Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Phil Ivey Suing Full Tilt, Won't Play WSOP

A dramabomb did detonate on the first day of the 2011 World Series of Poker. It just wasn't the one anyone expected.

For weeks, the poker community has been speculating as to which members of Team Full Tilt would show up at the WSOP and whether or not they would don the red and white patches that have become synonymous with their public personae. Although former Full Tilt president Howard Lederer did return to the United States a few days ago to attend to a personal matter (his mother's memorial service), most folks in media row believe he wouldn't dare show his face inside the Rio until a plan was in place for Full Tilt's U.S. customers to be paid out. Other Team Full Tilters, however, weren't quite as concerned about potential face-to-face confrontations at the Rio with angry players. I spotted a patchless Phil Gordon early this afternoon at the Bad Beat on Cancer booth. A few hours later I saw John Juanda in the satellite area and he was wearing a patch. The $25,000 heads-up event that began at 5 p.m. today was littered with red pros, many of them logoed up including Erick Lindgren, Patrik Antonius, Brandon Adams, Huck Seed, David Benyamine and Juanda. Lederer didn't play, of course. Neither did Chris Ferguson or Andy Bloch. But the most glaring absence was Phil Ivey. This is a man with some serious bracelet bets, not to mention a solid favorite against the field.

As Dutch blogger Remko "happyfreaked" Rinkema wrote on his Twitter account earlier today, "Biggest upset of the first day is obviously Phil Ivey not showing up. Is he out for the summer?"

Turns out, he is.

As the first round of the $25k drew to a close, Ivey posted a statement on his official Facebook page that ignited a frenzy. Although the veracity of the statement was briefly in doubt, it was quickly confirmed by the Entities at Wicked Chops Poker via a conversation with Ivey's manager. Released in six parts, here is the complete text:

For many years, I have been proud to call myself a poker player. This great sport has taken me to places I only imagined going and I have been blessed with much success. It is therefore with deep regret that I believe I am compelled to release the following statement.

I am deeply disappointed and embarrassed that Full Tilt players have not been paid money they are owed. I am equally embarrassed that as a result many players cannot compete in tournaments and have suffered economic harm.

I am not playing in the World Series of Poker as I do not believe it is fair that I compete when others cannot. I am doing everything I can to seek a solution to the problem as quickly as possible.

My name and reputation have been dragged through the mud, through the inactivity and indecision of others and on behalf of all poker players I refuse to remain silent any longer. I have electronically filed a lawsuit against Tiltware related to the unsettled player accounts. As I am sure the public can imagine, this was not an easy decision for me.

I wholeheartedly refuse to accept non-action as to repayment of players funds and I am angered that people who have supported me throughout my career have been treated so poorly.

I sincerely hope this statement will ignite those capable of resolving the problems into immediate action and would like to clarify that until a solution is reached that cements the security of all players, both US and International, I will, as I have for the last six weeks, dedicate the entirety of my time and efforts to finding a solution for those who have been wronged by the painfully slow process of repayment.
In a word, (well, actually two,) holy shit.

Ivey's page was immediately flooded with supportive statements from players and fans. It's the first official word anyone's heard regarding the payout situation from a member Team Full Tilt, who have all supposedly been muzzled by lawyers. Ivey, no doubt, has a substantial sum of his own money tied up on the site. The seven-figure-per-month dividend checks have stopped coming. So why not file a lawsuit? Not only is it a good PR move to do Bill Clinton's "I feel your pain" routine and align himself with the disgruntled U.S. players, but he's also one of the (very) few Full Tilt Pros who can actually continue to support himself in the lifestyle he's grown accustomed to by playing poker. Ivey loves the game, he'll put in the hours, and he'll take on anyone. Did Howard Lederer cart his bags of money over to Bellagio and step up to the plate in high-stakes cash games over the last couple of years? Of course not. And why would he? Lederer is smart enough to understand that at this point, he lacks any sort of edge in those lineups.

Ivey's statement, however, was not the only drama circling Team Full Tilt today. After losing his Round 1 match to David "Bakes" Baker in the $25k, 2010 WSOP-Europe Main Event champ James Bord hung out on the rail and waited for John Juanda to finish his match before confronting him with a barrage of obscenities. I believe the words "thieving prick" and "disgusting human being" were tossed around before Bord threatened to attack Juanda in the parking lot. Security intervened, and the two were physically separated.

It will be interesting in the next few days to see if similar confrontations pop up. I'm never one to condone violence, but people are angry, quite a few are broke, and after 45 days without moving even a small step closer to returning player balances, they want answers. They're mad as hell, they're not going to take it anymore, and today, Phil Ivey was effectively canonized as their patron saint. Could other Full Tilters fall in step? Yeah... somehow I doubt that. The situation, however, is reaching UB proportions and will grow worse by the day inside this building until someone from Full Tilt other than a low-level PR monkey steps up and starts communicating.

Slow news day, huh?


11:45pm: Pauly, Benjo and I recorded a Tao of Pokerati podcast on the Ivey/Juanda drama. Check out Episode 2: Ivey suing Full Tilt and Juanda harassed.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Darkness on the Edge of Town

I'm seated on a camping chair in the cement-and-gravel backyard of my seventh Las Vegas residence in six summers. It's so perfectly clear and pleasant outside I could almost weep. I hear a bird chirp and it reminds me of the dead one Pauly found next to the back wall only minutes after we arrived. I know that there's another bird carcass around the corner beyond the padlocked fence painted a shade on the lighter end of the cream-to-adobe spectrum that covers nearly every square inch of surface, man-made or not, in the Las Vegas Valley. Taking a look at our parched surroundings on the edge of town it's not difficult to figure out their cause of death.

The din of Los Angeles had been eating at my patience over the last six weeks I spent there-- the leaf blowers, circular saws, and car alarms, the bickering couple upstairs and their boundlessly energetic kitten, the can fairies pillaging the dumpster outside our bedroom window, and the relentless crush of traffic, whatever the hour. It's quiet out here, save for the goat that woke Pauly and Benjo early this morning. Apparently a few of them live in the rogue structure behind our subdivision in a fenced-off square of land. I'm enjoying the brief silence before turning my life over to the World Series of Poker for the sixth straight year less than 24 hours from now.

Although I know my frame of mind will undoubtedly change over the next few days, there's just something more zen about my outlook as I approach the Series. I'd say about 90% of that is due to the fact that I'm no longer a slave to live updates. What I will be doing at the WSOP in terms of media will reveal itself in the coming days and I will certainly be playing a lot more than I have been able to in past years. I look forward to being able to write within a different structure, one far more akin my first WSOP than the five that followed. And as usual, if you're snapped wearing a heinous outfit-- it's not slander if it's the truth!

I keep going back to a conversation I had in a bar back in Los Angeles earlier this year.

"Something big is going to happen at the WSOP this year, I can feel it," she said.

I didn't believe her at the time. The media veteran in me won out. But it was also two months before Black Friday.

I'll see you at the Rio.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Jack Tripper Stole My Dog: Available Now on Amazon

What does the title mean? Read it to find out.

Who publishes two books in a year?

Pauly, that's who! I'm all at once flabbergasted, inspired, and proud of my beloved.

While Lost Vegas covered his real-life experiences over four years at the World Series of Poker, Jack Tripper Stole My Dog is (thankfully) a work of fiction. You'll understand why I said "thankfully" when you hit Chapter 5. The tale of Russian cab driver Ivan, the women in his life and the passengers he ferries around Manhattan, JTSMD also paints a portrait of New York City one year post-9/11. It's funny, it's salacious, it's offensive, it's heartfelt, and it's available now in paperback on Amazon.com. A Kindle/e-pub version is forthcoming and expected in mid-June.

Pauly and I recorded a short podcast where I spoke to him about his creative process and the aforementioned Chapter 5. You can listen to it here.

Click here to buy a copy!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

WSOP Flashback: Leaving Los Angeles, 2008

I was told on more than one occasion that the "jail sentence" metaphor I conjured up in this post led to my eventual sacking from a certain media outlet more than two years later (can you concieve of a more bullshit excuse?). Nevertheless, I believe it speaks honestly to what we all feel around this time each year as we prepare to bunker down for seven weeks in Las Vegas.

Desert Calling
originally posted 5/26/2008

In many ways, it's like preparing for a jail sentence. You get your affairs in order, leave sets of instructions, close up the house, give the keys to its caretaker. You say goodbye to your loved ones and warn them that you may not call a lot because the hours are messed up and one day tends to bleed into another as the sun rises and falls, rises and falls over the parched Nevada desert. You know that in a week's time words like Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday will cease to matter; only Day 1, Day 2, Day 3. You know that 2 a.m. will, at some point start to feel like 2 p.m., that meals will happen whenever there is time, and that little time at all will be spent in the scorching outdoors.

Your new home is a room the size of an airplane hangar cooled to the temperature of a refrigerator and you'll spend over 500 hours serving time in there over the next seven weeks. You've committed no crime, but you're a repeat offender. You know the consequences, you understand how punishing the grind will be. But you're still drawn there. Drawn to the lights in the desert. Drawn to the clatter of chips and the promise of fortune and the patches of darkness that lurk around every corner of the city. Year after year. Summer after summer. Three of them now.

The sun, unforgiving. The heat, persistent. Oppressive. Unfathomably dry. The valley, overflowing with identical tract houses in various states of construction or foreclosure. The roads, newer and wider the further you drive away from the highway. Mile upon mile of chain restaurants, discount superstores, anonymous office parks, and subdivision after subdivision after subdivision. The Strip, it's grimy sidewalks sizzling, overflowing with tourists from California, from St. Louis, from North Carolina, from Utah, from London from Stockholm from Melbourne. They come to escape. To gamble. To get married. To find Elvis. They come to see America. They come seeking a dream. They come seeking a quick fix. They leave and come back, leave and come back. But always come back. They always come back. I always come back.

We wonder how we got here, how any of us got here, and why, after all we know, we continue to return. On every drive through the desert I wonderwhat were those slings and arrows of fate that turned me off Wilshire Boulevard and onto this two-lane highway?

24 hours. To pack, to prepare. To plot. To brace. To sleep. To inhale those final lungfulls of ocean air and enjoy the comfort of a cool breeze.

The lights in the desert are calling. I have to answer.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Hairy Situation

Dear Juniors,

It this were any other restaurant, I probably wouldn't be writing this letter. But the fact is, I grew up around the corner from here and have been a customer since I could walk. I blew out candles on birthday cakes from your bakery. My parents used to bring home your chicken soup where I was sick. I've never, ever sent a plate back at Junior's and as my boyfriend (and dinner companion) mentioned to me, he's never seen me send a plate back at any restaurant we've patronized in the five years we've been together. Yesterday, however, while grabbing an early dinner at your establishment, I had to send my turkey burger back not once, but twice. It's pretty easy to tell when a turkey burger has been undercooked. The inside shouldn't be pink at all. And two bites in to this half-pound monster, a swath of chewy, pink, uncooked meat greeted me.

So I sent it back. My waitress was quite gracious about it and returned about five minutes later with the same patty, re-grilled, on a fresh bun. Unfortunately, although the outside was nearly blackened by now, the center was still not cooked through. So I sent it back again, and with my boyfriend now finished with his meal, I asked for the burger to be wrapped up to go. The waitress presented me with a fresh one and asked if I wanted to check it before I left. I said I trusted her. Big mistake.

When I returned home twenty minutes later and sat down at my dining table to finally eat my dinner, I found not one, but several black hairs inside the burger, which I clearly wasn't eating now, but for which I'd still paid about $20 when tax and tip are figured in.

I don't wish anything in return except for the money my boyfriend paid for the meal I was never able to eat. You also might want to look into the gentleman operating your grill around 6:00 pm on Sunday, who was apparently so offended at my criticism of his culinary skills that he decided to cover my turkey burger with hair from some unspeakable orifice.

It really does sadden me that after more than 30 years, I may never eat here again. And after reading this, I think you can understand why I've lost my appetite for Juniors.



P.S.-- And to the man who put hair in my burger I say this-- don't you know that shit doesn't fly anymore in the age of social media?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Media Banned from Playing WSOP Bracelet Events

Via a tweet from Lee "@Chingster23" Davy it leaked out this morning that an "unwritten" WSOP rule forbids credentialed members of the media from playing WSOP bracelet events.

"Just been informed by WSOP that I cannot play in a WSOP event if I am also going to carry out Media work. Just saved myself a lot of money," he wrote.

I guess the year of the poker media is over, at least when it comes to World Series events.

I've spent the last five summers doing nothing but promote the WSOP. I've spent every June evening since 2006 grinding out live updates, and now the powers that be are telling me and everyone else who has worked their ass off on media row that their money is no longer welcome in the Amazon Room. And in such a circuitous way. When, exactly were we going to find out about this "unwritten rule" had Chingster23 not brought it to everyone's attention? Before or after we picked up our credentials three weeks from now?

Playing in a WSOP event is the highlight of the summer for many members of the poker media. It's a needed reprieve from the grind of reporting and a rare opportunity to live in the world we spend our days writing about from the sidelines. Sure, Harrah's will gladly take the media's money when they charge us $8 for a stale pizza at 1 AM, but should they want to plunk down a grand to take a shot at the dream they are really selling-- a bracelet-- that money is no longer welcome. Or, as Pauly said to me a few minutes ago, "Poker is a game of skill. They don't want you to play that. But they have no problem with you donking off your paycheck at craps or pai gow. Or in my case, they'll gladly take your sports bets."

A lot of us in the media rely on poker to supplement our income. We make barely enough to get by as it is. Even those lucky to have jobs or a few paying freelance clients have seen our paychecks shrink up significantly over the last year. Now, with online poker no longer an option for those of us living in the U.S. (as well as the foreign media working at the WSOP-- they can't play from Vegas either) we're left to make that money up in live games. I know I was planning on grinding a lot more this summer to cover my expenses. Now I'll just have to take my business across the street to the Venetian.

Oh, wait! But satellites and cash games are OK! Hold on... I can play a satellite for a WSOP event, but I can't play the event itself? What the fuck am I supposed to do with my lammers then, since selling them is technically illegal? There's another "unwritten rule" for you, or at least that's what I was told both times I was busted by security last year for doing just that-- a practice as old as WSOP satellites themselves. Why, then would I choose to give Harrah's my rake in the cash games when there are plenty of other options?

The WSOP knocked over a hornet's nest with this one. They broke the cardinal rule- don't upset people with pens or a platform. Just as I was getting excited about my annual sojurn to Vegas, that "pilgrimage" Ty Stewart so elegantly described on this morning's media conference call, I'm finding nothing but a bad taste in my mouth.


2:42pm: Well that took only ninety minutes. See what happens when the poker media actually works together? I got a voicemail from WSOP pooh-bah Seth Palansky just a bit ago reassuring me that I'd be able to play bracelet events this summer. He followed it up with this two-part tweet from the @wsop account:
"Is it too late to say April Fools Poker Media? (j/k) I screwed up. I hear you. We'll come up with an alternative that lets u do both. Give me a day to vet, but I think there's a way to do this that is more fair. Will provide details as soon as we can, but please rest easy."
Thank you, WSOP for listening. And thank you, poker media for a quick, decisive response.