What is BJ's Pocket Guide?

You may have heard me write about "BJ's Pocket Guide" on Twitter, or you may have seen somebody using a copy at the WSOP. Many people have asked me for a copy without having any idea of what it actually is.

Basically, BJ's Pocket Guide is a daily schedule for the WSOP.

The official schedule of events at WSOP.com is great if you want to see which events start on which days, but it doesn't give you a clear look at what is happening on any given day.

If you look up yesterday's date (June 29th), you'll see that Event #51 ($1,000 Ladies No-Limit Hold'em) began at noon, and Event #52 ($2,500 10-Game Mix) began at 5:00 pm. That's it.

But there weren't two events taking place yesterday -- there were four.

There was also Day 2 of Event #50 ($5,000 No-Limit Hold'em) and Day 3 of Event #49 ($1,500 Ante-Only No-Limit Hold'em). Most days in the middle of the WSOP have five or six events going on simultaneously.

So BJ's Pocket Guide simply takes the data from the WSOP schedule, and rearranges it into a format that is more useful for a day-to-day point of view.

It's a subtle change, but it makes a big difference. Personally, it allows me to get a clear grasp of what's actually going on at the WSOP, even though it is spread across different rooms.

Of course, BJ's Pocket Guide also includes the same straightforward list-based schedule as the WSOP website, because that's a useful way to scan for specific events.

In addition to the schedule, the back section of the Pocket Guide is a WSOP recordbook, listing interesting WSOP stats like who has the most WSOP bracelets, which players have won multiple bracelets in a single year, and which women have won bracelets in non-Ladies events. There's also a rundown on the history of the WSOP Main Event, with the field size each year, first prize, and who won it.

All of this in a small, convenient size of 3"x4" that literally fits in your pocket. That's where I usually keep mine.

The Pocket Guides came out late this year, but in the first couple of days after I gave them out to about 50 players, three of them had won bracelets. David "Bakes" Baker (Pocket Guide #122) won the $10,000 H.O.R.S.E. event, Allyn Jaffrey Shulman (Pocket Guide #111) won the Seniors Event, and Chris Tryba (Pocket Guide #125) won the $2,500 Mixed Hold'em event.

I started joking on Twitter how lucky the Pocket Guides were, and then Antonio Esfandiari -- who received Pocket Guide #78 -- had 80% of the chips in play with three players left. It looked like the Pocket Guide owners were about to claim their fourth WSOP bracelet in four days. Wow.

Unfortunately, Antonio ran into some horrible luck at that point, losing a huge pot with pocket nines against pocket sevens -- a seven hit the flop -- and busting in third place a short while later.

There were no bracelets for Pocket Guide owners since then, until last night.

One of the most prestigious events in poker is the WSOP's $50,000 Poker Players Championship, where players must compete against the best in the world in eight different forms of poker. This year it attracted 108 players, and 11 of them had copies of BJ's Pocket Guide.

When Luke Schwartz was eliminated in fourth place, the three remaining players -- Andy Bloch (#150), Chris Klodnicki (#81), and Michael Mizrachi (#178) -- all had copies of BJ's Pocket Guide. The Pocket Guide had hit the trifecta!

So is the Pocket Guide lucky?

Well, in my experience, there's no such thing as luck. On Twitter, I point out the things that make it *seem* lucky, like when Pocket Guide owners win bracelets. But I usually don't mention the disappointing results, like when Pocket Guide owners Erick Lindgren (#100) and Daniel Buzgon (#147) busted on the verge of the $1,500 Ante-Only NLHE final table in 11th and 12th respectively. Or that Dwyte Pilgrim (#158) made the final table in $3,000 Limit Hold'em, but only finished 5th.

So no, the Pocket Guide isn't lucky. Nothing is. But it's still pretty cool and useful for those of us who are at the WSOP for six straight weeks.

How Do I Get One?

By this point, you're probably saying, "This sounds pretty good. Where can I get one?"

Unfortunately, you can't.

I'm not allowed to sell them at the WSOP for a couple of reasons (no vendor license, official WSOP publishing deals), so I spent my own money to print a small run of 200 Pocket Guides, and I gave them away for free. No rules against that.

First priority went to the WSOP staff, because they bust their asses, and they've always been helpful to me. The executive team, the floor staff, and even the interns. There are far too many dealers for me to give them all Pocket Guides, but I have given about half a dozen to different dealers.

Second priority goes to my peers in the media. I try to make sure everyone who works for PokerNews has one, because they are responsible for the official coverage and that's not an easy job. Unfortunately, I don't have enough to give them to *everyone* in the media, so the people I don't know often go Guide-less.

The last in the line of priority is players.

Unfortunately, the list of players that I like and respect is much, much longer than the number of Pocket Guides that I have available. And the way I distribute them has an unfair amount of randomness -- there are some players who rank high on my list of favorites who don't have Pocket Guides. Others who were lower on the list got a Pocket Guide by being lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

I'm working on a plan to print more Pocket Guides next year, and either offering them for sale or getting the WSOP to distribute them directly to players and staff.

But for this year, if you don't already have a Pocket Guide (or I've told you I'm holding one for you), it's probably too late. I only have two copies left.

The Rise of Jessica Welman

Ever since Harrah's (since renamed to Caesars Entertainment) took over the World Series of Poker from Binion's in 2004 -- a period that coincided with the poker explosion on TV -- they have made changes to the WSOP every single year.

There were plenty of problems in those early years -- everything from a complete lack of food to bracelet events playing outdoors in the windy Poker Tent to sequestered final tables in a cubicle to a thick cloud of smoke in the hallways during breaks to a WSOP that was 75% hold'em events.

All those things really happened from 2005-2007. This year's big controversy was an offensive retweet on Twitter. #Perspective?

It took a few years, but the WSOP solved those big problems and began focusing on creative changes and experiments to grow and improve the WSOP. Things like an increased number of mixed games, a much-improved livestream, an improved Player of the Year race, and of course the most famous change of all, the November Nine.

For 2012, the WSOP made a small change that I'm certain will have a big, positive impact going forward. They hired Jessica Welman.

The Story of Jessica Welman, Poker Reporter

Just four years ago, Jessica Welman was an intern for PocketFives.com, working for Court Harrington at the 2008 WSOP. It was one of the lowest possible jobs at the WSOP, but Jessica didn't treat it that way. There's a famous saying, "There are no small parts, just small actors." Well, the same principle applies here. Jessica didn't complain about the long hours or the low salary. She just busted her ass day after day, readily agreeing to stay late and even coming back to the WSOP on her days off.

That not only guaranteed that she'd be asked back the next year (she was), but that she put herself first in line for job openings and other opportunities that came up.

One of those opportunities was with the WPT.

Photo: Jessica poses with Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten after her final WPT event.

The WPT Live Updates (my primary job) needed an extra reporter to help out during the 2008 WPT Bellagio Cup, and Court Harrington quickly recommended Jessica. She showed up on time and worked hard, and while she lacked the polish that she now has, it was clear from the start that she had all the tools to be a top tournament reporter.

It was a one-time assignment, but Jessica made an impression. And that impression would pay off later.

Jessica had one semester left in graduate school, so she spent the rest of 2008 finishing her degree. Decent jobs in the poker media are few and far between, but Jessica managed to pick up some freelance work at PokerNewsDaily.com. Again, Jessica wrote great articles that quickly attracted the notice of others in the industry.

A permanent spot opened up on the WPT Live Updates Team in 2009, and the job was Jessica's if she wanted it. Fortunately for us, she did.

A few months after the 2009 WSOP, Bluff was looking for a lead news writer, and Jessica was the #1 candidate for that job as well. Jessica negotiated a deal that would allow her to continue covering WPT events while writing Bluff articles, a situation that provided mutual benefits to both employers. (Bluff now had somebody on the U.S. poker circuit without paying travel expenses, and the WPT had a reporter who was well-versed on all the latest poker news.)

My role in all of this was minimal. I recommended Jessica to be the newest reporter for the WPT Live Updates team, but our boss Jeff Holsey already knew she was the right fit -- I just provided an extra confirmation. And when Jessica was negotiating with Bluff, I helped her out with some advice, but again, she got that job purely on her own.

The one door I did open for Jessica was inviting her to join the award-winning podcast, The Poker Beat. I pushed hard to get her on that show, because her knowledge of the online world completely eclipsed that of me, Gary Wise, and Dan Michalski, and she brought a different perspective to our debates that really enriched the show.

[At some point, I'll write a blog post about the value of diversity hiring practices, and how having different demographics represented -- like women and minorities -- is valuable for so many reasons that have nothing to do with affirmative action. But for the record, I'd have recommended Jessica for the show even if she were a man.]

So in mid-2008, Jessica Welman got her first job in the poker world as a lowly intern for an unofficial reporting website. A year and a half later (early 2010), she was the lead news writer for a major poker magazine (Bluff), a reporter for one of the biggest tours in the industry (the World Poker Tour), and a regular panelist on a podcast that won the coveted Bluff Reader's Choice Award for Best Podcast (The Poker Beat). And she also finished her graduate work.

A year and a half.

In an industry that is still weighed down with male-centric attitudes, Jessica Welman made her way to the top of the poker media using nothing but hard work, talent, and passion for what she was doing. She wasn't politicking and networking -- she let her work speak for itself. And it spoke volumes.

In my mind, Jessica Welman is one of poker's best success stories. And that's just the first stage of her career.

The Jess & BJ Show

Permit me to go on a bit of a tangent here, because I feel like this next chapter of Jessica Welman's career will, for good or for bad, keep us linked together in some people's minds for a long time.

In late 2010, Jeff Holsey (our boss on the WPT Live Updates team) had an idea to record the end-of-day arguments between me and Jessica and release it as a podcast. It was the seed of an idea, but it seemed that there was something there. Jeff and Jessica went on to plan a video podcast that was similar in format to ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption," starring me and Jessica and recapping the events of each day on the World Poker Tour.

We had no budget, we received no extra salary for it, and we had to do it on our own time after work. But we all agreed to try it as an experiment, and we recorded our first episode of what became known as "The Jess & BJ Show" at the end of Day 1 of the WPT Festa al Lago at Bellagio (October 15, 2010).

The title for that first show was "BJ and the Redhead," which I thought had a funny ring to it, but it was unfair to Jessica. The next night we tried a different title, and that began our tradition of making up a new title for every episode, and just adding "w/ Jess & BJ" after it.

It was a bit of a rough start, and it took some time to find our way. We eventually drifted away from the PTI format and discovered our own style. My key moment of realization was that a show with two hosts would never be smooth, so I pulled back and let Jessica drive the show forward thru the various topics.

The only segments that survived from Jessica and Jeff's original pitch was the over-under segment where we bet on a line set by "The Bookie," and the final question to close the show, which usually had nothing to do with poker. (Often seemingly random things like "What's your favorite scary movie?" or "What was the best thing to happen in 1988?")

We spent some time working up an outline before each episode, with a couple of planned gags and jokes, but most of it was improvised -- which should be obvious.

We used my iPad for all of the title screens, and for placing our bets with the Bookie for the over-under segment. But instead of doing it with high-tech images and graphics, I simply wrote all the titles in my own somewhat messy handwriting. It gave it a mix of old-school-meets-new-school that worked well for our show.

(Here's a trivial detail that I doubt anyone ever picked up on: Whenever I write Jessica's name, there is no cross at the top of the capital J. The J in my name is the only time I ever cross the top of a capital J, because it balances the initials "BJ" better. Symbolically, it represents the differences between us. Practically, I didn't even realize I was doing it until we had recorded a couple dozen episodes.)

For the first two tournaments, we ended each show with a song under the end credits, and the song was carefully chosen to either emphasize our final topic or to mock it. Unfortunately, popular music requires copyright permission that we didn't have (and could never afford), so we had to pull all of those episodes offline and stop using music. We had grown attached to the format, and didn't want to do the show without a carefully selected song over the end credits.

Photo: Jessica and I woke up early to go outside and freeze our butts off for an episode that never made it to the Internet.

The timing couldn't have been worse.

We got the news of our "cancellation" the morning after recording our magnum opus -- a ten-minute Halloween episode that featured a "Blair Witch Project"-style intro in the woods near Foxwoods (yes, we recorded it outside in freezing weather) before transitioning to a recreation of Michael Jackson's famous zombie dance from the Thriller video.

One of the Royal Flush Girls, Jen Haley, choreographed a simplified version of the dance and taught it to us over the course of an hour or so in the empty part of the Foxwoods poker room on Halloween night.

Yes, that video really exists -- Jessica and I doing Michael Jackson's Thriller dance.

But that video has never been posted online, and it never will be due to copyright concerns. I do keep a copy of it on my iPad, and occasionally show it to friends who were fans of the Jess & BJ Show. And I've included a screen capture here in this post as proof that this Foxwoods Thriller dance exists.

Photo: The Thriller "zombies" are choreographer Jen Haley (center), Jessica Welman, BJ Nemeth, Kimberly Lansing, Adam Strohl, Ryan Lucchesi, and Royal Flush Girls Sunisa Kim, Michelle Banzer, and Katrina Topacio.

We quickly realized how much we missed doing the show, so we adapted the end credits to avoid any copyright concerns. Instead of playing a song over the end credits, we would just continue arguing about the final question. It was such an obvious solution in retrospect, because after recording the show we usually continued those arguments anyway. ("A big cookie is not a cake!" "All cookies are cakes!")

I won't call them fond, but some of my most interesting memories as a poker reporter come from recording the Jess & BJ Show. We did an homage to "Troy and Abed in the Morning" from the TV show Community, we spoofed Charlie Sheen's mental breakdown in an episode where I went over the edge, and we recreated the final hand of the 1988 WSOP Main Event, with Jessica playing Johnny Chan and me playing Erik Seidel.

We recorded episodes while freezing in the woods, sweating by a pool in Miami, and sitting in the WPT Commentating Booth that belongs to Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten. We ended one show with a "Yo Mama" fight, and in another episode we had #Occupy-style protestors with signs pacing back-and-forth behind us. We spoofed "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," and rebooted the show waking up in bed together as if it was all a dream. (No, it's not what you think. But more on that in the Footnotes.)

We recorded one episode on a Hollywood red carpet as actors and other celebrities were doing the old step-and-repeat, and another episode with me running on a treadmill to spoof Ashton Griffin's jog-70-miles-in-24-hours prop bet. We recorded one episode as a silent black-and-white movie, using the iPad for the title screens.

We recorded a "Groundhog Day"–like episode that started out as a beat-for-beat recreation of the previous day's episode. We did one episode while sitting in side-by-side phone booths at the Commerce Casino, and for some reason, a clip of that made it onto the actual World Poker Tour TV show.

I'm gonna miss the Jess & BJ Show, which had a small, but loyal audience. Though I'm certain we had more fun making it than anyone else had watching it.

I'll explain why the show had to end a little later, but for now, here are our personal favorite episodes:

Jessica's favorite episode: "True Grits"

BJ's Favorite Episode: "Speechless"

Jessica Welman Takes Center Stage

Aside from the Jess & BJ Show and the Poker Beat podcast, Jessica was pretty much behind the scenes in her reporting. Her news articles for Bluff Magazine were excellent, but with straight reporting, there was little room for Jessica's personality to shine through. The same goes for live tournament updates, because on the WPT we prefer a style where the focus is on the action, and not on the reporters.

But at the 2011 WSOP, Jessica started a series of articles for BluffMagazine.com called "WSOP By the Numbers." She would compile some interesting statistics from each day of the WSOP and present them in a format that highlights the numbers first, and then explains them. It wasn't a new format (Harper's Index has been around since 1984), but Jessica made it her own.

Photo: Jessica interviews Dwyte Pilgrim during a break in a WPT event.

In addition to her other reporting duties, working nearly every hour of every day of the WSOP (I've been there and done that, and it sucks), Jessica would scour for the most interesting numbers that would tell compelling stories about the WSOP. She rarely went for the easy numbers (such as "12: The Number of WSOP bracelets that Phil Hellmuth has won"), and would create poker statistics that other people hadn't even considered, but that still tell a story about the WSOP. (such as "4: Number of times a player who wasn't the chip leader at the time play was paused won an event affected by the hard stop rule.")

Jessica's "WSOP By the Numbers" was one of the greatest series of recaps the WSOP has ever seen. Not because the idea itself was inherently great, but because Jessica worked her ass off to make them great.

After the 2011 WSOP, Jessica's duties at the World Poker Tour expanded as well, and she took over as WPT Live Updates Host, interviewing players on video during the breaks. Jessica has a good rapport with the players and an excellent perspective on poker tournaments, and her interviews received wide praise.

Photo: Jessica (in green) is part of the group shot that closes out the TV episode after Marvin Rettenmaier won the 2012 WPT World Championship.

By the end of the season, Jessica was promoted to sideline anchor for the actual World Poker Tour television show. She got to buy a dress and glam it up with a hair-and-makeup person, and then appeared on camera interviewing the players and fans in between the final table action. And to cap it off, she appears in the lineup at the end of the show when Mike Sexton toasts the champion.

Talk about going out on top.

Jessica Welman's Next Chapter: The WSOP

Last month's WPT World Championship at Bellagio was the last event that Jessica Welman worked for the World Poker Tour, which explains why the Jess & BJ Show is no more. She also resigned from Bluff Magazine.

Jessica has been hired by Caesars Entertainment to fill a new position that has been created just for her -- Managing Editor of WSOP.com.

As poker media goes, it's hard to beat that title. On a personal level, she deserves congratulations for taking her career to yet another level.

But the real winner here is the WSOP -- and the WSOP's players and fans.

For the past four years, Jessica has been embedded in the poker world, making friends with the players and industry insiders, playing poker with a reasonable amount of skill (her Hendon Mob page has five entries), and covering the entire industry from pretty much every angle. Even before then, a lot of her friends were poker players.

Jessica lives poker. (And not in the degenerate way.)

When most players look at the executives at the WSOP, they see outsiders. Sure, there's TD Jack Effel and the one-and-only Nolan Dalla, but they are the exceptions, not the rule. Their longevity in the poker industry serves them well, but it'll be nice to have someone like Jessica from the post-Moneymaker generation that the young online players can relate to.

I've met most of the WSOP executives, and I truly believe they really want to do what's "best" for the WSOP, keeping in mind that they have some constraints at the corporate level that have nothing to do with poker. But most of them don't live and die with poker the way the players do. They had jobs in other industries and came to poker from the outside. That's not a bad thing, by the way -- the WSOP needs people with outside experience to keep the lights on and the trains running on time. A WSOP run by poker people would be chaos. (I could make an analogy to a certain online poker site run by poker players, but I won't.)

Photo: Jessica is not ecstatic that after a week of covering a WPT event together, she was randomly assigned the seat next to me on the flight home.

The WSOP also needs people like Jessica Welman. She can quickly grasp an issue, idea, or controversy, and she understands how the younger players and fans will react. And since most of her friends are already in the poker industry, she's constantly hearing their opinions on whatever the topic of the day happens to be.

Jessica is universally respected by her peers in the poker media, and has the respect of players ranging from Mike Sexton and Linda Johnson to Daniel Negreanu and Jon Aguiar. That's because Jessica is always trying to do what's best for the game, and she'll work as hard as necessary to get it done.

Jessica is fairly low on the WSOP executive totem pole, but she is now a corporate suit. In her first week, she was already promoted (kind of), as the official WSOP Twitter account was placed under her authority. Given the fact that an offensive retweet was the source of great controversy in the WSOP's first week, this is a responsibility that the WSOP doesn't take lightly.

Upon hearing the news, Jon Aguiar, who was the target of the offensive retweet, tweeted "Congrats to @jesswelman on the new job responsibility over @wsop #oneforthegoodgirls"

That's a sign of the respect that Jessica Welman has earned in the industry. The WSOP put out that fire simply by mentioning her name.

Jessica is going to kick ass at this job. She understands poker from a fan's perspective, and has an excellent grasp of what fans want to see, hear, and read. She understands the differences between the audience for an ESPN broadcast, the audience for a final table web stream, and the audience for text-only live updates.

Simply put, Jessica Welman is "Good For Poker."

Keep your eye on WSOP.com, because I fully expect that by next year's Series, Managing Editor Jessica will have transformed it from something good into something great.

But looking at the long term, I think her impact could be even greater than managing a website. I'm gonna go ahead and call my shot, even though that phrase in itself is an inside joke between me and Jessica.

I'd bet even money that someday Jessica Welman becomes WSOP Commissioner, or the closest thing to it.


  1. You'll notice that I always wrote out Jessica's full first name, except when talking about the Jess & BJ Show. While her friends and co-workers call her Jess, she prefers to use Jessica for her byline and anywhere else her name appears. (Except, as mentioned, the title of our show.)

  2. For the record, Jessica and I have never dated, and will never date. We are friends, peers, and coworkers, but nothing more. When people see us arguing, they think back to TV shows like Moonlighting and Cheers and think, "If they're arguing, they must secretly love each other!" No, they mustn't. On TV, conflict between characters is interesting. In real life, it's annoying. The closest you'll ever get to seeing us kiss is the end of this Jess & BJ episode titled "Lonely Hearts Club."

  3. Having said that, Jessica is obviously one of my best friends, as you can see by the fact that I've written 3,475 words about her.


Matt Waldron

It seems like Jess has been around forever. It's stunning to think that all this has happened in 4 years. And yes, she may be the hardest working person in the creative side of poker media and easily one of the most professional. I agree with you on all points BJ.

Some things I remember: The PokerRoad and podcast community going NUTS over Jess coming onto the show. She seemed to think she did little but when she was on it was the "Golden Age" of the podcast. It came from a mix of her knowledge and links to the online world and ability to banter with the knuckleheads on any cast lineup for a show -- nothing to do with her gender. Again, a pro without (seemingly) trying.

Best of luck Jess. As a fringe poker-journalist at best, you were always a great example to follow and were inexhaustibly patient with me, my ceaseless questions and comments and "backpacking" on the action created in your (and your team's) wake.

Congratulations Jessica! May your star keep on rising.

Ging Masinda-Quinto

I love this blog BJ!!! Totally agree, Jess is good for poker and her work speaks for her. Good things happen to good people :-) All the best Jessica!

Scott Diamond

Good things happen to good people, Its been a pleasure knowing Jessica and it is always kind of hard to talk to her not becuse of her personality, because of her work ethic, she is always so damn busy.

This article you wrote BJ shows a true friendship and YOU more than anyone knows how hard Jessica works. Good Luck Jessica and Thanks BJ for sharing this story with us.


What a great post. I have always liked and respected Jess but seeing her path in the poker media laid out like this makes it even more clear just how talented and hardworking she is. Her posts (in all of the various media outlets) have always been my go-to spots for when I need to understand what's been going on at the poker events where I'm not in attendance. Hell, even the ones where I am in attendance! Her insight and particular knack for finding the interesting, inside stories set her apart. Her hard work has always made my job so much easier to do and I'd like to say a heartfelt thank you to Jess for that.

You do a fantastic job Jess and I really admire your tenacity and your talent. Congratulations on your new post with the WSOP. I am really glad that we get to work together. I think you're great.

Tropical Steve

Man, I hope Jess does become WSOP Commish. That would be awesome.

I'll miss your show, guys. But the good guys and gals in poker do sometimes win.

Linda Johnson


Thanks for writing such an informative article about Jess. What a wonderful gift you have given her through the written word and also through your devoted friendship. You are one of my favorite people in the poker world and we are lucky to have access to your photos and reports and articles.

Jess, I am so happy for you and for the poker world. The WSOP couldn't have made a better choice when they hired you. To say I'm proud of you would be an understatement. Remember two years ago when I told you I would be so proud if you were my daughter...well, that is even more true today as I continue to be impressed with your work ethic, your writing skills, your intelligence, common sense, and your devotion to the poker world. I hope you have a long and successful career in our industry. Thanks for all the long hours and hard work and passion you put into your profession.

Regards, Linda Johnson


Awesome! Jessica and BJ are the two people I chose to keep tabs on as I had less time to follow poker. I'm glad to see that Jessica has made her mark on the industry so quickly - @wsop will now be a major spot in my Flipboard feed!

Nick Sortal

Congrats to Jess(ica). Condolences to B.J.


Excellent point about the WSOP if it were run by players.

Great blog and good luck to Jessica! WSOP.com will be a tough beast to tame, sounds like she will do just fine! Can't wait to see what happens with it.

To Be Who You Want To Be, Be Where You Need To Be

Now that I've lost my outlets for podcasting (the Poker Beat retired in early 2011 and the Jess & BJ Show recorded its last episode a month ago), it's time for me to blog. I'll still post most of my obnoxious opinions on Twitter, but there are a lot of instances where 140 characters just isn't enough to make my point, even in multiple tweets.

This entry is about Kara Scott's recent blog entry, "Ship Shape." Go read it now. If you don't know Kara, just know that she's awesome in all the different ways that a human being can be awesome.

Kara was recently forced to move out of her beloved barn in Santa Barbara, and is looking for a new place to live. (Yes, she lived in barn. That's how awesome she is.) Like a lot of people in poker, Kara's summer will be spent on the road, including the WSOP, so she has some time before she needs to find a place to live.

Kara's blog is about a sailing trip around Greece she took with eight of her friends from Brighton, England, where she used to live. (Kara is Canadian by birth, but both the U.K. and the U.S.A. have tried to adopt her.) Here is the key line in her blog that inspired me to write this morning:

It was, without a doubt, one of my favourite holidays ever. Ever, ever. And it made me realize just how much I miss life with my Brighton friends. Although I'm always 'myself' and I sincerely loved (and miss) my friends in Santa Barbara, I'm a far more relaxed and laid-back version of Kara when I'm in Europe. This is definitely something I'll be bearing in mind as I try to figure out just where in the world I should live over the next few months.

I can relate to that. About five years ago, I wasn't quite feeling right with myself. It coincided somewhat with my entry into the poker world, but I knew that wasn't the problem. I couldn't put my finger on it, and I was still most definitely "me," but something was missing.

I didn't know it at the time, but the problem was simple -- my car was in bad shape. It needed some engine work, and I didn't trust it enough to take it on a road trip. So whenever I was back home in Atlanta, I rarely ventured out of the city. I had to fly to the 2008 WSOP (leaving my dog Rhapsody behind) and rent a car in Las Vegas. It was annoying, but I didn't realize at the time how deeply it had affected me.

Before the 2009 WSOP, I finally had the funds to get the necessary work done on my car. And Rhapsody and I drove to Vegas for the summer. When it was over, I had some time before I needed to return to Atlanta, so we drove to visit some old friends in Burbank. And then we visited Yosemite National Park. And then we went to Yellowstone National Park. And then we went to Mount Rushmore. And then we went to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. And then to the town where I grew up north of Detroit. And then into Ontario, Canada. Just me and Rhapsody in a car, on a journey with no particular destination other than to go wherever we felt like going.

That's when I found myself again.

Later that year, Rhapsody and I drove down to Florida on a whim to watch a Space Shuttle launch. It's something I had always wanted to do, and now that the Shuttle program has ended, I'm so glad we made the trip.

But we didn't stop there.

We continued driving south, going all the way to Key West to spend a couple of days. Key West is one of my favorite spots in the country, and it's the setting for my always-in-progress-but-rarely-making-progress novel. On the way back home, we stopped by to see family in Tampa, allowing me to reconnect with my then 8-year-old niece. (She's actually my second cousin, but our relationship is that of an uncle and niece).

A few months after that, Rhapsody and I embarked on our 50-State Road Trip with almost zero planning -- I didn't even have the idea until four days before we left. But that trip is one of the highlights of my life.

My long, meandering point is that road trips are part of what make me feel like me. It's where I'm the most comfortable. It's "home."

I've been thinking about this more and more recently, because there is a potential change for me on the horizon. One option would almost universally be considered the better option, but it would dramatically change my lifestyle and limit the complete freedom that I have now. It may be the better option for most people, but it's probably not the better option for me.

Where we choose to be has a lot of influence on us, more than most of us would care to admit. And we usually don't consider it as much as we should.

For me, that place is in my car on a road trip, preferably with a dog. For Kara, it sounds like that place is Brighton, England.



Great blog entry and I'm looking forward to reading more. I've even bookmarked it as I have no idea how RSS works or really, if I'm honest, what the hell it is. Embarrassing but true.

Also, thank you very much for your really kind comments. The Poker world feels like a slice of home to me and that's in large part because of the really fantastic group of people that we get to hang out with. Wildly diverse, interesting, quirky and good-hearted people. I appreciate you guys a lot.

Sounds to me like you've answered your own question. Hopefully this summer will help me to do the same. Lets chat about it over scotch :)

Matt Giannetti's Prop Bet in the Pool

The following blog post originally appeared on September 29, 2007 as part of the WPT Live Updates for the 2007 WPT Turks & Caicos event. The original post, along with two videos from the prop bet, can be found on WPT.com by clicking here. I am only republishing it here because of the timeliness of Matt Giannetti's appearance in the WSOP November Nine, and the fact that the original post has lost all of its formatting and become very difficult to read.

The Prop Bet in the Pool: Would You Stand in a Pool Overnight for 12 Hours for $15,000?

Shortly after action ended last night (when the WPT final table was set with the final six players), an interesting prop bet developed out at the pool, just 20 yards from the tournament room. Expecting there to be little action in the side games, Matt Giannetti (online name: "hazards21") agreed to spend 12 straight hours in the deep end of the Club Med pool for $15,000.

Here were the basic terms:

Clause 1. He couldn't leave the deep end for any reason or come within 5 feet of the side of the pool -- clear and obvious boundary markers were agreed upon. There was no need to tread water, because Giannetti is tall enough to comfortably stand with the water coming to just below his underarms. (The deep end isn't that deep.)

Clause 2. Whatever clothes he wore into the pool, he had to continue wearing the entire time; he couldn't add or remove any clothing. Also, he couldn't remove his shirt and drape it over his head; he had to wear it the same way he was wearing it when he went in the pool.

Clause 3. He was allowed food, water, and sunscreen, which someone would deliver to him in the water.

Clause 4. He was only allowed to ask how much time he had left 12 times.

Clause 5. He went into the water at 12:00 midnight last night, and had to stay in the water until 12:00 noon today.

There may have been a few more clauses that I'm not aware of, but those are the basics. Giannetti wore a t-shirt and swim trunks -- no hat, and no shoes.

Who was in on this bet? Giannetti had $15,000 on the line against David Williams, Lee Markholt, and one other player (I don't know who).

But that's just the main bet. There was far more side action among other gamblers, including Nenad Medic, Mike "timex" McDonald, WPT Final Tablist Erik Cajelais (they bet Giannetti would make it), and Isaac "westmenloAA" Baron (who bet against him).

McDonald stayed out by the pool for the duration of the bet, watching over his investment and delivering snacks, water, and sunscreen. (Giannetti requested warm water to keep his body temperature up, and spent much of his time pacing around to keep his blood flowing and avoid muscle cramps.)

Giannetti was in great spirits last night around 2:00 am, and there were still crowds of people gathered debating the prop bet. Some said it would be easy, while others were convinced that the water would lower his body temperature to the point of hypothermia. A few people thought he'd simply fall victim to boredom and exhaustion. Only a couple of people stuck around with him for the entire night.

At 10:30 am, he was still going strong, although Lee Markholt was in the water with him, jokingly splashing water on him while Giannetti cried "Foul! Foul!" Giannetti had a rough early morning (when he said it was the coldest), but he appeared to be in good health and had a clear mind -- victory was a foregone conclusion. Giannetti said he was offered a buyout in the morning, but the amount was so low (in the range of $4,000 or $5,000) and he had gone so far that he didn't even consider it.

Around 11:45 am, a large crowd gathered to witness the home stretch. Nenad Medic laughed as he pointed out that only those who had sided with Giannetti in the bet (minutes from victory) were present -- those who would have to pay up were nowhere to be found.

The figurative clock struck twelve with little fanfare, because there was no official timekeeper. To be on the safe side, Giannetti stayed in the water until every person present showed their watches past noon. (One person's watch was about 2-3 minutes slower than the others, but Giannetti waited it out.)

When it was clear that 12:00 noon was behind him, one of the Club Med employees got on the loudspeaker to do a ten-second countdown, and the crowd chanted along. "Five … four … three … two … one!" The loudspeaker immediately kicked into Queen's "We Are the Champions" as Giannetti climbed out of the pool, victorious. The first words out of his mouth -- "Could somebody please get me a towel?"

Giannetti sat back on a lounge chair while a girl carefully dried him off, taking extra care with his especially wrinkly feet, which looked so rough that several people took photos. (There was no comment about the degree to which he experienced Costanza-like "shrinkage.") Isaac Baron showed up a few minutes later, unaware of the time. When he learned that Giannetti made it, he immediately went back to his room for cash to pay off his piece of the action.

So that's the Prop Bet in the Pool. Photos and a winner's interview with the WPT's Kimberly Lansing will be posted soon. (To see Kimberly's post-pool interview with Matt Giannetti, click here.)

The Day Poker Changed Forever

The day the poker world has feared since the UIGEA passed in 2006 has finally arrived.

On Friday, April 15th, the poker shit hit the fan as the U.S. Department of Justice released an indictment against PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and UB/Absolute.

By Friday evening, all three sites had their .com domains seized, along with 76 bank accounts. PokerStars and Full Tilt stopped allowing U.S. customers, and if you tried to withdraw money from Tilt, you got a message that read, “Players located within the United States will temporarily be restricted from withdrawing from Full Tilt Poker.”

Most of the poker world spent the weekend panicking, with rumors and misinformation floating around forums and on Twitter. I’ll do my best to break down the situation so you’ll know not only what happened, but what is likely to happen next.

Keep in mind that even though I am a freelance employee of the WPT (I'm their lead tournament reporter), these views are entirely my own and do not reflect any positions or views of the World Poker Tour. Also, Dr. Pauly's take on some of these issues might be different than mine, though I expect we'll hear his thoughts more fully when he returns to the U.S. later this week.

I. The Indictment: April 15th, 2011

When the UIGEA passed in 2006, it was designed to stop online gambling by cutting off the flow of money. Since it was passed, several payment processors were shut down, including Neteller. As the legitimate payment processors were forced out, shadier and shadier operations stepped in.

And, according to the indictment, that forced the online poker sites to get creative in less-than-legal ways to keep the money flowing.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York has been working on a case against online poker for a long, long time. According to this article, it seems that some of the key evidence came from Daniel Tzvetkoff, an Aussie who was arrested for online payment processing in 2010 -- and then cut a deal and turned witness for the prosecution. For online poker players, this guy may have replaced Russ Hamilton as Poker’s Public Enemy #1.

On April 15th, the Feds sprung their trap, making several arrests and seizing 76 bank accounts and the .com domains. The full indictment is available online, along with a shorter version that reads more like a press release.

The following 11 people were named as defendants, with charges of “Conspiracy to Violate the UIGEA,” “Operation of Illegal Gambling Business,” “Conspiracy to Commit Bank Fraud and Wire Fraud,” and “Money Laundering Conspiracy.”

PokerStars: Isai Scheinberg, Paul Tate

Full Tilt Poker: Raymond Bitar, Nelson Burtnick

Absolute Poker (UB): Scott Tom, Brent Beckley

Payment Processors: Ryan Lang, Ira Rubin, Bradley Franzen, Chad Elie, John Campos

As you can see, there were two people indicted for each of the three online poker sites. The first name listed is the top dog at each site (or “principal decision-maker”), and the second name is the person most directly responsible for payment processing. (Notice a theme yet? Follow the money …)

At its core, the charges aren’t about the legality of online poker -- they are about the movement of the money. According to the Feds, the online poker sites were doing some crazy shit to sneak our deposits past the UIGEA -- like disguising deposits as payments to non-existent companies that sold jewelry and golf balls. If this information is true, it seems like a fairly easy conviction in terms of fraud and money laundering.

You’ve probably also noticed a few things missing from the list of defendants -- smaller U.S.-facing sites like Bodog & Cake aren’t mentioned, nor are any of the high-profile players rumored to have partial ownership of affected sites. While they aren’t included in this indictment, they aren’t out of the woods yet. As arrests are made and more evidence is gathered, other indictments might follow.

Of the 11 people listed in the indictment, the three who live in the U.S. (Elie, Campos, Franzen) have already been arrested. The other eight defendants are currently overseas, and the Feds are working with foreign law enforcement agencies and Interpol to extradite them back to the U.S. The Feds are also trying to seize additional “criminal proceeds” in foreign countries. While foreign countries aren’t likely to extradite people for running an online gaming site, the charges of money laundering and bank fraud are much more serious.

The Feds are also seeking $3 billion in civil money laundering penalties. Why tax poker players when you can just take the money directly?

II. The Immediate Effects on the Poker World

Online poker in the United States is dead. (At least for a while.)

PokerStars and Full Tilt have already shut down real-money games for all U.S. players. UB and Absolute are reportedly still accepting U.S. players, though most people expect that to be temporary -- and not recommended for U.S. residents. (I haven’t had any success logging into UB from Atlanta to test it.)

Even if poker is eventually legalized in the United States, it’s unlikely that any of these three sites will ever return. Seriously, do you expect any gaming commission to license a company that has been charged with fraud and money laundering?

If you’re a U.S. player and have money on these sites, the general consensus seems to be that you’ll probably get it back -- though it may take months instead of weeks. Be patient. If they want to continue operating in international markets (and they do), they’ll eventually return your money. Their entire business model is based on the trust of their customers -- nobody would ever send money to a poker site with a proven record of not sending it back.

Of course, there are no guarantees, and I know I’ll feel a lot better when I finally receive my (relatively small) checks from these sites -- and those checks successfully clear my bank.

There are some smaller sites serving the U.S. that weren’t included in the indictment, like Bodog and the Cake network, but I wouldn’t recommend playing on those sites if you’re in the U.S. The risks are just too high right now. At least one smaller site, Victory Poker, has already taken action to stop serving U.S. customers.

Repercussions spread throughout the industry over the weekend:

1. Indicted sites have moved their homepages to new domains.

Since the U.S. government seized their .com domains, all three sites have moved their homepages. You can now find them at PokerStars.eu, FullTiltPoker.co.uk, UBPoker.eu, and AbsolutePoker.eu. (To see the DOJ’s notice of domain seizure for yourself, visit their original .com web addresses.)

2. Guaranteed prizepools for online tournaments are dropping.

Non-U.S. players can still play on PokerStars and Full Tilt, though the guaranteed tournaments aren’t as big as they used to be. The PokerStars Sunday Million had a $1.5 million guarantee last week, and it dropped down to $1 million this week. Over on Full Tilt, FTOPS event #1 dropped from a $3 million guarantee to $1 million. This has affected daily guaranteed tournaments as well.

3. The recently-announced Onyx Cup has been cancelled by Full Tilt.

The Onyx Cup was only announced a month ago as a series of ultra-high-stakes tournaments with buy-ins ranging from $100,000 to $300,000. Given the situation, it’s no surprise that it’s been cancelled.

4. The Wynn Resorts and Fertitta Interactive pulled out of their pending deals with PokerStars and Full Tilt, respectively.

These deals were both announced in March, and were hailed as landmarks because they formed partnerships between the online poker rooms and brick-and-mortar operations. Well, those deals are dead -- nobody wants to be associated with these sites now.

5. There will be fewer poker shows on TV.

The NBC Heads-Up Poker Championship aired as scheduled on Sunday afternoon, with (pre-paid) PokerStars.net commercials during most of the breaks. One advertiser should be fairly easy to replace, so the NBC-HUPC should continue its broadcast as scheduled.

Andrew Feldman of ESPN.com confirmed today that ESPN would still be at the WSOP, and I’d be shocked if the WSOP Main Event disappeared from TV coverage anytime soon. The World Poker Tour isn’t as strong as the WSOP, but I’m confident that the WPT will continue broadcasting on FSN this season and begin Season X tournaments after the WSOP. (DISCLOSURE: I work for the WPT in a freelance capacity as their lead tournament reporter.)

Other poker TV shows are more uncertain. “The Big Game” and “High Stakes Poker” are fully funded by PokerStars and “Poker After Dark” is fully funded by Full Tilt -- these shows will probably go on hiatus and stop producing new episodes. I’m not sure when we’ll stop seeing these shows on TV, but my understanding is that some of their time slots are paid for by the online sites, so some of them could go off the air as early as this week.

6. The North American Poker Tour (NAPT) is probably dead.

With live casinos distancing themselves from the indicted sites, the NAPT (owned by PokerStars) will probably be shut down or postponed indefinitely. There are unconfirmed reports that ESPN is trying to find programming to replace NAPT episodes scheduled to air this week. Even if those episodes get on the air, the recent NAPT Mohegan Sun (with the spectacular back-to-back victories of Vanessa Selbst and Jason Mercier) will likely be the last NAPT event ever held in the United States.

7. The European Poker Tour (EPT) and other non-U.S. PokerStars tours are probably fine.

Right now, there are no signs that the EPT will have any problems. There won’t be any online qualifiers from the U.S., though it’s possible that more American pros will make the overseas trip to play in these events.

8. The World Poker Tour should be fine.

The WPT is actually positioned fairly well, as it hasn’t been dependent on online qualifiers for several years (one reason why field sizes have been smaller in recent seasons). The WPT is owned on the corporate level by PartyPoker, which played by the UIGEA rules, left the U.S. market in 2006, and cut a $105 million deal in 2009 as part of a “non-prosecution agreement.” PartyPoker and the WPT appear to face no legal danger.

It’ll be interesting to see the effect on field sizes, whether they shrink (as players and backers can’t access online funds) or grow (as more online players transition to live play). The next WPT event will be held near Miami, Florida, and it starts on April 27th. We’ll know more then.

9. The World Series of Poker is in really good shape.

Harrah’s/Caesars has been very good about playing by the UIGEA rules, and kept their noses clean. If and when poker is legalized in the United States, WSOP.com becomes even more valuable because it won’t have to compete in the U.S. with former powerhouses PokerStars or Full Tilt.

Everyone expects the WSOP Main Event to have a much smaller field this year, as online satellites usually funnel a few thousand players into the event. Online satellites have effectively stopped in the U.S., and players who already won seats may have trouble accessing their funds in time. I’m expecting at least 5,000 entrants, but not a lot more than that. That’s a healthy number, and it’ll still create an exciting event.

While the WSOP Main Event will see fewer players, turnout for the entire WSOP (counting non-bracelet events and cash games) may actually increase. Former online grinders may head out to Las Vegas for the summer to take part in the constant cash games and tournament action.

10. Sponsored mid-level American pros can kiss their sponsorships goodbye.

Now that PokerStars and Full Tilt have been shut out of the U.S. market, they have no reason to market to U.S. players. Take a good look at the long list of Full Tilt Red Pros and Team PokerStars Pros -- most of the ones from the U.S. will not be wearing those patches at the WSOP. The international players will likely keep their deals, as will the biggest names with international appeal like Phil Ivey and Daniel Negreanu.

The topic of player sponsorships is covered best by super-agent Brian Balsbaugh (who reps the biggest players in the game) over at Poker Royalty: “Black Friday & Poker Player Sponsorships.”

11. The Annie Duke-Jeffrey Pollack professional league is sort of hurt and sort of helped by this.

The key thing for Annie Duke’s league has always been securing a good TV deal -- without that, it’s hard to see the business model working. As mentioned above, the TV poker landscape is about to be a lot less crowded, which might make this league slightly easier to sell to a cable network. On the other hand, any channel that picks up this show won’t be able to sell ad time to Full Tilt or PokerStars.

Many of the U.S. players who qualify for tour cards will probably be the same ones who just lost online sponsorships, making them much more eager to support and participate in a professional poker league like this.

12. The Poker Media -- Shit Rolls Downhill.

While this situation sucks for the online players who were riding the semi-legal gravy train for a while, it sucks even worse for those in the poker media, who struggle to get by even at the best of times. PokerStars and Full Tilt fund a lot of the poker media (directly and indirectly), and there will be a lot of (a lot more?) poker writers and reporters out of a job by the time the WSOP rolls around.

Bluff, Card Player, and PokerNews will probably survive this, though employees should expect layoffs. Some of the smaller media sites are more vulnerable, and may be forced to shut down for good.

III. What Does the Future Look Like?

While many of us have expected something like this for years, it’s still shocking. Just because you know you’re about to get punched in the face doesn’t make it hurt any less.

We’re still in the initial shock-and-denial phase, though we should get more information on the situation in the next week or two. That will paint a clearer picture of what the next year or two will look like. Having said that, here’s my look into poker’s future ...

As I said earlier, online poker in the United States is dead. (At least for a while.)

All signs indicate that PokerStars, Full Tilt, and UB/Absolute will fight these allegations in court, though that’s unlikely to change anything in the short term. Even a settlement would likely force them to leave the U.S. market, and if they were to somehow win in court, it would likely take more than a year.

In the U.S., our best hope is regulation and full legalization.

As bad as things seem right now, these indictments don’t take legalization off the table. Several states are already pushing bills to allow intrastate poker (where Californians can only play other Californians, for example), and with no other legal options, those intrastate poker sites will probably attract a lot of players (and tax revenue). Hopefully, the pro-poker Congressmen can use the coming intrastate examples to get some more votes on our side. Arguing for additional tax revenue (even from gambling) couldn’t hurt in a Congress struggling with budgets and rebuilding the economy.

So we may have intrastate poker sites popping up in a few states in 2011 and 2012, but the earliest I expect anything to happen on the federal level is 2013. Online poker may be too tumultuous for Congress to act right now, and 2012 is a presidential election year, making it unlikely for lawmakers to touch an issue like this.

What does the future look like outside of the United States?

As we all know, UB and Absolute Poker have had problems on top of problems on top of problems. The company survived massive cheating scandals, but may not survive this. If any of the big three online sites were to fail as a result of this, it’s UB/Absolute.

Full Tilt and Pokerstars should both survive long-term in the international market. Obviously, Stars has a big advantage over Tilt here, as they had a smaller percentage of U.S. customers and are well-positioned with regional tours like the EPT, the LAPT, etc.

However, there’s a chance that international players will consider these sites to be too risky while the U.S. government goes after them, and move over to safer options like PartyPoker. Remember, Party was the biggest poker site in the world when the UIGEA hit in 2006 PartyPoker followed the rules and pulled out of the U.S. market, and in 2009, even paid $105 million to the U.S. as part of a “non-prosecution” agreement.

Now that Tilt and Stars are shut out of the U.S. market, they will need to compete more directly with PartyPoker and other non-U.S. sites like Betfair, Ladbrokes, and Everest. If they wanted to be dicks, these sites could start running ads like “We’ve never been indicted,” or “Our customers’ bankrolls have never been seized by the U.S. government.”

Final Thoughts

Friday, April 15, 2011 is a day that will live in poker infamy, and history will mark events as happening before or after it the same way it has with Chris Moneymaker’s WSOP victory.

“Remember when so many people showed up for Day 1d of the WSOP Main Event that they had to turn people away? Of course, that was before the Poker-pocalypse.” Or “Black Friday,” or “4/15,” or whatever people eventually settle on calling it. It’s too bad that the Feds didn’t wait until Wednesday, or we could have referred to our day of doom as “4/20” -- a much easier number for most poker players to remember.

Without any warning, professional online players in the U.S. have lost their careers -- and in some cases, at least temporarily, their bankrolls. Many of them have no transferable job skills and huge gaps on their resumes, in an economy already facing an unemployment rate around 9.2%.

It’s a bleak picture any way you look at it -- some will move to Vegas to play live games, some will move out of the country to continue playing online, and some will leave the poker world and never come back.

Those of us who stay in poker will continue our efforts pushing for legalized online poker, as it seems to be the only hope for U.S. players. But while there might be the light of legalization at the end of the tunnel, it’s probably going to be a long, dark tunnel.

There will be a lot of pain, on all sides and all levels, because the money from online poker flowed like water into all crevices of the poker industry. Things will be in limbo for a while before the rebuilding process can begin -- but make no mistake, the poker industry will rebuild.

BJ's Early Analysis of Harry Reid's Lame-Duck Online Poker Bill

It's been rumored for weeks, but the Wall Street Journal confirmed on Thursday that an online-poker bill backed by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is floating around the halls of Congress. Reid apparently hopes to attach it to another bill and pass it during the current lame-duck session of Congress. (A similar tactic was used to pass the UIGEA in 2006.)

Wall Street Journal: "Sen. Reid Seeks to Legalize Internet Poker" by Alexandra Berzon

There are still some serious obstacles, not the least of which is a promise by Senate Republicans to block all legislation during the lame-duck session unless George W. Bush's tax cuts (set to expire) are extended across the board. Democrats may be willing to negotiate, because they had hoped to pass a few non-poker bills before the new Congress convenes in January, including a repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

Of course, there are still some members of Congress strongly opposed to online gambling, including Alabama Representative Spencer Bachus, the ranking Republican on the House Financial Services Committee. Bachus and two other Republicans wrote a letter to the Senate leaders saying they oppose the bill. "Congress should not take advantage of the young, the weak and the vulnerable in the name of new revenues to cover more government spending."

If poker's opponents are reduced to writing a strongly-worded letter, I like our chances.

Other lawmakers who are more neutral when it comes to gambling may be swayed by the promises of tax revenue. If this online-poker legislation is attached to another bill, it could be viewed as a funding clause, making it more palatable to members of Congress who are on the fence.

The Wall Street Journal article only gives the broad details of the bill, and implies that none of this is set in stone yet. But here is what we know so far:

  1. Unlike Barney Frank's online gaming bill debated in Congress over the summer, Harry Reid's bill would legalize online poker and nothing else. I think that's a best-case scenario for the poker industry, because we want to spread the word that as a skill game, poker is different than most other forms of gambling.

  2. This bill would overturn the UIGEA. Obviously, players would need to be able to fund their online poker accounts.

  3. For the first two years, online poker sites would only be licensed to existing brick-and-mortar casinos, horse tracks, and slot machine makers. This obviously excludes Full Tilt, PokerStars, PartyPoker and most of the sites we're familiar with -- they'd all have to wait two years to get a license, intended to negate the huge market advantage they've built in recent years. (If this passes, WSOP.com instantly becomes the 800-pound gorilla in the online poker industry.)

  4. Gaming control would be handled by the states, not the federal government.

  5. "Taxes on wagers" would be collected at both the state and federal level. We'll need to see more details on this point, but ... yuck. It would be much better for the players if they were only taxed when they cashed out winnings.

  6. Harry Reid is pushing this bill at the request of brick-and-mortar casinos, which invested heavily in his tough re-election campaign. This is why the bill will be geared more toward live casinos than the current online poker sites.

That's what we know at this point. But as they say, the devil is in the details. If and when Harry Reid's bill is fully posted online, these are the questions that I'll be looking to answer:

  1. Are there any provisions (like a "bad actor" clause) specifically aimed at online poker sites that served U.S. customers during the UIGEA? Or will Full Tilt, PokerStars, and UB be treated the same as sites that avoided the U.S. market?

  2. What happens to sites like Full Tilt and PokerStars during the two-year waiting period? As foreign companies, what's to stop them from continuing to serve U.S. customers? Does the bill just assume that they'll voluntarily sit out of this market for two years so they can enter the market legally? Or will there be a provision about enforcement (going after rogue, unlicensed sites)?

  3. What are the details on the state and federal taxes? How are the taxes computed, and when/how are they collected? Are the state taxes standardized across the country or set by each state?

  4. Are the state taxes collected based on the player's location, the company's location, or (gasp) both? If taxes are collected based on the company's location (and not standardized), it could create a competitive environment allowing a multi-state company like Harrah's/Caesars/WSOP.com to "shop around" for the best value.

  5. Will individual states (like Washington) be able to opt out? Or will this bill reopen that market?

  6. What, exactly, happens after the two-year waiting period for sites like Full Tilt, PokerStars, and PartyPoker that want to legally enter the market? Do they just pick a state and apply for a license?

  7. Finally, look for the loopholes. Will Full Tilt or PokerStars be able to merge with (or purchase) a company that has a brick-and-mortar license to avoid the two-year waiting period?

Those are the legalities to consider, but there will also be a lot of interesting strategy issues in play. I'm curious to see if PartyPoker would hold back the powerful WPT brand for two years, or try a brand-licensing agreement with a company like MGM Resorts International (which owns Bellagio and Aria, among others) to keep WSOP.com from cornering the market with a two-year head start.

Also, if (when?) WSOP.com becomes the leading online poker site in the United States, how would that change the biggest event in the poker world -- the World Series of Poker? For one thing, I'd expect WSOP Main Event registrations to break the 10,000 mark in a year or two, with a first prize of $10+ million. But would the WSOP try to leverage that power by (for example) changing the rules for players wearing sponsorship patches for other sites?

Unlike most of the hopes and promises of legalization, this one will be resolved one way or another by January 3rd, because it's all about getting it passed during this lame-duck session. If it doesn't pass this month, then the dynamics change dramatically with the Republicans controlling the U.S. House of Representatives. That doesn't mean that online poker would have no chance of being legalized in 2011, only that the process would have to start over from scratch.

What are the odds that Harry Reid can get the bill passed this month? I have no idea, but I know it's greater than 0%. And that's enough to get me excited. (As evidenced by the fact that I stayed up late the night before WPT Bellagio to write 1,317 words about it.)

Speculation: Phil Hellmuth and WSOP.com

Phil Hellmuth.jpg

Recently, Phil Hellmuth has been making appearances on TV and at tournaments without his once-ubiquitous UB patches, including a “Poker After Dark” taping and a visit to the WSOP’s November Nine final table. Obviously, this is leading a lot of people to speculate that Hellmuth’s long-term relationship with UB may be coming to an end.

Hellmuth has been seen with logos for Aria casino, and may have a deal with them at this point. But I doubt that Aria “stole” him by outbidding UB for Hellmuth's services. Either Hellmuth tired of his relationship with UB and wanted to leave, or UB didn’t want to pay him any more.

We may never know the specifics of how the relationship soured, but the more interesting discussion is where will Phil Hellmuth go from here? As one of the most iconic and recognizable poker players in the world, he carries a lot of potential value for sponsors.

Neither of the two big sites in the U.S. (PokerStars and Full Tilt) really seem like a great match for Hellmuth. Sure, he’d be an asset, but he doesn’t really match up with their current marketing, and Hellmuth, as we know, always likes to be featured front and center -- something that wouldn’t happen at either Stars or Tilt.

However, one site would be a perfect match for Phil Hellmuth -- WSOP.com.

With online gaming legislation floating around Congress, this is a horrible time to start a new online poker site, or even a skin. There are too many uncertainties out there. But if Hellmuth signs a short-term deal with Aria, or somebody else, he may be just biding his time until poker is (hopefully) legalized and regulated in the United States. (At which point UB may be shut out from regulation due to past transgressions.)

I’ve contended before that one of the first sites likely to pass the Commerce Department’s regulation board would be WSOP.com. Harrah’s has done everything “right” in terms of respecting the UIGEA, and as a corporation, they already have legal and regulated casinos scattered around the United States.

If and when WSOP.com goes live as a real-money poker site, they’re not going to need a “team” of pros like Full Tilt or PokerStars to market their brand. With all its history and TV exposure, the WSOP has been pre-sold to the American gambling public. But what the site would need is a face, and a spokesperson. And all-time WSOP bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth would fit that role perfectly.

Obviously, this is all speculation on my part. (See the title of this entry.) But WSOP.com with Phil Hellmuth at the forefront of their marketing campaign would be an extremely powerful combination.

Road Trip: Around the Nation in 80 Days

My dog Rhapsody and I are about to embark on an 80-day road trip that will take us to four WPT tournaments, the Winter Olympics, all 50 states, Mexico, and Canada. And it just sort of ... happened.

It started out as a plan to drive out to California for the WPT Commerce LA Poker Classic, where I will be working from February 20 - March 4. I thought it would be a nice excuse for a road trip. Then I realized the Winter Olympics would be starting in Vancouver, Canada earlier that month, and thought it would be a lot of fun to drive up there, watch a few events, and then drive down to LA. I've been to the Olympics twice before (Atlanta in 1996 and Salt Lake City in 2002), and it's an extraordinary experience.

That was the plan four days ago.

Photo: This is everything that I packed for our 50-state road trip. As soon as I finished packing, I started loading the car, and then we left.

As you can see by how much stuff I'm packing, the plan has grown.

Looking ahead on the schedule, I realized that the WPT Bay 101 tournament in the San Francisco area started just a few days after I finished the LA Poker Classic. Since there's no way I could drive home in time to catch a flight, I'd obviously need to extend the trip to include that tournament as well.

At this point, the itinerary was getting pretty large. I looked over the route on a map, figuring I could visit Iowa and Nebraska on my way out (two of the six states I've never visited). Then I realized I would be as close to Alaska as I've ever been, and I started thinking about making the drive. Someone had told me it was only eight hours away from Vancouver, so I figured I'd take two days to cross Alaska off my list of life goals.

I started drafting a rough schedule, and decided to add the WPT Indiana event to the trip. I'd have just enough time to make it back to Atlanta and fly to Indiana, but at that point, why not just keep driving? At that point, I will have hit most of the states west of the Mississippi, and I'd be staring straight at the eastern U.S. There would be three states left that I had never been to (West Virginia, New Hampshire, and Maine) -- so why not keep driving so I could knock them off my list too?

Photo: Rhapsody on the shore of Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in 2009.

At that point, if I'm driving up to Maine and back down the coast, I'd be hitting nearly every state in the union on this trip. That's when I first thought, "Would it be possible to hit all 50 states?" I didn't know how I'd handle Hawaii, but I sketched out a route that wouldn't have too many zig-zags that would take me through all of the lower 48.

I looked for boats or ferries to Hawaii, but they pretty much don't exist. (Cruiseline rules are a little weird, and there are no cruises from a U.S. port of call to Hawaii; you have to leave from a foreign port.) A boat would also take too long; the only way I could get to Hawaii would be to fly, but as you'd guess, flights aren't cheap. Fortunately, I've racked up a lot of frequent flier miles the last few years, and I actually have enough to cover a round-trip to Hawaii from California. I've been to Hawaii before, but there is a big difference between visiting 49 states on a single trip and visiting 50.

As long as I'm visiting all 50 states and Canada, poking my head down into Tijuana, Mexico was a no-brainer.

I originally planned to leave on February 3rd (when Rhapsody turns exactly 13 years, 6 months), but two days ago I decided to leave this weekend so I could include WPT Biloxi as part of the trip. It allows me to hit more states naturally. If there is too much random zig-zagging across the country, it just feels a little bit like cheating.

I started detailing my potential route across the United States, and that's when I hit a pretty major snag. Juneau, Alaska isn't eight hours away from Vancouver -- it's 39 hours away (1,811 miles on a deserted two-lane road). I already had it in my head that I would visit Alaska, so I started researching alternatives. There is a ferry service called the Alaska Marine Highway System, which provides access to the little towns along the coast that can only be accessed by air or water. After some online research and a phone call, I could catch a boat to Juneau for $450, plus another $50 for Rhapsody. This is no pleasure cruise -- I'm simply paying for a ride, and I don't even get a cabin. (The only cabins available would cost me an additional $1,000 or so.) The boat trip will take a week, and I'll be sleeping on a deck chair. It's sure to be an interesting experience.

One more complication -- the shortest trip to Alaska is one week. And it only leaves once per week, so I have one shot to get to the departure point in time, or I won't be able to visit Alaska on this trip.

Now I know I won't be the first person to visit all 50 states on a single trip, and it's not difficult to hit them all in 80 days. But this isn't purely a vacation -- I'll be working for about 30 of those days. And there are several hard schedule points that I can't miss -- the Winter Olympics, the boat to Alaska, and the days I need to work for the World Poker Tour.

Photo: Rhapsody peers into the Grand Canyon as we road trip our way to the 2009 WSOP.

Another complication is money. It's gonna be tight. I'll be earning money on this trip, but most of the money won't start coming in until the trip is nearly complete. I had to spend some money up front, particularly on cold-weather gear, the boat to Alaska, and prepping my car, so I'll be penny-pinching as much as I can. I still plan to visit the cool sites, and definitely want to hit a few of the major National Parks that I love so much (the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone Park -- I hear Yellowstone is much more magical in the winter).

My dog Rhapsody will be along for the entire ride, except for Hawaii -- the quarantine laws make it impractical. So she will stay with a friend while I spend a day and a half in Hawaii. Rhapsody is no puppy; she's 13 1/2 years old, and this will be a long, arduous trip.

My car is also 13 years old, and has nearly 150,000 miles on the odometer. As you can see, there are a lot of things that could go wrong on this trip, but at this point, I'm optimistic. I'm ready to take whatever comes.

Photo: My car overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Malibu, California.

Looking at the calendar, it looks like the trip will take about 80 days -- so that's my target. I love the novels of Jules Verne, and there's a nice parallel with the classic novel "Around the World in 80 Days." If Phileas Fogg could take his (fictional) trip in 1872, then I should have no problem taking mine in (a relatively futuristic) 2010.

Of course, I'll be twittering my journey the entire way, and taking plenty of photos for a book I'm planning. It's a specific idea I've had for a while (though I wasn't planning a 50-state road trip), although it won't really be about me or the road trip. I won't get into details of that book idea until I begin editing it together after the trip is complete.

For those of you following my progress, be prepared for a slow start as I spend four days in Biloxi, which is only about six hours away. (I'll be leaving in about an hour.) But once I finish working the WPT tournament this week, the epic part of the road trip will really begin.

Photo: Watching sunset from Mallory Square in Key West, Florida in November, 2009.



Sounds like an amazing trip B.J. I'm thinking of doing something similar - though not nearly as ambitious - over the summer.



I was going to write the minute I saw that you wrote "Alaska is only eight hours away from Vancouver" but I'm glad I read through the rest of the outline. I'm extremely jealous of this plan, especially the Alaska Marine Highway idea. Where are you getting on the ferry? Bellingham?

One option if you miss the departure date for the ferry up to Alaska is to drive from Vancouver to Prince Rupert, BC (roughly 1k miles on slightly better highway). Prince Rupert is on the tip of the Alaska panhandle and the Marine Highway leaves from there with a lot more frequency than it does the Lower 48. So you could catch a boat to the first stop on Alaskan soil and then take it back to Prince Rupert and drive back, which might save you some time. But I think the weeklong boat ride would be fun.

Anyway, best of luck. I'll be watching with envy.



good luck BJ and be careful! Stop in and say hi to us in Gresham OR on your way to the Olympics! Are you still going to call in for the Poker Beat?


BJ, I'm very jealous, and excited for you. A 50 state trip was something I wanted to accomplish in this lifetime- not all at once- but I've come to realize it's never gonna happen. So, I'll just enjoy your pictures and adventures instead. I'm sure your car and Rhapsody will be just fine, but I'll cross my fingers for you just in case. Alaska will be so beautiful I bet. Have fun!!


Already loving your trip tweets... What an exciting few months you have ahead! And I can't wait to see you in Los Angeles. Safe travels to both of you!


Have a great trip BJ - I enjoyed your tweets from your road trip back from the WSOP and am looking forward to them from this journey as well! Safe travels to you and Rhapsody!

Mark Kilgore

Just don't eat McDonalds in al 50 states. Fruit and veggies are necessary for sustained life!


Beeeeeeeej! One thing I've always loved about you is your spontaneity/sense of adventure. I don't have a lot of that in me, so I look forward to following your trip instead! Oh, and since you're hitting New Hampshire/Maine, get in touch and let me know your ETA.....I am within an hour or so drive of both states....or even better, you can stop by Boston on the way back home. Rhapsody and my dog Jake can hang out at my apartment, and I can show you my city :-) Safe travels....hope to see you soon. ---Jen

The Best Poker Photo of 2009: Phil Ivey

Recently, there have been quite a few end-of-year lists on various poker websites -- the best players of 2009, the biggest news stories of 2009, and so on. But I haven't seen any with a category for the best poker photography of 2009.

I'm obviously biased on this, because I took the best photos of my career this past summer for the WSOP Photo Blog I did for PokerRoad.

Since nobody else has rated the year in poker photography, I am going to boldly declare that this photo of Phil Ivey's second bracelet ceremony is the Best Poker Photo of 2009:

As arrogant as it is to self-declare my own photo as the Best Poker Photo of 2009, I don't think I'm alone. More people (players, peers, and fans) have praised this photo than any other I've taken.

On a technical level, this photo isn't that great. On an artistic level, I've done better. But this photo works because it offers a compelling perspective for one of the most memorable moments of the year -- Phil Ivey winning his second bracelet of the WSOP. And there's no denying the fact that Phil Ivey was the big story of this year's WSOP.

I'm a reasonable man, and if anyone would like to nominate a different photo (mine or somebody else's) as the Best Poker Photo of 2009, send me a comment via Twitter (@BJNemeth).

But until this photo is dethroned, I'm calling it the Best Poker Photo of 2009.


Apple's Secret Tablet (That Won't Be Called a Tablet)

Rumors about a tablet computer from Apple predate the iPhone. There's a good chance that those rumors are about to become reality. The consensus in the tech world is that Apple will announce a new tablet-like device later this month. (Current rumors point to a January 27th announcement, with the device itself available in March.)

That's about all the tech world agrees on at this point, because Apple's legendary secrecy has kept most of the important details from leaking out. Of course, that hasn't stopped analysts from prematurely declaring the unknown product a complete failure (like Apple's Newton) or a runaway success (like Apple's iPhone).

I figured I'd weigh in with my carefully considered predictions.

BJ's Predictions for Apple's New Product

1. What is it? The elevator pitch for this product is a larger version of the iPod Touch, or a supercharged version of Amazon's Kindle. Either way, it'll be comparable in size to current ebook readers, but with a full color touchscreen. It will not be a netbook, and it will not duplicate all the functions of a laptop.

2. It won't be called a Tablet. I don't know what it'll be called (some rumors suggest "iSlate"), but it definitely won't be called the iTablet or anything similar. Tablet computers have been out on the market for years, without much success, and Apple won't be too eager to have their "revolutionary" new product linked to a failed category.

3. It'll cost more than $400; it'll cost less than $1,000. The most expensive iPod is $399, and the cheapest MacBook is $999. The new device won't be cheaper than an iPod, nor will it be more expensive than one of their own laptops. For the sake of comparison, the Amazon Kindle is $259 -- the new Apple product will cost twice as much (or more), but it'll do far more than twice as many things as a Kindle.

4. It won't require a cellular plan. Like nearly all of Apple's products, it will come with built-in WiFi -- but it won't require a cellular plan. There may be limited cellular access built in, so it can be used to browse and purchase books on the go to compete with current ebook readers that have this feature.

A full cellular data plan may be available at an extra charge for those who want it, but it won't be required.

5. It will connect to iTunes and run apps. iTunes is the center of Apple's digital hub strategy, and the new product will tie into it just like all the iPods and iPhones. There will be some way to run current iPhone apps, either scaled to fit the larger screen, or running as smaller, iPhone-sized widgets. That won't be a perfect solution, but app developers will be able to rewrite their programs so they scale properly between the new product and iPhones.

I don't expect the new product to run traditional Mac OS X programs that run on MacBooks and iMacs.

6. The tech media will complain. The tech media will quickly list all the things that are wrong with it -- it's too expensive, there isn't enough memory, the battery should be removable, the screen is too fragile, the color screen hurts the eyes when reading, etc. Their criticisms will mostly be true, but they miss the point -- it'll sell like hotcakes anyway, and continue to improve year after year.

7. By the end of the year, it'll dominate its market. Whether you classify it as an ebook (competing with Amazon's Kindle, Sony's Reader, and the Barnes & Noble Nook), or create an entirely new category for it, the new Apple product will be the market leader in its segment by the end of 2010.

So those are my predictions. I look forward to learning the truth later this month, so I can come back to this post and see how wrong I was.