Monday, July 03, 2006

Knocking Three Times the Charm, in Mansion Poker's Poker Dome Qualifiers: Part I

Welcome, friends, to something not often found in this blog --- a tale of first-person poker success. This one's a unique story with a good kick at the end, so settle in for what I'll try to make an entertaining read. It's about trying my hand at the Mansion Poker Poker Dome qualifiers, something I can recommend for all of you as well. At a cost of a penny to enter, it's a cheap price for dreams of riches and fame.

Mansion Poker is one of the newest kids on the block, and they've armed themselves with a healthy promotional budget and a handful of unique concepts. A couple of those concepts didn't pan out, and another is gathering steam --- the Poker Dome program detailed here. I've heard rumors of more things coming from Mansion, and frankly, I'll be waiting with interest to see what they are. If they're anything like Poker Dome, expect a mix of what I collectively refer to as concepts from the edge: playing around with the structures that define poker as we generally know it, to see what the effects are and to determine if there's a new magic formula for ratings success, waiting to be unearthed.

And judging by previous efforts, we should expect an opportunity.

A week or two ago one of the KAP guys e-mailed and asked if I'd take a look at Mansion, and I was happy to comply. Being neither a KAP owner nor employee, I could feel free to try my hand at Mansion's promotions. Despite the prominent front-page banner they've now erected publicizing this wonky blog (something I find both embarrasing and pride-generating at the same time), KAP and I have an agreement of convenience: I get to write basically what I wish to in this forum. In this way I try to create some buzz in support of my dreams of rebuilding a full-time writing career, whether said career is specifically about poker or not; KAP gets to create and publicize an independently written news-style blog from someone --- this be me --- who's had a long career in other forms of entertainment and pop-culture writing.

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Perhaps KAP will become one of the top two or three non-site-specific poker destinations, and perhaps I'll one day have a dozen poker books on the shelves, rubbing glossy cover coatings with famous poker authors. Fat chance, that last.

As I said, dreams are cheap. And as for getting rich, well... that's just standard dreamy fare for us all.

Let me finish the backstory. I'd been on a two-year hiatus from the writing game, and these days there are lots of people writing about poker. Ergo, that marriage of convenience. Yes, there are times when we hit bumps in the road, as happened recently when I re-reported a story about one of KAP's affiliates, a site now blind-referenced not very sneakily in this very line of text. If you read my stuff you know I don't pull my punches, and if you're looking for more on the subject in question, just surf on over to my other, more personal poker blog.

This isn't about that other site, however. I enjoy reviewing online poker rooms on my own site, just as KAP serves up their own selection of reviews and recommendations. When KAP wanted some first-person sampling, they knew I'd likely jump on in. Little did any of us know that'd I'd end up with my own nice story to tell.

Downloading the software? Easy enough, just another unremarkable auto-process of short duration. Same with the rapid install, and in minutes I was up and running on the Mansion Poker 'ware. I fussed around for a bit, determining bonus eligibilites and the like, and if you're a nickel-'n'-dimer type like me, be advised that the poker bonuses are lumped in with the other card/casino games; they don't seem to appear separately on the site as a "poker" sign-up bonus. But they are there, nonetheless.

And I made a deposit, too. Play-money poker bores the hell out of me, and in my experience it tells me nothing about the action or the quality of the site's real-cash players. Mansion has strong financial backing, buttressed by a healthy position in the Euro bookmaking and casino markets. So no concerns there, either.

What did I notice first? The traffic --- it's sparser than I expected. (Again, I pull no punches.) However, this is one of those "seems bad but is really good" tales, because it means there's still time to get in there ahead of the curve; the values right now are enormous. The traffic at hand was concentrated in some of the value-added tournaments: a repeating $500-added tourney that cost just a penny to enter, a few $200-added and $500-added events with heavier entry fees (but still healthy overlays), and some other decent plums for beginning to mid-level players.

And Mansion's Poker Dome Challenge. It seemed that qualifiers for the event were running once or twice or day. These qualifier events pay one spot, a prize package valued at $7,000, for a stylish trip to Vegas and one seat of six at a table during the taping of the Poker Dome show, airing on Fox Sports Net.

Cost to enter: One penny.

Now I haven't checked, but I don't think it's possible to deposit a penny at Mansion to take a single stab at this, meaning you'll have to deposit something more. Despite that, the concept is solid, at its core a wonderful bonus opportunity for those willing to try a real-cash deposit. Other sites --- including some real good ones --- offer freerolls to play players, then try to convert those players into everyday cash-game rollers. Mansion is trying the other side of the coin, asking for a minimal cash deposit up front, but dangling some juicy plums for those who jump on in.

Bizarre pairings of coincidences seem to take place in my life. Despite that, I had no idea how gleefully the good- and bad-karma spirits would playfully slap my head from side to side from day one of my Mansion experience. After some non-success in tourneys and ring games, I signed up for my first Poker Dome qualifier... and the site crashed as the event started. To the ground. Just as the event was set to deal, with something like 420 of us waiting for our cards. The Mansion server came back up some forty minutes later, but the Poker Dome qualifier (and everything else running at the time) was gone as if it never existed.

What the...? I sent off an e-mail to Mansion, inquiring; I was rock-solid sure it wasn't some weird ol' scam, but the timing was convenient for those who would think that way. After all, if Mansion had done something amiss, then, why, they'd made off with upwards of $2.00 of collected entry fees. Hilarious. With exceptional speed, Mansion sent both an automated and personal reply, and they were quite open about the problem: a large freeroll they were running for a European newspaper had unexpectedly crashed the system, and they would also be running an extra Poker Dome qualifier to make up for the lost opportunity.

Thank you, Mansion, for both your openness and your speed of response.

So I waited until the next day and tried the qualifier again. I believe we had about 480 players this time, as it was a prime weeknight (Thursday) opportunity. 480 players chipping in a penny each for a $7,000 package, with the chance to win an additional $25,000, $50,000, or even $1,000,000? Now that's value. At other sites you'd see 5,000 to 10,000 players giving it a go. I can't believe there were only 400-some players on hand to try --- it didn't make a lot of sense to me then, and it still doesn't.

Play started in my second Poker Dome attempt, and from the standpoint of my play, it was nothing special. As for the Mansion software, it has a nice design and classic feel, though some of the secondary services some players die for aren't necessarily here --- as an example, the "Hand History" function has always been "not available" when I checked. I don't mind that, myself, as I'm more of a feel player in tournaments.

It's also worth noting that Mansion tourneys offer a relatively flat blinds structure, something I believe adds value and play opportunity to any tournament. I dislike sites where the blinds escalate so fast that the tournament becomes a push-fest after the first couple of levels, and I'm pleased to say that Mansion does not
fall into that group.

Back to that second try at a qualifier. It started off uninspiring and it finished with me steamed, but not for the normal reasons. I chopped around for a bit, playing through a rather ordinary selection of hands, taking advantage of that fact that even at 400+ entrants, many were blanks. These events allow advance registration, and hard as it might be to believe, some people pay up to a nickel's worth of entry fees in advance and don't worry if they miss a penny or two of the action. Translated: Perhaps one-fourth of the field wasn't really there.

I worked my way up, grinding away. Well, not really --- let's just say that I survived. After an hour and a half of play I'd taken my stack from a start of 1,500 to about 4,000. Perhaps 70 players remained, and I was squarely in the short-stack category... but if the cards turned a bit, who knows?

Boom. The Mansion system crashed again. And if it crashed to the ground on the first time it happened, it crashed to the sub-basement this time --- I couldn't connect for hours. The tournaments already running were gone, as I suspected they would be, but in hindsight that's the right decision. With at least three hours of play remaining, there was no clear way of determining a winner, nor was there any reasonable likelihood of reassembling all the remaining participants at a future date to complete play.

Does this mean I wasn't steamed? Of course not, and my second e-mail had a sharper edge. I did not care about the penny, and I really didn't care about the opportunity; what bothered me was all the lost time. But --- and again, it's to Mansion's credit --- they sent me another personal letter of apology. I needed to vent, and they took it. I apologize for my wrath, Mansion. I do realize that servers crash, but such things remain frustrating. I also believe that my experience was just about the worst possible congruence of lousy timing --- that bad-karma imp was having an easy time of it with me that day.

A couple of days later and it was Saturday, with the bad-karma imp still at hand. It was a most disappointing day of poker for me. I'd qualified for a major tournament at another site but crashed out in that one early, playing not very damn well. So I had a couple of beers, watched the (July 1st!) fireworks, then returned inside and thought about poker again. And I fired up Mansion Poker and saw that another qualifier was about to begin.

That's all for Part I. Part II in the next post.

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