Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Greatest Poker Prediction of All Time

When we first conceived of the idea of The Poker show, we knew it wasn’t happening without Padraig Parkinson. Padraig’s wit and WSOP spirit, not to mention his poker credibility, were key to both carrying the show and helping us to secure guests.  Padraig is the only guy I know who can both completely take the pis out of someone without them realizing it, and then later when they do realize he was taking the pis out of them they find it funny to boot. It’s a unique skill set.  Unfortunately for Padraig, he also possesses the skill set of being able to play poker, and quite early on in 2005 it was clear that The Poker Show and Padraig’s chances of winning a bracelet were going to have trouble coexisting over the course of the summer.

I took him down for the count on a 124 degree day early on, when we rented a 1960’s convertible and spent the day at the Neon Boneyard with no bottles of water.  Padraig never recovered from the heatstroke.

It’s not like taking Padraig out of the WSOP was inconsequential. The WSOP main event means the world to Padraig, he was 3rd in 1999 and usually spends several months a year before the main event getting in shape by eating right and going off the drink. Here’s a chat from 2004, steeped in the history of the Binion’s Horseshoe coffee shop. The whole interview is gold, but this snippet may give a little insight into the reverence Padraig has for the institution of the WSOP.  You can also read a great Q&A Padraig did just this week with Nolan Dalla, Facing the Firing Squad .

I’d like to think The Poker Show was worth it if only because of Off The Wall. We wanted to have a segment in the show that was Padraig’s alone, and he came up with this idea.  Like much of the show, we would film Off The Wall with no script, no plan, and no idea where Padraig was going to take it before it happened. This Off The Wall segment was one of my favorites, because it was so unexpected, so brilliant, and it generated so much buzz.  Our audience was literally up in arms with who Padraig decided to make his first victim, but as Padraig never failed to say with a straight face, it was the voter’s decision and we were as shocked and disgusted with the result as everyone else.
Myself, though, I call it the greatest prediction in the history of poker. For who besides Padraig Parkinson could have foretold that the first modern poker hero to be shunned in disgrace would be the same one who literally came, Off The Wall.  Take that, Bub.

The Poker Show - Barny Boatman

From 2005, The Poker Show continues. Barny was one of our big supporters, and favorite guests. His humor is always spot on. This is the first time he appeared on The Poker Show, and inspired what was to come later on.

Monday, 10 June 2013

The Poker Show 3 - Mel Judah

From the WSOP 2005, The Poker Show continues. With Mel Judah, Beat the Bookie, Mike Sexton on Stu Ungar, and Padraig Parkinson in blinding form.

Let's Get this Over With

There’s a special kind of player at the WSOP.  It’s the guys who play every bracelet tournament. I’m talking every single one. This started in earnest in 2005, that crazy year that combined unlimited sponsorship dollars with unlimited events.  Full Tilt Poker brought the money in carrier bags and their proud men and ladies burned it like bonfires.

I remember watching the 5k buy-in deuce to seven no-limit event that year. But I didn’t stick around for anything beyond the first few levels. I just wanted to watch the rebuy period. They were letting people do the double rebuys that year, and because all elements of proprietary had jumped into the trough with the pig and were bathing themselves in glistening mud, Ivey and Ferguson and the crew were going all-in every hand and then spinning forth two orange 5k chips with their hands raised and loading up another two barrels.  Sixty-five runners produced over 200 buy-ins that year, and you can bet that at least half the field was on a single bullet. I’m positive that when Harrah’s has a meeting of the top brass, those bigwigs who might not know poker but are maestros of the charts and the graphs, I’m sure at least once every year there is some fellow who clears his throat and asks, “Can someone please explain to me again why we can’t bring back those 5k rebuy events? Because they were phenomenal!”

But back to 2013. The stats may or may not bear this out, but from where I’m sitting it seems like more people are playing every event at this WSOP than ever before. Usually there are ten, maybe twenty guys who either have the bracelet bets or pretend they do, players who find an excuse to justify playing not just many events, not most events, but every single one. This year it feels like there are fifty, or one hundred, or some weird conglomeration of every god forsaken dollar.  Maybe it has something to do with the streamlining of the staking, swapping, and percentage business, and maybe it’s something about the new poker economy.  I did not see it coming.  

But it’s clearly time for the WSOP to put a new bracelet event on the schedule, preferably towards the end of the series.  Forget the millionaire maker.  This event will be called, “Let’s Get this Over With.”  And in this tournament, players can reenter and reenter again. And they can keep reentering for as long as they like. Until they are done. The reentry window simply never closes. The tournament isn’t over until Jason Mercier and Phil Ivey say it’s over. I’m not really sure who’d win.  But it would easily be the most entertaining viewing of the summer.   

Here’s a column from around this time in 2005…  


There are several levels of being tired, and poker players tend to experience them all.  There is tired as in I want to go to sleep, which is the first level.  There is tired as in I can’t go to sleep, which is somewhere about the fourth level.  And then there is tired as in I’m sleeping even when I’m awake, and I hesitate to even give that level a number except to say that you usually don’t know you’re there until long after the fact, and it usually involves losing every dollar available.  One of the corollaries to gambling, however, seems to be that it’s hard to sleep when you’re winning and harder to sleep when you’re losing, but you sleep like a baby when you have no money at all, so at least if you find yourself unfortunate to have reached the last level then I hope for your sake that the room has already been paid.  This is what a poker player has got to overcome, and over the course of the World Series of Poker it’ll become obvious how to separate out the guys who regard themselves as professional poker players and the ones who are no more than gamblers.  Like a tree, just count the rings round their eyes.

One of the interesting things about this year’s World Series of Poker is that there’s never been a seven week poker festival.  Year after year you see guys stagger into the main event with eyes big as saucers, and the finish line is not winning the championships of the world, the finish line is please, lord, let me go to sleep!  I’m not sure who’s planning a big poker festival for the end of July, but methinks there will be a whole lot of regrouping going on, and not much action.

That all said, because the tournament fields are so large this year, there’s a whole load of players who bust out early, as half or more of tournament entrants will not even survive the first dinner break.  While driving into the Rio today to pick up someone with just that fate, I had an opportunity to witness what is the modern exit of today’s tournament poker player.  In the old days when you busted out of a tournament, the accepted thing to do was to head to either the rail or the bar to find some sotted up soul on whom to pour out your bad beat story, your moment of pain at the end of a tournament.  But that just doesn’t work in 2005, here at the Rio, at the World Series of Poker.  First of all, there is no bar.  There’s a stand that pops up for a few hours a day, a cardboard fa├žade with Mike the barman standing behind and a cooler of ice and beers that he’s selling for $5.75 a pop, but try leaning up against it and you’ll knock it right down.  And there is no rail, not really, just a huge expanse of tables with a few places to stand, with people milling about like they’re in a barn at an annual tractor convention and viewing prize winning pigs. 

Times change, and maybe it’s for the better, and today I seized on the way that the modern day poker player busts out of a tournament, because as I sat in my car watching the players hotfooting it out the door, eight out of nine had the exact same idea.  They were all head pressed to their cell phone on the way out of the tournament door, screaming the injustices of flop, turn and river to a poor fool on the other end who had a made a grave mistake of their own.  I’ll warn you right now.  You who are at home, you who have a friend or loved one in Las Vegas attending the championships, you who might be curious as to how they are doing, you who might wonder how they are getting on.  But just beware.  If your phone rings about 2pm Las Vegas time, just after the start of the second limit, lord don’t you answer.  For as sure as you do, you’ll be subjected to a bad beat story sublime.  And I imagine that’s something we can all live without.

Friday, 7 June 2013

One of Them Days - RIP Spiva

Happy times in Las Vegas running the Ladbrokes Lounge, WSOP 2008

UK poker lost a friend today. His name was Steven Bennett.  His name was Steven Bennett but even if you knew him, and a lot of people did, even if you knew him chances are you didn’t know that was his name. I’ve known the guy eight years, and just last month when I heard he’d taken ill, I had to ask, what’s his real name again? And it’s not that I don't consider him a close friend.  It’s just that he was simply Spiva. Or Spiv. Or Spivver. I don’t think anyone could even agree on how it was spelled.  But maybe that fact summed up everything about the man.  Spiva didn’t mind. He was as easygoing as the sunshine on a clear blue day. He was a man who smiled, and laughed, and nodded, and thought about what he could do to help you out.   

Spiva was one of the guys behind the scenes who helped to make televised poker. In the beginning he was just an extension of Mad Marty Wilson, lord I think they were best friends since about the age of seventeen, and when Mad Marty was called upon to populate the televised one table tournaments like the UK Opens and the Poker Millions and the World Opens and the Sports Stars Challenges, Spiva was the guy in the Green room, teaching the qualifiers and the celebrities who didn’t know a flush from a fish head how to get into that studio and have a chance to win.  He counted chips, he fetched sundries, he ran the cash satellites back at the hotel, he ferried the tables and the chairs and played security as part of the Matchroom support team that made televised poker happen over the last eight years.  

Spiva came up out of the Midlands, Wolverhampton and Bridgnorth, and he had a lifelong career as a gambler, as a grafter, and as a man who knew how to get things done. He would make bets, he would lay bets, and he would run games and satellites and set up tournaments wherever there was a need.  He could be tournament director, floorman, dealer, driver, teacher or listener of bad beats. He didn’t get rattled, he didn’t get fazed, and he wasn’t above or below getting the job done. 

But of course Spiva was much more, more to me, and more to anybody who ever came into contact with him over the years. Just talk to the poker and gambling community in the Midlands, where Spiva was pretty much an institution unto himself, a godfather of the downtrodden, of the broke and the busted, of those trying to make their scratch in a harsh environment. Spiva was the guy who took care of the team, he was the one that found jobs for those who were low, he was the one that found loans for those who were needy, he was the guy with the heart of gold that gave anybody and everybody just one more chance though their world had turned sour. There was one thing you always knew about Spiva. He was only in it because he knew he could do it with a conscience. He was the guy that did it with heart.
Premier League Poker in Las Vegas with his best friend Mad Marty
Don’t talk to me about honest. I’m as bitter and twisted as they come. But not Spiva. In a dank and dire world, Spiva was as straight as a line. Recently we were story swapping about the old days, when TV poker was a house of cards built of Lincoln logs from greasy fivers piled up into cadaver qualifiers from a man and a van.  We were laughing about a night that was a 24-hour cash game out in a low slung studio warehouse in the middle of Kent.  It was a night after a week after who knows how long of exhaustion, and the team was running on fumes, a 24-hour straight shift tacked onto the back of a grind that had everybody sleeping on the Green room couch in shifts, bleary eyed and addled, while a high stakes cash game was being played out on the set. Spiva was in charge of the cash, stacks and bags of pounds and dollars, bank wires and IOU’s in a coffee stained notebook that had as much chance of evening up at the end as a dart thrown in the wind.  

“And you know the most scared I’ve ever been in this televised poker?” He laughed at me as we were winding down in Barcelona a few months ago. “It’s when Eddie Hearn came walking into the studio at four o’clock in the morning from a nap in his car and said, 'Spiv, give me that ten thousand pounds.'” The money, of course was a buy-in from a player at the table, but as Spiv said, “Didn’t I give it to you, Eddie? Didn’t I give it to you earlier?” 

Now there wasn’t a person in the room who could remember what had happened five minutes before, much less hours ago, we were every single one of us on zombie patrol.  But what scared Spiva more than anything had nothing to do with the money.  What he was terrified about was that if it didn’t get found, that somebody might think that he had taken it.  All’s well that ends well.  The money was found, misplaced by Eddie himself on about no sleep in four days and no memory like the rest of us. It was funny at the time, but in his retelling I feel the pride Spiva took in himself, and how his integrity, that was his stone.

Spiva didn’t smoke and he mostly didn’t drink. I almost never saw him touch the stuff.  In the eight years I knew him I saw him drink maybe twice, and both times he got plastered. But he was one of the funniest and most fun drunks that I ever knew.  It brought him a bit out of his shell, but only in the way that he loved people and loved to laugh.  One time I remember him drinking for sure, hell we all were, was after a World or a UK Open, does anybody know the difference?  It had been a brutal two weeks of fourteen hour days, and we finally had the last night to have some fun, as the final had ended unreasonably quick. The kid who won was an Eastern European office clerk, and by a turn of events he only had about 3% of himself and would not even get that until much later and maybe, so the chance of a tip for the dealers and the boys had been out of the question. We took the kid out to dinner with us anyway, and we paid. It was at a Curry House in town, a big table and a whole lot of food and even more of those double size Tiger bottled beers, and the TV crew was a family back then and we were all in that kind of mood when you knew it probably hadn’t all been worth it, but so what.
And Spiva stood up on the table and serenaded us all with what he claimed was his favorite song. I’m not going to say he had a great voice, but he knew every single word and it was the happiest and most heartfelt rendition of this song, below, that I’ve ever heard.  It fits him perfect.  A lot of people knew Spiva and there wasn’t a one who had a bad word to say.  About as bad as things could get, it was just one of them days, boy.