NBA Star Russell Westbrook Plays Poker Instead of Training
NBA star Russell Westbrook is more interested in playing poker than preparing for his opponents according to a recent interview.
The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard recently spoke to the media after his side’s 88-104 loss to the Detroit Pistons.
Despite notching up 33 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists, Russell Westbrook couldn’t help Thunder secure the win and that prompted one journalist to question his pre-game strategy.
Studying Poker Faces Instead of Players
While most NBA players will study footage of their opponents before a game, Russell Westbrook explained that he doesn’t pay much attention during training. In fact, instead of running through tactics with his coach and teammates, Russell Westbrook spends most of his time playing poker.
“I don’t worry about other people. Usually I just sit out and chill, relax, I play poker on my phone, play spades on my phone, listen to music,” Westbrook told reporters.
Now, without knowing what sort of “poker” Russell Westbrook is playing, it’s hard to speculate on whether he’s making money or not. But, it’s worth noting that he probably wasn’t playing for real money.
Unless he’s found a way to circumnavigate the geolocation software used by real money poker sites in New Jersey, Nevada or Delaware, he’s probably perfecting his skills on a play money platform.
Westbrook a Pro Level Player
Although we’ve yet to see Westbrook cash at the WSOP, he does play in some high stakes private games alongside fellow basketball stars and actors, including Tobey Maguire. In fact, Westbrook has also impressed Phil Hellmuth with his skills at the felt. Back in 2015 the Poker Brat told FOX Sports that pro athlete plays like a “professional level poker player.”
Hellmuth’s compliments aside, it’s probably not a good idea for Westbrook to be playing poker on his phone during training sessions. Although Senator John McCain got away with it when he was caught playing poker on his phone during a three-hour Senate committee hearing back in 2013, it’s unlikely Thunder fans would be so forgiving.
Fortunately, his love of poker doesn’t seem to be affecting his performance (he’s averaging 32.0 points per game), but a few slips on the court could easily cause him to regret his recent admission.
Of course, news of a professional basketball player enjoying a few rounds of poker is nothing new. Over the last few years we’ve seen a number of NBA stars anteing up at the WSOP. In 2015 Earl Barron finished 613th out of 7,275 entrants in the Millionaire Maker to take home $3,044.
While LA Clippers forward Paul Pierce told WSOP reporters in 2014 that he plays poker because it make him “smarter.”
William Shakespeare, the unexpected poker coach. One of the many cultural gems in my new home of Asheville is North Carolina’s longest-running Shakespeare festival, with five free outdoor plays every summer. I recently saw the troupe put on Measure for Measure. I knew nothing about the play going in, but ended up loving it, in spite of its reputation as one of William Shakespeare‘s least liked works. It’s an extended meditation on justice, mercy, and hypocrisy.
I liked it so much that I followed up the performance by studying an annotated edition of the play, trying to understand all the bits of difficult language that went over my head when seeing it live. As is my tendency, I ended up noticing a bunch of things that seemed to speak to the poker player in me.
1. Our doubts are traitors
I’ll start with what is probably the most famous line in the play:
Our doubts are traitors
And make us lose the good we oft might win
By fearing to attempt.
The applicability to poker is self-evident. Every time I play, I end up kicking myself for not pulling the trigger with a bet or raise in a difficult situation where I would have made more money if I had been braver. Whether on a bluff or a value bet, the reason for chickening out is always the same — the fear that my opponent will call with something better.
Later in the play, another character admits that she is torn — she’s “At war ‘twixt will and will not.” Again, that’s exactly the inner struggle I feel in such situations.
It’s possible that the single most profitable change I could make to my game would be to bet or raise in the situations where it feels right, without letting my “what if” fears second guess that impulse. How about you?
2. Straight feel the spur
In Measure for Measure, Duke Vincentio, the ruler of Vienna, temporarily delegates his authority to his deputy Angelo. Whereas Duke Vincentio had been lax in enforcing the laws, Angelo, when newly put in power, is ruthless — much to the consternation of the citizenry. One of them laments,
the body public be
A horse whereon the governor doth ride,
Who, newly in the seat, that it may know
He can command, lets it straight feel the spur.
There is something to be said for this as a poker tactic, particularly in tournaments. That is, when you are moved to a new table, especially with a big stack, start pushing the other players around immediately, regardless of what cards you’re dealt. Announce your presence forcefully. Let them know that there’s a new sheriff in town, so to speak.
Of course, there’s a limit to how long you can get away with such bullying before the populace will rise up in rebellion. But you can pick up a lot of chips with less resistance than usual when they don’t know quite what to make of you. Furthermore, it serves the metagame function of establishing your image as a dominant player to be feared, even long after your short burst of pure tyranny.
If you’re on the receiving end of this tactic, it’s important to recognize it for what it is. You can be the one most to profit if you’re the first to stand up to the would-be table captain. A big-stacked player new to the table who is immediately betting and raising is much more likely to be trying to establish control than to be accurately representing the strength of his hands. So push back early and often.
3. The jewel that we find
Elsewhere comes this bit of wisdom:
The jewel that we find, we stoop and take’t
Because we see it; but what we do not see
We tread upon, and never think of it.
In poker, pots are our jewels. Of course we treasure those we win. But there are many that we wrongly let go without a second thought.
One of the easiest ways to increase your poker profits is to become bolder at picking up “orphan” pots. These are the pots that nobody seems to want. They’re not hard to identify — everybody’s checking rather than betting.
If you’re in position when the flop and turn have been checked around, you should be firing at these pots a very high percentage of the time. Your goal, in Shakespearean terms, is to see and take the jewels that everybody else is simply treading upon, not recognizing their worth.
4. Be absolute for death
In the play, Angelo has sentenced to death a man named Claudio. Claudio’s sister, Isabella, is trying to persuade Angelo to rescind the sentence, but we don’t know yet if she will succeed. The condemned man is visited in prison by a friar, who gives this advice:
Be absolute for death; either death or life
Shall thereby be the sweeter.
Learned commentators tell us that “absolute for death” here means “certain that you must die.” With that understanding, the advice seems sound. It is torment not knowing if you will live or die. But if you have accepted the certainty of death, you lose the fear of it, and dying will be easier. Should you miraculously live, your joy in that outcome will be even greater.
Save for one lucky player, everybody entered into a poker tournament will “die” at some point. If you accept this reality from the get-go, you can play better. If you are controlled by the fear of being knocked out, you will play too timidly to win.
Of course, you can take this too far. The idea is to learn to play fearlessly, not recklessly. Those are very different things.
5. You might pardon him
Isabella, the heroine of Measure for Measure, is given some of the play’s most poignant lines, as she pleads with Angelo for her brother’s life:
Yes; I do think that you might pardon him,
And neither heaven nor man grieve at the mercy….
No ceremony that to great ones [be]longs,
Not the king’s crown, nor the deputed sword,
The marshal’s truncheon, nor the judge’s robe,
Become them with one half so good a grace
As mercy does.
Mercy is not a concept usually associated with poker, a game of ruthless self-interest. In fact, to the extent that mercy refers to deliberately not taking full advantage of another player, it can actually be unethical “soft playing.”
But even in poker there are circumstances in which showing mercy is commendable.
In June of this year, Lee Jones wrote an essay for the PokerStars Blog titled “Letting One Off the Hook.” There he describes an unusual situation in which he had the nuts in a cash game. His opponent moved all in, and Jones, of course, called. But the other player, upon seeing Jones’s winner, claimed that he had not said “all in,” despite both Jones and the dealer saying that that’s what they heard.
The floor was called, but the other player refused to surrender his or her remaining chips, and they had a stalemate situation. Jones describes what happens next:
“‘You know,’ I piped up. ‘It’s all just chips. Push me what’s there now and let’s get on with the game.’ I thought both floorman and dealer were going to hug me…. Look, I’m no saint, but when I added it all up, this wasn’t the time or place to bring things to a crashing halt over $300.”
In a recent issue of Card Player magazine, their anonymous columnist, “The Rules Guy,” reviewed the story and cogently discussed what went wrong and what might have been done differently to prevent the mess.
But the article concludes, appropriately, praising Jones for his mercy: “When you get a chance to be human, take it. The never-ending fight for EV doesn’t have to be a pact with the devil.”
I remember when David “Chip” Reese died, one of his high-stakes peers told the story of a time Reese played a private, heads-up cash game against an unknown player. Reese won all the money. The loser complained that something about the set-up had been unfair. It wasn’t true, but Reese gave him back his chips anyway, and let the game start over again.
Of course, Reese knew that he held a huge edge in skill and would likely win again, but the gesture also showed Reese’s capacity to put mercy ahead of pure profit.
I think Shakespeare would have approved.
Robert Woolley lives in Asheville, NC. He spent several years in Las Vegas and chronicled his life in poker on the “Poker Grump” blog.
Ready to put your skills on the line? You can practice as much as you need on the free online poker tables at Cafrino and get all the practice you need while winning real cash. Good luck!
Czech poker pro leads WSOP Main Event with 27 players left
Vojtech Ruzicka of the Czech Republic leads the final 27 players in the WSOP Main Event $10,000 buy-in No-limit Texas Hold ’em World Championship.
Ruzicka had 26.415 million chips when action on Day 6 was halted late Sunday at the Rio Convention Center. The Main Event continues Monday at noon with Day 7 and will run until the field reaches nine players.
The final table begins Oct. 30 at the Penn & Teller Theater with the $8 million first prize up for grabs.
Ruzicka, a professional poker player with 17 previous WSOP cashes, opened play Sunday in the middle of the pack but scored three knockouts after the dinner break to seize the chip lead.
Michael Ruane of Maywood, New Jersey, is second with 24,565,000. Ruane might be best known as one of three poker players to have more than $26,000 seized by authorities in the Bahamas in 2012 after they failed to declare their winnings from a poker tournament while going through customs.
Two-time WSOP bracelet winner Cliff Josephy, an online poker legend and well-known poker financial backer, is third with 23.86 million after leading at the dinner break. He is the lone bracelet winner remaining in the field.
Australian James Obst is fourth (19.56 million) and continues his torrid summer. Obst has cashed in seven previous events and was second in the $10,000 buy-in H.O.R.S.E. championship.
France’s Antoine Saout is in 24th place as he tries to become only the second player to reach two Main Event final tables since the “November Nine” format was adopted in 2008. Saout was third in the 2009 Main Event.
Also in contention are eight-time WSOP Circuit ring winner Valentin Vornicu, who is sixth, and high-stakes poker pro Tom Marchese, who has more than $13 million in career live tournament earnings.
Among the eliminations Sunday were two-time bracelet winner Brian Yoon and bracelet winners Michael Banducci, Dietrich Fast, Tony Gregg and Daniel Colman. Highly regarded pro Chris Klodnicki also was sent to the rail on Day 6.
Two-time bracelet winner Paul Volpe went out in 29th place, clinching the Player of the Year award for Jason Mercier.
As Lee Davy reviews the Kid Poker documentary, he ponders why on earth a 90-minute documentary about a poker player reduced him to tears?
As the credits start to roll so do the tears.
Why has the story of a man, who I still have never met, reduced me to tears? I think about it over my cold cucumber soup and in between stinging eyes, and sensitive teeth, I realise that each droplet is a lost opportunity. The compass point has never changed; rusted to the same spot. I can see it. I know where I am supposed to go and yet here I am.
Is this why so many people dislike him?
When they look at him, does it hurt like I am hurting? And without the anaesthetic do they force the shield out in front of them and go charging in his direction lance in hand hoping to silence him once and for all so they don’t have to look at him and see what they could have become.
I’m not talking about being a great poker player. Even Daniel Negreanu is avoiding having that title scratched into his tombstone. I am talking about being the very best human being you can be. Don’t we all want to be loved? Don’t we all want our parents to be proud of us? Don’t we all want to help others who are less fortunate that we?
I have always liked Daniel Negreanu. After watching the documentary Kid Poker, I no longer like him. That’s the wrong word. I need a new one – respect will do nicely.
People will see him when they watch this. He tries to be authentic. What you see is kind of what you get, but that’s not the whole story. The dust of the newcomers hurried feet obscures the real picture – one of pain, struggle, and dedication.
I now understand why his words seemed so vociferous when he vented his frustrations over Twitter regarding what he perceived to be a lack of respect levelled at the pioneers. I can see why he believes that it was much tougher to make it during the pre-Internet era.
Here is a man who has done his 10,000 hrs.
Here is a man who has transcended poker.
Ambassador is not the right word. It’s not high enough exultation. While the conversation around poker is so often stilted, he is encouraging the flock to adapt and evolve. His legacy is to redefine what it means to be a poker player. So often poker players freeze in the face of self-discovery. After the crowns and the jewels, they want to know what else is golden. Something is gnawing away in the gut. Something is off. They feel compelled to march, but they don’t know where to go. They feel an urge to take the stand, but they don’t know what to say.
His brother said that as a child Negreanu was ‘a brat’, ‘a troublemaker’ and most importantly, ‘misunderstood.’ I see that in him today, particularly the last statement. I don’t think people understand him, and in the age of instant gratification, I don’t think most of them can be assed spending the time to figure him out.
Let’s hope they watch this documentary.
Let’s hope they are aware of introspection.
His views on life are worthy of self-reflection. Take the way he sees his parents as an example. His love for the both of them is the beauty of this documentary. He is in awe of them. In his words they have taught him everything that he knows, and yet I doubt they sat him down and handed out lessons in life.
They just did what he has done for years. They got their head down and got on with the job. Negreanu did the rest by recognizing the good in them and was astute enough to spread that gospel far and wide.
I have parents.
I don’t talk about them with the same level of awe and love that Daniel does.
I haven’t grasped the importance of it. I am not mature enough to understand where it can take me. I am full of anger instead of love. I am still treading water, watching Negreanu take off into the distance like a fire breathing dragon.
This way of thinking has helped shaped a quite incredible human being. People who think he is too opinionated don’t get it. He is the authentic being. He is not the one hiding his true feelings. He flies on the wings of liberation. He soars. That’s why tears streamed down my face when his brother talked about his mother’s passing. That’s why I balled when he gave his Poker Hall of Fame speech, and I realized how much gratitude he felt for the game that had afforded him the stage that he now commands and uses to change the world.
And so I ring my Mum, and I tell her that I love her. I think about her death. I wonder if I will miss the opportunity to hold her hand like Daniel lost his. I think about regret. I ponder my decision not to visit her home anymore because she smokes. And all the time I think and ponder the dunes of life are always changing with the wind, and the clock goes tick, tick, ticking away.
“He’s crushing it,” said Doyle Brunson.
“I have reached my peak.” Said Negreanu.
You aren’t even close.
It started out as a game of cards.
Today, it is so much more.
He is the cards, he is the chips, and he is the dirty green baize that he complains never gets cleaned.
When the Division of Gaming Enforcement cleared the path for PokerStars to return to the United States in late September, the long-term prospects of the New Jersey online poker market immediately took a turn toward the positive.
As for the industry’s short-term outlook, that’s an entirely different story.
PokerStars’ approval may result in existing operators temporarily scaling back their efforts, instead waiting until what many industry analysts believe to be the site’s early 2016 launch to jockey for position.
What results is a market that will struggle to grow throughout a period when online poker typically thrives.
Few legislators have been more involved in the effort to legalize online poker in the state of California than State Assemblyman Mike Gatto: The issue has been one of interest for him since the first online poker bill was introduced in California in 2008.
Late last year, he prefiled his own online poker bill (AB 9), and though progress has stalled until the state legislature reconvenes on January 4, he fully expects to take up the issue again in the new year.
California has the potential to be the biggest online poker market in the US, but attempts to pass legislation have met resistance on two major topics: Bad actors and the inclusion of the horse racing industry as potential licensees.
Poker Industry PROwas granted the opportunity to ask the Assemblyman, who is at the forefront of efforts to pass online poker legislation in California, his opinions on some controversial topics. Here are just a few of the questions he addressed.
Do you think regulating online poker in California is in the best interest of its citizens?
It is no secret that there are many Californians who are playing poker online, on unregulated, off-shore sites. That is money that’s leaving the country. When players do so, they also face uncertainties with regard to such things as the security of their deposits, or whether they will be paid when they wish to cash out winnings.
If the state can provide a well-regulated market, there is no doubt players will repatriate their funds to legal operators, who will in turn provide tax revenue to the state.
Do you believe that including language to exclude “bad actors” in the law itself serves the people of California better than allowing the state gaming regulators to decide the conditions that potential licensees must meet in order to be deemed suitable?
I’ve tried to craft a bill that will give an opportunity for groups to make a compelling case as to whether or not they should have access to the California market. The Legislature should provide clear guidance to the Executive Branch regulators as to what individuals and entities should qualify for licenses.
Any business that is allowed by the state to make financial transactions such as those that are involved with online gaming, should be held to the highest standard possible to assure their integrity for the sake of their customers.
As the regulation of online poker spreads around the globe, lawmakers and regulators are faced with the issue of consumers continuing to utilize unlicensed online poker sites. What do you think are some of the most effective methods for deterring players from patronizing black-market sites? Do you think assessing fines to players caught using unauthorized sites is appropriate?
Unfortunately there is little a state government can do to regulate the Internet. I would like to see the federal government put pressure on the worst actors around the globe.
On the state level, prosecutions and regulatory actions, where appropriate, might serve as a deterrent. The best deterrent though is a safer marketplace.
What would you say to your constituents who are frustrated with the lack of progress of online poker legislation in California over the past several years?
Among the possible inductees were 2001 World Series of Poker Main Event Champion Carlos Mortensen, five-time WSOP bracelet winner and recent EPTChampion John Juanda, two-time WSOP bracelet winner Jennifer Harman and and legendary British poker player David “Devilfish” Ulliott.
Not known for keeping his opinion to himself, Daniel Negreanu took to his blog to express his views on what those voting for this year’s class should and should not consider when casting their ballots.
On September 8, the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa will put on the Borgata Poker Open. The series features 22 events in all and starts things off with the $560 buy-in Borgata 2 Million.
The World Poker Tour joins in for the WPT Borgata Poker Open Main Event which starts on September 20 and includes a televised Final Table and $3 million in guaranteed prize money.
“Borgata is thrilled to welcome back the World Poker Tour for what is sure to be an incredibly successful fourteenth season,” said Joe Lupo, Borgata Senior Vice President of Operations. “The long-standing marriage between the East Coast’s preeminent poker destination and the premier name in televised gaming has been exceedingly beneficial and we are looking forward to another fantastic main event.”