Saturday, July 10, 2010


Terrence "Not Johnny" Chan posted his WSOP Main Event story on his blog a short time ago. It included this paragraph:

So it made me all the more angry at myself when I spewed away 30k in chips right at the end of Day 1. With 48k chips, a guy who had rolled up his stack from 6k to 30k in the last hour raised to 1350 early. I decided to try to take the pot away from him by 3-betting with ATs to 3250. This sometimes happens to me in NL tournaments where I just snap and try too hard [to win] a pot. He, obviously, responds with a 4-bet to 7200. I throw good money after bad and call, like the absolute fucking idiot that I am. The flop comes down king-high with two clubs, we get it in, naturally he has top set. I call for the board to pair because I deserve to lose. I don't know if I've ever been more upset at myself for any individual hand of poker that I've ever played. It makes it even more frustrating because we talked at the house at length the previous day about how we should avoid marginal spots, not get in big confrontations, and just let the easy money come flowing in, and I decide to get my stack in with ATs against a guy who has shown nothing but the nuts. I am fucking horrible at poker. I was just in a very pissy, self-flagellating mood the rest of the night, and I deserved it.

I don't re-post this here in order to make fun of Chan. I have great respect for his game. He is demonstrably not an "idiot" or "horrible at poker," and he must know this at some fundamental level. I post it because of how deeply it resonated with me--the feeling that you have absolutely no idea how to play the game, even though there is plenty of tangible evidence to the contrary. I guess I find it comforting, in a way, that players much better than I am go through periods of similar self-doubt and self-recrimination over a mistake or series of mistakes.

Poker gems, #380

Scott Seiver, in Card Player magazine interview, June 30, 2010 (Vol. 23, #13), p. 37.

I think that in the modern world of professional poker, being able to walk away or shut down the computer when you know that you aren't playing your best is one of the most important assets you can have, other than the technical knowledge of the game. Taking it one step further, you not only have to be good about quitting for the session, but also about returning to the game only when you have cleared your mind and are truly ready to play again.

Guess the casino, #564

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Sam's Town

Friday, July 09, 2010

No baller, I

Maybe it's a good thing I don't make oodles of money playing poker. I'm just not cut out for the lifestyle that is apparently expected of such people.

For example, I've been seeing ads for Poker Pens. My reaction has been to think, "That's dumb," and turn the page. But today there was a detailed review of one of their products on a blog I read, here. It doesn't make me want one. It just makes me think, "What the hell?" (The image above is another of the same company's products, lifted from their web site.)

I can't grasp the concept of a pen that costs $300 or more. Granted, I don't do a lot of writing without a computer these days, but there have been large swaths of my life in which I had to reach for a pen a hundred times a day or more. Those coincided with times when I made a lot more money than I do now. But even then, the idea of a $300 pen would have struck me as just ridiculous.

Probably a dozen years ago I discovered the "Dr. Grip" series of pens from Pilot. They're comfortable and they write well. And, even better, they cost maybe $6, with refills a buck or two each. I always have one in my shirt pocket when I leave the house, I keep one at my desk, one at my bedside, one by the telephone, and a spare one in a drawer. What can the $300 one do that these can't--besides cause me a fit when it gets lost or stolen?

Watches are the same way. I used to wear one all the time--a $20 Timex that I bought at K-Mart. It kept time with amazing accuracy; when I would reset it by one of the various governmental atomic clocks twice a year for daylight savings time changes, it had never deviated by more than a few seconds. It was comfortable and easy to read. It sits in a drawer now because I just don't need to know the time very often when I'm out of the house anymore, and when I do, my cell phone serves the purpose just fine. But again, even when I needed to check whether I was keeping to a schedule several times an hour, and even when I could afford something much more expensive if I had wanted to, I would never have dreamed of spending my disposable income on a watch that cost 10 or 100 times as much. I see even more ads for expensive, poker-themed watches than I do for poker pens (the poker room at the Rio has a display case of them), and for the life of me I can't imagine how these companies stay in business.

It's not that I am incapable of appreciating fine things. If I had oodles of money--as in many millions of dollars--I'd likely indulge in a fine sports car. At the moment, I'm kind of enamored of the new Nissan GT-R, but maybe I'd fall in love with a Ferrari, or the long-awaited Lexus supercar (if it ever actually hits the market). I've spent enough time in my life playing pianos that I understand why people who do so for a living will save up to buy a Steinway. Heck, I've even co-owned a Steinway grand myself (Model B, not the big ol' D that you see in concerts), so I truly understand the sound and feel that the extra dollars buy. I don't like champagne, but I've tasted Dom Perignon and some cheap swill side by side out of curiosity, to see if a naif like me could tell the difference, and it was instantaneously obvious why one was considered superior. I can understand one who enjoys wine making the occasional splurge for the good stuff. I have handled and admired some fine, high-end, hand-crafted pistols and shotguns. In fact, I have in my collection a real beauty, a $3000 handgun that was bequeathed to me upon the death of my best friend several years ago. I can easily grasp why people who do a lot of shooting are picky about their instruments, and even why some people just admire the beauty and craftsmanship enough to want to own them even if they aren't used much. That friend was a professional photographer, and I learned from him why he wouldn't consider using anything but a very pricey Hasselblad in his studio work or for shooting weddings.

All of which is to say that my bafflement over expensive poker crap is not due to a generalized inability to appreciate life's finer things.

Come to think of it, maybe it's not the price alone that makes me turn up my nose. It might just be the whole idea of poker-themed stuff. After all, I wrote a piece about my similar distaste for a bunch of cheap poker-themed crap I found in a Target catalog a couple of years ago. ("Is there any crap people won't buy?") I can list my poker-themed items on one hand, I think. I have several baseball caps and a couple of T-shirts from various casinos and card room--all freebies. I have one WSOP sweatshirt that I bought when it was on sale for about 2/3 off ($10), and I would have preferred it if it didn't have that logo. I have a PokerStars sweatshirt and a PokerStars backpack, both of which I got with my player points at no cost. (I decided I might as well use the points for something, and that was before I discovered that I could use them to enter tournaments.) That's it, I believe.

Poker may be what I do, but it's not who I am. I don't consider it part of my identity, so I don't feel the slightest urge to plaster tokens of it all over the items that I own and use. I cannot get myself inside the head of people who want to do so--especially at hundreds or thousands of dollars apiece.

But that's just me. If you want to own a $300 pen with the four suits on it, go right ahead. Lest I sully the thing with my grubby, unappreciative paws, I won't even ask to borrow it, as long as I have my Dr. Grip in my pocket.

Why children and poker don't mix

At least not always. See the funny story here:

I'm reminded of a scene from the delightful documentary "King of Kong." Steve Wiebe is videotaping himself in his garage as he attempts (successfully) to set the world record score for Donkey Kong, when he has this interaction with his little boy (who is offscreen):

Derek Wiebe: [Yelling] Daaad!
Steve Wiebe: [Playing Donkey Kong] Yes, Derek. What's wrong?
Derek Wiebe: [Upset and Angry] Wipe my butt!

(Image and dialogue both found at the IMDB page for the movie.)

Guess the casino, #563

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Sam's Town

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Poker gems, #379

Phil Laak, in Bluff magazine column, July, 2010, p. 50.

Level 9 astro-mega-tilt: The highest possible level of tilt that doesn't involve an ex-wife. Tibetan monks spent years trying to rid the world of it.

Synchro-mega-astro-tilt: When two or more players reach Level 9 astro-mega-tilt at the same time. Rumored to be the cause of multiple natural disasters.

Guess the casino, #562

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Plaza

The quest for perfection

This is my computer desk. (My children don't usually sit there, but they saw the camera come out and insisted on being included in the picture. Kids!)

Since only one of my readers has ever been inside my apartment, all the rest of you wouldn't have any way of knowing what has changed most recently, so I'll tell you. It's that crossword puzzle hanging on the wall.

When I lived in Minnesota, the St. Paul newspaper carried the Sunday New York Times puzzles (a week delayed), and I grew rather addicted to them. At first--some ten years ago--I could never finish one without consulting various references books when I got stuck. Then finally, FINALLY, I had the joyous day when I was able to get one completely done, with no mistakes and no outside help. That is, by the time I was done with it I had all the right letters in, though there had been a lot of scribbling and revision along the way.

Of course, I continued to get better with time, and was able to finish a higher and higher percentage of the ones I tackled. Since moving to Nevada, I no longer subscribe to a newspaper, but I have purchased books of old Sunday NYT puzzles, so I don't even have to wait a week between them. I do at least part of one most nights before going to sleep.

For the past few years, I have had a new goal: Get one done perfectly without making any mistakes or corrections along the way. Although my grandmother chided me for it repeatedly when I was young, I always do crossword puzzles in ink, so when I realize I have made a mistake, I scratch it out, and the result can be rather ugly.

The rules I set for myself were these: No outside help (human, book, or computer); no tentatively writing guesses in little itty-bitty letters; no using the page (or other piece of paper) to write out the possibilities. In short, it had to really be perfect, start to finish, no second-guessing myself; every stroke of the pen had to be right just as it first went down.

This turned out to be a lot harder than I thought at first. I went years without accomplishing it. Until recently, I hadn't even told anybody it was something I wanted to accomplish, because it seemed out of my reach.

Perfectly finishing a big, advanced-level puzzle like this is, for me, more difficult than winning a poker tournament. It's more akin to trying to win a poker tournament without ever losing a single hand. Or maybe it's like pitching a perfect game in baseball, or bowling 300. There is no room for error. I know that the best puzzlers in the world can knock off one of these almost effortlessly, but I'm a long, long way from that level of talent and experience.

Within the last year, though, it started to seem possible. I was sometimes finishing the puzzles with only three or four squares where I had had to make a revision. Early this year, within the space of just over a week I did one that looked perfect, but had two errors in it when I checked the answers (I had had to make a lot of guesses, so I was not surprised to find the mistakes), one that had just two corrections, but no mistakes when I checked the key, and, most tantalizingly, one that had just a single square in which I had erred. That one was the real heartbreaker, because it was completely avoidable. I was down to the last few words, and just made a stupid mistake and put the present tense of a verb, even though the clue was past tense--something like DANCES instead of DANCED. I wanted to scream in frustration.

Shortly after my series of close calls, Cardgrrl, who shares my enjoyment of crosswords, arrived for a visit flashing that week's NYT puzzle, which she had done on the plane--perfectly. I confess that I was not a good enough person to celebrate her accomplishment as I should have; my pride for her was tainted with envy, because she has not been wrestling with these things nearly as long as I have. (I apologize again, my friend.) That experience spurred me to change how I was going about it.

I didn't try to achieve a perfect result with every puzzle I tackled. Sometimes I would do one for speed (my record is a hair under an hour), sometimes trying all of the across clues before any of the downs, etc. When I would set out to try for a perfect one, I would tackle one section at a time, making sure that I knew all or nearly all of the answers for that part of the grid before filling in any of them. It's a much slower way of getting to the end, and, for me, less enjoyable, because I don't get to write in my brilliant deductions as soon as I make them. It's actually a bit agonizing because of the need to be painstaking, never getting distracted, triple-checking everything before setting pen to paper, etc. And I kept falling short. I couldn't seal the deal. But at least I knew I had found the method that would work eventually, if I kept at it.

About a month ago I sort of did it. I did one start to finish with no blemishes and no errors when I checked the back of the book. But the achievement was tainted, because this was a puzzle that Cardgrrl had tackled and had gotten stuck on, and I had helped her figure out the last dozen or so clues. That meant that I had some advance knowledge of some of the answers. So it didn't feel like a clean win for me; I had to put a dreaded asterisk next to it in my mental record book.

But last night, it finally all came together, and I got my first-ever untainted, uncompromised, uncheated, perfect puzzle--and I did it all in one sitting, in just under 90 minutes. (That was not one of my requirements for myself, but it was a nice added bonus.) Its degree of difficulty was on the less-challenging side, though far from the easiest I've seen; there were several words and names that I didn't know (SER, PHAR LAP, LORCA, VARESE, SEDGE, ENA, the ASHCAN school of painting). And I had a bit of luck--I had to guess in two spots, and I nailed them both.

Before I knew it, there it was--my own personal Holy Grail sitting in front of me, with no killer rabbits, no nasty kaniggits, no chopping down the mightiest tree in the forest with a herring.

I had long ago told myself that if I ever actually attained this goal--and, trust me, there were long stretches in which I felt positive I would never make it--I would frame the result and hang it on my wall. So today while I was out on errands, I bought a cheap ($7) document frame, and this evening I did just that.

I think I will enjoy having a tangible reminder that (1) I really do get better at things with practice, and (2) with enough effort, perseverance, strategy, and luck, I can, sooner or later, achieve even the most difficult goals that I set for myself.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

A puzzle for you

Before bed yesterday I worked on an old New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle, as I do most nights. The gimmick in this one was that the themed answers were combinations of college or university names. For example, when the clue was "Whole-grain food," the answer was "BROWNRICE." When the clue was "Specialist in a duck blind," the answer was "DRAKEHUNTER." Got it?

OK, now the one for you to solve is this: "Got lucky at poker." The answer has ten letters. Scroll down for hints if you find that you need them. I'll post the answer in the comments section in about 24 hours if nobody else has done so by then (though that seems highly unlikely); don't look there unless you want to see the answer.

HINT #1: One school is in New Jersey, the other in New York.

HINT #2: The first name is four letters, the second six.

HINT #3: The first one starts with D, the second with Q.

Who I want at the table

With apologies to Emma Lazarus.

Give me your tired, your rich,
Your hooded douchebags yearning to get even,
The wretched refuse of your donkament.
Send these, the drunk, uber-tilted to me.
I lift my Red Bull inside the Golden Nugget.

(Image found here.)

Guess the casino, #561

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: O'Shea's

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Poker gems, #378

Alex Fitzgerald, in Bluff magazine article, June, 2010, p. 92.

Most online MTTers couldn't find their stained SpongeBob underwear without an intense Two Plus Two strategy discussion.

How DO people run so good?

I've been playing a lot of razz tournaments online lately. Well, I'm not sure what qualifies as "a lot" in the world of online poker, but for me two a day is "a lot," and that's about what I've been averaging. I don't know why, exactly. I get on kicks of one game or another and do a lot of it until I get bored and move on to something else.

With the majority of the razz tournaments, there has been a distinct pattern--not universal, but happening the majority of the times I play. The one I just finished was an absolutely typical example.

Phase 1: I start off slow, playing tight-aggressive. That keeps me sort of in the middle of the pack or a little below average.

Phase 2: Then there comes one or two big pots, in which I bet the best hand hard all the way, and get called all the way by an inferior hand or two. That pushes me to or near the top of the leaderboard. Here's that hand from today's tournament. As you can see by the pot size, it was being bet aggressively to the end:

And, as per the pattern, that took me to the front of the pack:

Phase 3: I go card dead, and fall somewhat in the rankings, but still stay in reasonably good shape.

Phase 4: The flame-out. There comes a series of two or three hands in which I again push with the best hand and either brick out or get some horrible suckout. Today's was a one-two punch, starting with this:

Remember, these are not shuffled as on Full Tilt's hand histories; you're seeing the cards as they were dealt. With my 7 on the river, my opponent could only win with a 4 or a 5, at least two of which were dead. He had at most six outs and made it.

Just a couple of hands later came this one:

I was ahead on every street until 7th. He could chop with a 3 (two of which were dead), or win with a 2. That's it. And he got it.

Phase 5: I fizzle out. Today, after being down as you see to just over one big bet, I got a double-up, but it all went in shortly thereafter and didn't survive. Most commonly I have been bubbling or nearly so. Today I didn't even quite make the final table. (Four places were paying.)

Sunday night I spent most of the middle part of the tourney not just as chip leader, but with more than double what the next guy had. Cruising, totally cruising. By the time we got to the final table of eight players, my lead had narrowed to just one or two big bets, but I was still on top, and had six or seven times what the short stacks had. Five were paid. I lost a rather spectacular series of three hands in a row, causing me to crash and burn in fifth, making the minimum cash, in exactly the same way as shown above.

I'm not looking for sympathy; I understand that if you play razz, you have to expect pain and suffering. But I'm genuinely astonished at the consistency with which this pattern has repeated itself over and over again for the past five or six days that I've been playing regularly. It's just plain baffling how the run-good kicks in with turbochargers, then abandons me just short of the finish line.

How DO people run so good?

I still LOL every time I watch this brilliant little movie (NSFW warning):

PokerStars Big Lame

PokerStars "Big Game" has been on the air for just three weeks--every weekday, five shows per guest, three guest players so far. I've been enjoying it and haven't missed one yet.

But yesterday they went to a "best of," splicing together segments from the first 15 episodes.

No. Wrong. Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz! Way to kill the momentum, PokerStars.

The hands they're showing are not exactly distant memories. There hasn't been enough time elapse for them to become pleasant "oh yeah, that was cool" re-watches. You also don't have enough premium material built up yet.

A "best of " show when you've only been running for three weeks is as lame as when a poker room starts a brand-new series of tournaments and calls it their "Classic." (I'm looking at you, Aria.) You have to earn the moral right to a "best of" show by putting out good stuff week after week, month after month. "High Stakes Poker" could legitimately do a "best of" series, with six solid seasons to look back on. Three weeks? Not even close.

This isn't complicated, guys. Your viewers don't want regurgitated stuff they've just seen recently. They want new material--new episodes, new players, new hands. Why not give it to them?

Guess the casino, #560

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Mandalay Bay

Deuce-Four haiku

This actually occurred to me last night during one of those groggy moments of not-quite-asleep and not-quite-awake between periods of true sleep. I have no idea why the brain went this way, but it did:

Villain has aces
Flop comes ace, three, and a five
Better have Deuce-Four

Monday, July 05, 2010

Guess the casino, #559

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Hooters

What's in a screen name? #2

I woulda spelled it differently, but I love the general idea.

Oh, snap!

Even as we speak I am in a big $11 razz tournament on Full Tilt. Michael Craig is on my right, so I might win my buy-in back if I knock him out. Anyway, the table has just had this lovely conservation:

Dealer: jerry dash shows 8,5,3,2,A
Dealer: jerry dash wins the pot (1,135) with 8,5,3,2,A
Dealer: Hand #22090344640
Dealer: jerry dash wins the pot (585)
Dealer: Hand #22090352424
poolplayer11: retard luckbox
Dealer: poolplayer11 has 15 seconds left to act
poolplayer11: had u crushed till 4th st
Dealer: Michael Craig wins the pot (735)
Dealer: Hand #22090365415
jerry dash: crushed till 4th st. and you actually count that in a 7 card wonder you're a loser
Dealer: jerry dash has 15 seconds left to act
poolplayer11: yep im a lose
poolplayer11: r
poolplayer11: and your a retard
Dealer: poolplayer11 wins the pot (100)
Dealer: Hand #22090372983
poolplayer11: &&%%ing moron
Dealer: jerry dash has 15 seconds left to act
jerry dash: looks silly calling someone a retard when you can't even spell at 3rd grade level
jerry dash: what are you, 12?
poolplayer11: yep and your still a retard

(Poolplayer11 folds after Michael Craig bets on 7th street showing A-2-4-6)
Dealer: Hand #22090402808
Dealer: poolplayer11 has 15 seconds left to act
dino800: nice 1 mike
poolplayer11: a235 and two pair nh man your a moron to
Dealer: Michael Craig wins the pot (1,585)
patg237: lol
Dealer: Hand #22090416012
poolplayer11: sooo gay
Dealer: Michael Craig has 15 seconds left to act
Michael Craig: wheel in five. you're a luckbox that you made two pair.
Dealer: jerry dash has 15 seconds left to act
poolplayer11: sure
Michael Craig: thank full tilt for rigging it in your favor.
dino800: ur r a cry baby loser ....go back 2 pool
Michael Craig: you were on fire and begging for someone to pour gasoline on you.

Dealer: Hand #22090455040
Dealer: grandhammer wins the pot (140)
Dealer: Hand #22090462316
poolplayer11: see mike might think he is a pro i actually play poker for a living and im a littile drunk thats why im at home
patg237: u da man
Dealer: poolplayer11 wins the pot (300)
Dealer: Hand #22090469944
poolplayer11: i never do good online
poolplayer11: i %#&&ing hate this site
Michael Craig: maybe there's a reason
jerry dash: a pro who gets drunk--you must live at home with your parents
Dealer: Rakewell wins the pot (220)
Dealer: Hand #22090478535
poolplayer11: yep
poolplayer11: i live with my parent go to the casino every night
poolplayer11: make my money and dont pay rient
patg237: omg ur so cool
poolplayer11: i know
jerry dash: gag me with an ace of clubs

With scintillating conversation like that available, why would anybody ever turn the chat box off?

(Personally, my favorite line is, "had u crushed till 4th st," said with not a hint of irony.)

PLO gel

I just learned of the existence of this stuff called "PLO Gel," made by Transderma Pharmaceuticals.

What I can't figure out from the product information, though, is whether you use the stuff to help you play PLO better, or to quell the cravings to play this highly addictive game.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Guess the casino, #558

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Gold Coast