DEFENDING THE TITLE

As the World Series of Poker Main Event began on Saturday one player took his seat trying to achieve the impossible.

Pius Heinz

Pius Heinz

When Pius Heinz of Germany held aloft his winner’s bracelet last November, he entered poker folklore as the 42nd winner of the Main Event, which is the dream of most players from every country around the world.

Aside from the financial reward, the prestige and the associated sponsorship (Heinz is now part of Team PokerStars Pro), it also automatically labels you as one of the best in the world and, as far as your career is concerned, a marked man, with every opponent you ever take on looking for the story to tell – that they took on the best and won.

The fate of defending champions has usually been elimination in their comeback year, albeit to the applause of a knowledgeable and appreciative poker community that salutes its greats.

Back in the late 1980s, Johnny Chan was the last player to win back-to-back titles, and almost made it a third but for the youngest ever winner at the time, Phil Hellmuth, getting in his way. Before Chan came the incomparable Stu Ungar who would win back-to-back Main Events in 1980 and 81 (before adding a third title in 1997). The only other double winners are Doyle Brunson (1976 and 77) and Johnny Moss (1970 and 71).

It means the task ahead of Heinz is a difficult one, made more so by the constant scrutiny he will endure until he is eliminated.
That said it’s not impossible. In 2004 defending champion Greg Raymer made it all the way through to 25th place, which given the increased field size over the previous year, was a phenomenal achievement.

That year it was Joe Hachem who went on to win the title. A thoughtful player aware of his place in the game’s history, Hachem’s return in 2006 was documented in the French made documentary “That’s Poker” which examined the Australian’s thought process as he returned to the Rio. He wouldn’t disappoint, reaching 238th place (from a field of 8,773 players), to a standing ovation.

At the end of the first day the reigning champion had nearly 40,000. Ovation or otherwise, Heinz’s fate will be determined in the coming days.

HEITMANN’S IS A SKILL GAME

Jan Heitmann 2012 Pca World Cup Day 2 Joe Giron Gir8368

Jan Heitmann

German player Jan Heitmann was among those busting from the Main Event of the World Series of Poker on what is the penultimate day, before the final nine return in October.

As well as being an accomplished magician and pianist, Heitmann is a good-natured, talented and conscientious player, who while the remaining 27 players were thinking ahead to their own glory, he was considering the pressure of what it would mean to win a second title for Germany, following the performance of Pius Heinz in 2011.

“There are so many good poker players in Germany and poker is semi-exploding there, and I’m happy to represent all of those good poker players. But I would really like to take it to the next step,” said Heitmann.

“A second German champion would be huge in Germany. You could do all the talk shows and get the public to know that poker is a skill game. It might affect the legalisation and everything.

“Making the final table would be enough to do that,” said Heitmann, before adding with a grin “after that I can think about winning for myself, because I need the money and stuff.”

Alas, Heitmann was eliminated in 26th place, behind one of two other Germans, Nicco Maag, who departed in 27th. But despite leaving earlier than he hoped, Heitmann’s performances should be noted for what it was – a perfect demonstration of skill and talent, played in the best possible spirit.
Heitmann is a perfect ambassador for poker not just in Germany, but around the world.

OPTIMISM AND PESSIMISM AT PPA MEETING

The Poker Players Alliance staged a Town Hall meeting at the Rio hotel last weekend, updating members and players of the current status of online poker across the United States.

Among those addressing the audience was Congressman Joe Barton (R-Texas), a sponsor of H.R.2366, the Bill considered to be the best hope for a change to the law on a federal level.Known as the Online Poker Act, the Bill could, in Barton’s words, pass very quickly or not at all, such is the unpredictability of the political system.
“It’s all about timing in Washington,” said Barton. “We have the bill in place. It’s just a matter of getting it on the agenda by July. It’s imperative we do that.”

The July deadline is crucial, otherwise various obstacles will appear, not least a Presidential election in November.

Despite obvious impediments the PPA remains the most effective lobby group for players in the US, gradually turning the political tide in favour of their aims. Executive Director of the PPA John Pappas was optimistic about the organisation’s progress.

“Back in 2006 when Black Friday occurred, the vote was a 3-to-1 margin against,” said Pappas. “In the five to six years we’ve pushed for this bill, we have come close to reversing that opinion. It may not be a 3-to-1 ratio, but we have more than enough votes to get it passed.”

Despite glimmers of hope, including the steps taken in Nevada and Delaware, many attendees were still angered by the status quo.

“This is prohibition all over again,” said one member of the audience. “It’s just so stupid not to be allowed to play poker online in the privacy of your home. I’m just plain sick of the way our government is run.”

NEW YORK COURT TOLD POKER IS SKILL GAME

The debate over poker’s status as a skill game surfaced in a New York courtroom this week, when an expert witness said poker was a skill game, in the defence of a man accused of illegal gambling.

The case, which was heard in a Brooklyn Federal Court, centred on the defendant Lawrence DiChristina, who stands accused of running an illegal poker game on Staten Island, which attracted high stakes players from across New York and New Jersey.DiChristina’s defence attorney, Kannan Sandaram, called on Randal Heeb, formerly of Yale University and France’s INSEAD Business School, to explain how playing poker for money does not constitute illegal gambling.

Quoting analysis from “vast amounts of data” Heeb claimed to have sided with the consensus among the poker community that players rely on skill and ability to success.

“Skill predominates over chance in poker,” Heeb said.

As an article in the New York Post reported, Heeb’s convictions follow analysis of 415 million hands of Texas hold’em, which he used to determine that “skilful players are overwhelmingly more likely to win… than unskilful players.”

Heeb added that poker is now central to researchers developing artificial intelligence, and is of further value in the classroom, where Heeb formerly used poker to teach graduate students at Yale School of Management.

Ultimately, the case will go down to the decision of Judge Jack Weinstein, who while believing it to be an “interesting question” will be bound by the law, one that he believed the law included playing poker for money in the Illegal Gambling Business Act.

“It may be that Congress was embarrassed and put poker in because they were all playing it,” Weinstein said, to the amusement of the court room.
Read the full story in the New York Post.

POKER IN THE PSYCHOLOGY CLASSROOM

School Books Apple SmallAn article on the Card Player website this week features an interview with Dr Daniel DeBrule, an assistant professor at University South Bend, who teaches “Poker: Behavioural, Clinical, Cognitive and Social Concepts” to a class of 30 undergraduates.

In a similar vein to that of Charlie Nesson, the Harvard Law Professor, who uses poker in his teaching, DeBrule, 34, uses his background in clinical psychology with the aim of further legitimizing poker.

According to DeBrule, psychology has for years been an important part of poker, but analysis of what that actually means is missing.

“It’s a tricky thing because psychology is so multi-faceted,” says DeBrule, who invites professional poker players to speak to students. “You have biological psychology, clinical, social, experimental, developmental. There are so many layers to it.”

The interview, with Brian Pempus, discusses such things as emotional balance, control, superstition and tilt, all of which could potentially be brought under control by a little effort on the part of the player.

Ready to sign-up for class? Read the full interview on the Card Player website.