Mean Gene
Mean Gene
Pittsburgh's most decorated poker blogger, which I admit is like being the best shortstop in Greenland

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My Articles

Presto, the Arlo, & the Hammer
An Online Code of Conduct
The Ethics of Ratholing
"The Professor, the Banker..."
"Ace on the River"

My Columns

Lose the Shades
If You Can't Say Something Nice
Whither the Kicker
The Lady is a Champ?
Covering the WSOP (or not)
Statistics, Luck, and Poker
Poker and New Orleans
Managing a Bankroll
How To Tell A Bad Beat Story
Telling Lies
The Power of Poker Tracker
Advanced Card-Handling

My Greatest Hits

5 Things To Do Before I Die
Cafeteria Nostalgia
Mean Gene's Dubious Dating Tips
Poker and Business?
There's No Such Thing As Luck?
Isabelle, Je t'adore
No Shirt No Shoes No Service
Well, The Food Was Good
Good Morning, Mr. Matusow!
The Weekend of our Discontent, I
The Weekend of our Discontent, II
Books That Left Their Mark
Ode to a Fish Sandwich
Bill Simmons Ain't the Poker Guy
The Sports Guy Still Ain't the Poker Guy
Again, The Media Tackles Poker
Five Years After 9/11
Hitting Pretty Girls in the Face
Sixth-Graders Suck

Fellow Poker Bloggers

Guinness and Poker
Cards Speak
Tao of Poker
Up for Poker
Boy Genius
Chris Halverson
Poker Grub
The Fat Guy
Todd Commish
Poker Works
Bill Rini
Bad Blood
Love and Casino War
Double As
Lion Tales
Paul Phillips
Daniel Negreanu
Poker Nerd
Poker Nation
Poker in Arrears
Human Head
Sound of a Suckout
Chicks With Chips
TP's Table Talk
Royal Poker
This is Not A Poker Blog
Chick and a Chair
Go Be Rude
Poker Cheapskate
Poker & Other Stuff
Seven Two
Musical Poker
WPBT Online
Isabelle Mercier
Cardschat Blog
Amy Calistri
BJ Nemeth
Annie's Blog

Poker Sites

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Internet Texas Hold-Em
Poker Pages


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    Wednesday, December 31, 2003

    New Year's Resolutions

    No poker tonight, just drinking and eating and, maybe, some poker talk with my buddies. I'm the only one in my gang who plays poker "seriously", and by seriously I mean I've actually studied the game a wee bit. Yet most of my friends are really interested in my budding poker career and like hearing my stories from the wars.

    So one New Year's Resolution, so far as poker goes, is to get a monthly game started with all my friends. I could easily get 8-12 guys who would be interested, and with all our busy schedules I'm sure we'd have a few can't-make-its to keep the population under 10. Play a little Hold-Em, some stud, even a little Omaha hi-low split. Games where I wouldn't be a huge and obvious favorite because of my research and experience into Hold-Em. Drink a little beer, eat a little nacho, drink some more beer, talk about women in a most base and prurient manner. Boys night, in other words. Good for the soul.

    My brother is the only other person I know who wants to get online and play, so that's another resolution, do the PartyPoker referral thing and get some free cash for us both. Then school him as a big brother should, breaking his spirit with check-raises, cracking his pocket aces with flush draws on the river. Yeah, revenge, baby. Revenge.

    I also resolve to try one of the super-satellites on PokerStars or PartyPoker for a WPT seat. I know, the odds of me making it are something like zilch divided by two, but I'd like to be watching a WPT event and remark casually, "Oh, I played in that tournament. Just missed the final table". Which, in a manner of speaking, would be the truth. In another manner it would be a great big lie, but let's not dwell on the negative, shall we?

    For the last five years or so I've resolved to write a novel. I actually have written several novel-length works, but nothing really publishable, for one reason or another. This year I resolve to write a poker novel. What better way for a would-be writer and would-be poker player to combine his two hobbies into a profitable enterprise? And has there ever been a better time to write a really good poker novel than now, with the game cresting a mighty wave? And I know I could write something better than Rounders, for crying out loud. Rule one--never cast Gretchen Mol in a movie and/or TV show where she has to speak. Standing quietly, providing scenery, she's fine. Pretty girl. Just don't have her speak or move. Ever.

    So those are my resolutions. I have other, non-poker ones as well. After reading Chris Halverson's brag about losing 35 pounds I'm more resolute than ever to drop some serious tonnage this year. I exercise, I like playing sports, but unfortunately most of my main leisure activities (poker, writing, reading, drinking, eating) aren't conducive to the svelte figure. Aerobic poker, that's the next exercise craze that'll sweep the nation.

    So, Happy New Year to all in the pokerblog community, and may 2004 be the Year of the Nuts.

    Tuesday, December 30, 2003

    Three steps forward, one step back

    After my big weekend I had a feeling I woudn't do so well the next time I played, and that bore out. I started off OK, going up around five bucks, but then I had to deal with my new kitten (imagine an adorable Cuisinart with legs) who was mixing it up with my 2 big cats. I had to leave my table and the next one I joined was noticably tougher. Lots of pre-flop raising, not as many, perhaps, but the quicksilver, toothy kind. I was looking for the thick-bellied bigmouth bass type, so I switched tables.

    I just got a bit unlucky is all. I did my check-raise thing twice and won twice (God, I love doing that). But I took two big hits that put me in the red. I had KQh, and caught the third heart on the turn. I raised up the pot and had two callers, but a fourth heart showed on the river and I ended up looking at the ace at the showdown. The hand that really screwed me came soon after. I had the A-6 of clubs, and the flop came 9-9-9-. No one bet the flop, and the fact that I had an ace meant that if no one paired I might win just with that. But a six came on the turn, giving me the full house. I bet and couldn't scare anyone out. I got scared when a queen came on the river. It was checked around to me, I bet, and this time I was re-raised. Well, if this turkey though he was stealing MY pot he was outta his freakin' mind.

    It wasn't a steal, of course. He had the queen. After that I think I folded about 30 consecutive hands, the best being J-7 offsuit. I was getting groggy and lost another pot at the showdown when my kings were beaten by trip 7s. I went to bed eight bucks cheaper. But considering how lousy my cards were I couldn't be too disappointed.

    Coming soon (maybe tonight), an essay on Phil Hellmuth. I'm gonna try to get away from merely reporting on my own play and get more into poker essays and reportage. Like on tonight's Celebrity Poker, if it's a new one. God, someone call the cops, the real Phil Gordon has been kidnapped and an automaton has taken his place. Buy him a Rusty Nail or something.

    Sunday, December 28, 2003

    By George, I think he's got it!

    You know how hard it was to learn how to ride a bike? You fell down over and over again, endured skinned knees and skinned elbows and skinned chins (well, skinned chin, you only have one chin. Though after all the fried turkey I ate over the holidays I now have two chins). You thought you'd never learn. And then one day, it comes to you, all at once, you get your balance and you pedal away and you're doing it, you're actually riding a bike. And it feels so natural that you can't believe it took so long to figure it out.

    That's what happened to me this past weekend. Yes, I learned how to ride a bike! No, just kidding. My mom taught me to ride a bike last Christmas. No, I finally figured out a little bit of this poker thing. I'm no expert, I still have a ways to go before I get that WSOP bracelet, but I think this past weekend I took that first step toward better play. And I LIKED IT.

    My play had become dull, passive, predictable, so I got out my copy of Low-Limit Hold-Em by Lee Jones and brushed up on a few things. My major fault, I saw, was that I was far too tight pre-flop. I wasn't playing enough hands, and I wasn't raising pre-flop with good hands to limit the field. I was paying attention to position, but mostly after the flop, when I had a good idea as to how my hand was shaping up.

    The key change I made was raising more pre-flop and playing more hands in late position, when I knew I could see a flop on the cheap and also have position on everyone else. I always understood the theoretical importance of position, but until this weekend I didn't truly understand it's power. I think now I do, and the fish I mounted this weekend understand this--beware when Mean Gene sits down at the table.

    OK, perhaps I'm a bit too full of bravado. But I made almost $80 this weekend playing $.50-1, and I have to say that it wasn't just a big run of cards (though I had quite a few nice hands). I still got sucked out on the river a few times (once on a $23 pot when I had the nut flush only to have the board pair on the river and have TWO different players turn over full houses) but I actually put the cosh to my foes on a number of occasions--not with bad beats, but with vicious check-raises on the turn or river.

    That was where I made quite a bit of money, and where my confidence really got a boost. In a previous post I mentioned how important aggression is at the table, and how I felt I lack that crucial ingredient. I decided to cut myself some slack and allow that I can be a merciless predator when I want to be, and took to the table with that attitude. These people were sheep--I was the lone wolf.

    I won a few small hands, and I was up about five bucks when I had J-10 offsuit in early position. The three players in front of me all folded, so I called and ended up in the pot with four other players. The flop was, for me, garbage-- 7-4-2. The betting was checked around, and the turn came up a queen. Again the betting was checked around. The river was a nine, giving me an open-end straight draw with, uh, no cards left to fill it. I had queen high. I checked, as did the three others directly after me. The guy in last position paused a bit, paused a bit, and then made what was to my mind a very tenative bet.

    Now, this looked like a total steal. He didn't bet the flop or the queen on the turn, but suddenly this nine makes him feel strong? I didn't like it. I didn't like this guy thinking he could steal what was an admittedly piddling pot from me with a weak bet like that. I instantly raised him. And I mean instantly--to my mind it was important to show that I'd been waiting for a bet and was thrilled that he threw his buck in.

    The first three players instantly folded. And the guy who bet paused a second, then another, and then...folded. I raked in my measly pot, having put a buck at risk in order to win about three. Poor pot odds, to be sure, but only if I thought there was a good chance I'd be called. And I didn't.

    This was a move I returned to time and time again. If no one made a strong play at a pot after the flop and the board didn't look especially ominous for anyone I'd check, wait for some smart-guy to make a feeble attempt at a steal, and raise him. Recently I read (I wish I remember where) that a check-raise on the turn is a powerful play, and I definitely learned the truth in it. I won a half-dozen pots this way, easy, check-raising when I held nothing or near-nothing and winning the hand right then and there. I kept waiting to be called and never was. And I wouldn't have minded getting caught, really, because it would have been good advertising, making everyone think that I was a loose cannon.

    The one time I DID get caught I had pocket kings and made trips on the turn. There were two diamonds on the board and I'm allergic to flushes, so when I bet and was raised I happily re-raised, not caring if he called or folded, just so I could win what was already a tidy pot. This was a guy I'd skunked once before and he wasn't buying what I was selling. He re-raised me, capping the betting. The river was junk, I had the nuts, and when I bet he raised me again. When I re-raised he just called, and I showed the Three Amigos and he melted away.

    I had a stretch of four hands where I had pocket pairs and won with three of them. I had pocket 4s, made trips, and won a pretty nice pot. I had pocket 3s, the flop came garbage, and when an ace hit the turn I check-raised and chased everyone out. I had pocket 8s, the flop came 7-9-10, but I although I didn't catch my straight it didn't cost me anything to find out because everyone checked after the flop and the turn, possibly because they feared me check-raising again. A king and a queen came on the turn and river and I was quite content to lay my small pair down this time. Next hand I had pocket 6s. No one bet out after the flop, and my free card was my third six. I bet this time, wanting to get more money in the pot, and three of my fellow players aquiesed. The board paired fours on the river, and I was raised and then re-raised by one poor soul who no doubt had a four. I never found out, because my boat outranked his trips.

    I finished my Saturday-afternoon session up about $35. On Sunday I played a bit during the Steeler-Raven game and started out slow, going down about $12 the first hour, thanks mostly to my trip aces going down to a flush on the river. I was mostly getting junk cards but I didn't play goofy just because I made a nice pile the day before. The table I was at was very loose but quite passive, with a lot of people calling meekly to the river. So when I got a decent hand (A-9h) on the button I decided to bully things a bit after the flop gave me no help. A king fell on the turn, no one had bet the garbage on the flop, and when the guy before me bet I raised him. Everyone folded to me and I gobbled up another pot.

    And it went on like that. This, I think, is what Iggy means when he talks about the fish schooling at PartyPoker. The quality of play isn't always very good, and a player with even a tiny bit of sophistication can make some serious hay just by outplaying most of the other players. When I read Lee Jones' book the first time he said you want to be the kind of player others hate playing against--tough, smart, patient, and aggressive. You want the other players wondering and worrying about what you're going to do.

    I didn't just bluff and rob all night. I had some good hands and made them pay. The one had I remember best was when I had pocket 10s in middle position. I raised and, of course, didn't chase anyone out. The flop came a 3-6-9 rainbow. I still had top pair and bet out. I think I had five callers. The turn was a 7. I bet and still had 3 callers. Now, sure, there could be a weird straight brewing out there, but come on. The river was a deuce. I bet and the same two guys called. I showed my pair and won like a $12 pot. Nothing fancy, I didn't make any moves, I just played the hand I was dealt and got paid off. If only there were all that easy.

    Made about $30 Sunday. I actually cashed out $50, my original bankroll, and put it back in my checking account. My wife isn't thrilled that I'm playing for money, so this way I know that I haven't lost any of "my" money. I have to admit, it's rather satisfying to know that I'm now playing with other people's money. I'm not pauperizing anyone, but I'm now up $140 after three weeks on PartyPoker. This after clearing only $2.75 after six weeks at PokerStars. Thank you, Iggy, a case of Guinness is in the mail!

    It wasn't all victory and laurels for Mean Gene, alas. I played two SNGs late Saturday night, and while I won money in both, the second was very disappointing. I played a $5 pot-limit tourney and placed 3rd. Not too disappointed with that, one guy got up to $4K in chips and he was directly to my left and kept re-raising me at the drop of a hat. I caught him once, but I had to really tighten up because I wanted to finish in the money. When we got down to 3 I only had $1000 in chips and when the guy in second place bet the pot I re-raised him with KQd. He went all in and I called. As I've mentioned before, I don't like the fact that at PartyPoker the cards aren't flipped over when two players go all-in. The flop had a king and I rejoiced, thinking I had top pair. I did--but it turned out I didn't have the best kicker. He had AK, and I was out. Oh well.

    It was about 1AM and I should've gone to bed, but I got the Looney Toons DVD for Christmas and I wanted to see the third disk, so I played in a $5 no-limit SNG. I was tired and I made some stupidly aggressive plays. I got to thinking that I was some poker savant because I learned to check-raise, and when I made a $300 re-raise with J-5h in early position (I know, I know) I was put all-in by a guy with only $350 to his name. It was only $50 to call and I almost folded it from embarassment, but I put in my fifty and, as I deserved, I got no help. When I turned my cards up one player, who was just biding his time before a $100 satellite, typed, "God, I love $5 games".

    That pissed me off, mostly because his insult was, for this hand at least, perfectly justified. "I'm no fish!" I wanted to shout. I made a fishy play, but I'm not an idiot. I girded my loins and went to war. First I knocked out the guy who had just beaten my garbage. I had K-10, made top two pair on the flop, and made a $100 bet. He went all in with his lone king and I took him out. Then, when I had about $1100 in chips, I went all in with pocket queens when a player with about $1000 made a $400 bet. He called, and my ladies held up when no overcard appeared.

    Then I knocked out the guy who insulted me. He was directly to my left and one two occasions I knocked him out of pots when I made medium-sized raises and he probably had zilch. But when I got pocket kings I made the same stealing raise and he went all-in. I caught trips on the river and sent him to wait for his big-boy satellite.

    When it got down to three players I was in a position I'd never been in before--the big stack. I had about $4800, the other two had $3200 split evenly between them. I remember something Howard Lederer said during the "Showdown at the Sands", that it is the responsibility of the big stack to attack the smaller ones, to put them to the test, to raise and re-raise and keep them backing up.

    And I did it to a tee. The player to my right was, to my mind, the weaker of the two. When he called I raised, no matter what I had. Not big raises, but enough to strip him of half his stack if he called. The first two times I did this he folded. The third time I did he'd had enough and went all-in. Mistake. I had AK and I hit an ace on the flop. Don't know what he held abd I didn't care. Because, for the first time, I was going heads up.

    I had $5.5K, he had $2.5K. The blinds were 200-400, so if you meekly folded in the small blind it stung a bit. So the first 3 or 4 times I was in the small blind I raised about 600. Twice he folded, but once he went all-in when I held junk. I folded. The next time I raised 600 he went all-in again, and I folded again. I had junk, I couldn't call, but he had my attention.

    We went back and forth for a good while, my chip position slipping until the split was 4.5 to 3.5, but then I won a nice hand and got back up to 5-3. Then, in the small blind, I was dealt pocket aces. How to play them...I'd only flat-called once, and then I'd had KQ, and taken the pot after betting the flop, so I decided to make my usual 600 raise and hope he'd go all-in again. He didn't. He just called, and when an ace showed on the flop I tried to keep from twitching all over. There were no straight or flush possibilities, so I checked and prayed he'd try to steal what was a very nice pot. Nope. The turn was no threat and this time I paused a bit before I checked, giving the impression of deep thought. He didn't buy it. The river too was junk and this time I decided I had to make a little bit of a move. I made a tentative $400 bet, hoping he'd think I was trying to buy the pot. Well, he let me buy it, and my monster hand slipped away.

    Still, I made 600 with it, and soon I had him on the ropes, 6.5 to 1.5. I finally got him to go all in when I had at least the semblance of a hand, 7-8d. Straight and flush draw possibilities...I called. I got zero help and he paired his queen on the turn. But even after that tactical mistake I kept clobbering him with raises and got back to a 6-2 advantage. But I couldn't get the hand to finish him. He kept going all-in when I had absolute garbage, once pushing in all his chips two times in a row in the small blind when I held 2-7 offsuit. The blinds were now 300-600 and his steals had our differential down to 4.5 to 3.5.

    And then the hand that hurt. I was dealt pocket 9s, and before I could even think he went all-in. I called, thinking that this time, at least, I was going in with a hand. The flop came 2-4-7--I still had top pair. A king on the turn and I winced. Had I known what he held I would've done more than that. Junk on the river and he showed K-6. Preflop I'd been a 64% favorite, after the flop an 83% pick. He had three outs and he hit it.

    He now held the huge advantage, and I tried to beat him at his own game. I went all-in two hands in a row and won the blinds, getting me on my feet again. But when I tried it a 3rd time he called me. I held A-7, not terrible, probably the best hand going in. The flop came J-9-4, the turn a deuce, the river a king. He turned over Q-10s. He made his straight on the river, and that was that. I was a 53% favorite preflop, a 64% favorite after the flop, but when he needed help the kings rode to his rescue, twice. I was done.

    A big disappointment, but to reference Howard Lederer again, you can't complain when you get your money in the pot with the best hand. I got unlucky on that hand, but the other guy played pretty well. I played well. I played my advantage as I should and he was extra-aggressive when he needed to be. Cleared $13 from my two SNG and I've placed in the money the last 4 I've played. I'm getting better, I'm having some success. I'm having fun. What more could I ask for?

    Friday, December 26, 2003

    Set the hook

    That's what I didn't do late last night when I played a PartyPoker $5 SNG. I could blame all the turkey and ham and potatoes I ate, but ultimate responsibilty must fall at my feet. Had a little opportunity, my one real hand of the night, and I blew it.

    Last post I wrote that aggression is the watchword when playing no-limit Hold-Em, and last night I tried to practice what I preached. I didn't get good cards at all but I did a lot of aggressive raising, especially in late position, and I stole three or four nice little pots. I didn't have good cards but I managed to build my stack to about 1100 from an 800 start.

    The player two seats to my left was the early chip leader, and he started raising things up almost every hand and taking down lots of pots. But one time he bet 500 and the small blind went all-in (about 650) and Mr. Big called. The blind had pocket Kings, Mr. Big had A-8 offsuit. He wasn't Mr. Big no more. Two hands later he went all-in and the player to his left, who now had a slight chip lead, called. The former Mr. B turned over K-8 offsuit, his foe had pocket 10s, and that was that.

    I hung around and let the other players make huge mistakes and get knocked out. Trouble was I didn't do any of the knocking. By the time we got down to the Final Four I had about 1300 in chips and the leader had around 3900. I didn't want to do something stupid and cost myself a chance to place in the money, but I did something stupid that perhaps cost me a chance to win the whole thing.

    I was in the big blind and found myself with pocket deuces. Two other players called, including the chip leader, and I checked. The flop came 2-A-J, all different suits. Triple deuces, quack quack quack. The chip leader bet 300, which didn't intimidate me at all. I didn't see him with pocket aces or jacks, so I was confident that I had the best hand. The other player folded, leaving the decision to me. I figured the bettor either had an ace or he was trying to bully me in case I didn't have an ace. But with trips I of course wouldn't be bullied.

    And then I did something stupid--I tried to play the bully myself. I went all-in. I hadn't made a really big bet all night, and for some reason I couldn't help myself from pushing in a thousand chips. Even as I hit the button I knew I was horribly overplaying my hand, and sure enough he folded without a second's pause.

    I hung my head and bereted myself. I could have smooth-called him, let another card come up, and see if he would bet into me again. If he checked I could either make a small, tentative bet to string him along or wait to smack him on the river. True, maybe he had a straight draw, but even with KQ only a 10 could help him, and in that case I'd slow down. But I had a chance to milk this guy and instead I acted like a yahoo and panicked.

    I didn't get a good hand the rest of the night. The #4 guy got knocked out by the chip leader, putting me in the money, and at the time I was only about 150 chips below the #2 guy. But he won a nice pot from the top dog, and the blinds whittled me down to 650 chips. I was in the big blind and checked to the leader, and when the flop came 10-K-10 I went all in, hoping to scare him out and let me pick up enough chips to keep me going a few more deals. No such luck. He had too many chips to be scared away by my tiny bet, and besides, he had a 10. I had the 5-3 of hearts with no heart on the board. It was the official end of my Christmas cheer.

    Oh well, won four bucks and learned a lesson. I really enjoy playing SNGs, its just tough getting logged on to the doggone tables. It was still a good time, even though I messed up. It's hard to be too upset when I actually won a few bucks and learned a lesson, so I won't be. I just need to get better, bit by bit.

    Wednesday, December 24, 2003

    Renaissance Man or Dilettante Wastrel?

    Iggy posted a really interesting site on his blog yesterday about poker player Andy Bloch. Back in 1997 a gentleman named Tom Sims "sweated" Bloch as he played the main event in the World Series. Sims sat behind Bloch and recorded every hand that was played, including Bloch's hole cards, and seeing how Bloch played (and was played back) provided fantastic insight about how no-limit Hold-Em is played at that level.

    And what did I learn? That aggression--raw, feral, bloodlusty aggression-- must be a primary component of your poker personality. Reading thru the hand histories I was amazed how often Bloch stole (or tried to steal) the blinds, or how often he made re-raises to defend his blinds. When everyone at the table is a predator, aggression ultimately decides who transforms into the prey. Waiting patiently for big hands to come your way is a sure way to get blinded down to the felt. You have to steal, you have to attack, you have to strip precious chips from those who lack the heart to lock horns.

    I think that's my biggest weakness, or at least it's the weakness I perceive in myself. I don't know how I would react in a tournament, when my money is already paid and I'm playing for chips and position, not for actual dollars. To be sure, you want to hang around and win the money, but tossing $15K worth of chips in the pot is different that $15K of your own money. In a tournament you're constantly fighting for survival, and as we all know survival goes to the fittest. You can't be afraid. You have to fight. You have to steal. You have to be aggressive.

    You also need to have a good blood supply to your buttocks, 'cause you're gonna be sitting for a long, long time. Bloch played something like 800 hands in two days before he was knocked out, and that's A LOT of sitting. You have to avoid what Bloch called "WSOP Tilt", when guys just go nuts because of the pressure and go all-in every hand until they run into aces.

    Reading this really made me appreciate how remarkable Chris Moneymaker's win truly was. Some critics have said that he was just lucky, that he caught a few big hands and outdrew his opponents when he got caught. Bullshit. First of all, ESPN's coverage was about 6 hours long in total, which is about 1/10th of the World Series's actual length. Moneymaker had to endure 60 hours of intense competition, and on any hand he might have been lured to his ultimate destruction. Did he get lucky? Sure, every champion gets lucky, you almost have to. Moneymaker had pocket 8s to Humberto Brenes' aces and sucked an 8 on the turn, and that was bigtime lucky. But that was one hand out of literally thousands, and Moneymaker didn't get lucky on all of them.

    What's even more amazing is that Moneymaker, in his first live tournament, knew the language of aggression that's spoken at the table. When a shark like Johnny Chan (Johnny Fucking CHAN) bets at you and you have the wherewithal to re-raise him, you're proving you truly know how the game is played. And it can't be a one-time move (as it was in the movie Rounders). It happens day after day, hand after hand, bet after bet. When Bloch played in 1997 he couldn't decide whether to play or fly back to Boston to study for an exam he had at Harvard Law School. At first I thought he chose to play in order to avoid the stress of tests and studying. While playing poker is certainly a lot of fun, I wonder if Bloch thought going home to Harvard was the easy way out. Sitting down for the World Series is undoubtedly more stressful than an exam on torts.

    I rooted for Andy Bloch when he made the final table at Foxwoods and, uh, the other one he made. Bellagio? No...San Fransisco? I'll think of it. Anyway, I was pulling for him because, like me, he has multiple degrees but isn't using them to make a living. True, Andy is making big bucks at the table, and I'm in professional limbo, but I could at least identify. And while a writing degree from Penn State and an MBA from Pitt don't exactly equate to 2 degrees in electrical engineering from MIT and a law degree from Harvard (ooh, Harvard, la-de-da), I too am overeducated and can appreciate what might make a guy with an advanced EE degree decide that law school sounds good, and professional gambling good after that.

    I do wonder if Andy Bloch is truly fulfilling his potential to help society. I mean, here's a guy who obviously has some heavy-duty brainpower. Is he inventing quantum computers or arguing a freedom of speech case before the Supreme Court? No, he's sitting at a table in Foxwoods casino trying to decide if the slob across the felt really has the KQ to make the nut straight.

    Now, this is a capitalistic country, and Andy is obviously doing pretty well playing poker. And to we really need more scientists coming up with more and more advanced ways of downloading pornography? For God's sake, we don't need any more lawyers. And this country certainly needs more poker players. The thing is, we don't need any more GOOD poker players. We need more fish to school at PartyPoker and the local card club, not world-class players caving in our collective heads with brutal re-raises.

    So I'm hoping that Bloch gets sick of poker and turns his attention to a field where I can profit from his talents but not potentially be victimized by him. Wonder if opening a microbrewry has ever appealed to him.

    Monday, December 22, 2003

    No shirt, no shoes, no service

    I've never played poker in a casino. I've been to a casino twice--well, three times if you count the minicasino on my honeymoon cruise ship, and I don't. I only played the slots and video poker during my visits to these dens of blessed iniquity, and I must admit that I don't remember much about them. I wasn't drunk--I'll even sign an affidavit stating that--but it was a long time ago.

    I do remember a little old lady hitting the slot machine down the row for $500, and while the flattops wearing earpieces and magenta blazers determined that the LOL had indeed won and wasn't some kind of gaming-based criminal, she kept feeding the machine and playing away. I also remember watching my buddy play blackjack at the Taj and a waitress brought a drink to one of the players and she was wearing this "I Dream of Jeannie" outfit and she was showing enough cleavage to ski down. That's something that tends to stick in the mind.

    But someday I'd like to go to Vegas and take a seat in a real poker room and play against faces instead of computerized avatars. Play with casino chips and tuxedoed dealers and prodigiously bosomed waitresses bringing me martinis (shaken, not stirred). Go heads up against a sinister man wearing an eyepatch and stroking a white angora cat, and then use my winnings to pay off a Mob bookie named Louie Push-Push and save my best friend from getting his thumbs lopped off.

    That's the fantasy. I'm sure the reality is that I'll be playing against a gin-besotted orthodontist from Topeka and sitting next to a guy who needs a bath, a shave, a haircut, another bath, and a steel-wool manicure.

    I'd still like to play in a casino, but I have some questions about what is and isn't done. Let's start with this: During ESPN's WSOP coverage Howard Lederer was up against Kenna James in a hand. Lederer held pocket 7s and raised, and James, with pocket Queens, went all-in. As Lederer fixed his Vulcan mind-meld stare on him, James zipped up his windbreaker, pulled down the brim of his baseball cap, and hid his whole face from Howard's malevolent gaze. About fifteen seconds later Lederer mucked his cards and said, "You can come out now".

    Now, lots of pros wear sunglasses and caps to the table to hide their eyes. My question is this--can you come to the table wearing, say, a welder's mask? How about a complete deep-sea diving outfit?

    I'm sure some card rooms have rules against you coming to the table in a Halloween costume, but I thought of a way around that. When I finally get my seat in the World Series, I'm having my entire face Botoxed. Forehead, eyes, nose, ears, lips, chin, tongue--the works. The process is temporary (a few months, tops) and I dare Phil Hellmuth to read anything from my slack, sliding, toxin-frozen face. I may look like I've had a double-hemispheric stroke, but when I check-raise on the river with the nut flush you'll know that, behind the drooling mien, Mean Gene is totally in the game.

    True, making yourself understood at the table might be a bit difficult when you're paralyzed from the neck up. I'd have to go over things with the dealers first. If I say, "Hyuhh!", that means check. "Hyuhh hyuhh!" means call. "Hyuh-hyuh-hyuhhh!" means raise. I can just see it now--I've just won a testy pot against Amarillo Slim when my pair of fours beats his treys.

    "Well, that there was ah fine call, mah friend," Slim drawls.

    "GUUUULAAAHHHHLLLLGGGG," I say, stacking my chips.

    "Y'all have tha heart of ah cliff divah," Slim says admiringly.


    And while Sam Farha has his cigarette and Amir Vahedi his cigar, I'll have a big hunk of natural sponge to soak up my dribbling saliva. Drool might pose a problem--if I really start to gush it might be a tell that I have a big hand. Note to self--get your salivary glands cauterized.

    Another question--what to wear at the table. I wonder at what temperature the casinos have found most encourages ruinous gambling. I'm hoping they keep it cool, baby, cool. At several of the WPT tournaments players were wearing suits (Chris Karagullyan, Devilfish Ulliot) and I couldn't stop thinking about how HOT those guys must be.

    I'm a bit rotund--not fat, necessarily (though according to my BMI I should be pricing cemetary plots) but I'm a big guy. I generate a lot of heat. If there's one thing I hate, it's being in a hot, crowded place where there isn't a breeze and I'm sitting and sweating and I'm overdressed and I'm chafing and I can't escape. And the idea of sitting at a poker table for hours in a suit and tie makes me...well, it makes me break out in a sweat. And don't get me started on Chris Ferguson. When I see the 2000 World Champion sitting at the table wearing a black 3-piece suit, cowboy boots, cowboy hat and shades, and with all that hair and that beard...I about break out in a rash.

    So I guess they keep it fairly cool. But it can't be TOO cool in there because outside it's probably like 137 degrees and folks leaving the air-conditioned haven of the casino and venturing into the oven-like, liquid-leaching desert heat would drop dead from acute dehydration and sunstroke-induced cardiac arrest. And while casinos do want to pauperize and otherwise destroy your life, they don't in fact want to END your life. Especially when stepping over fresh corpses might inconvienience the whales.

    So, again, what to wear. Some of the guys at the table wear clothes I wouldn't be caught dead in a ditch wearing. There was a guy at the final table of "Showdown at the Sands", I think his name was Paul Schied, who had on a marigold-yellow polo shirt with some kind of pattern in the fabric. Ghastly. Need we mention the appalling red patterened shirt Freddy Deeb wore that so rattled poor Phil Ivey. I can hardly bring myself to recall Scotty Nguyen's bright yellow T-shirt and even brighter magenta baseball cap. It made me long for the days of black-and-white TV, though Scotty was doubtless just trying to drive his opponents a wee bit closer to insanity. And then we have Humberto Brenes, who looks like he's wearing three or four different and complete sets of clothes all at the same time. It boggles the mind. I mean, if you're going to be on TV, how about some subdued colors, some natural fabrics?

    Christ, I sound like I should be on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy".

    Grind grind grind

    Played a bit during the Steeler game and lost a couple bucks. Lousy cards, won maybe one hand. Then I played a bit this evening watching the late game and the poker gods lavished giant hands upon the Geno. I had pocket kings twice, pocket queens thrice, AK suited and unsuited. And I think I lost with those monsters every time. Well, I split with AK when another guy turned over the same cards, and I went balls-to-the-wall with a guy with queens only to have him show...queens.

    I did hit some nice hands, was up $12 at one point, and ended up a whole three dollars. Wowzers. I think I have to evaluate my play, maybe re-read Lee Jones' book (been meaning too). I'm sure I'm playing way too conservatively. I pay attention to position, but I don't think I'm playing enough hands in late position, I'm not seeing enough cheap flops. I'm playing the same under the gun as I do on the button, or at least I'm not loosening my play as my position improves.

    I'm also playing cute instead of clever. I check too much and check-raise too little, not that I should be doing that every hand, but once a session would be nice. For awhile I started out playing a bit loose, check-raising and raising pre-flop, just to let the others players think I was a bit of a cowboy, and then I'd tighten up and play my game. But I find myself falling into predictable patters, and that isn't smart poker.

    But I did end up three bucks. Still up $50. Gotta get my brother on Party and start schooling him. Gotta get my house game going and start stripping cash from them. That's what poker is all about--exploiting your nearest and dearest. Great fun.

    Actually, I ripped on Phil Gordon in my last post, but I've read the Vegas reports on the Tiltboy site and they were absolutely hilarious. I'll write some more about that tomorrow, but right now I gotta go to bed. Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat. And we're gonna deep fry the sucker Christmas Day.

    Sunday, December 21, 2003

    Crap and Double Crap

    The niece and nephew slept over last night, and I figured we'd watch a movie, they and the wife would go to bed around 9:30, and I'd play a little poker. But the kids wanted to watch "The Grinch", and not the good one either. They wanted to see the one with Jim Carrey, and if I'd had my druthers Mr. Carrey would be seized by the authorities, chained, locked in a trunk and tossed in the Atlantic Ocean. My druthers mean nothing to Bryce and Hailey, and we watched the movie. Well, about a half-hour into the flick I started to doze off, the pizza and beer I consumed anethetizing me quite nicely.

    I nodded off around nine. When I woke it was 1:30AM. I was still in the recliner, the TV was still on, and I was alone (give or take a cat). I felt like a small bus had hit me. I'm not a napper, and I love my quiet Saturday nights. I'd planned on watching the football game and playing some cards. That, alas, wasn't going to happen.

    But I wasn't ready to go to bed, so I flipped the stations and "Iron Chef" was coming on, so I decided, what the hell, maybe at 2AM I could get a seat at PartyPoker and try a SNG. And that's what happened, first table I tried I got a seat at a $5, and I cleared my head and played some no-limit Texas Hold-Em. Hoo-ah!

    Well, I might have stayed fast asleep. No, I didn't get knocked out first--I actually finished fourth. I finished fourth, and I didn't win a single hand. No, I take it back--I had AK under the gun, raised it 90 bucks, and had no callers. So one my one win of the night I merely stole the blinds--when the blinds were 15-30.

    One guy at the table annihilated everyone else. At one point I think he had 5500 chips and remaining four of us had 2500 split among us. He made some good bets, but he also got lucky--he flopped a set when his 10s when up against pocket jacks, and he made a flush to knock out a guy with pocket aces. He could do no wrong.

    I could do nothing. I had my AK and junk every other hand. Well, I had pocket 6s, played them to the river, and got beat by pocket 10s. Didn't lose a lot, but I didn't have a lot to lose.

    That's where I really showed my no-limit inexperience. You aren't going to get huge cards every hand, and you have to make some aggressive plays to steal a few pots. I was doing that pretty well when I was playing on PokerStars, but I've been gunshy the last 2 times I played. Finished 2nd and 4th, but in both cases I was mostly a bystander. In the game last night I got shortstacked to about 300 and just hung on and watched the chip leader knock everyone out.

    I wanted to sit tight and see if anyone else got whacked so I could end up in the money, but I finally got a decent hand (AJ) and raised half my stack. The guy in second spot went all-in and I felt committed. One thing I don't like about PartyPoker SNGs--when two players go all in, they don't turn the cards up. So I saw the flop come garbage, the turn come garbage, and the river show a beautiful Jack, giving me top pair. Our cards were then flipped over, and I saw that I'd been up against pocket Kings. That gives us the first "Crap" of the evening.

    The second "Crap" I discovered just now, when I started to play my tape of the "Showdown at the Sands". Odd, the tape was rewound to the begining. I fast-forwarded, and found that the last third of the tape had some infomercial on it. Oh, crap. Somehow the VCR remote got pressed and it taped over the last two episodes. I accuse my cat Bert, I think he went to sleep on the recliner and maybe laid on the remote. I'm sure FOX will re-broadcast it, but it's still irritating. I'm accumulating a substantial poker video library, and I hate to lose this one. Oh well, spilt milk.

    Saturday, December 20, 2003

    "Celebrity" Poker

    I put the quotes around "celebrity" this time because I wonder exactly how famous one has to be to get on the new Bravo poker show. Ben Affleck, who's about as famous as one gets these days, was on, but so was Mo Gaffney, and I have to admit I recognized her but had no idea why she was famous. When they showed her credits and "Absolutely Fabulous" was listed it hit me. She played Marshall's incredibly overbearing new American wife, and she was very funny. I guess she's on some show on the WB too, but that hardly counts. But isn't there a certain amount of name recognition required to get on the show, a "Q" rating above 25, say?

    The quality of play was much better in this week's show, though that's faint praise at best. Peter Facinelli had the series' first check-raise, and Phil Gordon nearly crowed with pride as an actual poker tactic was employed. There were some smart laydowns, particularly by eventual winner Nicole Sullivan, yet another female who would be welcome at my table at any time.

    Ths was not Phil's best episode, and I'm really starting to feel for the guy. I think he got the gig in part because of his appearance on the WPT's Aruba episode, where he came across as relaxed and witty and playful, and also by his escapades as a Tiltboy. He may be all those things (and a great player), but he's so wooden on this show that you expect a red-headed bird to alight on his shoulder and start pecking at him. It's becoming a painful routine--Kevin Pollack makes some funny remark, one of the celebs says something stupid while making a terrible play, and Phil says, "That wasn't a good play, he only has a 27% of catching his flush" like the worst sort of drudge. C'mon Phil, drink a half-dozen of those cocktails they serve in the loser lounge and say that Nicole Sullivan should have worn a see-through blouse to give her a better shot at winning. I don't want the odds, I don't want to know that re-raising on the turn is a powerful play, I want to hear Phil trash-talking and berating these people. I want to hear him say that, if he were playing Allison Janney and Emily Procter in strip poker, they'd be down to their thongs in fifteen minutes. Come on, Phil, loosen up!

    My own play has tightened, to good effect. Took a few days off and came back with a vengeance. Back up over $50, doubling my money in 2 weeks on PartyPoker. Last night I ended up $13, thanks to two nut-flushes (doesn't that sound like a really tasty candy bar? Snickers, Twix, Nutflushes...maybe not). I was especially proud of two hands I had where my opponents rivered the flush to beat my top pair, and only extracted an extra buck out of me. On the first I bet, was re-raised, and I decided to give him the pot. A good move, as another player called and was shown the K-9 of diamonds. Another time the third club appeared on the river and I wasn't feeling too good about my pair of jacks, so I checked, another player checked, the third bet, and when I got out of the way the bettor showed his flush. In neither case was there a huge pot, the pot odds more or less demanded I fold, but I used to toss in my chips just to make sure, and when you're losing 3-4 bucks a session calling a guy down it starts to sting.

    So I'm playing better, but getting irritated with PartyPoker. I want to play some SNG's, but they have so few tables that I can't get a seat. As soon as a new table posts I click it but I have an old computer and and a 56K connection and by the time the new table pops up all the seats are taken and the first hand is even underway. I emailed Party with my disgruntlement and they told me that they are trying to speed up the loading process but that, for the time being, I should get a faster connection. Thanks a lot. The issue really isn't the speed of my modem--there just aren't enough tables. When I get locked out I look at the listing of players at the table and there are usually 15-30 players "watching". We're the losers who want to play but couldn't get a seat, and that means Party is losing a lot of revenue because people who want to give them their money can't do so. And you don't need an MBA to know that's bad business.

    I'd like to play a little more no-limit, I like the action, the adrenaline. I forget who spoke these words (Doyle Brunson? Crandall Arrington?), but limit hold-em is a science, no-limit is an art. I fancy myself more the artistic type (and my chemistry grades prove I'm no scientist). I really haven't read much about no-limit poker or tournament play, so before I drop five grand for a WPT event I'll have to study a bit.

    Still, I've learned enough to place second in a SNG I actually managed to land a seat in. I started off OK, winning the second pot after betting out on the flop, and then I saw a few cheap flops but nothing too interesting. My strategy has been to sit tight, see as many flops as I can while the blinds are low, and try to build my chip stack so I can get more aggressive later on.

    That's my big problem with no-limit--I'm not aggressive enough. Oh, I'll steal a blind here and there, and maybe I'll slow-play a big hand and smack someone when I have the near-nuts, but in almost every no-limit game I've played I've been the guy just hanging on, trying to get in the money, not bullying the table with my big stack. And if you're just treading water in no-limit, eventually you go under when the blinds get exhorbitant.

    In this game I was up against some wild players. Two guys went all-in the very first hand, and when the cards flipped up it was AKh vs. QQ. A classic confrontation, as Phil Gordon might say during a broadcast, and when an A came on the flop and another on the turn the ladies went bye-bye.

    The new chip leader did a good job of clobbering us with raises and re-raises, but the guy right after him went all-in after a check-raise and showed KK vs. QQ. The boys stood up and we had a new sheriff in town.

    I started making a few moves, and knocked the short-stack out when my pocket 9s made trips on the flop. He had an open-ended straight but didn't get any help. About two hands later I had AKh and made a bet big enough to put the 2 guys after me all-in. They both freakin' called me, and showed Q-10 offsuit and K-Q offsuit. The flop showed an ace and two hearts, and I ended up making my flush on the river.

    By the time we got down to three and I was in the money I had the chip lead by about 100. We three went back and forth, back and forth, and then the guy with the short stack got bludgeoned out of a pot when his 200 raise was met by an all-in re-raise by the guy in second spot. He folded, and the next hand I put him all-in with pocket jacks. He called--with pocket 10s. Sorry, Charlie, my hooks held up.

    So now it was heads-up, I had 4100, the other guy had 3900. And, I have to say, I played pretty smart. I kept him off-balance, stealing a few blinds with junk, and then I had pocket kings, slow played them, and lured him into making a 600 bet after I checked the non-threatening flop. I raised him, but he made a smart read and chucked his hand. I had him about 5K to 3K, but he won two testy hands in a row at the showdown (once with ace-high) and got himself back to 4500-3500.

    Then the hand that killed me. I had Q-10d, and the flop came A-Q-4 rainbow, no diamonds. I had middle pair, and I made a 300 bet. He called. The turn was a ten. I had two pair, and this time I checked. He bet 800, I re-raised him all-in, thinking he had aces and might be able to knoch him out right there, or at least scare him out and giving me an even bigger lead.

    He did have aces. Pocket aces. I couldn't believe it, I hadn't even considered to possibility, but I should have. Maybe I shouldn't have gone all-in, but I got excited at the thought of actually winning and pushed it. The river was junk and I was down to about 500 chips. I had A-4 the next hand and went all-in, and he showed 9-5 offsuit. The flop came K-9-4. Got my pair and he got one higher. I got no help the rest of the way and was toast.

    It really hurts to get knocked out of a tournament, even a piddly one like this. Won $15, which helped things a bit. But...pocket aces. He slow-played me to perfection, and I ended up making a big enough hand to pay them off. Well, it happens. Just wish it hadn't happened to me.

    Monday, December 15, 2003

    Time for a breather

    Played a little yesterday, and it made me realize I need a little time off. Been playing a bit every day, not too long (except for Saturday) and after the lousy run I've had I need to recharge. As my previous post relates, I had a night where I played 100 hands and won three. The day before I played a full hour without winning a pot. Last night I played nearly an hour without winning. I really started to think that I might NEVER win a hand again. I mean, couldn't I flop the nuts just once? Just once, to give me faith again, to give me a little confidence?

    I thought I'd done just that about 20 minutes in, when I had pocket kings and flopped a set. We're in business. But there were two diamonds on the board, and when a third showed on the river and I got re-raised I knew I was dead. Sure enough, 5-7 of diamonds beat my three amigos.

    Later I had 6-3 in the big blind and flopped two pair. I bet and raised through the flop and turn, and on the river another six presented itself. So I have a weirdo full-house, there was no preflop raise, so it was very unlikely anyone had a pocket pair to beat my boat. But...I couldn't shake the horrible feeling that I was about to get skunked. The bet was raised to me and I should've re-raised. But I couldn't pull the trigger. I just called, and...won. Won a nice big pot. I nearly barfed on myself.

    I won two other quick pots with pretty lousy hands when the betting was checked around twice and I caught a pair on the river. I ended up $15 for the week. Not bad, but after being up $65 it seems a hollow victory. Oh well, a quick breather, and then resume the struggle.

    I'm going to write more stuff than just hand histories here, honest. I'm thinking maybe some poker fiction. I mean, you just KNOW that a flood of poker movies and books are flooding to market right now. Maybe I should jump on the bandwagon. Thing is, what do you write about? How about the traditional Hollywood underdog story--guy who's never played in a casino wins a World Series seat online, he knocks out his poker idol, and goes all the way to win the whole thing. Oh, wait, that's been done, in real life. How about a woman 9 months pregnant gets to the final table of the WSOP--oh, Annie Duke nearly pulled that off. How about a writer goes to cover the tourney, gets in through a satellite, and ends up becoming the story when he makes the finals. Whoops, Jim McManus beat me to that one.

    I think I can come up with a good idea. Something set far away from the bright lights of Vegas and Foxwoods. Something set here in Pittsburgh. Actually, I already have an idea, the skeleton of a plot. Just need to think it over a bit more. I'll be posting stuff here about it, maybe some excerpts.

    Sunday, December 14, 2003

    Half full, or half empty

    Another absolutely brutal night. Started out well, got up about $20, and then I lost it all along with another $15. A couple of days ago I was up $65, now I'm up $10. And that $10 is from the SNG I runnered-upped in last night.

    But I'm not here to moan about my terrible luck and bad beats. I've done that the past two days and, besides, no one really wants to hear about another player's rough times. Well, other than the delicious schadenfreude you feel when listening to another's misery. I mean, feel free to tell me about getting rivered over and over when I'm on a roll and Lady Luck is giving me an all-over hot oil massage. Then I'm all smiles inside while I nod sympathetically and say, "There there, there there".

    Bad beat stories are kind of like other people telling you their dreams. Is there anything more boring that having someone breathlessly tell you about the nightmare they had about showing up for their biology exam naked? No matter how bizarre the dream, no matter how talented a storyteller the dreamer may be, you can't translate the intensity of your subconscious longings and fears to another person. Especially when the other person doesn't really give a crap about your nightmares about flesh-eating teddy bears.

    No, I'm not hear to write about my horrible run of cards. I'm writing at 3AM because I just started playing with PokerTracker and, I have to say, it's really, really cool. The amount of information you can get from this thing is absolutely incredible. I can see why Iggy and others champion it's usefulness. There's just so much information this thing automatically cranks out for you...I'll definitely spring for the $40 full version. Once I make enough playing poker to pay for it. Which might not be for a long time, the way things are going for me right now.

    In the 100 hands I checked, I won 3 hands. Three. Was I playing all sorts of crazy hands? Nope, only put money in the pot 20% of the time. Actually, with the cards I was dealt that was still way too much. In 100 hands the I never had pocket pairs above 6s. I lost $34 in those 100 hands, yipe. I lost $5 playing 7-2 offsuit. I remember that hand. I had it in the big blind and the betting was checked around. The flop...

    Nah, never mind. Not gonna bore you with the story. I'm gonna watch the end of Manhunter and go to bed. Tomorrow is another day.

    Saturday, December 13, 2003

    Too much character

    Came home from work and decided to play a bit. Logged onto a $1-2 by accident but decided to hang around and play tight for a bit. Lost $28 in ten minutes, all to the same guy. I only played 2 hands--I had A-10 of clubs and hit an ace on the flop. A five came on the turn, pairing with a five on the flop, and sure enough when we got to the end he turned over 5-8. Later on I had pocket 4s and made my set on the flop. I raised the bet and chased all but two players. The flop was 7-4-10. The turn was an ace, I bet and was called. The river was a six, I bet and was raised. Shit. I called and he again turned over 5-8. I couldn't believe it. Filled an gutshot straight on the river and left me feeling gutshot.

    I've lost $37 in about two hours of play, both from abysmal cards and from brutal beats the few times I had a hand. I know, it happens to everyone, blah blah blah. It just isn't supposed to happen to ME goddamit.

    The only bright spot in the last few days is that I came in second in a sit-n-go, more on that later. Right now I'm too pissed to write. Or play. Plus I'm hungry.

    Momma said there'd be days like this

    Character. How does a man develop the quality known as "character", the ability to endure, to persevere, to show courage and determination in the face of adversity? Does one build character through easy victory, through benevolent handouts, through luck? No. Character develops by overcoming obstacles, by struggling against difficulties once thought insurmountable, by suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

    Last night was, for me, a character building experience. I played for two hours and won two hands. Two. Neither a big pot. Twice I held full houses (fulls house? fulls houses?) and lost to bigger boats, another I lost with the nut-flush to a ridiculous twos full of threes. Played for about two hours and inexhorably lost 25 bucks.

    But I didn't despair. I stepped away from the table, didn't try to fight the Fates, and realized that this was one of those poker-character-building episodes all players must go through. It was also, I must add, a vocabulary-building experience. I used all sorts of words as my few decent hands were snapped like breadsticks, words that rhyme with "duck" and "flit" and "glass bowl". I didn't say that I took this character-building gracefully. I just took it, like a right cross to the chops.

    Friday, December 12, 2003

    I am NOT a gambling addict!

    After volleyball and during the beer-drinking and wing-eating that follows my friend Rick accused me of being addicted to gambling. Or, at least, addicted to Hold'Em. Rick is fond of hyperbole, and, anyway, he's a jerk. I'm not a poker addict. I like to play, I enjoy it immensely, but I'm not addicted. I can step away from the tables when I'm down, I don't risk money I can't afford to lose, I play within my means. Old-time poker giants would sometimes belittle a tight player by saying, "He ain't got no gamble in him". That's me, unfortunately. I pick my spots for aggression, I trust the occasional hunch, but it just isn't in my makeup to be a wild and wooly gambler. I'm boring.

    That doesn't mean that I didn't go home last night and log on for a few quick hands. I'm always a bit wired after volleyball and beer and I wanted to play a bit to relax. And to prove to Rick that I'm not an addict. Thirty minutes and then bedtime. OK, maybe forty. An hour, tops.

    Twenty minutes in I was wishing I'd just gone to bed. The game followed what is becoming a depressingly familiar pattern--junk hands for the first 3 or 4 orbits, and then a few speculative hands that don't pan out. After 20 minutes I hadn't won a hand and had my top two pair lose to trips in my only showdown. I was also irritated by the guy sitting to my right, who raised the pot nearly every hand. That made me throw away most of my speculative hands, and I don't like being bossed at the table by some would-be tough guy who thinks a fifty-cent raise makes him the next Stu Unger. I would have delivered a nut-crushing re-raise if I could've gotten a hand better than 8-3, but no such luck.

    Until what turned out to be my final hand of the night. I was down about ten bucks and feeling pretty low, but I decided it was time to push away from the table and prove to Rico and myself that I'm a recreational player, not some degenerate card skank. Plus I was sleepy.

    I was dealt J-10. An interesting hand, one I like to play. Mr. Bigbet of course raised the pot and I called, but then the guy right after me re-raised. Six players put three bets in the pot, so we had some nice action going. The flop came 9-Q-3. Oh, baby. Open-ended straight draw. I had to call three bets to stay in, but with two shots at the nut straight I tossed in my chips.

    The turn was a five. Again the bet was raised, this time by a different player. No one re-raised by the time it got to me. Pay a buck to see the river? Six outs for the nuts, and a very big payday. The pot odds demanded I toss in my dollar, and I did. Last hand, let's see what happens.

    And what happened was one of those events that make playing poker so much fun, so rewarded, so...addictive. The river came up a mighty, benevolent King. I looked at it, and looked at it, and looked at it some more. I don't think I'm ever going to be a successful casino player because I'm sure my face lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree. Plus I actually counted the cards out loud, "9...10...jack...queen...king", to ensure I wasn't delusional, and I think that's a tell.

    No raises this time around, until my turn came and I gleefully charged the three other players an additional buck to see my cards. I was hoping for a re-raise but that was unreasonable, and when I turned over my J-10 I'm sure there was howling and cursing a plenty. I raked in a $27 pot, by far the biggest I've won so far, and that one king turned what would have been a $15 loss for the session into a $10 gain.

    I slept the sleep of the triumphator, which means that I crawled into bed and had two cats crowd me into a corner. But a happy sleep nonetheless.

    Thursday, December 11, 2003

    Ladies and luck

    Would it be terribly sexist of me to mention that the finalists in last night's WPT show were extremely easy on the eyes? Especially right off the bat, before even mentioning the play and the results and all that? It would? Oh well. Anyway, I was rooting for Clonie to win, both because I find her extremely fetching and because a woman saddled with the first name "Cyclonia" deserves our pity and support.

    Watching the show last night made me realize that I'm never going to be a top high-stakes poker player. Actually, just watching Annie Duke convinced me of that. Duke is a mom four times over, four times she has brought new life into this world thanks to the miracle of childbirth. Has this softened her, made her a kinder, gentler, more nuturing soul? To her kids, maybe. But watching her stare down her opponents with those scathing eyes made me fear the shrieking predator that lies just under her genteel surface. I'd rather play 50 games of chess against Howard Lederer while locked up in a box than one round of Hold'em with his sister. She flat-out terrifies me, and I mean that as a compliment, honestly.

    Not that she did too well last night. Nor did Harmon or Liebert. I'd never seen a female player wear sunglasses at the table before, and after seeing Liebert's nightmare shades I hope I never do again. More bad dreams for Mean Gene.

    I think Daniel Negraneu should thank his lucky stars Duke didn't rip out his thorax for cheering like a maniac after his girlfriend Evelyn Ng knocked Duke out. Set up a Duke-Negraneu bout and I'll give you 50-1 odds that Annie leaves nothing behind but a blood-soaked goatee. Did I mention I'm afraid of Annie Duke?

    Maureen Feduniak did well, and during the show it was revealed that she'd won a poker tournament at Bellagio. Not bad for a woman that the WSOP coverage on ESPN described as the very personification of "dead money". Even if Feduniak played in the "English grandmother NL Hold'Em" tournament, a win is a win, and she played pretty well last night.

    While the cards flew on TV they also flew on my computer. A tough, yet rewarding night. I didn't play a hand the first 30 or so hands. I think I got 10-6 offsuit 15 times. A ten would appear, and I would say, "...and here comes the six" and sure enough a six popped up. Muck, muck, muck.

    I won a nice little pot with AK when I made two pairs on the flop, and then another long dry spell. It isn't fun sitting there watching other people play--until you start playing and losing. I had A-8s in the big blind and the betting was raised and re-raised before it got to me. A buck to play, but with a chance at the nut flush I went along.

    The flop came A-8-2. Very tasty. I just called the bet, luring the fish to my trap. The turn was a six. I bet, the next two folks folded, and the guy behind me raised. What? Did he have trips? Then why not raise after the flop? I couldn't see him with pocket sixes. I called.

    The river was a nine. I bet. He raised. Crap. Did he have A-9? A-2? Should I jam it and break this slob to my will? The board showed a 6, 8 and 9. No straight draw, right? Right?

    Uh, wrong. I called, and he showed 5-7. Offsuit. The chips moved his way and my jaw hung like Wile E. Coyote watching the Road Runner go "Beep beep!" before zipping over the horizon. What the hell was this yutz calling three bets before the flop with 5-7 offsuit? Why was he still in the pot when he needed to go runner-runner to make a straight? Why was my cat looking at me like I was off my nut? Because I was screaming, perhaps?

    Things went downhill from there. I had A-J and flopped top two pair. Raise, raise, raise to the river, when I'm re-raised. I call, and my foe shows his pocket fives, made trips by the five on the river. "Am I having fun yet?" I snarled to Ernie the Cat. He twitched his tail and went back to sleep.

    But I didn't tilt, or at least I didn't start playing goofy. I was going to quit at 11, and even though I was down $20 I knew I'd keep my promise. And then lightning struck. I had K-10 and called, and the flop rewarded me with a king. I bet and five others came along for the ride. The turn showed a glorious 10. This time I raised, but was unable to chase anyone out. A rag on the river, a final raise, and I showed my top two pair.

    The very next hand I have K-8s. The flop comes K-8-4. Everyone calls my bet. No overcards to my pairs show on the turn and river and my raises get 2 callers. I fear trips, yet my fears are unfounded. Mean Gene rakes in another fat pot.

    I played my two hours, won maybe 5 hands, was down $20 and in despair, and ended three bucks in the black. Just goes to show you that you have to keep that upper lip stiff, never give in to the darkness that haunts the soul. And flop top two pair every so often and have them hold up.

    Wednesday, December 10, 2003

    Ladies night

    Looking forward to the WPT show tonight, the first new one in an age. Six women players, including Kathy Liebert, Jennifer Harmon, and Annie Duke, the latter two getting a lot of play on ESPN's World Series Coverage (tho Jennifer didn't get to play very long). Curious to see if this is a freeroll for them of if they had to put some of their own money up for the kitty.

    I have all the WPT shows taped, and I guiltily admit that I watch them over and over again. Not intently, I just have it on for the pleasant noise in the background, and I perk up for the occasional hand. I'm re-watching one I don't think I saw more than once, the PartyPoker Cruise tournament. This was the only WPT event with limit Hold'Em, and it was an interesting change of pace. I'd like to see them do that again next year, or have some pot-limit games. Some different tactics involved, be interesting to watch.

    The first one out of this particular tournament was a 21-year-old law student from Saskatchawan named Dan Coupal, who had perhaps the worst showing of all WPT finalists. Kathy Liebert was KO'd on the second hand of the Bicycle Club show, but there she went all-in with AK and got beat by pocket queens. A tough loss, but she took her swing. Coupal got humiliated, but he brought it upon himself. During the show they show a brief bio of each player and have a quick sound bite from the player. Here's what Coupal said:

    "I've taken poker to the next level...there's lots of these pros who aren't well-rounded in their game. I see a lot of mistakes from these so-called excellent pros."

    He wasn't kidding, either, he meant what he said. Obviously they don't study the classics in Canadian law schools, because Coupal obviously never heard of "hubris", the Greek word for overwhelming arrogance and conceit. Coupal starting playing poker after seeing Rounders, which came out in 1998, meaning he's been playing poker for five years. I think the legendary game between Johnny Moss and Nick the Greek lasted that long.

    Coupal showed that he wasn't the Uberrounder by his play against Chip Jett. Coupal had pocket Jacks but didn't raise the pot. He just called, allowing Jett to see the flop for free with his 9-6. Explain that one, Dan. The flop paired Jett's six and he called Coupal's bet. The turn was another six, giving Jett trips, and he checked. Coupal bet $16K, and Jett grabbed two stacks with both hands set out $32K in neat little stacks, as brutal a check-raise as you'll ever see. Coupal visibly shrunk in his seat before throwing away his hand.

    Coupal then lost with a pair of aces when Cowboy Joe Simpkins (winner of the Best Dressed Player Award for the year) turned his pair of queens into quads before the river was even dealt. Coupal only had $5K left and had to put it in for the blind, and he only had 7-5 to match up with Howard Lederer's K-J. The poker gods, angered by Danny's pride, smote him but good. Poker is, if nothing else, a humbling game. Best not to claim that you reinvented the game, else Lady Luck will come looking for you in a bloody-minded mood.

    Time to fold some laundry, feed some cats, and watch a little poker. Maybe even play a little too.

    Some mild Sklansky-bashing

    Many of Sklansky and Malmuth's texts are given Torah-like respect for the knowledge they impart. I'm in no position to criticize their reasoning, being a poker beginner unlikely to graduate to true sharkdom, but I do have a bone to pick with Mr. Sklansky, and I will pick it here.

    In his outstanding book "The Biggest Game in Town" poet and poker player A. Alvarez interviewed Sklansky, who said that he had studied mathematics at Penn. I'm paraphrasing (or, more likely, misquoting), but Sklansky said something like, "That's the University of Pennsylvania, not Penn State. Penn is an Ivy League school".

    I graduated from Penn State, and I can't take such a slur sititng down. Penn may be in the sainted and hallowed Ivy League, but big freakin' deal. I've met Harvard and Yalie types who didn't impress me much with their intellect, and, besides, Penn State has an outstanding academic reputation. I can't speak to its mathematics department, but I came out of Happy Valley knowing my cosigns and standard deviations. And I was an English major.

    I don't say Penn isn't an outstanding school--I have a friend who went there and he's ridiculously intelligent--but don't hold PSU up as some lesser example of higher learning. And besides, Sklansky didn't graduate from Penn. I'd rather be a member of the Nittany Lion pride than a Quaker Faker.

    I've read (well, skimmed) several of Sklansky's books that I got from the library, and they seemed to be chock-full of good advice. Advice I lack the understanding and experience to put fully to use. I'll return to them once I learn what the hell I'm doing out there.

    Though maybe I am learning--I made about $30 yesterday when I was out sick with the flu. Most of it late last night, after the Celebrity Poker show--more about that later (and earlier). I tried to play a little $5 no-limit sit-n-go, but I couldn't get logged on to a table. As soon as one came open I double-clicked and waited for the table to pop up, but before I could get there every seat was taken. Most of the time the first hand was already underway. Now, I don't have the fastest connection, but it got ridiculous. I asked the floorperson thru IM if I was doing anything wrong, and was told to just click as fast as I could and grab any seat. Not the best answer. I sent an email to PartyPoker asking why they didn't have 5 times as many tournaments running, since demand was obviously through the roof. They need an MBA on their staff to understand stuff like that. Like, oh, me?

    So instead of little no-limit I went back to the $.50-1 table to try my luck. And I found myself a table full of slow-swimming fish. I can't say I just got lucky, because I didn't hit a run of hot cards. I actually folded like my first 15 hands, it got to the point that I decided to go to bed after I saw my first flop. I'm actually proud of myself when I fold in the blind, especially the small blind. "Another quarter in the bank" I chirp when I decide to muck my 8-3 offsuit instead of taking a flutter on the flop.

    Then I got a hand, A-9 of hearts, and two valentines came on the flop. I bet along with three other souls, and another heart came on the river. I didn't raise and everyone came along, and even when I raised after a rag came on the river I had two callers. A very healthy pot.

    I'm starting to learn that the game I'm playing now is the true "No Fold'em-Hold'em" Lee Jones wrote about in Low-Limit Poker. You aren't going to bluff many folks out with a late, aggressive play. You'd better have a hand, and you're gonna take some folks along for the ride. I had A-7 in the big blind and the flop came 7-7-8. I had two callers, and the turn came a 10. A straight was possible but would require an unwieldy hand. The same two callers came along and a stinking J fell on the river. If either of these guys had a 9 I was sunk. I checked, the second guy bet, the third guy folded, and I called. The second guy had...K-8, giving him eights and sevens. Whew.

    The big hand I won came just before I called it a night. I had A-K of spades and before the betting even got to me I had a raise and re-raise to deal with. Giddy-up, I said, and raised it again. The betting ended up capped with four of us along for the ride.

    The flop comes A-6-8, the 6 and 8 both spades. So I have top pair, king kicker, and one spade from the nut flush. The betting ends up capped again. I'm thinking, "What the hell do these folks have?" and find that I don't much care about the answer. Even if there are trips out there, I have two shots at the flush.

    Which I hit on the turn, a lovely black deuce. This slows things down a bit, one guy folds and no one re-raises me. I'm licking my chops, and knowing this pot is mine so long as the board doesn't pair, and when it doesn't I decide that a check-raise would be a bad play because these guys might be content to call it a hand. Bless their hearts, they both call my bet, and though I didn't see the one guy's cards, the other had A-6 unsuited. With that he capped the betting preflop. Ouch.

    So I've been playing PartyPoker for 3 days and I've doubled my money. Sweet. Now is not the time to get greedy, or pat myself on the back. Having a nice run, just have to keep it up.

    I'll be posting more later, have a few other things on my mind, but for now it's back to work. Maybe I should turn pro...

    Tuesday, December 09, 2003

    Celebrity "Poker"

    I put poker in quotes because, come on, these folks ain't playing poker the way you and I play it. Or the way those dogs play in that famous picture play. Man, these West Wing actors are bloody awful. Now, let's be real--they're playing for fun, they're having fun, it's all about having fun. And for charity. But, whilkers! They reek! They reek large!

    Martin Sheen admitted later that he'd never, every played Hold 'em before. That's the difference between me and a big Hollywood star, if I knew I was going to be playing poker on national TV you bet your ass I'd be reading up a bit. But for Marty, eh, he's got more important things to do, so let's have some fun and get on with the business of being incredibly rich and famous.

    The show is still going on, but I must amend my prediction. Busfield will win unless something really weird happens. He seems to have some inkling about how to play and how to use his chips, while the others are utterly clueless.

    Speaking of clueless, I think Phil Gordon didn't have a clue when he signed up for this thing. He's giving expert commentary for an event where no one has an inkling what the hell he's talking about. Poor Phil makes these intelligent points about position, aggression, and using chips, and it's obvious that he might as well be speaking ancient Greek to these people. Phil is like the nerd who knows everything about computers, but only gets asked his advice from the cool kids looking to hack into hardcore porn sites. A poor analogy, but I think you get my point.

    Mind you, I'm not hacking on Phil Gordon. More like I'm hacking on his agent. I can just imagine the ribbing he's getting from his fellow pros about trying to think up a polite way to say that calling a raise with 7-4 offsuit is friggin' nuts. Phil doesn't seem too comfortable there next to Kevin Pollack, does he? The smile is a tad forced, I think he expected the play to be a wee bit above "cretin" and he feels the first few drops of flopsweat beading on his forehead.

    Poor Allison Janney, going up against quads with her robust bottom pair. I like Allison, I have a friend who's a dead ringer for her, especially when she smiles. She, like Emily Procter, can play at my table whenever she's in town.


    What do professional poker players do when the get the flu? Infect the whole casino? I've been home coughing and sneezing and no doubt spraying virus particles like a freaking biological weapon. Feeling a bit better, but not much.

    Played a little bit, ended up $12. Should've been way, way down, but the fish let me swim away. Some strange, strange hands. I had AK and flopped an ace. I just bet and had this guy call me. The turn and river showed garbage, and the guy ahead of me checked and then called my bets. He turns over POCKET ACES. He didn't raise before the flop, didn't raise after he flopped trips, didn't raise me the rest of the way. That gave me the willies. The good willies, but the willies nonetheless.

    I actually made most of my profit on one hand, I had AK and a king came on the flop. I had two callers for my raise and when a queen came on the turn the player next to me re-raised me. Two pair, perhaps? I called, and a handsome K showed up on the river. I bet, was re-raised, re-raised myself, and we capped the betting. I turned over trip kings with an ace kicker, my foe had...a queen. He went all the way to the wall knowing I had him dead if I had a king, and I'd been betting out from jump street. Odd.

    Lots of odd play lately, which is why I really need to stay tight and learn the lay of the land. I start thinking K-5 is a good starting hand it's time for a break.

    Looking forward to Celebrity Poker tonight. I like The West Wing, I think it'll be a better game than the last one. I favor Richard Schieff to win tonight. Looks like a poker player, backhanded compliment tho that may be.

    Off the hook

    A frustrating night at the table. Played about 2 hours, and for the first half-hour or so I didn't get a decent hand. Well, that happens. Then, in the course of about 5 minutes, I was dealt pocket aces, pocket queens, and I flopped an ace-high flush. Hey, what's to complain about? Well, I got no action on those hands. None. I raised with my pocket aces and had everyone fold--this at a table where we regularly had 5-7 preflop callers. I had one caller with my ladies, and when a trio of rags flopped we both checked, and my bet on the turn was enough to see him gone. My flush? Flush it--one caller, folded at my first bet.

    After that I won four or five small hands and lost two big ones. Once my jacks with king kicker were beaten by an ace kicker, and on another I had A-5 in the big blind and saw the flop come A-5-J. The turn showed a K, and I couldn't chase the guy. The river was a 10, and wouldn't you know the guy held Q-9. Nothing to do there but shrug and move on.

    At my lowest point I was down about $20, but I started winning some little pots with some aggressive play, and then I played a lousy hand but learned something along the way. I had KQo on the button, and 4 other folks joined me in the pot. The flop was junk, 2-7-3. We all checked. The turn was another 3. I checked, and the guy to my right bet. I didn't think he had a 3, but the other players did, and they folded. So it was up to me. I didn't think he had a pocket pair or a piece of the board, because so far he'd been a pretty conscientious contributor yet had checked the flop. I called the bet and hoped I might see some royalty on the river.

    Nope, the river showed a 9. So there's no straight draw, no flush draw. Just those damn treys. That's when I made a mistake. I checked, and regretted it the second I did it. I played chicken and handed the intiative to my opponent, who promptly bet. I was pretty ticked at myself, because I didn't think this guy would re-raise me, so I blew my chance to win the pot with my bet. I knew a re-raise wouldn't chase this guy, so that option was out. Call or fold is not the way to play poker, but that was the situation I found myself in.

    So, did he have a piece of the board? That 9 might have paired him. There was only one way to find out if my King was still the best kicker. I thought it was, I really did. There was like $10 in the pot, and I certainly thought I had better than a 1 in 10 chance of winning. So I called.

    No, I didn't win the pot. But I didn't lose either. My foe also had KQo. I came this close to laying down the same hand my opponent had--all because I ceded the initiative.

    Alas, things didn't go well after that, and I ended down about $12. But that's still up $12 for my PartyPoker prowling. Go look for some more fish tomorrow.

    I do plan on writing and posting about more than my own piddling poker adventures. I'm a fan of the game and I love to write, so I hope you'll keep coming back. I'll be changing the look of this site in the next day or so, right now it looks like my other blog and I can't tell them apart. But now...bedtime.

    Monday, December 08, 2003

    Here, fishy fishy fishy

    If you've been reading my other blog--and you probably haven't been--you know that I switched from PokerStars to PartyPoker because I'd been told by a reliable source that PartyPoker has much softer games (and far more of them) than PokerStars. I'd been playing on PS for six weeks and had a whole $2.75 to show for it, so I decided to make the move and try tossing my line into a different pond.

    Well, last night went very, very, very well. I ended up $24, and I really didn't have great cards. I flopped two open-ended straights and made both of them on the turn, and I got a lot of action on them, and those hands provided the bulk of my winnings. I played tight, played aggressive, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I got action on hands were I had by far the dominant hand. Like I had two pair, aces and 10s, and was called by a guy with 10s and 6s. I think on PokerStars that would've been folded, as it probably should be.

    But I can't get cocky. My first night on PokerStars I ended up $13, and I started pricing new laptops. Then I lost the next three sessions. I'm only playing $.50-1 right now, and I only have a $50 bankroll, so it isn't like I'm ready for Vegas. But I do enjoy the game, the action, and I'm having fun. But I'm not in it just for the fun. I'm in it for the thrill of victory, (inflicting) the agony of defeat...I'm in it for the money too. Might as well show a profit, yes?

    I'm also trying to get a steady home game going, every couple of weeks or so. I've been playing with my dad and my uncles for about 20 years, but we only play 2-3 times a year. My brother loves to play and I have a few buddies who wouldn't mind spending a few hours with a stack of chips before them and a few beers in the offing. Maybe a little no-limit tournament at the end of the night, but mostly nickel-dime stuff to keep things convivial. Looking forward to it.

    Back in the Saddle

    OK, I decided to separate my poker ramblings from my other incoherent rants. I hope you'll want to check out my other semi-coherent rants, and if you do I hope you'll check out the BurghBlog. But this site will be all poker, all the time. I've enjoyed reading many other poker blogs out there (my link list will be growing, I promise) and I decided to go all-in and do the same thing.

    I don't play big-stakes poker, I've never played in a casino, I'm just a guy who likes the game and enjoys talking about it. So if the money I play for doesn't move you, hopefully my writing will.

    So let's get this thing started. Shuffle up and deal!

    Monday, December 01, 2003

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