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
Card Player
Internet Texas Hold-Em
Poker Pages


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    Thursday, December 30, 2004

    Just About Ready For The Inactive List

    Just a few scribbles to end the year, as I don't think I'll have my latest stupid big-post ready for for tomorrow. Tomorrow I think will be spent doing domestic chores before heading out to a party to chime in the New Year. May 2005 be a more peaceful and civil year than 2004, and may Mother Nature spare us a bit of her wrath in the 12 months to come.

    Although politically I lean further to the left than the right, I usually find myself reading more conservative blogs than liberal. I've wondered why this is, and I've come up with a few rationales. One, like most folks I enjoy getting outraged, and reading the relentlessly self-congratulatory and oft-underbrained screeds many righty bloggers pump out keeps my heart going at a good clip. Two, like most folks I enjoy cringing, and reading the relentlessly whiny and oft-underbrained rantings of many crybaby lefty bloggers makes keeps my stomach churning. Three, I've been resisting the urge to greatly expand the scope of this blog and try to wedge myself into a different segment of the blogosphere, and reading the liberal blogs makes me think more and more that I SHOULD try to jump in. Frankly, I have other things to worry about (poker, volleyball, beer) than trying to shape national political discourse 1 person at a time. So we'll see.

    It's been a good year for poker bloggers, that's for damn sure. What started as "we happy few, we band of brothers" has mushroomed into a vast posse of boys and girls playing games both big and small all over the world. I think a big post just about the poker section of the blogosphere is in order, but that I think will have to wait. It's my lunch hour, I'm just riffing, and I don't have the time to bash our 15,000 keystrokes.

    I had a big score myself last night, taking 2nd place in a $5 SNG to increase my bankroll a whopping THIRTY-EIGHT percent. I've decided to focus on SNGs on the advice of Richard Brodie, aka the Quiet Lion, aka charter member of the Shana Hiatt Extreme Fan Club, aka multiple World Poker Tour casher. I emailed Richard after reading his entry about his triumph at the main event of the Five Diamonds Classic at Bellagio. I didn't care about him bossing around Gus Hansen or knocking out John Juanda--I just HAD to hear about Isabelle Mercier, whom he sat next to. God, just her NAME gives me the willies. I'm sick.

    When the Lion roars, you listen, and after reading my whiny post about my limit troubles he recommended NL sit-n-goes. Which I should've thought of myself, since according to my PokerTracker stats I'm little more than a break-even low-limit player but a veritable whiz at SNGs. So I refocused on what I hoped would be easier pickins, and went to work.

    I actually had to play pot-limit, because every time I tried playing a NL game the table was full by the time I got there. PL is the much more refined and sophisticated game, and therefore right up my alley. Sat down, played tight, everything broke about even, and I went out on the bubble. Nothing much to say about it, I played the cards I was dealt, stole a bit here and there, got caught with 2nd best once and lost 1/2 my stack, and when we got 4-handed I didn't have enough chips to play patiently or scare anyone. I hoped the other three would mix it up and maybe I could sneak into the money, but they circled 'round me like 3 hyenas waiting for a hobbling wildebeest to fall off the pace.

    But I came second in my next go, thanks to a ludicrous beat. Me and this one guy locked horns a few times, with him getting the best of me when I held A-9 and flopped two pair, only for a third club to show on the turn and for me to get check-raised all-in. He showed his flush, which was nice of him. What wasn't so nice was what I did to him a few hands later. I held J-7 in the big blind and saw a free flop of K-7-4. I called a small bet with my middle pair, and when another 7 appeared on the flop it was time to push in the rest of my stack. The guy thought, and thought, and thought, and I figured he had a king and was trying to decide if I had a seven. Nope. When he called he turned over 4-4, making me wonder what took him so long to call with a boat. I was ready to click the YES button on the ol' DO YOU WANT A TOURNAMENT HISTORY? screen when a miraculous king appeared on the river. "That was sick" I typed in commiseration.

    I went up and down, up and down, but after playing Lycra-tight all game I started pushing and got respect for my raises. Eased into the money, which I so desperately needed. I played well, which means I didn't play horribly.

    Which, alas, I've done since I got home. I've played 2 SNGs, and played perhaps the worst I've ever played. In the first I gave away my entire stack when I had AK two hands in an row, had QJ on the flop and pushed it and was called. Idiot. And the last hurts to think about it. I was down to T200, but fought back until we got 4-handed. One guy had T6000, I had T1300, and the other 2 guys had about T350 each. How I managed to finish out of the money is hard to explain. Both bottom-dwellers doubled up on the chip leader, and then I played the worst hand in my life. Funny, that's about the 3rd time I've written that this week. I was on the button, I had KQ and only about T400 left. I pushed all in. The big guy called. And the guy in the big blind called...because he only had T50 left. I could've just mucked my hand and hopefully the big guy knocks him out. Which is what happened--he knocked us both out, but because I started with about T25 less, I ended up in fourth place. And I can't afford bubble finishes, obviously.

    Well, let's keep the good times rolling! I just got knocked out again. I had KsQs, with about 6 callers of my raise. Flop comes AsJsJd. So I have a Royal Flush draw (odd, that will lead into my next poker post) and I push it. One caller. Rag on the turn, he puts me all in, I call. I hit my flush on the river...only to realize he was holding AJ and flopped a full house. Only the 10 of spades could've saved me, and of course it didn't come. So I'm out again.

    Down to $15, meaning I have 2 bullets in my SNG gun. When I started this post I had five, ugh. Maybe I'll go trolling the blogger table, if I can find them. 'Cause it looks like very, very soon I'm gonna be back on the sidelines again. A very tough run of cards, I have to say.

    Fortunately I have some poker stuff to write about that doesn't involve my play, plus some other junk. Ah, the poker playing was cutting into my writing anyway. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Or cut your hand and squeeze the juice over the wound and deal with the pain...

    UPDATE: Found the blogger table, as insane and crazed and fun as I imagined. Played another SNG, took the chip lead, went to the river against a guy who needed 1 of 2 jacks to know what happened. Took 5/6 of my stack, and I lost the next hand when my KQ went up against KK and JJ. One SNG left in my quiver, don't think I'll play it tonight. The Moon is not in my House tonight. Maybe drink some paint thinner and go to be. Just a brutal run, just brutal.

    Tuesday, December 28, 2004

    I Can't Hog All the Luck...Can't I?

    Ugh, just felt like writing a bit, have a mammoth post inbound but it'll probably hit these pages after the New Year. Oh, yeah, in case my buddy Oy reads this, the hell you doing New Years Eve? I think I'm going to the volleyball party myself. Maybe bring a nice bottle of red, not the Black Russian Red, I'm thinking either the Pindar Merlot or the Pythagorus. Or, maybe I'll just say the hell with it and drink Rico's Miller Lite.

    It looks like the asteroid I mentioned yesterday is going to miss us after all. It's been downgraded to a zero on the Torino scale, which means we got all excited about nothing. Not that we don't have enough global catastrophies to deal with, now that the full horror of the earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean is becoming known.

    Such colossal tragedies put bitching about poker in perspective. Actually, remember the scene in "This Is Spinal Tap", the band is visiting Elvis's grave at Graceland, and they're gathered around the tomb, and Derek Smalls says, "Sort of...puts it all in perspective, doesn't it?"

    And David St. Hubbins says, "Well, yeah, but too much, too much fucking perspective."

    So I can accept this rough patch of poker with ease, knowing full well how incredibly lucky I am. And I don't just mean in a general "I'm fortunate to live in America and have my health and the family is OK and Ben Roethlisburger looks like the goddam Second Coming" sense, but in a specific, kicked-in-the-nuts by a leprauchaun sense. Let me explain.

    Last Monday I'm heading to work and battery light on my dashboard is on. I hit some traffic so I pull out my owners manual, look up "Idiot Lights" and find that this light indicates that my battery charging system might not be working. OK. Is that bad? Reading on, I learn that I should turn off all electrical systems and get the car serviced as soon as possible. I may be able to drive a short distance, but...

    OK. That is bad. Because today of course there's traffic, a car broke down by the 31st Street Bridge, and it takes me nearly 25 minutes to get to work. I turn off headlights, radio, and heater, which is uncomfortable because its like 4 degrees outside. I get to work before I turn into a Genesicle, but now I have to hope and pray my dejuiced car will start in the cold and get me to my trusty mechanic. I call them (they know me well enough to send me a goddam Christmas card) and they say that if I can get it to them ASAP they'll try to squeeze me in. I want to leave early anyway so that I'm not driving in the dark, so I saddle up and take off.

    My car starts, and soon I'm heading to the repair shop. Which is located on McKnight Road, aka McKnightmare Road, one of the most congested retail corridors in Pittsburgh. I do NOT want my car dying on McKnight Road three days before Christmas. I will block traffic for miles, I will have people honking and screaming at me, I'll have to wait for my car to get towed, in the cold...please, Betsy, don't let me down...

    I'm halfway down the road when I see that traffic is a mess. Cars backed up as far as the eye can see. I calculate that I have three traffic signals to negotiate and then I'll be in the clear. My car is running fine, but it sounds ominously quiet. No radio of course, but the idling engine sounds very, very quiet.

    The next five minutes resemble "Apollo 13". I make it through one light, only to come to a stop at the perilous intersection of McKnight and Seibert Road, the busiest crossroads along my route. Each of the four spokes has its own turning lane and light, meaning I have to sit there, waiting and waiting and waiting, while amps and volts slowly leach away under my hood.

    And then it begins. A light flashes on my dash, my anti-lock braking system is down. Uh-oh. The light in front of me turns green, I apply the gas, and my AIR BAG warning light goes on. Oh, please, not here. If my car croaks in the middle of McKnight and Seibert, I'm gonna be on the news. You'll see the framing shot from the orbiting traffic helicopter, cars backed up beyond the horizon, and as the reporter starts to speak the graphic "ASSHOLE CAUSES TRAFFIC SNARL" appears on the screen. Please, please...

    I catch a break and sail through the next light. I can see ProCare, I'm on level ground, its smooth sailing. Until I make a mistake. An understandable mistake, but I should've known better. I instinctively hit my turn signal before I turn into the parking lot. That's enough to completely drain what little juice I have left in my battery, and as I start to turn every light on my dash flares. I lose power steering, power brakes...I'm just a projectile now.

    To get into the parking lot I have to drive up a brief but steep little rise in the pavement. My car barely, BARELY, gets over that bump. I try starting the car, but of course that's futile. I look over my shoulder and see that I'm about a foot off the road. I'm safe. No one will be honking at me. I won't be on the news. Not only that, but as my car dies three guys from the shop happen to come outside, see my problem, and push my car into an open repair bay.

    Had my car given up the ghost just 5 seconds earlier, I would've been seriously inconvienienced. Had my car croaked 2 minutes earlier, I would've been seriously screwed. Instead, I made it safe and sound, and two hours later I was on my way, my replacement alternator supplying my ride with an almost decadent amount of electricity.

    So I can't complain about bad luck playing poker. No...I SHOULDN'T complain. I'm gonna complain, but I shouldn't, that's my point. This is (allegedly) a poker blog, so I will speak briefly about putting together perhaps the worst 50-hand stretch of my life last night. I was up 12BB (which sounds better than twelve bucks), which put my account back over $50 and had me feeling like I was back in the saddle again. I then proceeded to drop 25BB through a combination of horrible play, dumb play, and ludicrous play. Here's what happened--we had a nice, friendly table, everyone having fun and giving me their money, and then this asshole takes a tough beat (and it was tough, guy paired and made trips on the last two streets) and starts lecturing the lucky player about how terrible a play it was, how stupid he is, etc etc. The lucky player leaves, and me and this other guy tell the asshole that lecturing bad players is bad for business, and no fun besides, and he starts telling us that he's the best player at this table and he made over $3500 last year playing poker and he wins by getting into people's heads.

    I wasn't impressed. "Dude," I typed, "you're playing $.50/$1 poker."

    The ass went on a tear, running his stack up over $60. I hit my high of $37 and started bleeding away a bit. But no matter, I was enjoying myself. Perhaps a bit too much. My problems started when I won a hand by bluffing with the Hammer. A small pot that ended up costing me dear, because I fell into a trap I thought I'd learned to avoid--I started playing Fancy. Check-raising with nothing against 4 opponents, raising out of position, slow playing a big pair to re-raise later...I broke every rule in every book. What did T.J. Cloutier say, that the biggest mistake you can make in poker is trying to bluff an idiot? I did that a couple of times and loathed myself afterwards.

    And then I played perhaps the Worst Hand Of My Life. Another sourpuss sat down at our table, and I was dealt QQ and raised, and three people called, including Sourpuss. The flop was icky--K-K-10, with 2 hearts. I didn't have a heart. It was checked around and I bet, hoping against hope no one held a King. Sourpuss check-raised me, everyone else folded, and I decided to bail too. If he was bluffing, more power to him. But he wasn't bluffing--he showed down K-10. Had he played a bit slower he might have bled me a bit, but he didn't, and I decided a little good-natured coffeehousing was in order.

    "So I guess my aces weren't good?" I said, lying about my hand in a good-natured way.

    "You didn't have fxxxing aces" he shot back.

    I was outraged. I didn't really care that he'd correctly assumed I was fibbing, because laying down aces there wouldn't have been such an absurd play. It was his lack of civility. I vowed to set him straight.

    So I had the Sourpuss and the Asshole to deal with. And I played the worst hand of my life. I had AK, both hearts, and ended up three-betting with my two foes and another player. Flop came three rags. No hearts. I bet, Sourpuss raised, Asshole called...and I called. Coulda got away from the hand there, but I didn't. Nothing exciting on the turn, and this time, and I'm afraid to admit this, I check-raised Sourpuss. He raised me back, which got everyone else to fold. The river didn't help me, I checked, Sourpuss bet, and with like $15 in the pot, I folded. I was too embarassed to show down my hand, even though I was pretty much compelled to call by the pot odds. I didn't want to waste the buck, nor show how stupidly I'd played.

    The Poker Gods punished me by not giving me a hand the rest of the night. But they also punished the Puss and the Hole, by making them lock horns with each other in several scabby hands that were won by third parties. When I finally went to bed the Puss was down to about $6 and the Hole had bled away nearly $40 of his once mighty $60 stack. When I logged off I looked around the table to see who'd won all the money, but it'd been a stealthy strike, whoever had won the money was long gone.

    I'm down to the nitty-gritty in my account, time to refocus, time to show some heart...time to stop playing a contestant on "Celebrity Poker Showdown"! Yes, I know that's harsh, but I deserve it! Time to start playing better, or it'll be time to stop playing yet again. Can't wait for luck, as I've had more than my fair share lately. Time to show a little bit of skill.

    Monday, December 27, 2004

    This Would Be a Really, REALLY Bad Beat

    I try not to write about my bad beats because, of course, no one wants to hear about them. All players suffer through them, everybody hurts, and so who cares about yours? And too many people complain about bad beats that really aren't so bad. You had top pair, and the other guy ONLY had a straight draw and a flush draw and two overcards know where this is heading, right? He hits his flush! UNBELIEVABLE.

    So no bad beat stories. And after reading this no one should be posting bad beat stories. Reading around the web today came across this item, linked from Glenn Reynolds' blog InstaPundit. Seems that NASA has identified an asteroid called 2004 MN4 that, well, might hit the Earth on April 13, 2029. Hmm...maybe now would be a good time to reserve a suite at Bellagio for that a helluva party.

    Now, "might" is of course the operative word when it comes to this asteroid strike. On the Torino scale, which is used to measure the likelihood of a impact, this asteroid rates a "4", which doesn't sound too bad until you realize that no asteroid has ever rated higher than a 1 before.

    No need to immediately freak, even though NASA at first rated the chances of impact as around 1 in 233, then 1 in 66, and now 1 in 42. With increased observation and calculation they may learn that 2004 MN4 is going to miss us easily. And, anyway, the impact would only be around the equivalent of a 1-megaton blast, nothing too (literally) earth-shaking. Oh, it might kill a few million people and affect climate a bit, it won't be a civilization-zapper like the one that snuffed the dinos way back when. Tho, when you look at that new Fox show "I Think You May Be My Daddy" they promoted so much during football yesterday, perhaps saving our civilization is a bit overrated.

    A 1 in 42 chance...that's about the same odds as someone hitting a 1-outer against you on the river. How often has that happened to you? Not too often, I'll wager. But it happens, it happens. But I hope that, in the future, if you do get skunked by that lone card you'll think of it as less a sign that the Universe is conspiring against you and more a deposit in the Global Karmic Bank, swallowing a tiny morsel of bad luck to help the whole of Humanity get through this particular roll of the cosmic dice.

    I can only wish I'd thought of this before yesterday's earthquake and the catastropic tsunamis that rolled across the Indian Ocean. I don't know if there's any video out there of the waves hitting land, but reading some of the accounts on beggars belief. This is odd, but when we went to the beach as kids I remember my dad telling me that, if I ever saw the water on shore rush out to sea, leaving like a hundred yards of exposed beach, to run as fast as I could for high ground, because that meant a tidal wave was coming. I don't think he was concerned about a tsunami hitting Ocean City, MD, but it was an interesting scientific tidbit that stuck in my mind. And then I read this account, where the survivor was walking along the beach and suddenly saw the tide suddenly recede nearly 200 meters off the beach, and puzzled at what it meant. A surreal moment indeed--you're standing on the beach, ready to take a dip, blue skies, nothing wrong in the world...and the water suddenly rushes away and leaves you with a quarter-mile of exposed sand. Like the biggest magic trick in the world. And a few seconds later, your little slice of the world is destroyed with an almost Biblical cataclysm. It boggles the mind.

    Well, I'm sure this post helped chase away the post-holiday blues. Hopefully the next thing I write won't be so...apocalyptic.

    Thursday, December 23, 2004

    I Came Back For THIS?

    Instead of obsessively playing poker last night I went out and played 3-on-3 hoops for about 90 minutes. For about the last 40 minutes of it I thought I might die, or at least vomit on my shoes, which means I got a pretty good workout. I played well (for me) and when I got home around 11PM I was exhausted but still a bit wired, so why not play a few hands and maybe, just maybe, actually win one?

    And I do mean ONE, because as I wrote yesterday, I played 50 hands without once dragging in a pot. Well, that couldn't happen again could it?

    Of course not! Of COURSE I won a hand last night. Unfortunately, I must bring your attention to the noun marker "a". I won A hand. As in, singular. One. Uno. The loneliest number.

    The gory details? I made a rookie mistake right off the bat. Before I sit down at a table I take a look at everyone's chip stack. If the minimum buy-in is $25, and I see that everyone is right around that level, no one too high, that's probably a nice average table. If there's one guy with $60 and everyone else has $8, that probably means the big stack is a fairly decent player and I should therefore go looking for fairly awful players. Last night I forgot that and sat down at just such a table. And, to top it off, I sat down directly to the right of the big boy at the table. Smooth move, Gene, really.

    I got into trouble almost immediately. I called with A-9 and the flop came Q-9-6. With second pair and an ace I called a single bet. When an ace fell on the turn I felt my luck was changing, and bet my two pair. Only to have big boy raise me. He was raising almost every hand, so I was only moderately terrified. Another queen on the river counterfeited my nines, but this far along I check-called. And he showed down quad Queens. I typed that I thought the fourth queen was a bit excessive. Bad enough he holds the Hilton sisters, but then he makes the Olsen twins on the board...

    (Actually, what a horrible mental image. The Hilton sisters and the Olsen twins together...285 pounds of cosmetic- and media-engineered cultural pollutants with a combined net worth probably closing in on a billion dollars. And they say there's a God).

    My losses for the session eclipsed $10 when I was finally, finally dealt a hand--pocket aces. I pulled my head of the noose and this time RE-raised the table bully. He called, and the flop came J-6-2, with 2 diamonds. Big boy checked, I bet, and the bastard check-raised me. What the HELL? Could he have flopped trips? Was I already drawing to two outs? I started to panic...and I'm ashamed to tell you that I nearly folded. FOLDED. Had I done that there would've been no reason to keep playing poker, as I would have surrendered all rights to call myself a semi-sort-of-serious player.

    I calmed down. If he had trips he would slow-play them. If he had a flush draw, then it was my job to charge him to chase. So I raised him back, he called, and he check-called me down to the river, where he turned over the hand I thought he had, AJ. And CONGRATULATIONS flashed across my screen, and I heard and saw the fireworks. Pure, unadulturated bliss.

    And then I got squat the next 10 hands and I surrendered to exhaustion and went to bed. So far things have not gone my way. I'm down $17, though I'll clear my bonus soon and that's ten whole bucks to plump out my purse. I've played 80 hands, and won one. ONE. That's not good, but that's they way it is. As I went to bed I remembered something I read in a poker book, I forget which one (maybe all of them): "The purpose of playing poker is not to win pots. The purpose is to win MONEY". Good advice. Chasing down every hand will win you a few odd pots, but it'll cost you in the long run. Better to maximize the value of your every advantage and minimize your losses through loose and incorrect play. And thinking of this reassured me that things will get better. I'm not folding good hands out of fear or playing passively--its just a cold streak. I shall endure.

    But then I remembered a quote from Woody Allen's movie "Love and Death". Allen's character has just been executed and he's walking off with Death, when he stops to speak directly to the camera about the meaning of life. He talks of this and that, and in part of it he says, "The thing to remember isn't the QUANTITY of your sex life that matters, it's the QUALITY". He pauses to reflect and then says, "but...if the quantity falls below once every eight months, well, then that needs to be looked into".

    In other words, I probably need to improve on my 1.25% win rate.

    Wednesday, December 22, 2004

    I Don't Want to Alarm Anybody But I Think PARTY POKER MAY BE RIGGED!!!

    My funds transfer from Choice Poker came thru in less than a day (a big, BIG improvement over its previous incarnation) and I did the deposit thing into Party and was very happy. Actually, before I did that I blew my leftover $1.25 at Choice when my king-high flush was beaten by the nut flush. That's when I decided to check Neteller and found, lo and behold, that I was back in business. I nearly hugged myself with delight when I checked my Party account to see that it stood at $50.41. Plus I had a whole TEN BUCKS in my bonus account. Just 70 hands (raked hands, I remembered later) to play and I'd get a little boost. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, from tiny acorns the mightiest oak grows, etc etc. I jumped onto a $.50/$1 table and savored that long-lost adrenaline rush.

    About 90 minutes later I experienced another distantly familiar sensation--incredulity. I'd played exactly 50 hands. And won none. Nada. Zip. Zilch. How I'd longed to win a hand, see that big CONGRATULATIONS banner pop up on the screen and thrill to the flash and boom of fireworks. Well, I'm still longing, 'cause it hasn't happened yet, dammit. And I lost $10, fully 20% of my tiny bankroll. A rough night.

    What happened? Have I lost all my skills? Have I sprouted gills, fins, and scales? No no no. What happened is what happens to all poker players at one time or another--I didn't get a single playable hand. That doesn't mean I didn't play a few--I'm not saying I had too many skills to begin with. But someone put the deck in liquid nitrogen before we started playing and there wasn't much I could do about it.

    No bad beat stories here, since I only played one hand past the flop, and that's when I flopped a straight-flush draw but could not improve it. For me it wasn't a poker game so much as an origami class--fold, fold, fold. The best hand I was dealt was pocket sixes, and that came when I was in the big blind and had SEVEN callers to deal with. I doubted my raise would thin the field, so I meekly checked and prayed. As always I hope that God has bigger things on His plate than helping me win a poker hand, and indeed that time He did. As He did on every hand last night. Not a once did I hit the flop. I was playing so tight I squeaked, but I still managed to bleed away $10 in blinds and the odd flutter on the flop.

    As I saw my buy-in dwindle I kept my keel even, knowing that just one win would set things right. Because, and I don't know if this old news to everyone out there, the folks at Party seemed such a combination of passivity and loosey-gooseiness that I wondered if the buttons marked RAISE and FOLD weren't appearing on their screens. Sprained ankles must be epidemic around the world, because everyone was limping, limping, limping.

    One big hand would've set things right, but I didn't get that hand and, que sera sera. I did not tilt, I did not steam, I did not lambaste my opponents for their amateurish play. THAT DOESN'T MEAN I DIDN'T GET FRIGGIN' FRUSTRATED. What it means is that I understood that it was just one of those nights. Of course, if I have four more of these nights I'll be back to blogging about my cats, but I'm confident that, if the Universe is to continue functioning, my luck will change.

    But was it luck? Is it not possible that the reason I lost was that the game was fixed, juiced, or rigged? Might I have been the victim of a con, a set-up, a frame-job? Is someone sitting in a Starbucks right now sucking down a moltoventi cappucino-espresso-latte and cackling to himself, "Why not treat myself, after all, Mean Gene paid for it! BWAHAHAHAHA!"

    Concerns about cheating in online poker resurfaced recently thanks to a column written by Jay Lovinger, who's been writing about his poker playing over at ESPN. He's also has a deal to write a book about the year he's spending playing professionally. Lovinger wrote about his frustrations playing online, the bad beats, the riverings, the inexplicable plays that shouldn't work but do.

    Many poker bloggers out there regularly pillory Lovinger and his columns, for a variety of reasons. One, I think quite a few bloggers think they're better players that Lovinger, yet they don't get paid by ESPN to write about poker. Two, I think quite a few bloggers think they're better writers than Lovinger, yet they don't get paid by ESPN to write about poker. And three, the subjects/insights/experiences Lovinger writes about are often those that have been covered, exhaustively and with more wit and wisdom, by the pokerblogging community. And none of us, not even Otis, get paid by ESPN to write about it.

    This online cheating column is a good example. I didn't read it at first, even after it was pointed out and heaped with scorn over on Sean's blog. I agreed that his disdain was appropriate for the situation. First of all, bitching about rigged games online is SOOOOO January 2003. Jay's about a year behind the curve here. How many intelligent, nuanced, and useful blog posts have been written in the past year about online cheating? A thousand? Another example of the blogosphere beating the Mainstream Media to the punch.

    But it's not that cheating isn't a good topic for discussion. Anyone playing poker online should be an informed consumer and learn about the possible risks. To simply say, "Pish-posh, there's no cheating, anyone who says that is just a sore loser" is to ignore the very real possibility of fraud, collusion, and other nastiness.

    The word here is "possibility". Not "certainty" or "probablilty". But with so much money out there it's certainly possible that nefarious people would want to scam some of it, and you as a player should be aware of that. Just because you got rivered a few times is not reason enough to cry foul. I would recommend anyone playing online to go to Iggy's blog and type "collusion" or "cheating" in the search bar at the top and dig in.

    I don't worry much about collusion because I play at such low-limits that any colluder worth his salt would find it a waste of time. If you're gonna cheat, you want some reward for your risk, and why play $.50/$1 when you can play $2/4 and quadruple your return? Or, indeed, why not play $30/60? You don't see the Secret Service busting many counterfeiters who were cranking out fake nickels for much the same reason.

    I have played at tables where I thought there was something going on, but only once was I almost certain there was active collusion going on. I sat down at a full table, and it was like no Party table I'd ever seen before. How many times to you see four-bets preflop at Party's micro tables? Once a night? And yet it seemed like every hand was raised and re-raised, and nearly always by the same three guys. I happened to be sandwiched between two of them, which fortunately choked off my play and kept me from losing any money.

    This was collusion that even Inspector Clouseau could have picked up on. The one guy would bet, the next would raise, the third guy would raise, the original bettor would cap happened over and over again, just these three guys, raising raising raising. If it ended up just the three of them in a hand the betting would switch off, but if they brought someone along the raising would keep on going on each street. What confirmed the obvious is when they had to show their hands down after the river. The winning colluder would have trips, the pigeon something like two pair, and the other two players would have no pair and no draws and nothing to start with in the first place. Its hard to explain away four betting after an A-Q-9 flop when you hold 6-2 in your hand. I played dumb, congratulating one guy on a "nh" and then asking innocently where he was from. They all had fairly anonymous locations listed in their profiles, but they weren't chatty. I decided these master criminals were just too smart for me and I scooted to another table.

    That's one of the great advantages of playing online--if you don't like your table, there's always another to choose from. If you suspect collusion, you can move. But what if the poker site itself is scamming you? Lovinger's most recent column featured emails from readers, and the nuttiest comments came from people who, with scanty or no evidence, were SURE that online casinos fixed things. A few voices of reason made the reasonable point that online poker rooms have far too much to lose by screwing a few random people out of their money (better to just take it legitimately), but a few loons crawled out from behind the Grassy Knoll to state their cases.

    Like this comment from "OnlineNoMo": "Not too long ago, my roommate didn't receive the promised bonus for his deposit at a poker site. Upon calling their customer help line, the lady said that for the next hour he would receive some "luck." She then ended the call with "happy fishing." Needless to say, we saw a lot of runner-runners and miracle saves and steak dinners. I hope that this answers your curiosity."

    Now, this is a crock. Let's see, a poker site owes a deposit balance of a few hundred bucks, and rather than pay it out...they'll risk their entire enterprise by fixing the deck for some random jackass, AND TELL THIS JACKASS WHAT THEY'RE DOING! Does this not strain credulity? Especially the part where he calls customer service and actually GETS someone on the phone. Come now, this is nonsense.

    Here's another one, from a Brady in Indiana:

    "I have a buddy list that lets me watch when certain players sign on. I add the players to my list that seem to never lose. There is this one guy who I have never seen take a bad beat. I've watched him play hundreds of times (all at $2-4 NL) and he seems to "know" when he will win. It's not just that he's a good player; he's superhuman. He'll call all-in bets pre-flop with JJ against someone else's AA and hit his jack ... every time. He always brings $400 to the table, but I've never seen him leave with less than $1,000. Ever. But yet I still play. What is my problem?"

    Well, you're problem is that you're an idiot, if you think this guy is either a cheat, psychic, or leprechaun and you still play with him. I'd be much more impressed if this Brady person would've given this mystery player's screen name so that players throughout the blogosphere could dig thru their PokerTracker archives and see what was up. Then we'd have a much more convincing argument, instead of a whiny rant. And if this guy is in cahoots with the site, why is he playing 2-4NL? Why isn't he octuple-tabling 30-60 or higher?

    And then there's this gent, Paul from Toronto. Wonder if he knows Daniel Negreanu...probably not:

    "I'm not going to flame you, Jay. In fact, I think you're quite correct about online poker. People claim that online sites would be crazy to jeopardize a gold mine, but how are they really going to get caught? So their random number generator isn't so "random" and it juices the games a bit...who's going to know? Are some lazy poker players going to go down to Antigua and file suit to inspect their computers? Come on. I am an online pro who has been playing for three years now, and I have a somewhat disturbing tale to tell.

    For the first year, I played pretty much by the book. My results were good. Feeling that the game might not be on the level, I decided to try an experiment in my second year. I began to look for spots to play "incorrectly," but where a flaky draw would certainly beat my opponent. I began to cap with just a flush draw on the flop. I saw a lot of turns on very thin odds. I began, essentially, to play pre-flop like a pro and post-flop like a bit of a fish.

    My results...much better than Year 1. And in Year 3, I've refined this technique. I can almost smell the "bad" beats I am about to lay on people now, and my results have been stupendous this year. There is absolutely no question in my mind that online poker juices up the games. It really is the only way they could possibly ensure a steady customer base. If the games didn't cater to the fish, pretty soon the sites would just be oceans of sharks (who don't generate big rake pots) with all the "donators" scared off by the ruthless efficiency with which their money was taken from them.

    When people ask me why an online site would ever "rig" the game, my answer is because it really makes no sense for them not to."

    Sigh. Where to begin? How about we look at this quote: "There is absolutely no question in my mind that online poker juices up the games. It really is the only way they could possibly ensure a steady customer base." Uh-huh. Hey, Paul, did you ever hear of a place called "Las Vegas"? It's this big glitzy city in the middle of the goddam desert, and it's become the entertainment mecca of the world mostly by drawing people who want to take a chance hitting it big and then taking most of their money. These people know that the odds favor the casinos, and they don't care. They have fun gambling. They thrill to imagining that maybe they'll beat the odds which, I stress again, THEY KNOW are in the house's favor. No need to juice up the action because it's already juiced.

    Is Paul arguing that every Vegas casino cheats its customers? That every slot machine, blackjack dealer, poker dealer, croupier...they're all cheating their customers? That's must be what he means, because he says it's the "only way they could possibly ensure a steady customer base". I don't think I want Paul running my lemonade stand anytime soon.

    Then you have Paul telling us that he started doing better at poker WHEN HE STARTED PLAYING DELIBERATELY WORSE. It's a rather narcissistic point he makes, that the poker site loves him so much that it throws good cards his way for some unknown reason. Why should the site care whether he does well or not? Or whether he's playing well or "properly" or not? They just want the rake--who wins the hand is of much less importance.

    Paul modestly considers himself a "shark", and he says this about the poker ecosystem:

    "If the games didn't cater to the fish, pretty soon the sites would just be oceans of sharks (who don't generate big rake pots) with all the "donators" scared off by the ruthless efficiency with which their money was taken from them."

    There are a number of bloggers out there who are very, very good poker players. I ask them this question: Would you call the transfer of money from bad players to good players "efficient"? Maybe "inevitable", but I don't think "efficient", be the game live or online. And I think there are more species of player out there than just "shark" and "fish". Phil Ivey is a shark. The guy I played against last night who kept turning over bottom pair and hoping to win the pot was a fish. In between there are all sorts of players, with different skills, motivations, aspirations, and financial resources. How a poker site would figure out who should get screwed and who should be rewarded I know not.

    And WHY they would do it is beyond my ken. Paul ends his screed by saying: "When people ask me why an online site would ever "rig" the game, my answer is because it really makes no sense for them not to." How about we remove the penultimate word "not" and try again: " really makes no sense for them to". What does an online site risk by deliberately cheating its customers? Well, its very existence, and possibly the personal freedom of the ownership. So what if your casino is located offshore, you think people are going to play there knowing you might cheat them? Not when there's so much competition out there.

    What does it stand to gain? More money? How? Goosing the game so there's more action and more rake? OK...but people are very good at recognizing patterns, and if enough experienced players start noticing that, jeez, there are A LOT of full houses happening at this site when other folks hold flushes, and they start checking thru their PokerTracker stats, and people start talking...and all of a sudden you have a problem. A casino needs to be like Caesar's wife--it has to be above suspicion. Trying to make a few extra bucks by rigging the game would be insane.

    Though that doesn't mean that there AREN'T insane people out there, or that there could NEVER be a online room that doesn't resort to dirty tricks. There are crooks in every line of business. But to assume that for ALL poker sites rigging the game is standard practice flies in the face of logic. What I would be more concerned about would be a site opening up, taking deposits, and then suddenly shutting down and the owners running off with the cash. Or some hacker busting in and finding a way to either drain the accounts or steal personal financial information. But I'm not so concerned with the games themselves. I'm wary, I'm alert, but I don't toss and turn at night worrying whether that hand where I got rivered was because the fix was in. I toss and turn because I'm afraid I lost that hand because God hates me. I keep things in perspective.

    Tonight I think I'll buy the last present on my list, do some cleaning around the house, maybe ride the exercise bike a bit...and try my hand at Party again. My luck will change. The variance will swing my way. Skill and daring will win out over willful ignorance (uh, when I say skill and daring, that's when I'm talking about myself, not the willful ignorance part). No talk of fixes or cheating tonight. Tonight will be all about...victory.

    Tuesday, December 21, 2004

    Mean Gene Is Back! And He's BAAAAAAD

    Readers here have no doubt figured out that I haven't been playing online the last 4 months, mostly because I bitch about it non-stop. I cashed out my accounts and focused my attention on allegedly more noble pursuits, like looking for a real job and losing some goddam weight.

    Four months have flown by and some progress has been made. My fat pants are now loose on me, and while I haven't found a full-time job yet my temp assignment seems to have developed into one of those deals where they'll find SOMETHING for me to do until I do latch on somewhere. And yet I made a deal with myself--I would put no more money into an account until I got a job. And if you break promises to yourself, well, what kind of a wretch are you?

    During the summer months and fall it was no problem, I was busy enough that the poker bug did not infect me. But as the days grew short and the north winds blew, I found myself yearning more and more for the clatter of chips and the whisper of cards sliding across the baize. I spent many a pleasurable Friday night down in the game room playing a little poker while barely listening to the NBA game on the TV. With my wife safely tucked away in bed with a cat or two for company, I'd put on my warmest and most comforatble sweats, fire up Party, and do a little fishing. Nirvana.

    This past Friday I could not so enjoy myself. My wife was out to dinner with friends, and I got home from my own work Christmas party around six, with a nice bit of Xmas shopping under my belt to boot. I emptied and filled the dishwasher, did some other domestic chores, and sat down to do a little writing. But around 7:30 I felt restless, and called my friend Rico to see if he wanted to partake in a beer. He had a date, the selfish bastard. I figured I'd strike out if I called anyone else, so it was time to rustle up some grub. Made some chili and rice, enjoyed it with a little glass of wine, and wondered how I would spend the night. Didn't feel like writing. Didn't feel like reading. Watching the NBA as your sole distraction isn't very distracting, as I soon found out. I fell asleep.

    This was not the first time during this dry season that I've longed to play a little poker. But the pangs have grown more acute lately thanks to a combination of factors that to my paranoid mind seemed almost like a conspiracy. First of all, I'd check Party from time to time to see if they'd put a few bucks in my account in an attempt to lure me back, and I couldn't help noticing that most nights there were over SIXTY THOUSAND PEOPLE playing there. So many fish, and here I was with an empty bottle of malt vinegar. Then I read about players shamelessly whoring themselves, flitting from site to site to pick up bonuses then leaving while the metaphorical bed is still warm.

    Then you have the fact that a brace of bloggers up and quit their jobs to turn pro. Here I am looking for a job like a schmuck and these guys are telling the Man what he can do with his nine-to-five.

    And then there was the epic get-together last week in Vegas, with my blogger brethren rubbing elbows (and with Evelyn Ng we hope just elbows) with a number of big-name players, playing in a massive tournament, and basically having a good ol' fashioned debauch. I enjoyed reading all the trip reports, but living vicariously only takes you so far. It pales compared to being in the middle of the fray yourself...aside from the crippling hangover parts. Then I read about these blogger-infested tables at Party, where the Hammer is played as aggressively as aces and the talking is all of trash. I feel like the pathetic awkward gangly shitbird loser guy who doesn't get to hang out with the cool kids. Just like my wedding.

    The last straw came when my brother, who recently started a new job, told me he'd been invited to a game with some of his new co-workers. He mostly plays stud, but he figured he'd play supertight until he got his feet under him and go from there. He emailed me the next day gloating that he'd had himself "a big fish dinner" the night before.

    Everybody's having fun playing poker except me. Boo hoo, boo hoo. But there was nothing to be done about it. Until last night...

    Like an alcoholic who drinks vanilla extract for the "flavor", I would occasionally check out Party to see if they had any new software updates...and to see if maybe they made a little deposit into my account to lure me back. No such luck, they apparently think I'm beyond teasing. But then I remembered an email I got awhile back from a very, very, very unlikely source.

    Believe it or not, Choice Poker is back. Yes, the site that hosted the first Grublog Poker Classic is up and running again under new management. They sent me an email (and probably most of the other folks who played there) saying something along the lines that they'd been bought by a reputable corporation, they'd honor all previous deposits, you're a valued player, blah blah blah. I checked it out and their home page looked about the same. I didn't have any money there so far as I knew, but I thought I'd download the new software, have a look, and write a little post about it.

    But there was no button to click to download the software. That was back in September or so. I think I checked back twice in the last few months, still nothing to download. What prompted me to return there again was simple boredom. I was surfing, the thought hit me, and I clicked the link.

    Lo and behold, they had something to download this time. I clicked the button, waited the 37 minutes it took my Jurassic laptop to swallow it down, waited the 17 minutes it took for my Pleistocene dial-up connection to check for updates (wait, I just downloaded it, how could there be an update?) and, finally, logged onto the site.

    Which looks exactly the same as it always did, though for some reason I thought it looked a bit brighter, a bit more...professional. But who cares about that? I hit the cashier button, just to see what I might find...

    And found, in my "Real Money" account, forty-two bucks.

    I know, I know, most of you out there play in games where that barely pays one big blind. But for me, this was like hitting the lottery. Don't know why I had this money at Choice, don't know what I did to deserve it, but there it was. A lifeline. And I remember oh-so-well how I began my poker career--with a tiny little $50 deposit that I grew into a mighty bankroll...before I spent it all on wine. By the way, the Heron Hill Cabernet Franc? Tasty.

    Anyway, I did a little dance (a spin, a sashay, and a sort of salsafied hip-shaking thing I've been working on) and looked for a table. Now, those of you who played there may recall that Choice wasn't exactly the most happenin' online card room out there. I remember going there once and finding FOUR people playing, and I assumed all of them worked there. Well, Choice Poker is now like freakin' Grand Central Station. There were FIVE HUNDRED AND SEVENTEEN players when I logged on. Wow! Wowie wowie wow wow! Maybe it isn't quite up to Party yet, but, goodness, will their servers survive?

    Not my concern. My aim was to find an appropriate game and limit for my MASSIVE bankroll. You know, just a little nickel-and-dime game...and, uh, that's what I found. Yup, the table I picked was, and I'm a bit embarassed to admit it, five and ten cents. But, I hasten to add, it was POT-LIMIT! You don't see Mean Gene grubbing away at limit poker! Oh no! I play pot-limit, the game that requires the most skill, the most subtlety, the most...ah, forget it.

    My goal was to boost my account up to $50, cash out, and get my feet wet again in the Party aquarium. That meant winning eight bucks playing at some pretty microscopic limits. I didn't want to move up to $.25/.50 (gasp!) because one bad beat could put me on life support. No, time to put my grinding hat on. And time to use some...special tactics.

    Let's analyze the situation from my opponents' point of view. You're playing at Choice Poker...why? There are lots of more popular and more promoted sites to choose from (no pun intended). Maybe you work there. Maybe you got an email from them and decided to check it out. Maybe you're a friend of a friend. Who knows? But chances are you know that this is not the IT place for online poker. You sit down at a table with 7 people you know (and indeed the table chat was all very chummy) and play a little poker. Along comes some schmuck you've never heard of named Mean Gene. What the hell is HE doing here? Must be a total chowderhead.

    And his play immediately proves it. Because of this one stupid play he made. He makes a pot-limit raise preflop. The flop comes J-5-2 and he again bets the flop. Another jack on the turn, rag on the river, and he turns over...2-7? That's the worst starting hand in poker! So what if he won the pot, what kind of an idiot raises with deuce-seven? And then BRAGS about it, typing "HAMMER TIME!" in the chat window? We gotta take this moron DOWN!

    Yes, I won my first pot by showing down the Hammer. I felt the gossamer-light touch of Providence upon my lips. Once again, I was in the game. For the first time in months, I felt like a pokerblogger, one of the Few, the Proud, the Drunk, the Loud.

    And it felt GOOOOOOOOOOOOOD.

    With my rep as a total idiot established my foes dutifully called down my every hand. Not that there was ever much financial incentive NOT to call--I think the biggest pot I won was like two bucks. I remembered my Cloutier and McEvoy when playing Pot-Limit--when you bet, bet the pot, get it as big as you can. And you gotta do that when you start off with only SEVEN CENTS in the kitty. Think Devil Fish will be playing that game anytime soon?

    Even at these microlimits I found I still have the discipline. I once folded 8-3 offsuit in the small blind even though it'd only cost me 3 cents to see the flop. Why fold? Because there was only one caller before me and it wasn't worth it. Hey, three cents is three cents! The stakes don't matter, just the odds! Right?

    I gobbled up little pots and won a few (relatively) big ones and soon had increased my roll by nearly 8 bucks. Just a little bit more...I was dealt K-2 suited and flopped two pair. Bet the pot and had a guy raise me back. I called, and another beautiful deuce appeared on the turn. This time a check-raise, to flabbergast him, and then bet the pot on the river. He called me down and turned over KQ. Sorry, Charlie, but I've got some mayonaisse, celery, onion, and toasted bread all ready to go.

    I cashed out my $50, with a few bucks to toy with at Choice until my transfer clears. Thence to Party, and fight the good fight. I had a blast playing again, even at such tiny limits. It's not the gamble I missed, because I'm just not much of a gambler. It's the battle of wits, of balls, of guts. I won a pot worth seventy cents with third pair and had the gall to pump my fist in triumph. It felt good.

    Can't be too cocky. Tighten the chinstrap and grind that little stake up into a reputable bankroll. Still going to focus on getting a job, getting in shape, getting our volleyball team a bit further into the playoffs, but instead of falling asleep at 7PM on Friday nights, maybe I'll play me a little poker.

    Thursday, December 16, 2004

    Evelyn Who? Or, Girls Girls Girls!

    Or, to be less sexist, women. Women playing poker last night. Can I say that I positively ADORE Isabelle Mercier? I admired her during her brief appearances during the WPT events in Paris, but seeing her play last night just made me swoon. Not only did she win, she won by playing tough, aggressive, confrontational, mean and nasty poker. I used to be afraid of Annie Duke...well, I'm still afraid of Annie Duke. But Mercier looked like she was hugely pissed off the whole time she was playing, her face constantly displaying a Gallic sneer of arrogance. Mercier may be French-Canadian, but the general air of hauteur she showed during this event brilliantly evoked the first half of her hyphenated nationality. And for some reason I liked how the sweater she was wearing had these loops that fit over her thumbs and pulled the sleeves down past her palms. Who can explain the rules of attraction? Isabelle, je t'adore.

    She played pretty well, too. Once she got the lead she mercilessly hammered away with that big stack, and while she kept getting cards (and got lucky when Sharon Goldman folded AK when Mercier held AQ), I thought she was a most deserving winner. Boy, you think Steve Lipscomb was thrilled when Clonie Gowan got knocked out about 15 minutes in? And Cyndy Violette right after? It mattered not to me, more face time for Isabelle, but I'm sure the WPT folks would've been quite happy for Mrs. Gowan to repeat as champion.

    Nearly 400 women played in the qualifying tournament hoping to win the open spot at table that Lavinna Zhang ended up filling (and she ended up in 2nd place, a job very well done). More and more women are playing tournament poker now, the game no longer a male-only preserve. Violette described how she'd be the only female at the table during her early days as a pro, and while men still hugely outnumber women the barriers in poker, as they've been in society writ large, have come a-tumbling down. The walls aren't ALL the way down, of course, not in poker or in society. But the progression toward equality among the sexes continues forward with an almost Marxist inevitablity.

    In poker, there's always the question, can a woman be as good a player as a man? They asked that question during last night's show, and the usual answers were given. The women players said that, yes, they can be as aggressive as a man. The male players, including Daniel Negreanu, talked about the intuition women allegedly possess. I don't buy the whole women's intuition thing--I've seen too many women make too many stupid decisions about their relationships to believe in it. It is possible that women see the world with different eyes and this perspective gives them certain advantages at the poker table.

    The question about aggression in women should I think have been answered by now. Yes, women can be as aggressive as men. Heck, the most aggressive locking of antlers I've ever seen in televised poker came during the WSOP Ladies Championship, when Karina Jett and (I believe it was) Mimi Tran just glared at each other for a good 15 seconds. No blushing or giggling during that contest of iron wills. I was just watching the thing on TV and I got squirrely inside, thinking that any second one of them was gonna start swinging. Great, great stuff.

    If there is a difference, and this is just my opinion and not scientific fact, is that women can more easily CHOOSE to be aggressive than men. Many men automatically default to naked aggression when provoked, while women, I believe, are more able to control that reflex and think things over a bit before acting. A guy get re-raised, thinks it's a threat to his manhood, and goes all-in because he considers it an insult, a challenge to fight, and if he backs down he loses his right to reproduce and spread his DNA. A woman gets re-raised, she's insulted, she's ticked, but maybe she takes a moment to think over the situation, review the available information a bit more critically, and she makes the tough laydown. And doesn't carry that frustration over to the next hand as viscerally as a man might.

    But I don't know that you can make such broad assumptions about gender, and that's especially true when you're dealing with very small populations like professional poker players. If we make a broad statement like, "Men are better at mathematics than women", we can point to statistical data supporting that statement. Boys do better on standardized tests than girls. Is this because there is something in the wiring of boys' brains that makes them better at math than girls, or is it a societal thing, that girls are discouraged from taking math and are pushed toward the arts and more traditionally "feminine" pursuits? I leave that to the social scientists.

    But when you're talking about the top of the curve, are the top .00001% of boys better than the top .00001% of girls when it comes to math? Or any other subject/skill/attribute? That's where the social determinism breaks down and you wander into the realm of talent and genius. I don't know if men are inherently better poker players than women. But I'm pretty sure that Jennifer Harmon is a better poker player than 99.99% of the men out there. Making the assumption that the lady sitting down at your table is ripe for the skinning BECAUSE she's a lady is liable to leave you both poorer and with more respect for the fairer sex.

    OK, enough pontificating. Oh, wait, let me pontificate a wee bit longer. Saw the first promos for the new ESPN poker show "Tilt" last night. Let me go on the record now and predict that it's gonna suck. It's gonna suck large. It's just going to be crummy over-the-top soap opera with some poker stuff thrown in. Rather see a documentary about the everyday life of a top poker pro than garbage like "Tilt" will probably prove to be.

    A giant non-poker post is forthcoming, and I still have a couple smaller things in the works, though they're pretty long too.

    Sunday, December 12, 2004

    Begin Afresh, Afresh, Afresh

    Never doubt the power of the Blogfather. I get a shout-out from Iggy and my blog traffic triples. Thanks to that friend of all creatures great and small, and to all those who've read my ravings the past year. I'll do my best to keep up my end of the bargain and crank out stuff worthy of your time.

    I also hope that a few new readers come my way thanks to a new site called, appropriately enough, Pittsburgh Webloggers. There was a big article about the site in the Sunday Post-Gazette, and of course my Mom mentioned it to me when I gave the folks a call this morning. I've submitted my link, and if yinz have found my blog from that site I bid you welcome. While this site is labeled a poker blog you will find all sorts of nonsense here, with, of course, a few posts about the battles on the green felt. I just celebrated my first year blogging (see previous post) and I plan on writing even more in the coming year, on all sorts of subjects. Stay tuned.

    Right now a large posse of pokerbloggers are in Vegas having the sort of time you tell your grandchildren about. Lucky bastards. I don't even want to think about the level of bad behavior going on right now, especially because I'm not a part of it. Maybe next time. Congrats to Felicia on winning the blogger tournament, defeating pro Max Pescatori at the end. Felicia has written many nice things about Max in the past, and perhaps all this time she was buttering him up in the hopes of striking at an opportune time. I'm looking forward to reading all the reports of what sounds like an epic blowout, and especially what it was like meeting so many esteemed professional players. Sigh. Lucky, lucky bastards.

    Me, I'm just sitting here, writing this nonsense, waiting for the Steeler-Jets game to begin. A huge game, with a Steeler victory going a long way to securing a first-round by for the Black and Gold. And it's fantastic football weather, especially for a 4PM game--overcasts, snow flurries, cold enough that you need to bundle up a bit but won't be risking any extremities. I went to the Steelers-Browns playoff game a couple years ago and the weather was perfect--lots of snow, and cold enough that you had to scream your head off to stay warm. Went to the Patriots game this year, where the Steelers annihilated the defending champs, and while it was only a bit chilly it didn't detract from the fans' bloodlust. I think that was the loudest stadium I've ever been in. The only competition would be Beaver Stadium, I think 1991, when Penn State beat Pitt in a fabulous game. Tony Sacca ran for a long TD to give the Lions the lead and there were 86,000 people going totally apeshit. I remember that the stands looked like one vast mosh pit, tens of thousands of people jumping up and down to the rhythm of some thundrous backbeat. Ah, nothing better than being part of a vast, enraged mob, united by a common hatred.

    OK, that's enough for now. Time to read a few blogs, get ready for the game. Got a few posts upcoming. I take the folks at Card Player to task, deconstruct the one scene in Rounders that ruins the movie, and give a simple but comprehensive rule that predicts whether your company is a good place to work. Stay posted.

    Wednesday, December 08, 2004

    Happy Birthday to Blog, Happy Birthday to Blog...

    Yes, one year ago today I started this here poker blog. I abandoned my quixotic run for President (though, let's be honest, I could've beaten Bush) and instead started scribbling about poker. One year, 140 posts, 30,000 visitors and 150,000 words later, I have a bunch of meaningless statistics to list. Well, they aren't meaningless to me--I think it's pretty cool that 100 people a day come to this humble site to read my nonsense. And I was surprised at how much I wrote. Put it on paper and my output would be like a 500-page book. Thank God for the Internet and Blogger, that no trees had to be sacrificed.

    I read back through my archives, and I had a pretty good time this past year. Won some money, met some outstanding people, wrote some good stuff. Wrote some crap, too, but again, that's the Internet for you.

    The highlights of my year blogging and playing? First and foremost was discovering Iggy's blog, which convinced me that, yes, there WAS a market for a blogger writing about extremely low-limit poker. It was also Iggy who convinced me to abandon PokerStars and dive into the aquarium at Party/Empire. This is going to sound ridiculous to those of you with actual bankrolls, but I started out with only $50 and, after a few tough nights at Stars, was down to like $45 in my account. The minimum transfer amount is $50, so I had to get my account above that mark before I could make my move. I still remember how intently I played, worrying over every quarter, until I won a big hand witha full house and made my nut. Of such tiny acorns, mighty oaks spring.

    I remember playing my first no-limit ring game with my brother and screaming, "Asshole, what are you DOING?!" every time he went all-in. I remember learning to check-raise on the turn to scoop up pots from fish too timid to call down a bluff. I remember winning my first sit-and-go and thinking I was just about ready to make a run at the World Series. I remember losing $100 (about 1/2 of my account) in one session, making me think it was time to take up macrame.

    The absolute high point of my poker year was winning the first Grublog Poker Classic back in February. Playing in the blogger tournaments is always a blast, but this was the first one and I was curious to see how I might do against much-tougher competition. Winning it seemed out of the question, but, oh, how I craved the poker chips that went to the victor. I'm riffling them right now, and what a delightful, musical sound they make. A most treasured possession, and they make our games at the lake especially fun.

    Speaking of the lake, that's where my friend Scott gave me a copy of All-In magazine, wherein this blog was featured in a story written by Hank, another uberblogger who has both entertained and informed myself this past year. It was pretty cool opening up the mag and showing Scott the article and him saying, "Wait, you're IN the thing?".

    Oh, let's see, what else to write about this past year...playing in my first (and only) live tournament was fun for the 40 minutes of so it lasted. The next time I play in front of live targets I'm determined to do better. With the exception of one day when I was marooned by Hurricane Ivan, I haven't played ANY poker since August or so. After I got laid off I cashed out my whole bankroll, most of which went toward the purchase of wines during a brief vacation in the Finger Lakes region of New York. I must say, wine tastes better when it's bought with money won at cards instead of honest labor.

    Speaking of honest labor, last month I was going to try to write an entire book during the National Novel Writing Month contest, but I decided I looking for a full-time job had to take priority. But I am still writing, and the book does feature poker prominently, so I'll keep you posted here about its progress. I may forward some excerpts for Pauly to publish in his literary magazine, when I get far enough along.

    MAN, I'd love to play some poker right now. Instead I'll probably ride the exercise bike a bit and go to bed. Ooh, poker on TV tonight, think I might watch that. Actually, I might work on expanding my blogroll, I've been sorely remiss in keeping up with the exploding population of pokerbloggers. And, good God, how it's exploded. When I started a year ago there were maybe 10-15 of us scribbling away, and now there's, what? A couple hundred? Oh the humanity.

    But let me take this opportunity to pimp myself a bit here. If you're new to this blog, and want to know what I've been up to the past year, here's a quick list of Mean Gene's Greatest Hits. Be forewarned--not all of these are about poker, though I assure you that those that are don't feature me bitching about bad-beat or laboriously recapping my piddling play. I hope you find them worth your time.

    No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service What does one wear while playing in a casino?

    The Unbearable Lightness of Being Phil Hellmuth My uberpost about the Poker Brat

    Confessions of a Dangerous Fish My brother proves that erratic play runs in the family

    What Business Lessons Can Poker Teach? I rip apart a sycophantic Fast Company article

    Well, The Food Was Good Anyway My pathetic foray into tournament poker

    There's No Such Thing As Luck? Where I debunk the pseudo-science called "statistics"

    The Weekend Of Our Discontent, Part One Me and Dr. Mark head to NYC for the NFL Draft
    The Weekend Of Our Discontent, Part Two

    Dubious Dating Tips From Mean Gene This one is NOT about poker

    OK, I think that's enough. Now I gotta figure out how to fill another year with absurd ramblings. Well, stay tuned.

    Tuesday, December 07, 2004

    Why Mike Matusow Should Be Teaching High School Math

    In the post below I mentioned the poker shows featuring Mike Matusow, Todd Brunson, and David Sklansky, and called them a waste because the quality of play was Celebrity Poker Showdown quality. I take it back. The shows have do have some value in that you get to see, from a good player's perspective, why a moron's horrible play is so horrible. While it's not going to make a good player into a great player, a terrible player watching these shows might at least gain some awareness that there's more to poker than hitting the odd miracle flop.

    One hand was hilarious. I forget the exact circumstances, but here's an approximate recreation. A player with a shortstack goes all in with Q-7, and it's an OK play because she has so few chips left and the blinds are so high she has to go for it. The little blind calls with K-9 offsuit, the big blind calls with 8s-7s. The flop comes Qd-4s-2s. So the all-in player has top pair, the little blind nothing, the big blind blind a flush draw. I should mention that the big blind person is the only one with a spade.

    So what does the guy in the little blind do? He makes a huge bet. He has nothing but a single overcard, he's up against a player already all-in, and he about bets the pot. The player with the flush draw thinks it over, realizes he'd be risking a big part of his stack, and mucks. The remaining players turn over their cards, and the dealer burns and turns the ace of spades. Meaning, the player who was just forced out after the flop would've won the hand, and the all-in player would've been eliminated. Instead she triples up.

    "That," Todd Brunson said, "was about the worst play you can make in poker. That was horrible."

    "It was," Matusow agreed, and it seemed that he was looking for the words to express himself when he settled on the tried and true: "Horrible."

    Sklansky succinctly summed up why the play was so horrible, and then he said, "That's called 'bluffing into a dry side pot', and it's a cardinal sin in poker" Basically, you're putting chips at risk without a reasonable expectation of any kind of positive return. I'd never heard that expression before, maybe because I'd never seen anyone make such a boneheaded play. Brunson said a situation like this is one of the few times there's anything approaching collusion at the table, and that's simply because the two players who still have chips have their interests perfectly aligned. They both want to knock a player out and move up, and there's no reason, short of holding the nuts, to reduce those chances by pushing each other out.

    These shows raise an interesting question about the educational process--we when learn we're almost always taught the right way to do things. How about teaching a student the WRONG way to do something, make the pupil stand at the edge of the abyss and look at what happens when math, English, history, go horribly, horribly wrong.

    You don't like algebra? Fine, we'll just take away all those computers and calculators and make you use that old standby, the abacus. Having fun computing the sales tax on that copy of "Grand Theft Auto" using your toes? "Moby Dick" is too hard a slog? So sorry, here's a copy of "The Bridges of Madison County", and please, no barfing on your essay questions. Don't thinking learning about the Framers of the Constitution is worth your time? OK, how about we study the legal structure set up after the Bolshevik Revolution--and, by the way, we've arrested your dog Scooter for being an Enemy of the People. We'll give him a handful of kibble once you inform on your parents, your grandparents, your brother, your best friends, and your best friend's parents.

    This radical idea could have implications even for those no longer in school. For example, I would be the last person on earth who should be teaching a class at Home Depot called "How to Resurface Your Asphalt Driveway". But I would be a natural for an offering titled "How NOT to Resurface Your Asphalt Driveway". Watching me flail around like a seagull caught in an oil spill could save homeowners countless hours in the shower trying to scrub that shit off their sensitive skin. Not to mention skipping all that time spent in Purgatory for taking the Lord's name in vain over and over and over again.

    Of course this idea is hardly new. When adults wanted to show troubled kids what might happen if they kept it up, they brought in hardened criminals from prison in the hopes that the kids would be "Scared Straight". In the same vein, the HBO show "Oz" probably did more to reduce crime (especially among white-collar pussy-ass suburban chowderheads) than every incarnation of "Law & Order" and "CSI" and "NYPD Blue". You see some of this on the Food Network show "Good Eats" (in a much, MUCH lighter vein) when you see Alton Brown making cheesecake and he shows what horrors occur if you don't blend the wet ingredients in GRADUALLY.

    When teaching someone by this method the choice of instructor is important. Alton Brown seems a topper of a chap, a guy who would gleefully strip the skin off a fried turkey. He's no snob--when he tells you about something that could possibly go horribly wrong, he's probably speaking from experience. Can you imagine Martha Stewart confessing that she's overcooked her share of scrambled eggs? Me neither.

    That's why I think Matusow is so good at dissecting horrible poker play. First of all, he's a different person on camera. He came across as a consummate narcissistic ass during this year's WSOP coverage, but during these shows he's relaxed, he's quiet, and he makes points without sounding like a know-it-all. I watched the WPT Poker Corner, where Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, and Annie Duke dissected the WPT Championship final table, and all three were rather irritating with their omniscient hindsight. It wasn't so much what they said as how they said it. A bit lacking in empathy, I thought (and, surprisingly, I thought Duke was worse than Hellmuth. Negreanu wasn't too bad, though he called one play by Matt Matros "Donkeyfied", which I thought a bit harsh).

    If Matusow isn't in Negreanu and Hellmuth's class (I don't know enough to compare him to Duke), he's still a pretty good player, even if he's better known for his antics than his play. But it was Mike himself coined the phrase "Matusow Melt-Down", which describes what he seems to do when he gets deep into a tournament--he makes a play that almost beggars belief. He did that in one of the prelim No-Limit WSOP tournaments this year, and after he got knocked out Paul Phillips and Negreanu were talking back and forth like, "I can't believe he made that call. Me neither".

    So Mike, while certainly not an existentially horrible player like those featured on these shows, has made a few howlers himself over the years. Who better to teach the young people than someone who has climbed to the heights and tumbled into the ditch? Mike could also teach the kids a few life lessons. Like, if you make a million dollars, don't blow it all on strippers and partying. Put half of it into a Vanguard mutual fund...and blow the REST on strippers and partying, leaving yourself a nice nest egg. Also, if a friend asks you to buy him 3oz of cocaine, don't do it, because he's probably not a real friend. In fact, he's probably an undercover police officer, and they don't value loyalty and friendship too much. Just say no, kids.

    These shows have rather changed my mind about Mike the Mouth. I of course don't know him personally, so I don't know if he's a total asshole or just takes on that persona when he goes to work. But maybe I've been a bit hasty in thinking him a total jackass. There are a few people out there who think I'm a complete jackass. If they're all wrong, maybe I am too.

    Friday, December 03, 2004

    A Vaster Wasteland

    I have digital cable, and thank God too, because I don't watch any network TV anymore. I watch "The Simpsons"...and that's about it. I never got into "Arrested Development", which I think is a show that I'd find amusing, in large part because it's on at the same time as the Sunday night NFL games. But beyond that, I don't watch any network offering. 97% of network TV shows can be lumped into 3 categories. You have the sitcom featuring a dipshit father married to a way out-of-his-league wife who battles with his appalling children. You have the medical shows, where people who once enjoyed lives full of promise, hopes, and dreams, are reduced to corpses and/or lab animals for the show's heroes to exhume, dissect, and pontificate over. Then you have the cop/lawyer shows, where we see one of the greatest creations of Western civilization, the Rule of Law, treated like an obstacle course for the clever, ruthless, and amoral among us to overcome on their way to riches and glory.

    So I turn instead to cable TV. I watch Food Network, and the History Channel. I watch BBC America (an example of socialism that actually WORKS). I used to watch European soccer until we dropped that channel, alas. I watch weirdo movies on the Independent Film Channel.

    Comcast recently added a feature called "On Demand", where you can order up shows from the menu and watch them at your leisure. This is good stuff. They usually have a couple "Monty Python" episodes to pick from, you can watch 10-minute recaps of the weeks NFL action (especially satisfying for we Steeler fans) and a wide assortment of movies. And it's all free. Well, there's no charge for selecting a show--we cable subscribers know that the words "cable" and "free" don't belong together.

    The other night I was checking out the On Demand listings and they had a new tab for "Fitness". Hey, I'm trying to get fit (and I've lost about 20 pounds since I began my poker hiatus) so I checked them out. Most of the shows were 10-30 minute aerobic programs. Hmm. I selected one, and was soon watching an instructor and two assistants working out. In rather revealing outfits. The main instructor had a bright yellow tank top and black shorts that might've been sprayed on her. The one assistant had abs that looked like they'd been sculpted by Michaelangelo. If you were asked by a police artist to describe the third woman, you would almost certainly begin by saying, "Well, she had absolutely INCREDIBLE bazooms!".

    I watched this show for about 5 minutes, but the only exercise I got was when I slid a bit forward in my chair to get a better look. I quickly got a grip on myself (and not in THAT way, you sickos) and stopped the program. Slavering over scantily clad women may be a nice hobby, but if I want to get in shape I need to do less gawking and more sweating. I continued my search.

    And found a tab titled "Gambling". Hmm, you can gamble thru your TV now? I clicked the tab and was rewarded with about 8 listings for "Texas Hold'Em". Indeed? I selected it, and what I saw was a poker show featuring Mike Matusow, David Sklansky, Todd Brunson, and some TV producer guy acting as moderator. They watched and commented as a game featuring six players was played. As you might imagine, they had my rapt attention.

    Though, I have to say, not for long. Each episode was only 11 minutes long, and with a quick intro at the beginning (and, before that, an anti-gambling commercial, the one with the guy doing all the magical card tricks? Doesn't showing someone doing incredible tricks like that ENCOURAGE people to pick up a deck?) you only got to see a few hands per show.

    And, sad to say, the quality of these hands was awful. For the life of me, I don't understand why they had a show like this, featuring 2 pros and perhaps the most respected author on the subject, commenting on play that was like Party on a Saturday night. If it was informative to hear Matusow explain why the guy on the button should have raised with his A-9 suited instead of calling, it wasn't so informative the next 5 times it happened. I remember one hand where a guy holding top pair after the flop checked his hand when there were straight and flush possibilites out there, and Brunson said, "That was a horrible play", and Matusow shakes his head sadly and says, "Yeah, that was horrible", and I thought to myself, "Then why the hell did you SHOW it? And, more to the point, the hell am I doing WATCHING it?"

    Well, there were a few good things to it (I admit I've only watched like 3 or the 8 or so shows). There was a brief but informative discussion between Sklansky and Matusow about playing AK. It was funny to see Sklansky, who had written seminal works about poker, struggle to come up with a definition of "semi-bluff". And one of the players was rather nice to watch. I believe her name is Brande Roderick, she was one of the celebrity players featured during the first WPT Celebrity Invitation event (the tournament Layne Flack won, to my mind the worst WPT show of the first 2 years). I don't know how Brande qualifies as a celebrity, since I've no idea what she does, but was she does do very nicely is wear a light blue dress and sit there looking very blonde and tan. She lost a hand where she checked down an 8-high and lost to a guy holding a 9-high, and Brunson and Matusow couldn't believe neither made any sort of play at the pot. Not much of a tutorial, alas.

    Matusow was perfectly behaved and rather good with his commentary, as he was when he was the guest host on the "Ultimate Poker Challenge". I guess it's only when he sits down with chips himself that he turns into an animal. Brunson was I think a bit dismayed at the play yet couldn't rouse himself into outrage. Sklansky made his oracular pronouncements yet didn't get ticked when Matusow would, at times, gently disagree with him. All in all, not a complete waste of time, but pretty darn close. I'll probably catch the last few shows tonight, as I feel lousy and fear I'm getting the flu or a major cold. I shall keep you posted. About the shows, not my medical condition. Like you care.

    Thursday, December 02, 2004

    Another Poker Avenue Closed Off

    When I finally land that high-paying, perk-laden, full-time job (hopefully sooner than later) I do plan on playing poker again. I like the game, I win more than I lose, what's not to like. I plan to play online, but I also planned on occasionally playing in the many charity tournaments that have recently sprung up around Pittsburgh. I mentioned these tournaments a few posts ago, and I mentioned that, while they are technically illegal (well, it's not even technical--they ARE illegal) the law-enforcement community has taken a rather relaxed view of the whole thing. To the point where a local Fraternal Order of Police chapter sponsored a fund-raising event.

    Well, it seems those crazy, madcap days are over. Last night our local ABC affiliate broadcast a story about these touraments, and interviewed a police official from Butler County (north of me) who said that these tournaments have become so widespread and so widely advertised that they are going to address them. Meaning, they're going to start shutting them down.

    The story didn't mention the organizations I receive emails from, but today I did get an email that was titled "Tournaments Cancelled", and was told that, because of the recent media attention, they had to cancel the 2 events they had planned--along with all other events on their schedule. Their website has been shut down, and until further notice they will not be hosting any more games.

    I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, the law is the law. The cops exercised a fair amount of self-restraint, but just because I like poker and lots of people like poker is no reason that a law prohibiting poker should be flaunted. And flaunted it was--a local volunteer fire company posted "Texas Hold-Em Poker Saturday Night!" on it's outdoor sign. And there were a lot of strictly cash-games going on during these events, low-limit stuff to be sure, but I don't think the players were tithing a percentage of their winnings to the charity.

    On the other hand, these tournaments were so popular as fund-raisers because, well, they raised a lot of funds. According to the TV news piece poker tournaments have quickly superceded bingo and raffles for non-profits looking to raise some cash. Everyone wins--players get their poker fix, organizations get their coffers filled.

    But, in the end, I have to side with the cops on this one. Like I said, the law is the law. The thing is, laws can be changed, and maybe this belated crackdown is just what the doctor ordered for those of us itching to play poker legally in the Keystone State. A lot of people have played in these tournaments and enjoyed themselves. A large number of organizations have sponsored them and raked in more money than they could any other way. There are now far more people interested in poker (and the money that interest generates) than ever before. Pennsylvania just legalized slot machines, in large part because the state desperately needs new sources of revenue (actually, that's about the ONLY part), so might the powers that be see legalizing poker as a natural and logical progession?

    But what can I do about it? That's what I was thinking just now. I like poker, I think that in a free society poker should be totally legal (as it is in so many places across the country), so what can I, Mean Gene, do to bring this about?

    The first thing I thought was to write to my state representative. Uh, maybe not a good idea. My state rep (a gentleman named Jeff Habay) is having a wee bit of legal problems. To wit, quoting from a recent Post-Gazette story:

    "The end of the audit doesn't mean the end of Habay's legal problems. In a separate case, he has been charged with two counts of theft of services, and is accused of repeatedly using his legislative staff for re-election campaign work.

    Last month, Habay waived his right to a preliminary hearing in that case, meaning it could go to trial.

    Prior to that, Habay was ordered by the State Ethics Commission to pay a $13,000 fine for having his office staff campaign on state time, then lying about it. That violates state ethics rules."

    So I don't think now is a good time to be asking Jeff to take a stand on a controversial legislative issue. Before Election Day I went to a Pancake Breakfast at our local middle school, and usually you see the local politicos hobnobbing and pressing the flesh (in fact, last year I accidently shouldered aside Mike Fisher, the Republican candidate for governor. Sorry, Mike). Pursuant to Habay's legal problems, my friend Matt (whose father is a bigwig in the Kiwanis Club and can get you all the syrup you need at these functions) wondered aloud if our representative would be attending.

    "Maybe wearing a monitoring bracelet on his ankle," I said, uncharitably.

    In the end, he wasn't there, at least not while I was. But I will not go so softly into that good night. I will do what I can to fight the good fight and see what small part I can play in legalizing the great American game of poker legalized here in the great state of Pennsylvania. Of course, with our Legislature, poker will be legal here in, oh, 117 years. get this widget Please visit Pokernews site for more poker news, poker strategy articles or poker rules.

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