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

Cardschat Poker Forum
Barstool Sports
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Internet Texas Hold-Em
Poker Pages


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    Friday, May 28, 2004

    Some random WSOP thoughts, and other ramblings

    There has been much lamenting about the dramatic increase in players at this year's World Series, and how this meant it was much more difficult for top pros to make it to the final table because they had to wade through a vast school of fish who threatened to bust them by getting lucky playing bizarro hands. I think Annie Duke, after she got knocked out, said something along the lines that she wasn't able to overcome the terrible play of some of her opponents.

    To a certain extent I agreed with this viewpoint, until reading a column by T.J. Cloutier that, of course, put the matter in much better perspective. To win in the end you'll have to outplay all those folks, but as T.J. says, you only have to outplay the other 9 players who happen to be at your table at the time. You can't worry about what's going on at the other tables, just focus on the players in front of you and beat 'em. I also remember another nugget of Cloutier wisdom--to win a tournament you only have to bust out one player, the guy you're heads up with at the end. Don't worry about knocking people out--if it happens it happens, but that isn't your primary goal. You're goal is to win the whole thing, not collect scalps.

    Paul Phillips also pooh-poohs the idea that the game has changed forever because more players with less experience and ability are flooding the game. The game still comes down to playing better than the other guys (and gals), and if the majority of them are dead-money fish all the better for the top players. They have to survive against a bigger pool of opponents, but the payoff is so much bigger at the end. You still have to get lucky, and you now have to endure a much longer march to the final table, but the increased payouts make up for it. More fish = more dead money.

    Today's the day we'll have our new champion, and if Dan Harrington wins, does he take the mantle of Best Player in the World? If you watch the WPT you've heard alternately that the best player in the world is Gus Hansen, T.J. Cloutier, Jennifer Harman, Howard Lederer, Phil Ivey, Layne Flack...I'm sure I'm missing a few that Mike and Vince have anointed "maybe the best player in the world today". Not that any of those players aren't up there, but how about Harrington? He won it all in 1995, finished 3rd last year (in a field of, what, 893?) and is at the final table today after outlasting about 2490 players. You could argue that making it to the final table the past 2 years is one of the greatest feats in WSOP history, simply because he had to outlast so many players.

    Incidently, if you haven't been reading the updates at LasVegasVegas you've been missing out. Pics from the tables and chip counts and lots of great commentary. Stellar work under what must be trying circumstances. Sounds like the Horseshoe has something of a Black Hole of Calcutta motif going right now, what with all the players and media and railbirds filling the place to the rafters.

    Our very own Iggy and Hank did the Vegas thing to the T, the lucky bastards. Next year I'm goin', dudes. Start putting away my pennies so I can blow them next May. Actually might be out there that time next year for a bachelor party weekend. Do they have strip bars in Vegas?

    I didn't realize that the new season of Celebrity Poker started last night, so after coming home after volleyball and 1 beer too many at the bar I watched my favorite Steeler, Jerome Bettis, do battle with Wanda Sykes, Travis Tritt, Mena Suvari, and Rosalind...something. Sorry, didn't catch her name.

    The quality of play was better than what I remember last year, though that isn't saying much. Wanda said she pretty much knew nothing about Hold-Em, so of course she ended up heads-up with Rosalind...something. It was a fun show to watch, mostly because Sykes was trash-talking non-stop and it was hilarious. Then again, I was pretty much exhausted and a bit polluted with light beer, so maybe it wasn't as funny as I remember.

    I do remember a few things: since when did Dave Foley decide to go with the Mephistopholes look? Rather a change since the days when he played Dave Nelson on NewsRadio, perhaps the least appreciated great show of the last decade. In fact, as Friends drew to a close NBC ran a promo calling it "the greatest sitcom of all time", and then pulled it quickly when the Frasier folks bitched up a storm. I liked Friends, but not only was it not the greatest sitcom of all time, it wasn't even one of NBC's three best sitcoms of the last ten years. Seinfeld, Frasier and NewsRadio were all better than Friends. Well, maybe not Frasier--I liked the show, but I'd never watch a rerun of it today. Then again, it did when the Emmy like 13 times. And though I didn't see the Frasier finale, at least it didn't end like Friends, with Rachel inexplicably but predictably ending up with the insufferable Ross. Awful.

    Dave and Phil Gordon seemed to have a pretty good rapport. I felt Foley was better than previous host Kevin Pollack, and Phil seemed a bit looser, but still too many recitations of statistics and percentages. A computer can give us the odds, we need Phil to give us commentary that only a top poker pro can give. What that commentary might be I can't think up offhand, but I still feel free to criticize.

    Second: Jerome Bettis is a big guy. Of course I know that having watched The Bus run over linebackers for years, but seeing him lounging on the couch next to Mena Suvari put his girth in perspective. Mine as well--I'm approximately the same height and, uh, weight as the Bus. Time to lay off the fried cheese, methinks, and start doing the occasional pushup.

    Third: Mena Suvari looked like she knew what she was doing. She had the good poker face, made a few nice laydowns, and showed some aggression. Of course she busted out after Bettis made his ignoble exit, but thems the breaks.

    I was playing myself as I watched, which was a welcome change. I've played very little in the last week, waiting for my money to be liberated from Pacific Poker. My computer grows more senile by the day, and I kept getting booted off their site. Practically after every other hand. So I put my money back in Empire and I'm working off yet another deposit bonus. It's funny, when I'm trying to play enough hands to release a bonus I don't care much whether I win or lose. Well, I don't care much if I win--so long as I don't blow the entire bonus while working it off I feel like I've gotten somewhere. I'm halfway home and I'm up a massive ten bucks, and it feels oddly sweet. First of all, I've been stuck in the doldrums the last two months. Just can't get my game in gear. So it feels good to see my bankroll holding steady instead of dwindling away.

    Second...well, I guess I don't have a second point. I'm thinking of getting away from the ring games awhile and concentrate on sit-n-gos, I seem to do well playing no-limit and I've never focused on them before. I'd play my piddling low-limit stuff and make a few bucks and then top off the evening with a SNG, and I have a pretty good record in them. So why not play 'em more often? Why not indeed?

    Another weird referral to my blog--if you type in "The Candy Colored Clown They Call the Sandman" this site is the first to pop up, because that was a title of one of my posts. What's odd is that this Roy Orbison fan (or David Lynch fan) decided to click my link. The Internet is a weird place, my friends.

    Wednesday, May 26, 2004

    A Sign of the Apocalypse?

    I just added SiteTracker to my site (no, to my coffee) and found something both interesting and profoundly disturbing. The tracker will tell you the pages folks clicked from to get to your site, and while I found people checking my site out after visiting my poker brethren, I've also gotten a few hits from Google. Here's the scary part--people are getting pointed to my site when they Google "no limit tournament strategy".

    This is, I must say, false advertising. Even though I'm not the person doing the shilling. If you really want to learn about no-limit strategy I think you could do better than yours truly, Grublog victory or no. The reason searchers get pushed my way is because I had a post about reading Phil Hellmuth's book and found it very interesting that his book had no info about no limit tournament strategy. So at least inquisitive folks will know not to waste their money buying Play Poker Like the Pros.

    But still, I'm not the guy to go to for help on your no-limit game. That's like Googling, "Finest English-Speaking Actress" and coming up with the Olson twins. Actually, that inquiry comes back with a hit for Vanessa Redgrave, not my fave Helen Mirren. So let's just say that Google is full of shit and move on with our lives.

    Tuesday, May 25, 2004

    Damn Liberal Media

    First of all, I finally have my link list working, and if you don't see yours there and are INCREDIBILY insulted just chill out. I just figured out how to get the links to show and I'll be working on getting my link list up to date and all-inclusive. There are so many blogs out there now that it's hard to keep up, and hard to keep on top of all the interested content out there. I'll try my best.

    Second, Paul Phillips doesn't quite agree with my stance on cutting Andy Glazer and Max Shapiro some slack for their reporting on Full Table Poker. Phillips might be a bit less accomodating because Shapiro criticized his play and because the report of a final table Phillips appeared in was, apparently, riven with errors. Paul's post is, shall we say, a wee bit sarcastic. I doubt his mood was helped by getting bounced early in the WSOP main event.

    Third, coming home from work yesterday I was listening to NPR and on their business show Marketplace they had a commentary by a "professional gambler" named Lee Austin Brown (which we learned afterwards is a psuedonym) decrying online poker players. He lambasted online players for using a program called PokerTracker to monitor their opponents betting patters, and as soon as he said that I started yelling, "PokerTracker! I use that! Wowzers!" Made me feel all special.

    Brown said that poker used to be a game you played in person, man to man, lying to their faces, taking their money, and then running for your life afterwards. I think he has a bit of a insanely romantic view of the old-time road gamblers. He talks about Doyle Brunson being a tough guy, but I think even Texas Dolly and other top shelf alpha males like T.J. Cloutier prefer games where they don't have to bring a gun to the table and the odds of getting to their car without getting robbed are better than the odds of drawing to that gutshot straight.

    I have to say that he has a bit of a point about players who use programs to accumulate info about the betting habits of their opponents. He talks about a friend who makes a living playing online and that he usually playes 6 tables at a time. Unless you're some kind of savant there's no way really to keep track of 50 opponents without help, and is that really poker? When you watch poker on TV and see Paul Phillips deciding whether to call that $250,000.00 bet, he's calculating odds in his head and reviewing in his mind's eye the previous play of his opponent. He doesn't have laptop propped on a chair giving him the exact numbers. But some folks playing online can and do have that info right at their fingertips. And it can gives them a HUGE advantage, obviously.

    I use PokerTracker, but mostly to analyze my own play, not the play of others. And that means I'm not using it to nearly its full potential. It is a way-cool program, it never ceases to amaze me with the amount of data it can crunch and spit out. Whether it's "fair" to play while using PokerTracker against opponents using only the computer packed in their skulls is perhaps a naive question, but it does pose an ethical dilemma. If collusion is an absolute no-no, as virtually all online players would agree, how about using computerized crutches like PokerTracker? Is playing six tables at the same time really "poker", or is it merely an exercise in stripping money from people who are technologically overmatched?

    Will online poker breed a new strain of player who knows that information about their play can be easily obtained, broken down, and analyzed, and will therefore dramatically change their play to prevent anyone from accurately predicting it? Today's top players are considered "hyper-aggressive", betting relentlessly, putting the other guy to the test over and over again. Might the next wave of top players be "hyper-irrational", their play so flying in the face of convention and rationality that even intensive computer modeling can't predict it? You'll know that poker has radically changed when you start seeing rounders talking about how they've incorporated chaos theory, quantum mechanics, and superstrings into their play. And when that day comes, I'm outta the poker scene. Wonder if there are any good cockfighting blogs out there?

    Monday, May 24, 2004

    "We need TOTAL COVERAGE!"

    When Hunter S. Thompson went to Las Vegas on the trip (both literal and pharmacological) that became Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas he actually had an event to cover--the Mint 500 motorcycle race. Thompson (or, to be more (or less) accurate, Thompson's alter-ego Raoul Duke) went out to the desert with other members of the sporting press, watched the first group take off, rooster-tails of dust kicked up 50 feet in the air, and then watched the second, the third...and by then the dust was so thick you couldn't see 10 feet in front of your face.

    Add the fact that the race was conducted over a huge, barren stretch of desert and it didn't take Duke long to realize that covering the race as a typical sports event was ludicrous. In the movie we see Johny Depp careening around the course in a dune buggy with his enthusiastic photographer, Lacerda, who joyously snaps photos of the dun-colored murk surrounding them. When Duke shouts to turn back, Lacerda screams, "No! We need TOTAL COVERAGE!". And Duke comes to what he says is an important decision. He says, "You're fired". He jumps out of the buggy muttering, "Stupid jackass", and as the buggy speeds away Duke discovers, to his great dismay, that the mug of beer he has been so carefully protecting with his hand has, despite his best efforts, been changed to a thick, grey sludge.

    Covering an event of such sprawl and chaos is a nightmare for a journalist, and its the sort of horror that Andy Glazer is going through right now at the World Series of Poker. If you've been reading Glazer's reports you know that, at times, he's been unable to report as accurately or as thoroughly as he'd like because the number of folks playing in them has gotten totally out of hand. Throw in the fact that ESPN tapes the final table of each event, preventing Glazer from getting a really good look at the table or what's going on, adds to the problem.

    But the troubles he's had so far pale in comparison to the madness that is the Main Event, the $10,000 buy-in Championship. Over 2,500 players entered this year, more than three times as many as last year's massive tournament. How a journalist could hope to report on 250 different tables and keep track of the rapidly-changing chip counts of thousands of players is beyond me. And, apparently, beyond Glazer--he admits several times in his most recent posts that he doesn't have all the info he needs, nor can he be exactly sure that what he has is accurate.

    Add to this insanity the fact that Glazer actually played in the World Series, and you can perhaps appreciate why the Day One report was a little sketchy in places. Fortunately for his loyal readers, Glazer got knocked out on that first day, which I guess isn't so fortunate for him.

    I can empathize a bit with Glazer, because I too was once in the position of covering an event that was way, way, WAY too big for one person to cover. When I was at Penn State I was a sports writer for the Daily Collegian (if you want to read any of my old articles just put my name in their search engine, tho, let's be honest, why would you?) and during the summer after my sophmore year I stayed there to edit the sports page for the summer edition and, hopefully, take my spot as an editor in the fall. It ended up being one of the transformational experiences of my life, in a totally negative way.

    First of all, my co-sports editor as a total Grade-A asshole who was both grossly incompetent and also possessed a Napoleon complex. I'd find notes in my office mailbox saying things like, "Sports meeting at 6PM, attendance is MANDATORY", even though the sports staff was me, him, and the guy I was rooming with that summer who had more experience than both of us combined. He and the asshole locked horns from the getgo, and pretty soon my buddy quit and left me to deal with this jerk on my own. I, being a decent guy who never thinks ill of anyone, did not count on the politicking and talking behind my back that was to follow.

    I did my job, wrote some good stories, learned how to layout pages and size photos and whatnot, and ended up spending many nights at the office to 3AM fixing the idiots mistakes. The one I remember most distinctly, the one that really infuriated me, was one time when he ran a photo of Frank Viola standing on the mound, but spread the photo across four columns, meaning Frankie V's face would have been distended like Phyllis Diller's. The shop called me to fix the problem, knowing the idiot wasn't capable of such quick action, and after I did it they called up again. Unfortunately the idiot picked up the phone, and announced to the whole newsroom, "Gene, it's Rich again calling about the picture you messed up. Again". I should have killed him on the spot.

    The event that broke my spirit was the Special Olympics, which were held at Penn State. Perhaps the only sporting event that hasn't debased itself to money, drugs, or win-at-all-costs competitiveness, I went to a planning meeting figuring we'd write some nice story about the event as a whole, maybe a column by yours truly extoling the virtues of these athletes, that sorta thing.

    No. The idiot said that we'd be covering the SO as a sporting event. He wanted us to run like 5 stories a day for 3 days, game stories, features, columns. The other editors bought it. I pointed out the fact that the sports staff consisted of me, an idiot, and a freshman intern who didn't know how to turn on the computer. No matter, we were going to provide, you guessed it, total coverage.

    I still have nightmares about that day. I mean, technicolor and surround-sound horror dreams, the kind you wake up from screaming and they stay with you for three days. The events were spread out all over campus. You had swimming at the Natatorium, basketball at Rec Hall, soccer at the intramural fields, softball at the softball fields...these facilities are miles apart from each other. I was only one kid. Without a car.

    The idiot picked the Natatorium for his reporting, leaving me with about 9 other venues to cover. Either he didn't realize that this was a bit unfair or didn't care. Neither option helped me much. Nor did the fact that the events I went to weren't run like your typical sporting event. Like, I had a hell of a time finding out who was keeping score. There was no centralized record-keeping of winners, results, participants. If I wanted to know who won the race I just saw I had to track down a different person every time and try to get the information out of them. 90% of the time they didn't know either. Add to this the fact that I didn't have a press pass or anything and that many of the organizers didn't want me anywhere near the athletes and you can begin to understand my problems.

    And my problems were legion. I ran around University Park for nearly 10 hours in a broiling hot sun, scribbling notes hither and yon, never getting enough info about a single event to come up with a coherent or accurate account of what happened. I was expected to come up with a half-dozen articles from this thing, and I didn't have enough info to put on a postcard.

    That day I think ended my ambitions to be a reporter. I just don't really enjoy going up to total strangers and asking them questions. And I had to do that about 3000 times that day. It's difficult interviewing a 12-year-old girl, especially when she has Down's Syndrome, even moreso when she's obviously overjoyed because she just ran a race and did well and everyone around her is happy for her. Except for the doofus with the notepad trying to write down what she's saying to her mother. I felt like the biggest idiot in the world, trying to find out who won a race when who wins and loses isn't the point--it's the act of participating that counts.

    The straw that broke this particular camel's back came when I was near the softball fields and saw the people giving kids pony rides. There were thousands of volunteers wearing light blue T-shirts, and I saw three of the other editors leading beaming children on little gray ponies around the field. Those bastards were having a spiritually uplifting experience and I was having a nervous breakdown.

    I was never the same again. Really. I explained the next day why I had nothing to write about, and dared them to criticize me. If they had I would've gone batshit and probably gotten arrested. The idiot wrote a sleep-inducing 15-inch story about the swimming and nothing else. I survived the rest of the summer by avoiding the idiot and then, once school began, ended up in a power struggle with him for control of my little section of the sports page. I soon discovered that the powers-that-be weren't willing to take him on, for a number of reasons, and I quit and walked out.

    So I will cut Andy Glazer a lot of slack as he struggles to come to grips with the World Series. As I hope you will cut me some slack for recounting a nightmarish experience from my past that has absolutely zilch to do with poker. I'll write some more about the WSOP and WPT in the coming days, thought not about my own play. That's because I transferred my money out of Pacific Poker (stupid site kept disconnecting me, like when I flopped top set) and they haven't gotten around to putting it in my Neteller account yet. So I'm in limbo for another few days. I'll try not to have another nervous breakdown on these pages until then. But, uh, can I have a hug? Please?

    Thursday, May 20, 2004

    Swim with Fish Long Enough and You'll Pick Up the Smell

    Several big-name bloggers have recently posted, uh, posts wherein they reflect on the true quality of their play. Both Iggy and Hank write about the evolution of their games. If you're reading my blog it's probable that you read theirs as well, so I won't summerize or comment upon them, other than to say if you haven't read them, you should. They're both in Vegas now, the bastards.

    Anyway, they got me to thinking about my own game, which I feel hasn't been evolving. If anything, I'm backsliding. I don't feel like I'm playing any better than I did a few months ago, and my results reflect it. The last two months I've only about broken even, and this month I'm down about $50, in large part because I got impatient and moved up to $1/$2. I tired of grinding out big $4 wins and wondering if my time would have been better spent by rooting around in the couch cushions.

    I also tired of $25 pot-limit, mostly because I found myself getting gunshy as my bankroll dwindled. Mostly it dwindled by me cashing out a few hundred here, a few hundred there, which in retrospect was a mistake. Had I hung on to the cash for my bankroll I could have fully taken advantage of the deposit bonuses I'm offered as well as shrugging off those bad beats as the duck shrugs off the water.

    So why am I playing poorly? I've actually studied more, reading Cloutier and McEvoy's book as well as Gary Carson's tome, and I think picked up some valuable information. I haven't been playing nearly as much lately, for a number of reasons, but when I do play I don't do well.

    And why is that? I think that, to a large extent, I'm playing down to my level of competition. We know that there are lots of fish out there just waiting to be hooked, scaled, fileted, breaded, panfried, and served with a lime vinagrette. This doesn't mean that these fish won't put up a fight. Doesn't mean that a few of these fish may have learned some non-fishy moves. Doesn't mean that these fish haven't evolved themselves, aren't ready to slog their way out of the surf and take their first sandy steps.

    I've been playing by the book, instead of with my brain, and it's just not much fun. When I'm fully engaged in a game, I have a much, much better time. The perfect example of this is the tournament I took second in last Sunday night. Instead of a school of fish I was up against 32 of the best pokerbloggers in the Free World. Every hand was fraught with...the stuff that gets fraughted. These guys and gals have sharp teeth and hearts of stone. That sudden re-raise that caught you off guard? It might be a bluff, it might be a move, it might be a trick of such diabolical subtley that, fifteen years later, you'll still wake up in a cold sweat trying to figure it out. This wasn't push-in-your-stack-and-pray Party garbage. You had to be on your toes. Your tippy-toes, even.

    I played well--very well, even. When we got four-handed I faced extinction on every deal, so I couldn't just be a spectator and wait for a monster hand. It was a total blast, living on the edge like that. And that's another part of my game that's been lacking--concentration. Watching TV and surfing the 'Net while waiting for a big hand is not the way to poker greatness. If the game isn't interesting enough to hold your attention, should you be playing in the first place?

    So what's the solution, for me anyway? Moving up again in limit--to $3/$6, say--might give me the juice I need to stay focused but might land me in the poorhouse, for now I don't think that's an option. I think more tournament play is what I need right now. I love playing in them, I do well in them, and playing in tournaments may help sharpen my claws for ring games, where aggressiveness has never been one of my stronger suits.

    OK, sorry you had to slog through my self-analysis. Still, not a bad idea to do the same thing yourself. Coming soon, I think some posts about the WPT season so far, including my ultimate WPT table. And, mercy, that Shana Hiatt does wear a bikini well, doesn't she?

    Tuesday, May 18, 2004

    The Biggest Fish in the Sea Ain't Necessarily a Shark

    Basking in my second place showing in Sunday's tournament (I don't get many chances to bask these days) allowed me to forget for a bit that I got my head handed to me the other day. I haven't been playing much at all lately, what with my hospitalizations and determination to lose weight and all, but when I played the other night I had one of those epiphanies that always seem to come up in Flannery O'Connor stories and family sitcoms. To wit--know your limitations, and, when necessary, run away and hide.

    Thrill-seeker that I am, I've moved up to the $1/$2 limits, thinking that there are enough more than enough fish schooling there for me to make a meal of. And, to be sure, there are fish to be found. Thing is, and this is something that I have to realize, is that I'm a fish too. Maybe a bit craftier and sneakier than the others, maybe a bit toothier, but I'm still not at the top of the poker food chain.

    In his book Poker Nation Andy Bellin opens by saying that he's probably a better player than 99.9% of all poker players in the country. But before you think he's bragging on himself, he says (I'm paraphrasing, sorry), "But since there are 50 million poker players in America, you don't have to be a math whiz to realize that means there are 50,000 players better than me. And the big problem is that six of them are sitting down at my table right now". It's an excellent point, one that all players should take into account. One that, except for a few nights ago, I thought I had internalized. Ah, no, not quite.

    I was playing at 2 six-handed tables. At the one table I was bracketed by players who each had more than $100 in front of them. The minimum you can start with is $50, and most players bring that amount when they take their seat, so these two guys probably knew what they were doing. And I was between them. So not only had I chosen a table that had two guys who probably knew what they were doing, I'd selected a seat that insured I'd have to react to the one every hand and then worry about what the guy after me would do. And as the table swiftly proved to be an aggressive one, with lots of preflop raising and slow-playing and check-raising, I should have simply walked away and looked for greener pastures.

    But I didn't. I won a few nice pots, one with a check-raise on the river that frightened away a low-stacked dude, and one with a nice call when my AJ outkicked an A7. But the two guys on either side of my kept me from getting into a rhythm. I had to fold a lot of hands because the guy to my right raised and then had to put in two bets to see flops with iffy hands because the guy on my left wouldn't let sleeping dogs lie and just call. I tightened up like crazy, but when the few decent hands I held (AQs, pocket 9s) didn't get helped on the flop and I faced two bets to see another card I had to bail. I think I lost $25 at that table playing what I felt to be a reasonably smart and aggressive game. Didn't get great cards, but enough that I couldn't complain. Made one terrible play that cost me about $8 to the guy on my left (my nemesis--King with so-so kicker), but beyond that, I just got jerked back and forth by these two guys. I finally bailed to concentrate on my other table.

    Where I was seated to the left of another nemesis, this one a guy who goes by the handle olethegoalie. I didn't fear him at first, because my Penguins made the Washington Capitals and their goalie Olaf Koelzig hit the golf course earlier about 5 years in a row in the late nineties. How dangerous could such a guy be?

    Turns out way dangerous. Way. While we were playing he was idly chatting with someone who wasn't at our table but was just watching, and I got the impression that he was just waiting for a big multi to start and was killing time. The other guy made mention that he'd had a rough night playing $20/$40, so it was possible that Ole was just slumming and cleaning his claws before heading into the tournament fray. Again, I resolved to batten down the hatches, play tight, play aggressive, play like a hero.

    'Twas not to be. Allow me another hockey reference, if you will. On December 30, 1998 Mario Lemiuex became the only player in NHL history to score five goals (against the Rangers, natch) in five different ways. Super Mario scored even-strength, on the power-play, short-handed, on a penalty shot, and into an empty net. The Ranger fans gave him a standing ovation. Well, Ole beat me like Mario beat the Blueshirts, every way you can think of. I didn't applaud, though I did honor him with a one-finger salute.

    I think I won 2 hands against the guy. He won maybe 8. He bullied me out with raises and re-raises. He bluffed me--on one hand I had A-10 and limped in from the big blind. The flop comes 10-9-2 and, after checking, raise him and another guy. A goddam K on the turn, I bet, he raises me. Like poultry, I fold. He shows me pocket threes. He wasn't being a jerk about it, he didn't say anything, but to me it said, "Dude, you're making it too easy".

    So I resolved to make it harder. I won a teeny pot by check-raising after the turn, a $4 win. Which was quickly wiped away when, my testicles shrunked my now to acorns, I capped the betting preflop with AQ and, with the flop utterly missing me, I capped the betting AGAIN trying to show that I had some kind of monster holding. Junk on the turn, and when I bet and was then re-raised I finally folded my tent, put my tail between my legs, and a few other cliches.

    The hand that broke my spirit came soon after. Yet again he raised preflop, and again I held AQ. The flop comes Q-J-4. Hosannahs to the highest, and I bet. He called. Junk on the turn, bet, he calls. Junk on the river, I bet, and he raises. I have top pair, top kicker. No straight or flush draws out there. Do I raise? I feel my nuts tighten to raisins, and I just call. He turns over pocket jacks. I turn over in the grave I just dug for myself.

    Why, you may ask, didn't I just switch tables? Party has about a jillion tables at this limit, some especially ripe for the pickins, so why hang around and get my head caved in? There are several reasons. One, my computer is as stable as the situation in Iraq and I try not to tax it by, you know, making it compute more than it has too. Two, inertia held me in its thrall and I couldn't muster the energy to switch. But the third and most accurate reason was that I tilted and wanted to get some of my money back before I fled. And it didn't work out. I dropped nearly $45 at that table, about $35 of it going directly to Ole. Should've written the bastard a check.

    No, because I did learn a valuable lesson--table selection is just as important as hand selection. Maybe more so. Actually, almost certainly more so--even if I bring my A-game, I'm in trouble if I'm sitting down with 9 savvy pros with names like Alabama Zeke and Uno Nguyen and Zbignew "The Itchin' Mathematician" Bydgoszcz. Big trouble. No, give me a gaggle of drunken yahoos who think Stu Unger is the guy the late Tony Randall played on The Odd Couple.

    So, a lesson learned. Cost me dear. But the infusion of cash I got for placing in the tournament made up for that and the Poker Gods, pleased that I persevered and did not curse their name, smiled upon me this time. This time. Next time, I'll be smart and allow discrection to be the better part of valor. A little more study, a little more experience, an epiphany or two, and I'll be ready to match wits again with olethegoalie.

    Sunday, May 16, 2004

    Second ain't too bad, thank you

    Iggy's tournament just concluded and I came in second! And I'm pretty psyched about it! 'Cause I've been playing like crap lately and my confidence was in the toilet! Why am I writing like Phil Hellmuth?!!

    OK, time for a quick, soothing beer. One moment.

    Much better. Otis came in first, bashing us with his massive stack. I have to say, I think I played pretty damn good, and I got some damn good cards. The final hand I had the massive 2-5 offsuit up against pocket aces. But on the flop I had a double-belly-buster straight draw, and I made a $1800 or so bet hoping to win the pot right there, but when Otis came over the top I felt compelled to call because, well, I didn't have a choice anymore. Two jacks appeared and that was that.

    Most of my play up to that point was, to a certain extent, compelled by circumstances. I had some good cards early and built up a nice stack, but then I got nailed twice in a row when I went in with king-crap and got outkicked. At one point I was down to about $300, and I went all-in and got lucky and doubled up. Then I doubled up again. And then I won another nice pot, and I was up to about $1800 and in bidness.

    But to my direct left was badblood, and he kept me in line, kept me from making any moves to win the blinds. I lost a pretty big pot, I forget the circumstances, and to be honest I just wanted to end up at the final table so I could at least brag that I made it that far.

    Iggy was to my right, and we both had about $800. Not good. Then, with me in the big blind, I was ready to bash Iggy with my K-8 offsuit if he just called in the small blind. Uh, no, he went all-in first, and I bailed, only to have him crow that he'd hammered me. That magnificent bastard!

    But I managed to grab some pots, and soon Iggy was on the rail. And then a few other folks went out (sorry, I haven't studied the hands closely--can you tell?) and suddenly we were four-handed--with the top three cashing. I was the shortshack, at times down around $2500, and that pretty much dictated my play. Either fold, or all-in. And that's what I did. I had enough chips to make an all-in bet somewhat uncomforatable for the other three guys to call (it was Otis, Boy Genius, and badblood), and I mangaged to gobble up some blinds and even get a bit ahead of the game.

    But the other three guys selfishly refused to go belly-up. On three occasions one of the guys was all-in, another called...and the short guy took the pot. I despaired, but I kept snagging pots, and after awhile I had enough chips that I didn't have to worry about getting blinded to the baize.

    At last, badblood gave up the ghost, a tough out for the guy who smacked us around but good early on. I was in the money, and feeling good. I kept up my all-in moves, sometimes with decent cards, but for the most part I held toilet paper and my breath at the same time. I was dealt the hammer and, of course, went all-in, and blessedly wasn't called.

    I was counting my blessing again when I was dealt Ks3s and called from the small blind. The flop? As8s2s. Nice flopping the nuts. I checked, and BG went all-in. He had me outchipped, but just by a bit, and after I raked in that massive pot Otis put him out one hand later. Not much to playing a hand like that, but I was happy to win anyway.

    Otis had me more than 2-1, but when I flopped a straight holding J-8 I thought I might double thru again, but if I recall I only extracted a few thousand. A few hands later came the fateful hand, where I needed a 3 or an 8 to fall. They didn't, and we were done.

    Tell you what, it was a rush when we were 4-handed. I had to keep stealing blinds or else I would've been so chip-poor that an all-in bet wouldn't have fazed the other 3 guys, so I had to just push 'em in and hope. I think I went all-in 5 times and took the pots down, and that let me hang around just long enough to get in the money and then get lucky.

    So I'm pretty pleased. I've played in four pokerblogger tournaments, and I have a 1st, a 2nd, and a 3rd place showing. Not too bad. Mucho kudos to Iggy for setting this up, just as I will again thank Grubby and Felicia for their previous good deeds. Had a goddam blast.

    Needed a good showing for my confidence. I absolutely got crushed the other night, I lost like $80 playing $1/$2, most of it to this one guy who totally schooled me. A post on that debacle is forthcoming. Nice to have a tidy payday to soothe the ego.

    And now, if you'll excuse me, I have a beer to deal with.

    Thursday, May 13, 2004

    Do I really need more lessons in humility?

    I haven't written an actual poker post in over a month now, and I may lose my status as a pokerblogger unless I start actually writing about the game a wee bit. Don't have much to talk about so far as my own game goes, as I haven't been playing much and, when I have played, nothing especially interesting has happened.

    Well, except for this--the first day I got back in the saddle after my hospital stay I was playing a little pot-limit and treading water. I was dealt As9s, tossed in my buck, and saw two spades appear on the flop. While I was laid up I read Cloutier and McEvoy's book and one thing that stuck with me was the idea that, in pot-limit, you need to build the pot so you get paid off when you hit a big hand. You can't toss in a buck here and there--you need to bet big, bet hard, and make the other guy pay to chase you.

    So that's what I did. I had an overcard (the ace) as well as the flush draw, so I bet the pot. Two guys called, so there was now a nice chunk of change in there. No spade on the turn, and after I checked the next guy in line bet about half the pot. After some difficult mental calculations I figured I had 12 outs--the 3 aces and the 9 spades. I still had about a 25% chance to hit my hand. The pot odds were close, but maybe I shouldn't have called. I did anyway--hey, I'd been away from the tables a long time.

    Oh happy day, I got my spade on the river. He bet, I raised all-in, he called, and showed down pocket jacks. I scooped up my tidy $25 profit and set my mind to the next hand. My opponent didn't. "You always chase like that?" he sneered. I ignored him. Then he said, "You keep chasing like that and I'm gonna get all your money eventually".

    OK, that I didn't like. I don't mind someone bitching about a tough loss--I've done it myself once or twice, but this jerk thinking he could boss ME rankled. Thinking back to how Hoyt Corkins tormented Phil Hellmuth on a recent WPT broadcast, I typed, "You priced me into the hand. You didn't bet big enough to chase me and I had too many outs to fold. If you'd bet the pot I would've thrown it away".

    He shut up and I felt smug and self-satisfied. Nothing like showing a guy who's half-smart that he's also half-dumb. But pride, as they say, goeth before the fall, and I goethed to my doom. Twice in the next session I suffered the same cruel fate as the guy I lectured, though on a greater scale. On both hands I held AK unsuited. The first time I flopped top two pair and bet the pot. One caller. A second heart on the turn, and I bet the pot. Call. A third heart on the river, I bet the pot, and got raised. I called because I only had like two bucks left and I soon saw that the guy had gone runner-runner to make his flush. He had a straight draw after the turn, so I guess it wasn't a HORRIBLE call, but it felt pretty horrible.

    The next time I flopped the ace-high straight. Broadway, baby. The Q, J, and 10 were all different suits, so this time I checked, let my pigeons bet, and called oh-so-smooooooth. Another club on the turn and no more Mr. Nice Guy. I bet the pot and chased two guys, but not the third. Another goddam club on the river and again I got raised after my bet. He had Qc5c and, I can only assume, thought he had the best hand after the flop.

    I managed not to vomit on my keyboard after that one, I guess that's something. It is said the optimist sees the glass as half full, the pessimist half empty. I not only see the glass has half empty, I immediately start thinking about what a pain in the ass it's gonna be to wash the glass afterwards. Not only did I lose about $60 in those two hands, I should have MADE about $40, had those last blasted cards not made their flushes. Throw in the earlier hand I won and I would've been up about $70, and instead I was down almost $50.

    It is said that what differentiates a good player from a bad player is how he handles the bad times. Do you tilt, do you turtle, do you start hating yourself and the world and lose all your money because you feel that you DESERVE to lose? Good players don't commit these self-destructive acts. I yell a little and cry and curse God and all He has Created, but so far I've managed to keep the wheels from totally falling off.

    But isn't it about time I also learn how to handle incredible success? Isn't that a valuable lesson as well, to learn how to deal with a streak of almost unimaginable good luck, when it seems like the other players WANT to give you their money? Where your bankroll doubles, trebles, quaduples in the time it normally takes you to bust out at a .50/$1 game? I really think this is a part of my game that needs worked on.

    So far the Poker Gods have not been accomodating. Played a remarkable string of hands the other day. Forty-seven hands, and I didn't win a single hand. Ouch. But what was maybe even more remarkable was that I only played my hand past the flop ONCE. I had QQ, called a bet on the flop even though a king fell, but when an ace hit as well and there was a bet and a raise I of course bailed. Someone take the deck outta the freezer, please.

    OK, I think I've once again established my poker bona fides. Still working on some poker fiction for Pauly, invented a new poker game I'll introduce shortly, and have lots to say about what we've seen so far of the WSOP and the WPT. But I'll save that for another day. Have to get in shape for Iggy's tournament this Sunday, and so, to the tables I go.

    Tuesday, May 11, 2004

    Style Over Substance

    As everyone keeping a blog knows, Blogger updated their site and gave we scribblers many new templates to play with, and when I saw a template called "Rounders 3" I knew I had to make the change. I think this is a vast improvement over my previous format, I think it's much easier on the eyes and will hopefully allow my patient readers to enjoy my rants without too much eyestrain.

    The only bad thing is that, by deciding to go with Blogger's new comments feature, I lose all my old comments. There's probably a way to get around this, but I don't yet know what it is. So if you read any of my previous posts and want to comment feel free to use the thingy for this post.

    Actually, there are 2 bad things--I have to update my link list again. Yuck. Cut and paste time.

    Now if we can just get Iggy to change his Creamsicle layout we'll be in business.

    Friday, May 07, 2004

    The Weekend Of Our Discontent, Part II

    When we left our hero (that's me) I was about to enter the ESPN SportsZone in Times Square to watch the draft. If you want to know why I was going into an Eisner-controlled sports bar instead of the actual draft read the previous post, because it's all too painful to bring up again.

    My friend Mark and I had waited outside the SportsZone for about 4 1/2 hours, and as the day wore on and the line got longer people started looking at us and then, doubtless wondering why were were lined up at 8:30 in the morning, squinted up to see the sign above the door. It reminded me of stories you used to hear about the good 'ol Soviet Union, when folks would join any long line because, hey, if there's a line, there must be something good at the end of it. Many of the people staring us down had that touristy look about them (fanny packs, comfy shoes, glazed expressions) and once they discovered what we were waiting for they gave us looks that could only be called condescending. Their eyes said, "You pathetic scum, you're going to spend this glorious Manhattan day inside a mass market sports bar? WE'RE going to the Empire State Building's observation deck!". My own eyes responded, "Oh yeah? Well, big friggin' deal, Mr. Iowa Cornfed Motherfucker! Look at me like that again and I'm gonna punch you right in the goddam throat."

    Yes, I was in a New York State of Mind.

    The doors opened. We were just a few moments away from getting inside, after what had already been a 7-hour odessey. The Gonzaga assholes were allowed in first (see previous post) and Mark looked like he was about to start biting himself. He rarely gets this worked up, and I couldn't resist pushing his buttons a bit.

    "Don't worry," I soothed. "We'll probably get in."

    "Shut up," he said.

    I looked down the street. "Hey, afterwards let's have dinner at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. That way we can say we've had a real, authentic New York experience."

    "Shut up," he said.

    "Spend all day in the ESPN SportsZone, eat at Bubba Gumps, shop for some souvenirs at Old Navy...and then we can kill ourselves."

    "Shut up."

    At last, the line started to move. We started to move. We talked to the four guys we'd been in line with for four hours and decided we'd all sit together. We bobbed and weaved and elbowed our way to the door, and then, in a moment almost sexual in its intensity, I was Inside. I had a roof over my head, walls to my sides, carpet beneath my feet. Was that frying oil I smelled? I strode up to the absolutely beautiful girl at the head of the line and she smiled and asked, "How many are in your party?"

    I said, "Sweet Jesus, there are six of us."

    She said, "Do you want to be in the main dining room?"

    "Is that the one with the big TVs?"

    She smiled again. "Yes."

    "Then yes, my dear child, that's where we want to sit."

    We were escorted up, up, up the stairs. We of course weren't allowed in the VIP area (a VIP area in a sports bar?) where white men in blazers and slacks stood around with drinks idly chatting, about what I can't imagine. T-Bills? What private schools teach Mandarin? Who to talk to when you knock up your Swedish au pair? But I wasted no more time with them, as our host guided us to our booth. Uh, well, we tried a booth, but to be honest there was no way to fit six he-man sized he-men in a booth built for a family of four. So we moved down a level, right in front of the rightmost big screen, and got, for the first time all day, comfortable.

    As we sports fans took our seats, the manager of the place, a patrician-looking gentleman with Kennedy-esqe hair and an immaculate suit looked at us with obvious distate. It did not bode well that this guy was our host. If you can imagine Gore Vidal as the manager of a huge sports bar, well, you have a nimbler imagination than myself.

    But our waitress, an angel named Alice, more than made up for her boss's lemony mien. "Can I get you all something to drink?" she asked. Oh, yes, we did. Mark ordered a Guinness, but I knew that this would be a multibeer event and I just decided to stick with the cheap stuff, Miller Lite. Which was still rather cheap--seven bucks for about a quart of suds, served in a mug so thick that a good forehand sweep would be enough to stave in someone's skull. Pricier than you'd find at your typical Pittsburgh happy hour, but not outrageous. Another New York myth debunked--that prices are outrageous for food and/or drink. Dine at Daniel or Lutece and, sure, you're gonna drop some coin. Eat at a sports bar and you can eat relatively cheap.

    Cheap, but not well. We of course ordered wings, and the morsels that were delivered were just that--morsels. These were some tiny, tiny wings. Are all the chickens in New York hungry? Are they on the Atkins diet? One wing from J.D's Pub near my house has more meat on it than a quartet of the minidrums this place proffered. But the sauce was spicy and tasty, and I took a sample of it home as a smudge on a page of my notebook.

    With some food in my belly and the sweet fragrance of beer in the air, we were able to fully concentrate on the event that brought us to New York in the first place--the freakin' Draft. We heard from Chris Mortensen that there was possibly a trade in the works between my Steelers and the Giants, the Black and Gold moving up from 11 to 4 so we could draft QB Philip Rivers. Mark and I weren't sure we liked the sound of that, because it would certainly mean forfeiting our first-rounder next year and then some. And if the Steelers surrendered their first-rounder that would mean that next year the Steelers wouldn't make their first pick for about 7 hours, and that would flat-out suck.

    Not that waiting for a pick in the first round doesn't suck. Because, even though we'd waited already for seven hours, all that meant is that we got to sit around and wait some more. Watching the NFL Draft is, in some small way, like playing poker (this is a poker blog and I need to get some reference to it in this post). If you want to watch the draft you need patience, because you're team might not pick for 4 hours and it's easy to drink yourself into a stupor by then. You need a leather ass, just as the great Texas road gamblers all developed after sitting in hundreds of 96-hour games. And when your team finally picks, you either have the euphoria of winning a big pot (when your team drafts that superstar-in-waiting) or the devastation of a bad-beat on the river (when your team picks a "physical speciman" who had a great "workout" but hasn't shown that he can actually play "football").

    The room was packed solid. If you've never been in the SportsZone, they actually have a "luxury box" area above the main room, a big glassed-in area with leather couches and, for all I know, masseusses and laundry services. Its where "The Sports Reporters" show is filmed. I'm not a luxury-box kinda guy, and not just because I lack the cash to gain admittance. Well, that's the biggest reason. But you can't beat the energy and excitement among the masses, and after the long wait there was a nice sizzly buzz in the room. The Giant fans were anxious to see if they could land Eli Manning. The Jets fans were just anxious. We Steeler fans were probably the third biggest contingent and quite vocal. Everyone was in a good mood and getting along. Most of the folks there had no doubt gone to Madison Square Garden and gotten screwed, so we all felt a sense of solidarity. We'd all suffered. And, as our good friends the Nazis showed, nothing so unites different peoples with different ideals and beliefs than a common hatred. You had Giant and Redskins fans sitting side by side, Raider and Steeler fans bitching about their common mistreatment, even Cowboy fans walking freely without molestation. True, a few Red Sox fans had been lustily hooted down while we waited in line, but even that had a kind of beneficent good-humor to it.

    On just about any other weekend, fans of opposing teams would gladly engage in fisticuffs with their opposite number. I went to the Steelers-Browns playoff game a few years back, and as the Browns raced out to a big lead the dozen or so Browns fans behind us were obnoxiously screaming and yelling, and I, with a perfectly clear conscience, thought about killing them with my bare hands. We were near the upper edge of the stadium, and had my fellow Steeler fans banded together and tossed them over the fence to fall 200 or so feet to their doom, I could easily have gone home afterwards and eaten a big dinner. But that was then. Now, sitting down, with a fresh beer delivered by the saintly Alice, I would have put my arm around those Brownies and called them Friends.

    The general sense of camaraderie was deepened by the death of Pat Tillman. When the draft finally, FINALLY, got underway, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue got up and spoke in his dry, nasal, lawyerly voice about Tillman and his selfless sacrifice and blah blah blah. I guess an expression of actual human emotion would have been a bit much to ask, but Tagliabue's rote reading of a generic press-release type valedictory didn't measure up the moment. Tags asked for a moment of silence, and the raucous bar crowd fell completely, and absolutely, silent. You couldn't hear so much as a fork scraping a plate. And then, much, much too soon, Tagliabue said, "Thank you". It was, indeed, a MOMENT of silence, and it wasn't enough. How long a MOS should last is open to debate. George Carlin, memorably, said that we shouldn't be silent in the first place--"Why a moment of silence? These people are dead--how about a moment of screaming? AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!" But a moment of silence should be longer than the length of a single breath. I was watching soccer (or, as I call it, "football lite) the other day and I think Leeds was playing Bolton and they had a moment of silence, for whom I know not. The players bowed their heads, the Reebok stadium fell silent...and stayed silent, enormously silent, for about a minute. You could feel the absence of noise, of sound, and it was very moving. The moment of silence for Tillman was a mere hiccup before the first pick, and he deserved far, far better. We fans did our best to make up the difference--there was a spontaneous ovation, everyone clapping loudly but not raucously. It was nice.

    But then Tags said, "The San Diego Chargers are on the clock" and our baser instincts took over. The Giants fans, desperate to land Eli Manning, knew that if a trade was coming, it was coming soon. I figured a trade would be made before the Commish took the podium...but I was wrong. "With the first pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, the San Diego Chargers select...Eli Manning, quarterback..."

    Much hooting and gnashing of teeth. Manning gets up with Mommy and Daddy in tow and mounts the stage. The stage WE should have been looking at from inside the theater. Instead we're in a sports bar. Oh, how I longed to shout, "Hey, it's Woody Allen!" when Archie stood up. If you've ever seen a shot of Archie in the stands with baseball cap and headphones watching his sons play, the guy is a dead ringer for Woody. Hard to imagine--the ultimate New York nebbish and a Southern football hero, separated at birth. Strange world.

    Anyway, Eli looked about as happy holding up his Chargers jersey as I'd look if I was told I might need another rectal exam. The tight-lipped smile Eli bestowed on the media was one of those priceless moments that make being a sports fan worth it. Here's a young man who has doubtless enjoyed a safe and comfortable life, born with enormous talent, has succeeded his whole life and lavished with fame and, soon, fortune, who should be enjoying one of the greatest moments of his life, and a moment that every would-be jock dreams about...and he was palpably miserable. And it was delicious, to see him squirm and suffer. Here was a guy with a chance to live and work in one of the most livable places on Earth, bathed in sunshine and distracted by literally thousands of beautiful women in bikinis--and he was miserable. His parents were miserable. It was great. I only wish I could have seen it in person, really savored the moment.

    The Raiders had the next pick, and the question was whether they would take hirsuite OT Robert Gallery or the sleek WR Roy Williams. To me this wan't even a no-brainer. Draft a guy who will be a perienniel All-Pro at a position crucial to both the running and passing game, or take a guy who might get his hands on the ball eight times a game and can be removed from the equasion by double-teaming. Even the Raiders couldn't screw this up, and they didn't. "Shit," Mark said, "I hoped the Steelers would find a way to get him."

    "How?" I said.

    "I don't know," Mark said. The particulars are never important so far s the draft goes. Yes, I too hoped the Steelers would end up with Gallery. 'Twas not to be.

    The third pick was Pitt superstar Larry Fitzgerald, heading out to the wasteland that is Sun Devil Stadium. It's too bad that such a superlative talent will go to complete waste out there, but thems the breaks. The Cardinals spent their top two picks last year on WRs and their #1 this year as well, which is why they're the Cardinals. Nothing at all against Fitzgerald, I don't know how the Birds could have passed on him, but when Josh McCown is drinking his dinner through a tube midseason he'll be wishing his team had acquired a few beefy types as well.

    By pick four the rumors were flying that, yes, a trade was in the works. Eli was on the phone, and his smile was now wide and bright, and he no longer looked like he feared vomiting on his new suit. The Giants fans all seemed to coil, ready to go bonkers the second the deal was announced. ESPN then cut to Philip Rivers in his living room, surrounded by his family, and he too was on the phone. This kind of breathless coverage is what makes the draft so compelling--a bunch of huge guys standing around in suits talking on the phone. If only Shakespeare had access to cell phones, what poetry might he have made.

    Rivers gets drafted by the Giants, breaking my heart, and then is traded to the Chargers in exchange for Eli. Everyone is happy, especially the Giants fans, who go totally bonkers. Then the trade is announced, and when they find out that they had to give up a first round pick next year and a second and a fifth their enthusiasm is somewhat muted. "They must be nuts," Mark says. "Rivers might be just as good."

    "Would you have been happy if the Steelers had given up all that for Rivers?"

    "No way."

    "Me neither."

    The draft is going about as badly as possible for the Steelers. Only 1 QB left on the board, and teams no doubt hungry to trade up and snag him. The Redskins draft safety Sean Taylor, who is considered by all and sundry to be the best safety prospect since Ronnie Lott. The 'Skins fan we met in line was well-pleased, but Kellen Winslow Jr. probably was not, because Joe Gibbs promised, promised, that Washington would take him if he was available.

    I feel bad for Kellen, really. Especially when Cleveland gives up their 2nd round pick to move up one spot to take him instead of, as I feared, Ben Roethlesberger. As Mark and I hoot with delight, I turned my mind to this jilted young man. Winslow is the sensitive type, he got himself in trouble after his Hurricanes got crushed by Tennessee on their home field by making all sorts of ridiculous statements like "I'm a soldier" and whatnot. Winslow also gave himself the nickname, "The Chosen One". I'd love to be the reporter up on stage interviewing him.

    "So, Kellen, who exactly chose you, and what did this person choose you for?"

    "Well, I...".

    "Were you chosen to be the 2nd best tight end to come out of your school in the last 3 years, or the 2nd best tight end to have your name?"

    I think Winslow will be a bust, just a feeling I have. A superlative athlete, sure, but he never dominated in college the way everyone (especially himself) expected, and I think this will carry over to the NFL. I look forward to years of watching Troy Polamalu blowing him up over the middle.

    The Lions, flush with their extra second-rounder, draft Roy Williams. This may be a disasterous pick. Last year I read a draft preview story in Pro Football Weekly and the writer said that one reason Williams stayed in school was because he wanted to work on his flexibilty. He's a remarkable athlete, but so tightly wound he can't bend over and touch his knees.

    This made my brows rise to my hairline. Can't touch his KNEES? There was a comment section for the story (much like the comments for this blog) and I wrote, "He can't touch his KNEES? How does he tie his shoelaces?"

    Some brainiac commented, "So what if he can't touch his knees, he runs a 4.3!". To which I replied, "Who cares how fast he can run if he can't touch his knees? What if a pass is thrown low, what's he going to do, play hackey-sack? A leopard can run better than a 4.3, but you don't see many getting drafted, do you?"

    The writer himself emailed me and said, "Know what, I listened to the tape of the interview, and he did say he can't touch his knees. I can only assume he meant his toes, but that's what he said..."

    So either Roy Williams is so brittle he can bend over, or so clueless about anatomy that he doesn't know his knees from his toes. Neither behooves his career well.

    About this time the SportsZone folks set up a couple of seats in front of the stage and start bringing up current and former Jets to speak about, well, the Jets. One thing I never figured out is what boundry lines there are for Jets and Giants fans. I mean, you live in the Bronx you're probably a Yankees fan, and if you live in Queens you root for the Mets. Unless you don't. But as both the G-men and the Jets play in New Jersey, I dunno how that works. The Giants used to play in Yankee Stadium, the Jets in Shea, so maybe the lines are drawn the same way. You'd be a Yankee-Giant fan or a Met-Jet fan. Makes sense to me.

    Anyway, I didn't really want to hear some Jets guys talking about the quality of their offensive line, even if one of the guy up there was former Nittany Lion Karim McKenzie. They'd get up there, chat a bit, and then go upstairs to the luxury box area to sign autographs. The fireman dude you see on TV doing the J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS! cheer was there going his thing, signing autographs and glad-handing everyone in a green shirt. Joe Klecko was there, and as he strode by I was surprised that he didn't look much bigger than me. Well, he was a bit more...solid than me. A bit. Joe Klecko, defensive end 20 years ago, would today be considered small for a strong safety. Jack Lambert, maybe the greatest middle linebacker of all time, would be a cornerback. Amazing what diet, exercise, and chemistry has accomplished.

    It was about this time that the quality of my notes decreased. At one point I wrote, "Beer is good", which not only isn't especially astute nor important for this narrative. Even while boozy I don't impress easy, but when I heard the emcee of introduced Joe Namath, and I looked away from the screen and saw a true football legend standing about 20 feet away, well, I was impressed. Joe Willie Namath, from Beaver Falls, PA, winner of the most important game in NFL history. He looked good, tan and fit, grinning ear to ear as he talked some mild trash with the Raider fans sitting at the table in front of him. He did the usual Jet boostertalk, said something along the lines of "We're gonna get 'em this year", and left the mike to head upstairs to sign autographs.

    And that's when I saw that appearances can be decieving. About a half-dozen staff surrounded Namath to keep the masses at bay, and as he walked across the floor he looked like he'd aged about 30 years. His bad knees are of course legend, but he walked like an 80-year-old man. He stared straight ahead as he walked, jaw furiously working a piece of gum, and he looked strikingly frail. The last we saw of Joe he was drunk as a skunk and telling ESPN's Suzy Kolber that he wanted to kiss her. Wanting to kiss Suzy Kolber is a perfectly rational desire for a man to have, but one that should be kept to oneself if you're drunk and/or on national TV. Joe ended up in rehab for alcohol abuse, and I hope he's on the road to recovery. Up on stage he could still light up a big room, but up close and personal you saw the toll that football, booze and age can take. I looked down at my fifth monster beer and decided that I'd start eating better and exercising more. Tomorrow.

    The Steelers pick approached with glacial rapidity. The Falcons draft DeAngelo Hall, yawn, the Jags take Reggie Williams, yawn with a slightly raised eyebrow. So far, so good for the Steelers. Mark and I both know Buffalo is angling for Roethelsberger, would leap ahead and grab him if the deal can be done. But with only Houston left we feel confident. No way the Texans pass on Dunta Robinson, since the Steelers would grab him otherwise, and when they indeed take the CB the Steelers are on the clock and Big Ben is available.

    I look at Mark. "It's gonna be Shawn Andrews," I say, referring to the erstwhile 400-pound tackle from Arkansas. He was rumored to go to the Steelers, but only if they trade down. Mark said something unmentionable and we resumed staring at the big screen.

    They didn't make us wait long. "With the eleventh pick...blah blah blah.", and the Steelers had themselves a new quarterback. Mark and I were elated, getting the quarterback with the most "upside", which is draftnik speak for, "Could be the next Dan Marino, could be the next Heath Shuler. It's a tossup".

    We exchanged shouted commiserations with a gaggle of Steeler fans across the room, clinked glasses, and settled down to...what? Wait for our 2nd round pick? That'd be about 4 hours from now. I'd drunk about 150 ounces of beer and while I wasn't ready to get into a fistfight or randomly kiss strangers, I was pretty whupped. Mark looked tired too.

    I think it was the Dolphins drafting Vernon Casey that did us in. One of the guys at our table was a Miami fan, and his team's selection of an offensive guard after what was, for him, about a 9-hour wait was hardly the payoff he expected. Casey's from the U of Miami, a local kid, fills a huge need for the Fish, and maybe will end up as a a periennial All-Pro. But when you've been watching and hoping and scheming for the better part of a day, when you're beat from standing around doing nothing and adrenaline-fuzzed from getting screwed at MSG, ending up with a guard isn't enough.

    The energy level at the table dropped. Mark looked at me, and after all these years I recognized that look. "Well, why don't we go back to the Garden and see if we can get in now?" It seemed like a good plan, so we settled up our part of the bill, wished our tablemates a good season, and headed for the exits. Drove 7 hours to New York, waited in line for nearly 5 hours, and watched about 5 hours of coverage. If you're wondering if it was worth it, don't expect any answers from me, 'cause hell if I know.

    It was absolutely beautiful outside, sunny but still cool. New York didn't seem at all threatening to me anymore, though that might have been the beer. The streets, which had been nearly empty at 6AM, teemed with all sorts of folks. We walked to MSG and were told by a downcast fan that, no, they still weren't letting people in. A guy in a suit came up to us and asked the same question we just asked, could we get in, and we told him no. Another New York myth dismissed--every person we talked to in New York was, well, nice. Very nice. True, I'm sure there are a few unpleasant people around, but we didn't meet any. No one told me to go fuck myself. Not one. No one offered to sell me crack--another of my preconceptions destroyed. Not that I was in the market for crack, but still, one likes to keep ones options open.

    We headed back to our garage, retrieved our car, and now came the moment of really serious Truth--driving in Manhattan traffic. I'd always thought of automobile transport in Manhattan to be part Russian roulette, part death wish. Not a good idea. Then you add the fact that we really didn't know how to get back to the FDR Expressway and the map we had was so detailed I couldn't even find Madison Avenue on it because the type was about 1/2 point. Normally I'm an excellent navigator, but I didn't have a clue where we were going.

    And then a miracle happened, a miracle that, when I'm up for canonization, some scholar will point to and say, "Yea, verily, this man was truly blessed by God". We were pulling out of the garage onto a busy street and, brace yourselves, a cabbie STOPPED AND WAVED US INTO TRAFFIC. And no, this was not some out-of-town cab driver just out sightseeing, his cab looked just like the other 896,000 in the city. A New York cab driver paused and let we out-of-towners get in line ahead of him. I crossed myself, said a quiet prayer, and went back to our map.

    We did OK, after we figured out that we were going south when we should have been going north. Saw the Empire State Building--tall. It wasn't the tall buildings that really impressed me about New York. We have tall buildings in Pittsburgh--not so many, of course, but walk down Grant Street and you'll be in a concrete canyon. No, what really floored my about New York wasn't its height but it's WIDTH. Come to an interesection in Manhattan and you can look left, look right, and see buildings and traffic lights stretching off the the horizon. And it goes own like that for block after block after block. In Pittsburgh, which bounded by rivers and girdled with mountains, no street really goes on that long before it has to twist or turn or hook. The horizon is always a 9-iron away, it seems. But in New York, my God. Gotta go back there, because it became obvious to me that I was only seeing the tinest sliver of what is a horking big place.

    We found the entrance to the FDR. Waiting for the light, I saw that gondola thing I've seen in movies taking people up...wherever it goes. We got on our road and knew we'd get home in one piece. We turned on the radio and learned the Steelers had traded up for Tusculum (Tusculum?) cornerback Ricardo Colclough. Another pick we both liked, as corner was a great whopping need. We were in traffic now, Mark called Ro and we planned to meet them at an Italian place for dinner, so we had plans and could take our time.

    As we drove, I turned to my right and saw a big concrete structure that looked like it would be at home in downtown Minsk or Gdansk or any big city once in the Communist bloc, where poured cement was considered the height of style. Then I looked a bit higher and saw, in blue letters, the words "YANKEE STADIUM". "THAT'S Yankee Stadium?" I said to Mark and pointing.

    "It's ugly," Mark agreed.

    "It looks like Paul Bunyan's toilet." I stared at it, aghast. Compared to Pittsburgh gorgeous new PNC Park (voted by ESPN as the best baseball park in the game) Yankee Stadium was an absolute eyesore. If this was the House That Ruth Built, then maybe the Bambino should have spent less time with hookers and more time with Frank Gehry.

    How it must gall George Steinbrenner to see bozos like the Pirates' Kevin McClatchy and the Brewers' Bud Selig trick taxpayers into giving them hundreds of millions to build their poorly-run and chronically unsuccessful lucrative new stadiums, while he, owner of the most valuable sports franchise in the world, has to watch his team labor in a 100-year-old dump. A dump filled with history and legend, but a dump nonetheless. I can't testify to the aesthetics on the inside, and if you're a Yankee fan and think I'm committing sacriledge and that at least you have an actual major league team to watch and you want to start sticking pins in a Geno voodoo doll, you go right ahead.

    The rest of the drive was fine, we arrived at the restaurant, had a tasty meal, and headed home to relax and watch a movie, which was exactly the pace I was looking for. I don't think I would have been up for a night of clubbing and dancing, nor would the very pregnant Ro. We watched Snatch, a movie I'd never seen in its entirety, and learned why I'd never seen the character played by Benicio Del Toro, though he was listed prominently in the credits. And then it was time to hit the hay, and hit it hard I did.

    We left early in the AM, hugs for Ro and the baby on the way, and then we headed back to the 'Burgh. We stopped at a bagel shop for breakfast and a paper, and the one guy behind the counter could have been Antonio "The Magician" Esfandiari's long-lost bagel-making brother. Mark drove, and I looked through the paper for the Steelers other picks.

    "We took a tackle from Florida in the third round, Max Starks," I said.

    Mark nodded approval. "Mel Kiper said he's a boom or bust guy. He's supposed to be huge."

    Yes, I would call 6-7, 330 huge. Here's an unusual thing I read about Starks when I got home--his natural father is former Bengal DL Ross Browner. Starks never knew this until he was being recruited out of high school and people kept mentioning over and over how much he looked like Browner, which must have been rather irritating, and his mother told him the truth.

    The answer to the question, "Who did the Steelers take in the 4th round?" was easy--no one, since we traded that pick to move up for Colclough. So that was all the Steeler news to be had. But as Mark peppered me with questions about other players, I searched the paper for one name. "You're not gonna believe this," I said.


    I looked over. "Will Poole didn't get drafted on the first day."

    If you recall, Poole's father was in line with us all morning at the SportsZone and was telling all and sundry that his son was gonna be a first-round pick. About 20 people cut in line to join him inside, and one can only imagine their collective horror as the day wore on and on and on and he didn't get picked. Mark, who was pissed at all the line-jumping, chorlted with mirth. I felt a pang of...well, not sadness, since Poole will still end up with a nice pile and lots of adulation and fame and whatnot, and for all I know he's a total jerk. But I felt a pang nonetheless. He ended up going to Miami with one of the first few picks in the 4th round. Man, that must have been one happy bunch at the SportsZone when ESPN signed off for the night.

    We made good time on the way home, and I arrived back at the homestead to find my wife doing mountains of laundry and my niece and nephew running amok. No rest for the very, very weary.

    And so, my ridiculous odyssey comes to an end. Basically one big anticlimax, when you think about it, but I still had a good time. Will I go back and try to attend the Draft again? What, you outta you're friggin' MIND? No way. I made my pilgramage, and I found out that the idol I worshipped was not only a false idol, it also told me to go fuck myself for my troubles. I'd definitely go back to New York, maybe actually see more than 1/900th of it.

    Some actual poker content will be coming in the next few days. Played a little here and there, tho I missed playing in my family game because I was laid up in the hospital, dammit. My swanky chips STILL haven't been blooded in actual combat. Ah well, they'll get a workout this summer. And so, dear readers, till then.

    Wednesday, May 05, 2004

    The Weekend Of Our Discontent, Part I

    New York City. The Big Apple. Gotham. The city that never sleeps. On Friday I woke up ready to make my first trip to what is, to me, a mythical place. I was keyed up. I was also excited to attend the NFL Draft, an event much-beloved by myself and sports-crazy losers of all stripes. I was killing two metaphorical birds with one stone, as it were. Always wanted to see the Draft, always wanted to see New York, and now I'd accomplish both goals. Throw in the fact that we'd be staying with a friend I hadn't seen in like 2 years, and I had a trifecta of reasons to be geeked.

    But first I had some mundane details to attend to. Our refrigerator has been on the fritz for about a month, and our new one was due to be delivered Friday morning. My wife was highly excited about the new appliance, and I too was looking forward to non-soupy ice cream and eating ground meat with little or no fear of botulism. The guys brought the new one and took away the old one around 9AM, and I finished my packing just as Mark showed up. Mark was so wired I thought he might burst into song at any moment. And as Mark is the Worst Singer in the World, I wanted to nip that in the bud. Our friend Scott at one point thought about coming up from Baltimore and joining us at the Draft, and as Scott is the Worst Singer in the Galaxy I might have been in serious trouble, but Scott bailed on us and so it was just Mark and I heading east toward our destiny.

    "I'm going to a conference in Cancun next week," Dr. Mark said, "and I'm not even vaguely excited about it. But I've been waiting for this for three months". This gives you some idea of how profoundly sick Mark is.

    Mark and I have known each other since high school. We roomed together in college for 4 years. We live 5 minutes apart. We're sick to death of each other. So what the hell are we going to talk about for 7 goddam hours in the car? Why, the draft of course! "I'd be happy if we get one of the three quarterbacks, one of the top two corners, or Winslow or Taylor," Mark says. "I can't see how we wouldn't end up with one of those seven guys."

    "Well," I say "if the Giants trade up and take Manning, and the Raiders take Roy Williams, and Arizona takes Fitzgerald, and the Chargers trade down so the Browns can take Gallery...and then San Diego takes Rivers at 7..."

    "Then Buffalo trades up for Roethlesburger..." Mark says, continuing the thread. "Yeah, we'd be screwed, because Hall will go to the Falcons and Robinson goes to the Texans".

    We spent a few hours discussing bizarre permutations and scenarios that, alternately, end with the Steelers drafting Rivers, Roethlesberger, Shawn Andrews, Robert Gallery, Roy Williams, and I think at one point we swung a three-way trade involving Plaxico Burress, Tim Couch, and a six-pack of warm beer. We both wanted the Steelers to take a QB, with Rivers being the first choice and Big Ben second. But as the hours dragged on, and we hit a stretch of I-80 where we could get no sports radio station, the fatigue of the last few days caught up to me and I dozed a bit. I knew the next day would be trying, what with a 4AM wakeup call and a long, long wait for tickets. I needed to gather my strength.

    To fortify ourselves we stopped at a Friendly's restaurant somewhere in the northeast quadrant of Pennsylvania. Friendly's is you typical family-style chain restaurant, renowned for its ice cream. Mark has a sweet tooth so we picked it over a local "Country Kitchen" joint that adverstised "Ham Pot Pie" as it's specialty.

    "Ham pot pie?" Mark asked dubiously. "That sounds gross."

    "That sounds like, 'We have 30 pounds of leftover ham from Sunday brunch and it's going bad fast'," I agreed. But as we walked up to Friendly's were were confronted with a sign on the door that read, "Welcome to Melt City!". Melt City? OK, the place also specializes in serving "melts", you know, sandwiches with cheese that are heated up until the whole thing is gooey. Fine. But, do I really want to eat in a place whose contribution to American cuisine is applying heat to food until it liquifies? Oh well, it sounded better than Ham Pot Pie.

    And it was. We both got the Frisco Melt, which was a kind of peppery hamburger with cheese on sourdough toast. Very tasty. Fries were crisp and salty. Our meal came with a free sundae, too, and I had hot fudge and enjoyed it to the fullest. While we were eating a hillbilly girl of about 17 walked in wearing a bluejean miniskirt cut so high up her thigh it was practically a belt. Pleased that sexual mores among our young people have slipped so far even out her in the boonies, we headed out to continue our quest. "You are now leaving Melt City!" the sign on the door read, and I was glad of it. I was going to New York City, rather a trade up I think from Melt City.

    If there was a theme for my weekend, it would be that the whole experience could be described as a series of cliches alternately confirmed and exploded. For example, there is a cliche that pregnant women give off a glow from the life blossoming within their, uh, womanly parts, and as our friend Ro greeted us at the door she in fact confirmed that old adage. She was positively radiant and lovely and had a belly like, well, me after a chicken wing bender. One disadvantage of having a doctor as a friend is that they constantly make you look stupid with their expertise. I said something along the lines of, "Wow, uh, everything going, uh, good?" and Mark said something like, "Are you sleeping on your side, or is the baby still high enough that it doesn't cause problems for your bladder?". Damn, I should've thought to ask that...

    We met Ro's husband Eyal and went to dinner at a steak place down the road called "Mighty Joe Young". Why the proprietor decided to name his restaurant after a B-movie about a big gorilla is a bit beyond my depth. Maybe they also have places called "Creature from the Black Lagoon" and "The Blob". Come to think of it, name a restaurant after "The Blob" and a sign reading "Welcome to Melt City" would make a lot of sense. Anyway, hanging over the front door was what looked like the front half of a whole goddam rhinocerous. It was about as big as a Honda Civic. There were other taxidermalogical exhibits inside, but I was hungry and concentrated on the food, which was excellent. The garlic spinich particularly impressed.

    Afterwards Ro took us to visit the Jewish private school where she works, which is bordered by a public high school on one side and fronted by an all-girls Catholic high school across the road. Three high schools, all within 100 feet of each other, different cultures and religions thrown together...I was humming songs from "West Side Story" all the way home.

    We turned in, because we'd be waking up REALLY early. When we lived together Mark entertained me by talking in his sleep just about every night for four fucking years, but I was too beat to care if he started singing "I Feel Pretty". I got comfy, closed my eyes...and then the bastard was kicking my feet.

    "Get up," he said, proving once again that bedside manner should be emphasized more in medical school. "It's 4:17".

    I staggered to the shower, and once the hot spray hit me I perked up. New York City. The Draft. I was tired but I knew adrenaline would carry me much of the day. We had directions from Eyal, but I wasn't exactly confident we knew where we were going. It was cool outside but not cold, so I put on a long-sleeve T-shirt and my Jerome Bettis jersey. I was ready for action.

    Mark said, "I'm leaving my wallet here. I'm just taking cash, my credit card and ID."

    "Good idea," I said, pulling lettuce out of my wallet and stuffing it in my pocket.

    "And my medical card," Mark said.

    I froze. "Yeah, I should take that." I pulled it out and stuck it in my other pocket. I looked up and Mark said with much gravitas, "My blood type is O-positive."

    I nodded. "I'm O-negative."

    We looked at each other a long time--and cracked up. Here we were going to one of the most popular tourist destinations on Earth and we were acting like we were going clubbing in Fallujah. We tiptoed downstairs, got in the car, and headed for the Draft.

    We made it to FDR Drive no problem and found the garage where, the day before, we'd reserved a spot for a very reasonable price. An NYC cliche disproved--parking is impossible and incredibly expensive. $25 for the whole day was OK even for a Pittsburgher. The guy at the lot gave me the ticket and told us how to get the Madison Square Garden. And before I knew it I was walking around in New York City, heading for MSG. In the home stretch, heading toward the finish line...where we'd then stand in the gate again for about 3 hours.

    New York City, I found, is much like any other city at 5AM--dark. But there were still a few hardy souls out that early, folks going to work, touristy types walking to God knows where with little kids, and a few guys wearing football jerseys like us. We passed two guys, one wearing a Houston Texans jersey, walking in the opposite direction. This struck me as odd. He should have been going in the other direction. But I put it out of my mind and we pressed on. In the distance we could see a few jersied folks tossing a football back and forth in the broad lobby leading to the front entrance. "We're here," Mark said, almost giddy. Actually, not almost--he was giddy. I was giddy. I was at the Draft. I was in the greatest city on Earth. I was in love with the world.

    There was a wide, broad covered space leading up to the front gate with square pillars, and on these pillars, I saw, were taped salmon-colored sheets of paper with writing on them. I walked closer to one of the flyers as Mark pressed on. The typeface was what I would call 10-point Timid. I had to walk up really close to read it. And here's what the flyers said:


    I froze. Mark walked over. He read. We looked at each other. Neither of us could speak. Until I said, "What the fuck?"

    "I do not believe this," Mark said.

    "What the FUCK?" I asked again.

    We went over to one of the Giant-jersey wearing guy playing catch and asked, in essence, what the fuck? He said, "They gave away wristbands last night around midnight," and showed off the purple band around his wrist.

    We marched up to the entrance, ready to do murder. There were two guys standing behind a low metal barricade with their hands stuffed into their windbreakers. Mark and I were hardly the only angry folks gathered 'round. Mark got to the head of the line and we heard the beefier of the two guys say, "Sorry, if you don't have a ticket, you don't get in."

    Mark said, "We called the NFL offices. We called the box office. I had someone actually walk up to the box office last night and ask if we'd get in if we showed up at 6AM, and they said no problem."

    And the beefy guy shrugged in classic New York fashion and said, "Well, the box office fucked up!"

    A woman came over with slips of paper and everyone started crowding around her. "Back up!" she said, "this is just an explanation of what happened!". We withdrew and read the official MSG and NFL reasoning, which we learned from the box office people that, basically, the NFL fucked over their fans. "We have 4000 seats in there," the one guy said. "And the NFL came in and blocked off a big piece for the media, and ESPN blocked off a big section for their people, and when they were done they only gave the box office 440 tickets."

    I was livid. Mark was beyond livid. We talked to some fellow Steeler fans walking up to the gate and when we told them the news they were livid. "You're shittin' me," was an exact quote. About 200 fans were now gathered, none of them in a good mood. We heard that one guy had flown in from Denver for the draft. Another guy came in from Vegas. Mark and I had driven seven hours to in effect be told that rabid, diehard fans like ourselves were no longer needed, thank you. The NFL and ESPN are big enough that they're free to casually fuck over their best customers, because we'll just come back for more. The Draft became a huge event because the fans made it that way. Now it's big enough that the NFL and ESPN don't need us anymore. There are enough fatcats and suits to make up the muster and the fans who really care are, well, in the way.

    Mark and I wandered back to the plaza. We talked to some other fans, and then Mark said, "Well, what do you want to do?"

    I didn't have a ready answer. Then I said, "Well, you said you wanted to get satellite radio. Go to Circuit City, get it hooked up, and listen to the Draft driving home."

    We might actually have done that if we hadn't left our clothes and stuff at Ro's. It seemed rude to come all this way and then call her from Bellefonte asking her to FedEx us our clothes. We stood there a few more minutes, watching blissfully ignorant fans walk past by the score. I sort of wanted to stay there to see if a full-blown riot broke out, maybe even throw a rock or two.

    A homeless woman sat down on the steps next to us, and after a minute or so she ltook a breath and let out a long, "AAAAAAaaaaaaaOOOOOOOhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!". It wasn't a scream, or a shout, it was just a long, mournful noise. I said, "That's exactly how I feel."

    We walked, vaguely toward our garage, but mostly just straight. We'd planned on eating breakfast, but we weren't hungry. I'd not wanted to eat at a McDonalds in New York City, but even as we passed bagel shops and delis and the kinds of bodegas that are always getting robbed on NYPD Blue my appetite stayed dormant. I felt even more like a complete loser than usual. Here I was, in New York City, thinking about bailing and heading home with my tail between my legs because I'd been screwed by the NFL. I felt ashamed for being so pissed off about such a trivial thing. I felt naive for being pissed off about getting fucked over by a big corporation. I wanted to see the Draft. I wanted to stay in New York. But what should we do?

    We found that our wanderings had taken us to Times Square, which I guess isn't quite as impressive at 6AM as it is at midnight on New Year's Eve. It was nearly deserted, and dominated by about a 30-foot tall Revlon billboard. Julianne Moore was one of the four gorgeous women on the billboard, the obligatory redhead, and as a 30-foot tall Julianne Moore is one of my recurring nice dreams I took it as a sign that this sign was, uh, a good sign.

    "Well, there's the ESPN SportsZone," Mark said. "We could watch it there."

    Giving my money to the very folks who just screwed me seemed a poor choice. But it also seemed the only choice. How many other sports bars are there in Manhattan. I know, there are probably a bunch. But I don't know where they are, and anyway, ESPN's place would probably be the best place to watch it. We wandered over to where there were a handful of guys in jerseys and sweatshirts waiting outside the front door. We exchanged commiserations about our mutual screwing, and learned that they were from upstate New York and they'd come to town both for the Draft and to see the Yankee-Red Sox game the next day.

    "So," Mark said, asking the question on both our minds, "what time does this place open?"

    One of our compatriots said, "11AM."

    It was about 6:30. Mark and I looked at each other. Did we really want to wait four and a half hours to get into a sports bar? The answer was, well, no. But were we WILLING to wait four and a half hours to get into a sports bar? Hey, we'd driven seven hours, what was a few hours more?

    We also had one last-gasp chance to get into the Draft. We have a friend named Tammy who works for a company that dispatches the trucks that carry the heavy equipment for the networks--cameras, cables, stages, that sorta stuff. Mark thought that she might have a way to get us in, but he didn't want to call her until a decent hour--like, seven. So standing in line and looking at a 30-foot billboard of Chris Rock screaming down at us seemed a good way to kill the time.

    "You know," Mark said, "when you think about it, we're really just wasting, oh, fourteen hours of our lives."

    "Thanks," I said. "When I'm on my deathbed that'll be such a comfort. Then again, we could have spent that time watching Jersey Girl eight times back to back."

    Mark's a huge Kevin Smith fan and he thought JG was about the worst movie he's ever seen. He shuddered. "This is much better".

    Mark went around the corner and made the call. We didn't want everyone around us to know that we might have a coolguy way of getting in. But when he came back a few minutes later I knew the in wasn't in. "Without media passes we can't get in," Mark explained. "Security's too tight."

    "So, once again, the terrorists win." He nodded.

    I made many big decisions that weekend in Manhattan, and none was wiser or more prescient than my decision not to drink a lot of liquids that morning. I have a very efficient urinary system--water goes in, water comes out. It's one of my best features. And as I realized that we'd probably be waiting in line for a very, very, very long time, I'd almost certainly need to take a leak before too long. But perhaps the humidity was very low, because I didn't have to go. Thank God for small favors, because we didn't get many big ones. Well, it wasn't too cold, except when the wind was blowing. Thing is, it always WAS blowing. After standing in place for a few hours my hamstrings and calves started to doze, and at one point I thought I was going to throw a full-leg cramp. Not very manly, but you don't think to stretch before standing still for four hours in the cold. Let that be a lesson to us all.

    One good thing that came of the long wait was that we met a bunch of good people in line. We met Jet fans and Giant fans and Eagle fans and Redskin fans and Patriot fans and Bronco fans and Raider fans and, of course, Steeler fans. Lots of Black and Gold to be seen on the streets, and glad was I to see it. One guy wearing a #14 Redskin jersey came up to us at the front of the line and asked when the place opened, and he was the spitting image of Brad Johnson. A relative? A bastard son?

    From time to time groups of jersied guys would walk past us, obviously heading toward the Garden. We didn't tell them they'd be coming back to join us very soon. A guy with a #5 Giants jersey, the name "Collins" covered with masking tape and "Manning" written in its place jogged by with about 10 other guys and taunted us as they crossed the street. "Yeah, good luck, buddy," I said. "You'll be saying 'whathafuck' in about ten minutes. And I'm gonna laugh."

    A gentleman at the head of the line was wearing a white T-shirt with a picture of USC cornerback Will Poole emblazoned on the front. Said gentleman was, in fact, Will Poole's father, looking forward to seeing his progeny become the latest NFL millionaire. Before the draft Poole was expected to be a second-round pick, but his exhuberant father fully expected him to go in Round One. This may, in retrospect, have been a bit optimistic. Poole was saddled with the dreaded "character issues", said issues prompting him to transfer from Boston College to USC. He also didn't run a sparkling 40-yard time, and as any draftnik knows nothing ruins careers like a lumbering 4.63 40-yard dash.

    As the dawn turned to day, more and more people turned up to join the celebration. I didn't much mind, since I knew I had a seat waiting for me inside, but Mark, with his annoying sense of fair play, didn't like about 20 people cutting in line ahead of us just because one person had been waiting. I was actually too exhausted and wasted to really muster up much outrage.

    I was even too tired to muster up much excitement when the woman got clipped by the cab right in front of us. So far as I could tell, the woman walked out in front of the cab and it clipped her. I didn't see it, though I heard the brief squeal of tires and a sort of THUMP! Now, THIS was New York City! The woman was on the ground, and the cabby didn't even get out as she struggled to get to her feet. Mark's a doctor, so he edged closer to get a better look, in case his services were needed, but in the end she got up, brushed off her backside, and jogged across the street.

    Time dragged, and dragged, and dragged. Mark had to take a leak and went off looking for a legal place to perfom the deed. By this time people were showing up for work and going into the bar and I had a moment of terror that they would open early and let everyone on in while Mark was staggering around Mulberry Street desperately looking for a water closet. If it came to that I decided that it was every man for himself and I was going in. But he returned in about 40 minutes, leaving us just, oh, two hours more to wait.

    We got to talking to the group of guys behind us. One of them is a Rams fan, and he said that he was wearing a jersey he bought on draft day a few years ago. "Who's jersey?" Mark asked.

    "Lawrence Phillips," he said, evoking the name of the former Nebraska running back who had a wee problem with drinking and beating up his girlfriends, if such a problem could ever be called "wee". Wearing the jersey of an all-time bust is the kind of contextual joke only we draftniks can truly appreciate. "If you're actually wearing a Phillips jersey, I'll buy you a beer," Mark said, and he yanked up his windbreaker to show the #21.

    "That's sick," I said as a compliment, and Mark assured him he'd hold up his end of the bargain once we got inside.

    Which was finally about to happen. It was full daylight now, a brilliant blue sky overhead. We were next to a building that had a steeply sloped sign that read "Ernst & Young" in red neon letters. To prove that I wasn't operation on all cylinders, although I was in the financial capital of the world, I found myself thinking, "Hmm, Ernst & Young has an office in New York. That's interesting". Yeesh.

    Eleven o'clock approached. Word reached us that, around the corner, Jessica Simpson and Boy George were in some store promoting some perfume or something. Some loser in a Giants jersey said, "Hey, Jessica Simpson is around the corner", trying to tempt us out of our spot in line. "I wouldn't care if Jessica Simpson was giving it up for five bucks a ride," I snarled. The line, I learned, went all the way down the block, around the corner, and then all the way down THAT block. At least I knew I'd get in. What about those goofy bastards who didn't know if they'd even get in to the SportsZone?

    We could look inside the windows and see that the assembled employees were ready for a full assault. They all had their 2004 Draft T-shirts and they were handing signs and no doubt were chilling beer and frying wings in anticipation to some really hungry and thirsty losers. And hungry and thirsty we were. Well, I was, anyway.

    We heard that the cops had arrived at MSG to disburse what was a very unhappy crowd outside the gates. I was a bit sad that I missed it, because as a reporter a little mayhem makes for a better story. But for a time I thought I might see another riot, and maybe even be right in the thick of it. A big group of people suddenly gathered around the entranceway, and I didn't like it. I liked it even less when the doors opened and these people, who'd showed up just five minutes earlier, we let in like they were royalty. Fearing that I was about to get screwed by ESPN for the second time I joined in the chorus of "Hey! HEY!!!". I was looking for a rock to throw or a handy brick. If we'd gotten shut out again I was seriously going to go apeshit. I mean, I would've thrown something through a window, kicked the dude at the door in the nuts, and grabbed all the free keychains my pockets would hold. Maybe taken one of the bastards cutting in line hostage. Haven't done that in awhile.

    Well, turns out that the VIPs were a big contingent of athletes from Gonzaga who were...going to the ESPN SportsZone? Hey, at least I had a reason to go there--I'm a loser watching the draft. But why would about 50 random jocks (did you know Gonzaga had a swim team? If so, why did you?) travel from Washington State to New York City and spend even a SECOND in a corporate-owned sports bar?

    Anyway, they got in. And then, dear readers, so did I. And since this is about 2000 words long already and the draft has been over for like 2 weeks already, I will stop here, post it, and then finish the rest tomorrow. The part where we actually watched the draft and stuff. get this widget Please visit Pokernews site for more poker news, poker strategy articles or poker rules.

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