All in the Cards

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All I ever really want when I’m playing poker is a fairly even card distribution. I figure if the cards break relatively even, then I’ll be able to outplay my opponents. But sometimes the cards don’t cooperate. Sometimes someone gets hit in the head with the deck so hard it’s impossible for anyone else to win. When the cards totally dictate the outcome, it leads skeptics to think that poker isn’t a game of skill but  just a game where the player with the best cards wins.

That’s pretty much what happened at this year’s Final Table of the WSOP. Over the course of three days, Joe McKeehan, the eventual champion, had a 7-million dollar horseshoe planted up his ass. The commentators all talked about how well he played, but really how the hell would they know? The guy never missed a flop. Never got coolered. Never found himself in a tough spot. Any time he had a big hand like A-K, A-Q, etc., the flop would come with a matching card. Any time he had a pocket pair, someone had a smaller pocket pair. The last hand of the tournament, in what was a typical spot, he had A-10 vs. Josh Beckley’s 4-4. There was no drama. Commentator Antonio Esfandiari said, “Well, we all know who’s going to win this,” even though Beckley was a 55% – 45% favorite. And sure enough a 10 came on the flop and it was game over. It didn’t make for good television. There was little in the way of drama. McKeehan sat down on Sunday, after a four-month wait, as the overwhelming chip leader, and the outcome was literally never in doubt over the course of the next twelve hours.

He might be a great poker player. There’s just no way of really knowing. He never made any mistakes to speak of. He played the big stack perfectly. But Lady Luck french kissed him for the entirety of the three-day Final Table–literally never coming up for air–and no one else could even get a peck on the cheek.

The celebration at the end was obligatory but bloodless. McKeehan, dressed like a zhlub at a table that actually featured more sartorial splendor than any I’ve ever seen seen before, spoke to Kara Scott in his on-the-spectrum inflectionless monotone, and it was hard not to picture the serial-killer stare he kept leveling at his opponents during play and think what a shame for poker that fresh-faced Josh Beckley didn’t win, or inspirational 61-year-old amateur Neil Blumenfield, or dandyish Max Steinberg, or really any of the other eight. Poker is in dire need of a boost, and an exciting and appealing champion would help. Instead we get the slightly scary, slightly creepy Joe McKeehan. What can you say? It must be in the cards.

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About Peter Alson

Peter Alson is a writer and editor. Among his published books are the memoirs Confessions of an Ivy League Bookie and Take Me to the River. He's also co-authored (with Nolan Dalla) One of a Kind, a biography of poker champion Stuey Ungar, and Atlas, the autobiography of boxing trainer and commentator Teddy Atlas. His articles have appeared in many national magazines, including Esquire, Playboy and The New York Times. He has worked as a writer for People magazine, and as an editor for Playboy and for Hachette Publications. He has written screenplays for Paramount and various independent producers, and his TV pilot, Nicky’s Game, starring John Ventimiglia and Burt Young, appeared in the New York Television Festival and the Vail Film Festival. As a poker player he has finished in the money numerous times in the World Series of Poker and other events. He lives in New York with his wife, Alice, and their daughter, Eden.
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10 Responses to All in the Cards

  1. Jason Stukdogg says:

    agreed. he was hit by the deck and it was a very boring final table. that said, there isnt much debate on whether he can play; he has 2MM+ in cashes prior to this event. he knows what he is doing.

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  2. Peter Alson says:

    I didn’t say he wasn’t a great player, and I did say he played the big stack perfectly, but because of the out-of-kilter card distribution there was no real way to determine if he was the best player at the table. He never faced a tough decision.

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  3. ingrid weber says:

    Reflections were right on Peter! And what is it these days with the serial-killer stares? I can’t help but think I would end up just giggling at them. I do have to say I was much more entertained this year than last which looked more like paint drying time to me

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  4. Ingrid Weber says:

    Your reflections are right on Peter! And what’s with the serial-killer stares? I can’t help but think I would end up just giggling at them. I was much more entertained this year than last which was mostly like watching paint dry

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    • Arthur Reber says:

      I’ve sat across the table from guys like Joe McK who do stuff like The Stare… I usually sit quietly the first time or two then look back, snicker and say, “I guess you don’t know how stupid you look…” Wonder how that would have played out if some like Neuville., who was old enough to be his grandfather, had done it.

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  5. Michael Tedesco says:

    Poker is boring.
    You really should be publishing on Medium Peter.

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  6. Arthur Reber says:

    My feelings mirrored yours Peter. I just kept waiting … will somebody else please hit top-top? Will one of these other guys finally river a gutter ball? How about set over set? will…?? Nope. Never happened. and it wasn’t just the FT. He wouldn’t have gotten there if he hadn’t hit a two-outer against Beckley when he all-in back on, I think it was, Day 5.

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  7. Stephen Mailer says:

    Nice.

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  8. While I admit he got cards at the final table, McKeehen is a heck of a play, as proved by his past results. I remember watching him hold the chip lead on Day 4 or thereabouts. He showed great consistency throughout. Granted, his wardrobe isn’t going to inspire his own clothing line, and he isn’t much of a character, but I think he will be a decent ambassador. Only time will tell.

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