UFC 158 Analysis – Diaz vs St-Pierre

March 15, 2013 | 11:40 am | JCarver

by David Williams

@dwilliamsmma


Hey everyone – I’m pleased to announce that my friend David Williams, a stats wizard and fellow UFC enthusiast, is going to be working with me on an upcoming project
.  This article is sort of a sneak preview of the type of analytical UFC content he’ll be writing.  Hope you guys enjoy – and don’t forget to tweet @dwilliamsmma and let him know what you thought! – Jason


Introduction

The last time Georges St-Pierre fought, the UFC pulled out all the stops to promote a potential fight between St-Pierre and UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva. In the later rounds of the fight, Silva was shown watching as St-Pierre was fighting Carlos Condit. As soon as the fight was over, Joe Rogan asked St-Pierre about the prospect of facing Silva. The fans wanted to see the fight, the UFC wanted to see the fight, and presumably Anderson Silva wanted to see the fight.


Unfortunately for all of those parties, the one man who seemed least interested in the fight was St-Pierre. With St-Pierre instead electing to defend his welterweight title, it was assumed that St-Pierre’s opponent would be Johny Hendricks, who had defeated Martin Kampmann by knockout in the co-main event of the last UFC show to feature St-Pierre. Instead, St-Pierre and the UFC threw fans a curveball by giving the next title shot to Nick Diaz, a fighter who not only lost to Condit in his last fight, but was also suspended for the previous year by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for testing positive for marijuana metabolites.


At first glance, it seems that not only does Diaz not deserve a title shot, but that Diaz matches up very poorly with St-Pierre. Diaz has had a reputation of struggling against wrestlers, dating back to his three-fight losing streak against Diego Sanchez, Joe Riggs, and Sean Sherk in 2005 and 2006. In St-Pierre, Diaz will be fighting arguably the best wrestler in MMA history, a fighter who seems well-equipped to shut down Diaz’s offense. But contrary to what you might expect, I feel that Diaz is a more dangerous challenger than people are giving him credit for.


Diaz has the most dangerous guard St-Pierre has ever faced


One thing that makes Diaz a unique opponent is his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Diaz is a black belt under Cesar Gracie, and while he typically wins fights by breaking down his opponents with striking volume, Diaz is also a constant threat to win with slick submission attacks on the ground. Along with having very good BJJ, Diaz has a great deal of flexibility. This flexibility makes Diaz very dangerous off his back, as he doesn’t need a lot of space to pivot and attempt an armbar or triangle choke. Against Takanori Gomi in particular, Diaz showcased this flexibility by immediately locking up a gogoplata a moment after Gomi took him down. If you’ve never seen the Diaz-Gomi fight before, I highly recommend watching it:


It’s not just flexibility that makes Diaz dangerous on the ground – it’s flexibility paired with high-level technique. A good example of Diaz’s strength in BJJ can be found analyzing his armbar. When he executes an armbar off his back, Diaz almost always does a good job of locking up one of his opponent’s arms while controlling his posture. Diaz then hooks one arm around his opponent’s leg while swiveling to attempt the armbar. By hooking his opponent’s leg, Diaz restricts his opponent from being able to turn into, and thus negate, the submission attempt. This type of high-level technique increases the effectiveness of Diaz’s submissions and is a big part of why Diaz is a threat to St-Pierre off his back.

This is an important detail that Carlos Condit simply neglected in his fight against St-Pierre. In that fight, Condit showcased an active guard, and often looked to attempt an armbar on St-Pierre. However, Condit never was able to control one of St-Pierre’s legs, and so when he swiveled his hips for an armbar attempt, St-Pierre simply turned into Condit to thwart the attempt. When Diaz is on his back against St-Pierre, I anticipate that he’ll look for submissions, particularly the armbar. When he does, watch for Diaz to control one of St-Pierre’s legs first, and perhaps come much closer than Condit did to actually locking up the arm.

In my opinion, Diaz has a more dangerous guard than any St-Pierre has faced. B.J. Penn might have better pure Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu than Diaz, but Penn is not known for having an aggressive guard game in MMA. Condit was active in looking for submissions, but lacked the technical wizardry to ever truly threaten to finish St-Pierre with a submission hold. With his aggression, flexibility, and technical proficiency, Diaz can threaten St-Pierre on the ground in ways no fighter has been able to before.

With that having been said, St-Pierre has excellent fundamentals on the ground, and should be able to stay out of danger overall. St-Pierre rarely leaves his arms on the mat, and is very good at advancing from full guard to half guard. While Diaz will certainly be looking for submissions, St-Pierre will be landing strikes, and as long as St-Pierre maintains his top position, he’s a virtual lock to win rounds on the judges’s scorecards. Diaz isn’t going to be the favorite if he’s taken down – not even close – but Diaz has a better chance of submitting St-Pierre off his back than anyone St-Pierre has ever fought.


Is St-Pierre in decline?


The biggest aspect of this fight I feel people haven’t been talking enough about with regards to St-Pierre is that he may be at a declining stage of his career. Don’t get me wrong – St-Pierre can decline as a fighter and still be the best welterweight in the world. The problem is that, in St-Pierre’s two most recent performances, he simply was not nearly as dominant as he’d been in the past. Against Condit, at UFC154, St-Pierre was the clear winner, but Condit produced a lot of offense of his own. Besides the third-round head kick that knocked down and threatened St-Pierre, Condit was able to land a number of strikes standing while maintaining an active guard on the ground. St-Pierre still won the fight with his takedowns, top control, and some nice standing strikes of his own, but it wasn’t a blowout by any means.


At UFC 129, in his fight with Jake Shields, St-Pierre absorbed an alarming number of strikes by his standards. According to Fight Metric’s statistics, St-Pierre was able to out-strike Shields, but only by a margin of 85 significant strikes to 78 for Shields.
Fight Metric’s Effectiveness Score, a proprietary measure that scores each fighter’s performance based on every action in a fight, is kinder to St-Pierre, scoring the fight 311-161 in his favor. Still, the fact remains that a non-striker in Shields was able to score quite a few points against the UFC welterweight champion.


Of course, it’s important to consider the fact that St-Pierre suffered a nasty eye poke against Shields, and was coming back from a long injury layoff against Condit. Those are very valid and legitimate excuses to be made for St-Pierre’s relatively lackluster performances in those fights. Presumably, St-Pierre will be able to compete at full strength against Diaz, as he would have likely been able to rid his “cage rust” in his match against Condit. However, if St-Pierre again performs at a level below expectations, it may be a signal that the eye poke and cage rust were merely incidents that masked an overarching decline in St-Pierre’s fighting ability.


The harmony of St-Pierre’s straight punches and takedowns

The most clear and obvious advantage either man has in this fight is St-Pierre’s ability to land takedowns, and Diaz’s relative inability to defend them. While St-Pierre is an exceptional athlete with a tremendous ability to explode into takedown attempts, he is also excellent at using strikes to set up these attempts. With a 76-inch reach, St-Pierre has a long wingspan for a welterweight, and he takes advantage of this by throwing a lot of jabs and straight punches at his opponents. Often, when St-Pierre shoots in for a double-leg takedown attempt, his opponent is covering up, focused on defending a strike that may never come.


To make matters worse for St-Pierre’s opponents, he has an excellent sense of distancing. St-Pierre is able to keep his opponent right at the end of his jab. When his opponent gets frustrated and decides to aggressively move into punching range, that’s when St-Pierre frequently executes a well-timed takedown. This relatively simple approach is one of the most efficient in MMA, as St-Pierre simply does not allow his opponent to place himself in a favorable position. It’s a game of “pick your poison” – either stay at the end of the jab, or find yourself working with your back on the canvas.


Diaz won’t stay on his feet for long


St-Pierre is usually able to control the center of the cage, as a natural result of his ability to land sudden takedowns on his opponents. Where St-Pierre has been most vulnerable is when his opponent is able to move forward into punching range, and attack with combinations. St-Pierre’s defensive striking is hardly a weakness, but he doesn’t have outstanding head movement and can be hit with power strikes on occasion. Such occasions are usually fleeting since St-Pierre will often go straight to the takedown when his opponent moves into range.


One of the things that makes Diaz a unique opponent is his aggression on the feet. Diaz very rarely moves backwards, instead pressing his opponent with a very high volume of strikes to both the head and the body. Diaz’s opponent typically responds in one of two ways – by changing levels and attempting a takedown, or by moving backwards and engaging in a striking war. The former option has generally proven to be more effective, although Condit in particular was able to out-point Diaz by moving backwards and landing well-timed strikes.


In this fight, the most frequent result of Diaz’s aggression is that St-Pierre is going to quickly dump him on the canvas with a takedown. Diaz’s fighting style implies that he’s unafraid of being taken down – because he’s in such close range, he often is simply unable to react in time to even attempt to defend an opponent’s takedown. That’s against wrestlers who aren’t nearly as quick as St-Pierre is. I expect Diaz to do what he normally does, moving forward and looking to land punches early and often. St-Pierre is almost certain to take him down in response, and is unlikely to have much of a struggle in the process.


Diaz wins fights with conditioning


A unique MMA striker, Diaz is extremely effective with his prolific offense. Diaz is well known for moving forward very aggressively, throwing rapid combinations at his opponents. Diaz likes to take the fight to his opponent, going as far at times as to actually shove his opponent against the fence, where he will throw an onslaught of punches at his opponent’s head and body. Diaz also has very fast hands, and is often able to throw straight punches quickly enough that his opponent is unable to effectively defend them, especially in the later stages of the fight.


Diaz has holes in his striking defense. He generally does a good job of keeping his hands up, but seldom showcases effective head movement. Since Diaz is usually the one moving forward, he’s often in range for his opponent to throw powerful counters at him. Diaz also doesn’t defend leg kicks very well – Condit threw dozens of leg kicks at Diaz, and Diaz only bothered to check a couple of them. While Diaz has never shown obvious damage from taking leg kicks, they score points and can be used to help win a decision [as long as you’re not being judged by Cecil PeoplesJason].


Diaz is at his best when his opponent is exhausted, simply because he won’t be. Diaz is a fighter who is in such good shape that he participates in triathlons in his spare time. As a result, Diaz can maintain his constant barrage of strikes, while his opponent eventually wilts under the pressure. Diaz has often been maligned for not hitting very hard, but even lighter strikes can do serious damage on an exhausted opponent, especially in the barrage form he throws them in. He has 13 career wins by KO/TKO in 34 fights, and at least a couple of Diaz’s eight submission wins can be attributed to his relentless striking and pace as well. If Jake Shields gave St-Pierre a few problems on the feet, it is possible that Diaz will find success there as well, especially as the fight goes on. This is the reason I believe St-Pierre will have little patience for the striking game of Diaz.


Conclusion


Georges St-Pierre is a very cerebral fighter who forces his opponents through his wrestling dominance to fight where they are weak. When St-Pierre faces a striker, such as Condit, Dan Hardy, and Thiago Alves, he repeatedly takes the fight to the ground. When he faces a grappler, like Shields and Josh Koscheck, he decides to keep the fight standing. This is a big part of why St-Pierre is a 5:1 favorite to win this fight – not only does he have arguably the best wrestling in MMA, he uses his wrestling to consistently force his opponent to fight at a disadvantage.


I expect St-Pierre to win this fight more often than not. While Diaz has a very dangerous guard, St-Pierre is excellent at controlling his opponent and landing effective strikes on the ground. As long as St-Pierre does that, he’ll win rounds on the judges’ scorecards. In what I believe will be brief moments standing, St-Pierre should be able to land straight punches as Diaz moves forward and will likely avoid being caught up in the whirlwind of strikes Diaz wants to throw. As long as the St-Pierre sticks to his gameplan – and he usually does – he should consistently win rounds and ultimately win by decision.


Despite that, I believe Nick Diaz is a more dangerous opponent than he’s being given credit for, because unlike many of St-Pierre’s past opponents, Diaz is a threat no matter where the fight goes. Assuming near-prime St-Pierre shows up and does what we expect and consistently outwrestles Diaz, he’ll still have to deal with the very treacherous guard of the challenger and could be in danger of being submitted. If the threat of a submission deters St-Pierre from taking Diaz down, or if Diaz is otherwise able to stymy St-Pierre’s takedowns, the champion may have trouble dealing with such a unique, potent, aggressive striker. If St-Pierre gives any opportunity, Nick Diaz is more than well equipped to capitalize on weakness or mistakes and play spoiler come Saturday night.


Prediction: Georges St-Pierre by decision

the calm after the storm

November 16, 2012 | 12:51 pm | JCarver

It’s been a week now since I left Las Vegas.  Hurricane Sandy’s extensive wipeout of Long Island’s power grid made going home pretty pointless, and so I remained a guest of the Rio for 8 days longer than I had planned.  Luckily, myself and most of my friends and family suffered only minor damage from the storm, and life around here seems to have finally returned to normal…sort of.

I have been pretty much entirely responsibility-free for a week or two for the first time since May.  I played the entire WSOP, and the day after it ended mid-July, Russ immediately reached out to me to talk about coaching.  We started work soon after.  Despite now finally having the opportunity to relax and unwind, to tackle the pile of unplayed games I’ve yet to touch or to reconnect with the people I haven’t been able to keep up with, I find myself instead missing the nonstop action of October.  I absolutely loved being fully immersed in poker with a group of similarly passionate individuals, dealing with the logistics of coordinating a dozen people plus a production team for a month, and maybe most of all, I loved feeling the thrilling but sort of frightening constant pressure of being entrusted with the biggest day of my friend’s life.  When it was all said and done, it was the single most exhausting month of my life, but the most emotionally rewarding one as well.

If you’ve followed me for awhile, you probably know that I make a bunch of videos on my YouTube channel, most of them poker-related.   I love the creative freedom running my own YouTube channel brings me – in the past year, I made StarCraft videos with one of my pro-gamer friends, streamed a live poker session, experimented with some different types of production styles (webcam, the switch from Camtasia to XSplit), and most recently, I created and produced the project I’m most proud of so far, “The Final Table”.  If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the entire 40-minute documentary:

In the middle of September, as I was planning out the simulation phase of our coaching, it struck me how cool it could be to invite in a camera crew to film in October. A few days later, I pitched to Dan O’Brien the idea of shooting a show in the mold of a UFC Primetime or HBO’s 24/7 series, telling the story of who Russell Thomas is, how we are preparing to do battle for $8.5 million, document the emotional roller coaster he and I would be going through, and cover Russ’ journey through the end of the final table (the initial title actually was “Road to the Final Table”).  Dan liked the idea, and after the two of us refined the concept a little bit he connected me with his two former roommates, Jake Gabbay and Justin Tyrrell, the two wizards behind “The Final Table.”  They didn’t really know poker (which was exactly what I wanted) and after reassuring them that we wouldn’t be talking about the intricacies of check-raising dry flops or recording the simulations hand-for-hand, they were in.  I also promised them in the same conversation that at least some of their work days would be part-time.  Almost every one of their work days went overtime.  Whoops.

Two weeks later, we began shooting in New York.

blogpic1nov

We would film for a few days, edit for two or three long days, repeat.  Episode 5 was the toughest schedulewise, as we wrapped shooting Sunday evening and Jake and Justin then put in a marathon late-night session editing so it could be published Monday morning (the day of the actual final table).  We were extremely fortunate to have the support of both Poker Productions, ESPN’s WSOP production company, as well as Seth Palansky, the WSOP official in charge of media access for the final table.  Their assistance was really what allowed us to shoot so much of the cool footage you see in Episodes 5 and 6.

wsop russ

It’s unbelievably fulfilling to come up with an idea like this, put a team together, execute our vision, and have it exist in reality better than I had ever imagined.  I’ve never been a part of something like that to this extent, and as we put time in I discovered that I really enjoy this sort of production work.  Since the finale of “The Final Table,” even with all the other things I could be doing, I’ve happily spent the vast majority of my time starting the development of our next project.  I have plenty of ideas for what might lie ahead, and “The Final Table” has opened some very interesting doors that I can’t wait to explore.

Thanks for reading!  Check out more pictures from our training camp here, and let me know all your thoughts over on my freshly-verified twitter @JasonSomerville!

Breaking down the A9 call of Russell Thomas

October 30, 2012 | 4:35 am | Derk

I have been working with Russell Thomas the past couple of months on short stack play and ICM issues.  I am doing an entire series of videos about my work with him over on PokerVT.com where I make poker training videos. You can also check out more of his training he did with Jason Somerville and other pros here on Youtube.

There weren’t many spots where Russell was truly short or had to deal with short stack shoves, but I did want to break down the math of his A9 call, because at first glance a lot of people think it’s not a good call, but I immediately thought it was probably OK.

The stacks were like this:

Greg Merson: 88,425,000

Jesse Sylvia: 62,825,000

Russell Thomas: 15,900,000

Jake Balsiger: 30,825,000

Blinds are 300,000/600,000 with a 75,000 ante.

It folds to Russell in the SB who opens to 1,500,000, Jake moves all-in from the BB, and Russell calls.

When I was watching the hand in real time, I was pretty convinced that Russell would fold.  He took a minute or two to call, and in my work with Russell, he was pretty quick and accurate with his ranges.  Granted, things change at the final table, but I feel like the length of time he spent on the call indicated it was the bottom of his range.

In the press conference afterwards, Russell said that he figured Jake would shove any ace, any broadway, and likely some suited connectors.  I think against a decent online player, this is probably a fairly good range.  Things do change at the final table of the Main Event, so it’s possible that Jake was tighter.  I do think we can also discount monsters from Jake’s range.  I doubt he would just simply shove with a hand like AA or KK.  Let’s do some analysis now:

    Russell A9o call analysis

Russell A9o call analysis

This is the “base” situation, which I’ve set up to be even tighter than Russell thought Jake was shoving.  I’ve had to move stacks around and adjust the blinds to deal with the raise/3-bet shove/call decision scenario, and I’ve adjusted edge to -0.15 here, mainly because ICM overvalues short stacks.  If you want more details on using SNGWiz, how to use it for complicated situations like this, and how to adjust for edge, then you can check my videos at PokerVT.com.

As you can see from the picture, A9o is a call, and it suggests he can call even a few hands wider than that, including A8o+, A7s+, KQs, and 33+.

Doing some further analysis, regardless of if AA/KK is in Jake’s shoving range, then Jake needs to be folding the worst aces (A2o-A4o), 22, KJo, QJs, and K9s for this to be a fold from Russell.  If Russell was correct about Jake’s range being wider, then his call is actually a lot better and he could call most aces and broadway stuff like KJo+ profitably.

There is perhaps one situation where this could be considered a fold.  Due to the fact that there’s real life changing money here at the final table, one can reasonably choose to be tight and wait for a really good situation.  We decrease variance by doing this, but we also decrease our earnings.  So, I think if Russell was taking this into consideration then he could have folded everything but something like AT+ and 77+, and that’s with Jake modeled as being tighter than Russell thought he was. Still, A9 is very close to this range, so even taking the utility value of money into account, this would be a very small error at best.  Making this decision is simply personal preference — one is more profitable and the other is ostensibly less variance.

All in all, I’m proud of the way Russell played.  Congrats to him for winning $2.9 million!

Big One for One Drop final table strategy

July 4, 2012 | 3:55 pm | Derk

While watching and listening to the broadcast for the Big One for One Drop there was a lot of interesting analysis from very high level pros, but there was a pretty big mistake that several of them made.  I heard them say a couple of times that once it got to the final table and specifically down to 5 or so players, if one of the players had a massive chip lead that it would benefit the other players to tighten up significantly to try to move up the payouts.  Because of the top heavy structure of the event and my own background with ICM, I recognized this was wrong.  Fortunately, JCarver was going to be on the broadcast later, so I told him and he ended up correcting them.  However, I wanted to write this post and go into some serious detail on the issue.

First off, let’s look at the payouts for the final table of One Drop and compare them to the final table of the 2011 Main Event, which has a more traditional payout structure:

Payouts for One Drop and Main Event

The One Drop payouts are very high for the 1st and 2nd places compared to the Main Event.  Logically it’s easy to see that at the final table of the Main Event it can really benefit a player to be tight and try to move up in certain spots.  For example, going from 9th to 5th in the Main Event will get you an extra 5.26% = $1.49 million = 149 $10,000 buy-ins.  Going from 9th to 5th in One Drop will get you an extra 1.7% = $725 thousand = 3/4 of one $1,000,000 buy-in.  However, the broadcast gaffe was specifically about what short stacks should do with 5 players left if there was a massive chip leader, so let’s analyze this situation with the two different payout structures.

Normalizing, let’s say the blind level is 250k/500k with a 50k ante, 5 players left with 100m total chips in play, one player having 80m chips and the other 4 having 5m chips each.  If we are in the small blind with a 5m stack and shoving into the big stack who will call with 25% of hands and are disregarding edge, our profitable shoving range is 37% of hands with the One Drop payout structure and 21% of hands with the Main Event payout structure.  Likewise, if we are in the small blind with 5m and shoving into another 5m stack who will call with 25% of hands, our profitable shoving range is 100% for the One Drop and 81% for the Main Event.

Simply put, because of the top heavy structure of One Drop, chips have more value and survival is marginalized because the value gained from moving up a payout is not as much as it would be from potentially accumulating chips and trying to get up to 1st or 2nd place.

One thing that was interesting to me, however, is the huge “bubble” at 3 players left in the One Drop.  The jump from 4th to 3rd is about $1.7 million, but the jump from 3rd to 2nd is almost $6 million.  From the chart above, you can see this is a 13.5% jump, while the 2011 Main Event only has an increase of 4.99% from 3rd to 2nd.  So, it follows that this “bubble” is very important and it would be correct for players to tighten up.  Here are some numbers:

4 players left (85m vs 5m vs 5m vs 5m):

One Drop shoving range BVB small into big (25% call): shove 24%

Main Event shoving range BVB small into big (25% call): shove 18%

3 players left (90m vs 5m vs 5m):

One Drop shoving range BVB small into big (25% call): shove 14%

Main Event shoving range BVB small into big (25% call): shove 19%

As expected, with 3 players left it is beneficial to tighten up to try to get into 2nd place.

In summary, basically the only time players should be tighter at the One Drop final table compared to a more normal payout structure is when it is 3-handed.  In other situations, players in One Drop should be looser.  Note that even though all this analysis was done with push/fold examples the high value of chips applies even for normal, non-push/fold play.

One other thing to mention here, as well, is that all this analysis is really done in a vacuum.  When we take real life into consideration then I feel that the gap between how people should play at the One Drop final table versus the Main Event final table should be even wider.  The players who are in One Drop are all either high level players with lots of money or rich businessmen, but at the Main Event that’s not necessarily the case.  Getting an extra $500k is very likely not a major deal for someone in One Drop — it’s only half of the buy-in and probably a fraction of their net worth.  For a Main Event final table participant, getting an extra $500k can be a very big deal, though.  I am reminded of the hand where Paul Wasicka folded a straight flush draw 3-handed at the Main Event final table when he almost certainly would have gone with it in a $10 online tournament.  The positive effect of large sums of money in real life can, for better or worse, cause you to ignore the mathematically correct play.

real talk

February 14, 2012 | 6:41 pm | JCarver

I’m a poker player. Above anything else that I could identify as, no single label could better describe my life, my personality, my outlook, my desires. In no community do I feel more at home, and I only have a handful of friends who don’t come from the poker world. Reality, and life in general is just…different with poker as your foundation. Our culture, our norms and our experiences as professional poker players are unique, and to various degrees, define us as individuals. I don’t shy away from that label of “poker player” at all – I love the game, and I feel incredibly lucky to be able to play poker – a game! – for a living, and being able to compete on the highest levels in tournaments is something I’ve derived a ton of pleasure and pride from in my life.

One of the things that I think is universally liked about poker is that the game is open to anyone. If you’ve got the cash, we’ve got a seat open. It doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, Christian, Jewish, a woman, physically disabled, a foreigner, a felon, or smell terrible, we’ll make room for you at the not-necessarily-proverbial table and let you play. Everyone comes in on an equal playing field, getting the same cards, the same chips, and left alone to make their own decisions. It’s a cutthroat world, but the waters are open to anyone who wants to swim. This universal acceptance/open invitation is sort of the centerpiece of poker – it’s a major reason we had a boom in 2003 after Moneymaker’s win at the WSOP ‘proved’ “anyone can do it, all you have to do is play.” Maybe it’s because of that cornerstone of acceptance, maybe it isn’t, but our community is pretty tolerant overall (maybe it’s more indifferent than tolerant). Bottom line, it really doesn’t matter who you are, or what you do; barring some truly awful behavior that usually has to do with a long-time abuse of the community’s trust, you’ll be accepted, or at worst, begrudgingly allowed in. It takes something pretty messed up to be truly ostracized from the poker community as a whole (the only person I can think of is Russ Hamilton of UB superuser fame, and the Full Tilt top guys will definitely make the list if players don’t get repaid).

Of all the diversity and variety that the poker world contains, though, there is a noticeable lack of openly gay poker professionals. Vanessa Selbst is a top tier player, a brilliant woman and an amazing person, but other than her, I’ve never met a single gay professional poker player, nevermind a high profile one. There’s plenty of speculation – Daniel Negreanu, Tom Dwan, and a few other big name players who are actually very straight have received plenty of attention from the gossip forums as being potentially gay for having a few mannerisms simply perceived that way.

They’re not gay, though, and no man who is a well-known pro in poker is open about it. I’m not quite sure why exactly that is, and of course everyone is entitled to be as open as they want to be about their personal lives, but for there to be zero high-profile openly not-straight men in poker seems…bad. Archaic. Reflective of a community that isn’t open to all, when we actually are one of the most open communities in existence. Maybe it’s not because of something unique to poker, and it’s just a relic of the old-school mentality when the world’s default mindset was at best “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but, come on, it’s 2012. Whatever the reason… zero??

I’ve struggled with how to discuss this, with how to balance my desire for privacy with the fact that I do want to be myself publicly – and the fact that I think it’s overdue for a guy to be open about it in poker. I’m no Daniel Negreanu, the royalty of real talk, but I do pride myself on saying what I think and simply being who I am; but I suppose you could say in the past being “truly myself” has come with a bit of an asterisk. Privately, amongst friends, I can say I’ve been doing that for some amount of time – but publicly, and in poker, that hasn’t completely been the case. I haven’t exactly always been where I am now, though, and haven’t really been ready to share my story publicly. Privacy reasons excepted, that won’t be the case any more.

2011 was an amazing year for me. Although I was fortunate enough to win an event at WSOP, 2011 was key for me because it was transformative. At 24, I finally came to embrace the seemingly basic concept that happiness should come before most other priorities, an idea it seems many of us poker players struggle with for some reason. Ever since I left college at 19 to pursue poker professionally, pretty much every morning (read : afternoon) I woke up and said “how can I make the most money possible today?” – and that’s what I did. When I felt lonely, or unhappy, or depressed, I did what I could to feel better; but for the most part, I made few actual changes and mostly just returned to the status quo of the grind. After Black Friday (my birthday, by the way) and the shutdown of online poker, I suddenly wasn’t able to do that any more. Being unable to tunnel-vision focus on making money, real-life things finally kind of caught up with me.

By the time WSOP 2011 came around, I had already begun to want real change, and once WSOP passed I had a few important heart-to-hearts with some very close friends and my mindset finally started to actually change. I decided I wasn’t going to focus on making decisions that were in my best financial interest, I was going to focus on making decisions based on how they’d impact my happiness – without making excuses. The obstacles that I had always created for myself – what if this, what if that – I put aside, and began making changes instead.

I had put it off for a long time. I always knew I wasn’t straight, but I never spoke a word of it for twenty two years, and nobody really ever knew otherwise. I dated women exclusively through my teens and early 20s, doing my best to convince myself that it wasn’t something I had to pursue, that maybe I’d grow out of it, that I’d be happier with women anyway, that I just should focus on other things. After a lot of struggling and a lot of anxiety, I eventually came out to one of my close friends when I was 22. That same year, the second and third people I came out to were my parents (probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done), from which I basically received the not-exactly-what-I-needed reaction of “keep it to yourself, don’t tell anyone.” I told very few people from then until I was 24 (by the way, my parents are way better now).

I was lucky enough to come out to a few close friends who were very encouraging. My closest friends are amazing people that I all love dearly and they were crucial in my growth from then til now. I remember, two years ago, accidentally verbalizing “that guy [on tv] is pretty cute” to one of my friends. Even though I had already come out to him, I was instantly petrified – it was the first time I had really said something like that out loud (at 22!) – and although I remember the anxiety very well I also clearly recall the flood of relief I felt when he simply laughed afterwards. Whether serious or lighthearted, that sort of positive encouragement from my friends over the past two years helped me greatly along my path to finding myself and “living my truth,” as a (slightly overly) philosophical friend likes to put it.

I didn’t actually make a gay friend until June of 2011, when I was 24. That helped a lot with being able to understand/express myself and not quite feeling so…isolated. Before then, I never really tried to make any gay friends or relationships. I would consider taking action, but before anything actually happened, I’d find or fabricate excuses to not be open or aggressive about it. I told myself to be afraid of the poker world finding out somehow and outing me and having some “disaster” roll out because of it. I was worried that no matter what I ever accomplished or did, I’d be labeled “that gay poker player” above all else, and it would be a title of shame. I feared that I’d lose friendships that meant a lot to me, that I’d ring a bell that could never be unrung and I’d be miserable, somehow. It took me a long time to mostly get over all those somewhat irrational anxieties (fingers crossed!) and to truly start being myself, regardless of what that might mean or look like to others.

As 2011 continued on, and my mindset became more focused on being happy, I pushed myself to make the changes I wanted. I started being more and more open, telling more and more people, and eventually started dating. I became more empowered by the growing personal freedoms I felt as I increasingly was just myself by default, less and less often censoring my thoughts, desires, and feelings. The small personal ‘victories’ piled up, I gained a lot of forward momentum, and the positive changes started to snowball…and here we are now, writing this post. I’m totally open in my personal life, in an amazing relationship that means a great deal to me, and bottom line, I’m honestly happier now than I’ve ever been.

I’m not planning on being much different. If you’ve interacted with me before, you pretty much know who I am, and there probably won’t be many differences in the future. Like I said, I’m just a poker player, after all, and being attracted to guys doesn’t change that. Still, though, for myself and as a member of the poker community, I felt this was important to share – to both allow me to openly/completely be myself in the poker world and maybe to make it easier for others to be themselves, too, if they want to be. Real talk.

edited to add : a lot of people have been trying to get in touch with me in various ways, best way by a mile is on twitter @JasonSomerville.

2009-2011 : a retrospective photoblog

December 3, 2011 | 10:58 am | JCarver

The past three years I’ve been very lucky to have visited a ton of cool places with a lot of awesome people.  Browsing through some of my old folders, inspired by BJ Nemeth’s awesome photography work, I felt like it would be cool to share some of my personal photos and memories in a post. All these were taken by me with my iPhone.

Pokerstars Caribbean Adventure, Nassau, Bahamas, January 2009. My first time there, I went with some longtime friends prior to the actual tournament and had a great time. One of my favorite stops on the tour.

Monte Carlo, Monaco, May 2009. Absolutely the most gorgeous place I’ve ever been. Me and Eric “Sheets” Haber flew in to Nice, France, and then took a helicopter across the Mediterranean over to Monte Carlo. Ridiculously cool experience. The walk from the hotel to the casino itself was absolutely beautiful. The first picture is from the helicopter, the second one right off the helipad, the third from the room, the fourth from the walk to the tournament area. I had my biggest live cash to date in the main event here, a 19th for $67,600, losing AQ vs AT for a pile, ten in the window :(

E3 Expo, Los Angeles, California, June 2nd, 2009. During the WSOP, me, Andrew “wayrin” Hart, and Davis “StefanProdan” Bowen went to visit our friend Andres “evang” Odella, a developer for Naughty Dog of Uncharted fame. Although we were promised a hookup initially, getting in ended up costing $500 apiece to enter. Nice scam, evang.

Chipstack on Day 2 of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) in the 5K NLHE event on June 9th, 2009 in Las Vegas, NV. I would go on to finish 45th in this event for my first 5-figure WSOP score, and later in this WSOP finish 2nd and 5th in two other events.

July 11th, 2009, Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, NV for UFC 100. An amazingly sick card and a super fun night with the freshly crowned WSOP HU Champion Leo Wolpert, the one and only Scott “mastrblastr” Seiver, and my good friend JC Alvarado. We all had tons of money on Brock, and upon his victory were probably the only ones within 25 feet really celebrating his win. At some point in the night, Scott got a brofist from Lyoto Machida and was insanely giddy for just about the next eleven months because of it.

October 24th, 2009, Bellagio, Las Vegas, NV. Pretty amazing view. It is here that I would finally be bold enough to win the Blue Diamond Almond Player of the day

…resulting in that, about a month later. One of my favorite blogs I’ve ever written was about the whole almonds thing. Check it out.

January 12th, 2010, back at PCA in Bahamas. The second picture is the view from Daniel’s balcony, who was kind enough to let me and my friend stay with him for the latter half of our trip.

April 6th, 2010, at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT. My good friend Cliff “JohnnyBax” Josephy would go on to get 7th here, that’s really all I remember about that trip.

June 12th, 2010, South Point Casino in Las Vegas, NV. Bowled with PumpyTudors. Best day of my life. That is all.

My chip stack on July 12th, 2010, at the Rio in Las Vegas in the WSOP Main Event. I had a good WSOP overall, getting a 3rd in the heads-up and a 4th in the 25K 6max. I made it on ESPN for busting Barry Greenstein in the main, but wasn’t able to make it past 300th or so.

August 7th, 2010 at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California for Silva vs Sonnen, UFC 117. Front row seats to an awesome card. Also had the fun experience of being patted down rougher than I’ve ever been in my life, including being checked for an ankle holster. Stay classy, Oakland. I got a high five from the future heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos after his win which was pretty damn awesome.

November 2nd, 2010, Foxwoods, CT. My good friend Jeff Forrest shipped a WPT with me, his dad, and Joey Fatone of NSYNC fame cheering him on. Such an awesome day. There is I believe only just one short clip on the internet of me and Joey Fatone doing the flop-a-set-of-fours dance. Enjoy.

December 1st, 2010, Turning Stone Casino, Verona, NY. Went with some friends, got snowed in, lost a bunch online. Good times.

January 12th, 2011, Bahamas. Apparently that’s the most photogenic of places I visit.

April 1st, 2011, Dallas, Texas. Sweating my good friend Andre “Gretorp” Hengchua playing his match in a Major League Gaming Starcraft 2 tournament. Really crazy atmosphere, SC2 has such an awesome fanbase. I’m jealous.

May 12th, 2011, Aria Casino, Las Vegas, NV. Daniel was nice enough to let me sweat him as he played some mixed games in Ivey’s room.

May 26th, 2011, Aria Casino, Las Vegas, NV. This was my seat for the 25K WSOP Fantasy Draft. I’ve never been in room of such sick, sick action junkies before. Felt right at home :)

May 27th, 2011, north shore of Long Island, somewhere. Just thought it was a really nice view. If there was only a lighthouse in the distance it would pretty much be Long Island in a photograph.

Rio Hotel and Casino, June 15th, 2011, I won my first WSOP bracelet. Good times :)

Apparently I need to be taking more photos since this was pretty cool to go through. Hope you guys enjoyed!

a new take on some old favorites

July 27, 2011 | 4:55 am | JCarver

While at the WSOP, I had several opportunities to play in some rather interesting home games. Over the summer, I played holdem, plo, pineapple, three-card holdem, 5 and 6 card plo, pot limit badugi double draw, pot limit stud (starting with 4 cards), chinese, and a few other even stranger games for just an orbit here and there. Being that I surround myself with a group of truly sick gamblers, I feel it’s likely that I’ve played in some of the biggest games ever spread of the more rare variants listed (at one point in the summer I opened to $5000 utg with KxKs5s in pineapple, no joke). I’m absolutely not even close to rolled for games that big and never really have before.  I broke a few personal records over the summer in these games, including some bad ones like  playing my longest non-break session ever (only 20hrish), biggest losing day ever (first time I lost 6-figures in a day), almost following that up by almost losing almost the same amount a few days later before pulling back to even.

Of all the games we played, one game was played by far most frequently and it might not be one you are familiar with – Taiwanese poker.  Although many people on twitter have taken credit for creating it, these various claims are all so unconnected that I have no idea who to believe.  All I know is over the course of the summer we developed the game from the rough outline we had learned about into a pretty concrete format with a bunch of alternative deviations and things that I thought would be cool to share.

The basics of the game are easy. Everyone is dealt 7 cards, and from those cards, sets a 1-card (highcard), 2-card (holdem), and a 4-card omaha hand (similar to chinese in this way). You can either slowroll your opponents or table your hand pre-flop, but in any case, a board is run out.  Initially, we kept the scoring like chinese – everyone matching up to everyone else – but it really, really slows the game down, especially 4+handed, and eventually we decided to just let whatever hand that reigned supreme over the same-game hands would simply scoop. We also added a tiered payout base – 1unit for the front, 2units for the middle, 3units for the back hand, a 2unit scoop bonus (2 tier-2 holdem level points) and a royalty system (these are additional, not total payouts):

taiwanese royalties

A quick example hand:

taiwanese example

At this point, a board would be run out…

Js 5c 6c 2h 6s

For the front hand, the pair of jacks wins 1 point (let’s say the base unit is $100) so $100 apiece to player 2.
For the middle hand, the dueces full wins for player 3, and he also wins the FH bonus for an 2 points.  The holdem hand is worth a base of $200, with a 2unit bonus, netting that player $600 from each opponent.
For the back hand, the full house from player 1 wins ($300 base unit payout) and a 1-point bonus for $600 apiece paid to him.

We tested some other variants – doing it all even payouts (1unit for all 3) but that makes it too easy to play optimally, running multiple boards (fun, more action, we do 2x or 3x almost always), adding a 4th badugi hand that wasn’t affected by the board (to appease certain similarly-named-to-me :coolfish: ).  I think there’s potential for adding natural hands (7-straight, 5flush-2flush, maybe 3pair?) and the royalty system probably still needs more tweaks to be balanced, but even as is, I highly recommend it as it’s a lot of fun gambling game to add into a shorthanded home game.  Try it out and let me know if anyone develops any cool tweaks/variants!

P.S. thanks to Derk for the editing help!

sweating the end of the 25K

July 11, 2011 | 7:09 pm | JCarver

With my personal WSOP at its end, only one big sweat remains : the conclusion of the 25K fantasy draft (alternatively here, and official standings here).  I’ve never participated in any sort of draft before this one and was worried that I’d make a bunch of dumb mistakes so I tried my best to prepare by doing a lot of research on players before the draft began.  The best decision made may have been splitting the team with my rungood and name brother Jason Mercier as we successfully powered a red-hot freight train of 8 people (well, 7 people), taking a sizeable lead with just one tournament left.

With just the main event remaining, here is the potential scoring to be won per finisher (tiny caveat: I’ve been wrong before, and remember, the draft pays out points based on the chips at the final table, not on the actual November Nine finishes):

1st: 236pts
2nd: 226pts
3rd: 216pts
4th: 206pts
5th: 196pts
6th: 186pts
7th: 176pts
8th: (15+68)*2 = 166pts
9th: (10pts+68pts)*2 = 156pts
10th-18th : (5pts+68pts (field bonus)) *2 = 146pts
19th-693rd : 2 pts

Huge, 144 point bubble here between 19th and 18th (the average team right now has 324.5 points total).  Taking a look at the current leaderboard (courtesy of www.25Kfantasy.com),

Jason Somerville, Jason Mercier 675
Erick Lindgren 476
Todd Brunson 464
James Bord, Toby Lewis 443
Justin Bonomo, Eric Froehlich, Scott Seiver 412
Eugene Katchalov, Daniel Alaei 378
Joe Cassidy, Huck Seed 377
Cary Katz 325
Daniel Negreanu 324
Justin Smith, Ashton Griffin 251
Robert Mizrachi, Jared Bleznick, Greg Mueller, “Crazy Mike” 218
Barry Greenstein 206
Mori Eskandani 137
Frank Kassela, Shaun Deeb 93
Vladimir Shchemelev 89

Theoretically, nobody is out, as even Shchemelev could win with enough multiple final table finishes from his team, but more reasonably, let’s look at what it would take for a single enemy draft member to push us from the lead (assuming our team bricks).  Erick’s team is 199 points behind and needs a 4th or better, Todd’s is 211 points behind, needing a 3rd or better, and Bord’s is 232 behind and would need a 1st to win.  All other teams would need at least two top 18 finishes, which would net a minimum of 292 points (although two 10th-18ths alone would only be enough to push mastr/ZJ’s team into 1st).  There are a ton of sidebets, and with a total of 4 spots officially paying ($225k/$93.75k/$37.5k/$18.75k), plenty of the other teams might have a sweat if someone in the middle of the pack starts a deep run.

Being that I don’t have much else to do these days and with no online poker on the horizon I have very little gambling to look forward to for awhile, so I’ll be enjoying my last decent-sized sweat by keeping a close eye on this.  I’ll update this again with chip standings and a clearer picture of any potential close calls as the WSOP main event progresses.

WSOP!!!!

June 4, 2011 | 3:27 pm | FDSaussure

Well I have arrived safely in Las Vegas and slept off the jetlag. Our apartment is pretty cool, bigger than we expected from the photos. So will Scottish poker superstar David Vamplew crush his way to a bracelet? Or can I, Andrew “Some Guy” Ferguson replace a seat at the bar with a final table appearance? We will find out over the next few weeks!

Also a big OI OI to Citizen Sprinkles ( http://twitter.com/JonSpinks ) who is in Day 3 of the $1.5k Stud at 5/12! gl gl!

Gambling theory problem/puzzle solution

June 1, 2011 | 2:07 pm | Derk

I originally posted a problem about a week ago here and an update with a hint here. If you haven’t read those, please do and give it a try before reading the solution.

Here’s a restatement of the problem:

You deposit $400 in an online casino and are given a $100 bonus immediately, so you have $500 to bet with. You can withdraw only after betting a total of $2500. Let’s say you play a game where you flip coins and if you win you get 1.99 times your bet and nothing if you lose. This has a 99.5% return like blackjack, but I’m abstracting it because in blackjack you can run into bad EV spots where you make a bet and then don’t have enough to split or double down. The table limits for this game are minimum bet $1 and maximum bet $100. How much should we bet to maximize EV, and why?

Solution:
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