Panning for the stuff that makes poker shine
I'll admit it. I really like those stories that remind you of why you were captivated by poker in the first place. They focus on various aspects of the game, but they all have one thing in common. They demonstrate what it means to be a great player, often infuriatingly so.
I was reminded of this only this morning when I saw that Jason Koon had won the Super Tuesday. A talented and respected player, Koon demonstrated that contrary to what a cynic might say, winning big relies more on talent than luck. In Koon's case he did it in style. I for one am adding kale shakes and bulletproof coffee to my day.
Of course there will always be luck in poker, but it's the skill element that we seek for thrills. Like pioneers crouching by the Yukon, we sit and wait, panning for these moments that take your breath away. Or at least they did when people still spoke like that. Nowadays that might be translated with initials, like W and T and F.
But they are moments worth looking for, which make the game shine.
Like the moment at EPT Prague one year, a table stacked with top professionals and one local pretender who perhaps didn't realise the calibre of the opposition.
After an extended period of play, akin to waving certain parts of your anatomy around in front of a hungry lion, Ramsi Jelassi suggested to the daredevil that it might be wise if he calmed down. "Somebody's going to get hurt," he said, moments before aspirant was sent to the rail. Harsh maybe, but it was like watching a nature documentary. There's something fascinating about how Mother Nature works.
Then there are moments that defy ordinary poker logic, which cause even good players to stand back and gape, and question whether or not, after years in the game, they really have any idea what's going on.
Take Igor Kurganov and Sorel Mizzi at the PCA this year. It became a hand that was discussed in depth online and on the tournament floor. You can read our take on it here, a sort of "I knew that he knew, and I knew he knew I knew, but I also knew he knew I knew, and that I knew too, so he knew and I knew, you know?"
It made us wince, and even after watching the video several times it was still an achievement just to follow the thought process of two players operating so far above our heads that they were leaving vapour trails.
That sort of great read is typical of the type of hand that gets talked about, as well as being the inspiration behind many a failed hero call the world over.
But when it comes to taking the game to a new level, Daniel Negreanu seems to operate on his own plateau, one stocked with video games machines and vegan food.
Back in Season 7 he pulled off a unique bluff against Angel Shilomi. Negreanu called a big opening bet by Shilomi with ten-nine. Shilomi had pocket kings, and bet the nine-high flop and the queen turn, before betting again on the blank river. The world thought fold. Negreanu thought raise.
"I'm thinking aces or kings," said Negreanu. The straight-faced Shilomi could only assume Negreanu had his kings beaten. It was time to make a solid fold. Or at least that's what he thought.
"Aces or kings were good right?" asked a player opposite as Negreanu stacked up his chips.
"Of course!" laughed Negreanu. "I was just saying that's what he had, not that I could beat it."
(Watch for yourself on the episode below. Fast forward to 4 minutes 40 seconds for the start of the hand.)
We have a joke on the PokerStars Blog that predictably comes up at events. It's not a very good one but it's something along the lines of watching a good player do well and then claiming to "talent spot" this player. Something along the lines of "see that Vanessa Selbst? I think she might turn out to be pretty good".
Like I said, it's not a very good joke. But then every player was a rookie once, and watching as new players become great players evokes the same sort of awe.
Like Jason Mercier, playing his first live event at EPT Sanremo, finding himself chip leader at the end of Day 2 and winning one of the most memorable EPT final tables ever. What came next was something like $12.5 million more in tournament earnings to date, and a reputation heading toward legend status.
More recently you could pick Ole Schemion, whose first memorable act on the EPT was to urge countryman Martin Schleich to hurry up and win the Barcelona title as the clock nudged past 3am. A year or so later and suddenly we couldn't get enough of him. Now he's so well respected that he can play the PCA Main Event with a balloon and nobody questions it.
But then, like Nuke Laloosh in Bull Durham, once you've established yourself you can wear mouldy shower shoes, or carry a balloon. Schemion has earned the right. So too Jason Koon, who could tell us to eat the balloon and we'd believe him.
Got a moment in poker that reminds you why you can't get enough? Tweet us @PokerStars Blog.
In the meantime, pass the kale.
Stephen Bartley is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.