Archive for July, 2012

PokerStars, Full Tilt Buyout Link and Information Dump

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Today marks the most historic day in poker since Black Friday as the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has issued a press release announcing a $731 million settlement with PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker. All of Full Tilt Poker’s worldwide customers will be repaid in full under the terms of the agreement.

We will continue to update the space below with relevant links and information pertaining to this landmark news.

Relevant Links:

U.S. DOJ official press release
Official PokerStars settlement agreement
PokerTips news article
PokerTips forum discussion thread
FAQ with Lee Jones
Official PokerStars press release
PokerStars corporate blog post
Forbes article
Wall Street Journal article
L.A. Times article
Poker Players Alliance (PPA) Statement
PPA Facebook comment thread
Ray Bitar statement
Full Tilt attorney Jeff Ifrah discusses settlement
TwoPlusTwo NVG Thread
CNN article (featured front page article)
NY Times article

Informational Quick Hits:

  • Stars surrenders $547 million to U.S., will repay another approx. $184 million to non-U.S. players directly.
  • U.S. DOJ will compensate U.S. victims directly.
  • U.S. DOJ will keep some funds surrendered by PokerStars to cover legal claims made by others to Full Tilt assets.
  • Isai Scheinberg, founder of PokerStars, has 45 days to end any management or director role with PokerStars.
  • U.S. players must petition DOJ to receive their money back; specifics of this process presently unclear.
  • Raymond Bitar, Howard Lederer, Rafael Furst, Chris Ferguson are named as civil money-laundering defendants in DOJ complaint.
  • Full Tilt balances of Lederer, Bitar, Ferguson, Furst and Burtnick will not be returned.
  • PokerStars prohibited from operating in U.S., unless it is legal to do so under U.S. law. Theoretically, if future online poker legislation allows firms that violated the UIGEA but settled with the DOJ (or something along those lines), PokerStars/Full Tilt could accept US players again.
  • PokerStars prohibited from hiring any former Full Tilt insiders.
  • Bitar statement: “I am glad that this chapter has closed.”
  • Stars owes U.S. $225 million within six days, $125 million within one year, another $100 million within two years, final $97 million within three years.
  • PokerStars has full access to again and will no longer need to have the DOJ logo for US visitors.
  • All civil money-laundering charges against PokerStars are dismissed.
  • PokerStars plans to re-open Full Tilt Poker, says too early to discuss strategic plans.
  • stock (BPTY.L), owner of Party Poker, closes down 6.8% today on news.
  • June 29, 2011 is official date for Full Tilt refund balances owed.
  • Manhattan’s U.S. attorney Preet Bharara: “Today’s settlements demonstrate that if you engage in conduct that violates the laws of the United States, as we alleged in this case, then even if you are doing so from across the ocean, you will have to answer for that conduct and turn over your ill-gotten gains.”
  • U.S. attorney’s office also asks court to accept an agreement requiring Absolute Poker/UB to forfeit all of its assets

Rumor: PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker Deal Complete

Friday, July 27th, 2012

The latest iteration in a long series of rumors regarding the status of player funds at Full Tilt Poker suggests that a deal with PokerStars has been completed and players will be repaid in full.

Wendeen Eolis reported today for Poker Player Magazine that the negotiations between the U.S. Department of Justice, Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars have come to an end. Said Eolis, “Without giving away the identity of a consistently impeccable resource, it is now safe to say announcements for public dissemination are in the works.”

The rumor has sent the poker world into a buzz as Eolis suggests Full Tilt customers will receive their funds in time for Christmas shopping. Should the rumor be true, it would mean the reimbursement of $390 million back in the hands of Full Tilt customers who have endured a roller coaster of information regarding the status of their funds since Black Friday.

Rumors of a possible buyout of Full Tilt Poker by PokerStars became public in April, just past the one year anniversary of the day the DOJ indicted both poker rooms. That indictment later revealed the unstable nature of Full Tilt’s balance sheet as they were unable to come up with money to fund player cashouts.

Full Tilt Poker CEO Ray Bitar recently turned himself in to U.S. authorities saying that Full Tilt was very near the end of a long road to repay players. Bitar was indicted along with 10 other men on Black Friday.

A public statement from PokerStars is being anticipated in order to confirm the rumors.

“starvingwriter82″ on the TwoPlusTwo forums posted regarding today’s rumor, “I’m drunk already. I figure it’s the appropriate response regardless of which way this goes down.”

Intoxication seems appropriate, indeed. Players with money stuck on Full Tilt have reason to finally celebrate or numb their pain in any case.

Leaving Las Vegas

Friday, July 13th, 2012

I’m heading out of Vegas soon on a red eye flight after an 11-night stay for the 2012 WSOP. The timing on the departure feels right; I think if I stayed any longer I’d start to wish I wasn’t here.

In my experience in Vegas, it’s always extra-hard to remain focused. On this trip, I tried really hard to emphasize staying focused on fitness, getting work done, playing my best at the poker table, and avoiding pitfalls like pit games and alcohol. For the most part, I did okay. I’d give myself a B. But I didn’t work out quite as hard or quite as often as I had hoped I would, I didn’t eat particularly well at all, I didn’t get as much non-poker work done as I wish I had, and I wasn’t quite as focused at the table as I promised myself I would be (so easy to get distracted by Twitter/etc while playing live poker).

That’s the thing about Vegas, it’s a very distracting city. And unless you have a home here to make things feel “normal”, there’s a constant struggle to stay focused. There’s only so normal and balanced you can keep your life when you’re living in hotels on the Vegas Strip. I’m enough of a Vegas veteran to handle things decently but I still get distracted pretty easily here.

I had only planned on playing two live tournaments here but since I busted out of the WSOP Main Event on day one, I decided to play a $1k buy-in event at Caesars Palace on Wednesday. It was a really good tournament. There were quite a few fishy players and mistakes being made. The most common mistake I saw was people playing too aggressively before the antes kicked in. It’s so easy to just play tight before you’re paying antes and wait for a good hand but a lot of people had a problem with that and spewed chips in marginal situations.

My bustout hand was fairly interesting, so I’ll share the details.

During 800/1600/200, I opened in mid-position to 3,200 with pocket 4s and a stack of 38,000. A fishy Vegas-degen called on the button. We went heads-up to a flop of 832 with two spades. This was one of the best flops I could hope for in which I didn’t hit a set. I decided to check with the plan to raise. My opponent didn’t comply and checked behind. The turn was another 3. I felt certain that if I checked again he would bet 100% of his range which seemed exploitable to me, so I checked again. As expected, he bet 6,200 and I re-raised all-in.

I talked with some people about this hand and the consensus seems to be that I made a mistake by not betting the flop. Someone made the point that he’s not going to raise me on the flop as a bluff very often, so I don’t have to worry about being pushed off my hand. The reason I played the hand a bit unorthodox is that I really did not want to be put in a position to fold since I didn’t have a ton of chips and felt like my hand was pretty strong in this spot. By attempting to check-raise rather than leading out, I got to guarantee I would be the aggressor putting all of my chips in the pot rather than being put in a situation where I might bet and fold a hand I liked.

It turned out my opponent had Queen-Eight (like I said, fishy) and busted me.

Overall I’m pretty happy with how I played on the whole trip. I was definitely a lot more aggressive than usual. I tried to guard against following my initial urge to just check or call in certain situations where it’s better to make a bet (or a raise). I think if you slow down and really think about a lot of situations you’ll find spots where you realize it’s better to be aggressive than passive. I’m not advocating being a maniac, just to guard against playing too ABC/passive by making sure you mix in aggression when appropriate. You can buy a lot of free cards or even induce your opponents to fold just by being more aggressive in certain spots. I think the way to combat against someone playing aggressive is to go for a lot more check-raises for value and try to take advantage of their tendency to put chips in the pot.

I’m flying to Cincinnati to visit my sister for a week and then will be in Indianapolis for a week or two visiting friends. Then I’ll be in the northeast for a couple of weeks visiting my girlfriend and possibly playing some poker tournaments in Connecticut and/or Philadelphia. I decided to travel for a few weeks around the U.S. visiting friends and family rather than going straight back to Mexico since a.) it’s really hot in Mexico right now and b.) I’m not paying rent there at the moment so I don’t feel priced into being there for any reason.

This is probably the longest stretch of living out of a suitcase I’ve ever attempted but hopefully it’ll be fun and productive. It’s fun to come out to Vegas and take a shot in the WSOP but it definitely starts to take its toll on you. I’m looking forward to getting back into a more normal routine and recharging my batteries. Hopefully I’ll make it back out next year and will get all the money.

WSOP Main Event Day One Bustout

Monday, July 9th, 2012

For the first time since 2007, I failed to make it to at least day three of the WSOP Main Event or cash in at least one event during the series. I’m generically disappointed about this, but not super upset or anything. I played my best and that’s all you can really hope to do. Here’s a recap of my day at the WSOP Main Event.

I got off to a scorching start in level one increasing from 30k to 46k without ever dipping below the starting stack or facing any type of a challenging decision. It was a dream level, basically. I won every pot I played, hit flops and got paid off, bluffs went through successfully. Awesome.

Level two started out just the same and I was up to 55k in pretty rapid order. That would be my peak for the tournament.

I started bleeding back down when a couple of bluffs got picked off and a thin value bet with QQ on T9xcc-9c-T got looked up by a flush. (This would be the start of a larger theme of QQ cursing my equity in the tournament).

I was still happy with how I was playing. The hands where I made failed bluffs were good logical spots to take that line. I just ran into the top of my opponents’ ranges. If they have just the median of their range, the bluffs probably work.

After losing a bunch of pots, I was back down to 27k when the following hand came up.

Amnon Filippi raised to 650, I raised to 1,350 with a pair of whores (queens). The flop came Q93cc. He checked, I bet 1800, he called. “Don’t let draws get there, don’t let draws get there,” I was thinking as the dealer burned and turned.

King of clubs on the turn.

Amnon led out for 3,200 leaving himself 5,700 behind. It was an interesting spot because I think you can make a case for folding, calling or raising. I opted for the latter and put Amnon all-in. He wasted little time calling and showed a red Jack-Ten. The board didn’t pair and I was left with 14k after having four times that amount just a short while ago.

I think I made a small mistake raising all-in on the turn rather than just calling. Calling with the plan to call his shove on any brick river (or fold if the river is something like a fourth club or a Jack and he shoves (and shoving those cards as a bluff if he checks)) was probably a slightly more valuable line. But I think it’s really tough to ever just fold in that spot despite my instinct telling me I was beat when he led out on the turn.

I dwindled from 14k down to 8k through a combination of paying blinds and folding to three-bets after opening the pot. During 200/400, I got my chance to double-up. A player made it 800 in early position and two players called. I looked down at pocket biatches (queens) and had a pretty easy shove. A British gentleman who lost a $5 prop bet to me earlier that England is larger than Kansas in terms of square mileage re-raised all-in. I was out of the tournament when he turned a set of Tens to win the 17k pot.

It’s definitely a major bummer to get knocked out of the Main Event, especially on day one, and especially via a bad beat after the day started so promising. But strangely, I’m not that disappointed. I’m actually pleased with myself at how not disappointed I am. Getting knocked out of the Main Event is never fun (they call it the “worst day of the year” for a reason), but this year it feels like less of an awful thing than it usually does.

The way I look at it is that I played my best which is all you can really hope to do. I would probably be more upset if I felt like I had made some crucial, glaring mistakes during the event. But I have to feel happy with the approach I took. I was focused, confident, and not afraid to mix things up and put pressure on my opponents. I have no significant regrets.

I’m going to be in Vegas for another five nights. I don’t really have a whole lot planned. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a few workouts in, get some work done, and stay out of trouble. I’m sure I’ll be tempted into some cash games at certain points when I’m bored.

Vegas strikes me as a particularly insane place on this trip, but in a way that makes me sort of love it. I wouldn’t want to spend indefinite amounts of time here, but being here and knowing I’ve got a departing flight in a few days is pretty sweet. There’s a reason people are so obsessed with this place. It’s an action junkie’s heaven. I can’t imagine how anyone could ever get bored here. There are a million negative things I could say about this city quite honestly, but I still love that it exists. I’m not sure I want to live in a world where I don’t know that there’s a Las Vegas out there somewhere waiting for you to get on a flight and come join the action.

Live from 2012 WSOP: T.I. Poker Room Management Complaint (Updated)

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

I’m happy to be back in Las Vegas for the seventh straight summer during the WSOP. I always enjoy blogging about the experience and despite this interest waning due to the instant-blogging nature of Twitter, I still hope to write a few updates from this trip.

Vegas is crazy right now and full of poker action and drunk tourists. There’s really no place like it. The insanity of this city seems even more pronounced to me this year after spending the last several months living in the tranquil Caribbean paradise of Playa del Carmen.

I played my first event of the WSOP yesterday, a $1,000 buy-in that attracted ~5,000 total players spread across two starting days. I was eliminated near the end of day one after battling pretty hard all day and making a couple of big folds on hands which probably would have led to an expedited bustout. I was really happy with how I played which is mostly what matters and am feeling good for the Main Event; I’ll play Day 1C on Monday (follow me on Twitter if you’re interested in tracking updates from that event).

Tonight, I stopped by one of my favorite poker rooms in Las Vegas, T.I., where a questionable floor ruling potentially cost me some EV and some of that property’s good-standing in my book.

I’ll let you be the judge.

In a $1/$3 no-limit game, a player opened the pot to $18. Next to act, I re-raised to $40. Another player called the $40. The original raiser moved all-in for $59 total.

Holding Ace-King, I would have preferred to shove the ~$160 I had behind, but I calculated that the original raiser would have needed to shove for $62 or more in order for me to have that option to raise. This is because my raise was $22 more than his raise, so he would need to re-raise $22 on top of my raise in order for the option to exist for me to re-raise yet again. Or so I thought.

After simply flat-calling the $19 more, the other player in the hand asked if he was allowed to raise. “No, otherwise I would have already,” I told him. But then the dealer told him he was able to! I disagreed with the dealer (Don I believe his name was) and asked him to call the floor. The shift manager Isaac came over and agreed with Don saying that the player was allowed to re-raise.

So the player behind me moved all-in. I was pretty tilted because I felt like it cost me a lot of EV in the hand not being able to make that move myself, but I was so certain that I couldn’t that I didn’t even bother asking the dealer if I could.

After the other player moved all-in (he had me covered), I reluctantly folded. From my vantage point, he seemed very eager to move all-in after having played cautiously all night. Usually in these low-stakes live games players are pretty cool with just calling to see the flop in hopes of improving their hand, so when he was champing at the bit to move all-in (after I just finished telling him I would have moved all-in if I could have) I felt his range was really strong and opted to fold my hand (in hindsight, this was fairly nitty but I felt okay about it at the time given my read on the situation).

Despite the dealer and floor man both thinking otherwise, I still felt like I was right and that it wasn’t a legal raise. So I texted my friend Jon Aguiar who is well-versed in all things poker and usually never wrong. He confirmed my suspicion: the player would have needed to make it $62 or more for a re-raise to be permissible.

Fueled with reassurance that I’m not crazy, I called Isaac over to the table and told him I believe his ruling was wrong. I asked what he could do to make the situation right. This is when the encounter began to turn distasteful. I understand making an errant ruling; mistakes happen. But what I didn’t appreciate was how unprofessional T.I. management was regarding the situation.

Isaac rather coldly told me, “my ruling is final.”

“I know, but you were wrong. This is a business. Normally when businesses get something wrong that affects a customer, they try to make it right.”

“My ruling on the hand is final.” And then he just walked away!

I called after him to ask if I could even get an apology at the very least. He continued with the hard-line and unwillingness to make any reparations, so I asked for the number of the poker room manager.

Minutes later, he came back to the table and (in front of everyone, with action taking place) told me to make sure I tell his manager that it didn’t matter and that I wouldn’t have won the hand anyway (the player all-in for $59 had Jacks which held, but I would have won the all-in side pot of ~$280 if I had shoved and the other player called (which he said he would have) – he had King-Queen). I told him he didn’t need to coach me on what to report to his boss since I had nothing to gain from reporting anything other than exactly what happened and asked him for the opportunity to explain to him why it didn’t matter whether or not I would have won the hand. He walked away reasserting his disinterest in having any type of a two-way discussion about the situation.

At this point, it occurred to me that it was ridiculous for me to continue playing in the game and paying rake, so I took my chips up to the counter. When I got there (and before he realized I was there), I overheard him explaining to another staff member why it was stupid of me to be arguing since I wouldn’t have won the hand anyway. He caught himself and stopped the story in its tracks when he realized I was standing right there.

I again asked him for the opportunity to explain to him why the results of the hand didn’t matter and how his errant ruling cost me equity. I asked if he wanted me to recreate the action in the hand to make sure we both understand exactly what happened. He responded defensively to this and said, “no, you don’t have to insult me, I’m being nice to you!” I calmly explained to him that I wasn’t insulting him and that I was just hoping to start from the beginning to help him understand why I was upset.

He continued to keep the window closed for me to do this by saying, “I make 19 or 20 rulings a day and I might get one or two them wrong.” He repeated this a couple of times interrupting efforts of mine to help him understand how his error affected me. (Yes, he repeatedly admitted that he gets rulings wrong sometimes with a “that’s just how it goes” attitude).

I thought about telling him I am the editor of a highly-trafficked poker portal which has a Las Vegas poker section that includes a review of the T.I. poker room, but it was clear he was uninterested in having a reasonable discussion. He seemed too off-balance to handle any further discussion on the topic. I just couldn’t get a word in edge-wise, so I opted to drop it and take things up with his boss at a later time (I’m awaiting a callback on a voicemail I left). I took down the name and number of another player in the game who can corroborate the incident to T.I. management should they be interested.

In hindsight, I wish Isaac would have done the following:

  • politely ask me to step away from the table to continue the discussion as it was unprofessional of him to allow the debate to distract from the gameflow
  • give me a chance to calmly explain how the ruling affected me from an EV standpoint rather than taking the approach of treating me like an enemy who needed to be silenced
  • acknowledge that he wasn’t confident in his ruling (even if the ruling was correct, which remains to be seen, he certainly didn’t still think he was correct after I told him he was wrong) and do whatever he could to make it right; a $20 food comp would have been a nice gesture and gone a long way to diffuse the situation

I try to be a pretty reasonable guy and I understand that mistakes happen. This situation could have been swept under the rug with a polite apology and small reimbursement of value from the onset. Instead, I was treated unprofessionally as the villain in a confrontation who needed to be silenced rather than a customer with perhaps some legitimate points to make about how I was negatively affected by a questionable managerial decision.

My read on the situation was that Isaac felt threatened and took it personally that he got the ruling wrong and was doing everything he could to protect himself rather than serve at the best interest of the customer.

It could be the case that Isaac’s floor ruling was correct. But I didn’t think it was, Jon Aguiar didn’t think it was, and Isaac himself didn’t think it was after I told him he was wrong. But whether the ruling was right or wrong is less important to me right now than how the situation was handled.

A poker room is a business. Players are the customers. When you are a business and you screw up (or believe it when someone says you screwed up), you do what you can to make the situation right. Tonight, the T.I. poker room dropped the ball in this regard. It’s unfortunate because prior to tonight I used to think it was a pretty good place to play cards. Now I’m not so sure.


Footnote: apologies for the long-winded recount of the story, I just wanted to make sure I included any relevant details in case T.I. management themselves read this. And just to be clear, I’m not as upset about the EV I lost due to the ruling as I am about the manner in which T.I. management chose to handle the situation after I informed them that I believed it was an incorrect ruling.

Next day update: I received a call from T.I.’s poker room manager Kurt. He apologized for the situation and confirmed that it was indeed an incorrect ruling. He offered to put $59 in comp value on my T.I. Player’s Card as an apology. I thanked him for calling me back and accepted the offer. I knew I wasn’t crazy that it was a bad ruling and I appreciate T.I. taking the time to follow up with me to make things right.

Ray Bitar Surrenders to U.S. Authorities

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Full Tilt Poker CEO Ray Bitar surrendered to U.S. authorities yesterday 15 months after his name appeared on the Black Friday indictments.

The FBI arrested Bitar upon his arrival in New York at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Bitar plead not guilty in a hearing in a Manhattan court later that afternoon. The 40 year old will be free on bail after posting a $2.5 million bond.

Six of the eleven men indicted on Black Friday have plead guilty to some amount of charges. Prior to yesterday, Bitar was one of five who have remained out of the United States to evade authorities. He is the biggest catch for U.S. authorities in the case so far.

Bitar’s attorneys said in court that their client decided to remain out of the U.S. to finalize a deal in order for Full Tilt players to be repaid. He decided to turn himself in now that Full Tilt is expected to finalize a deal with PokerStars that would lead to the repayment of players worldwide. Bitar, who is from southern California, had been in Ireland since Black Friday.

“I know that a lot of people are very angry at me,” Bitar said in an statement Monday. “I understand why. Full Tilt should never have gotten into a position where it could not repay player funds.”

“For the last 15 months, I have worked hard on possible solutions to get the players repaid,” he continued. “Returning today is part of that process. I believe we are near the end of a very long road, and I will continue to do whatever is required to get the players repaid, and I hope that it will happen soon.”

It will be interesting to note going forward how the U.S. attempts to prosecute Bitar who is facing 145 years in prison if convicted on all charges. The DOJ has been soft in their prosecution of the six Black Friday defendants who have plead guilty in order to receive light sentences. Bitar is the first who, by evidence of his not guilty plea, appears ready to battle with the DOJ.

Has the U.S. been saving its legal muscles to prosecute a bigger fish like Bitar to the fullest extent of the law or will he too ultimately cop-out on a plea deal in exchange for a slap-on-the-wrist sentence?