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Our thoughts as the coronavirus transitions to a pandemic and heavily impacts the poker scene worldwide.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

by Zac Shaw

Quick updates for you as COVID-19 continues to grip poker-related headlines:

And finally, a reminder that coronavirus isn’t the only bug out there (though confirming casinos are hotbeds of virus transmission due to close human contact):

  • A norovirus outbreak tied to a Louisiana casino left more than 200 people sick

    • Wednesday, March 4, 2020

      by Zac Shaw

      WSOP Canceled? Here at Red Chip Poker, we realize that coronavirus will be the #1 story in poker for some time to come. Obviously there are much more serious matters to discuss around coronavirus than the game of poker, but it’s hard to deny the virus will have an outsized impact on a game centered around dirty chips and close contact with strangers.

      By now we’ve all heard of the somewhat tasteless but utterly predictable trend of poker pros betting on whether coronavirus will cancel the WSOP. That is certainly the main buzz right now. Adobe was the latest to cancel their Vegas convention, following on the heels of Google and Facebook. At the end of the day, the WSOP is a really long poker convention. While the WSOP has stated they have no current plans to cancel (see below), it’s hard to imagine they’re not at least gaming out a cancelation as I write this.

      We are already seeing our first casino closings here in the US. An employee of Wildhorse Resort in Oregon was diagnosed with coronovirus, and the casino shut its doors immediately, releasing a statement that it would “complete a thorough and deep cleaning” without mentioning when they would reopen.

      By all accounts, it should be only a matter of time before we hear of another casino-linked case, and more “deep cleaning” shutdowns. One of the interesting aspects of this coronavirus and poker story is that a few weeks ago, Macau casinos were allowed to reopen after an extended shutdown, with new sanitation and virus mitigation procedures in place. Casino visitors are required to wear masks, are not allowed to congregate in close groups, and are spaced far apart at gambling tables.

      The casino industry is hard-hit by this virus and getting harder hit every day. It will be interesting to watch what steps casinos will take to stay open and assure visitors they are safe.

      Tuesday, March 3, 2020

      by Zac Shaw

      As the coronavirus teeters on the brink of a pandemic, my poker-related thoughts went to my local casino, Resorts World Catskills. They popped up in an article today highlighting how casinos are (and are not) preparing for coronavirus:

      “I just got back from a trip to Vegas, and I was telling our staff that, `Per capita, I think we have more hand sanitizer than anywhere on the (Vegas) Strip,′ ” said Andrew Chafatelli, chief operating officer of Rocking Horse Ranch in Highland, one of Ulster County’s most popular resorts.

      Resorts World Catskills casino is “maintaining rigorous cleaning and sanitation” standards, and carefully following safety guidance from federal, state and local health authorities, a spokesman for the Sullivan County casino said.

      I can say that this casino is popular with people who might have traveled from China. The bus terminal has English and Chinese information displays. There’s a mini-Chinatown built in one of the wings, surrounded by Asian table games. The NYC Chinatown-to-casino buses arrive and depart with all seats filled.

      Of course, the virus is now spreading globally and focusing only on those who might have traveled from China would be too narrow and might border on profiling or fear-mongering. But when you think of potential hotspots, this is an epidemiologist’s nightmare.

      I’m not going to be on the scene to report to you on how well sanitized the casino is. I expect they’re doing everything they can to stem the bleeding that’s already been caused by a growing widespread (and often sensationalized) fear. The very real (and obscenely expensive) possibility of being temporarily shut down is keeping casinos across the country on their toes.

      Monday, March 2, 2020

      by Kat Martin

      Fall 2003, playing some limit hold’em at the Kansas City Ameristar. The table is full of regulars, with the exception of a single out-of-towner (or OOT; they’re not called “tourists” in KC for obvious reasons). He’s wearing clothes that seem too young for him and has strangely dark, even-colored hair.

      “Geez, you guys!” says the OOT. “There’s no action in this game! Dullsville, Arizona, man.” I assume the odd phrase is supposed to cement in our minds that this character is “hip”. All it does in practice is to compound my suspicion that he is wearing a toupee.

      In an apparent attempt to distract our guest from the fact that the game is, indeed, pretty bloody boring, Asian George draws attention to the filthy state of the chips. Picking up on his cue, the rest of the table (apart from Gabby, who hasn’t spoken a single syllable for seven years) offer their two cents on the topic.

      “Can’t wash ’em,” says The Lady In Pink. “Clay, ain’t it? They’d melt.”

      “I heard they have special machines,” says How-Do-You Mike, who is almost certainly lying. And thus I have to one-up him.

      “I heard this SARS epidemic has been traced to them,” I say, and immediately realize I’ve blown it. Everyone at the table goes quiet, placing their chips carefully back on the table. The Lady In Pink takes a bizarre contraption from her huge, pink bag, that looks like a cross between a bong and a stethoscope. She vigorously squirts either scent or Lysol over her stack while looking sideways at me.

      Poker, WSOP and Coronavirus

      Will Coronavirus Cancel The WSOP?

      Fast forward to 2020 and we’re confronted with another coronavirus. You’re likely already aware of this, unless you’ve been living under a rock, which based on my research may be one of the few safe places to be. Rather than causing MERS or SARS, the latest incarnation leads to COVID-19, which looks like a formal citation to the work of a Roman poet, but isn’t.

      Always at the cutting edge of current events, at least if the event may impact poker, concerned posters at a well-known, impolite poker forum have been speculating wildly on what this may mean for them. And one specific theme that caught my eye was the possibility that this summer’s WSOP in Vegas may be canceled.

      My immediate reaction was that this is typical of the hubris of the poker babblesphere. Even at the peak of WSOP season, the number of poker players in town is still far less than tourists with well-balanced lives and jobs. Moreover, Las Vegas hosts more than forty million visitors a year, irrespective of flu outbreaks, Ebola scares, and rampant food poisoning.

      However, based on past experience I decided it might be a good idea to do some actual research rather than work purely off my opinion. And who better to ask about viruses than WHO? I learned the following:

      Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans. In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The most recently discovered coronavirus causes coronavirus disease COVID-19.

      Source: World Health Organization COVID-19 Q&A

      Alert readers will note that I basically gave all that information in my preamble, but it’s so rare that I do such detailed research for an article, I figured I could slip it in twice.

      I also found an illustration of the virus based on electron microscopy.

      Source: Wikipedia. Credit: CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM.

      Apparently it’s the red spiky things that give the corona name to this family of viruses. This puzzled me, because as a retired astrophysicist I think of a corona as being the outer atmosphere of a star. It turns out a corona is also the “projecting part of a classical cornice”. Fortunately, I already knew what a cornice is because I lived in an old house in London that had one. It’s a chunk of decorated plaster where the wall meets the ceiling to stop the cracks showing. And some of them have bits that protrude called coronas.

      One can circumvent this rather torturous architecturo-etymological route, simply by noting that the Latin corona means crown or halo. But I get paid by the word.

      Now that I had a picture of the damn thing in my mind, I figured it was time to return to the question of the WSOP getting canceled. As mentioned above, I was initially skeptical, but as I skimmed through other sporting events that had been impacted, I became less sure.

      The Chinese Formula 1 GP has already been axed, with the possibility that its sister race in Vietnam may follow. China is, of course, the epidemical epicenter of this outbreak, and the race was scheduled for mid-April, so the relevance to global events in the summer wasn’t immediately apparent to me.

      Then several things happened at once. First, I learned the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic, and that the coronavirus was expected to transition fully from the former to the latter, assuming it hasn’t done so already. Second, the stock market had its worst week since 2008. Third, I discovered casinos in Macau had closed for a couple of weeks in February, as a direct result of the virus. Finally, I came across speculation that the Olympic Games, starting two months after the beginning of the WSOP, may be canceled.

      The Olympic Games.

      To be fair, there are conflicting opinions on this, with the IOC exuding muted optimism and stating no decision will be made before May. In such cases, I rely on the most dependable source I know for gauging probabilities: the betting markets. Based on odds hung by Paddy Power, it is more likely than not that the Olympic Games this summer will be canceled. The only times the event has been canceled in the modern era were during World Wars I and II.

      At this point in my foray into the topic I was getting a little distressed. Not because I give a rat’s ass about the Olympics, but because it was finally hitting home that the current situation is serious.

      It also struck me that the WSOP is a unique environment when it comes to the transmission of diseases. The nature of the operation is that thousands of people are crammed into ballrooms with recycled air, all touching the same chips and cards. Will everyone wear masks? Overseas players in particular have to plan ahead for this event with flight and hotel bookings. How many will decide within the next few weeks it’s just not worth the risk, either of cancellation or infection?

      WSOP Response To Coronavirus

      I figured the mucky-ups at WSOP must be on top of the situation, and since I can’t figure out how to navigate their webiste I got on Twitter. They provided this response to an inquiry about whether the 51st WSOP would go ahead:

      It occurred to me there are two ways of interpreting this response from The Mothership. An optimist might assume WSOP has carefully assessed the situation and concluded that there will be no need to cancel the 2020 festivities. Since I am not an optimist, my first thought was simply that WSOP has no back-up plan if such a cancellation proves necessary.

      Because this is a poker training site, we naturally angle our articles with a poker perspective. However, it would be callous not to note explicitly here that poker is pretty irrelevant in the greater scheme of things, particularly if some of the worst-case scenarios for the coronavirus pandemic pan out. People have died, and many more may do so. That said, one cannot ignore the fact that the nature of live poker makes infection from any communicable disease more likely, particularly when played in a city like Vegas which is an international destination. Maybe the current situation will at least encourage more poker players to wash their damn hands.

      But on that score I am, as usual, not optimistic.

      One of the nastiest things I ever saw at a poker table centered on a cup of coffee; more accurately a glass of coffee because Harrah’s at this time, for reasons that nobody could explain, served coffee in highball glasses.

      With the unerring sixth sense possessed only by cocktail servers, the coffee is handed to an older gentleman precisely when the action is on him, and in an attempt to do two things at once, he drops a couple of redbirds into the coffee glass. Unusually for this establishment, the server immediately offers to take the coffee back to the bar, retrieve the chips, and get the gentleman a new drink.

      I guess this character either really needed some caffeine or has no sense of personal safety, because he waves the offer off and finally folds his hand. For the next twenty minutes he sips his spiked coffee impassively, as I carry out rudimentary diffusion calculations.

      On reaching the bottom of the glass, the gentleman inverts it, knocking the two chips onto his leg with a fluidity that suggests he has been down this path before. He then wipes them off on his pants and returns them to the top of his stack.

      I confess I’m something of a germaphobe, and when I looked at the two recently-immersed chips I felt physically sick. Not only had the black dirt that forms a patina on casino chips completely vanished, but rather than being Ferrari red, the chips were now salmon pink.

      That was the last time I saw the gentleman.

      What do you think the impact of the coronavirus will be on the WSOP and live poker in general? Let us know in the comments.