Andy Bloch’s Time

Andy Bloch just won the Pro-Am Equalizer Tournament. It’s going to be on ABC this November and December for 14 hours on weekends.

It’s Andy’s time and it couldn’t happen to a better and more deserving person.

I just spoke with him on the phone as he was getting on the red-eye from Vegas to Raleigh, where he is living with his fiance Jennifer where she is completing her academic work at Duke. Here is the jumble of interesting information and reasons for my unabashed admiration for the man:

1. This is going to make some great TV, even though parts of the production were thrown together. Another online site was sponsoring or arranging or having some kind of role in connection with the show and they pulled out at the last moment. Full Tilt took over, keeping the pro-am format (I think it was there before, with the “ams” getting a starting chip advantage), introducing the celeb-am component (drawing some good people on short notice), and increasing the star poker of the pro contingent, bringing in its stable of pros, along with some non-Tilters like Daniel Negreanu, Johnny Chan, Phil Laak, and Jamie Gold. (I don’t know if they were already attached or Full Tilt called them in.)

I watched some of the prelims. The structure allowed a lot of play, especially short-handed. My problem with a TV poker show like the Fox Superstars is that they get these phenomenal poker players and fast-forward the production so they have soon have no choice but to go all-in before the flop or fold. It’s great seeing pros like Todd Brunson and Chau Giang, superb players who don’t typically hog TV time. Unfortunately, the difference between their game and my game isn’t nearly as great before the flop as after. After the flop is what makes the pros THE PROS. This show will give you a lot of that, especially, from what I understand, in short-handed play.

2. Andy Bloch played Don Cheadle heads-up in his preliminary round. Cheadle works closely with a particular charity – sorry I don’t recall the name but if someone e-mails it to me with the confirming link (mrchaotic@aol.com), I’ll link to it here – and I think was playing for that charity. Andy pledged to donate 20% of his winnings to that charity for Don, and now that charity is $100,000 richer.

3. Andy’s a mensch for a lot of reasons. Obviously, for the charity giving and his generally finely-tuned social conscience. Personally important but less so to the world, his considerateness in returning phone calls and e-mails. Kudos to CardPlayer.com for covering the final table. I took for granted that news coverage would be embargoed until the shows. I was doing interviews while it played out, so I sat around hoping someone would tell me how it ended.

Bloch is a grounded person. Not that poker players are particularly prone to making as big a deal about themselves as the public sometimes does, or equating their worth as people to however much money they just won, but, sure, he doesn’t let it get to his head. I heard of only one big-ticket purchase made in his household after he won $1 million in the HORSE at the World Series, and that was something for Jennifer. We were talking last night about a recent interest Andy developed in picking up old poker books. It’s a pretty sensible hobby: first editions of David Sklansky’s Hold ‘Em Poker are going for just $20.

(I’m insanely jealous I didn’t think of this hobby before him, and would be too ashamed to start up simply because Andy has. There is a certain distance I will go gushing about my friends, and I’ll do it unapologetically. But taking up the same hobby – especially because it’s not like golfing or visiting Presidential Assassination sites where you can do it with a friend – would be too much.)

He told me on Wednesday night about some book or pamphlet that is very rare, very desired and goes for about $2,000. I was bugging him to buy it, then to promise if he won the $500,000 to buy it. Certainly, it wasn’t that he couldn’t afford it, with or without winning this tourney (or, for that matter, with or without winning $1 million in a World Series event). But, at the same time he doesn’t let money decisions dictate how he is going to live his life, he’s not going to spend it just because he’s got it. 

4. I thoroughly enjoy sharing in Andy’s good fortune. Not only is he very deserving and exemplary in his reaction to his growing success and fame, but his good work vindicates my belief in why people succeed at what they do, especially poker.

I didn’t know Andy very well before working on the Full Tilt poker book. We had met during the final days of the 2005 Main Event. I was following Mike Matusow’s progress. He was working in loose conjunction with Pokerwire.com. We spoke a few times. He knew me (positively) by reputation from my book. He knew a little about me (positively) from shared friends. I knew of him from his affiliation with Full Tilt, his general reputation, and the stories I’d read about his educational background (a pair of degrees from MIT, a law degree from Harvard) and his gambling story (MIT Blackjack Team, a “thinking man’s gambler”, early success on the World Poker Tour).

I then saw him get into an argument with a WPT employee at a Bellagio tournament late last year. He was seated at a table in Bobby’s Room. The tournament had already started. I believe it was the Brunson. They had taken his entry fee without getting a signed release form. (The form, in addition to giving his permission to the WPT to use footage of him for the show and to promote the show, gave his permission to the WPT to use his image for virtually every other reason. I remember the release had the phrase “throughout the universe” in it.)

I was impressed, overhearing the argument, how smart, logical, and calm he was, even though it was a very heated argument. He had been pulled away from the table for it, and I think they refused to let him play if he didn’t sign. I’m not sure but I don’t think they were willing to refund his money – I could be wrong about that and I’ll try to check up on it. In any event, he wanted to continue playing but they wouldn’t allow that without a signature. He eventually signed but it was nearly the last WPT event he played.

We met in December and I knew I wanted him involved in some capacity in the book. Apart from my admiring his dedication to his principles - I subsequently learned about and wrote about several time’s he’s been arrested for sticking to those principles – he was clearly a very intelligent poker player, one whose ideas should be broadly disseminated if it is a desirable goal to help players improve.

As I started working with him, I admit a small part of me thought, He’s not as big or successful or well-known as Chris Ferguson, Howard Lederer, and Ted Forrest.

Any thoughts I had of limiting his participation, though, disappeared when we started working on the No-Limit Hold ‘Em section involving pre-flop play. Andy Bloch is a brilliant poker strategist: great ideas, insights, organization, methods, examples. He was endlessly patient with me, and generous without limitation with his time and input.

The very few people with whom I’ve shared any of the manuscript were shown this section. Without exception, they’ve been blown away. I will be shocked if (a) this chapter doesn’t become the definitive work on how to play before the flop in no-limit hold ‘em tournaments, and (b) it’s not held up as a dazzling example of how good the book and the Full Tilt pros are.

Andy got off to a slow start in the 2006 World Series. By this time, we had worked together so much that I considered him a friend and, as such, I felt a strong rooting interest in his success, apart from anything having to do with the book. After a number of misses, he had 23rd places finishes in two consecutive Omaha 8 events, then made the final table in the first no-limit hold ‘em rebuy event.

I hung around the Amazon Room late and congratulated him on making the final table. “I owe it all to you, Mike.”

What he meant – and he quickly clarified it lest I get delusions of grandeur – was that the process of methodically thinking through pre-flop play had significantly sharpened his pre-flop game. In the late stages of tournaments, what you do with the first two cards can be the dominant action in the game, and feeling more tuned in to that part of the game than your opponents can be huge.

I was thrilled that he finished second in the HORSE, and wrote extensively in my Journal about it. (Just click the category link to Andy and you’ll see the articles. Maybe my favorite written work in my career as a writer is “You Played Like a Champion.”)

He expressed the same sentiment about my “contribution” to his making the final table in this event.

This should be Andy Bloch’s time. He is brilliant and understands how to play as well as, if not better than, anybody playing the game. It’s great to see when a good guy gets what he deserves.

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One Response to Andy Bloch’s Time

  1. Andy Bloch says:

    In my first match, Don Cheadle (who starred in the movie “Hotel Rwanda” about the Rwandan genocide, as well as the Ocean’s 11-12-13 trilogy) was wearing a sweatshirt that read “Save Darfur” ( http://www.savedarfur.org/ ). When we got heads up, I told Don that if I won, I’d donate 20% of my winnings to charities working to bring peace to Darfur. There are about 400,000 people dead and over 2 million refugees as a result of the conflict and genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. Here’s more information on the history of the conflict: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darfur_conflict