My favorite book of all time is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Japan’s international superstar author Haruki Murakami. There are a million things about it which are brilliant, but one nice touch is that each chapter, rather than having a title, begins with a few bullet points, usually two or three, summarizing what’s going to happen, always teasing you but never actually spoiling anything.
You get used to this approach, then get about a quarter of the way in and find one chapter which begins with just a single line in the header: “No Good News in This Chapter.” It’s brilliant and ominous, and it compels you to read on, in much the same way as a red button marked “DO NOT PUSH” will inevitably be pushed.
What does this have to do with poker? Absolutely nothing, but looking at the sorts of threads popping up this week, that’s the only appropriate headline I could think of for this instalment of the Forum Files. Read on at your own risk.
A further twist in the Amaya saga
Thread: David Baazov (Amaya CEO) registers notice of intent to bid for acquisition of Amaya (PokerStars)
Barely a year has passed since PokerStars became a publicly traded company (or, rather, part of one) in a reverse takeover by the formerly much smaller Montreal-based company Amaya. Now, Amaya may be on the verge of becoming privately held, taking PokerStars back off the stock market along with it. David Baazov, the CEO, has set the wheels in motion to potentially buy up his own company – with the backing of private investors, naturally – for an estimated CAD $21 per share.
If your reaction to that news is a combination of confusion and an urge to rattle off every obscenity in your lexicon, you’re not alone. Everyone – players, industry figures and media alike – is trying to figure out what this means. There has been such a lack of transparency surrounding Amaya and PokerStars since the acquisition that it’s really anyone’s guess. Groundless speculation is a task best left to forums pundits, however, so rather than an article, I’ll just point you to this forums thread.
Some see it as good, in that short-term shareholder interests have often been blamed for questionable decision-making at Amaya since the takeover. At the same time, mistrust of Baazov and Amaya runs deep in the poker community at this point, so more cynical possibilities have been floated as well.
Ray Bitar apparently healthy, rich and married
Thread: Ray Bitar Update
The poker community has just discovered that former Full Tilt CEO Ray Bitar got married last fall, and many are upset about it. Bitar was one of the few people who ended up facing criminal charges in the aftermath of Black Friday, but avoided jail time on the basis that he was supposedly on death’s door and in need of a heart transplant, which he would be ineligible for in the US if incarcerated. (The utter inhumanity of this latter fact being beyond the scope of this article, but noteworthy nonetheless.)
Since a jail term would, according to Bitar’s lawyers, equate to a death sentence, the judge settled for what many assumed to be financial ruin: $40 million in financial penalties. Eighteen bank accounts in his name were seized, his home was sold off, and Bitar was described as recently as 2014 as being penniless and near death.
Except… no. He’s very much alive, and just had an expensive wedding, and his greatest health risk appears to be the likelihood of putting an eye out on one of his wife’s cheekbones. People are mad, and rightfully so. Again, I’ll point you to the forums thread rather than carrying on any further myself.
PCA proves to be a literal ‘Adventure’ for some
Thread: Terrible Story of 3 Americans leaving the PCA
Thread: Even More Terrible Story of 2 Non-Americans Leaving the PCA
Players who attended this year’s PokerStars Caribbean Adventure had a number of complaints, but nothing which compares to the horror stories being told by some about their experiences on the way home. It’s always a dicey proposition to travel internationally with large sums of cash on hand. International law has a lot to say about flying with cash, due to concerns over money laundering and terrorism; combine that with an impoverished country, corrupt local law enforcement and an event which virtually guarantees that everyone’s luggage contains wads of bills, and the consequences are predictable.
To make two long stories short, multiple PCA attendees were apparently stopped while trying to leave the Bahamas, some had their winnings seized, and some were even detained for days. It’s telling that the most traumatic aspect of both stories for the people in question was not what they were subjected to themselves, but rather witnessing first hand what goes on in Bahamian jails and refugee camps for those who aren’t white and wealthy… but regardless, this is not what people paying the Atlantis’s exorbitant per-night rates thought they were signing up for, and certainly isn’t good public relations for the PCA.
Poker player turns up dead in Amsterdam canal
Thread: Poker player Richard Cole found dead in Amsterdam
Richard Cole was an aspiring poker player born in England, but who had – based on his Hendon Mob results – been living in Las Vegas for the past two years. As reported by PokerNews, he went missing last week while drinking with new acquaintances in Amsterdam on a trip. This morning, it was confirmed that his body was found by Dutch authorities in one of the canals. At this time, the cause of death is uncertain, but it’s depressing news one way or another.
PokerSnowie teaming up with Hold’em Manager
Thread: Poker Snowie and HEM Collaborate to form HEM compatible “Snowie App”
PokerSnowie has long been online poker’s premiere AI “coach.” The bot itself resides on its company’s servers, accessible through a monthly subscription, but not available to download. This arrangement means that the creators don’t have to worry about their AI being pirated or duplicated, while at the same time staying on the right side of site policies; measures are in place to make it hard – in theory – to use PokerSnowie’s services for real-time advice, rather than for coaching after the fact, as it’s intended.
Anxiety about unbeatable computer algorithms has been rising steadily over time, however, and has spiked in the past year since the AI named Claudico put on a good performance (though failed to win) against some of the game’s top human players last spring. PokerSnowie has therefore been a frequent cause of hand-wringing among those wondering whether online poker has a future. That concern will certainly not be alleviated by the recent news of a partnership between the people responsible for PokerSnowie and Hold’em Manager, which is one of the most popular heads-up displays (HUDs) for online professionals.
The AI will still only provide after-the-fact analysis and advice and cannot be consulted mid-hand through Hold’em Manager, but the news has nonetheless been poorly received by those who believe that advances in software will ultimately render online poker untenable – a view which is, in my opinion, hard to argue with.