velador and Newhouse behind. 

Going into the final table, I have to put Newhouse as a clear favorite to win it all. I also believe that Jacobson may find a way to stay alive and, with a key double up, could make a convincing bid for the bracelet. Newhouse and Jacobson are definitely the players with the experience and temperament to be “in the zone” from the very start of what will inevitably be a nerve wracking event for many. If luck favors the active van Hoof, I have no doubt that he has the closing ability to take down the victory as well. A dark horse to watch for is New Jersey native and live game veteran William Tonking (15m), who displayed an impressive toughness and resiliency, despite lack of previous WSOP results. 

From the Brazil fans' reactions, you would think Politano had already won.

 Waiting for Colman? Noland Dalla nonplussed. 

Tonking, Sindelar, Jacobson, Politano.

 Pappaconstantinou, Stephenson, van Hoof, Newhouse, Larrabe, Politano. 

WSOP 2014, Day 7 Action

Main Event Final Table is about to start in a few short hours. Just sorted through hundreds of photos. Here are some of my favorite images from Day 7 of the Main Event. Hope you enjoy. I’ll post a WSOP preview article in a couple hours. I’ll also put together an article about HOF induction of Daniel Negreanu at Binions, which I had the pleasure to attend last night. 

 Jorryt van Hoof - fearless.

Brian Devonshire felted as Pappaconstantinou & Jacobson go about their business.

Leif Force tries to get a read on Jacobson.

Heartbroken: Leif Force out in 21st and interviewed by Cara Scott. 

Dan Smith and November Nine bubble boy Luis Velador would face heartbreaks of their own.

Newhouse plays it cool. 

William Pappaconstantinou & Martin Jacobson. 

Newhouse stacks and Dan Smith chats with Iaron Lightbourne, as Brian Roberts is eliminated. 

Yorane Kerignard, who has received an almost fatal blow,  grimace-smiles at Andoni Larrabe.

 Jorryt van Hoof and Martin Jacobson.

 Politano marches on. 

 Andoni Larrabe awaits flop with Scott Mahin.

Larrabe victorious, Scott Mahin felted in 18th.

Brazilian Scooby and the drug sniffing German Shepard hang out at NJoy booth.  

Scooby whips the crowd into ecstasy. 

Maximilian Senft Eliminated in 11th Place. Newhouse & Politano happy. 

Newhouse, Jacobson, & Politano - almost there. 

Poker enthusiast Damon Shulenberger covered the WSOP series in 2014. He has recently secured an agent for the mystery-thriller Arisugawa Park and plans to release “A Very Dark Game - Inside Poker’s Million Dollar Tournament” in December. The latter book provides a ringside look at the 2014 One Drop tournament and includes stories on participants such as Dan Colman, Guy Laliberte, Daniel Negreanu, Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Ivey, Dan “Jungleman” Cates, and the Macau Boys.