Thursday, January 24, 2008

Philip Levine Reading on 7 February 2008

The Fresno Poets' Association is hosting a reading on 7 February 2008 in celebration of Philip Levine's 80th birthday, and I'm lucky enough to have been asked to be one of the readers.

The Fresno poetry community gave me my life, and I owe it nearly everything. It's that simple, and I'm grateful and honored to read one of Phil's poems and then one of mine for this community that means so much to me.

Monday, September 24, 2007

No Love on the Flop

As usual, some of the links in this thing are not going to work because they are links to my now-gone website.

What the Hell Is Wrong With Me?: It was the evening before the first ever Madcity No-Limit Poker Invitational and Bert, inventor of the Bert Classic and digital photography, and Ivan, poker player deluxe and designer of this here website, met up with me to get down on some Chinese food at Joy Luck (yeah, the name is lame, but the food is tasty). Afterwards, we went to my big bro’s house to set up for the MNPI.

It didn’t take us that long to get set up, maybe an hour, and there we were, three poker players in a room full of poker chips, our pockets full of green, and with a couple of hours to kill. Can you guess what happened? That’s right, my people, we had a little three-way Hold 'Em action. Over time, Omaha has been dealt more and more at our game because there’s a lot more action, but the MNPI was going to be strictly Hold 'Em, so we decided to work on our Hold 'Em techniques.

We played until almost one in the morning, and I was up and down the whole night, but never getting that far behind or ahead. It’s the same ol’ routine: I don’t make the big moves and I only ever win when I get into showdowns (nobody folds to a guy who doesn’t bet it up) and my cards hold up at the end. I get the little pots and everybody else gets the big ones.

What’s the problem? Somewhere toward the end of February, I became gun shy, which is a horrible thing to be for a poker player. I’ve made myself into a low-variance player, and, over time, we tend to get chewed up by high-variance players. They’re all trying to kill each other with baseball bats and I get scared and fold or call when I should be swinging my bat, too.

What does this all mean? That after about four hours of action, I was down exactly $2.75. How embarrassing is that? I think that I’d rather be down $50 than $2.75 because that would mean that I was out there, in the fray, trying to take care of my goddamned business. Instead, if you look at The Not-So-Grand Total, you’ll see that, since the end of February, I’ve had nights where I’ve won or lost $8, $6.25, $10, $10, $1.50 (that one’s particularly embarrassing), $5.50, $9, and, finally, $2.75. And most of our games last at least six hours, which means that I’ve had hourly rates of winning 25 cents. Yeah, that’s gonna buy daddy the pec implants.

But Wait, It Gets Worse: After the conclusion of the MNPI, it was still pretty early, so Bert, inventor of the Bert Light and fluorescent lighting, Ivan, Jesse, and myself decided to go back to my big bro’s for some post-MNPI action. I was already out of my head because of how I had done at the MNPI (I might never get over it; thanks a lot, you bastards) but here I was playing with the three guys who had cashed at the MNPI. I proceeded to take an ass-kicking for the four hours that we played.

I was so messed up by what had happened at the MNPI, mostly having to do with me getting great hands cracked by what came down on fourth- and fifth street, that, if somebody came out betting post fourth street or post fifth street, I would fold, even if I was holding something that war really pretty. What did I see when everybody else turned over their cards at the showdown? That I had folded winning hands. It happened three times. No, that’s not accurate. I let it happen three times.

At the end of the night, I had lost $27.50, which isn’t too bad considering I was down about $45 after two hours, but there had been a period when I had actually been ahead. If I hadn't been such a coward and bet those three hands that I could have won, I would have finished with a nice little profit.

It was probably one of my worst performances ever at a poker table. In fact, Bert, inventor of the Bert Death Spiral and the meatball sub, and Jesse commented that I wasn’t playing like myself. Great, you know you're really sucking when your competitors are worried about you.

Back to the drawing board.

Poker Problem: Why does everything pretty have to die? 

Sunday, September 23, 2007

He Doth Bestride the Narrow World: The Madcity No-Limit Poker Invitational Report

The Before: Between those of us in the poker crew, we have eight sets of poker chips, most of them having been acquired right around Christmas. Once we grasped that fact, it was only a short time before the idea of hosting a poker tournament was discussed. My big bro has a big room at the back of his crib that’s mostly used for storage, and it would be perfect, we conjectured, as a location for said poker tournament.

We toyed with the poker tournament idea for months, but it took my June poker trip to Las Vegas to really get things moving. One night, at the end of a Friday-night poker game, Bert, inventor of the Bert Classic and four-wheel drive, Ivan, poker player deluxe and designer of this here site, and myself started planning and running the variables for what it would take to host a good tournament. We got the structure roughed out, picked a date, 3 July 2005, gave it a name, The Madcity No-Limit Poker Invitational, and started getting the word out. It was only a few days later that we realized that we’d have to move the MNPI to 2 July 2005 because my big bro works on Sunday, and there was no telling how late the thing would go. Once we got that sorted out, there wasn’t much left to do until the day before the MNPI.

So, that Friday, Bert, inventor of the Bert Light and rhythmic gymnastics, and Ivan met up with me to partake of some Chinese food at Joy Luck (the name is weak, but the food is decidedly not) and to discuss the rules and procedures for managing the MNPI. Afterward, we went to my big bro’s to get the tables set up and to get the chips bagged. We were playing $40 buy-in, no-limit hold 'em, so each baggie had to have twenty white 50¢ chips, twenty red $1 chips, and two blue $5 chips. It took us much less time to set up than we had anticipated, so we decided to get in a few hands, you know, to break in the room. We played until almost one in the morning, and I lost a little bit.

I should have gone to bed at that point, but I needed to write an e-mail to Sonya C., fellow writer/art nerd and former Husky. She’s gonna meet up with me in Seattle for part of "The Pacific Northwest Museum Tour,” and I needed to run some stuff by her. Writing that e-mail took me until 3:30 in the morning. The plan was to wake up at 9:45 and get ready for the MNPI. I can function, barely, on six hours of sleep if I mega-dose on caffeine (caffeine: hell, yeah), so I wasn’t too worried about the late hour.

How was this plan wrecked? My cellie rings at eight in the morning, and it’s Ivan. Do I want to have breakfast? Breakfast? Dude, it’s eight in the morning. My taste buds don’t even turn on until noon. I try to go back to sleep, but it’s too late.

I’m pretty sure that this was a part of Ivan’s plan all along. Everybody who was going to play in the Madcity No-Limit Poker Invitational probably got a phone call form Ivan at some ungodly hour inviting them to breakfast.

The During: Just prior to the MNPI, I, as MNPI co-director, host, and sponsor, went over the structure of the tournament. Cards were in the air at 12:30 and everything seemed to go pretty well.

There were two tables, so I was only seeing half of the action. Next year, I’ll hire a young reporter to work the floor and do minute-by-minute updates on my website, but that wasn’t in this year’s budget.

Once we were down to the final table, though, it was much easier to describe the action. With a total of six re-buys (I was the first one to go down to felt and have to re-buy), the entire prize pool had swelled to $640, all of which was in play. That's right, no cut for the house. Players got eliminated slowly, and there weren’t any major moves of chips from one player to another.

At this point, we were down to five: Ivan, Jesse, Bert, Ivan’s father, and me. I had about $135 in chips, which, with six players, put me in decent position. Then, however, I got a cold run of cards just as we were going into the seventh round. The seventh-round blinds were $4 for the small, $8 for the big, along with a two-dollar ante for everybody else. What did that mean? Because I wasn’t catching cards, I was getting chewed up by the blinds. By the time the came back around to me, it was costing me $18 just to fold my crummy cards. Couple that with the fact that we were down to five players meant that the small and big blinds were coming around pretty quickly. Add all of that up, combine it with three beatdowns I took when I had really strong hands (two from Ivan and one from his dad), and my$135 in chips was cut down to about $60 without my having misplayed a hand.

It was while I was on this losing steak that there was a hand that involved the movement of a lot of chips, and that probably set up everything that followed. Bert, inventor of the Bert Death Spiral and low-fat cottage cheese, battled with Ivan. The betting after the flop put them both in the pot for at least fifty dollars. After fourth street, Bert checked it and Ivan made it fifty to go. At this point, Bert had already put roughly a third of the chips that he had had in front of him into the pot. Now, he would have to call with approximately another third, leaving him with around fifty dollars for any post-fifth street action. It was a huge decision. If Bert called and lost, he would be wounded and out in the open. He could only really call if he had a nearly unbeatable hand, which was exactly why Ivan had made his aggressive bet. Bert laid his hand down, which, though it was the smart play, still had to hurt, especially since he had put a third of his chips into the pot pre-fold and he was now down to about ninety.

Shortly after that hand, we went into the eighth round ($5 small blind, $10 big blind, a $3 ante), Ivan’s dad got knocked out, we were down to four, and it had turned into a knife fight in a phone booth.2 Those of you who have been in a phone-booth knife fight know that it’s intense, that it’s incredibly brutal, that you don’t really have the room to make big moves but that the small moves that you can make have the potential to be lethal, either for the person who’s being attacked or for the attacker because his attack failed, was countered, or left him exposed. Only three players would get paid off; one slight mistake and you would finish barely out of the money. It was stressful and it was terrifying, but it was a whole hell of a lot of fun..

After the Bert vs. Ivan hand, Ivan had quite clearly become chip leader, it wasn’t even close, and it was going to be really hard to mount any kind of attack on him. Ivan was like Godzilla now, and we were the tiny creatures underfoot that were trying to fight each other for the scarce food that was available while at the same time trying not to attract Godzilla’s attention and get stepped on. What am I saying? Jesse, Bert, and I had to try to cut each other’s throats (we’re friends, sure, but this was business) because, since we were all down to around fifty in chips each and Ivan had about five-hundred, there was no way to mount an attack on Ivan (at this point, it was pretty much a given that, unless something really improbable happened, Ivan was going to win the MNPI), and one of us lesser creatures needed to die for the other two to cash.

The problem for Jesse, Bert, and me was that Ivan wouldn’t let the three of us battle amongst each other for the blinds. Remember, at this point, the big and little blinds per hand added up to fifteen dollars, so for a player down to fifty-something chips, winning the blinds would be a big boost to one’s stacks and could put some distance between you and third and fourth place. Ivan, though, just needs to use some classic poker strategy in order to let us hang ourselves. Nearly every time one Jesse, Bert, or I made a move at the blinds by raising, Ivan would come over the top with a raise that would put the original bettor all-in. All of a sudden, playing a hand that wasn’t absolutely unbeatable could cost you all of your chips and leave you out of the money.

Bad Beat of the Night: Of the night? No, of the year. On my last hand, I was the $10 big blind. We were playing four-handed, I had pocket eights (medium pairs are pretty strong when playing four-handed), and so I made it twenty to go. Bert folds, Ivan calls, and Jesse folds. Since Ivan didn’t bet it up, I’m pretty sure that he doesn’t have a pocket pair himself, so I think that I’m in pretty good position.

The flop comes J-6-4 rainbow, I've got two of the cards covered, and I think that it probably didn’t help him. I figure that he’ll check it to me, I’ll bet the ten (in tournament poker, the minimum bet has to match the big blind or the previous bet), he’ll fold, and I’ll end up with about a $70 stack. I still wouldn’t be a threat to Ivan, but I’d be in second place and in much better position to finish in the money.

Instead of checking, Ivan bets $20. What the hell is he holding? I still don’t put him on a pocket pair because he would have re-raised and put me all-in pre-flop, the board is no good for a flush or straight draws, so I figure that maybe he thinks that all I’m holding is overcards that he has beat. Maybe he has me on K-Q and he’s holding A-Q or even A-K. Maybe he's got nothing and he thinks that he can bluff me out. If I call, I’ll be down to $6 for any post-fourth street betting, so I couldn’t just call; I’d have to go all in. What are the odds of my 8-8 beating A-Q? I’m a 55.7% favorite. What about A-K? Against that, I’m still a 55.7% favorite. I don’t really have a choice, so I go all-in.

If I win the hand, there’s a good chance that I’ll finish in the money because I would have put some distance between my self and Jesse and Bert. If I lose, I get to watch Ivan, Jesse, and Bert battle it out for he money I barely missed out on. What does Ivan turn over? J-6. He’s flopped top two pair, and I’m in deep, deep trouble.

Pre-flop and with the cards each of us is holding, I was a 71.4% favorite. You would think that Ivan would see that if I’m betting twenty of my forty-six in chips, that I’m either holding a pair or at least two high singles or at least something better that J-6. In fact, if I run a simulation of Ivan holding J-6 and me holding J-7 (that is, if I’m barely better), I’d still be a 63.6% favorite, almost two-to-one. If I barely have both of his cards beat (if I’m holding Q-7), then I’m a 63.6% favorite. If I’ve got only his top card beat (if I’m holding Q-6), then he’s dead to sixes and I’m a 74.1% favorite. If he only catches a six on the flop, I’m a 72.9% favorite. Hell, even if I’d had the weakest possible pair, 2-2, I’d still have been a 52.2% favorite to win it at the showdown. What does all of this mean? That my hand was strongest pre-flop, and that I should have gotten all my money in then. Even if he’d been holding big slick (A-K), I would have been a 55.2% favorite with my pocket eights. After the flop, only the two remaining eights helped me and I had become a ten-to-one underdog. The board bricks out and my pocket eights get cracked by J-6 when Ivan makes top two pair.

My Mistake: I should have gone all in pre-flop for my $46 and tried to make Ivan’s decision a little tougher. He may still have called (at this point, $46 represented less that nine percent of his chips), but the possibility of him calling becomes much less likely. Strategically speaking, it’s surprising that Ivan called my pre-flop bet of $26 considering what he was holding, so maybe a $46 bet wouldn’t have changed his play.

I finish in fourth place, one place out of the money. Before the invitational had started, I had joked that the fourth place finisher would get a copy of my book (I’ve got a big-ass box of author’s copies back at my crib), since it’s apparent that nobody is ever going to pay for a damn copy. I called it the Bitch Prize.

So, after planning and purchasing and moving stuff and being sleep-deprived (thanks a lot, Ivan) and keeping the Madcity No-Limit Poker Invitational running smoothly and getting knocked out on a painful-as-hell hand, what did I get? A copy of my own goddamned book. I went to my computer case that was sitting in the living room, pulled out a copy (is it lame that I carry a few copies around with me?), went back to the Madcity No-Limit Poker Invitational floor and awarded myself my free copy of my book that I had already gotten for free to begin with. On so many levels, that's just screwed up and pathetic.

More hands are dealt. Winners win. Losers lose. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Who cares?

Madcity No-Limit Poker Invitational Final Results:
First Place, $320: Ivan
Second Place, $192: Jesse
Third Place, $128: Bert
Bitch Prize, Book Already in His Possession: Blas Manuel De Luna

The After: After the distribution of the prizes, we decide to go eat at Fergie’s 50’s Diner, It’s gonna be on Ivan (you’re goddamned right), and as I got out of Jesse’s truck I said that I was going to order two steak and lobsters (I’m not trying to get all up in your bidness, but don’t eat lobsters; it’s cruel how they get all boiled to death; it's just cold), and that I was going to throw one of the plates out onto the street. What did I really order? The turkey dinner. I needed comfort food to help me recover from my mind-numbing, heart-breaking, soul-destroying fourth-place finish, and what’s more comforting than a turkey dinner? Well, the turkey tasted like it came out of one of those little plastic bags that you throw in boiling water; the stuffing was watery, like the cook had just grabbed a handful of stuffing mix from the box, eyeballed the amount of water that he would need for the aforementioned fistful of stuffing mix, threw the hastily made concoction in a microwave-safe bowl, stirred it up with his index finger, and hoped for the best; the less said about the cranberry sauce, the better (here’s a hint, though, to all you restaurant owners out there: don’t try to make your profit on the cranberry sauce; if you have to serve cranberry sauce that came out of a can, upgrade to a brand that vaguely looks like, smells like, and tastes like cranberries); and, in conclusion, the dinner roll was less than adequate.

I thought about it, though, and what the hell was I thinking ordering a dinner plate at what is essentially a burger/sandwich/breakfast joint? It wasn’t like they were gonna have a roast turkey waiting just for me. The truth is that I eat at the 50’s Diner all the time, about three times a week, and it’s really good diner food.

Because I’m always thinking about my loyal readers (all three of them), I was going to get a picture of my food to link to this entry, but I was so bummed out that I was barely functioning. I kept leaning my head against the wall and saying, “I'm so depressed.” Seriously, even today, eight whole days later, I’m still beyond depressed. Whatever’s between really depressed and stepping into traffic, that’s where I’m at.

The Best Part of the Whole Experience?: My new ice chest. That thing is awesome. On Wednesday, there was still ice in that bastard from Saturday morning. How tough is that? As of Thursday morning, though, the ice has melted, reminding me again that death comes to claim us all. We are the ice cubes and the ice chest is the sad and relentless world of loss. Sorry if that got bleak for a second. I’m a bleak person, that’s my thing. What isn’t bleak? Ice cold drinks out of my bad-ass ice chest, that's what. Igloo rules, no doubt.

1Sponsorship Ain’t Cheap: one folding table, square, beige: $35 one ice chestA, rectangular, silvery, with a white lid: $20 snacks & drinks, various shapes and colors: $34 a chill environment, no discernable shape or color, unless one wants to go metaphorical: that part, thank Jesus, didn’t cost me a dime.

ABack to the ice chest one more time. In general, I have no idea how much stuff costs. I was broke-ass for forever (It turns out that there’s no green in the poetry biz; who knew?) and I’ve never been into the acquisition of stuff anyway (fight the power), so I’m constantly surprised by how little I have to pay for stuff that I need. For example, I thought that a folding table was going to run me something like seventy bucks. Come on, a table that folds? That’s sweet. I was way, way off. The ice chest? Something that keeps your drinks secure and cold as a Republican in a homeless shelter (in your face, Republican bitches)? I was thinking in the neighborhood of at least fifty dollars, which seemed reasonable to me. Twenty dollars, my friend, twenty dollars. Since the purchase of said ice chest, I’ll sometimes get up from my worktable (these posts don’t write themselves), just to go and look at it.

2I Demand Recognition: As far as I know, I created, and thus hold the copyright to, the saying, “It was like a knife fight in a phone booth.”B If you use it (what, you can’t come up with your own material?), I want attribution, goddamn it.

BOkay, this is embarrassing, but I just Googled "knife fight in a phone booth" and found out that that very phrase appears as the title of an article in Salon. The article came out in March, 2003, and, while I think that I was using that phrase before then, the context of article makes it pretty clear that the phrase has been out there for a while. Also, I read Salon daily, and I must have seen the article, even if I have no specific recall of having read it. Furthermore, I'm a language geek, and I tend to remember cool phrases that I have either read or heard. In the face of all this evidence, I can no longer demand recognition as the creator of the above-mentioned phrase. However, could you at least acknowledge that you encountered the phrase on my website? That would be the cool thing to do. You're cool, aren't you?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Las Vegas Poker Journal: Special World Series of Poker Report

All of the links in this are dead, for starters. Some updates: I never did play in a satellite that year because I chickened out. And, according to one of my poker buddies I was momentarily on national television.

16 June 2005

After playing for eleven hours at the Excalibur, I decided to head over to the Rio, where the World Series of Poker is being held this year. It used to be held at Binion’s, but they got bought out. It was pretty late, and I parked in completely the wrong parking structure. It turns out that the World Series wasn’t being held in the casino proper, but in the convention center attached to the Rio through a long-ass hallway that took over ten minutes to make my way through. It was around midnight, and the first place I stopped at was the Official World Series of Poker Store, where I bought a few T-shirts for me and my big bro; official programs for me and the entire poker crew, and a roll of souvenir chips. Then I walked down the hall in front of the room where the WSOP was being played. It was what you would expect: people selling various poker-related stuff, and a very tired and depressed-looking girl in a yellow bikini peddling cigars. Then I went through the double doors into where the games were being played. The room was much bigger than I thought it would be. In fact the place was huge, though, because it was so late, it was pretty empty.

I wasn’t sure if I could walk around freely and I didn’t want to get kicked out, which would have made me feel like a complete loser, and that’s what trying to write literature is for. Finally, I got up the courage to walk around a little bit, and the place I headed for was in the back, where a TV set-up was located.

There was an empty table, though much nicer than the ones being used everywhere else in the room. What I was looking at was the Final Table, the one used when the game has been reduced to the final ten players, or it used to be ten (the number of players that can be held by a casino-style poker table), but now, for the sake of television, it only holds eight players. There was a million dollars in $100 bills stacked on the table, though I later found out that only the outside bills were real; the rest was just paper, which wasn’t the case when the WSOP was run by the Binions. Mini-bleachers had been set up and there were people sitting in them, but nothing was going on. What was happening? It turned out that the game was on a break. When the break ended, I saw T.J. Cloutier come out from somewhere in the room and sit at one end of the table, to the left of the dealer. Another guy, Steve Zoine sat down at the other end, and that was it. There were no other players. I was witnessing the heads-up action of the $5,000 buy-in No Limit Hold ‘Em event.

Wow, goddamn, wow. I couldn’t believe my luck. Here was Cloutier, a man who, along with Tom McEvoy, wrote a book I carry around with me in my computer case so that I can work on my game whenever I have a spare moment. Zoine, I had never heard of, though it turns out that he has an interesting story. He’s an East Coaster, and this was his first serious poker tournament and he had made it to the final table at the WSOP, which is an amazing feat. Not only that, but he had also studied the Cloutier and McEvoy book.

I’m kind of standing around like a smiling idiot, holding my souvenir bags. I’m totally in the shot, by the way; look for me on ESPN in the fall, 10 October 2005, when the final table of the $5,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold ‘Em event will be televised; I’m the one wearing all black who looks completely out of place and completely happy.

So, I’m there no more than a few minutes when the game starts back up. The dealer deals out what I later found out was hand 169 and there’s immediate action. Cloutier who’s holding A-5, studies Zoine and thinks long and hard. He sees something that I don’t because he goes all in with his roughly 1.2 million in chips. Cloutier has Zoine covered because Zoine has about $800,000 in chips. Now it’s Zoine’s turn to think because if he calls and loses, that’s it, he’s done. Zoine, however, takes no time to think. He calls and turns over unsuited A-K, Big Slick, the best non-paired starter hand that you can get dealt to you.

Cloutier looks as if somebody just stabbed his momma. If Cloutier loses the hand, he’ll be down to $400,000 in chips to battle against Zoine’s 1.6 million. Now Cloutier is an amazing player, but this Zoine guy is also pretty good and, with his potentially having a 4-to-1 chip advantage, Cloutier understands that he’s pretty much screwed. At this point his only realistic chance is to catch a “5” while Zoine doesn’t catch anything. Cloutier’s odds? There are three cards in the deck at this point that can help him, and forty-five that don’t. You do the math and realize that Cloutier has a one-in-sixteen chance of catching to his five.

Cloutier looks now like he’s trying to get mentally and spiritually prepared to lose, and you can feel the energy radiating off of Zoine, who’s pretty confident that he’s about to pull off something pretty amazing.

Still, you never know what’s going to come on the flop. Maybe a five comes down and Cloutier gets lucky and wins. The flop, though, is 9-8-6, and, all of a sudden, Cloutier has more than doubled his outs. Instead of only being helped by a “5,” a “7” would now give him a straight. With seven outs now, he has a little worse than a one-in-six chance of winning the hand. Fourth street, a jack doesn’t help Cloutier, which means that it helps Zoine. Still, Cloutier isn’t drawing dead, but Zoine is almost assured of winning the hand and the WSOP $5,000 buy-in No-Limit Championship. So, what comes down on the river? A “7.” Cloutier makes his straight and wins it all.

Cloutier hit a nearly miracle flop for a gut shot straight draw and then, when he was almost dead, he got the gut shot straight on the river. Zoine looks like he wants to vomit, wet himself, cry, have a heart attack followed by a stroke, all at the same time. He has suffered a hell of a bad beat, and at the worst time, on the last hand of a WSOP event. He played it correctly and had Cloutier dead as soon as Cloutier went all in. He can take some comfort in that, which he’ll probably be able to do one day, far, far in the future, but probably only if he actually wins a WSOP event of his own. Also, the $330,000 will be of some comfort, though Cloutier comes away with $660,000.

Did Cloutier make a mistake going all-in with A-5? I’ve thought and thought about this for nearly a week, and, unless there was something there that I didn’t see or understand, it seems that Cloutier did made a mistake, a mistake that, if not for an incredible amount of luck, almost cost him a WSOP championship and an extra $330,000. He must have thought that Zoine was also holding two singles, and neither of them an ace. He bet a lot on a hunch. Then, as we’re all snapping pictures of Cloutier behind the stacks of fake money, who comes by to give him some props? Tom McEvoy, Cloutier's co-author of the book I have back in my hotel room. I took a picture of him, though he didn’t look too happy about it. He was even unhappier a few minutes later when I saw him get knocked out of the $1,500 Shoot Out No-Limit event. Then, I saw Kathy Liebert win her table when her pocket 4’s turned into a set on the flop and the guy she was playing heads-up made top pair to his jack and, also holding a king, went all in. She called, and he got no help on the turn or the river. She ended up placing seventh.

I had so much fun at the WSOP that I went back the next day to see if I could run across any more famous poker players. I did see this lovely Chinese Canadian poker player that I’d once seen on TV. She was in the hallway outside, where I saw her walk toward a bench and then sit down with a bottled drink and some pre-packaged burrito- or pita-type thing. Weird.

Then, as I was walking around, there came an announcement that they were looking for one last player to fill out a $125 buy-in satellite. There are two ways to get into the main WSOP events: pay the $10,000 entry fee with money you had with you, or try to earn the money at the satellite tables. This is how it works: you play at a satellite, and, if you win, you get most of your buy-in back ($120 out of $125), plus $500 in buy-in chips. Buy-in chips aren’t actual money in the sense that you can’t spend it on a T-shirt or a tattoo, but you can use it to buy into other satellites, either at $125 or at a higher buy-in ($325, $525, $725), until you accumulate enough cash to play at the main events. Now, there was no way that I could stick around even if I won at a satellite. I was checked out of my hotel and my laptop was in the trunk of my ride, slowly baking in the Las Vegas heat. Still, I really wanted to play, even if I lost all my chips in five minutes, just so that I could say that I played at the World Series of Poker. What stopped me? I could not figure out where the hell the announcement was coming from. Inside the actual tournament area were two places that looked like staging areas, but I couldn’t find anybody holding a microphone. Then the announcement stopped coming over the P.A. system, which meant that they’d already found a player. Damn. However, some of my poker homies are going back in about three weeks, and I’m going to try to play in a satellite then.

Las Vegas Poker Journal, Part Five

17 June 2005, Day Five:

It’s Gotta Be a World Record: It’s my last day in Las Vegas, and I've got a seven-hour drive ahead of me, so I’m only going to play for four hours, from 12:30 to 4:30. I’m expecting a chill session, especially since I don’t want to play like an idiot and end my three-day winning streak. You know how it is: you're up big—for the day, the week, the trip, whatever—and it’s close to the end, and so you start playing way too loosely, getting into hands you should have stayed out of. or staying in hands when the flop was unkind. I’ll admit that this is what I do. I’m up huge, feel like I’m playing with “found money,” and I give it all away. This happened to me on 20 February 2005, in the middle of my incredible two-month winning streak, when, in the first two hours of that game I was up about $140. I was catching cards and playing them pretty well, but then the cards stopped coming. I should have been smart and mucked nearly all of my hands, waiting for good cards to come, but, damn it, I was up huge. What happened? I ended up winning only $23. It was and is the worst that I have ever felt at a poker table.

So, I told myself to play smart, it’s better, at least today, to be cautious and fold when I’m not sure I’m going to get paid off at the showdown.

What happened to the plan? Homeboy Who Burned Through Seventy in Twenty-Five Minutes, Though He Thought He Looked Tough in His Shades happened. Homeboy Who Burned Through Sixty in Twenty-Five Minutes, Though He Thought He Looked Tough in His Shades cut through seventy dollars in about twenty-five minutes. I’m not exaggerating, it was the poorest display of poker that I have ever seen. To top it off, like me, he was a Chicano, so I was, beyond being filled with awe (if that’s the right word) and gratitude that somebody could suck so badly at poker, I was filled with ethnic shame. Homeboy Who Burned Through Seventy in Twenty-Five Minutes, Though He Thought He Looked Tough in His Shades, you're letting our people down. This guy played pocket 7’s and 8’s when there were overcards on the board. There was no way his cards were ever going to hold up, but Homeboy Who Burned Through Sixty in Twenty-Five Minutes, Though He Thought He Looked Tough in His Shades actually attacked with them, and he would go all the way to the showdown, where we would all be dumbfounded by what he thought could win. If you're holding a low pocket pair, even if it’s deuces, you see a flop because you might make a set. If your set doesn’t come, you check when it comes to you or you bail as soon as somebody makes a bet.

What made it funnier/borderline tragic was that his lady was at the next table over. She was over his left shoulder and they were back to back. After he gave away his first thirty, in about ten minutes, he turned to her and, though I couldn’t tell what was being said, it was pretty clear that he was asking for some more money (wisely, I think, she was in charge of the green) and she wasn’t happy. She gave him a twenty, thank Christ, and he got back in the game. Well, that twenty lasted around seven minutes, maybe a little bit more, and soon he was down to felt (you can see the felt because you're out of chips) again. Homeboy Who Burned Through Sixty in Twenty-Five Minutes, Though He Thought He Looked Tough in His Shades turns back to his lady and asks for more money. Brother, she did not look happy at all. At this point, I did hear him say something about his having good cards. She pulls out another twenty, thank Christ again. Now, it was more tragic than funny because that twenty lasted about six minutes. This guy, Homeboy Who Burned Through Sixty in Twenty-Five Minutes, Though He Thought He Looked Tough in His Shades, just wasn’t getting it. He couldn’t make the connection between one ass-kicking and another. The poor sap turned around for one more twenty, but, mercifully and wisely, his lady cut him off. Guy From Near Chicago Who Looked Much Younger Than He Was and I were hoping that Homeboy Who Burned Through Sixty in Twenty-Five Minutes, Though He Thought He Looked Tough in His Shades’s lady would keep the green coming because her man was basically a conduit for moving money from her to us.

Okay, I’m Conflicted: For a while, though, I thought of saying to Homeboy Who Burned Through Seventy in Twenty-Five Minutes, Though He Thought He Looked Tough in His Shades that he needed to change his game. In fact, I can still remember one of the sentences that I had formulated and almost said to him: “Bro, you can’t play sevens.” The thing is, it would have been economically detrimental to me, even if I didn’t get a taste myself. What can sometimes happen is that all the people who did get a taste feel like they basically now have found money and they play much too loosely and pay out themselves. Homeboy Who Burned Through Seventy in Twenty-Five Minutes, Though He Thought He Looked Tough in His Shades just kind of rubbed me the wrong way, what with the fact that he was embarrassing La Raza and that he wore shades at the poker table (which is generally ridiculous, but especially so at a low-limit game).

Come With It, Poker Genius: As our table was coming together (when there are enough people on a waiting list, a new table will be opened up), a guy whom I’d seen around all week, Pot Odds Man Who I Punked Like a Bitch, sat down at the other end of the table (I was two positions to the left of the dealer and Pot Odds Man Who I Punked Like a Bitch was two positions to the right of said dealer). Right away, he started pontificating about poker and pot odds and position, just generally trying to sound like Mr. Poker Pro. Listen, all of that technical stuff is important, especially to me, a guy who plays a pretty strategic style, but this guy was one of those people who loves to hear himself expound. I’ll admit that I wanted to take quan from Pot Odds Man Who I Punked Like a Bitch, mostly just because I took an immediate disliking for him. That chance came about an hour into the game. I had seen Pot Odds Man Who I Punked Like a Bitch attack in late position with unsuited face cards and either bluff everybody out or win when no help came for anybody and his high unsuited face cards held up. Well, I was dealt unsuited A-Q, but I tend not to bet unless I have a made hand, so I called the blind when it came to me. Everybody else either folded or called the blind, but Pot Odds Man Who I Punked Like a Bitch made it four to go. I knew he didn’t have a made hand, and that meant that only A-K could beat me at that point, but the odds of him holding that were slim, more so because I was already holding one of the aces. I thought that maybe he had K-Q, if he was lucky, or maybe K-J. I call his raise, though I thought about raising him because he would either fold and I could win it right there, or he would call and I would make an extra $3. I decided though, to let him think that he had me beat and I was just looking for some help on the flop. The flop was all low cards, which didn’t help me but that I knew also didn’t help him. I checked it, though, and let him hang himself by his betting the $3, which I calmly called. Fourth was a low blank, I checked, he bet the max, and I called it again. At this point, the both of us are in for $10. Fifth is junk, and I know that I’ve got him beat. This time, instead of checking, I bet the $3. Pot Odds Man Who I Punked Like a Bitch will either fold and I win it right there, call so that I get an extra $3, or re-raise so that I can re-raise and get an extra $6 out of him. He calls, and I turn over my A-Q, which beats his K-J. Thank you, Pot Odds Man Who I Punked Like a Bitch, for paying out. Right after this hand, by the way, Pot Odds Man Who I Punked Like a Bitch got up from the table and didn’t come back.

You Are Lovely, But You Are Also Cool: After Homeboy Who Burned Through Seventy in Twenty-Five Minutes, Though He Thought He Looked Tough in His Shades left, a new player came in to take his spot. This guy, Gorgeous Man With the Actor Voice Who I Wanted to Dislike But Couldn’t, made me feel bad about myself at first by just being incredibly good looking. I don’t know if that even makes any sense, but it was true. I was fully expecting him to be a prick because, as good-looking as he was, he could get away with it. Also, I thought that he would be ultra-confident (why wouldn’t he be?), and that ultra-confidence would only make it harder to have to live with my usual lack of self-confidence. So, as soon as he sat down, I became shyer than I usually am, which is already pretty shy.

But, as soon as Gorgeous Man With the Actor Voice Who I Wanted to Dislike But Couldn’t sat down, he seemed really down to earth and generally pleasant. He asked about the structure of the game (which can be radically different from casino to casino) and he didn’t throw his chips around like he was a zillionaire. Also, Gorgeous Man With the Actor Voice Who I Wanted to Dislike But Couldn’t said that he was on a budget of $50 a day in gambling losses, and that made him seem more real to me, more like one of us non-incredibly-beautiful people who actually has to worry about money. What also made him seem more real was that earlier that afternoon he had walked through New York, New York, a semi-cheesy hotel on The Strip (well, most of them are cheesy, but this one sticks out), and seen a bunch of young ladies in bikinis laying out face-down in lounge chairs by the pool. Now I figured, just by looking at him, that he could see as many beautiful women and in any state of dress or undress as he could stand, but the fact that he had seen these bikini-clad girls made him happy, just like it would make most men happy. He was a regular guy, just handsome as hell.

Later on, Gorgeous Man With the Actor Voice Who I Wanted to Dislike But Couldn’t’s friend sat down to the immediate left of him. At this point I had already defeated Pot Odds Man Who I Punked Like a Bitch with my unsuited A-Q, which had gotten me respect at the table because I guess that it was a little hardcore to bet into a guy when I didn’t even have a pair, and I was on a pretty good streak. What shows up for me on the draw? A-Q. It’s a betting hand, so I make it four to go and the only ones who stay in are Gorgeous Man With the Actor Voice Who I Wanted to Dislike But Couldn’t and his buddy. The flop missed me, but I bet $3 again, trying to represent that I’ve got a made hand. They both call it and fourth comes down, another card that doesn’t help me. I bet it up, though, as if I did have a hand. Gorgeous Man With the Actor Voice Who I Wanted to Dislike But Couldn’t thinks for a little bit but he folds out. His buddy and I are now heads up, but he’s got a decision to make. I’m betting like I have something pretty, so he has to have something that is prettier than what he thinks that I've got, or he’s got to act like he does and raise. Truthfully, if he had raised, the only reasonable play I would have had would have been to fold out. I can tell he has something, otherwise he would have folded pretty quickly, so I’m hoping that he folds. He does fold, and I turn over my A-Q, just to let them know what they folded to. I didn’t turn them over to be a prick, I did it so that everybody would think that I’ll bluff and try to buy pots (which I only did in this case because I had a nice starter hand and because I thought that Gorgeous Man With the Actor Voice Who I Wanted to Dislike But Couldn’t and his friend would cave if I put pressure on them) so that I can get really paid off when I do make a hand. It turns out that both guys had made medium pairs on the flop and they both had me beat. That was when Gorgeous Man With the Actor Voice Who I Wanted to Dislike But Couldn’t said that I had “balls of steel.” Shortly thereafter, Gorgeous Man With the Actor Voice Who I Wanted to Dislike But Couldn’t and his friend, who had both lost a good bit of their stacks, got up to leave, but not before saying goodbye to the other players, which was classy. Thank you, Gorgeous Man With the Actor Voice Who I Wanted to Dislike But Couldn’t, for being classy and for commenting on the nature of my testicles.

Ah, I Have Found Another Brother: For the last day of Las Vegas Poker Trip, I sat to the immediate right of Guy From Near Chicago Who Looked Much Younger Than He Was. Guy From Near Chicago Who Looked Much Younger Than He Was had played Hold 'Em with his friends, but this was his first time playing in a casino, and it’s just a much tougher game, to which I’m sure Homeboy Who Burned Through Seventy in Twenty-Five Minutes, Though He Thought He Looked Tough in His Shades could attest. So, because Guy From Near Chicago Who Looked Much Younger Than He Was also seemed like a cool person, I was giving him some tips and strategies about how to play in certain situations. At first, Guy From Near Chicago Who Looked Much Younger Than He Was, wasn’t doing too well—over-betting hands, staying in when there was too much action in front of him for him to defend his cards, not betting when he should—but he started getting the hang of if pretty quickly. In fact, in one hand near the end, I had been dealt A-Q (again!) and bet it to $4. Everybody folded out except for Guy From Near Chicago Who Looked Much Younger Than He Was. The flop comes with a jack, and Guy From Near Chicago Who Looked Much Younger Than He Was bets $3. With A-Q, I was tempted to call because I still had overcards to the board, but my young pupil at this point was making mostly good decisions, and I didn’t think that he’d bet unless he’d picked up top pair. I folded out, but I showed my cards. I asked him if he had had the jack, and he said that he did. He had been holding a suited J-10 and I was happy for him that he had played those cards so well. When I got up to leave after four hours (I was pretty good all week about playing only as long as I had planned to play), Guy From Near Chicago Who Looked Much Younger Than He Was reached out and shook my hand. It was nice of him, and I said, “Good luck, bro.” Guy From Near Chicago Who Looked Much Younger Than He Was, may the winds of destiny fill your sails and push you toward glorious glory.

Day Five Total: In four hours and one minute, I win twenty-two hands for a total of one-hundred-and-three dollars. There’s no other way to say it: this was the best that I have ever played. I made very few mistakes and I was playing so well that I started to influence the flow of the game: if I bet, a lot of the drawing hands that might have stayed in instead folded and people who had been betting earlier would check it to me in order to see what I was going to do. I’ve never been Boss Hogg at a Las Vegas poker table before, but I was on this day, and it was a nice way to leave the table, and Las Vegas.

Poker Trip Total: In forty-one hours and twenty minutes, I win ninety-six hands for a total of two-hundred-and-twenty-six dollars.

Las Vegas Poker Journal, Part Four

16 June 2005, Day Four:

It Wasn’t Good: In fact, it was bad, man, it was bad. I took a series of ass-kickings the whole night. On one hand a guy two players to my left took it to $4, pre-flop, was raised to $7, and I called it with Q-Q. The flop came with an ace and the bettor paired his ace, and so he pretty much had me beat. Even if he hadn't hit his ace I was dust because the guy who raised the bettor was holding K-K. One of my best starter hands of the night, and I was cracked before I even saw a flop.

A few hands later, I drew the suited marriage (K-Q of the same suit),bet it to $4, was called by the guy who had caught his ace, but nobody else stayed in. The flop missed me, all low cards, but, since I didn’t think he was holding a pocket pair and I was holding one of the very best non-paired starter hands, I bet it and he, without even a moment’s hesitation, called. Fourth was junk, so we both checked. Fifth also missed me, I checked and so did he. I turn over the marriage, and he turns over suited big slick (A-K of the same suit). Again, I was pretty much dead because only a queen or cards that worked to my flush could have helped me. The flop had been a rainbow, so we were both off of ourflush draws right away. Still, I was screwed. Oh yeah, here’s some poker knowledge: What do you call K-Q, the marriage, when it doesn’tpay off? The Divorce.

The same guy later beat my off-suit Kojak (K-J) with his pocket deuces when the board didn’t help either of us. Unbelievable. Not my night at all. I played for 10+ hours. I was down $40, came back up to around+$40, back close to even, but made a little bit of a run at the end. I won, though, so I don’t have too much to complain about.

A Bit of Sunshine, Metaphorically Speaking: There was one nice moment in the whole evening. When I was making a bit of a run, the guy who had been sitting to my left for a few hours said he liked how I had played. Guy Who Said He Liked How I Played said something about how I had been smart and patient by getting out of some hands, but then attacking when I could. The truth was, though, that at that point I was either getting premium hands or I was getting rags. It doesn’t take much skill to play high pocket pairs or 7-2 off-suit. It’s when you’ve got middle-to-low pairs or mediocre singles that you have to play at a pretty high level. Still, a complement is a complement, and I take them when I can get them, so, Guy Who Said He Liked How I Played, thanks for the props.

Wandering Skanks of Las Vegas: It was pretty late in the evening when the player two positions to my left made a comment about all of the groups of young ladies walking around in tiny little tops, something about why would they be in tiny tops and why would they be walking around in groups. Seriously, all these young ladies seem to do is walk around, and they don’t ever stop walking around to play any of the games.

As a joke, I called them the Wandering Skanks of Las Vegas, which got a decent laugh, but I felt like a jerk immediately afterward. There was no way for me to know if, in fact, they were skanks, and, furthermore, if they were skanks, if they were skanks of the wandering sort, other than to go up and ask them and then get my inquisitive ass kicked out of the casino.

No, I’m kidding. See? Ir eally can’t help but try to be funny. That was why I made my Wandering Skanks of Las Vegas mini-joke. I know that they’re not skanks. They were doing what young people do whenever they get together: dress up for each other and then go out to see and to be seen. And, really, plenty of people come to Las Vegas without the intention of gambling, and after you shop for a day, there isn’t anything to do. You get bored, and what do bored people do? They also walk around. So, Wandering Skanks, I apologize.

Day Four Total: In eleven hours and three minutes, I win thirty-two hands for a total of twenty-eight dollars. This was the most hands that I won on any single day, but also my lowest in terms of profit. What this means: I played way too many hands. I was probably feeling too happy because of my two previous days at the poker tables.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Las Vegas Poker Journal, Part Three

15 June 2005, Day Three:

Brutal Ass-Kicking: I call the dollar blind, a guy at the opposite end of the table makes it four to go, and everybody between him and me folds out. I have pocket jacks, and I put him on a drawing hand. I make it seven to go, hoping he’ll come off of his hand, but he calls. Now I think that maybe he’s holding a low pair. If he has a high pair, he would have re-raised, and I would have folded then. The flop comes 4-4-10. After he called my raise, I assume that, with the cards he must have been holding, the flop couldn’t have helped him. I bet the max and he calls. Fourth- and fifth-street are junk, low cards that don’t help for a straight or a flush. I bet it after each round and am in for $16. What does he turn over? A-4. He flopped trip fours and I was basically cracked the whole way. This genius bet seven dollars on A-4 before seeing a flop, and he got lucky. I can’t tell you how much that sucked.

Somos Carnales: This was the night that I sat immediately to the left of an old-school pachuco, Ese Vato From Los Angeles. I’ll tell you what I thought when Ese Vato From Los Angeles sat down next to me: “Ah, my brother. I am among my people, and it is good.” We talked about Los Angeles, his 'hood, laughed, talked poker, and gave playing tips to Tattooed Applebee’s Server Guy With Probably Too Much Gel in His Hair, this guy who eventually sat down two positions to my right. Tattooed Applebee’s Server Guy With Probably Too Much Gel in His Hair had been watching our table from behind the rail for a while before he sat down, which you see a lot of in poker rooms. They want to play, but they’re kind of scared. I wanted to make his entry to Las Vegas poker as pleasant as possible; that’s the kind of guy that I am.

I’m Sure He Doesn’t Mind: Ese Vato From Los Angeles was a great guy. We joked, talked smack about the other players, and he pointed out all the pretty girls who walked by. Then this exceedingly pretty girl (exceedingly, is what I’m saying) and her man parked themselves on the rail of the next table over. Her top was the size of a cream colored paper towel and Ese Vato From Los Angeles opined, “They’re fake,” and I said, “I’m sure the boyfriend doesn’t mind,” to which Ese Vato From Los Angeles said, “He probably paid for them,” and I, in agreement, said, “Yeah, I’m sure he didn’t mind that, either.” As we were having this discussion, Ese Vato From Los Angeles’s wife, who was playing slots about twenty feet away, caught her man’s and my analysis of the subject at hand, and Ese Vato From Los Angeles waved at his wife and said, “Hi, Honey,” and she, in bemusement, smiled and waved back. Ese Vato From Los Angeles then said to me, “She’s cool as long as I don’t touch.” Ese Vato From Los Angeles and his wife really seemed to get a kick out of each other, and they seemed like a really happy couple. Ese Vato From Los Angeles, I hope you keep kicking ass in those on-line poker tournaments.

Russian Throat Cancer Lady: For part of the night, I sat to the left of Russian Throat Cancer Lady. Every hour or so, she took a cigarette break, but countered the effects of smoking by drinking hot tea all night. The tea wasn’t working, though, because I've never heard a raspier voice in my entire life. She's got, like, one vocal cord left. Couple the raspiness with a thick Russian accent, and it was pretty hard to understand her. She would say something, I would pick out a word I could recognize, and respond to it, hopefully in a way that made sense. She would say “**@#^% *^& %$#@, $%&^ *&%^ %$; %^&$* idiot (&%&* #$^$#% lucky &@^()(@,” and I would say, “Yeah, people don’t know what they’re doing,” and she and I would nod in some half-assed form of understanding and fellowship.

Russian Throat Cancer Lady, at least at this table, was having a bad run of cards. Finally, in what seemed like desperation to me, she made a $3 pre-flop bet. I had unsuited A-Q, so I called it, and so did the guy to her left, Tattooed Applebee’s Server Guy With Probably Too Much Gel in His Hair. The flop was all rags, cards that couldn’t have helped any of us. It comes to me and, though I have the second-best non-paired starter hand, I check it. Russian Throat Cancer Lady throws in three chips, but the way she threw them in makes me think that she might just be trying to buy the pot. Tattooed Applebee’s Server Guy With Probably Too Much Gel in His Hair calls, and, after some thought, so do I. Fifth street is also a blank and I didn’t pair, so I check. Russian Throat Cancer Lady throws out another $3 and Tattooed Applebee’s Server Guy With Probably Too Much Gel in His Hair folds his hand. I’m pretty sure that she had nothing and was on a bluff the whole way, but there are now five different cards on the board and she could have paired with any of them, and I could theoretically lose to a pair of fours. I don’t really have a choice but to fold, which I do, but instead of throwing my cards face-down into the muck, I throw them face up to show her how much respect I have for her play. She throws her cards face-up, too. What did she have? A-J. I had her beat the whole way and I had been right that she was making a play. I started laughing because it was pretty funny how she had punked me. Then Tattooed Applebee’s Server Guy With Probably Too Much Gel in His Hair said that he also had had A-Q. Russian Throat Cancer Lady: respect.

Ah, We Have Bonded: Throughout the three or four hours that I played with Tattooed Applebee’s Server Guy With Probably Too Much Gel in His Hair, I gave him some tips and strategies that he started to put into effect pretty quickly. He had burned through his first forty in a hurry, but after Ese Vato From Los Angeles and I gave him some pointers, he slowed down his losses and actually started winning. Now, why did I help him? Because he was an innocent and because he wasn’t acting like a jerk. Here’s some advice: don’t wear your goddamn sunglasses when you’re playing low-limit poker. You'll look like an idiot. But Tattooed Applebee’s Server Guy With Probably Too Much Gel in His Hair was a sweet kid, and when I left, he reached out to shake my hand and I told him, “Good luck, bro.” Tattooed Applebee’s Server Guy With Probably Too Much Gel in His Hair, wherever you are, spread your wings and fly.

Last Hand of the Night: I had suited A-3, flopped a straight draw, made the straight when I caught a 5 on fourth, and won, which was a nice way to leave the table.

Day Three Total: In ten hours and five minutes, I win twenty-eight hands for a total of forty-six dollars.