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

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My Articles

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

My Columns

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

My Greatest Hits

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

Fellow Poker Bloggers

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

Poker Sites

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    Monday, June 28, 2004

    Should Poker Be An Olympic Sport?

    The Athens Games loom, and before every Olympiad there's a push for new events to be added. Many of these sports aren't sports, of course--how often do you see kids synchronized swimming for fun? And then you have these X-Games type sports, like mogul skiing. Who the hell got bribed to put this in? It's hard for me to get too worked up about the sudden increase in medals the US has won in recent Winter Olympics when most of those medals were won in events that appear to have been created during the aftermath of some drunken fraternity ski party.

    Don't get me wrong--I like the X-Games. Some nut soaring 50 feet in the air on a motorcycle and doing a triple somersaut before landing is far more impressive to me than, say, a figure skater doing a sit-spin. But every year more and more weirdo games get introduced that maybe 140 people in the world actually play. And that's just not interesting.

    If I ran the International Olympic Committee...well, I'd probably be living in a chalet somewhere in Switzerland and be called "Excellency" a lot. But if I ran the IOC I would implement a few rules to keep the riff-raff games out of the Games. To wit:

    -- Any event that uses equipment you'd find in a 9-year-old girl's toy chest is eliminated. This means that rhythmic gymnastics goes bye-bye. No way a gold medal should be awarded for twirling a ribbon, no matter how skillfully.

    -- Any event where French people get to judge the winners and loses is gone. This means all figure skating is deep-sixed. I don't like watching skating because I don't enjoy watching 14-year-olds compete knowing that one tiny, tiny mistake could destroy 4 years of hard work and end her career forever. I don't need that kind of pathos on my screen, thank you.

    -- Any event where the best players in the world don't bother showing up shouldn't be an Olympic event. Bye-bye baseball. And tennis, though more and more top players are playing these days. Still, see ya. Soccer? Olympic soccer doesn't even get much play in the countries where soccer is pretty much the only thing that hold the society together. And pretty soon basketball will be superfluous as well, now that the top foreign players play in the NBA and the top US players can't be bothered to show up.

    -- Actually, pretty much any sport where the Olympics isn't a huge deal, where winning a gold medal wouldn't be the high point of your career, should be eliminated. Winning the gold in downhill skiing marks you as a legend. Winning a gold medal in baseball means you either aren't good enough now or aren't good enough anymore to play in the bigs.

    And that's why poker won't, and shouldn't, be an Olympic event. It wouldn't be bigger than the World Series of Poker. Unless...unless every seat in Olympic poker cost, say, $1 million, and each nation could send as many players as they wanted. Top three places pay out. A billion dollar prize pool...hey, Denmark could send Gus Hansen and maybe come away with $500 million for their national treasury. Lots of good players from the Middle East and Asia, and for many of those nations half a billion bucks is actually some serious money.

    But, no, I don't think poker will be in the Beijing Olympics. There are some sports that should be in there, tho:

    -- Dodgeball. I believed this even before the Vince Vaughn-Ben Stiller movie, which I haven't seen. I liked The Ben Stiller Show a lot, but there's something about the guy now that makes me grit my teeth. I think it started with Zoolander, which I also didn't see. The ads for it grated on me. Plus I read something that Stiller is considered one of the rudest celebrities when it comes to autograph seekers.

    Anyway, you don't think dodgeball wouldn't be a HUGE draw on TV? Teams of predatory and rifle-armed dudes whipping balls at each other's heads would be great stuff. And while I'd never buy a deoderant endorsed by Jim Breuer, it would be fun to see Randy Johnson pegging a gaggle of cowering Frenchies or Canadians or Japanese.

    -- Tug-of-War. This could be, and should be, one of the seminal Olympic events. Which nation has the most pull, literally. You'd have a few weight classes, and then the big event itself--no-limit T-O-W. Get 10 of your beefiest and strongest and pit them against the other side and make sure you have a strong rope.

    Those are the big two. I had a few more ideas but I lost them. I just got a phone call and I might have another interview coming up for another job, so that's some good news. Get working again, keep looking for that great job...tho it will cut into my sleeping, blogging, cat, and poker time. Oh well, at least I won't have to worry about my wife suffocating me in my sleep for the insurance money. Or I won't have to worry so much.

    Satellite Insanity

    Played another $10 satellite for Party's big tourney. Finished 22nd out of 288 last night, finished 142 out of 299 tonight. Two hands were key. I had A-8 and called a small bet. A short-stack went all in, two guys called him, and I decided to fold. Flop comes A-8-8. Ouch babe.

    Next hand I have AsQs and the flop comes 8-9-2 with two spades. Guy goes all in for $600. One caller. Two callers. Two thousand in the pot already. I have about a thousand left, and there's only one other guy with chips who can call me. I get a spade and I win. I have nine outs, about a 32% chance. Normally I'd fold, because I'm tight, but do I really want to be up till 3AM again? Well, yes, but I want to play this time with some chips. Last night I was on the cusp all night and it wore me down. This is a chance to gobble a huge pot and play from strength. I call.

    I call and I lose. No spades. Guy wins the pot with the trip nines he flopped. One guy who called had 9-10. Another had A-8. As a well-regarded poker savant would say, "Oh the humanity".

    We started with 299 players. Before the blinds got to 15-30, over 100 players had been knocked out. A hundred players! Incroyable! I understand that the buy-in as low, and that you may want to gobble up chips so you can make some moves later one. But 100 players getting knocked out before the blinds get above $45 for a round is nuts. I will definitely be playing in more of these things, because eventually I'm going to get some cards and some chips, and show these nuts how I got the name "Mean" Gene.

    Sunday, June 27, 2004

    Remember How Horrible Dating Was? I Did Tonight

    I was hardly the social butterfly in days gone by. Just not part of my personality. I'm the fall-in-love-at-first-sight-and-then-never-talk-to-her sort of guy. I also had an odd tendency to date girls who had serious, long-term boyfriends whom they had no intention of leaving. I remember dining one night at Olive Garden with a fair colleen and having her tell me about something hilarious her boyfriend had done the week before. And I thought, "Boyfriend, what boyfriend?". And then, "Wait, why the hell are we here?". And then, "Does she think I'm gay or something?" And then, "Hey, did she just order another glass of shirazz?".

    Why do I dredge up these horrible memories? Because I just had an experience not unlike my barren dating days. I just played in a satellite for Party's Million Dollar Event in July. Ponied up a whole $10 to play for a $640 spot in an event with a REAL payday. I sat down with 280 players at 11:30PM, and finished up about 10 minutes ago. Three hours of nerves, occasional terror, and very occasional delight--and at the end of the night, I ended up with nothing. Exactly like 99% of my dates.

    I played tight, tight, tight early on, mostly because I had zero cards. I think I saw one non-blind flop over the first 50 hands (with AQ) and ended up winning about $100. Wowee.

    I could not BELIEVE some of the plays. I mean, I'm used to wacko stuff at Party, but this was just ludicrous. Two guys in an unraised pot, flop comes Q-7-4. One guy goes all-in, the other calls. First guy turns over AK, the other turns over KJ. Neither had so much as a pair. How could the other guy CALL that bet? And he ended up spiking his jack and stayed alive. An example of evolution NOT working.

    The hands went on and on and on. I didn't play, waiting for that big hand that would gather me chips. I was dealt AA, very sexy, and raised the pot. I waited for my victim to call...and waited...and waited...and everyone folded. Made a whole $45. Yee ha.

    My stack slowly dwindled. I think I saw two flops over the next 30 hands and lost a quarter of my stack when I flopped top pair, had the next guy raise me, and had the third guy go all-in. I stepped aside, and trips ended up beating a bluff.

    I was alive, but barely. I caught a break when a guy next to me got bounced and there was no big blind the next hand, a blind I would've paid. Down to $485 I had to make a move, and I finally did with pocket 8s. I chased two limpers, but one guy matched my bet and turned over pocket 6s. Sweet. Until he flopped a set. I was swearing and ready to log off when a sweet, glorious eight spiked on the river. A two-outer and I was still alive. Was it...fate?

    Fold, fold, fold, fold, fold. More absurd play by my tablemates, all-in bets that defied mere bluffing, calls that boggled the mind. If you a big stack, and a guy with a slightly bigger stack moved in on your, and you only had like $500 in the pot, and you only had king-high with no draws and an ace on the board, would you call? Me neither. But I saw plays like that or worse a half-dozen times. Unreal.

    Then things picked up for me. I won a nice pot with pocket kings, won a nice pot with AK when I flopped a king, won a nice pot with jacks when I flopped trips and knocked out a guy who had pocket fives. Built my stack up from nothing to over $10K, and I felt that if I battened down the hatches and played smart I just might cash in this thing. Top four got places in the tournament, and down to #7 got some money.

    I took a tough beat when my jacks got beaten by eights when the board came with four diamonds and the bastard had one. That would've given me over $15K, and it maybe led to me making a big mistake. I was dealt jacks again, and guy with about $5K in early position went all-in. If I called and lost I'd be down to about $3K, but if I won I'd be in pretty good shape. I thought it over...and folded. Too many hands he could have that would make it a horse race or worse. Plus there were a bunch of guys still to act with big stacks who might call out of boredom.

    The hand that killed me...killed me. Had AK, and after one guy called I raised it 3.5X the big blind, just like Phil Gordon says. The blind called, and so did the first caller. The flop was K-9-7. Top pair, top kicker. I only had about $4500 left and there was more than that in the pot, so I went all-in. The one guy folded, making me very happy...and the second guy called.

    He had pocket 7s. I probably would've mucked 7s if I faced a huge raise from a guy playing as tight as me, but he called and made his hand. I didn't get another king, and I was down to $200. Which I lost the next hand.

    Three hours, and zilch to show for it. Just like my typical dates. Three hours. It's 3 in the goddam morning. I have my niece birthday party tomorrow. Hello Kitty wall-to-wall. It's gonna be a long day, and I'm up till 3AM.

    I did complete my hand requirements for my deposit bonus, and went on a hot streak that won me back all the money I lost the last week. So I can't complain. And I did have a great time in the tournament. Definitely going to play more of the big mulits, or at least the satellites for them. After seeing the way some of these folks play, there's money to be made there. There's fun to be had. And right now, for me at least, there's sleep to be had. A whole five or six hours before the cats and/or the wife wake me and put me to work.

    Saturday, June 26, 2004

    Oh, That's Why I Play Poker

    Last post I lamented my lack of results at the tables. I was caught in a deep variance trough that showed no signs of bottoming out. But things finally came 'round for me, as they always do, if you're patient long enough. Patience is one of my virtues, but even I can be tested after about 2 months of inertia.

    Not that I'm out of the woods, of course, because poker is one lifelong game and you're never fully free of the forest. Still, a good result last night, even if things didn't start out so good. Played Pot-Limit, and lost about $30 before rallying to even up. I even got up a few bucks before I lost a pot that was a soul-crusher. Had AK, raised it up, and along with three callers saw the flop come A-Q-2. Top pair, best kicker, but before I could even bet the pot was raised and then raised again. I felt compelled to call, especially since there was only 1 player left with any money in front of him and he only had $5 left. So if I called I could only lose $5 more.

    Everyone is all-in, the next two cards are rags, and I turn up my AK and everyone else's cards vanish. I can't believe it. I just won a $50 pot, bringing me to almost even after the past hellish few days. Ah, no. For some reason the cards for the guy in front of me didn't display, and all of a sudden his AQ appears and the chips go his way. A brutal beat thanks to technology. Ecch.

    I managed to win back a few bucks, but I was still down when I decided to try another of Party's $20 Multi SNG. I finished 8th in one, 22nd in another, and I figured my luck was bound to change. I got lousy cards the first two times, and the 2nd time I got knocked out by a guy who called my $700 all-in bet with Q-6 when I had pocket jacks and flopped a lady. So, once more into the fray.

    I managed to win two small pots, but I was soon transferred to another table and found myself sitting to the left of the chip leader. Who went on a truly incredible tear. He raised the pot seven hands in a row and won every single one. Either no one called or he pushed everyone out on the flop. It was unreal, and for me uncomfortable, because I found myself mucking virtually every hand, including my blinds. No biggie, since I didn't have much to play, and this may have actually helped me later on, because it reinforced my need to be patient.

    My stack fell a few hundred below average when I was dealt AJ. I raised it, and everyone naturally ran away since I was tight as a drum. One caller, and the jack on the flop was the highest card. I bet, the other guy went all-in, and I called. He had KJ, and for the first time in these multis I had some chips.

    Not that I did much with them. The guy to my left was raising nearly every pot, but on 2 occasions he surrendered the blinds to me, and I stole a few times to keep myself at the same chip level. The guy to me left crushed us, he absolutely crushed us. Not only did he boss us out of pot after pot, he knocked out like 8 other players with a combination of huge hands and killer suck-outs. Twice he knocked out players holding big pairs with AA. He rivered a queen that made his AQ best over AK. Twice he expunged shortstacks with bizarre drawing hands that filled in as the cards came down. It was something to see. The median stack was probably around $2500 and he had about $15K.

    Top five places paid, and when we got down to six I was in 3rd chip position. No big honor that, since one bad call could put me out. I went all-in once with a shortstack and he wisely laid down to me, but I just couldn't get a big hand or a big flop to get me in good shape. Then the short guys went all-in twice, and came thru with more chips than I had. The one time the guy caught his card on the river and I let out some kind of "NNNNYYYYYUUUOOOOOO!!" sound that got my cats running.

    Around this time I realized that I'll never be a top tournament player. My hands were shaking, I was swallowing about three times a second, and I was audibly praying for, "aces, c'mon, aces, even kings...". These are what poker folks call "tells". If your opponent breaks into tears after looking at his hole cards, they ain't good.

    I raised the pot with AJ, got called, and when the top card on the flop was a jack I went all-in and took the pot. This gave me some more room to breathe, and a few hands later the short guy got bounced by the chip master. I was in the money, a $38 profit at the minimum. Sweet.

    I switched gears and became more aggressive, in part because I got some good cards, and stole the blinds the next two hands. Then I was dealt my favorite hand, pocket 10s, and raised it up. Both short-stacks went all-in, and since I'd still be alive even if I lost I called. One guy had aces, and my lucky hand wasn't lucky enough. Still, I was now up to fourth place, and I still had more chips than the guy bringing up the rear. And then it was my turn to feel the wrath of the chip leader. I had AJ, raised all-in, and he called me with 6-9 offsuit. He flopped an open-end straight draw, but the six on the river was enough to total me. And out I went, $68 to the richer.

    It was a blast. I can see me playing these multis a lot, especially in lieu of the usual 10-person gunfight SNG. Of course, if you play one and finish 6th you've wasted about 2 hours for nothing, but, hey, you gotta pay to play.

    The good luck continues. I'm almost done working off my bonus requirements, and I'm up again today. Poker is a much easier game when you're flopping sets and filling flushes. Sometimes you get the cards, sometimes you don't. When you don't you feel like how I felt the other night. When you do you feel like I do now. I have to get a little better at dealing with both adversity and success.

    Friday, June 25, 2004

    Why The Hell Do I Play Poker, Anyway?

    I got yet another deposit bonus offer from Party so I moved my money over and started playing a bit to work it off. Since I'm unemployed I've been spending more time looking for a job and doing stuff in the yard than playing poker, but the last 2 nights I've played into the wee hours trying to get the bonus money released.

    As always seems to happen, I've lost just about the amount I'll get for the bonus. I'm about 2/3 of the way there, and at the rate I'm going I'll end up losing money on the deal. And since my last two nights at the tables have been almost absurd, I'm starting to question why on earth I play at all.

    It isn't just that I've lost. It happens. It's how I've lost, and how I've been losing the last few months. I've taken my share of bad beats, but that isn't why I'm frustrated. I'm going bonkers because the cards have positively gone ice cold for me, and its gone on long enough that it's messing with my head. Bigtime.

    I was playing two tables of $1/$2, the Bad Beat jackpot ones where if you lose with quads or better you get like eight grand. I played about 150 hands. I lost about $40. I won seven hands. One of those was a 3-way split pot, and two were short-handed pots where I won the blinds, all of a buck. 150 hands, and I won four hands with actual cash. My aces didn't get cracked, because I didn't get aces. I didn't get rivered because I never got to the river. During that session I only saw like 20% of the flops, including when I was in the blinds. Now, I'm a tight player, but this is corset-caliber tightness.

    But what choice do I have? Start playing J-4 offsuit? I shrugged off last night's misery and played tonight with verve and optimism. The first 50 hands I didn't win a single hand. Not a one. Nada. This time I did get killed a few times, both when four of a suit appeared on the board and my chasing opponent caught me. Fifty hands with no wins. Added to yesterday that made 200 hands where I only heard that happy "Congratulations!" noise four times. I decided to move to Pot-Limit, which is probably my best game. Not today it wasn't. Lost a bit more, played about 100 hands, won four. One a split pot where I made zilch. What made this even more frustrating was that on one of the first PL hands I played I hit the nut flush on the turn and got paid off handsomely. I was up $25 and about even for the day, and hope sprang eternal. Only to be unspooled by an evening filled with folding.

    I logged off, chilled a bit, and decided I'd try my luck in one of Party's new multi-table SNGs. Looked like fun, a chance to play a more creative game. The SNG available when I checked was Pot-Limit, fine by me. Finish in the top 5, take home some money.

    Of course you can see where this is going. Played 76 hands. Of those hands, only 4 were playable. Oddly, I was dealt KK on four separate occasions. The first time I had 2 callers and an ace appeared on the flop. The one guy bet the pot, the other raised, and i had to get out of the way. I doubled up one time, won the blinds another, and got knocked out when I went heads-up with AQ and he caught his ace on the flop.

    The rest of the night, forget it. I was dealt 2-9 seven different times, including three times in four hands. I had to fold my small blind about nine times in a row because the best I could do was J-6.

    There is a certain perverse pride to be derived by folding, folding, folding. "I'm patient," you say to yourself. "I'm playing smart. I'm playing tight. Most other players would go bonkers and start putting money in with anything. I'm tough. I don't tilt. I always play my A-game, no matter how the cards are treating me."

    I actually started watching my stats to see if I could get my "sees the flop" percentage below 20%. If I couldn't win any money, I'd comfort myself with the knowledge that I was playing "properly".

    But am I? When I read Gary Carson's book it gave me a whole new attitude toward starting hands. I was playing ultra-tight before, but in the loosey-goosey games you find at Party you can relax your requirements and increase your profits. And it worked for me. Looking over my stats and reviwing my play I know that the part of my game that really needs work is my play on the flop. I play scared, giving my opponent credit for having huge hands when in fact they're betting bottom pair with no kicker. I won won tidy hand today that made me think I was making progress. I had J-10 in the big blind and called a raise because there were 5 other players in the pot. I flopped top pair and when the action was checked around to me I bet, and got two callers. Another low card on the turn, I bet, and get raised. Shoot. The other guy folded, and now I had to decide whether to turn tail. I called, hearing a voice in my head saying, "Don't give up so easy on top pair". I try to block out the voice. Guy either has me outkicked or has two pair. The river was a king, I checked and he bet. I started to fold. But then I remembered that there was enough money in the pot to justify a call. No straight draw out there, no flush...let's see what this turkey has.

    He has AQ. Gobblegobblegobble. I almost laid down the winning hand to a guy who just wanted to bully me out. I found myself wondering how ofter that's happened to me recently, how often I've given money away because I lacked the guts or brains to bet my winning hand.

    ABC poker. That's what I've been playing. And it's wearing me down. I've made some nice money playing poker since I started--nice for a low-limit grinder like me, anyway. But...what's the point? That's the question I find myself asking right now. Do I enjoy playing? Yeah...but even a rookie like me is starting to get sick of the constant folding, folding, folding. I feel like I'm making money because the quality of my play is just one notch about "moron".

    I don't think I'm getting any better. That's why I've been playing tournaments, because it allows me to play a more creative, aggressive game. Until I got busted out in 10 tourneys in a row.

    OK, enough of a rant. Maybe tomorrow's the day I get dealt aces five times in a hour. Maybe tomrorrow's the day things click and I start playing a lot better. Or, maybe I just won't play at all tomorrow.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2004

    Poker Moves One Step Closer To Jumping the Shark

    First of all, the phrase "Jumping the shark" has, itself, jumped the shark. I divined this when I went to my library a few months ago and found that they had a book on tape called, you guessed it, "Jump the Shark". Listening to the creater of the website that gave us this phrase drone on for four hours about when Madonna jumped the shark, when Friends jumped the shark, when Tom Hanks jumped the shark...I was about to get out of my car on the 31st Street Bridge and jump into the Allegheny River. No sharks there.

    But the news on CNN today isn't worth of consideration for "sign of the apocalypse", so I'll trot out the JTS label. Ben Affleck won the California State Poker Championship, a $10K buy-in event with 90 players. He took down $356K, enough to give every person who saw Gigli a full refund, including expenses for popcorn.

    If folks who appear on Celebrity Poker Showdown start winning big poker events, that's when we know that the end is nigh. To be sure, Affleck is a far more serious player than, say, Wanda Sykes, but he did get beat by Willie Garson, who played some bloody awful poker. I bet poker pro and WPT finalist Stan Goldstein, who lost out to Affleck, is holding his head in his hands right now moaning, "I couldn't beat a guy who couldn't beat some loser from Sex in the City..."

    Will Affleck's victory be a Moneymaker-type boost to the ongoing poker boom, or will folks stop and say, "Know what, I haven't liked a movie the guy's been in since Dogma, so maybe I'll now have to avoid poker to keep my life Affleck-free."

    Speaking of Celebrity Poker, is it me or is Lauren Graham tres jolie? I don't watch Gilmore Girls (natch) but I was aware of who she is. And for someone who said she didn't know what she was doing, she looked like she knew what she was doing. Compared to Sean Astin, for instance. And, man, is Matthew Perry a bitch. The line between Chandleresqe wisecracks and pure slappy bitchiness is fine indeed, is it not?

    Here's a question--why the hell do they invite celebrities on these shows (including the WPT Hollywood Home Games) who have NO idea how to play. Not play well, mind you--I mean they don't know what a full house is, don't understand blinds, don't know how much the chips are worth. They either need to teach these celebs how to play Hold-Em or I gotta get famous real fast.

    My own recent play will not soon land me on the cover of All-In magazine. For those who haven't read it, a quick exercise in handicapping--how many Belevedere Vodka ads do you think were in the premiere issue? The Over/Under is 13, by the way.

    Back to my own play. It's been ehhh. Nothing much to write about. I play a few tournaments, get bounced out of the money, and then make it all back playing Pot-Limit. Last night I did something REALLY dumb. After a long night of volleyball and beer I staggered home and, around midnight, entered a $5 satellite for Empire's big Wednesday night tournament. One problem--the game was Limit, not No-Limit. An hour into the thing no one had been knocked out. I was tired. Tired and a bit buzzed. I wanted to go to sleep. I did go to sleep, conking out in my chair only to have my computer go BEEEP when it was finally time for me to act.

    At one point I had over $2000, but the guy to my left killed me on three massive hands to cripple me. I had AK, made aces on the flop, the guy called my raises all the way down, and ended up making bottom two pair on the river. I had QQ, raised, raised, raised, and had the board go runner-runner spades, to go with one on the flop, and he had the ace. He called all the way down with nothing but an ace and a single spade in his hand and got paid off. He knocked me out when he had AA to my 33 and flopped trips. Bastard. But at least I got to go to bed--at 2:15AM. There were still 13 players left. Ugh. Never again.

    I said in a previous post something along the lines that England had about as much chance of winning Euro 2004 as I do being named to the US synchronized swimming team. I meant to say that about SPAIN, not England. Time to lay a few pounds down on the lads, methinks.

    Thursday, June 17, 2004

    Some Random Thoughts, Some About Poker, Some Not

    -- I'm watching the England-Switzerland soccer game, and anyone who thinks England can actually win Euro 2004 is a few bricks shy of a full lorry. The lads lead the Cheeseheads (European branch) 1-0, but they're hardly impressive. They can't keep possession, their first touch of the ball is uniformly awful, and if the best keeper your nation can come up with is David James you have no business thinking yourself a soccer power. The English goal was a pretty piece of work between Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney, who both have been invisible other than that one flourish. Some pretty dire stuff.

    -- One of the horrors of being laid off is watching daytime TV. I did discover the delights of free On-Demand programming on our digital cable, but the programs never change. How many times can I watch the "Attilla the Hun Show" episode of Monty Python? I watched a lousy History Channel documentary about the Battle of Kursk, and some Food Network show about BBQ. Actually, there are so many shows about barbecue on Food Network that if you light a fire in your backyard you'll probably have a camera crew jumping your fence five minutes later.

    One thing I did watch today was the 9/11 commission testimony about the FAA and military reaction to the hijacked aircraft. Depressing, disturbing stuff. No one had any idea what was going on, no one at all expected anything like this to happen, and the big question is whether or not we should have been better prepared. I think it's easy to look back and say, yeah, we could have responded better. The FBI did prepare a report stating bin Laden planned to strike the US, and our intelligence services knew about Muslim men learning to fly and that there had long been al-Qaeda plans to use airliners as cruise missiles. How all that information could have been put together and acted upon in such a short time frame is the crux of the matter.

    Two pieces of info stuck in my mind. One: As the plane headed for the Pentagon bore in on Washington, someone asked a controller at FAA headquarters if maybe it was time to scramble fighers out of Langley to intercept it. The reply from the harried controller could have come from any underling who is under tremendous pressure and has no power to solve the problem. He said, "Uh...there're all talking about it right now (he meant his superiors)...there's nobody in the room".

    In other words, with a jet perhaps 20 minutes from destroying the Capital, the White House, or (as it turned out) the Pentagon, the people with the authority to at least get planes in the air weren't even in direct communication with the people who could scramble the fighters.

    Two: Vice-President Cheney authorized NORAD to shoot down any airliners that did not respond to commands. This was communicated to NORAD in an online chat converasaton, of all things. Even after Cheney gave this authorization, the NORAD person responsible for communicating this to the Air Force didn't exactly believe it. He asked the person on the other line to read out what exactly Cheney had said, and only then did he say he would pass on the order.

    But did he? When Cheney spoke to Donald Rumsfeld, the Defense Secretary asked if someone had actually communicated with the pilots in the air and told them what to do. Cheney said yes. This turned out not to be true. The pilots who had been scrambled originally were told only that they were to tail and visually identify any non-responsive aircraft. They were never ordered to get themselves in a firing position. On the other hand, the fighters that were scrambled out of Langley were told that the were under "weapons free" conditions. Meaning that the pilot, without waiting for authorization or orders, was free to fire upon any airliner he deemed a threat.

    In other words, it appears that none of the aircraft patrolling the skies over the dangers zones were operating under the orders Cheney had given. It just further illustrates how completely unprepared we were for an attack against targets in the US. One can only hope we're better prepared now.

    -- I played a little last night during the WPT show, and maybe my powers of concentration are getting better because I don't remember much of the show at all. They played Limit Hold-Em again, which is a nice change of pace. Erick Lindgren won again...he just isn't as compelling as Gus Hansen was a year ago, is he? Both two-time champions, but Hansen plays a more risky, dynamic game. More TV-friendly.

    My own tournament play has collapsed. I haven't placed in a single SNG all week. Finished 4th like 4 times. I haven't been getting cards, but that happens to everyone, but what's been frustrating is the cards my opponents have gotten. I make a nice raise with AA, other guy calls. Flop comes A-9-6. Tasty. I check, the other guy goes all-in. I call. He has 44, was making a desperate bluff. The ace and the six on the board are diamonds. He has the four of diamonds. Do I need to tell you what happened? I get killed on runner-runner diamonds and my trip aces get cracked.

    Last night I'm down to about $600 and the chip leader raises when I'm in the big blind. I have AK, might as well push 'em in. He calls...and turns over AK also. Ah, a friendly little hand, we'll chop the blinds and I live to fight another day. I have the king of diamonds, he has the ace. Do I need to tell you what happened? Four diamonds appear on the board and I go out to his ace-high flush.

    Then I decide to play some pot-limit. Three guys in, about $10 in the pot, I make the nut flush on the river. Sweet. First guy bets the pot, next guy goes all-in, I raise it, the original better raises...and only then does it hit me that an ace-high flush is not necessarily the nuts if the board is paired. Guy # 1 has the full house and that's $25 flushed, if you pardon the expression. Weird thing--the other guy went all the way with two pair, including the pair on the board. Oy.

    I did win all that money back, and then some. I even won about $15 back against the guy who killed me when he caught an ace on the river to beat my KK after I raised the pot like three times. I got out of there with a tidy profit and about 50 more gray hairs.

    -- I may be posting a bit less here in the next few days, as I've been working on my poker-themed short shory and I'd like to get it done in the next week or so (it's called "The Big Blind"). Plus I need to find a job and do yardwork and whatnot. Think I'm going to go through a career counseling business, I probably have a much better chance of finding a "real" job that way as opposed to my usual floundering from one dead-end gig to another. Met with one of the counselors at this one place and got a rare boost of confidence after speaking with him.

    So that's it for now. Maybe some volleyball tonight, some more tomorrow. Still gotta write about All-In, about personality and poker, and I'm sure some other bright ideas that'll come to me.

    Tuesday, June 15, 2004

    When A Bad Beat May Be Worse Than You Know

    I have a policy of not writing about my bad beats. We all endure them, and there's nothing worse than listening to someone bitch about the moron who pulled a 2-outer outta his ass to beat your straight. It's like hearing someone talk about that CRAZY dream they had last night, and you're sitting there for 20 minutes bored to tears as some nut unclogs his/her psyche. Although, if you'll give me a moment, I had another Howard Lederer nightmare last night. I rarely dream about poker, but when I do 'ol Howard seems to pop up to annihilate me. Odd, I'm much more afraid of Annie Duke...

    But anyway, lets get back to my story. I'm play $25 Pot-Limit after getting knocked out of an SNG and I'm dealt KK on the button. I raise the pot, but the guy in the small blind calls. The flop comes 6-7-8, not at all good for my cowboys, but would this guy really have called a $2.25 raise with 9-10? I bet the pot...and he re-raises me the pot. I'm starting to think this guy has aces. Should I fold or toss in my remaining eight bucks and see if maybe he just has a draw or maybe something goofy like A-8? He could easily have trips. I may be really screwed.

    I have one hope--the guy I'm up against is a player I've gone up against before. I've uploaded his stats from PokerTracker, and I can see that he's a pretty aggressive player, at least for Party/Empire. He puts money in over 55% of the time, he raises a fair amount, and I also see that, over the 93 hands I have info for him, he's down like 55 BB. He could easily have QQ or JJ or 10-10...or 9-9. Or that goofy A-8. I decided to push in my chips and see what happens.

    The turn is a deuce, the river an ace. And my foe turns over...AQ. I'm stunned. I bet the pot, and he re-raised me $15 bucks...with nothing. I couldn't see this as a bluff, I mean, I raised the pot, bet the pot after the flop...what the hell was this lucky bastard doing?

    I reloaded, intent on winning back my money from this jerk. But the cards were cold and I had to wait for my revenge. And this gave me time to think. Why the hell did he re-raise me? I had his stats right in front of me, he's an aggressive player, but he's not a loon.

    And then I froze. I had his stats in front of me. What if he had MY stats in front of HIM?

    I don't think I'm giving any secrets away when I say that I'm a cautious player. I like to think that I play a smart, tight, aggressive game...but of the three my aggressivness is what definitely needs work. I can be bossed out of pots when I don't hold the mortal nuts, especially in Pot-Limit, where one tough hand can wipe out 2 hours of happy cards. Even if I know that I'm almost certainly in the lead, it's the word "almost" that weakens my knees. It's something I've been working on, and with my bankroll the healthiest it's been since I started I've been a lot more confident about playing with my head instead of my wallet.

    But it's entirely possible that, every so often, I'm playing against people who use PokerTracker the same as me--or, to be honest, who use it a lot better than me. When I see that I have info on a player at my table I check it out, and I usually type some brief comment to sum up his play. It would not surprise me if some players--and maybe even the guy who beat me that one horrible hand-- has a note about me that says "If you raise this guy all-in he'll go away".

    It's not a good feeling. I've looked over my stats in PokerTracker and I've identified some areas that need improvement. But I honestly didn't care before if someone out there had a book on me. Pride goeth before the fall. Then might have just been your typical Party bad-beat. And if you think THAT one was bad, just wait till I tell you about this one...

    Sunday, June 13, 2004

    A little side action on the lake

    Before I begin this post in earnest, I just watched a bit of the WPT Celebrity event (I usually never watch them because they're a total waste) and, my God, does Daniel Baldwin look awful. A little like what Robert De Niro would look like after a six-day bender. I remember hearing Baldwin once on Howard Stern's show (before Clear Channel booted Howard from Pittsburgh's airwaves) just after Danny had gotten out of rehab, and he'd hired a guy to basically pal around with him all day to make sure he didn't pick up any old bad habits. He paid the guy sixty grand a year. The question I ask is, what exactly has Daniel Baldwin done in his career that gives him the scratch to dish out $60K to a guy to keep him away from tequila, blow, and worse?

    I just played in my first Empire multi-table SNG. The buy-in was five whole bucks, and I went up against 19 of Empire's finest. And finished dead last. How did that happen? How about flopping the nut flush, luring a guy to his doom, and have him fill in his straight flush on the turn? I had a whole $75 left after that, went all in, and had this one glorious doofus raise all-in, as he'd done two times before. This put me heads up with him, and though the doofus's pocket nines were better than my Jh8h, I caught a straight on the flop. This would've given me about $200 to play with, and with my shortstack mastery I felt I claw my way back into the game. Ah, no. Runner runner clubs and the doofus made his flush. Out, dead last.

    Typically a loss like this would have me despondent and making vodka milkshakes. But I had a good weekend at the table this weekend, and for once I mean an actual table, nothing virtual about it. A gang of us went to my buddy Rick's lake house for a few days of boating, drinking, and no-limit Texas Hold-em. This was the first time I got to use the chips I won in the Grublog Classic in combat, and all agreed that playing with these brightly-colored discs was far better than filthy nickels and tinny dimes. Give me the clatter of clay chips splashing into a pot any day.

    The night began with a rather surreal moment. My friend Scott was in Vegas during the World Series and briefly took in the scene at the Horseshoe. He played a little himself and took home a tidy profit--along with a copy of All-In magazine, which he brought along for me.

    "That's it!" I said when I saw Moneymaker's mug on the cover. "That the magazine I'm in!"

    "Wait, you're IN it?" Scott said.

    He didn't know about my blogging and I opened it up to Hdouble's article and, voila, there were my words in black-and-white. Pretty cool, I must say. Now I gotta get something published in there. Actually, maybe I could score a full-time job there as a copywriter, as I found oodles of typos in its pages, the most egregious being the misnaming of our Poker Grub as "Poker Grab". I misspelled a person's name in a paper I did for a journalism class and got an automatic F. Can't misspell names, guys.

    With our crew more or less gathered, we retired to the card room (yes, the house has a room with a hand-made poker table, green felt included) and kept alive our tradition of playing Asshole for the first few hours. If you don't know the rules of Asshole...well, lets just say that the game involves lots of drinking and leave it at that. Actually, I'd like to see a "World Asshole Tour" and watch six people drink themselves into oblivion while brutally insulting each other. Have to be on HBO.

    Three hours and 17 beers later the game wound down and I found to my delight that several folks wanted to break out those chips and play a little poker. No $1/$2 garbage for these folks, they wanted chips, lots of chips, piles and stacks of green and black and orange! So six of us took $2000 into battle for the massive stakes of $5 apiece.

    Since we were all in various stages of inebriation the game was naturally loosey-goosey. Even with several gallons of Yuengling in my belly I knew that if I played just a little bit tighter and a little more aggressively than everyone else I'd have an edge. The blinds started at just $10-$15, so those orange $500 chips got very little work at the beginning. We figured out quickly that we'd be there until dawn playing that low, so we goosed them up every few rounds and soon had ourselves a nice aggressive little game.

    Things get a bit hazy here and there. As God is my witness, I know that I won the first game, but I don't remember how or against who. Beer and exhaustion will do that to you. I may have been up against Scott...but I don't remember. Shoulda taken notes. The weather Saturday morning wasn't conducive to boating, so we played again and the outcome was the same, with Mean Gene running rampant. I built up a massive stack before Scott's friend Neil doubled up on me, and then doubled up again, and then AGAIN, and pretty soon those Creamsicle $500 chips were split evenly between us. I was having the same problem I have online--once I get the chip lead, my aggressiveness fades. I wait for big hands and run away when confronted. Not good power poker.

    I won a nice hand when I made a straight on the river and my sizable bet got called, and that gave me some confidence. Playing for fun, and not for much money, still had my nerves frazzled. One of the reasons why I play poker is the intellectual challenge, it lets me prove to myself that, even if my career is in limbo (or freefall, depending on how you wish to look at it), I do have a brain in my head. If I lost to people who, smart as they may be, don't have my experience and haven't studied the game as I have, well, I'd be embarassed. And having Neil re-raise me every time I tried to steal his blind had me grinding me teeth.

    I have Daniel Negreanu to thank for winning that game. During a segment on the WPT show he appeared on players were asked what their favorite, "lucky" hand is, and Negreanu said his favorite as 10-7 offsuit. That's what I was dealt, and two sevens appeared on the flop. I called a small bet, and a glorious 10 appeared on the turn. Neil, sensibly sensing weakness, went all-in, but this time I was just trembling with relief. I won the game just in time for the sun to appear and make wakeboarding less a punishment than a pleasure.

    Since the boat was filled to capacity I took the jet ski out and tooled around the lake at 40 MPH, shrieking out a rebel yell as I bounced over the nubbly waves. Dinner was chicken marsala with bowtie pasta and salad, made by our friend Ted, the bulkiest chef in Western Pa, and after disposing of that we all went back to the table for another $5 tourney. This time we had 8 players, some a bit less experienced than others. Neil's wife Tara, for example, who wasn't quite sure of the ranking of hands. I should've known better than fall for THAT particular trick.

    This game didn't go quite so well for me. The night before Scott's wife Debbie had suffered two terrible beats at my hands, once when the board paired on the river and made the lower of her two pair obsolete. I feared Debbie, because she had one talent the rest of us didn't have--she could stare us down without busting out laughing. Trying to detect a tell on someone you've known for 20 years is made considerably harder when both of you start giggling like loons. Like, I've known Mark (and Rick and Scott and Ted and Matt) since high school, or ever earlier than that. I roomed with Mark for 4 years. I can tell when Mark is lying, as can just about everyone can, because he starts grinning when he's fibbing. But when all of us are drunk and laughing and trying to display our stoniest poker faces, well, there's so much false information out there that there's no way to deduce what the hell the other guy (or gal) is holding. Except for Debbie, who stared us down with predatory malice. Even her husband got the treatment, but he probably gets it all the time.

    This time Neil busted out early, meaning I didn't have to worry about him bashing in my skull again. Things got confusing here. Debbie actually came to the table late, and took over Scott's pile while he took a (much needed) shower. When Rick got tired of dealing (yes, we had full-time dealers for these games, sweet) Ted took over and Scott started playing Ted's stack. Over this weekend I was reading Anthony Holden's book "Big Deal" and in it Holden recounts a time when Johnny Chan was hideous to this one dealer, who left the table in tears. Chan is known for abusing dealers, but I don't think he'd be so rude if Ted was dishing out the cards, unless he wanted his head squeezed to pulp like one of his lucky oranges.

    Ted dealt me absolute garbage for about an hour. Neil and Tara were now playing as a team, and gathering a sizable stack. I went up against Scott's friend Vince once with A-8, only to be up against A-J. I tried again when Vince went all-in and I had him covered by about $600, but when I turned over KQ he showed AJ, and when only garbage appeared on the board I was on the respirator. And then, my final hand. I was dealt K-9 and with the big blind one hand away figured this was the time to make my stand. I pushed in my $600. Scott called. Vince called. Neil and Tara called. "What the fuck?" I gurgled as a nice pile of chips was pushed to the side, leaving room for the remaining players to fight it out. Some big cards on the flop, but no king. Junk on the turn, but a nine appeared on the river, giving me the barest glimmer of life. No one bet, and when I turned over my cards I said, "Anyone beat my nines?"

    "Yup," said Scott, turning over AJ.

    "Yes," said Vince, turning over AQ.

    "We have a straight," Tara and Neil said, turning over AK. I go all-in with king high and end up against three aces with big kickers. Oy vey.

    The game went on for about an hour, with Scott (playing Ted's chips) and Neil and Tara tag-teaming it. I sat and read while they traded chips back and forth, until the dynamic duo finally put Scott out of his misery. Note to self--don't play poker against husband-and-wife teams. Dangerous.

    I got up and made the mistake of taking a shower. Clean at last, wearing clean clothes, sitting in a comfy chair with a good book, I soon found myself headed for dreamland. I only got like 3 hours sleep the night before because the goddam clock in the living room chimes at like 8AM and I was sleeping in the loft above that room. I hope Rick doesn't read this, 'cause next time I'm up there I'm tearing that clock off the wall and making firewood.

    Got out on the jet ski again this morning, and as it was still rather nippy it didn't look like we'd be going out on the boat. I was gonna get a ride home with Mark, and around 1 he said he'd like to head back. While I enjoy staying at the lake as long as possible, I wasn't opposed to the idea of getting home early and getting some chores done. We said our goodbyes as Rick took the hardiest folks out for some wakeboarding, and Scott was about to take the jet ski out himself. Then he said, "Hey, you wanna play some Hold-em?"

    Did I want to stay and play some poker? Was he kidding? Was Mark kidding when he said he wanted to play too? I of course said yes, and we shanghied Vince and had a little four-way tourney. This time we all put in $20, meaning we were playing for MASSIVE stakes this time. Now was the time for Mean Gene to make his presence known, bossing this table as only I knew how, stealing blinds, check-raising this pigeons to within inches of their lives.

    "Coo!!!" Mark said, or at least I thought that's what he said in his pigeon voice. He may have asked how many chips we should start with. We ended up with $2500, blinds $25-50 to start. And into battle we went.

    When the blinds were low I played conservatively, no sense throwing a lot of chips into a sparsely-populated pot. We played for about 45 minutes without anyone making much of a move, so we pushed the blinds up a bit and got some action started. Mark won a few hands and built up his stack, but I took $500 from him when I made a straight on the river. I raised his bet, and he looked at me and said, "You've got the 7-8..." but called anyway. I wasn't winning many pots but I had enough to keep me in good shape.

    The funniest hand of the weekend came when I sagely folded two rags. The other three guys were in all the way to the river, when a third spade appeared. Mark bet, and Vince stared to move his cards to the muck. "Possible flush out there," Scott said rather abstractly, and Vince immediately grabbed his cards back. Vince may not be the most experienced poker player, but he immediately raised it $500. Mark turned a sort of purple color and he said to Scott, "You goddam asshole! What...he was!"

    Scott was purple too, from laughing, and he tossed his cards in the muck. Mark had to decide whether Vince was making an inspired bluff or if he had the flush. He called, and Vince turned over the K-J of spades.

    The game soon turned into the Mark and Scott show. With his chips dwindling Scott developed the annoying habit of raising me all-in anytime I raised. Twice it would've cost me about $800 to call and maybe knock him out, and twice I folded. Both were inspired laydowns that Phil Hellmuth could write columns about. I really didn't want Scott to pick up any chips, because he had the most experience besides me and I figured that, eventually, I'd pick up a huge hand and let him bet into me.

    That was the plan with Mark, too, and when I looked down and saw pocket 10s, my favorite hand, I raised it up and Mark and Vince called me. The flop came, I think, 8-9-9. I checked, Mark tossed in an orange $500 chip, and Vince folded. Shit, did he have a nine? I had the overpair...I could definetly see Mark bluffing this, or playing an 8 strong. I called. Junk on the turn, I check, he bets another $500. Double shit. I have only 2 moves here--fold or all-in, because I'm getting close to critical mass now. Call or fold. Should I allow Fate to step in and guide my hand? Pocket 10s have done so well for me over the last 6 months...

    I folded. Mark had pocket 3s. I cracked open another beer and chugged it. Sonofabitch tricked me, the bastard. Mark stacked up a mighty stockade of chips and I had a tiny little pile. Bastard.

    Vince was soon bounced, leaving it to me and Mark and Scott. We'd been at it for a few hours now, and everyone was back from the boat and surprised to see Mark and I were still around. It was time to start cleaning the house, so we bumped the blinds WAY up and now was the time for me to get lucky.

    It started with me getting QQ and having Mark call me. Junk on the flop and I went all-in and won the pot. One lesson I've learned from playing online SNGs is that, if you're trying to hang on and get in the money, the best way to do it is eliminate the other guys yourself, so you get their chips your ownself. I had a few more chips than Scott and went all-in with pocket deuces. He called and turned over J-10. He flopped an open-end straight draw, but he got no help the rest of the way and we were down to two. We were about even, but Mark won a decent pot from me and had probably a 2-1 lead on me before I won a pot myself to get us almost back to even. I had maybe a few hundred more than Mark when I was dealt J-3 and the flop came 5-3-2. Mark might have anything in his hand, but if he didn't have a five or a pocket pair I was in the lead. We could hear vaccum cleaners humming, so it was time to end this thing.

    I pushed my chips forward, and Mark called. He turned over A-10, so my tiny pair had me in the lead. My God, is it stressful watching the dealer burn a card, and then turn it over. Scott turned over an 8, no help, and then turned over a glorious 7, giving me the sweet, sweet victory.

    It was a lot of fun, playing live. My concern is that these bastards will catch the poker bug and start reading books and playing online and kicking my ass. Be nice to get a regular live poker game together. Hmm, maybe ask Mark if any of his wealthy, gullible, and overconfident doctor friends have ever watched the WPT...

    OK, time to play a quick SNG and to bed to once again admire my blurb in All-In. I'll be writing something soon about the magazine, and also something about "Big Deal", one of books in the poker pantheon. But for now, to the tables. Hope I don't finish dead last again this time.

    Wednesday, June 09, 2004

    Maestro of the Shortstack

    If you read Lion Tales, Richard Brodie's blog recounting his adventures on the World Poker Tour and beyond, you know that he refers to his significant other as "Shortstack", I think due to her diminuative stature and not her inability to deal with large volumes of pancakes. Lately I've been thinking of stealing her nickname for myself, as I have been positively Houdiniesqe lately while playing with a paltry pile of chips.

    I managed to hang on during the Iggy Invitational while holding such a stack and take second place. But it's been during some recent Party SNG action that I've proved myself an absolute MASTER of handling such stressful situations. In my own mind, anyway.

    I haven't been playing much lately, but when I have I've been playing $10 SNGs pretty much exclusively. I had a bit a bad run, finishing 10th and then 9th in consecutive tourneys, once when the trip queens I flopped were already beaten by a flopped straight, another when my pocket kings got run down, eventually, by a J-10 offsuit all-in call. Screaming at the heavens I buckled down the next night resolved to get in the money.

    This I accomplished with ease, making the final three with about $3000. I knocked out the guy in 3rd place, and me and my foe went back and forth a few hands, he winning one nice pot that put us almost even. I was dealt K-8 in the big blind and checked when he called. The flop came K-8-6, with the last two cards clubs. I bet, he raised, and I made a boo boo. I just called. I should've gone all in with top two pair, since I doubted he would only call with a pocket pair. When a third club came on the turn he made a nice bet that I called, and when a blank fell on the river I had to call his all-in bet. I'd never won a $10 SNG before, and while other players reading this might scoff at such piddling sums, to me victory was a big deal.

    One that would have to wait. Of course he had the flush, and I was down to $260. Maybe he would've called had I gone all-in on the flop, who knows? What I did know was that I only had $260 to his $7740, and that it was all over but the cryin'.

    But the blinds were 100-200, and when he folded in the small blind the next hand I was up to $360. Of course I went all-in the next hand, and he folded. The next hand I was dealt A-5, and my ace held up against his jack. Suddenly I was in business. My opponent, realizing that I was off the mat, got aggressive again and smacked me with an all-in reraise of his own that quashed a bluff. That hurt, but I was dealth QQ two hands later and when I made the same raise he came over the top again, only this time I was ready for him. Now we were almost even, and he really tightened up. I managed to get a tiny chip lead over him, and was dealt pocket 9s. He made the usual raise, I went in for all my chips, and he called. With J-9. I had him dominated, no jack showed, and I had won my first $10 tourney after crawling out of the grave.

    Psyched I was. I played another SNG and took 3rd, and I just completed another one where, again, I took 3rd, after once again exhibiting my shortstack prowess. One guy had about $5000 in chips, another around $1200, and me and a fourth had the remaining $800. I had $500, he had $300, but more importantly I had position on him. The blinds hit him before me, so that gave me one extra precious hand to wait for him to go belly up. Thing is, it took about 5 orbits for it to happen. The low guy went all-in under the gun, I folded, the other guy folded, and the huge stack, needing to only put in another $100, folded as well. I couldn't believe it. Gamble, dammit! Although that might have given the short guy enough chips to outlast me, but at this point I needed him all-in so he could get pushed out.

    Then an orbit later we were in the blinds and he didn't go all-in. He just called, and I checked with 7-3. I got no help on the flop and he went all-in. What to do? If I'd held the hammer, sure, I call, but no way with 7-3. I had to fold, and hated to do it.

    The short guy finally got his due when he went all-in with K-7 and ran into A-K. I was down to $300, enough to post the blinds one more time, so I was thrilled to be in the money. And even more thrilled to double up not once, but twice in the next two hands. Suddenly I was in 2nd chip position, and I felt I had a read on the guy to my left. He'd been whacking me with big re-raises, and I'd just caught him once with QQ and doubled through. I wanted to turn the tables and boss him now, since he wouldn't want to go out third. I was dealt K-10 and made a tidy raise. He went all-in, and since I was again down to $600 I called. This time he had the QQ, and I was toast.

    But the most extreme example of my shortstack play came a few weeks ago. This one guy went on a ridiculous tear, he had AA twice and knocked players out, made quads when another guy had a full house, and got leprechaun-quality lucky when he hit runner-runner spades to flush out a guy who'd flopped a straight. With 5 players left he had about $6500 in chips, leaving we sorry four with about $300-$400 apiece.

    With only 3 places paying, what transpired next was what I called "judo poker". No-limit is allegedly all about aggression, but since each of us only had one bad move left to us an opponent's aggression could well be used against him. With the blinds at $50-100 each of us had to either double up or get blinded off quickly, but with our stacks so low you just KNEW the bully with all the chips would call. So you had some very unusual plays. Like a guy with $200 paying his $100 big blind, having the big stack put him all-in...and folding. Because even though he might only have $50 after paying his small blind, that was enough time for two other players to go belly-up.

    This is exactly what I did on one occasion. I folded my blinds twice, until I was down to $175, and was rewarded by watching one of my fellow vultures get knocked out when the big guy flopped a pair and beat his ace-high. And then I got lucky, was dealt JJ and went all-in and this time survived the confrontation. With a whole $400 in front of my I was perfectly willing to fold, fold, fold, because the other players would be blinded out before me. That's what happened to one player, putting me in the money, and then the big guy crushed the remaining dude and put me into second place.

    It was absolutely nerve-racking, sitting there with one big and one small blind in front of you and wondering if Q-5 was good enough to go all-in with. And it was also patently absurd, four guys doing their best NOT to play a hand. But if it got me in the money, I was happy with it.

    So my shortstack play is in fine fettle. Problem is, when you have a shortstack that typicaly means you've made a litany of errors along the way to put you in such dire straits. Congratulating yourself for good shortstack play is giving yourself a left-handed pat on the back. I hope someday to get some experience working with a big stack of chips in front of me. Wonder what that's like?

    Going away for the weekend, so no posts for awhile. No poker, not the online sort anyway. But at long, long, LONG last, I'm gonna get to use the chips I won in a real game. A report on what will doubtless be a drunken amateur hour of horrible calls and even worse beats will be forthcoming.

    UPDATE: Played another SNG watching the WPT event tonight, and about 5 hands in I lose just about all my chips when I flop a jack holding AJ and find to my dismay the other guy limped in with AA. Why you limp in with aces in early position with the blinds only 10 and 15 I dunno, but there you are. I was down to $160 and neck-deep in the doo-doo.

    So what happened? I started weaving that shortstack magic. First I double up with, what I must say, was a killer beat. I had As9s, the other guy had AcQc. I'm in trouble. A spade on the flop, another on the turn...and another on the river gives me the pot.

    I gobbled up a few more pots and got to $600 when I went all in with my favorite hand, pocket tens. I was up against AQ, and this time the flop comes Q-K-K. Oy. A blank on the turn, and then there was one of those pregnant pauses for the river card to appear, and, you guessed it, a ten. I gotta run to PokerTracker and see what kinda odds I was up against there.

    The odds were only slightly better when I went all in with A-5 suited against A-2 and had the bastard flop a deuce. We went to the river, and I got my five. Unreal. By this time I had about $1500 in chips and was down to the final four. I had the low guy under the cosh when I had AQ to his A2, but he paired both on the flop and leapfrogged me. But I grabbed the blinds a few times, and found KQ on the button. What to do, what to do...I went all-in and had the short guy call me with K8. He got no help, and I was in the money.

    I got nailed myself on the river after that, giving me about $1000 and the other 2 guys almost $3500 apiece, and I started to type a comment egging them to mix it up. No need. A raise, re-raise, re-raise all-in, and call before I could type anything. One guy had KQ, the other A-8. Dunno if I'd go all-in with either hand, but they did, and when the A-8 guy won I didn't even realize that he'd knocked the other dude out. Happy about it I was.

    And then I made a total bonehead play. I got almost to even-up, and called with QJ. The flop came 7-3-3, and I should've made my move then, if ever. I didn't, a king on the flop, and Mr. Genius here bluffed all-in. Smooth, Geno. He had the king and bounced me.

    So, once again, I'm in the money after being nearly down to the felt. It was especially satisfying because some of the other players were trash talking me after I lost that first early hand. None were around to collect any money, and as they say, the best revenge is living well. With the crazy luck I had that game, I must be doing something right.

    UPDATE UPDATE: Or, maybe I'm not living so well after all. Play another SNG, first hand I'm on the button and limp in with like 7 other players with Qd10d. The flop comes 9-10-Q, one diamond. Guy bets $40, another calls, I raise it up to $175, first guy calls. Ace of diamonds on the turn, he bets, I call. Junk on the river, he bets about $100, I gotta put him all in. He turns over A-9 and I'm toast on the very first hand. If I don't quite understand why the guy would call a $175 raise with bottom pair if there was a straight threatening, that just shows why I went all-in. So I just pissed away half the profit I made on the last tournament. I think my last few SNGs I've finished 10, 9, 2, 1, 3, 3, 2, 10. In the words of Jean-Paul Sartre, merde.

    Saturday, June 05, 2004

    You Can't Catch Fish Without Bait

    First of all, thanks to everyone who offered commiserations for my recent job loss. I'm taking the attitude that just about everyone recommended--this is the best thing that could have happened to me. The more I think about my previous job, the more I wondered why I wasn't already busting my tail looking for a new one. Well, I know the answer to that-I was so exhausted mentally and physically by the time I got home that I just wanted to veg in front of the TV and play poker. I was stuck in a rut worn six feet deep. I left the job before this one because I hated it, was lousy at it, and had no chance of ever getting a better position. I wasn't bad at this job, but it had gotten to the point that I hated it, had no chance of getting a better position, etc etc. Its bad enough when you have a job with no future--but when it also doesn't have a present, screwed ye be.

    So I'm looking for a job that I might actually be good at and enjoy a bit. I could probably go out and get a job similar to the one I just left, and if things get sketchy I'll do just that, but I have some time to get my act together and find that "real" job I've been looking for since I graduated from college. I'm turning the blog that used to be my Presidential home page into a "Hire Mean Gene" site. So I may not be posting here quite as much, at least until I'm gainfully employed again.

    Not that I'll fall totally silent, mind you. I haven't been playing much poker at all since I got sacked, but I played a little tonight, and a recurring theme imposed itself once again.

    Let me tell you a quick story: When I was a kid, my dad and brother and occasionally my cousin Terry would go up to Lake Arthur (north of Pittsburgh) to do some fishing. We'd get up around 5AM, stop somewhere for a big breakfast, and get our lines in the water just after the dawn. Mostly we caught panfish--bluegill and perch and the occasional scrawny bass. Good times.

    We rarely caught anything sizable, but one memory sticks in my mind. We were standing on the shore and the water was oddly clear for some reason. The sun was behind some fluffy cumulous clouds and you could see the bottom of the lake about 30 feet offshore. We didn't have any lines in the water yet, and as we affixed worms to hooks my dad said, "Look at that!"

    Cruising along the shore was a long, nasty looking fish. I think my dad identified it as a walleye. I'd never seen a walleye before (nor have I caught one to this day), but no matter what it was, it was much, much bigger than any fish I'd caught before. He was gliding along slowly, to my mind looking for an easy breakfast, and with a worm at the ready I gingerly tossed in my line about 15 feet in front of him. Wanted to entice, not spook.

    The walleye cruised by and ignored my worm. If I recall my dad had a little jig on his line and tossed it in. Nothing. I recast again, with the same result. Our trophy fish swam away without giving us so much as a dirty look.

    The last few days at Party/Empire I've had the same feeling as I did on that shoreline 25 years ago. Fish are teeming, but I don't have the right bait to land them. By bait, I mean cards, of course, but you figured that out. When you're playing against folks who haven't a friggin' clue, you usually have to show down the best hand. The good thing is that when you DO have a big hand your fishy foe will call you all the way holding second pair. The bad thing is, if you can't get a big hand, if you go 60-70 hands holding nothing but toilet paper, you can't get those fish in the boat.

    And that's been my lot lately. The last six or seven sessions I've played the deck has been immersed in liquid nitrogen. It's hard to play this game if you're dealt monsters like J-6, 10-3, 9-4. Even if they're suited. Especially if they're suited.

    It's frustrating watching guys win $30 pots with top pair and a 5 kicker, not because they won that particular hand but because you can't get anything going to seize all that ill-gotten loot. As I've said before, it isn't like I'm getting dealt kings when another guy has aces. I can't get so much as ace-high. And flopping an ace? Please.

    My cards have been so bad that I haven't LOST that much either. I have few bad-beat stories to lament because I get to the river about as often your typical Pittsburgh boat owner (sort of a inside Burgh joke there, and not an especially good one either). Playing poker can be an emotional roller-coaster, with soaring highs and desperate lows. I've been riding the merry-go-round, I pay a buck to go around one more time and, when the calliope falls silent, I pay another buck to ride again. It makes for a rather dull time.

    I did have one hand that got my blood pumping, thought if of course ended badly. I've been playing pot-limit again (it's the game I've done best at), and for some reason the last few times I've played no one ever raises preflop. With anything. OK, you might see a raise up to a buck, but no big raises to chase people out. When you see a guy turn over AA when the pot wasn't raised before the flop, and then see other massive pairs played like sketchy draws, it makes you nervous even if you hold a massive hand.

    As I did during this one hand. I had pocket nines and bet the pot in middle position. Three callers, and the flop comes 9-Q-J, the last 2 cards hearts. With two to a flush out there I decided to bet it hard and heavy, and I bet the pot. Another guy calls. A third guy bets the pot AGAIN, making it $20 for me to call. The play at the table has been loosey-goosey, and I can't imagine either guy has pocket queens or jacks. Should I toss the hand in? Crap, I gotta have the best hand. I call.

    A king on the turn and the same guy bets the rest of his money, only about $5. I'm committed now, of course, so I call, and so does the other guy. A blank on the river, I bet my remaining $5, and so does the other guy. There's like $80 in this pot. If I win, Nirvana.

    But of course I don't win. The guy who made the massive bets turns over 10-8 to make the straight. The other guy mucks, giving me the side pot at least. So I only lost $18 or so. The guy called a $2 preflop raise holding 10-8? The other guy called all the way to the river and he couldn't beat a straight or the 4th-best set? Deciding who played this hand the worst could be a pretty good conversation.

    I guess someday this streak of freon cards will lift, and I'll flop the occasional top pair, maybe hit a flush before Christmas. My overall luck hasn't been too good lately, but maybe if I ride out this current trough in my fortunes I'll soon be riding a tidal wave of good fortune. Cowabunga, dude.

    Tuesday, June 01, 2004

    Not the greatest day I've ever had

    Perhaps I should've stayed in bed, after what's gone on today. Not that I could've stayed in bed, not with my kitten in psycho mode. He was playing with a milk ring on the bed about 6AM, flailing around and bothering me, but that didn't compare to what happened shortly after that. He grabbed a wadded up paper ball he's been tormenting the last few days, and leapt from the dresser to the bed--landing square on my nuts. This is not the best way to be woken out of a dreamless sleep. I let out a shrill bellow, threatened Izzy's life, and would've taken a frying pan to the little bastard had my wife not threatened me with a larger frying pan. Izzy's her favorite, so my revenge had to wait.

    I went to work, fiddled with a few files, cleared up a problem from Friday, and went to get a cup of coffee. I returned to my desk to find my phone ringing and our HR person on the line. She asked me to come down to her office. Now, I'm not an idiot, I know that it's rather unlikely that she wanted to tell me I'd just gotten a big promotion and a raise. I went down to her office and learned that I was being laid off. Things have been really slow the last couple of weeks, so it doesn't come as a big surprise, though I was surprised that I was let go. I didn't get the chance to go up and get my stuff out of my desk, since the modus operandi these days is not to give the canned employee a chance to go postal and lay waste to the office. My boss brought my work bag down, and it wasn't until I was halfway home that I remembered my radio and CDs are in my desk. So I'll have to go out there again and pick them up.

    It sucks. I get to collect unemployment, get my benefits through the end of the month, get paid for my 2 weeks of remaining vacation. I didn't like my job, especially recently, and last Friday was about as bad a day of work as I've ever had, and I've had some doozies. This might be exactly what I need to get my act together and get a job I'm actually good at and actually enjoy. I've never had a job I liked--actually, I've never had a job I didn't hate, to some extent. I actually went to a job fair at a local bank on the way home, I'd planned on going there on my lunch break, so I just stopped in a few hours earlier than I intended. So already the job hunt begins.

    Uh, if anyone reading this lives in Pittsburgh and needs a really smart guy with an MBA who can write a bit and knows to lay down AQ unsuited in a raised pot with three callers, I'm your man.

    I'll miss a lot of the people I worked with, and one irritating thing about getting escorted from the building is that you don't get to say goodbye or anything. Oh, yeah, to my work buddy Matt--if you see this, leave a comment and let me know if you're still working there or if you got let go too. I also have to get some of my poker chips back from a guy I worked with there, but he lives near me and I'm not concerned.

    Another weird thing--I have a lot of issues I was working on that I didn't get to complete, and it's going to bother the hell out of me wondering what's going to happen. One problem has been going on for about 10 months, and I finally got it just about fixed, but I needed to check to make sure everything was done right and now I won't be doing that. I can just imagine what the person I was helping is gonna do when she finds out I'm gone. I could just shrug my shoulders and say, hey, it's not my problem anymore, but I have trouble doing that. Maybe a beer will help.

    Hey, so now I have lots more time to play poker! Uh, no. I was planning on playing less and doing other stuff more, and that's going to be accelerated bigtime. But I do have some poker content to write about. First of all, this blog was featured in the excellent piece written by HDouble for All-In, a fancy new glossy magazine devoted to our favorite game. The article is about the proliferation of poker blogs and it was very cool to see my name and words included. Although, I probably should have thought of writing such an article myself, so I got scooped, but still pretty cool to see my name in print. I haven't been able to find a copy of the mag yet, but I'll keep looking or just subscribe to it. If you're a Shana Hiatt fan, methinks you'll like the pics that accompany the piece about her.

    The article does seem to be luring folks to this site. The example Hank used for my blog is the piece I wrote about Phil Hellmuth, and when I check my site statistics I've found quite a few people who came my way after they typed in "The Unbearable Lightness of Being Phil Hellmuth", which was the title of said post. And that's pretty cool. About 80 people a day visit this blog, which doesn't put me quite in the league of ESPN or, but is again pretty cool. Maybe if I keep posting good stuff I can get it up to 100 a day, and beyond.

    Speaking of Phil, you need to read his latest "Hand of the Week" screed. Kudos to Iggy for pointing out Phil's latest trip to Lululand. Every year there's a contest where writers try to parody Ernest Hemingway's prose, and I thought about sponsoring one where I'd award a copy of Play Poker Like the Pros for the person who could best capture the unique blend of whining, boasting, and self-delusion that is Hellmuthian prose. But, come on, who amongst us could hope to compete with the master himself? Plus there's the danger it might permanently infect some unsuspecting blogger who would soon be wearing out the exclaimation mark key on his/her keyboard.

    I haven't read Andy Glazer's WSOP report yet, mostly because it was about 4 days in coming. Hey, if they need help covering next year's event I'll do it for free, Andy. I'll even let you have the byline, a la the New York Times. Pay my airfare, give me a floor to sleep on, and a little bread and water, and I'm your guy. And this has nothing to do with my recent employment situation.

    One thing Andy wrote about got the eyebrows to raising. He said that, unless the WSOP increases the buyin, there could be six to ten thousand players at next years event. They'd have to hold it up and down the Strip, I doubt there's one casino big enough to hold that many players at once. Ten thousand players...that's just nuts. I can definitely see them boosting the buy-in to $25K or even $50K, which would have the immediate effect of cutting down the number of online qualifiers. Maybe, as Iggy opines, the online sites will start their own huge event, giving their players another chance to shine on a stage maybe as big as the WSOP itself.

    Another reason to play at Party and avoid PokerStars--Moneymaker played at Stars, so did Greg Raymer, David Williams, and I believe two other 2004 finalists. While I'd love to match wits with the absolute cream of the poker world, I struggle enough with the fish at Party. So I'll just admire from afar.

    I actually wrote a long post this weekend lamenting how lousy I've done the last month, but after reading it I decided to spare you all. I needed the catharsis of writing it, but you didn't need to read it. I've been running ice cold for two months, but May was the first month I lost money playing poker. Thing is, thanks to my 2nd place showing in the most recent WPBT even I still made a few bucks. Hard to say that I'm hurting too bad when I'm still making money, so although I need to get my head on straight and start playing better, I can't be too disappointed when I'm still solvent. I've also had a strikingly bad run of cards lately. Not bad in the sense that I get kings when another guy gets aces, bad in the sense that I play for an hour and end up winning one small hand and losing one big one and get blinded along the way. It's weird having a $30 loss and not losing a single hand at the showdown, as I did the other day. The one hand I lost like $10 I flopped a straight, had the board pair on the turn, and then triple on the river. I folded, one guy turned over a full house, the other dude turned over quads. If that last six doesn't come on the river I win a very tasty pot, but instead I drop $9 and then make an obvious fold on the river. Oy vey.

    So hopefully the cards will show some mercy on me. I actually won't be playing too much, since I need to find gainful employement and I'm not quite ready to follow David Ross's lead and play online for a living. As my wife said, maybe this is the best thing that could happen to me. I was stuck in a job with no future, a job I hated, a job where I made no money...I should have been looking for a job like crazy anyway, but when your brain is fried after 11 hours doing something you don't like its hard to rev up again once you get home. So, time to get cracking. Like I said, any Pittsburghers who are reading this right now and are thinking, "Y'know, I need a guy like this in our dahntahn office, writes a little, plays a little poker...", just drop me a line. get this widget Please visit Pokernews site for more poker news, poker strategy articles or poker rules.

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