Disappointing boys, inspiring girls
When I last wrote in this space about the Durrrr Challenge, I was convinced we were witnessing an instantaneous piece of poker lore. I may have been wrong. The 50,000-hand high-stakes blowout offered the masses some massive gambles similar to the fabled Johnny Moss-Nick Dandolos, Andy Beal and Archie Karas matches remembered six weeks ago. But unlike those, the Challenge has had few time restraints and far too little structure for onlookers' satisfaction and has had to compete with juicy and continuous action at Full Tilt Poker's $500-$1,000 blind no-limit hold 'em tables.
The Patrik Antonius chapter of the Challenge, which started on Feb. 18 after media buildup, has disappointed many of those following closely. Forty-nine days of play have produced only 7,247 hands, a daily average of 147 hands, which, at the rate of approximately 5.4 hands per minute (in 22 hours, 22 minutes of play) equates to less than a half hour of play per day. Furthermore, the choice of pot-limit Omaha rather than no-limit hold 'em, an average of one session every four days and a series of surprisingly short sessions often interrupted by breaks have left many onlookers unsatisfied.
"We're much happier to be playing in better games than facing each other heads-up," said Tom Dwan, who as of Tuesday at 4 a.m. ET was ahead by $62,677 with 42,753 hands to go. "There've been so many great $500-$1,000 games. That seemed unlikely at the beginning of the year (when the Challenge was conceived). I'm sorry to everyone who got so excited about it and expected constant action, but I'd rather have the extra couple hundred thousand dollars I'll make by playing those other players."
Antonius seems to be singing a different tune. In a March 25 interview broadcast on Full Tilt's Web site, one day before the start of a 10-day dry period, Antonius put the blame on Dwan for the pace.
"I've been waiting hours and hours every day, and I've been in the mood to play a lot," Antonius said with obvious frustration. "Every time I ask Tom [to play], he says no, he doesn't feel like playing. It feels like he is always the one who always quits. He says like every second hand that he's just tired, that he doesn't feel like playing."
The Challenge's completion before the WSOP seems to be in question. Dwan still says he's confident they'll get it done, but Antonius is on the record as saying he doesn't see it happening and that he won't be interested in playing during the World Series. Should Antonius prove correct, we'd be looking at more than five months to complete the 50,000 hands. That's the same amount of time that Moss and Dandolos reportedly played their match, but their play was continuous, and they weren't dealing with an instant-gratification online community awaiting promises made good.
Will the Challenge be remembered as originally predicted, or will the affair prove so drawn-out that it loses its luster? The next two weeks should prove vital in deciding the Challenge's place in history, either as monumental or disappointing.
Let's hear it for the girls!
There's a wonderful synergy between the idea that women are the fairer sex and all's fair in the poker war. In a locker room game that preaches that might makes right, the few ladies who really understand men (and trust me, fewer men understand the ladies) are able to thrive, but many more are turned away by brusque greetings and obvious chest-level leers. This and the many-to-one men-to-women ratio does not make for what one would call the most welcoming of environments.
That environment and ratio, the resulting lack of track record and the constant hope that poker can tap into its greatest mostly untapped demographic make our ears perk when women thrive while ducking and weaving between many testosterone-filled/fueled moments. During the past few weeks, we've seen a conglomeration of such events and one major celebration of the good that women have done for this game already.
Everyone has heard by now about Vanessa Rousso's remarkable run through NBC's National Heads-Up Poker Championship. The new Go Daddy girl, whose new sponsorship raised questions for some about whether looks or accomplishments should be the prime motivator for poker sponsorships, promptly put those conversations to bed by defeating one of the toughest lineups anyone can remember -- Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey, Paul Wasicka, Daniel Negreanu and Bertrand Grospellier in order -- before finally losing the final to heads-up tournament machine Huck Seed. If Rousso's success were an isolated incident, though, this wouldn't be a column. After Rousso's success, the European Poker Tour made its way to Dortmund, Germany, and former model/teacher Sandra Naujoks emerged the victor. Naujoks success wasn't without precedent. Her résumé was previously highlighted by a $247,000 score in October 2008. Yet that past success didn't vault her to stardom the way the Dortmund win will when it airs later this year. Like Rousso, Naujoks is young, striking, educated and, according to many in the know, very good.
Immediately after Naujoks' win, the woman whose absence from recent NHUPC play glared brightest showed once again in the wake of the snub why it was just that. Kathy Liebert had won more money in tournament play than any other female player in the past 40 years even before she entered the World Poker Tour's Bay 101 Shooting Star Tournament. Her second-place finish there put her leaps and bounds ahead of the competition in that regard.
In a professional game that often seems to value style over substance, Liebert has leaned the opposite way, opting to make her money through poker success rather than poker celebrity. Bay 101 showed again why she might just be the best female tournament player on the planet. The difference between first and second place in the tournament was a queen after she got Steve Brecher and his A-Q all-in preflop against her A-K. She made a cool $550,000 for second place. Throw it on the pile.
All of this brings questions about whether the playing field is being leveled. It has been a long five years since poker became respectable, and the female masses have slowly infiltrated the old boys' club to the point where it's no longer a surprise to find a feminine presence at the table. One might surmise that it would take a few years for the women of the Moneymaker generation of Roussos and Naujokses and Annette Obrestads to learn the nuances and assert their respective educations. As to whether that's a fair assumption, only time will tell. But we know this: In isolated cases, the girls can play with the boys. These three results have proven again it's more than lightning striking. The next step is to get the Gary Wises of the world to stop feeling the need to point out every female success.
As we peer toward poker's future, the Women in Poker Hall of Fame honors the past. The women's Hall is recognizing women who not only have played the game but also have helped build it up to what it is. Last year's inaugural class of Linda Johnson, Marsha Waggoner, Susie Isaacs and Barbara Enright have been joined by CardPlayer Magazine founder June Field, Jan (of-all-trades) Fisher and Cyndy Violette.
"We couldn't be happier with this year's candidates," Women in Poker Hall of Fame founder Lupe Soto said.
One wonders how many years it will be until it's Rousso's or Obrestad's turn.
Gary Wise is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. You can read more of his thoughts on poker in his blog at www.wisehandpoker.net.