By: Paul Hewson
Depending on whose statistics you look at, anywhere between 70% and 90% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the United States border. That's also where you'll find most of Canada's poker rooms. But what about the people who live closer to the tundra line? There are only a handful of locations in the Great White North, and here are three of them to check out if you live in the area, or if you're on a mission to play all the poker rooms in Canada.
Chances (Fort St. John, BC)
Fort St. John is actually quite sunny and mild, considering the Alaska Highway runs through it. About 20,000 people live there, many of them younger people working for the oil and gas industry – lots of spare cash, in other words. Chances has a private poker room (with three tables at last count) that runs in the evenings from Wednesday through Sunday, spreading Texas Hold'em, Omaha, Pineapple and Crazy Pineapple. Tournaments run on Sundays, but since there are only 30 spots available, you'll need to book ahead.
Boomtown Casino (Fort McMurray, AB)
These have been difficult times in Fort McMurray. The Athabasca oil sands always depend on high prices to keep production going, but that concern is a drop in the bucket compared to the wildfire that swept through town in May. The Boomtown suffered smoke and heat damage, but after some restoration work, it reopened in July. $1/$2 and $2/$5 no-limit Hold'em are available at the Boomtown's three tables, running seven days a week – with a regular tournament on Saturdays.
Diamond Tooth Gertie's (Dawson, YT)
Now this is a special place. Officially the nation's oldest casino (opened 1971), Gertie's is run by the Klondike Visitors Association, and is only open during the tourist season from May through September – plus weekends in October and occasional events the rest of the year. The building itself is a heritage site that went up in 1901; you can watch can-can shows and have a frosty beverage while you play. Gertie's has two tables running, and it's mostly Hold'em, but they also spread a $5/$10 limit Dealer's Choice game on Mondays, and $10/$20 limit Omaha Hi-Lo on the first Thursday of the month.
By: Paul Hewson
By: Paul Hewson
Believe it or not, alcohol is officially a performance-enhancing drug. It was put on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA's) list of banned substances in 2009 – only for rifle competitions, but still. A moderate amount of alcohol relieves anxiety, slows down your heart rate, and helps you focus. How much is moderate? That depends on your tolerance. It could be the two-drink daily maximum (one drink for women) recommended by the Harvard School of Public Health.
Once you get above a few drinks, things start to get sketchy, but you probably knew that already. Maybe you've found that out the hard way at the poker table. Playing drunk isn't the wisest investment you'll ever make; playing against someone else who's drunk, on the other hand, is about as good as it gets. If you know what you're doing, that is.
From a strategic perspective, you can expect a lot more loose and aggressive play from drunk people – on and off the poker table. They'll play just about any two cards (or four, if you're lucky enough to be playing PLO), they'll bluff far too often, and they'll call you with Jack-High if they're lubricated enough.
When you've got someone like this at the table, hopefully to your immediate right, life is good. When just about everyone at the table is drinking, life is a party. Be aware of just how well lubricated your competitors are, and be prepared to match their level of aggressive play. That generally means opening tighter and calling down lighter, without bluffing much at all yourself. There are situations where you'll open wider, though, especially when there are straddles involved. If the drunk dude is straddling his entire stack and everyone's folding, you can “open” (more like a call in this case) with a wide range of hands.
Which brings us to the larger point: Be willing to take flips with drunk people. Anything that's 50% is going to turn out plus-EV for you, because your new best friend will be entertained and keep playing loose. In the above scenario, Queen-Seven (the “Computer Hand”) is a coinflip against two random cards in no-limit Hold'em, so get in there heads-up with Queen-Seven, or better if you have it. Then buy another round of drinks.
By: Paul Hewson
Six weeks from now, Griffin Benger will be representing Canada at the final table for the 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event. How did Benger navigate his way through the field of 6,737 players and into the November Nine? See for yourself this Tuesday on TSN (TSN5, to be precise), with the first of 14 episodes airing at 8:30 PM ET. Then it's three days of live final-table coverage, beginning October 30 at 11:00 PM ET on TSN2.
Benger won't be the only Canadian on the scene. Alberta's own Kara Scott will once again be part of the coverage team, alongside Lon McEachern and Norman Chad – with the comedy duo of Antonio Esfandiari and Phil Laak providing analysis. And we'll no doubt see plenty of the Canadians beside Benger who made deep runs at the Main Event. Here's how the remaining Top 10 Canucks did this year at the Rio (all prizes in US dollars):
15. Michael Niwinski, Burnaby, BC ($427,930)
41. Ronald Giles, Airdrie, AB ($174,826)
101. Ami Barer, Vancouver, BC ($49,108)
113. Andrew Chen, Mississauga, ON ($49,108)
130. Michael Carter, Vancouver, BC ($49,108)
139. Marc-Andre Ladouceur, Mont-Saint-Hilaire, QC ($49,108)
140. Scott Montgomery, Ottawa, ON ($49,108)
147. Noeung Troeung, Montreal, QC ($49,108)
149. Thomas Archer, London, ON ($49,108)
157. Sorel Mizzi, Toronto, ON ($49,108)
Among the other notables finishing in the money were two Torontonians: Ratharam Sivagnanam in 663rd place, and Max Greenwood (of the famous Greenwood poker clan) in 796th. Unfortunately for Daniel Negreanu, he crashed out on Day 2C when he went all-in with pocket Nines and lost a flip to Ryan Leng's Ace-Queen. You gotta win your flips, kid.
You may not have heard much about Niwinski, but he's one of the many Canadians making a living at online poker. After getting his degree in psychology last year at the University of British Columbia, Niwinski decided to keep playing poker, something he's been doing very well since 2011. He mostly plays cash No-Limit Hold'em, up to $10/$20. This summer, instead of focusing on grad school, he figured he'd give the WSOP a try.
That worked out pretty well. As you'll see in the coverage, Niwinski ran white-hot and took the chip lead at one point during Day 5, earning himself a seat at the feature table along the way. He wouldn't make it through Day 7, but Niwinski has over 400,000 reasons to be happy about his trip to Vegas
By: Paul Hewson
Have you given Omaha Hi-Lo a try yet? It's a great way to take your poker game to the next level. Even if you intend to play Texas Hold'em almost all the time, a little Omaha Hi-Lo will cleanse your poker palate, and reduce some of your variance along the way. That's because Omaha Hi-Lo is a split-pot game, meaning half the money goes to the best high hand, the other half goes to the best low hand – if there is one. All five cards have to be Eight or lower, straights and flushes don't count against you.
Because this is a split-pot game, there are two concepts you should know about right off the bat in order to navigate Omaha Hi-Lo. These concepts are called quartering and freerolling. The sooner you grasp these ideas, the more money you'll make in the long run.
Here's a common situation in Omaha Hi-Lo: You have a hand that includes an Ace and a Deuce, plus two high cards. That's a very good starting hand in most situations. You and another player are in the pot, and the board runs out with three other low cards, giving you the nut low. Excellent, right? Except your opponent also has an Ace and a Deuce, and a pair of Kings, too. He wins the high hand, and the two of you split the low hand. This is what it means to get quartered.
On the flip side, it could have been you with the pair of Kings and the nut low, winning three-quarters of the pot. It's very important to keep track of these situations and anticipate when you're getting quartered, or when you might win three-quarters of the pot. In the first instance, you'll probably prefer to play your hand slowly with checks and calls, not putting any more money in the pot if you can avoid it. In the second instance, you can fire away and raise with more confidence.
Freerolling is a related term that you may have heard applied to Hold'em; for example, you and your opponent are both all-in with Pocket Aces, and the flop comes out with two Spades. You have the Ace of Spades in your hand. Only you can win the pot now, and you can't lose. In Omaha Hi-Lo, freerolling is a similar concept, again because of the split pot. If you think you have one half of the pot locked up, you can play aggressively for the other half – the worst outcome is a chop. Unless you're getting quartered, of course.
By: Paul Hewson
If there's any doubt who the most famous Canadian poker player in the world is, let's settle it right now: Jennifer Tilly. Granted, she got a head start by making her name in Hollywood during the 1990s, earning an Academy Award nomination along the way. And she's certainly not the best player the Great White North has ever produced. Just the most famous.
Some might even argue her Canadian bona fides. Tilly was born in Los Angeles in 1958, and she launched her acting career there after she earned her BA in Theater from Stephens College in Missouri. But in between those events, Tilly was raised in British Columbia. As a child, her family moved to Texada Island, then at age 16, they moved again to Victoria. Tilly was back in Victoria earlier this month; she tweeted a photo with sisters Meg (another Academy Award nominee) and Rebecca, who both live there.
It wasn't exactly an idyllic upbringing. Tilly's mother, Patricia, was a schoolteacher who did some acting on stage before marrying Harry Chan, a Chinese-American used car salesman. They divorced when Jennifer was five. Then Patricia married John Ward, and they relocated to Texada Island – nestled between Vancouver Island and the mainland. Not many people live there; the population in 2006 was 1,107, spread mostly across the communities of Blubber Bay, Vananda and Gillies Bay.
Jennifer doesn't talk too much about those days. She once described her mother as a “hippie and a pacifist,” and Ward was both a hippie and a religious fanatic. Meg, on the other hand, started speaking openly 10 years ago about this period in their lives. According to her account (which Rebecca has corroborated), they were subject to extreme poverty, sometimes forced to eat whatever squirrels and snakes they could catch. Worse, Meg revealed that Ward was a violent and abusive stepfather.
Things didn't improve much when Patricia and Ward split up in the early '70s. The next boyfriend on the scene was also physically abusive, occasionally pulling out a butcher knife and threatening to kill everyone. Two years later, the Tillys were in Victoria, where Jennifer attended Belmont High School and competed on the track team.
So how did poker come out of all of this? Jennifer says her family played cards every Friday night – not poker, but Hearts and Spades. She remembers Patricia letting the children win, which only served to make Jennifer more competitive. Fast-forward to early 2000s, and Tilly ends up meeting Phil Laak, one of the top poker players of the era. As they say, the rest is history.