HoldemX could be Poker’s Next Big Thing

February 5th, 2016

holdemxIt doesn’t look like that long-awaited second poker boom is coming any time soon. So in the meantime, smart entrepreneurs are looking for innovative ways to repackage poker. Enter HoldemX, which is played like Texas Hold’em, except with a few exciting twists.

As you can see in the video below, these twists revolve around Xcards, which serve as “weapons” against your opponent. Specifically, you can use Xcards like “Pot Block” and “Card Switch” to swing the odds in your favor. At the beginning of a round, you select three Xcards that your opponent is banned from using in the game. Once this is done, you and your opponent will pick from six Xcards that you can carry into battle.

Max Rabinovitch, who heads the product development team at Mediarex Entertainment, offered an inside look at how they came to invent this intriguing game. Global Poker League founder Alex Dreyfus tasked Mediarex with creating such a new style of poker, which proved difficult in the beginning.

Namely, they were stuck on the idea that it needed to be a totally extreme version of poker, with “dragons and explosions.” Ultimately Rabinovitch and his team opted not to get this crazy, but they did create a pretty interesting game. Rabinovitch’s entire post is definitely worth a look, and you can see one excerpt of it below:

The more I thought about what players “wanted” the more I remembered dozens upon dozens of bad beat stories that had eerie similarities: “any diamond, jack or ten – and I’m chipleader…”, “got it all in good then the flop from hell hits while we’re three handed…”, “so I value bet and this a#$%*&@ has literally the only hand in his range that beats me.” – if you listen to enough poker players you’ll actually hear them utter phrases like “if only that 9 was a 10…” once in awhile. So the follow-up question seemed simple – what if you could make that happen? what if you could re-deal a flop, or turn that 9 into a 10?

Baazov buying PokerStars and privatizing it

February 2nd, 2016

david-baazov-pokerstarsIn 2014, David Baazov wrangled together some of Wall Street’s most-powerful investment groups to buy PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker for $4.9 billion. Fast-forward to 2016, and the investment hasn’t paid off for many involved. PokerStars’ parent company, Amaya Gaming, has seen its shares fall from a peak of $37.52 a year ago to $13.73 recently.

Given the current price, Baazov and a group of investors feel confident that they can buy shares from other owners at $21 per share. If they succeed, they’d make PokerStars a private company again, much like it was under its old owners (Rational Group).

According to News1130.com, Baazov owns 18.6% of the outstanding 132.78 million shares. Including the stock that Baazov already owns, Amaya is only valued at $2.79 billion today, $2.1 billion less than the purchase price.

Maher Yaghi of Desjardins Capital Markets believes that Baazov’s reported offer of $21 per share is quite a bit lower than his fundamental valuation of $28.50 per share.

“While some could see the offer as potentially being opportunistic, it is worth pointing out that the continued strength in the U.S. dollar is a potential headwind for the company’s European poker business,” Yaghi wrote.

Valuing Amaya is no doubt a tricky situation, especially with the uncertain waters that online gaming as a whole is headed towards. PokerStars still commands over 70% of the world’s online poker market, however, this market continues to shrink every year. So naturally, Amaya has begun experimenting with other forms of gaming like Spin & Go’s, casino games and sports betting. It remains to be seen whether or not all of this will make PokerStars better in the long term. However, Baazov must feel that he can improve the business by purchasing it and privatizing Amaya.

LA Times wants Online Poker and DFS legalized

January 28th, 2016

It seems that daily fantasy sports (DFS) are the new online poker since many Americans can legally play DFS. Meanwhile, online poker has taken a backseat after major legal hits through the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 and Black Friday (2011). So the L.A. Times has a solution to the matter: just legalize all forms of internet gaming.

A recent editorial discusses how, unlike online poker, DFS was exempted from the UIGEA and continues to thrive in the United States. However, DFS’s reign at the top could be shorter-lived than internet poker’s, given that several state attorney generals have already declared that it violates gambling laws.

Rather than playing this legal game of cat-and-mouse, as well as trying to argue that DFS isn’t gambling, the L.A. Times staff suggests that the easier thing to do is legalize online gaming in general. Here’s one excerpt from the article:

California lawmakers have been trying for years to create this sort of framework for online poker, only to be thwarted by internecine battles among the state’s licensed gaming businesses. Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced) is now championing a bill to license and regulate just the daily fantasy sports operators, but his bill is likely to run the same gantlet of resistance from Indian tribes, racetracks and card clubs. The argument for setting up a safer environment for fantasy sports games applies in spades to online poker. It’s time for the Legislature to stand up to the competing gambling interest groups and adopt safeguards that apply across the online gaming boards.

In California’s case, the reason why they can’t legalize either iPoker or DFS is the state’s Indian tribes. Certain tribal gaming influences don’t want to move forward with legalization/regulation until they’re assured that PokerStars/racetracks won’t be involved.

But the L.A. Times’ general point reigns true in that there’s no legitimate reason why DFS should be regulated before online poker or other forms of iGaming. Poker is, after all, a skill game just like DFS. So there should be an all-encompassing piece of legislation that covers everything.

Pros have Meeting with PokerStars – It results in Nothing

January 25th, 2016

pokerstars-meeting-prosMany poker pros have been angry ever since hearing in November that their PokerStars VIP benefits would be slashed. Even some of the sponsored players like Ike Haxton and Alex Millar quit PokerStars in protest. Well, the parent company, Amaya Gaming, has heard these players loud and clear and recently sat down with a few pros to discuss the changes.

Haxton, Dani Stern and Daniel Dvoress were all invited to Amaya’s headquarters to have a meeting that also included PokerStars Pro Daniel Negreanu. The hope for them was that they could get some benefits back for grinders, but this apparently didn’t happen. In a post on TwoPlusTwo, Stern describes the meeting as unproductive and filled with unconvincing arguments. Here’s one excerpt from the post:

Going into the meeting, our highest priority was to address PokerStars’ decision not to give the 2016 rewards they had promised to players earning SN and SNE statuses in 2015. We presented our view that the VIP program, as advertised on the PokerStars website until November 2015, was an agreement between PokerStars and the impacted players. We emphasized that failing to honor that agreement is not just a “miscommunication,” but an ongoing breach of trust. We reminded them that it is not too late to make it right.

dani-stern-pokerAlthough the PokerStars and Amaya representatives were apologetic and expressed regret at the impact that the decision has had on players’ perception of the brand, we did not make any real progress on this point. They denied having any firm obligation to give 2015 SNs and SNEs the rewards they were promised and asserted that they did not feel that doing so would be in the best interests of their business.

In the end, it doesn’t look like the meeting was so much about compromising with professional grinders, but rather trying to convince them the the VIP changes were necessary. And given that PokerStars previously stated in their terms and conditions that any player who achieved Supernova Elite level in 2015 would be qualified in 2016, the players have a good argument.

On the other hand, Amaya is a business and their responsibility is to profits – not pro players. So it’s doubtful that Amaya ever changes their position on the VIP changes, especially if traffic is going good.

Phil Ivey enters Daily Fantasy Sports World

January 22nd, 2016

phil-ivey-dfsPhil Ivey is making the transition to the daily fantasy sports (DFS) world, but unlike some fellow poker pros, it won’t be as a player. Instead, Ivey is opening his own site called PhilIveyDFS.com.

The upcoming DFS site will run on the iTeam Network and provide players with another alternative to industry leading giants DraftKings and FanDuel.

“Over the past few years, I’ve been looking for more ways to share with fans my perspective on daily fantasy sports,” says Ivey. “I was honored to have multiple options, but iTEAM Network’s focus on compliance and the core technology, along with the leadership of Gabe Hunterton, ultimately made it a pretty easy decision.”

Hunterton, the current CEO of iTeam Network, was dealing cards at El Cortez Casino in Las Vegas 16 years ago. He’s since worked his way up to various higher roles, such as Chief Operating Officer of StarWorld Hotel and Casino. Now he’s looking to help PhilIveyDFS succeed on the iTeam Network, and here’s a look at what he had to say:

“We are always looking for quality brands and partners in the world of fantasy [and] there is no elite-level individual that fans want to follow and learn from more than Ivey. Ivey’s team engaged in extended due diligence, which we welcomed in light of our commitment to conservative regulatory practices and great user experiences.

“There is a large crossover between poker players and DFS players. Adding the Phil Ivey brand will substantially increase network-wide player liquidity and prize pools. We have already started an aggressive marketing and execution plan in which PhilIveyDFS users will be able to compete immediately for more than $20,000 in weekly pro basketball contests and interact directly with Ivey.”

Hunterton’s story somewhat mirrors the rise of Phil Ivey, who went from a teenager using fake IDs to play poker in Atlantic City, to becoming a 10-time WSOP champion. In recent years, Ivey has transitioned more of his time to the business world, where he’s started IveyLeague poker training and opened a sports agency called All In Entertainment. Now, he set for yet another business venture with his soon-to-be-launched DFS site.

With the daily fantasy sports world exploding and people like Aaron Jones winning $5 million, it’s little wonder why Ivey wants to jump on this trend while it’s still hot.

Aaron Jones wins Fantasy Football Championship and $5m

January 18th, 2016

aaron-jones-online-pokerDaily fantasy sports (DFS) just saw its biggest-ever tournament take place, as 10 finalists battled in the Fantasy Football World Championship (FFWC) for a $5 million top payout. Interestingly enough, former poker pro and coach Aaron ‘aejones’ Jones emerged victorious and collected the $5 million check.

200 players qualified for the Week 15 event, and only 10 players moved on to the FFWC Final in Los Angeles. Jones was one of them, and he got some attention from FOX Sports leading up to the finale. However, considering the variance associated with DFS, it was no guarantee that the former online poker standout would come close to the top prize.

This looked to be the case when DFS pro “CONDIA” bolted out to a big lead in the preliminary rounds. However, in the round of 10, he saw Randall Cobb go down early, giving Jones and other players a decent chance to win. Sitting in fifth place coming into the round of 10, Jones picked up major points with Pittsburgh WR Martavis Bryant, Arizona WR Larry Fitzgerald and Arizona QB Carson Palmer.

His correct picks were enough to sneak past second-place finisher “danny1234,” who just missed out on the title by 14 points. Danny1234 earned $2 million for his runner-up effort, but he’s likely envious of Jones for earning $3 million more.

This marks yet another chapter in Jones’ illustrious online gaming career, which began a decade ago when he started playing online poker while a student at Indianapolis’ Butler University. From here, Jones went on to earn big scores in live tournaments, start the training site LeggoPoker (later sold to Phil Ivey) and eventually play DFS for a living. Now $5 million richer, it’ll be interesting to see what the next step for Jones is.


Antonio Esfandiari donates $50k to Charity for peeing in Bottle

January 14th, 2016

antonio-esfandiariContinuing on a story that we discussed earlier this week, Antonio Esfandiari has announced that he’ll donate $50,000 to charity for his much-maligned tournament incident. And the reason why Esfandiari chose the $50k amount is because this is how much he won through a prop bet with Bill Perkins.

As we covered on Monday, Esfandiari peed in a bottle at the 2016 PCA Main Event because his legs were sore from lunging everywhere. While the 37-year-old admits to initially thinking it was funny, he has apologized repeatedly after catching flack from the poker community.

“The Magician” continued his apology through an exclusive statement with PokerNews, part of which you can read below:

“I am embarrassed of the actions I took to win that bet. On paper I won, but in life I lost. No matter how much one loves a prop bet there is a limit to how far you should go, and in this case I failed.

Getting disqualified from the tournament is not something I contest. I believe PokerStars made the right call. I would do the same in their position. Knowing that I let people down is what hurts. Sometimes we as humans get caught up in the moment. I let this bet get the best of me.

I won the prop bet and $50,000, but I lost my way. It was a grueling two days, both emotionally and physically, but that is no excuse.”

The $50k will be split into two donations, with $25k going to the ONE DROP foundation (provides clean drinking water) and the other $25k going to the REG foundation (try to end world suffering).

In the end, it looks like Esfandiari’s grueling prop bet won’t result in any gain for him personally. However, it’s nice to see that the money will at least be going to charity. And, no matter what some may think of The Magician after this stunt, he has to be commended for making amends.

Antonio Esfandiari pees at Table – Disqualified from PCA Main Event

January 11th, 2016

antonio-esfandiari-lunge-prop-betAntonio Esfandiari has had a storied poker career that’s seen him rack up $26.5 million in tournament winnings. However, the 2016 PCA Main Event certainly won’t add to his storied career since he was disqualified for peeing at the table.

“The Magician” peed in a bottle under the table, which drew the ire of the tournament staff. PCA officials quickly gave Esfandiari the boot for a “breach of etiquette.”

Afterward, Antonio was totally understanding of their decision when discussing the situation with PokerNews’ Sarah Herring. And he says that the whole matter stems from a “lunge” prop bet that he made with millionaire hedge-fund manager Bill Perkins.

“I was thinking about what I was going to do to win this bet,” Esfandiari said. “When looking back, I realize that I didn’t look at the bigger picture and I definitely made a mistake…and I don’t want to talk specifically about what I did but my actions were totally out of line. and unacceptable.”

Esfandiari would go on to say that he originally thought his actions (peeing in a bottle) would be humorous, but that’s not the way everybody saw it.

As for the bet, The Magician was required to lunge everywhere he went for 48 hours. After so long, his legs became extremely sore and he was looking for ways to cut down on his walking (lunging) time. This is where the idea to urinate in a bottle came from because he didn’t want to walk to the bathroom.

There’s no word on exactly how much money was on the line in Esandiari’s prop bet with Perkins. But it must have been a significant amount for Esfandiari to decide that it was worth peeing in a bottle at a live poker tournament.

Aaron Sorkin to begin work on Molly’s Game Poker Movie

January 9th, 2016

aaron-sorkin-mollys-gameLast year, it was revealed just how badly famed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin wanted to do a movie adaptation based on the book Molly’s Game. In fact, the Sony hack released emails from Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal, who was irked that Sorkin wanted to do the Molly’s Game movie above all.

It looks like Sorkin will get his way, though, since he’s set to begin work on the film centering on Molly Bloom’s high stakes poker ring. The 54-year-old, who won an Oscar for his Social Network screenplay and is favored to win another through his Steve Jobs script, will also make his directorial debut with this movie.

“It seems hard to imagine that for all his success in movies, TV series creations including The West Wing and The Newsroom, and stage work including A Few Good Men that Sorkin has never gotten behind the camera before,” wrote Deadline.

The subject matter surrounding Molly Bloom’s life is certainly worthy of Hollywood. She was a world-class skier who also maintained a 3.9 GPA in college. After failing to make the U.S. Winter Olympic team, she took a job as a waitress before law school. Then, through a number of events that will hopefully be revealed in the movie, Bloom ended up hosting some of the biggest high stakes poker games ever.

As you may already know, these games featured celebrities like Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon along with famous athletes like Alex Rodriguez. Thanks to a crooked hedge fund manager who lost a large amount of his clients’ money in these games, the poker ring came crashing down when the clients sued various players.

Definitely an exciting story, but one that may be difficult to play out when considering that Affleck, DiCaprio and Damon are unlikely to play themselves.

High Testosterone equals Bad Poker according to Study

January 7th, 2016

poker-testosterone-studyThink testosterone is necessary to pull off daring poker bluffs and aggressive play? According to a recent study out of Cape Horn University, high testosterone will have the opposite affect and make you a more-passive poker player.

Appearing in a journal called Nature, a study titled Effects of Testosterone Administration on Strategic Gambling in Poker Play sought to find out how added testosterone would make woman play bluff poker. 20 women were dosed with a half milligram of testosterone to see how it affected their playing abilities.

The optimal bluff poker strategy is to cultivate an image that allows you to trick other players with your bluffs while selectively calling other players when you think they’re bluffing. But when the women who were injected with testosterone actually played worse than the placebo group. Specifically, they were too obvious on bluff attempts, mainly playing to the strength of their cards. They also called too frequently, which is not an ideal strategy in bluff poker.

So why did the testosterone-filled women play more predictable and with a worse-overall strategy? According to the Cape Horn researchers, those with high testosterone are typically dominant in the human/animal kingdom, meaning they don’t need to be deceitful to gain an advantage. Here’s more explanation on why higher testosterone can lead to worse poker play:

“If testosterone in humans encourages dominance behaviour in ways corresponding to other animals, the hormone should not increase cheating behaviour, but instead improve reputation building and cheater detection. Indeed, there is evidence in humans that dishonest, treacherous behaviour is associated with low testosterone levels49. Additionally, as noted earlier, administration of testosterone has shown to induce reputable and honest behaviours in human males and females.”