LAPT9 Panama, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Blog Team

The life of a poker blogger is a grind. So far this year, I’ve worked 100 days, been to eight states, three countries and have hyperbolized my way to just over 2,000 Twitter followers. There have been countless nights in Holiday Inn Express' and moments where days slowly turn into nights, that even more slowly turn into mornings, where that hotel bed doesn’t even get used. There are dozens of notepads with chicken scratch documenting check-raises, chip counts and flops. There are hand histories that are told, hand histories that are drowned out by the music in my headphones, hand histories that are forgotten. There are bad beats, suck outs, winner’s photos but in the end, through all of it, there are some great experiences.

The Latin American Poker Tour is one of those great experiences and I was lucky enough to complete my 100th day of work this year covering the LAPT9 Panama Main Event. The crew from the PokerStars side of things was the same as the last stop in Chile. The efficient Sergio Prado, who spent most of the trip writing about his countrymen winning SCOOP after SCOOP after SCOOP but found a few moments to glide out to the tournament floor, iPad ready, to follow Brazil’s attempt at back to back LAPT wins. The low-key Reinaldo Venegas, who is the LAPT Media Coordinator extraordinaire and always seems to make doing five things at once look like a piece of cake, and eat cake we did, as we celebrated his birthday on Friday. The pleasurable Carlos Monti, who is the head photographer for LAPT and simply put, the nicest gentleman I’ve ever met, worked with or known. There was this new guy though, replacing my first LAPT partner Jack Stanton.

His name, for tax purposes, is Martin Harris. His name, for blog purposes, is one of two options. Some know him as “Short Stacked Shamus” on Twitter, others know him as “hardboiledpoker” from his personal blog. I didn’t know him at all before this weekend and when I sat down to eat dinner with him and Sergio the first night we arrived in Panama, I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve read his work, I’ve seen his name on nearly every poker outlet imaginable but who was this guy that I was about to spend the next five days working with.

“How are we going to do this?” Martin quietly said before Day 1A began on Thursday. He was kidding, I hoped at least because at this point in his career, Martin should be able to speak fluent Spanish having done nearly every LAPT for the last few years. He can’t, neither of us can but we had to figure out how to do this even with a slight language barrier. Working with the PokerStars team makes it easy but the LAPT players make it even easier. They’re friendly, they’re happy, they’re excited and they’re inclusive.

Time and time again, “¿Cuál es tu nombre?” was met by a flurry of noises, all in Spanish. More often than not, I did not understand. After a few of those flurried answers ended up with incorrectly spelled chicken scratch in my notebook, I had the bright idea to ask a player to, gasp, write his own name on my paper. The player was Raul Paez, or as he’s known in LAPT circles, “El Toro”. The Spaniard quickly scribbled his name and wrote his chip count next to it, 122,000. The rest of the field was still working near the 20,000 chip starting stack and no one else in the room was even close to sniffing the century mark. Paez handed me the notebook and then got busy working towards his third LAPT final table.

He eventually finished 5th and after that final table concluded, with Columbia’s Andres Carrillo claiming the title and two young Americans finishing 3rd and 4th, Martin jokingly said, “I don’t know how we did it, but we did it.” I laughed, as I had all weekend at Martin’s simple yet eloquent humor. How did we do it though, how does anyone do anything? A little blogging here, a little counting there, a little winging it that way, a little doing what you do over there. It just happens and throughout the event, you tell a story. Sometimes you are inspired, sometimes you aren’t, sometimes you are creative and sometimes you aren't.

I try to be the former, more than the latter, in both aspects. Martin always is, even if he doesn’t have the same pep in his step that Mr. Prado does, or the booming, cheerful voice of Monti. He’s quieter, he’s more subdued but he has so much to say. In terms of life experience and stories, there might not be a more well-versed person that I’ve met in poker than Martin. He's been around the world and back covering tournaments, he teaches a college course in North Carolina, he lost $20 this weekend on an NBA playoff game that we never heard the end of, he’s lived in France, he and his wife own a farm, he learned how to play guitar when he was younger by listening to a The Beatles song book.

Martin loves The Beatles, he carries a The Beatles playing card deck around with him for crying out loud. That’s how ‘Sgt. Pepper’ started, with that The Beatles deck and a little inspiration, a dash of creativity and some, okay maybe a lot, of boredom. The game is a variant of Badugi and you have to try to make the lowest qualifying hand, A-2-3-4, while only holding one heart, thus “lonely heart.” Martin, Sergio and I played a few times this weekend, while at dinner, while on the job; for candy, for imaginary chips, for dinner vouchers.

I have to admit, Martin and I are polar opposites when it comes to our tastes in music. When I asked him about Kanye West one night, he said that he, “Just missed that one.” Odesza? Nope. Future Islands? A little. Låpsley? Who? I never admitted that I don’t particularly like The Beatles and have probably listened to only a handful of their songs in my life. Not once was one of them “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” but I wanted Martin to like me, I wanted Martin to keep beating me out of chocolates and fake chips and dinner vouchers. By the end of the weekend, I had to know what that song, that created the game, was all about though. When I went up to my room after the final table finished, before I started packing to leave in the morning, I opened my laptop and began streaming “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”.

I busied my way around the room, picking up clothes, chargers, anything else a blogger needs to do what he does. It is a grind and it can get lonely sometimes but midway through that song, I felt inspired. I felt creative. I understood why Martin is always those two things.

LAPT9 Chile, Rodrigo Strong and the 'Viña del Mar gypsy'

Fabian Ortiz, the wiry Argentine, had just taken the chip lead before the Day 1B dinner break and as the players left the tournament area I was skimming through my posts. Done and I was out the door. 48 hours. I’ve seen it from my balcony, heard it from the hallway and was a few paces from it but I still hadn't been.

After two days in Chile, my toes were finally in the sand, I was finally at the beach. To be honest, calling it a “beach” left a lot to be desired. It was a mountain of sand, no more than a football field length wide, serving as a barrier between the ocean and town. I wasn’t complaining though, as I usually don’t see the sun for days and weeks on end, let alone get to relax on a beach for a half hour. Oddly enough, it was the first time I saw the sun since I arrived. When I landed, it had already set by the time I left the airport and the previous day it rained for the better part of the daylight hours.

Chile’s weather is weird. Every morning is muggy and cloudy but as the day goes on, it gets nicer and nicer. Temperatures hit their highest around dinner time and as you’re digesting, mother nature’s attitude towards tomorrow morning starts again. It’s like a hangover, usually getting better and more bearable as the day goes on. I was battling the tail end of one as I made my way to the water and even though I was 5,000 miles from home, feeling the ocean brought me back to the Jersey Shore.

Back before I graduated college and well before writing about poker was something I thought I wanted to do, let alone for a career. Fast forward nearly two years and I was working my first PokerStars event in Viña del Mar, Chile, still a surreal experience and opportunity.

A few cycles of the tide did the trick and I took a few pictures to send to my mom because if there is one thing we share, it’s a love for the ocean. I was relaxed, basking in the perfection of it all. I was halfway across the world, writing about poker, something that I pray is not a once in a lifetime experience.

Unfortunately, that relaxation didn’t last long.

“¿Qué hora es?” I heard from above and while I wanted to completely ignore the simple question, whenever I travel I have this fear of being the rude something. If it’s domestically, it’s the ‘rude New Jerseyan’, if it’s abroad, it’s the ‘rude American’. I stood, shook the sand from my hands and checked my watch.

“Siete y doce,” I said, puffing out my chest, proudly remembering all I learned in 8th grade Spanish class.

The woman wasn’t really interested in the time though. She instantly started poking and prodding me, picking at my t-shirt and reaching for my hands. She was rambling in Spanish, pointing this way and that, before taking a handful of leaves out of her pocket. She grabbed my hand and started making a cross with the leaves, I’m not religious but again, I didn’t want to be the 'rude American'.

I played her game for a few minutes and then trudged off the beach with her in tow. When we got off the sand I sharply said, using my minimal knowledge of historical boxing matches as opposed to 8th grade Spanish class, “No más.”

After more poking and prodding, I finally wiggled my way back to the hotel. I went to my room, did some other work and then made my way back to the tournament area. Fast forward four hours and that wiry Argentine was bagging chips, keeping my colleagues and I hoping, maybe even dreaming, that our first Latin American Poker Tour event could end with a player claiming his record breaking third LAPT title.

Alas, Fabian Ortiz bowed out in 26th place, shortly after the Day 3 restart but that’s when the entire tournament field started to learn the name they’ll soon not forget, Rodrigo Strong. As fate would have it, Strong and I crossed paths before the Main Event, the first night I was in Viña del Mar, around 3 AM on a cash game table.

I had a few drinks with my PokerStars Blog partner Jack Stanton and after Jack called it a night, I went over to check out the action. There were two cash games running with a list another two games deep but the poker nerd in me wanted to get a taste of Chilean poker. I ordered a beer and hovered around the room.

My beer was delivered almost right as the hand started and with three players calling a three-bet, from the player that I later learned to be Rodrigo Strong, the reporter in me inched closer to the table. The ace-high flop had to hit someone and after a bet, a raise and a call, my assumption was confirmed on the turn.

Minus the ace, it was a pretty dry board and after another bet and raise, all the chips got in. Strong turned over pocket aces for top set, while his opponent mumbled something in Spanish before tabling middle pair. It was like a scene out of ‘Casino Royale’, as Strong stacked up the plaques and checks that are used in Chilean cash games before getting up from the table.

He stepped away for a few minutes and as he made his way back to the table I quietly said, “Nice hand.” He smiled, shook my hand and after that, I figured I’d seen the biggest pot of the night and elected to call it quits until tomorrow. Eight hours later, I was on the floor working Day 1A of the LAPT9 Chile Main Event.

Admittedly, I knew maybe two people in the entire field but there, on the first table as you walked into the room, was the man with the top set of aces. We caught eyes and in between a hand, he came up to introduce himself. I thought nothing of it but four days later, that chance meeting, that hand, came full circle.

Strong was the first player to eclipse the 1,000,000 chip mark on the event’s penultimate day and he carried that advantage into the final table. A few hours later he then claimed his first LAPT title and a career best score. After the win, as I was writing my end of tournament winner’s story, Strong came up to me and said, “I knew the second I saw you the morning after the cash game that this was meant to be.”

I hadn’t thought about that but I really didn’t really start thinking about it until the next morning. I wasn't scheduled to leave Viña del Mar until 5:30 PM and my flight home wasn't until 11 PM. I had no idea why I woke up early or why I couldn’t go back to sleep but I decided to start my first day off in Chile with a run around the city at 7:30 AM.

After, I headed back to the beach. My run around the neighborhood didn’t yield much human interaction and it was early, so I figured no one would stop me if I took a quick dip. I flicked off my shoes, socks and shirt and slowly worked my way in. The water was relatively warm but I didn’t stay in for long; I ducked under a single wave and then trudged out. The air was cold so I grabbed my things and quickly scampered off the beach.

As I jogged across the street, I heard the first voice of the day, “PokerStars! PokerStars!” I stopped and turned. It was the same woman I came across on the beach a few days earlier.

I explained my interaction with her to a few of my colleagues and they described her, and people like her, as “gypsies”. I wanted nothing to do with her on my last day in Chile but before I could even react she was across the street.

“Get away from me gypsy,” I said, laughing now because I can’t believe I missed my chance to use my 'Borat' voice on an actual gypsy.

I tried to walk away but there was more poking, more prodding and then she started poking at my chest, where my PokerStars “STAFF” patch usually sat. It wasn’t there today because I wasn’t working and more importantly, I wasn’t wearing a shirt. She then made her way to my arms, squeezing them while saying one of the only words I understand from her furious ramblings.

“Fuerte, mas fuerte.” she kept saying and I kept hearing “Strong, very strong.” all thanks to 8th grade Spanish class. It was at that very moment that I started to believe Rodrigo Strong, that this weekend, this event, this trip, this 7:30 AM run, was “meant to be”.

When I explained my first encounter with the gypsy to a few PokerStars staff members, the Brazilian poker reporting legend Sergio Prado, joked that a Brazilian player had run into a similar situation a few days earlier. The gypsy tricked him into giving her a decent amount of money and promised to bring him “lots of luck” before running off. He was out some money but ended up cashing in the Main Event and then won a side event, runs that Sergio joked, “Had the rest of the Brazilians looking for that same luck.”

I’ve always been a believer that you make your own luck but that there also has to be something else. Maybe Rodrigo Strong found that gypsy. Maybe she gave him the luck he needed to claim his first LAPT title. But maybe there are also happenstance encounters that are stronger than the poker gods themselves.

Maybe some things are just meant to be.

Will OC's 2015 GPI American Poker Awards Picks

A few weeks ago, I was surprised with an email in my inbox with the subject heading “GPI American Poker Awards: join the Nomination Panel and cast your votes now”. I clicked and read on…

‘We would like to invite you to join the Nomination Panel for the 2nd Annual GPI American Poker Awards which will take place on Thursday, February 25, 2016 at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. The ceremony will once again reward the best players of the year, the most influential industry and media members as well as the most successful poker events.
We would be very happy to have you take part in the nomination panel process, which will gather at least 50 people from the poker industry. The Nomination Panel members' role is key in the awards process as the final list of nominees (4 in each category) is 100% based on their votes. A final jury will meet on the morning of the Awards to select the winners among the final list of nominees. Note that individual nomination panel votes are fully confidential and will never be released to the jury nor to the public.’

This was a pretty cool email to receive and, while maybe everyone who writes a word about poker throughout the year gets to vote, nevertheless, it seemed like an interesting opportunity. Now, I won’t be a part of the final selection process as that is saved for a “final jury” but I was able to vote on the nominees. Voting ended on January 20th and some of my picks made the cut for the Final Four in each category. Some did not but before those results are announced in February, I wanted to shamelessly promote my picks and, ultimately, who I think should take home the award for each category.

Sports and media writers have made picks or nominations public in the past, so without further ado, the Will OC 2015 GPI American Poker Awards picks…


  • Jonathan Duhamel, WSOP One Drop High Roller
  • Mike Gorodinsky, WSOP Poker Players' Championship
  • Joseph McKeehen, WSOP Main Event
  • Anthony Zinno, WPT L.A. Poker Classic

While all four performances were extremely worthy of nomination, there wasn’t a more dominating performance than that of Joe McKeehen in the WSOP Main Event. The television coverage shows a kid running hotter than the sun and I think Joe would admit that he did run well. But that pre-final table coverage doesn’t show just how much he altered the course of that tournament. With two tables remaining, on the bubble of the final table bubble, he was opening every hand, he had his entire table out chipped and showed no signs of slowing down, no signs that he was going to let anyone think that that table wasn’t his and his alone. The fact that he was never even put to the test, for nearly the last three days of the tournament and then at the final table, just shows how in control Joe was of the entire situation. It was never in doubt and this award shouldn't be either.


  • Anthony Zinno goes back-to-back winning WPT Fallsview, WPT L.A. Poker Classic
  • Over 22,000 players enter WSOP Colossus for chance at gold bracelet
  • Phil Hellmuth wins bracelet #14 - WSOP 10K Razz Championship
  • Daniel Negreanu busts 11th in the WSOP Main Event

Since the summer, I’ve wondered what the WSOP Main Event final table would have been like with Negreanu there. The build up would have been insane and with three months to prepare, ‘Kid Poker’ certainly would have contended for the title no matter how he stacked up to the rest of the table. I’ll never forget the excitement and tension in the Amazon Room during Day 7 when the entire crowd was on pins and needles, watching Negreanu’s every move. The same type of crowd formed a month earlier though, when Phil Hellmuth won his 14th bracelet in the $10,000 Razz Championship. I feel that MOMENT OF THE YEAR should be a positive moment and I truly believe that Hellmuth’s bracelet count will never be caught. It's safe to say that every win he notches only solidifies his standing as one of the best poker players in the history of the game. With that being said, it’s ‘Poker Brat’ over ‘Kid Poker’.


  • Joshua Beckley
  • Asher Conniff
  • Cate Hall
  • Kelly Minkin

East Coast bias aside, all four of these nominees had amazing years and have solidified themselves in the world of tournament poker. Kelly Minkin, who will be named GPI Female Player of the Year in February, kicked off the close calls by female players in WPT events, while Cate Hall ended the year keeping that theme alive in the Bellagio Five Diamond Classic. Josh Beckley, who truly “broke out” on the East Cost two summer’s ago, likely would have won the WSOP, had he not run into the immovable force that was Joe McKeehen. All three had fantastic 2015 campaigns and they will all continue to see immense success in 2016 but in terms of individual performances and announcing yourself to the world stage, look no further than Asher Conniff and his “misclicked” run towards a WPT World Championship. I was at the WSOP for Beckley and Minkin’s run, I followed Cate Hall at both MarylandLive! and Bellagio but none of those runs or performances can touch what Asher did in April of last year. He opened Borgata’s Spring Poker Open with a win in their $1,000,000 guaranteed event and then followed that up by qualifying for the WPT World Championship through an online satellite. The rest was history, as Asher went from up and coming New Jersey online and Borgata regular, to the top of the poker world in a matter of a week and a half.

Side thought for this category: Aaron Mermelstein won two WPT titles and nearly $1,200,000 combined in 2015 right? Yeah, he did? Just checking.


  • WSOP The Colossus, Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas
  • WPT500 at ARIA, Las Vegas
  • WSOP Millionaire Maker, Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas
  • WPTDeepStacks – DSPT Championship, Grey Eagle Resort & Casino, Calgary

There were plenty of storylines from this summer but it all started with ‘The Colossus’. I had never been to Vegas for the WSOP before this summer but I imagine that, while it’s always busy, it’s never as busy as it was that weekend when the starting flights of the biggest tournament in the history of poker were playing out. Cash game lists at the Rio are always long but cash game lists for every game in town, at every casino, were hours long and stayed that way for days. 22,000 people need to play somewhere right? I covered the entirety of that event for and it was more than the sheer number of players that impressed. It was the fact that people had come from so far, so wide for a chance to play in the World Series of Poker. The WSOP is massive every year but for some, maybe most of the poker community, $1,000 or $1,500 buy-ins aren’t within their price point. This gave people a chance and with a doubled guaranteed slated to fire off in 2016, more and more people will be taking a chance this summer.


  • Super High Roller Bowl, ARIA, Las Vegas
  • WSOP Main Event, Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas
  • WSOP One Drop High Roller, Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas
  • WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown, Hollywood, FL

It’s easy to just crown a winner in this category to the biggest buy-in event of the year and that would be the $500,000 buy-in ‘Super High Roller Bowl’. That event was for the best, for the richest, which is not to take away from Brian Rast’s July 4th weekend victory. But, the $111,111 ‘High Roller for One Drop’ at the WSOP is more inclusive. The field is bigger, players can satellite in and while those players are top pros that have hundreds of thousands of dollars in career earnings, the average Joe can still qualify his way in. This is a tough category because all of these events are so big and so star studded that they’re all spectacles in and of themselves but with that being said, I’m giving the nod to the ‘High Roller for One Drop’. Maybe because in my wildest dreams, one year, someone like Darvin Moon will win a $1,000 satty and then a $10,000 satty and then crush the toughest field in poker to win One Drop. A kid can dream right?


  • Jack Effel, WSOP Vice President & Tournament Director
  • William Mason, Seminole Hard Rock Director of Poker
  • John Pappas, Poker Players Alliance Executive Director
  • Matt Savage, TDA Founder, WPT Executive Director

I have yet to have the pleasure of meeting either William Mason or John Pappas but I’m sure, throughout 2015, their contributions to the game and community of poker were felt throughout the country. I’ve met Matt Savage on a few occasions and, from the look of what he’s done for the various series and casinos he works with, is one of the best in the business. But, what Jack Effel did this summer was unprecedented. I’m not talking about ‘The Colossus’, I’m not talking about another hugely successful World Series of Poker, I’m talking about the change he made a few weeks into that WSOP series. Effel more or less ripped his structure sheets in half and threw them in the trash, all because he listened to the players. He listened to veteran pros and amateurs alike, he gave them what they wanted, he was accommodating. Most people in positions of power, regardless of industry, hate to be “wrong” and while Effel wasn’t “wrong” in the right or wrong context of anything, he and his staff tried something that didn’t really work through the first third of the series. Instead of forcing his customers to play the rest of the series with long and tedious smaller buy-in structures that saw players play deep into Day 2 just to barely make the money, Effel listened to the players and made the necessary changes. Those changes saved some events later in the summer and everyone in a position of decision making in this industry can learn from Effel’s compromise.


  • Chad Brown Memorial Tournament (Maria Ho, Vanessa Rousso)
  • Charity Series of Poker (Matt Stout)
  • Tiger's Poker Night (hosted by Tiger Woods, WPT Foundation)
  • WSOP One Drop High Roller / Little One for One Drop

This category is a bit of a wash because to say one charity or charitable initiative was better or worse than the other is counterintuitive to what each charity is actually trying to accomplish. It’s the same as awarding EVENT OF THE YEAR to the biggest buy-in tournament of 2015. With all the money that changes hands on a daily basis in poker, it’s amazing that so many people, throughout the industry, make attempts to give back in a multitude of ways. In true charitable fashion, you are all winners.


  • Joey Ingram
  • Kevin Mathers
  • Jason Somerville
  • Donnie Peters

I’d say that Jason Somerville has changed the game in terms of streaming online poker but he didn’t change it, he started it. Since then, he’s branched out but I don’t exactly consider him to be a “media person” in the ways that Ingram, Donnie or KevMath are. Ingram has a niche and product that no one has been able to replicate and likely never will. He’s able to get big name players in the community talking about anything under the sun and while you’d think it would turn into incoherent rambling, hour three and a half with Fedor was my personal breaking point, but it’s all actually very informative, insightful and, most importantly, entertaining. Donnie is in charge of the biggest poker reporting company, team and site in the world and PokerNews is not only consistent in what they do but their work is one of the better standards of reporting in the industry. All three have contributed more than their fair share to the poker community over the last year but KevMath is it. The amount of questions he answers on a day to day basis, the amount of informational tweets he puts out seemingly every minute of every day, the way he promotes whatever it is that everyone else is doing in "media". He is half the reason a lot of our work gets to the masses and I know I mess with him about it but the fact that he’s even still alive after answering “Is ‘Monster Stack’ a re-entry?” or “Is there a live stream?” this summer is enough to earn Kevin this award. That and the fact that every day he #doeshisjob better than anyone else could.


  • Sarah Herring
  • Kara Scott
  • Joseph Stapleton
  • David Tuchman

This is a bit of an extension of MEDIA PERSON OF THE YEAR and quiet frankly, if Jason Somerville was up for this award, I’d likely give him the nod because he is, in essence, presenting his live streams. He’s not nominated, so I digress. I’ve never met Sarah or Kara but I know Sara has a great rapport with players and can usually get them talking about just about anything, much like Joe Ingram. That’s a good thing because many of these players are more than poker players; much, much more actually and Sarah brings that out in every interview she does. I’ve only actually met two of these nominees, David Tuchman during the WSOP and Joe Stapleton when he worked the Borgata Poker Open live streams in September and then again this past weekend. Both do a fantastic job but very different jobs. The fact that Tuchman anchors an entire series worth of final table coverage is not only the coolest job in the world but also more difficult than people give him credit for. Sure, he has pros and industry personalities come into commentate on some final tables but the entire time, it’s Tuchman leading the way. He jumped in the booth when myself and a few other members of the Live Updates team were streaming the first ever online bracelet event. He commentated for close to 15 minutes and it was just so natural, so smooth and he was staring at a 13 inch laptop screen talking about players named ‘TuttyBear’, ‘SLOPHOUSE’ and ‘Stonerboner’ for crying out loud. It was fun to watch and while all are very good in their respective roles, the voice of the WSOP live stream takes this one.


  • Poker Central launces 24/7 television network
  • SHRPO (in conjunction with PNIA) livestreams four FT's in same room/at same time
  • WSOP adds online bracelet event (with live final table)
  • WSOP introduces 'The Colossus'

‘The Colossus’ has already claimed the Will OC GPI APA award for EVENT OF THE YEAR (BUY-IN UP TO $2,000) so I wouldn’t want to let it walk away with two WOC APA’s. Luckily for us, we don't have to, as for groundbreaking as ‘The Colossus’ was, the WSOP adding an online bracelet event to it’s schedule was more groundbreaking. ’The Colossus’, at some point in time, was always bound to happen. If you build it, they will come. The online bracelet event was a tough one though, for many reasons. It’s amazing how many people, non-poker people and poker people alike, are anti-online poker after Black Friday. People believe it’s rigged, helps aid terrorism and can lead grinders down into an endless, escape proof black hole. Maybe I’m being naive when I think that the WSOP awarding a bracelet to an online event somehow “legitimizes” online poker to part of the crowd but I think it did and does. Hopefully that wasn’t the first and only online bracelet event and, hopefully, the rest will only be bigger and better than 2015’s version.


  • Bust, an Insider's Account of Greenville's Underground Poker Scene (Brad Willis)
  • Faraz Jaka, Homeless Poker Milliionaire, CNN Money (Jaka, Gayles, Carson)
  • Jason Somerville’s record Twitch Broadcast during WCOOP in September 2015
  • Joe Giron shoots photo of Negreanu crumbled on the floor after ME elimination

So it’s Somerville, who pseudo claimed my POKER PRESENTER OF THE YEAR award, ‘The Bust Out Seen Round The World’, the Homeless Poker Millionaire and the piece that if you haven’t read, you should stop what you’re doing right now and go to this link. I will never know how Brad Willis did it but somehow, he managed to capture my imagination, an insanely interesting story and an entire underground poker community into a four-part series that had me checking twitter for one link and one link only every morning for a week straight. It’s Making A Murderer combined with Rounders with a little High Stakes Poker mixed in. Read BUST, an Insider’s Account of Greenville’s Underground Poker Scene by Brad Willis while eating breakfast, at your office, before you go to bed, wherever, you will not be disappointed.

The official GPI American Poker Awards won’t be announced for a month and I wish all the nominees the best of luck. Their contributions to the poker community over the last year go far beyond whether their name is selected or not on February 25th. I'd like to thank the GPI for giving me a chance to be a part of the 2015 nomination panel. I’m happy to have a spot, albeit a tiny one, in this community and who knows, maybe one day some blogger will say that I don’t deserve one of these awards.

Asher Conniff Shocks Poker World Amid Accusations of Electronics Theft


This past spring, there was a point in time when Asher Conniff and his mis-clicked run towards a World Poker Tour World Championship title was the biggest story in poker. The story even broke through the traditional poker media barrier, picking up national coverage on sites and networks such as Barstool Sports, the NY Daily News and 'Good Day New York', just to name a few. While many may see Asher as the quintessential, hard working and charismatic pro, only few have seen the opposite side of the Brooklynite, a manipulating, backtracking and frugal thief. 

Asher isn't the only poker player to come under recent scrutiny, as Dwyte Pilgrim's transgression of alleged hustling were made public by Aaron Massey in bits and pieces over the last few weeks and a few more controversies have surfaced throughout the poker community since the summer months of the World Series of Poker. All of those transgressions and controversies have taken place inside the player pool though, while Asher is the first to bring his destruction to an entirely different arena, the arena of poker media. 

"I've never been one to stir up trouble, I've always tried to keep a low profile, both on and off the job." confessed East Coast poker blogger Will O'Connor, "But recent activity among the community has made me realize that if I don't speak out, maybe no one else will." That is something that O'Connor, who once considered Conniff a friend, has spent the better part of the last few months grappling with. 

"It started out with silly little things, texting me, asking what time a Day 2 restart was, asking when late registration was ending, I just thought I was doing my job, helping a friend." The requests got larger and soon, those requests started turning into demands. That's when their one-sided relationship boiled over to a level that neither of them, to this day, think they can come back from. 

O'Connor was working the Borgata Summer Poker Open, where he was on the floor collecting chip counts in the casino's first ever Almighty Stack event, not an easy undertaking with a starting stack of 100,000 chips. That's when Asher approached him. "He came up behind me and frantically said that he needed to charge his phone." O'Connor explained and since this was always a common request of players, he led Asher to the charging station at his centrally located media table. 

"I asked him how much percentage he had left because my shift was done in a half hour and I wanted to know if that was going to be enough time to get him fully charged. He said that wasn't enough time and that's when he started getting defensive, he refused to show me his phone or battery percentage."

O'Connor didn't want it to look like he was intruding into anyone's privacy, so he backed off and lent Asher the charger for the night. He admits that as he walked back to his room after his shift, he wondered if he had made the right choice, he wondered if he even knew Asher Conniff at all. It wasn't until the next morning that he realized that he might have made a decision that he'd spend the next few months trying to rectify. 

"I'm always prepared when it comes to chargers and whatnot, I always have a back up for everything but I just wanted to make sure I got it back, I figured that wouldn't be a problem the next morning." O'Connor said, adding that was when the excuses started, which were, in his own words, "well thought out at first but then just dipped into complete nonsense." 

Conniff either refused to answer texts or would reply hours later, with one word answers to O'Connor's pleads. "It was frustrating because he used his local stardom as a cover and because of that, I was in no position to go up against him, everyone had his back. I was truly alone. Helpless even." 

"I liked him, I rooted for him, I was there for him, he was there for me prior to this, so I didn't want this to come out. I wanted him to just be the bigger man, admit his faults, admit that he was in the wrong but he couldn't, he'd gone mad with power. The next week at Parx, he dangled my charger in front of me, said he wouldn't give it back to me, ever. I've never been more scared." 

There were more taunts to follow, as Conniff extended his, what O'Connor describes as a "reign of terror", to the internet. "I'd check my phone and there would be messages, tweets,  pictures of me asking for it back where he called me an 'idiot'. I knew there was nothing I could do after that, the charger was gone, it was best to just move on."  

O'Connor has finally moved on. He recently purchased a new phone charger but just because he's onto another charger, doesn't mean he's willing to let Conniff continue to bully the poker media like he has. "As I was standing in line, ready to buy the new charger, I thought to myself just how delicate everything in this world is, how one moment of desperation can push someone that far. I can't speak for Asher, I can't help him not go that far again but I can protect those around me, I can make sure no one else gets hurt."

O'Connor realizes that this article alone likely means the end of his relationship with Conniff and at any chance of ever getting that original charger back. "I know it's gone, I know it's done, I know we're done but part of me wants to try to find a positive in all of this. Right now, Asher's somewhere in Europe, my," he still laughs at the term my, "charger is seeing Europe for the first time. My charger just spent the better part of the last week and a half in a ocean side condo in Malta. His destructiveness has at least brought my charger to places and situations that it would never find itself in otherwise. For that I'm not happy, I'm just, more at ease." 

It's been over six months since the original theft took place and for the charger in question, that might just be enough time for the wounds to heal and for a resolution. was able to reach out to the stolen phone charger and received this brief but powerful statement, "Most phone chargers don't endure this much drama in their lifetime, they get plugged and unplugged a few thousand times and then, they get replaced. Most end their lives in a seldom used drawer or cabinet, but Will's charger, Asher's charger, whoever's charger you want to call me, I'm not done yet and hopefully they aren't done yet either."

It should be noted that reached out to Asher Conniff prior to running this article. Conniff refused to comment but did not explicitly dismiss the alleged charges. It should also be noted that while Asher Conniff actually did take Will O'Connor's charger during July's Borgata Summer Poker Open, this entire article is satire and Asher and Will are on good, speaking, trolling terms. 

The End Of The Taj

This article was originally published by on February 18th, 2015. 

This past weekend, if only for a day or two, was a glimpse into the past. A glimpse into where the epicenter of the Atlantic City poker scene once was. A glimpse into what the Trump Taj Mahal poker room used to look like on a Saturday night almost two decades ago.

Seats filled, mountains of chips on tables, waiting lists being formed, dealers shuffling cards, drinks being ordered. The standard, almost monotonous noises one becomes numb to after spending hours, days, sometimes a lifetime in a poker room.

That hasn't been the scene at the “Taj” for some time, but in the late hours of February 14th, you would have thought you’d been sucked back to the mid-1990’s. Sucked back to the early days of the Taj poker room, when it was the biggest and best game in town.


The Trump Taj Mahal made their announcement late last Thursday night that midnight on Sunday, February 15th would see the final hand dealt at the Taj, putting an official end to one of the most iconic Atlantic City poker rooms once and for all.

That announcement, which has been expected over the last few months, was coupled with a new explanation of their bad beat jackpot payouts and qualifiers. Those qualifiers drove players to the room in the tablefuls for the first time in recent memory. While that rush has died down significantly since the $184,000 bad beat jackpot was hit, fittingly, on Friday the 13th, some players remained at tables in the center of the room late into Sunday night, closing down their poker room on their own terms.

The tables were, in and of themselves, a look into the past. There were no Millennial generation internet kids with sunglasses, headphones, or hoods, but an older crowd sporting baseball caps, leather jackets and collared shirts. They've been checking, betting, raising and folding for the last few hours, but with each hand, each pot, each look at their watch or cell phone, they were getting closer to the end of the Taj.


“How long we got?” asks Eric Bird, a Taj regular since 1996 who is in the room every day for the, “family feel of it more than the money.”

Blas Galang is the room manager. He's dressed in a gold button down “Taj Poker” dress shirt and has been with the Taj since he started dealing there when he was 21 years old. He's spent the better part of his life in the poker room and this is his last night as well.

He quickly runs behind a desk to check his clock. It’s 11:50 pm, meaning there’s still time for a few more hands.

But, enough seems like enough for an older gentleman with short, balding, gray hair, wearing wire rim glasses, pressed slacks, and a maroon sweater that almost blends in with the poker room upholstery. He begins to rack his chips, drawing eyes from the rest of the players at his table. No one says a word as they watch the old man walk up to the podium to swipe his players card for the last time.

“Where you going?” Blas asks quietly.

“Figure I’d beat the rush.” The old man replies, moving to the payout cage and then out of the poker room with just a few minutes left on the clock before the final hand. No goodbyes, his head hung until he’s out of sight on the casino floor.


With the Mid-Atlantic and East Coast poker market shared among a half a dozen newer casinos and now the addition of an online marketplace in New Jersey, the Atlantic City player pool has dried up over the last few years and the Taj has more or less been a desert.

The majority of the post-poker boom player pool have never stepped foot in the Taj, knowing it only due to one of the more memorable quotes from Rounders where Edward Norton’s character "Worm" is trying to convince his friend "Mike McDermott", played by Matt Damon, to take a trip to Atlantic City. Worm’s selling point was simple, “check-raising stupid tourists, taking huge pots off of them. Playing all-night high-limit hold’em at the Taj, ‘where the sand turns to gold.’ Stacks and towers of checks I can’t even see over.”

Worm knew where the money and the action was. While the walls of the Taj poker room are almost completely bare, stripped of their signage, their advertisements, their history; if those walls could talk, they’d tell you more bad beats, suck outs, and hand histories than you could probably stomach and they’d teach you more than any book, movie, podcast, or app could about the game of poker.

They’d tell you about a young Phil Ivey sneaking into the Taj with a fake ID. Coining the nickname "No Home Jerome" while he built a bankroll and a knowledge for the game that has elevated him to the top of today's poker world.

They’d tell you about the, now infamous, "pink chip game”. The $7.50-$15 Limit Hold’em game, played with pink $2.50 chips, would draw all sorts of players, from the professionals to recreationalists to tourists from up and down the East Coast and was regularly the “best action game around”.

They’d tell you about Ken “Skyhawk” Flaton defeating Surinder Sunar for the first-ever United States Poker Championships (USPC) Main Event in 1996. His $500,000 take was easily the biggest cash prize in poker at that time aside from the $1,000,000 purse for winning the World Series of Poker Main Event.

They’d tell you tales about the biggest names in poker, from mix-game specialist Chris Reslock to Men “The Master” Nguyen to Mike “Little Man” Sica to some of the more recognizable names of today like 1999 USPC Champion Daniel Negreanu, Allen “Chainsaw” Kessler, Ted Forrest, Phil Hellmuth Jr., Erik Seidel, and so many more…


A floor member checks the clock again, 11:55 PM.

The final preparations for the closure have already begun. Two security guards roll portable safes into the room, parking them next to two unmanned tables where dealers begin to empty their racks, counting white and red $1 and $5 chips that have made their last actions in the Taj poker room.

Of the fifty or so tables in the room, this process likely hasn't been performed on many of them in some time. The tables in the back corner of the room, the area reserved for the “high limit, high action games of the past” as Blas puts it, look more like antiques than functioning poker tables; racks dusty, felt pilling and in desperate need of repair.

“This used to be it,” Blas says, peering around running his hand through his short, dark, middle-parted hair, almost imagining the busyness of it all. “You wanted action? Didn't matter what day, what time, we had it.”

“This room,” he continues, turning, spreading his arms, “filled from wall to wall, every seat. We even had to add twelve tables in the back after a few years. Biggest room in the country.”

Behind Blas is a steel plate mounted to the wall that reads “Maximum Occupancy: 1,375”. That number that seems comical now but one that was surely laughed at years ago as well, except for the opposite reason. If someone wanted to play and could fit, they’d open up a table and deal them in.


When the Taj first opened it's poker room doors, it was literally and figuratively the only game in town.

Many Atlantic City casinos still didn't offer poker and, when they finally did, their home for the game was a far cry from what we recognize today as a poker room. The Taj was the exception, opening a 50-table room in the summer of 1993 that instantly became the go-to destination for poker players on the East Coast.

The Taj was the first poker room in Atlantic City to spread Limit Hold’em, along with being home to some of the best Seven Card Stud action in the country. It was also the first Atlantic City room to hold a major tournament series and the United States Poker Championships quickly became the East Coast players close-to-home version of the WSOP.

The USPC was held from 1996 to 2010 and regularly boasted some of the biggest tournament fields and prize pools around the world during the early years of that series. It's main event was also one of the first poker events outside the WSOP to be filmed and broadcast on ESPN.

The big names have moved on to different card rooms and the United States Poker Championships have been replaced by bigger tournament series, both worldwide and close to home. But, the action and tournament schedules that Foxwoods, initially, and now the Borgata offer on a near monthly basis all stem from those early groundbreaking series at the Taj.


The announcements have been coming over the microphones alerting players as the clock winds down, minute by minute. They’re all keeping their own time though, so when 11:59 PM finally comes, they all look up and, in unison, say, “Last hand?”

Blas gets on the loudspeaker, one final time, “Last hand everyone. Dealers shuffle up and deal!” attempting to keep his professionalism, but emphasizing the last bit ever so slightly, almost as if he were Mike Sexton opening up a World Poker Tour final table.

The dealers simultaneously cut their decks, and while the players ready themselves for the final hand in the Taj poker room, Carlos Santos, a middle aged man in a dark suit with slicked back hair and a graying mustache, enters the room with a handful of coins. He begins handing them out, one by one, to each player at the remaining tables.

Carlos is another regular at the Taj, and regardless of whether the players know him or not, they graciously accept his gift. Each receive a 50 cent Trump Taj Mahal slot token, an ode to the Taj's past and a souvenir from the room’s final night of poker.


There were no “massive stacks and towers of checks” on Sunday night, no $600/$1,200 Seven Card Stud, no $400/$800 Limit Hold’em. The games have changed and the stakes have lessened drastically over the last few years, but the excitement and energy brought on by winning a massive pot has not lessened and likely never will. Even if it’s just for a few dozen big bets at a $2/$4 Limit Hold’em game.

“I don’t care what you have, I know I’m winning,” Charles Jackson, a shorter man with grey balding hair shouts as he throws nearly his entire stack into the middle of the pot.

He and Ken Chow, a younger player probably half Jackson’s age, are locked in a leveling war on a board of [9d] [8d] [2s] [6d], with the barrage of raises capping the action, and leaving Jackson with just one $1 chip in front of him.

The entire room has surrounded the table to see the historic last hand play out. As soon as the [4h] falls on the river, Jackson, out of turn, announces himself "all-in", slamming his final chip into the pot.

Chow can't seem to bring himself to fold for the extra dollar, sheepishly throwing in a chip of his own, only to see Jackson table [Ad] [Td] for the nut flush.

Jackson ushers the dealer to send him the pot, but Chow still has to reveal his hand, claiming he hasn't looked at his cards just yet. He peers at one, tabling the [5d] and the ultimate sweat is on. The crowd around the table begins to talk almost fanatically about the how fitting it would be to see the Taj poker room close with a pseudo-bad beat, straight flush over nut flush, as it’s final act.

Unfortunately for everyone else, but not Jackson, Chow scoffs at his other card. He throws the [Qc] into the muck, laughing the entire time and giving Jackson a very well deserved, “Nice hand.”

Jackson collects his winnings and shouts, “I was here day one and now I’m taking in the last pot!” drawing a round of applause from everyone in the room. The twenty or so remaining players back away from the table and begin making their way to the payout cage--one final trip to cash out before leaving the Taj for good.


Everyone waits in line, except for Ken Chow, who remains at his table just staring off into the emptiness of the room.

“It just brings back a lot of memories for me. I remember coming here on my 21st birthday, my friends and I all ‘played poker’,” he throws up sarcastic air quotes, “walking in here close to ten years ago was the coolest thing ever. I had no idea what I was doing, I might have gone to the ATM like five times, but the rush, I’ll never forget that. That’s why I had to come back.”

Chow, who was staying at the Borgata this past weekend for a week-long tournament series, is one of those East Coast players that has moved on, but he, like so many others, certainly won’t forget their first experience at the Taj. Before he stood, he slid the dealer the rest of his chips and asked her, “So where do you go from here?”

She shrugged and Chow nodded his head in understanding before turning to an almost hidden painted section of the Taj poker room wall. It reads, in huge thin black letters leading to a fan of cards in sequential order for a royal flush, “Taj Poker” with “The Legend Continues” written right below it.

He was the last person to leave the room, bypassing the payout cage that already had their “Next Window Please” signs up. The final counts and paperwork have already begun as the staff quickly worked to officially close down the iconic poker room.


Since the room closed this past weekend, the Taj Mahal has issued another statement saying that the closure is “temporary" and the room will "reopen in July after a complete makeover”. 

That remains to be seen. But wherever Blas, the Taj staff, Eric Bird, Charles Jackson, Ken Chow and the East Coast poker community goes from here, players will still be “turning sand to gold” somewhere and, regardless of where “the legend continues,” it will always be traced back to the Taj.