Is Good Ever Good Enough?
When I was little, like 6 years old, I was over my friend's house while his grandmother was visiting. We were playing at some game and one of us, I don't remember, got mad or frustrated and had a little tantrum. Actually, I don't think it was me, believe it or not. My friend said, "I'm not good at anything!", and his grandmother said something that has stuck with me to this very day.
She said, "People are good at different things. No one is good at everything. But every single person in the world is the best in the world at something. You just need to find out what it is."
Looking back at this statement thirty years later I see that this kind, gentle, smiling woman, who wanted to instill in us a sense of our own potential and the limitless wonder of the world, was totally full of SHIT. Not the first part, about people being good at different things and no one is good at everything. I'm with her on that. But the "everyone is the best at something" nonsense, even at six I should've seen that was a big steaming crock. I mean, there are like six BILLION people in the world. Are there six BILLION different activities/skills/talents human beings can lay claim to? How many verbs are there in all the languages in the world? How many nouns and adjectives? Six BILLION? I think not.
Unfortunately my friend and I spent considerable time trying to figure out what we were best at. At one point I thought I had it figured out--I was the best in the world at tossing a little stuffed football in the air, running underneath it, then leaping onto the couch while catching it. I was, I have to say, fabulous at it. I'd lay full out, never taking my eye off the ball, and I'd snag it every time. But then my dad heard the incessent "THUMP THUMP THUMP" and came in the living room and said, "Stop jumping on the goddam couch!" in a way that brooked no argument. Another genius repressed by the Man.
Eventually I figured out that I wasn't the best in the world at anything. I was smart but my IQ didn't test out over 200, was a good tennis player who never qualified for the WPIAL tourament. I don't think I ever even reached the plateau that is "greatness", which is rarefied air indeed but still a long ways away from the summit. The best. The best in the world.
All the time people say you should just try to be "the best that you can be". Well, screw that. That's a defeatist attitude, if you ask me. Frankly, in most areas "the best that I can do" is pretty crappy. It's delusions of grandeur that allow most people to get out of bed in the morning. It is for me, anyway. I mean, on a certain level I "know" that I'll never be a force on the PGA Tour, yet that doesn't stop me from flying into a rage when I leave a 35-foot putt about twenty feet short of the hole. Even though I only golf once or twice a year, and though I probably wouldn't be good even with years of expert instruction, I still expect myself to play like a scratch golfer. I used to think these unrealistic expecations marked me as ambitious; now I understand it just means I'm a jackass.
I started thinking about all this nonsense because I'm sitting at my desk in a pretty fair amount of pain. Volleyball is taking it's toll. I hurt my quadricep about 6 weeks ago (I hit an innocent serve and heard a POP!) and while it doesn't bother me much it does jab me occasionally with some serious discomfort. My right knee has this...thing sticking out just below the kneecap and it hurts like the proverbial bastard. After receiving an awkward set last night I sprained my thumb, which didn't hurt at the time but now pains me every time I hit the space bar. And don't even ask about my back.
I've been playing well the last year or so. Definite improvement. But unless I lose like 40 pounds, my career will end in a few years as my knees are reduced to Silly Putty. If I lost that much weight, if I could get a few inches more on my vertical (bringing it up to, oh, half a foot of lift) I might get really good.
Really good. Is that really the ceiling for me? Actually, the "really" might be streching it. I see players all the time who can jump out of the gym, can bend at the waist like Gumby, and hit the ball with near-homicidal force. Last year I played one night with a guy who was a setter for Penn State's volleyball team (I think the year they won the NCAA title). He was about six-three and seemed to float about four feet above the net. Mind you, he was a setter
. My friend Rick played against him another time and they had a rule where you could only hit a spike if you took off behind the 10-foot line. When this guy hit a spike, Rick said, "it came at you so fast the ball looked like a BB".
If nothing else, life will humble you. Even those who ARE the best in the world at something. Look at Michael Jordan. Best basketball player of all time, decides to step off the hardwood and give baseball a shot. Was this hubris, or, perhaps, was he tired of the distance his brilliance put between him and the rest of humanity? We all wanted to Be Like Mike, maybe in some way Mike just wanted to Be Like Us. Just another guy trying to get Really Good at something he liked.
I think I'm a decent poker player, maybe even bordering on Good. I'm certainly not Really Good. And forget about Great. But since I started this blog my goal was to become a really good poker player. I haven't made much progress, but I still have hope. I'm not sure what's going to be the harder task--losing 40 pounds or rewiring my brain to play better poker. Well, I guess I'll find out, as I'm gonna try to do both at the same time. After the New Year you can expect some very whiny posts about how much I miss french fries. And wings, oh, how I'm gonna miss chicken wings. With bleu cheese dressing...I promised myself I wouldn't cry...
My thumb is friggin' killing me so this will be my last post of 2005. Happy New Year, everybody. Hope yinz party dahn New Year's Eve. Me, I'm gonna drink until all my aches and pains drift away. Advil and ginger ale have already been stockpiled.
Aussie Aussie Aussie!
Just read a thing on ESPN that Joseph Hachem will not have to pay a dime of income tax on the $7.5 million he won for the WSOP. Why not? Because the Australian Taxation Office decided that Hachem's poker playing was a hobby, not an occupation, and therefore is not open to taxation. Are you friggin' kidding me? That's like winning the lottery AFTER winning the WSOP. I'm not up on Australian tax codes (one of my New Year's resolutions) but here in the US of A he'd be paying, what? Three, four million of that in tax? I'm not up on my US tax codes either, I just know that I'm not super-rich enough to merit IRS coddling and forehead-stroking. Then again, I'm probably not under doubleplussecret NSA surveillance. Until now. Yeah, I probably am now. Smooth move, Geno.
My cousin sent me a link
that pissed me off pretty good. Editor and Publisher
wrote that Copley News Service is starting a weekly syndicated poker column. Different pros (starting with Chris Ferguson) will answer three questions about the game each week. That's fine. But at the bottom of the piece the writer says that poker columns are one of the fastest growing syndication catergories, and lists a number of columnists. Steven Rosenbloom, Jim McManus, Chuck Blount, Hellmuth, Negreanu. Where the hell is MY name? I've been writing a column
for Barstool Sports for like 7 months now. I don't rate? OK, I haven't written anything for a few weeks, but that will change. I'm gonna email the author of the piece and go all apeshit krayzee on him.
Here's how stupid I am--I was going to sign up for Wil's tournament Monday night, but decided to wait in case something came up and I couldn't make it (which is exactly what happened). As I looked over the tournament listings I saw one called "Donkey's Always Draw", and I smiled thinking that these were people after my own heart. Turns out it WAS a blogger tournament after all and I missed it, even after several folks mentioned it. Instead of getting my head stove (staved?) in last night playing shorthanded I could've enjoyed a little chip-stripping with the gang. Congrats to change100
for junk-grabbing her way to victory. Sorry about my brother zapping you in Vegas, by the way. Well, somewhat sorry.
Possibly no poker tonight, I have volleyball and beforehand I need to do some running around. I think instead of playing I examine yesterday's play in PokerTracker and see where the mistakes were made. It's not gonna be pretty, I can tell you that. But you gotta take the medicine.
After bragging about how good I've been running I forgot to antijinx myself. You sports fans know what I'm talking about. The Steelers are playing the Colts and I say, "Jeff Brown hasn't missed inside of 40 yards this year" and he immediately duck-hooks one wide right. That's the jinx. You can guard against the jinx by, naturally, using the antijinx. You say, "Jeff Brown hasn't missed inside of 40 yards this year...so you KNOW he's gonna miss this one." By speaking aloud what your jinx would bring about, you have negated the jinx. Universal karma is brought back into balance, and the kick safely sails through the uprights.
Through the uprights is where the Poker Gods kicked me tonight. I just got creamed. I got rivered like you wouldn't believe, and we Pittsburghers know all about rivers. I got outdrawn. I got outflopped. When I did hit a big hand, I got no action. And then I made matters worse by blasting away at sheep too dull to fold to bluffs. When all was said and done I'd given back nearly all the profit I'd made the last 3 winning sessions.
But I have to say, the night wasn't a total loss. I was able to identify things I was doing wrong and correct them. Had I not gotten killed the last two hands I played my disaster night would have merely been a fiasco. But when A-K gets chased down by A-8, and your queen-high flopped flush gets beat by a king-high when a fourth spade falls, you just gotta shrug and rap the table. You got beat. Well, you didn't get beat. I got beat. Like a dog.
I was at a table and this guy was killing me. He beat me like 10 hands in a row. I couldn't lay a glove on the bastard. So I got up, waited patiently, and took the seat to his immediate left. Once I got position on him revenge was mine. I felt pretty good at that point, my 25BB loss was down to a manageable ten, and then the wheels feel off. I'll look the hand histories over later, but I think at the end I was tilted and playing pretty bad. I limped too much and bluffed at terrible players.
And that's what's so frustrating--the people I was sitting with were TERRIBLE. Calling three bets with 10-3 is NOT to be found in David Sklansky's books. I think that's why I stuck around so long, I felt sure that EVENTUALLY I'd hit a few flops and crack 'em. Didn't happen.
Oh well. A healthy slice of humble pie is perhaps just what the doctor ordered. I'm playing better, but that just means I'm playing less horrible than I was before. No, I take that back. I'm not horrible. I'm perfectly adequate. But I want to get better, and tonight proved that, alas, I still have lots of room for improvement. Lots and lots and lots and lots.
The bankroll is robust enough to handle this little hiccup. The mind is ready and willing to accept instruction. The heart still beats, the junk is sore yet fears not the steel-toed boots of Lady Luck. Now I'm gonna do what I usually do this late at night, go cry myself to sleep.
The Luckbox Cometh
So I've been running good lately--but not just at poker. For Christmas our boss gave each of us a scratch-off lottery ticket along with a card, and I won ten bucks. Then tonight I went out to a local sports bar to dine with friends in from Jersey. They offer something called the Las Vegas Burger, which is a nice burger indeed, with bacon and barbacue sauce. Everyone wanted me, the big gambler, to order it, so I did. There's an added little twist with the Vegas Burger--after you finish you get to roll two dice to see what you pay. Roll a seven, it's four bucks. Roll an eleven, it's free. Anything else, eight bucks.
I let the dice fly, and of course a six and a five popped up, and my tablemates made very merry indeed. The fries were good too.
I missed Wil Wheaton's tournament so I decided to play another heads-up SNG. Let's just say my mano-e-mano skills need work. I got smoked in about 10 hands. I didn't win a single one. Now, in my defense, the guy got cards and I didn't. He didn't fold once (obviously) and he kept catching cards after calling my bets on the flop. I lost a big chunk when I flopped top pair with QJ and he had pocket kings, and another chunk when I had A-7, flopped a seven, and he caught an eight on the river. I think I hit a pair on half the flops and he either had an overpair or caught a higher pair on the turn. As I typed as the last hand played out, "Not much I could do there".
So I decide to sit two short-handed games and the deck is hitting me in the face. I just won a monster pot when I had KK, flopped top set, and made a full house on the turn with a card that gave another guy an ace-high flush. This is another thing I need to work on--when I get up during a session I find myself getting gunshy. I want to preserve my win instead of going after every vulnerable chip at the table. Ah well, guess I have more to learn about than just heads-up play. Ah, and my aces just got cracked by Q-5 offsuit. Yeah, maybe I'll bail before I really screw this up.
Heads Up, Tail Down
I decided to play a couple heads-up SNGs, figuring that my ferocity would carry me to victory. Well, I went 1 for 3, which is a good afternoon's work for a leadoff hitter but ain't much good for a poker player. The one I won was fun, the guy I was playing didn't raise preflop. Ever. Well, he raised all-in a few times when I got him down to about T400, but he played superpassive and I took pot after pot after pot. I'd wager I won 90% of the pots, and about 90% of those without showing down. "This is easy," I thought. "I am a very good poker player, very good indeed."
But the two I lost could be chalked up to my total blinkered stupidity. In the first I flopped trips, checked the turn in the hopes of trapping him good, and instead of winning a T100 pot I went bust after he filled his awkward gutshot on the river. Brilliant. In the second I had A-5, flopped an ace, and didn't believe the other guy when he called and then raised me on the turn. I had a draw to the wheel, which I missed, and when he went all-in I went with my original read and put him on a busted flush draw. Uh, no. He had A-10 and I couldn't fight all the way back with just T400.
I did do well in the ring games, giving me a nice win to show for my night's work. But those two brain cramps will make me toss and, perhaps, even turn before I go to sleep. Back to work tomorrow after a nice long weekend. I feel like I accomplished absolutely nothing the past four days, and that feels pretty good. Well, I did a little actual productive work, I have laundry a-tumblin' right now, but I decided to indulge myself in a little sloth the past few nights. I'm sure my ambition will return after New Year's.
Tiny Steps Toward Enlightenment
Last year I aimed low when asked what I wanted for Christmas. I wanted a copy of the latest Modest Mouse CD, I wanted some wool socks. I wanted a Borders gift card. This year I raised my standards a bit. With Christmas come and gone and the New Year (and my birthday) approaching, my wish list is a bit more New Agey than the year before. What I want is Peace, and Serenity. Wisdom, yes, I'd like some Wisdom, too. It doesn't even have to be wrapped.
I won't say that what I just experienced a few minutes ago was an epiphany, or if I just burst a blood vessel in my head. Now, we all know that the absolute WORST thing you can do when you're running good is talk about how you're running good. The Poker Gods hate hubris way more than Zeus and Apollo and Athena ever did. So the last week I've been running good. Very good. I've been working on my game and I've seen immediate positive results. I won like 5 SNGs in a row and posted tidy wins every ring game I played.
I didn't write anything here that I was running good. I'm not that big a fool. OK, I talked to my brother about posting another nice win last night. But I wasn't bragging on myself, just stating a fact. So after a big Christmas dinner and dessert and a few cookies I decided to settle into a nice late-night session. I'm off tomorrow, why not a little poker before bedtime?
I sat at 2 tables, one of them shorthanded. And at that short table I went on a nice run, stealing pot after pot from my weak-tight opponents and hitting a few big draws. I quickly ran up a 20BB profit. The other table was 9-handed and I won a nice hand to get myself up about 5BB even though I was card-dead. I felt pretty good. I felt like the quality of my play had definitely gone up a notch. Like I'd figured something out.
That apparently innocuous thought somehow aroused the anger of the Poker Gods. I lost a few piddling pots, no big deal, but then I lost two big ones in a row. I had a guy go runner-runner to make two pair and beat my kings, and then I lost with kings again at my shorthanded table when I trapped a guy fast-playing AK who made his ace on the river. Those two hands halved my profit, and by the time I logged off my big night had turned into a 1BB win.
I decided to play a SNG, one of the short-handed ones PokerStars offers. I like playing shorthanded. So we quickly get down to 4-handed, top 2 pay, and I'm dealt KK. There's a raise, I re-raise, guy puts me all-in. I call. He turns over 99. I have him crushed, of course, but kings are not my hand tonight. He flops a nine, and though I have a gutshot straight draw I don't fill and I'm out.
I was pretty pissed, as you might expect. I said a few NC-17 words. And then the anger passed. Which is odd, because I usually hang on to my anger like a bulldog with a chew toy. I thought to myself, what the hell could I have done differently? I played the hands correctly, I bet them aggressively, I got my opponents to put their money in with the worst of it...why get mad? Let the law of averages take care of itself, and try to play as well as possible.
What makes this little speech so remarkable is that I actually seemed to buy it
. I wasn't mad anymore. I untilted. I told myself, in an oddly calm voice, that I should worry about making myself a better player instead of worrying about how bad some other players are. The voice was so calm it gave me the creeps. Usually the voices in my head sound like Carol Channing, and I've actually gotten used that by now. Did you know that diamonds are a girl's best friend? Believe me, I fucking knew that.
I put myself to the test by playing another SNG. I quickly lost half my stack when another guy hit his flush draw to beat my top two, but I battened down the hatches and doubled with AK against J6 (don't ask). A hand later I made a nice laydown when a guy flopped quads, and I typed in the chat "when I win this hand will have been the turning point".
And win I did. I doubled up again with AK, this time against jacks, and once in the money I grabbed the chip lead when my aces survived against AQ. Head to head I built up a 5-1 lead, pissed it away, then trapped my foe when I flopped two pair and he bluffed off his entire stack without even a draw. The next hand I rivered a 4 to beat his ace-high and I was the winner.
It felt pretty damn good to win. To be way up, and then down, and now I'm up again. A nice Christmas present, a little wisdom earned at little cost. And now I'm feeling pretty serene. Peaceful, too. I think it's bedtime, enough self-examination for one night.
Eat? Check. Drink? Check. Be Merry? Check
Merry Christmas all. Had a nice time at the folks' place, drank much, ate more, had a good time watching my Steelers make an orange and brown porridge out of the Cleveland Browns. And now I just enjoyed watching Steve Dannenmann bring a verbal ruler down on Phil Hellmuth's knuckles.
Tomorrow I'll eat more and drink more with the family. Not a bad way to spend the day. Today I had fish and pierogi and shrimp, tomorrow will be turkey and all the trimmings. No fried turkey, alas. Maybe after the holidays I'll arrange for a bird to take a bath in 350 degree peanut oil.
That's about all I have for today. Enjoy the holiday, no matter how you celebrate it. And if you don't celebrate it at all, hell, enjoy the day anyway.
Worst. Hand. Ever.
Four handed in a SNG, I'm low man on the totem pole but I'm OK. Guys I'm playing against are pretty savvy, they do tricky things like check-raising and betting out with made hands, stuff you don't often see in the junior-high levels I play at. I'm having fun, everything's under control now that I understand the lay of the land.
And then I play the worst hand of my freakin' life. I have 9-4 in the big blind, and after everyone else calls I check. The flop comes A-A-9, with two spades. There's about T800 in the pot, I only have about T2200. Check, check, and the little blind throws out a timid T200.
Here I lose my mind. I push all-in, raising by, oh, T2000. Now, what's going to happen here? Either I win the hand, which I could've done by raising just a wee bit, or I'm going to get called by a better hand. Which is precisely what happens, he turns over an ace and I'm toast. Oy. That's the sort of jackassery I should avoid without thinking.
So I play a ring game hoping to win my entry back, get up nicely, then go back to par by trying to out-maniac the maniacs flanking me. I will now slam my hand in a door before going to bed.
Yeesh, the maniac to my left just won a monster pot with the Hammer. Runner-runner sevens to beat a flopped King. He didn't shout it out, poor form.
Good Lord, did anyone else see the ad for PokerTime, which I guess is this new online room? Some jackasses in a bar, some jackass singing a song to the tune of "The Gambler"? How do advertising folk come up with garbage like this? How could a reasonable business person look at that ad and say, "Yes, that's how I want to present my company to the world!". Maybe I need another MBA.
The Power of Perception
Rather than cry myself to sleep after getting bounced from Wil's tourney I decided to play a little SNG and hopefully win my entry fee back. It ended up as rather a testy table--there were at least EIGHT all-ins that were decided by a lucky card on the river, and some of those less fortunate weren't too happy about it. I myself was on the losing end twice, though I could hardly complain, in both situations the other guy had enough outs to make it a toss up. That's poker.
There was one goofy hand early on. I fold, the guy to my left calls, a shortstack goes all-in, another shortstack goes all-in, a guy with a healthy stack ALSO goes all in, and the guy to my left, our chip leader, calls. The shortstacks have pocket eights and A-J. The healthy stack has A-3. Huh? The chip leader has...K-5 suited??? The cards come out and A-J ends up winning the hand. I type "uh, that was weird" into chat, and a few seconds later the chip leader says, "I got distracted, I hit the wrong damn button."
OK, it happens. The game moves along and I get in a bad way chipwise. I'm down to like T700 when I notice something. The guy to my left is Sitting Out. Hmm. I'm in the small blind, it gets folded around, I raise, and he automatically folds. Hmm.
The next hand I'm dealt king high. It's folded to my on the button and I go all-in. Small blind autofolds, the big blind folds. Hmm. Hmm.
No lie, I did this a half-dozen freakin' times. The overwhelming chip leader was sitting on my right, all he had to do was min-raise and I would either have to push or fold. He only raised me once. I went from T700 to T3000 by stealing the AWOL guy's blinds and then going all-in when I had the button. The poor guy in the big blind had even fewer chips than me and he was desperately trying to get to the money.
Well, he ended up finishing second, so his strategy worked. The guy who vanished appeared when he only had T460 left and the blinds at 200-400. He immediately pushed in all his chips with 2-9, got called by A-10, and was out. He typed "gg!" and was gone. A few hands later the chip leader called with A-2 against A-J, and rivered a deuce to send a very unhappy player to the rail and the rest of us to Cashland. Had I not lost to runner-runner I would've been in good shape indeed, but it wasn't meant to be.
I found myself wondering what happened to the guy who suddenly walked away for a half-hour. His avatar was a picture of a acceptable-looking guy, and I put my powers of deduction to work and came up with this--he was getting laid. Here he is, playing poker, doing well, and his lady-love walks in the room with nothing on but the radio. She snuggles into his lap and whispers, "Are there any other games you'd like to play". He's torn. He's in the middle of a tournament, he's got chips...but she smells good, doesn't she? No, no, if she's in the mood now she'll be in the mood an hour from now...though it's hard to concentrate when she's doing...that. I'll just fold this hand and I'll tell her to warm the baby oil...wait, was that the fold or call button? Oh, shit! I just donked off half my stack because she couldn't keep her tongue in her mouth! Dammit, this is no way to play poker! Especially because there isn't room for her to kneel down under the desk!
So he hits the "Sitting Out" button, takes her by the hand, and they merrily traipse off to a more comfortable setting. When he returns 30 minutes later, assuring his paramour that he's just going to "turn the computer off", he sees that he's down to the felt and shoves in his chips with postcoital joie de vivre
. So he didn't win the hand, big deal, he already got lucky enough. He types a jolly "gg!" and leaves we pathetic losers to our sad, lonely game.
So that's what I think happened. Which is much nicer than my secondary hypothesis, that he was taking a Category 4 dump. But I'm a romantic at heart.
Hammer, Meet Junk
The Hammer cost me in Vegas, and the Hammer cost me in Wil Wheaton's tournament tonight. After missing out on a half-dozen open-end straight flush draws I was down to about T800. I pick up the Hammer, raise, and get re-raised by Hughester. Now what? I figure I'll call then push. The flop comes all clubs, I have the deuce of clubs, I push. He thinks a bit, thinks a bit, and then calls. And turns over a red and black ace. A club will deliver a savage acecrack, but its not meant to be and I go out 60th. I then drink a beer (a Pious Monk Dunkel from the Church Brew Works, which is a fab microbrew here) then watch some of the tourney. And then I had a little nap. I think I'll turn in soon and hopefully have a strong finishing kick toward Christmas.
Have a little bit of shopping left, we don't do much gift-giving in my family anymore, thank God. We just eat and drink and be merry, and leave the long lines to the rabble. While I lust for a variety of material goods, I know that every year I'll get at least one thing I want for Christmas. I'll get drunk.
The Long Goodbye
Before I end my Vegas trip report. let me say that one of my least favorite things in the world is moving. I mean like furniture and stuff, not from point to point. And moving in Pittsburgh in December sucks to the nth degree. 'Nuff said.
OK, by now you've read 40 or 50 stories, so I'll try to keep this shortish and sweetish. Well, I'll try and fail. On Saturday I woke up around 7:30AM feeling pretty good. I enjoy lying in bed, all bundled up, cozy as a bug in a rug. But I couldn't fall back asleep, and it seemed a sacriledge to lallygag in bed in Las Vegas. So I hopped up, took another deeply satisfying shower, and told my brother I was headed downstairs to rustle up breakfast.
I also had to place a bet on the Penn State-Pitt hoops game for my friend Mark. We both went to PSU undergrad and Pitt for grad school, and whenever the two schools meet we root like crazy for the Nittany Lions. So I wound my way down, across, and up to the sports book to place the bet, only to find they didn't have the line yet. Fifteen minutes, the guy behind the counter said, so I moseyed over to the poker room.
Only one table was in use, a 2-4 game with ten exhausted looking guys sluggishly slinging chips. I watched a hand, and there was one guy with an accent I couldn't place (Armenian? Papua New Guinean?) who looked to be running over the table. The game looked tender and tasty as a rack of baby-back ribs, but there were at least two other guys waiting for a seat (one dude gave me a dirty look when I sauntered up) and, anyway, I was on a breakfast run.
I went back to the sports book, took Penn State plus 15, and went to Burger Palace to get victuals. Then I had to go down, across, and up to the room. I'm glad to see everyone else found IP as labarynthine as I did. My sense of direction is pfft, but I'm not a total dolt. It was pretty messed up.
We ate good greasy food then headed down to the ballroom for the tournament. I had a chance to talk to Michael Craig, who'd sent me a copy of his book after I wrote how I was reading it every time I went to Borders. I saw Otis and Bill Rini laying out a huge selection of T-shirts and hats--actually, let me pause right now to thank those two gentlemen, as well as PokerStars and Full Tilt, who did a fantastic job for all of us. A lot of work and planning and thought went into the tournament and at least a half-dozen times I found myself shaking my head and thinking, "Damn, this is pretty flippin' amazing".
Like when Barry Greenstein gave his talk. Here's one of the best poker players on the planet complimenting our little community for what we bring to the game. I liked one thing Barry said, that "each of us has a book to write", and that's what we do with our blogs. Everyone feels the need to express ourselves in some way, and that's why so many people start blogs and crank out thousands of words that only a handful of people may every read.
One thing Michael Craig said during his talk also stuck with me, "Don't take no for an answer". That's something I have trouble with, not sticking to a course of action when confronted with resistance. You don't find many successful writers who aren't persistent. Something to work on.
But it was time for the tournament, and I was ready to play. Well, no I wasn't. We took our seats and I found that I was seated two to the right of Wil Wheaton, who I'd read for a long time but never met. My table looked smart and tough and confident and as the chips were handed out I was dismayed to see that my hands were shaking. I regretted skipping the open bar before I sat down.
I looked over the room, at the 100 or so people ready to play. The IP did a great job setting everything up and running the show. They had the big screens showing the blinds and how much time we had each level, and I was amazed at how far the WPBT has come in just two years. Our first tournament was held at Choice Poker, with maybe 40 participants. Now were were playing LIVE, in a Vegas casino, with 100 people from all over the country (and beyond). Two major poker sites were sponsoring the event, and professional players and authors were coming to speak to us. Amazing.
And then I remembered that the first WPBT event had been won by ME. I won that first tournament! I'd made five blogger final tables. I was a professional bad-ass
. Look at these pretenders who DARED to sit down with me! With MEAN GENE. I heard the voice of Moe Green in my head, in the scene where he shouts down Michael Corleone. "I'm MEAN GENE! I was winning blogger tournaments when you were entering PLAY MONEY tournaments on MOTHER-FUCKING YAHOO!!!!"
And of course I got knocked out in 87th place. A combination of sketchy cards and horrible play doomed me. Only two hands are worthy of discussion. With the blinds 50-100 one of the AlCantHang crew (he wore a Jevon Kearse jersey, I can't recall his cursed name) min-raised to 200. In the big blind I found the Hammer and raised 500. My foe grabbed all his chips and splashed them in the pot. Shit. As we all know the Hammer is a raising hand, not a calling hand. I actually had this thought process go through my head:
"Well, what hands could he have? What can I beat?"
"Well, asshole, you can't beat ANYTHING. You've got the worst starting hand in poker". I folded and he flipped over Q-3. Of course I showed and everyone had a good laugh and, thankfully, said I would've been crazy to call. Raise, good. Call, bad.
I ended up shortstacked after my one attempt to make a play at a pot was swiftly ended by Lori (if I misspelled your name forgive me), the flame-tressed Full Tilter who re-raised about 2/3 my stack. I was forced to push with A-8 suited, and it took Wil about 3 picoseconds to grab his chips and push them forward. He flipped over A-J, the worst hand I could've been up against. I say this because he flopped a jack. It was over before the river, and he graciously shook my hand and I graciously didn't burst into tears.
In the end going out early was a good thing, because I got to hang out with Al and his crew. One of my goals was to do a shot o' SoCo, and I was able to cross this off my list. Twice. We sat around and yakked it up with Al and Big Mike and Otis and I drank many beers and enjoyed myself immensely. Snuck over to Pauly's table to make sure he wasn't abusing my brother too much, and then headed outside to talk football with Al and JoeSpeaker.
At one point, I don't know when, Al pointed out Kenna, the wife of one of the gang, and said that she has "incredible breasts". To illustrate this point, Kenna graciously lifted her shirt, and, yes, they were rather nice. Rather
. There was talk of Al and Eva and Kenna and her husband going out to renew their wedding vows, which to my mind sounded like the craziest thing I'd ever heard. Of course, at that point I hadn't met Eva. After I did I could understand why Al would want to hammer those marital stakes as deep into the ground as possible.
By now I was running on three cylinders and with my face sore from grinning I went to the poker room and sat down with my brother and Maudie at a 2-4 table. One of the dealers at MGM said Imperial Palace has the biggest poker tables around, and that was certainly the case. I was sitting on the end and I had a hell of a time seeing the board, especially in my soused state. One hand I had 9-10 and thought the board had come 9-9-K. After standing and squinting I saw the nines were eights and I mucked, knowing I'd given away a bit of a tell.
I dropped $50, much of that coming on one hand when Maudie proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that a flopped set beats top pair every time. At one point my brother came over to say that the coffee in the poker room was the best he'd ever had in his life, and I had three excellent cups hoping it would wake me up.
It didn't. I watched as the tournament came to an end, with Glyph beating Gracie for the title. I'd wanted to meet Glyph while I was out there and here he was getting his picture taken as the champ. By this point I was drunk and jittery and hungry and a mess. Everyone was headed their separate ways and I grabbed a burger and fries and went up to the room. I ate, drank a quart of water, and lay down for a nice little nap.
I woke up around 10PM, and I felt bloody awful. Not hungover, exactly, though my tongue felt like I'd eaten a bucket of sand. Too much beer, too much fried food, not enough sleep. The thought of turning in for the night made me feel worse. I was NOT going to get a good night's sleep in Vegas.
My brother couldn't or wouldn't wake up, so I threw on a T-shirt, grabbed some cash, and headed for the IP poker room. Figured I'd play a few hours, maybe make back some money, and save my dignity. But on the casino floor I ran into Maudie, who was about to head out and meet with with the gang. After a few phone calls she leaned the Castle had been stormed, and that's where we headed.
I was a zombie by now. I couldn't wake up, couldn't get my second wind. It took forever to meader through MGM after the monorail ride, and I found myself feeling horribly underdressed in my long-sleeve T-shirt and jeans. When we got to Excalibur Maudie quickly got seated but I wasn't in a right mind to play. I seriously thought about wandering around a bit and then heading home, but after meeting and chatting with the kind and lovely Mrs. Speaker I learned that a group was headed over to New York, New York for a beer. I was caught up in the tide and obediently followed.
We went to an Irish pub, and try as I might my body would not agree to accepting a beer. "You think you can handle a Guinness?" a little voice in my mind said. "Let's see how you like...this!". And a great green wave of nausea rolled through me and the little voice said, "Hang ten, asshole!"
Mrs. Speaker asked if I wanted anything to drink, and I said, yes, a Diet Coke. "A...what?" she said, as if I was speaking Bulgarian. I managed to convince her that, yes, I didn't want anything harder than NutraSweet, and she looked at me with a sort of benign pity. After I guzzled it down Mrs. Hdouble asked what I was drinking, and when I told her I got that same look, further tucking my tail between my legs.
But fortunately I didn't need beer to enjoy that evening. I got to sit and talk to Hank a good bit, which made the night totally worth the discomfort. I talked to Chad about blogging, and Spaceman about Modest Mouse and Michael Chabon. Glyph and his wife were there, and I was amazed that he was still going strong after all the nervous energy he must've burned off in the tournament.
It was decided that playing craps at Casino Royale was the way to go, but I was beyond exhaustion. All I could think about was getting some sleep. It was about 2AM, meaning for me it was 5AM and almost time to get up for work. I shared a cab with Chad and Jason and Lori, wishing that I wasn't such a wuss. But I had one day left and I didn't want to spend it like the Living Dead.
When I got to the room Ryan was up watching "Saturday Night Live" reruns. He'd gone down to play some video poker and then came back up. Incredibly, the rerun was the one Damon Wayans hosted, which wouldn't be a big deal except that's the episode where Jay Mohr did his "Christopher Walken for Skittles" routine. My friend Matt and I do that bit back and forth all the time, but we've actually only seen it once, when it originally aired. "Skittes...wonderful...fruit flavors...orange...grape? Lemon...lime...they come in a bag
..." I watched it, laughed a bit, and went right to sleep.
Woke up, took another great shower and we were off to Mandalay Bay. Too late, alas, for me to put a bet down on my Steelers, which would've paid off. When we got there the place was packed, and a blogger contingent had taken over a row of seats. There wasn't anywhere for us really to sit, so Ryan and I went to a bar to watch a bit of the game, which wasn't much fun except for the Bears fan stalking off after Lovie Smith lost his mind and gave the Steelers another chance to make a first down after a penalty. We wandered back to the sports book, where more bloggers had congregated, and after a bit Ryan said I could hang if I wanted, but he was going to walk around. I felt bad, but I figured he could take care of himself.
We got a little alcove of our own and soon I was chatting away with Al and Iggy and Pauly and Derek and Bill and a dozen other folks. The poker room is right next to the sports book, and I noticed there was a 2-4 table with seats open and waiting. I thought about grabbing a seat...for about a second. What would I rather do, play doofus poker, or hang out watching football and talking with the gang? How often do I get to talk football with Iggy? How often to I get to hear Bill Rini talk about blogging without having to pay $300 an hour? I put all thoughts of poker away and decided to enjoy myself instead.
You've no doubt read about Al nailing his dismount on the cold marble floor. Nadia Comenici would've been impressed. At one point I went to the bathroom to find a frantic dude telling the custodial guy in there that the dude in the one stall was slumped over and hadn't moved in ten minutes. Security was called in case he'd snuffed it mid-movement, and I decided I could wait a bit before answering Nature's call. I told everyone what happened and Iggy and Pauly and Al went running to the men's room to see what was up. Dead guy in the can, I walk away. Dead guy in the can, those guys come runnin'. Turned out he was merely obliterated, "sleepin' and leakin'" is how the security guys described him.
My phone buzzed and I heard my brother's breathless voice. "We've been wasting our time on poker," he said. "I think I've figured out a way to beat...roulette."
"Really? That's great, that's just great!" I said in the tone of voice I'd use to talk someone in off a ledge. Ryan told me that he was up $300 over at Luxor and thought he'd come up with a "system". "Wow, terrific!" I said. "But how about you put $200 away and just play with the last $100. I mean, that should be enough to keep you going, right?" He agreed and I relaxed, knowing our flight was already paid for and we wouldn't be hitchhiking home.
And home was, sadly, coming up quick on our itinerary. It was getting on 5PM, our flight was at 11, and we had to get back to IP and pack and eat and get to the airport. I hated leaving, especially as other folks were talking about hanging in Vegas for another day or so. And it sounded like there was going to be a titanic blowout in Al's suite and I would've given my left kidney to stick around. We actually called the airline to see if we could get our tickets bumped back for a later flight, but no luck. So when Ryan returned I said a few farewells, promised Al and Eva and Big Mike that the next Boathouse Bash would be marked on my calendar in permanent ink, and we headed back to the hotel.
But to get there we had to go thru the MGM to the monorail station, and who should we see there but...everyone? Just about the whole crew was there playing in the tournament or hanging in the sports book, so we decided to eat there, hang out a wee bit longer, and get a little last minute Vegas fun in. JoeSpeaker took 4th in that tournament, which of course was won by CJ--I wonder what he feeds the leprauchaun he has chained up in his attic. My belly filled with brisket and pickles, it was time to finally, finally say farewell, for real this time.
We packed and headed downstairs to checkout. I remember when I was little, we'd go to Kennywood (a big amusement park here in Pittsburgh) and have fun all day long, but when it was time to go it was the biggest disappointment in the world. The park would be all lit up, the rides were still going, calliope music and people shrieking with delight filling the air. But it was time to leave. That's how I felt leaving the hotel. I had so much fun, but there was so much MORE fun to be had. And I wasn't going to be there.
Checking out took some doing. I asked if I could use my comp dollars for the room, and the guy said yes, but he had to check with the manager. I figured they'd just swipe the card, find out how much I'd earned and that'd be that. Instead he walked to the far end of the counter and stood there for good 10 minutes, why I don't know. My girth aside, I'm no Vegas whale--I'm not asking for a limo here. Just let me get outta here. Still don't know what the deal was.
A quiet cab ride to the airport. We got our boarding passes, got through security, and looked for a bar. In the security line we saw an INCREDIBLY hot chick, she was tall and blonde and had the pillowly lips and the belly shirt and all the trimmings. "No way she's going to Pittsburgh," Ryan said. I had to agree, Paris or Milan seemed a more logical destination.
We started drinking, and the bartender asked where we were from and when we told him it turned out he was from Pittsburgh too. And he went to Penn State. A small world indeed. Made smaller when a woman he knew came in and opened her suitcase and pulled out a Terrible Towel for him. Turns out she flew to Pittsburgh that morning, sat through the smow and the cold, then flew home that night. She even got there early enough to tailgate. Now THAT'S a full day.
We drank. The hot blonde came in and had something. I hoped I could knock myself out for the flight home, but when we paid our exhorbitant bar tab I was still wired. I wish I could've traded Sunday for Saturday night, I would've had a lot more fun.
I know know what Purgatory is like--it's an endless redeye flight filled to capacity. If I could've leaned my seat back another 3 inches I might've slept the whole way, but I couldn't so I didn't. I sat in the aisle and the guy in the window seat kept bitching that his ass was asleep. We were chased home by a strong tailwind that gave us some really fun turbulence, making sleep pretty much impossible. Though I must've faded out a few times, because it didn't seem to take THAT long. As we landed I tried to peek out a window to see if I could spot the complex I used to work at, but it was, like, dark, and I couldn't see squat. Touchdown went without incident, and I did feel a sense of relief that I'd actually survived the flights.
We walked off the plane to find that the hot blonde had indeed flown to Pittsburgh and was in line at McDonalds. Ryan made a crude remark involving sausage and we headed toward the car. Which had been parked in subfreezing temps for 3 days. Now, it's usually parked outside, and I have no problem starting it. But I did Monday morning. It just wouldn't turn over. You could tell that it wanted to, I had power and the starter was cranking, but it wouldn't start. Ryan called the maintance folks and they came over and spent about 30 minutes fiddling and spraying until the Engine Gods decided we'd suffered enough (we were both freezing to death) and the damn thing started. Dawn was breaking as I gratefully got the car in gear and headed homeward.
It's hard going from Vegas-mode to 'Burgh-mode, so we stopped at Eat-N-Park for their all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, where we chowed down on eggs and bacon and sausage and corned beef hash. Yummy yum yum. The car started no problem after that, I dropped Ryan off, and drove home through a beautiful, crystal-clear morning.
At home I petted the cats and checked my email and read a few reports from those still partying in Vegas. The time change threw me a bit, I didn't know how many hours I'd been awake but I didn't feel tired at all. Until I closed my eyes for just a minute. And then I was plenty tired indeed.
So I had a blast. I met so many great people I can't list them all--and if I met you and didn't include you in the 5,000 or so meandering words I've written, the fault is with my memory. I know offhand at least 10 things I meant to mention but didn't, but I gotta post this and get on with my life.
Next time in Vegas, I'm gonna play more poker. I'm not gonna oversleep and miss placing a few sports bets. I'm gonna play $2 craps at 5AM. I didn't get a chance to eat at a fancy place with BG--mistake. I didn't go to a strip club with DonkeyPuncher--the hell was I thinking? Next time I'll take a little more time to do the stuff I know I want to do instead of running around like a maniac. I bit off way, way, WAY more than I could chew on this trip. But I'm definitely hungry for more.
The Next, Uh, 50 Hours
Reading everyone else's posts you can tell who's been to Vegas and who hasn't (i.e., me). Here I am blathering about junk everyone knows about and everyone else is cutting to the drinking/gambling/eating stuff. Oh well, you only lose your virginity once. Well, most do, eventually.
So we arrive at MGM and I can't get hold of Bill Rini. Nor do I see any familiar faces in the poker room. Being a total idiot I don't realize the room curls to the right away from the sports book. Actually, it was only around 7PM so we found ourselves a couple of video poker machines and happily accepted a beer from our pretty cocktail waitress. I liked the red dresses the MGM ladies wore, though Ryan preferred the black. Not that we discussed this in much detail as we were far too busy pissing away our money with suboptimal play.
Around 8 I figured we'd have another look 'round. And go 'round we did, to the other side of the poker room, and there was a familiar face at the rail, the BoyGenius himself. He recognized me (that alone is a pretty weird sensation) and we shook hands and he said, "Do you want to meet Iggy?"
Did I want to meet Iggy? I've been waiting to meet Iggy for two friggin years! The man himself, the Blogfather, the Biggest, Baddest Little Person in the World. And five seconds later here I am, shaking hands and hugging a guy who's responsible for dragging down the earnings of my employers the last two years. I'm there beaming like an idiot when from my left comes Pauly. Unfreaking believable. I'm shaking his hand, and suddenly there's this tall guy walking up and it's Hank. I have this big grin on my face like I've been hit in the face with a frying pan shaking hands with the Rushmore of the pokerblogging world. "Are you Mean Gene?" asks a dapper gentleman to my left, who introduces himself as Grubby, which seems unbelievable, as no way would I think him "Grubby" nor such an aficiando of Wendy's.
Sitting at one of the rotation tables is Maudie, I recognized her instantly, and a suitably suave guy sidles up and introduces himself as DonkeyPuncher, and I beat down my envy of his seemingly limitless adventures and shake his hand with gusto. And there's Otis again, and Gracie, and CJ, and Maigrey, and round and round and round I spun trying not to literally get dizzy as I tried to get to everyone.
As I told Iggy later, meeting him and Pauly and Otis and Hank was like someone leading me around and saying, "I'd like you to me John, and this is Paul. Here's Ringo...and this is George". I guess that would make the PokerProf George Martin, and BG and Grubby can decide who gets to be Eric Clapton and Billy Preston. I don't think it would be fair to call Maudie "Yoko" under any circumstances, so I won't. And then there's me, Pete Best, grinning like an idiot, just happy to be there.
Everyone is playing poker, except me and my brother. So we get on the list for a nice little 2-4 game and after chatting a bit more with Iggy and Pauly our names get called. Well, all right! My first time playing poker in a casino. My first time playing in a "real" cash game, to be honest. That seems a bit hard to believe, that I've been writing about poker for two flippin' years and this would be the first time I'd be risking chips and ego in front of a live studio audience. Thank God for the Internet, and thank God for bullshit.
My brother was called first, and I was seated at an adjacent table. "How many chips do you want?" asked the, uh, chip person, and I opened my wallet and two C-notes came out together. "Uh, $200," I said. Yeah, that's showing some confidence in your ability, come to a 2-4 table with 50 BB in front of you. I sat down but had a hell of a time getting my chips stacked comfortably so I could look at my cards. Hee Haw!
My table was a collection of fairly pleasant gents. Two seats to my right was a gentleman I believe was a blogger (I'm pretty sure I saw him at the tournament) but I didn't catch your name and for that I apologize. About 2 hands in I was dealt pocket nines, raised, had a few callers, and when a queen and a jack appeared on the board I folded.
A youngish Asian guy in the 2 seat said, "Pocket nines?" A nice read, and I nodded.
A few hands later I'm dealt AQ, I flop top two, bet out, bet out again on the turn, and the same Asian guy folds. "Ace-Queen?" he asks. Now I'm a bit ticked. Was my shirt (which I love, by the way) so shiny he could read my cards? I'm not THAT transparent.
As I sat there more bloggers appeared. Bill Rini survived his Pai Gow experience and arrived after waking and thinking it was eight in the MORNING. I recognized Drizz by the altitude at which he was carrying four heavy racks of chips. Where I overbought because I'm a goof, Drizz brought an arsenal to the table to liven things up with straddles and blind bets and other antics designed to tilt low-limit fish like myself.
What changed our table much for the better was the appearance of Facty
, who sat down and started chattering with the dealers and everyone else on my side of the table and explained to the non-bloggers there what the deal was with all the shouting and trash-talking and other bad behavior. Her cheery presence loosened the table up socially as well as gamblingly and we had ourselves a nice friendly game. I won a nice pot off the Asian Nostrodamus when he didn't divine that I had pocket jacks and flopped a set to beat his pocket queens. Facty brought the Hammer down in one hand, and I won a nice little pot when I made a straight on the river against a Welsh guy to my right who was also playing live for the first time. Fun for the whole gang.
All the while I was checking over my shoulder to see how my brother was doing. When we'd take our inevitable bathroom breaks we'd pass his camera back and forth so it wouldn't get lost and when I walked past I'd take a look at his chips. They didn't seem to be increasing much in volume, nor did my own chips spread beyond my space. I was never up or down more than fifteen bucks, but that was fine by me. I was having a blast.
In life there are moments, an hour here, a weekend there, that you can put parethesis around and say, "Yup, this little bit here was pretty much perfect". Friday night at the MGM was one of those moments. I drank just enough beer to be happy and giddy yet able to fold K-6 suited in early position without a second thought. I looked around the room and saw my blogger heroes slinging chips. I went to the bathroom and as I walked out Phil Gordon walked in. Our eyes met and there was this flash of recognition--well, I recognized him, and he recognized that I recognized him. But I'm not big on approaching celebrities and, besides, he was going to the can. I don't know if this was after Mrs. Head schooled him in Roshambo--he may have needed a minute in the loo to compose himself.
I think we played till about 2AM or so. I was getting tired, but I could've found the energy to play a few more hours. But we had the tournament to get ready for on the morrow, and if I was going to bring my A-game I'd need a few hours shuteye. I looked over my shoulder and Ryan mouthed "You ready?", and I nodded, sighing as I racked up my chips.
I turned a $5 profit, not bad when you include tokes and tips. Ryan made $84. Bastard! I know I didn't play especially well, far too passive and weak, but for my first live game I had me a great time. I haven't played many live cash games, we always play tournaments when my friends get together, but this was just my speed.
Headed back to IP with I think Maudie and F-Train and...I don't remember who else. I was beat. I didn't know that you put the monorail ticket in the bottom slot and it popped out the top. Some dude said, "Hey, you Polish or something!" I laughed and said I'm half-Polish. What I should've done was dropped the fucker right there and left him. See, everyone who met me out in Vegas said I don't look so Mean. In fact, that I look Nice. I should've done something--a random act of extreme violence, a horrible practical joke, a diatribe chock full of hate speech--to show that I am in fact the most Mean of Genes. But I didn't have time to get around to it. Too busy having fun.
OK, for sure, I'll finish this tomorrow. Maybe tonight. Can't believe it was a week ago I was tidying my desk before I took off for five days. The time keeps flying.
The First 17 Hours Or So
I wanted to go to Vegas, meet lots of fantastic people, and play a little poker. I went three-for-three. I knew there wouldn't be enough hours in the day to do and see everything I wanted, especially with my body demanding a few hours shuteye every 30 hours or so. But, man, did I have a hell of a time.
I'll just move along chronologically since otherwise I'll forget even more stuff that happened. After work Thursday I packed, gave the cats a cheery wave goodbye, and headed to my brother's place. NPR had two very good documentaries about John Lennon back-to-back, hard to believe he died 25 years ago. And that I remember that day. Time does tend to slip by when we're not paying attention and living out our little lives.
Anyway, the narrator of one of the shows talked about how she lived in the same part of NYC as Lennon, and how one day she sat down in a restaurant for a bowl of soup and a few stools down there's John Lennon, also having a bowl of soup. This sort of thing happens in New York more often than, say, Pittsburgh--going about your business and crossing paths with one of the most famous human being on the planet going about his/her business.
Anyway, I got to my brother's house and the weather outside was on its way to becoming frightful. We decided to go on a quick beer run, and as we got in the car a few random flakes started gently falling around us. By the time we got the beer and headed home the roads were already covered and slick. By nine or so Ryan's wife Carolyn got a call from her district to say that school would be on a 2-hour delay--at least. It looked like the drive to the airport would be a world-class pain in the ass.
But before we turned in Ryan and I played a little online poker, just to sharpen our, heh heh, skills. I've been in a slump lately, but I ended with a good taste in my mouth when I posted a 25BB win thanks to aces (twice), kings (twice), and a rivered full house than made the other guy the (not) nut flush. These are the times when I love poker, when the deck hits me in the face and I don't have to make hard decisions.
To bed. And thence to wake, as Ryan knocked on the door at 5AM to say that we'd gotten about 7 inches overnight but the roads were in good shape. And they were. Little or no trouble getting to the airport. The second I parked the car I let out an audible sigh of relief. Then I saw a plane roaring off into the sky and my knees got a little wiggly.
But what's a little irrational fear in the face of predawn drinking? Ryan and I found a bar, ordered a big breakfast of eggs, bacon, ham, and hash browns, and washed it down with, let's see...two, three...four Yuenglings. By the time we went to our gate I would've taken the controls myself. That doesn't mean I wasn't a bit squirrely at takeoff, but once we got off the ground I was OK. I had to visit the rear of the plane a few times, but that was a small price to pay. Especially as I had an aisle seat.
We landed, deplaned, walked into the terminal and there's the ting-a-ling of slot machines, manned and womanned by those too eager to wait for their cab to the casino or folks unable to make a clean cut and leave Vegas behind. And cowboys, cowboys to the left, cowboys to the right , well-brushed Stetsons and piepan belt buckles everywhere you looked.
(A mid-post prop bet--what's the over/under on "Brokeback Mountain" references in blogger recaps? I set the line at 27).
We were taken to the Imperial Palace by apparently the only reticient cabbie in Vegas. We strode through the doors...well, we couldn't "stride" because there was yellow tape that kept you from walking through the rightmost outer door and more yellow tape blocking the leftmost inner door (perhaps someone with an extra-long surfboard suddenly turned around in between?) so we had to serpentine through into the casino. All those flashing lights and bells and whistles...and there's Tina Turner dealing blackjack!
A brief word on the IP's "Legends In Concert" show, which I didn't see but I did look at the poster and saw the promos on TV--the guy who impersonates Michael Jackson looked so much like him I almost wanted to call the cops. Now that's an interesting entry on a resume.
Anyway, we got in line to check in...and who should go walking by but AlCantHang himself. Here we are among the bright lights and the cacophony of slot machines and suddenly there's a familiar face. I was already in line and couldn't leap out to intercept, plus he was headed for the door at a good pace (and in a straight line
). No matter, I knew there would be time to get with everyone later.
To our room, which had a balcony opening out onto...the parking lot. But we did have a nice view of the mountains, which was fine by me. We unpacked some gear, grabbed some money, and headed out the door as quickly as our travel-weary bodies allowed. We went down to register for our Player Cards, and on the elevator ride down a couple who was checking out asked if we wanted some free drink coupons. "You betcha!" we said, not knowing that we wouldn't even use our own coupons before it was time to leave.
I didn't know where anyone was, tho I knew there would be a big blogger meet at the MGM around 8. We were both hungry, really hungry, and a burger sounded good. We found our way to the Burger Palace...well, we "found" our way after circling the goddam casino floor three times looking for a way up. The IP picked an inconvienient time to replace their escalators, though it was neat to see Archimedes' principles (the pulley, the lever) used at such close range and on such a scale.
The Burger Palace was not as, well, palacial as we hoped. Ryan wanted a beer with his burger, I just wanted food and beer in any form. We had coupons for the Emperor's Buffet and, what the hell, it was close, free, and we figured we'd get in and out quick. We walked past the poker room which was completely empty. Not a single person sitting down. Which seemed a bit ominous. At the buffet we handed over our coupons and did our grazing. For being free the buffet was OK. Though as I munched on what I think was a boneless rib of some sort I found myself thinking, "This is going to haunt you later in the day. Leave it and have a piece of chicken".
Downstairs I looked at my cell phone list and tried to figure out who to call. In college I briefly majored in journalism, and I wrote for the school paper, and confronting me was the main reason I never pursued it as a career--I hate bothering people. Especially on the phone. The fact that about 95% of my work since college has involved me talking on the phone may in part help to explain my chronic depression and insomnia. I don't like bothering people. Now, simply asking, "Yo, where you at?" might not strike you as pestering, but to me it was. So I figured that if I had to pester anyone it's be Otis, especially after that retouched photo he sent me. From him I learned there was a gang at the Aladdin, and that's where we headed.
I like to walk. Actually, I love it. I do my best thinking while taking a contemplative stroll through the woods or a park or even a shopping mall. But there's not much contemplating to be done walking down the Strip, other than contemplating how goddam big these casinos are and how insignificant you are when compared to the titanic ambition and greed that created them. Caesar's Palace alone might be bigger than Pittsburgh. Certainly got more money than the 'Burgh.
Walked and walked and walked to the Aladdin, which was a mistake. Because we were already beat, and this bit of exercise (along with lunch) didn't energize us. We walked to the poker room and I walked around the outer tables, looking for a familar face. What I saw was a familiar goatee--there's Otis. I guess spending all that time doctoring my photo gave him an idea who I was and he recognized me and stood up. We shook and he pointed out other G-Vegas and beyond bloggers--there's CJ, there's G-Rob, there's BadBlood, there's JoeSpeaker, there's EasyCure, there's author Michael Craig. I did lots of grinning and handshaking as I went from table to
table, happy to see this tip of the blogger iceberg (this is a strong candidate for Worst Metaphor Ever, but I've a way to go yet). But everyone there was playing in a tournament, and I didn't want to loom, so Ryan and I moseyed around the Aladdin for a bit and then exhanged a look.
"I need a nap," Ryan said, and I couldn't argue that I didn't. I knew it'd be a late night, and resting up might be a good idea. So we ambled back down the Strip, made our way back to IP, and collapsed for a few hours. This would be the first in a series of pauses intended to recharge the batteries and get us ready for more drinking and gambling. They became less and less effective as the weekend wore on. I got up first and took a long and delicious shower. The IP's showers had lots of pressure and they didn't skimp on the hot water. In fact, Friday night ranks among the top five showers I've had in my life. Here's the countdown:
#5: Friday night at Imperial Palace, totally woke me up, refreshed, invigorated. Fantastic shower.
#4: About 12 years ago, my parents house, me and this girl I was seeing, she stopped over the house before we both went to work, shenangians ensued, you can fill in the rest yourself.
#3: Penn State, after a party where I had exactly one beer too many and my body hadn't decided if I was going to suffer through a puke-splattering hangover or be OK. Our apartment's showerhead was some kind of industrial-strength nozzle that cranked out a pinprick of intense spray. We called it the "Water Laser" and we all miss it to this day. I took a long shower, all the while threatening to blow chunks, but when I was done I felt great. In the mood for a beer, even. Great shower.
#2: About 12 years ago, in a hotel room, with the same girl I talked about in #2, similar shenanigans, heh heh heh.
#1: Again Penn State, after the PSU-Notre Dame game where the Lions upset the Irish in a game where the wind chill was minus-50. When we finally got back to the dorms my core body temperature was probably around 77 degrees and I turned on the water as hot as it would go and stayed in the stall until the feeling returned in my toes and my feet and my legs and my...well, we'll stop right there. I think this is the only shower I ever took where I actually broke down in tears of joy, as I knew I was actually going to live.
So we get up, get dressed, get going. We had a couple of hours before everyone was to meet at MGM, so a long, long, LONG walk along the Strip seemed to be in order. We both wanted to see the Bellagio, so that's where we headed, taking our time, gawking at the bright lights like the tourists were were, and politely declining the constant solicitations for prostitution at every corner. Figures, the times when I'm in the market for a "professional" there's none to be had, but when I'm otherwise engaged I'm literally chased down the street by people offering a cornucopia of erotic options. Life is, indeed, all in the timing.
Bellagio is just fantabulous. We looked at the Chihuly ceiling, at the shops, at the smooth and elegant people walking past. We looked at the Christmas display with the polar bears and penguins. But we really came to take a look at the poker room. The Fontina Room was in use, I think for the Five Diamonds senior event, and as we walked past I saw tournament director Jack McClelland walk past. We moved on toward the poker room, and who do I see walking toward me but David Sklansky. He was wearing jeans and a WPT Polo shirt and he was chatting away on a cell phone.
I didn't stop him and ask for his autograph.
Do you understand why?
After that brush with fame we finally reached the poker room, which was so jammed I wondered how many fire codes they were violating. Walking out for a cigarette was Freddy Deeb, but we didn't hang around to do much star-gazing. There were lots of people at MGM I wanted to meet far more, and we had a long way to walk to get there.
I think we'll break right here, which will give me time to concentrate on the game I'm playing right now and hopefully get even. Here's some poker insight--when you raise preflop with AK suited, make the flush on the river, and go to war against a guy who made his full house with 5-8, it can get expensive.
Jesus, can I get rivered TEN MORE TIMES PLEASE? I was up 25BB, now I'm down 10BB, thanks to a series of brutal riverings. No, no, I won't complain, I won't kill the positive waves of this post. That's poker, right? Right. Still, shit.
The Longest Day
Just got home. I don't know if I slept on the redeye, impossible to get comfortable. I fell asleep sitting at my desk checking email. I've had cottomouth since, oh, Friday at 3 o'clock. Tho if that was Vegas time or 'Burgh time I don't know.
Here I am afraid to fly, both flights go no problem. And then when I try to start my frozen, snow-encrusted car, nothing. Won't turn over. Had to have airport maintenence come over and give it a jump. Just too cold. Added an extra hour I didn't need.
Of course a longer post will be forthcoming. Jesus, what a weekend. Weekend? It was like one long day, interrupted by a series of 3-hour naps. I'm completely fried.
I think I used the word "awesome" more the past 72 hours than Jeff Spicoli. Total blast. And I gambled, like, hardly at all. Just talk talk talk. Totally awesome.
Now, a nap.
As Ready As I'll Ever Be
Went to the bank yesterday to withdraw some lucre, and the teller said I was the 3rd person that day to yank out C-notes for a trip to Vegas. We'll all probably be on the same plane. I got a haircut, just a trim, leaving me sleek as an otter. Did my laundry, assembled my wardrobe for the next 3 days, and all I have to do now is stuff it all in the suitcase. I have various drugs and tintures on hand. My brother is obtaining some additional liquid medicinals. I have a folder filled to bursting with printouts and blog posts and other errata to make my first trip to Vegas all that it can be. I read some "Small Stakes Hold-Em" before I turned in early last night.
So, I'm ready. I'm nervous about the snow inbound. I'm nervous about the plane ride. But I'm ready for Vegas. For me the time has flown by, which is odd, but I guess combining terror with excitment is an interesting emotional cocktail. Well, I'm not "terrified" to fly, and after a few preboarding cocktails I should be OK, but I think my fear of flying has turned my Vegas wait into a perfect example of Einstein's Theory of Relativity (apologies, I don't know if it's the General or Special Theory). Time does indeed flow differently depending on the observer. If Vegas was a 5-minute car ride away, I'd probably be chewing on my keyboard right now as the minutes calcified into hours. If Vegas was positioned along the event horizon of a black hole, I wouldn't care, knowing that it might take an infinite amount of time to reach Sin City. But because it's located somewhere in the middle (somewhere), my trepidation has somewhat cancelled out my anticipation. Of course Vegas fun > flying fear, but the flying part comes first and therefore its power is much magnified.
OK, I'm going to post this, rather than continue on to what looked to be a 1,000-word insane rambling about Relativity. I got work to do before I leave. So, Vegas ho! If you read this blog and aren't attending this weekends baccanal, I may be posting a bit here and there. I will have access to a laptop. Whether I'll have access to my faculties is another matter.
So my flight to Vegas leaves at 8:55AM on Friday. Guess what's happening Thursday night? A goddam snowstorm. Awesome. Four to six inches overnight, meaning our trip to the airport at 5AM should be lots of fun, and God knows what sort of delays we might face. Shit.
Fortunately I just got at least one of my Vegas bad beats out of my karmic circle just now. I have JJ, raise, guy min-raises me back, I call. Flop comes King high, dude makes a small bet, I figure no way he's got a king, I whack him back setting him all in. He calls with A-6. Brilliant call. Of course he hits his ace on the turn and cripples me. I hope the Universe comes back into balance while I'm in Vegas.
I think I'm gonna go to bed early. Like, right now. No more poker, no more laundry. My clothes are laid out, just gotta stick 'em in the suitcase (carry-on, of course). Go over Ryan's, play a little poker, and wait for the dawn. Which hopefully will be plowed and salted.
Ducks, In a Row
Just about ready for Vegas. Not packed yet, but I bought a pair of shoes last night (and from the bargain bin yet, it does pay to dumpster dive on occasion) and I think I know what I'm bringing along. Maybe one last trip to the mall for something comfy to wear during long stretches at the table, lay in some Advil and other drugs, and start loading up the suitcase.
After returning from the mall we played our last regular-season volleyball game and upset the runaway #1 seed. I was pleased that we won, but also relieved that THIS wasn't the week I rolled my ankle or blew out a knee or took a spike to the shnozzola. We played great (we'll be a tough out in the playoffs) and after blowing the 2nd game 25-23 we crushed 'em in the rubber match after the ref tilted the opposing team with a really bad call. She has bizarre rules no one else has (girls can't wear earrings or bobby pins in their hair, tho wearing regular glasses is A-OK) and at times makes calls that get the blood boiling. Thing is, about 90% of her head-scratchers have gone our way this year, so I shouldn't, and won't, complain.
Oh, also have to get a haircut before Thursday. Yes, as many people have pointed out from my pictures, I do have a luxurious head of hair. It has been called the "Pelt" on a number of occasions, though I usually wear it short and it is in fact kitten-soft. It's cold and dry here in Pittsburgh and I pick up enough static electricity thanks to my coif that I could almost qualify as a cartoon super-villain. Last night I shocked two of my cats bad enough that they ran away and hid, and gave myself a pretty good jolt at the copy machine at work.
As a brief aside, the worst shock I ever got was a few years ago during an especially cold snap. I'd drunk a Snapple earlier that day and took the glass bottle to the water fountain to fill it up. Now, I always thought that glass was a poor conductor of electricity. Very poor. Well, as I reached the water fountain my left hand went forward to place the lip of the bottle by the spigot, unaware that Zeus had warmed up in the bullpen and was ready to let fly.
I twisted the knob, the water poured forth. And the second the stream touched the glass, there was a blue flash I swear was bright enough to throw a shadow on the wall. I was looking down, and a spark, nay, a streak of current leapt out from the metal basin, hit my left hand, passed through my hand (which held the glass bottle) then arced again and shocked me right in the, uh, thing. Yes, THAT thing. My junk, as you will. On a scale of 1 to 10 the pain was about a 13.5. I jacknifed and made a sound like, "EEEEYYAARRGGHH!" loud enough that it startled quite a few people. Including the girl who was waiting in line behind me to get a drink, a girl who was unfortunately very pretty and who saw (and heard) the whole thing.
"Wow that hurt," I gasped, always the master of the obvious.
She looked at the water fountain, and then at me hopping around doubled-over. "I'm afraid to go near it," she said.
"YOU'RE afraid?" I said with a bit too much emotion, though I did exercise enough control that I didn't point out that I
was the one who'd just had his sexual organs zapped at close range. Having shamed myself in front of her I summoned up my courage and gingerly touched the fountain again. There was the possibility that the fountain had a short and that I'd tasted a bit more juice that static electricity, but it hummed quietly and when I took a very tentative sip nothing bad happened, I guess the discharge had drained the charge away. Still, it was a long time before I willingly drank deep from that fountain. I remember often being thirsty at work.
I guess it's possible that the water hitting the bottle didn't complete the circuit, maybe my hand moved just a little bit closer, allowing electron shells to overlap and BZZZT! But burned into my memory (as it was into my retinas when it happened) was that filament-thin curlicue appearing out of nowhere, blazing blue and hot for just a microsecond. Though much of the fascination was lost when it terminated in my Joy Department.
Let me tell you, it was without much enthusiasm that I went to the bathroom awhile later to make sure there wasn't any, ah, structural damage. There wasn't. Nor was I imbued with any erectile superpowers that would land me permanent work in our nation's porn industry. All in all, I was happy enough to return to the status quo ante
So far as brief asides go, that wasn't so brief. I guess my point is that I'm looking forward to Vegas. Nice to get away from the bitter cold for a few days (50 degrees sounds like Aruba right now), nice to get away from the Steeler gloom (though I plan on watching us pound Chicago like so many Yogis and so many Boo Boos), and nice to get away from the humdrum problems that crop up all too often in life. A weekend of intense mayhem will be like an electric jolt to my nervous system. Which is good, so long as it isn't administred below the beltline.
Bubble Boy Blues
Played a little SNG last night. Got down to four-handed, guy goes all in, chip leader calls, shortstack catches his card on the river. I ended getting blinded down and go out on the bubble.
I then go to my Saturday night game. First game my nines run into aces, but then I go three straight tournaments out on the bubble. All three times there was a shortstack all-in who caught his card on the turn or river to stay alive. Two of those times were against me, the worst is when I had a guy crushed AQ to Q2 and had the board come a full house.
I did cash in the last tournament of the night, but I had a 2-1 chip lead heads up with the blinds so high it was an automatic all-in for the shortstack. My cards in the 3 hands that decided things? 8-3, 8-4, 8-9. And on the 8-9 hand the other guy had pocket queens. I love poker.
Well, I just got off the schneid by winning a little SNG. Played well, got cards, etc. Nice to win for the first time in a long, long, long time.
Was up till about 3AM playing, so that was good Vegas practice. I plan on getting to bed early the rest of the week, getting some exercise, laying off the booze and fried foods, and a bunch of other things I'll forget about before this actually posts.
I've Grown Accustomed to Your...Is That Your Face?!
Interesting responses to the pictures I posted yesterday, which I guess is better than shrieks of horror. What I found interesting was that everyone imagined me looking completely different than I actually look. Perhaps I should've waited and made Vegas my Debutante Ball, but all those plastic smiles and hushed whispers might've cracked my self-esteem. And that wouldn't help my poker play much at all.
I guess the shoe will be other foot as I meet scores of people I know by their posts if not their pusses. Is it possible to deduce what a person looks like by what they write? The answer, apparently, is no.
I have some small experience in this area. Before my freshman year of college a friend of mine got mixed up with a different crowd and met this girl. They started dating (the fact that this girl was willing to date this particular friend should have raised a football-field-sized red flag) but before I went off to Penn State I only met her once, and even then it wasn't a face-to-face. We were all over my friend's house (playing cards, I believe) and she stopped over uninvited to talk to him. They sat out on his porch for a few minutes and then she left. I maybe saw her for 2 seconds and all I remembered was that she had brown hair and seemed nice-looking. I guess I was fixated on my cards.
So we move forward a few months and I'm in Happy Valley. My friend has decided that he needs to share himself with the ladies of Pittsburgh, and having a girlfriend at some little school in Ohio doesn't fit in with his lifestyle. She's always pestering him, why doesn't he call, why doesn't he write? Not willing to totally cut ties yet, my friend says, "Hey, why don't you write to my friend Geno? He LOVES to write letters."
Thusly thrown under the bus, I get a letter a few days later from a girl I never heard of before. Now, I went to school before email, kids. Snail mail was all I had, it was my lifeline. I'd see a letter in the slot and my heart would sing...until I saw it was some goddam card or something for Mark. His vast army of a family showered him with mail, causing bitterness that I'm still working out at the ping-pong table to this very day.
Anyway, I get this letter, and I have no idea who this girl is. Nor does Mark. But then I open it and go "aha!" and the mystery is solved. Mark and my other friends thought, correctly, that this was pretty weird, but as my erstwhile friend back in Pittsburgh knew, I like to write. So I wrote her back.
She wrote me back. And I did the same and before too long I had a big stack of mail from her. Because I am (well, was) a romantic fool I fell head-over-heels in love with her, just from her letters. She was funny and smart and flirty and we liked the same things and thought the same way and I felt sure I'd found my soul mate. I didn't know what she looked like, but, darn it, looks aren't everything, right?
Christmas vacation arrives and we make a date to finally meet. As I'm driving I'm worrying about what she looks like. What if she's, you know, just OK? What if she doesn't do it for me? Or, far more likely and plausible, what if I don't do it for HER?
I got to her house and there are cars everywhere. Her parents were hosting a Christmas party, so I had a big audience for this awkward moment. My stomach felt full of eels as I ring the bell. And the door opens and there she is. Brown-hair, nice-looking. Very nice-looking, actually, so nice-looking that I practically answered her "Hi" with a drawn-out, "Duhhhh".
I'm introduced to the parents, smiled at the scores of guests appraising me, and we left. I didn't know what to say at first, which was odd after all the words we'd exchanged over the last few months. We get in the car and she says, "Do you recognize me from that time I was over (scorned friend's) house?"
"No," I say, and she says, "I don't remember seeing you." And then she says, "But you look exactly as I thought you would."
Aww. We went to eat and spent 3 hours talking non-stop. It was still early and we went to a movie just to have something to do. The only movie that still had tickets available was, get ready for this, Leonard Part Six
, the Bill Cosby hydrogen bomb that was seen by maybe 14 people. And we weren't among the 14, as we spent much of the movie gazing into each other's eyes, if you get my drift.
What a sweet little story of teenagers in love. Ahhh. Of course, your enjoyment of the story may change somewhat when I tell you that this girl totally DESTROYED me with a series of off-the-cuff yet ominous name-drops and perplexing push-pulls and quadruple entendres that ruined a good year of my life. She was a maestro of the mind game, and only now, from a distance of 18 years, can I look back and admire her performance as it so richly deserves. Teenagers in love, I should say, are complete fucking morons. Well, this teenager was. Yeesh.
So, the moral of my story is...give me a second here...oh, here we go. The moral is that the written word is not to be trusted, ever. Not for plumbing the depths of the human heart, nor for creating an Identakit picture.
Who's That Handsome Devil?
On the odd chance that I don't handle the flight to Vegas with dignity and get stinkin' drunk even before I check in, it might help if someone already there could recognize me by sight. You know, "Hey, isn't that big fat hamhock staggering around over there Mean Gene?" And then I get rescued and pointed in the right direction.
Or at least it might help to finally have a face to match with the name. I already know what many of the blogger cognoscenti look like, but I've remained so far in the shadows. No more!
Jeez, I wish I was photogenic. I actually look much better standing up:
**update** These pictures were graciously uploaded by Otis so they could be viewed by everyone. Well, let's drop the word "graciously", as you'll understand when you see this one:
Whatta bastard. Already I plan my elaborate revenge.
Ok, as I wrote before, that's happy Gene. This is Mean Gene:
Been awhile since I've had my picture taken (obviously). Wow, do I need to lose weight. I mean, I know I do, but sometimes it takes a picture to act as a figurative kick to the junk. The fact that I feel incapacitated after I play volleyball (as I feel right now) of course clued me in to the fact that more exercise and a better diet should be on my immediate agenda, but, ugh, that first picture is pretty ghastly. Or maybe its the juxtoposition of my picture with the belle Isabelle that makes me queasy. Excuse me while I do some push-ups.