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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    Saturday, January 29, 2005

    A Better Use of Your Time

    Rather than read my pathetic whining about my pathetic play, you would be far better served to check out what Otis is up to this week in Copenhagen. Yes, the one in Denmark. Read this instead of my blog this weekend. I'm having an exorcist in. I'm...I'm just going to shut up now.

    No I'm not. I just played a $5 SNG on Stars, tripled up with 99 to take the chip lead, leading me to believe my luck had changed. It had, but unfortunately I'm still me. I lose $1000 betting top pair with a pair on the baord (of coursethe other guy had trips), threw away $2000 with KK when an ace flopped and I chose to ignore it, and threw the rest away when I had 22 in the big blind and went in against 3 limpers. One guy had QQ, the other 10-10, and they both flopped trips. I don't know how I went from chip leader to out in 4 hands...oh, yes I do.

    OK, I think I'll go stick my head in the oven and see if that improves my play.

    But first, with all thanks and attribution to Otis, here's the first picture in MGPB history. Let's see if this works:

    Isabelle Mercier, as if you didn't already know that

    Hey, it worked. I'm not a complete chowderhead, I'm only 7/8 chowderhead. Hmm, think I'll go make some chowder.

    I'm Done

    Just can't take it anymore. Played over 1000 hands and I think I had a good hand twice. I'm not even vaguely enjoying myself. I'm sitting there throwing hand after hand after hand away, watching awful players take money from terrible players, and when I finally get a hand I get massacred. After losing $60 to clear my $40 Party bonus, I give up trying to beat the ring games and play a tournament. On the bubble and low on chips, I go all in and the guy flops a full house with 5-3. OK, fine. Totally tilting I play some pot-limit, flop 2 pair with A-9, have a guy raise me all-in with A-J, I call, and the board pairs kings to clean me out.

    I literally haven't had a winning day in a dozen sessions. I'm playing like crap, I'm getting crap cards, I'm playing with people who play like crap...why do I even bother? I know I'm not a good ring player, but I shouldn't lose EVERY time I play. I'm not a great SNG player, but I should cash more often than 1 in 4. I'm so deep in a rut I can't even see the sun anymore.

    Time to cash out, move my money to Stars for the WPBT tourney and see if a change in venue and a hiatus helps me out. Sorry to rant like this, I try to avoid crying in my beer (hmm...think I'll have a beer right now) but this is ludicrous. You'd think once in awhile I'd flop trips or hit a draw, but no. Literally, that hasn't happened in 2 weeks. I'm cursed. There's voodoo afoot.

    So if you don't see any posts here the next few days, this is why. I need a break. I need a priest. I think I'll take the time I've wasted playing poker and do some writing instead. Or maybe just drink. I'm so tilted I should start walking on my hands.

    Friday, January 28, 2005

    Some Random Thoughts

    Because I'm too tired to write anything coherent. Played well on the court last night, my hitting is still off, but I did everything else very well. Made some dazzlingly athletic plays, impressed even myself. What I'd really like to get is that rotator cuff surgery that's all the rage these days, because I'm pretty sure both of mine could use a tune-up. Years of tennis and racquetball and volleyball have taken their toll, though I know I hurt my right one especially bad playing RB one day about 12 years ago. I reached up for a shot, swung...and felt my shoulder move OUT instead of just forward. And I didn't pick up a racquet of any sort for about a year. But I guess I can just gobble Advil and continue apace.

    No poker bloggers were nominated for the Fifth Annual Weblog Awards (aka Bloggies. Which is of course a travesty, but one gets used to travesties after awhile. I really need to broaden my blogreading horizons, and I got to thinking about a recent post from Pauly, who said that, with the sudden explosion of poker blogs out there, he can't force himself anymore to read those blogs whose writing or content isn't of the highest quality. There aren't enough hours in the day, enough days in a lifetime to read every word our corner of the blogosphere cranks out every day. Pauly clarified his position today, and I hope no one out there (especially anyone new to blogging) takes it as a personal slam against them, as I'm sure that wasn't his intention.

    Nor is it my intention to short anyone by not immediately listing them on my blogroll or mentioning them in these spaces. There are poker blogs out there I've never read, ones I've read once and never returned to, and some I check out once a week or so. There's a lot of competition out there, and each of us has other interests as well (well, we should, anyway). For anyone new to blogging who doesn't see a lot of feedback coming your way, I strongly advise you to stick with it if you enjoy the work. If you provide something worth your readers' time you'll earn an audience, believe me.

    Actually, one blog I have enjoyed reading (and one I should add to my roll right now) is the interestingly named DonkeyPuncher. Why the image of someone punching a donkey should amuse me is a mystery, unless its the image of the donkey then stomping the crap out of his assailant. I love animal-on-man violence.

    Anyway, I like this blog for more than just its name. First of all, he went to see one of the premiere shows of "Spamalot", the new musical based on the film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail", and as I'm a Python fanatic and lust to see the show I appreciated hearing about how great it was. He also posted topless pictures of Kirsten Dunst and...need I say more about why I appreciated that?

    Topless pictures of Kirsten Dunst. Well, looks like I'll be getting some new blog traffic. It is odd how people find their way to websites, is it not? If you have a blog, you really should load SiteMeter into your HTML code so you can track your visitors and see how they found your site. It has a feature that allows you to see what URL they clicked to get to you, and a lot of times it comes from typing weird stuff into Google and coming up with you. Quite a few bloggers have listed the weird searches that landed people in their laps, and while mine aren't as surreal as some I do have some weird ones.

    I understand looking up "Kirsten Dunst naked", but what was one of my visitors doing looking up "Glenn Close naked?". How about "Was Jean-Paul Sartre left-handed?". I don't know the answer myself, and I don't know how my blog got hit from that. "Jeff head shaved shorned shorn" sounds more like Dadaist poetry than a websearch. "What does sex mean?" is a question that either requires a dictionary or a philosopher, and I provide neither service here. "Drunken party aftermath?". Go visit Al's page for info on that, pal.

    I get a lot of hits for "Mike Matusow" because of the thing I wrote about him. I get a lot of hits for "Phil Hellmuth" and "Hellmuth toothbrush" and "Hellmuth asshole" because of the thing I wrote about him. Oddly, I've gotten a lot of hits for "Hoyt Corkins asshole", which is odd because I never said Hoyt was an asshole, not even close. I think those are Hellmuth fans looking for dirt on his oppressor. I'm happy to see that I'm now getting hits for "Isabelle Mercier", meaning both that poker fans are eager to learn more about this talented up-and-coming player and that there's an odd chance she might Google herself and find out about this WONDERFUL guy in Pittsburgh who thinks she's the miou de chat. Pardon my French. Please.

    OK, back to work. I think a quiet night tonight, no volleyball, get in sweats, stay warm, watch some Britcom on DVD and play some poker. A delicious Friday night awaits.

    Thursday, January 27, 2005

    Asking the Right Question; or, The New Existentialist Antihero--Playing Low-Limit Omaha/8

    Even my titles are getting wordy and Bullwinkle-esqe these days. Awhile back I wrote about these poker skills programs offered by my digital cable service. Hosted by Mike Matusow, Todd Brunson, and David Sklansky, these shows (I hesitate to call them shows--each segment was only a few minutes long) gave these experts' opinions about a game they were watching. The quality of play was pretty godawful, but I liked the shows anyway.

    Well, after going thru limit and no-limit Hold'Em this months offering is Omaha High-Low, a game I've been interested in yet never played before. I've never read anything about it, I have no more insight than the wrapped-in-newspaper denziens of Party, but I was curious so I tuned in. The shows were in the same format as before, the three pros and a moderator watching the game and commenting on different aspects of Omaha/8 (you have to have a hand 8 or lower to qualify for the low half of the pot, and to show you how clueless I was I didn't even know that myself).

    The segments irritated me because a few of them were only 3 minutes long. By the time you fast-forward thru the anti-gambling commercial and the introductions it seems like Mike Matusow hardly has time to exercise that famous Mouth. But one thing he said did stick immediately in my mind. I'm paraphrasing here, but he said that Omaha is a more straightforward game than Hold'Em. There's less bluffing, it's more a game of playing your cards than the other players. Omaha/8 is a game that values patience and hand selection, moreso than Hold'Em.

    And that got my attention, because I think I've been on a lousy run lately and about all I have going for me is patience and hand selection. True, I've been on the coldest run of cards in my life, but playing a little Omaha might be a good way to shake me out of my funk and get myself in gear again. I watched all 8 episodes (total run time about 25 minutes) and armed with the slightest of knowledge headed for the Party cheap seats.

    "Play the nuts", I told myself. "Don't chase if the best you can make is a middling flush or junk like 2 pair. The nuts. Nuts nuts nuts". To reinforce the motif I filled a bowl with honey-roasted peanuts (I know, peanuts aren't nuts, but I got the point) and went to war on a new battlefield.

    Twenty hands in I was standing on my chair and singing, "OMAHA! OHHHHHHH-MA-HA-HA!" a la David Lee Roth. In those 20 hands I won three and picked up a tidy $15 profit, which seemed like a fortune the way I've been going lately. On all three hands, oddly, I'd never had to show my hand down. I hit the nut flush on one, the nut straight on another, and on the last my two opponents must've completely missed their draws and bailed. This game was great! Just be patient, don't chase silly hands, and let the fish swim into the net.

    Sounded sound to me. Be patient.



    Seventy-five hands later, I was sitting with a stupified look on my face. Seventy-five hands and I hadn't scooped a pot. Split a pot. Split a split of a pot. I hadn't had a taste. I'd barely had so much as a sniff. My $15 profit had turned into a $15 loss, partly from blinds, mostly from one hand where a bastard sucked out and rivered the five of diamonds which gave him the wheel AND the nut flush and cowkicked me. But that was about the only hand I put much money into. I sat there and saw the cards dealt and my hand filled up J-8-7-4. Or Q-10-6-3. get the idea. Over and over and OVER again.

    And it wasn't like I'd fold and see that, if I'd only stayed in, I would've flopped the nuts. Nah, pretty much my folds were correct, because only a moron would play the junk I was dealt. And I'm not a moron. I? On hand 95 I was dealt A-K-2-3, with the AK suited. I was in the big blind, so finally, FINALLY, this was a chance to get some back. On most pots we'd had 4-5 callers. And I watched as around the table I saw fold...fold...fold...incredibly, it was folded around to the small blind, who merely called. In a rage I raised him back...and he folded. The sum of my winnings? A quarter.

    It was then I had a sort of epiphenic moment. "What are you doing?" said an inner voice.

    "I'm playing poker." I replied.

    "Are you?"

    "Yes," I said, and pointed at the screen. "See, that's me, those are my cards...which I'm going to FUCKING TOSS IN THE MUCK! AGAIN!"

    "You miss my point," the inner voice said. "You are sitting in a chair, you are logged onto a poker site. Cards come and go. But are you "playing" poker? Are you engaged in a battle of wits and a test of strength, or are you just marking time until you get a monster hand and can win a few dollars from people who may or may not be willing to pay you off?"

    It got me to thinking. And since I didn't win another hand for the next 25 deals I had time to think. Was I indeed "playing" poker, or was I just an especially dashing and handsome bot waiting for a predetermined schedule of hole cards, flop, turn, and river to win a pot? Those books and blogs I've read, the shows I've watched, have they made any impression upon me beyond "other players suck" and "you need play a little bit better than sucky to win the money"?

    This is a conundrum I'm still thinking about. The question "Am I a good poker player" seems, for the moment, to be superceded by the question "Am I a poker player, period?". Does playing tighter than lousy players make me a better player or just a tighter one? The skills that good poker players possess--discipline, patience, aggression, cleverness, and heart--can I claim any of those for myself, or do I simply have a higher negative score than the people I play with?

    A quote from an RGP poster I read at Johnny Kampis's site at first got me thinking more on these lines. Speaking about playing at Party, the ranter rants:

    It's a meat grinder with the house keeping the best cuts, the sharks picking up the droppings. the fish crapping some of what's left back and forth between each other and the learning players thinking they are getting good when all they are really doing is learning how to play fucking badly.

    Every time I play there I feel slightly soiled, like dipping your hand into a bucket of slim-covered shit in order to try and find a prize. A demonic lucky dip, if you will. In order to win there you have to swim in filth and, I'm afraid, I just can't stomach it any more. I'll take my 23bb/hour rate that I get at [other sites I would rather not mention] thank you very bloody much.

    Some people say they can't take the bad beats. It's not the bad beats I can't take, it's the fact that 98% of the people I have played at Party have so little idea of what constitutes a good hand or reasonably solid play that consistently beating all of them is so damn frustrating that it drives me nutso. It's like those scenes in Dawn of the Dead/Day of the Dead where one of the secondary characters is surrounded by hordes of zombies and, despite the fact he has a fucking big gun, he's going to get all his limbs torn off and then be eaten by mindless, walking dead.

    Perhaps a bit over the top, but I can see his point. If you play poker seriously, you play to win money, and therefore the rational player prefers to play with people who stink opposed to people will skill. But playing the low-limits at Party, be the game Omaha or Hold'Em, at times I don't feel like I'm playing poker. I feel like I'm gambling--and I'm the House. Oh, you'll bad beat me here and there, but in the long run I'm going to get the money, because the odds are in my favor. Because I don't play Q-10 out of position in a raised pot, and you do, and in the end I'm gonna outkick you right in the balls.

    If I don't have ambitions to be a great poker player, I do want to be a very good one. I just don't know how good you can get playing ABC poker night after night with people whose alphabet starts with Q and jumpcuts to Z. I know my outlook is somewhat clouded at the moment because I haven't had cards to even get to A, let alone BC (last night played 100 hands, won 3, went 65 hands without a win, begged one of my cats to put me out of my misery). I need a night away from the game, which is good because tonight I play volleyball and will therefore be running around instead of running in circles.

    I need a change in attitude perhaps more than a change in luck. No less an authority than Daniel Negreanu said yesterday in his blog, and I quote, "If any of you don’t think that a positive attitude has a ton to do with your poker results… well, you just don’t get it...". And seeing that Danny just made like his 17th WPT final table this year, perhaps I should take his advice.

    A night away from the tables, a chance for my biorhythms to adjust, for Jupiter to rise in Scorpio, for my mojo mug to refill. Perhaps clearing my deposit bonus will clear my head, as I always run lousy when clearing bonuses. Perhaps I'll take a nice...deep...breath.

    Tuesday, January 25, 2005

    Worst Show in the History of Humankind

    Is anyone else watching the "Battle of the Sexes" on GSN? This show is so bad its a war crime. Convene the International Court at The Hague. This Tom Whatever and Kennedy are parroting every cliche about men and women back to each other. I can't even put it on mute and not be sick. I want to kill them both, I want to do it with my bare hands, I want to look in their eyes as I send them into the eternal night.

    This makes "Celebrity Poker" look like "King Lear". Did Robert Williamson III get caught canoodling with al-Qaeda and end up sentenced to provide color for this show? Every time he speaks he sounds mortified. And what the hell happened to Chris Moneymaker? He looks like he hasn't slept since he won the World Series. He looks AWFUL.

    This show has to be stopped. Who do I write to? Who do I bribe? Who needs to be liquidated?

    Adding to your Library

    I've been reading Matthew Hilger's book Internet Texas Hold'em for the last month or so, meaning to write a quick review of it for my dear readers. However, I am genetically incapable of writing "quick" anything, and as my review ballooned upwards of 2,000 words I realized I needed to shut up and not retype the whole book.

    Because it's a very good book, especially for the novice player who's thinking of jumping into the online poker game and wants to be armed with more than just bad intentions. I liked how the book was set up, taking you through some basic poker concepts and then through the game of Hold'Em step by step. It's well-written, direct and with important points highlighted for those of us whose minds tend to wonder when presented with lots of information.

    Actually, what I liked best about the book was that at the end of each chapter there is a handy review that reiterates the main concepts in an easy to digest format. Poker books aren't like novels--you don't read it, put it down, and stare off into the sunset a changed man. They're reference books, you keep going back to them again and again and AGAIN (especially the way I've been playing lately) and having a handy review like that is a good way to bring those important points to the fore again as well as prompt you to go back and re-read the whole chapter.

    Another excellent feature is that, scattered throughout the book are little tabs that say "Internet Tip". As this book is title "Internet" Hold'em you'd figure on information that differentiates it from books about B&M play, and I liked that Hilger scatters these nuggets of insight when appropriate and not just in a separate chapter. Although there IS a separate chapter just about Internet poker, which gives advice on site selection, table hopping, and multi-table play, all of which is important for the newby online player to think about. Alas, there are no supersecret tidbits like, "Everyone who picks the cowboy avatar at Party Poker is a maniac", but if there had been I'd be a wee bit less likely to recommend it.

    This book is targeted for beginners and for that group I think this book would be an excellent addition to your poker library. Hilger won $80K in the most recent World Series of Poker, getting knocked out by Greg Raymer...have to cue up my tapes and see the expression on his face when he got beat. That's one thing Hilger (and every other poker book I've read) has neglected to put in their books--how not to puke on the table when you get booted from the WSOP.

    If there was one thing I could change with this book (and, indeed, with all poker books) is that I wish it came with a spiral binding instead of the normal "perfected" binding. "Perfected", is that the right publishing lingo? As I said, you go back to poker books for study and research over and over, and it'd be SO nice to be able to lie the thing flat on your desk as you read and make notes. But that's just me.

    Another thing I noticed--on the cover of "Internet Texas Hold'Em" you see a cartoon guy playing on the beach, and on his laptop you see he has a royal flush. That got me thinking, and I went to my bookshelf and pulled down Gary Carson's book. That cover also shows a player with a royal flush. down Cloutier and McEvoy's Pot-Limit and No-Limit book...royal flush on the cover. Did some more digging and books like "Poker for Dummies" and "The Idiot's Guide to Poker" and "Winners' Guide to Texas Hold'Em" ALL show players with royal flushes. Now, nothing wrong with a little positive association (buy this book and you'll be up to your ARMPITS in royals!) but I daresay not one of these books tells you the proper way to play a royal flush! And I need to know, as someday maybe I'll get one.

    Be forewarned, Mean Gene is in a philosophical mood. I got that way thanks to playing Omaha/8 for the first time last night. Multiple long posts forthcoming, once I brush up on my Nietzsche and reacquaint myself with good 'ol existentialism.

    Monday, January 24, 2005

    Is It Really Worth It? And, Good Riddance, Plaxico

    Before I begin, let me link to a story in today's Post-Gazette, where receiver Plaxico Burress bemoans his lack of attention in the Steelers offense and says he's almost certain to leave in free agency. Well, about the whole city of Pittsburgh will be waiting to hold the door open for the guy. Hopefully he goes to Baltimore to screw up their salary cap and their passing game with his colossal underachievement.

    The guy is bitching about not getting the ball, when he dropped a touchdown pass that would've completely changed the game. Why do you think they don't throw you the ball, for Chrissake? Plax is the master of the awkward tip-then-fall-down incompletion. He pushes off on virtually every single pass, drops about every other ball thrown to him, and has a blooper reel of brain-dead plays an hour long. Get him gone, fast.

    The Steelers figure to lose Burress, Kendrell Bell, Keydrick Vincent and probably Jerome Bettis, as I doubt they'll pay Bettis the $4.5 million he's owed if he plays next season. I can't see the Steelers sticking a franchise tag on Bell, who can't stay healthy, so they'll have to do some digging to find quality replacements. But a good start would be for the Steelers to pack up Burress' stuff and mail it to him this afternoon with a fruit basket that says "Bon Voyage".

    Wonderful day in the 'Burgh today, everyone horribly depressed, it's bitter cold, flurries, and the rivers are freezing over. The temperature in my office is about 53 degrees, and I think I'm finally coming down with my yearly cold/flu. I'd still be getting sick if the Steelers had won, and it'd still be freezing out. But none of that would matter if my team was going to the Super Bowl. Which leads to the question, Why the hell do I care so much? Which leads to the next question, Wouldn't it be better if I DIDN'T care? And that leads us inexhorably to, CAN I stop caring?

    Joe Queenan (one of my favorite writers) wrote a hilarious but still painful book called True Believers which looks into the horrible suffering true sports fans go through. Queenan is probably happy today, because he's from Philadelphia, but how he's suffered over the years cheering on the Eagles, Phillies, Sixers, and Flyers. And how we've suffered here in Pittsburgh the last decade or so. The Steelers and Pirates haven't won a title since 1979, the Penguins won their last cup in 1992. So that's 13 years we haven't had a title to celebrate here. Now, that's not too bad, at least not compared to Philly, who hasn't had a champion since 1983. But the past decade has been sheer torture for fans of the Black and Gold.

    The Steelers have had outstanding teams during Bill Cowher's reign, but they've lost FOUR title games on their home field, most of them throw monumental choke jobs that ruin your year, not just your day. The one time the Steelers DID make the Super Bowl they still didn't deserve to go, having been outplayed by the Colts, but the Football Gods took their revenge in Super Bowl XXX and made Larry Brown the most undeserving MVP in the history of history. The Penguins won the Cup in 1991 and 1992, but they went to the conference finals three times since they and lost every time, twice in Game 7s at home. More Pittsburghers know the name David Volek than New Yorkers, he being the nobody who beat Tom Barasso in overtime to snuff out the Penguin dynasty. Penn State went undefeated in 1994 but because college football is so monumentally corrupt they were denied their rightful share of the national championshop. Pitt basketball has had several good teams over the last few years, teams that were not good enough to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. The Pirates lost 3 consecutive league championship series from 1990-92, including the Game 7 where the Pirates, leading 2-0 in the bottom of the ninth, gave up 3 runs thanks to an error by Jose Lind and a single by a nobody named Franciso Cabrera, whose single to left was fielded by the pre-cream and pre-clear Barry Bonds who, although allegedy one of the great fielders of our time, couldn't throw out Sid Bream trying to score from second, Sid Bream having approximately the same footspeed as Frankenstein.

    That was probably the loss the hurt the most, because the Pirates were already half-broken up and we all knew that would be the last time the Bucs would contend for...for...forever. The Pirates haven't won a Series in 25 years, and I know that the Pirates will never win one again. Ever. Not in my lifetime, not in a thousand lifetimes. Not the way that the game's economics are set up, and not with the Pirates incompetent ownership. I might even wager that the Pirates will never finish above .500 in my lifetime. My evidence? The Pirates big free-agent signing this winter was Benito Santiago. 'Nuff said.

    The Penguins will never contend for another Stanley Cup because I'm pretty sure the Penguins will never play again. If the NHL ever returns (and I don't think that's a sure thing) there will be serious contraction, and I don't think the Pens will survive to fly again. Penn State football has stunk the last few years, and winning a national championship has as much to do with politicking and hype as play on the field and with PSU getting shafted so many times over the years it's hard to imagine even a great Nittany Lion team winning a title.

    The Steelers? They finally seem to have a quarterback for the future, unless this was all just beginners luck and Big Ben never plays better than his playoff fiascos. The Steeler organization has shown they know what it takes to build and maintain a good team, whether they can make the jump and become a championship team is a total crapshoot.

    You may be saying, "Oh boo hoo!", especially if you live in a town populatd by teams who are perennial losers. I would reply by saying that it is a LOT easier to deal with a horrible team losing year after year than endure the emotional roller coaster of so many close calls. You think I lose any sleep over the Pirates, who stink now, stunk last year, and will stink for the next century? I've been through that, I'm over that. I can root for the Pirates, I can enjoy their wins and sigh at their losses, but there's no real emotional investment anymore because their fate is preordained. There's no big payoff waiting at the end of the year, we all know that, and we adjust our interest accordingly.

    But with the Steelers, or with any team that comes so close and falls short, it's not just the loss that hurts. Its the denial of the joy that would've come with the win. If your team goes 8-8, eh, you had a blah year, you got to cheer a bit, bitch a bit (bitching can be just as much fun as cheering) and maybe next year things will come around. But look at the Steelers season--is there anyway that next year could be better than this one was? 15-1 in the regular season? Next season the Steelers will have to have a great year (which isn't going to be easy in the overloaded AFC) just to get back to the playoffs, where the wheels came off a year ago. This was the Steelers best chance to win a Super Bowl, maybe for a long long time, and they laid an egg. Again. And losing what might have been hurts far more than just the loss. You only get that feeling when you've come so far, only to fall short. And we've had a lot of that here in Pittsburgh the last 10 years or so.

    Would it be better if I didn't care so much? Sure, and actually I'm much better than I used to be, and I'm far better than a lot of people here in town, who are calling en masse for Bill Cowher's head yet again, and screaming that Tommy Maddox should've started ahead of Roethlisberger. Mass hysteria feeds upon itself, but I'm calm and detached enough that it doesn't affect me. Well, not much--see my screed against Burress above.

    But CAN I stop caring? In Queenan's book there's a part where he's talking to a friend who found the inner strength to stop watching and caring about sports. He decided one day it wasn't worth the pain, and quit cold turkey. And Queenan has a certain admiration for him, because the act takes an enormous amount of self-control and restraint to just up and stop caring about something that once occupied a big part of your psyche.

    Could I do that? I doubt it. I drank the Kool-Aid a long time ago. But then again, I've been able to distance myself from the Pirates, I don't find myself praying for the resurrection of the Penguins, and I've come to accept the fact that Penn State is no longer an elite football program. Whether I can detach myself from the Steelers is another ball of wax, as rooting for the Steelers is practically a religion here and forsaking them seems an act of heresy. Do I want to stop caring about the Steelers. Well, at the moment I'd like to, but that's me speaking at the bottom of the emotional well. Ask me again on Opening Day in September. I think I know what the answer will be then.

    Sunday, January 23, 2005

    Oh Well

    At least for this game I won't be munching Tums like M&M's. Halftime and the game's already over. To paraphase what I wrote in my post about the Colts losing to the Pats, the Steelers are losing another AFC title game in the same old way. Turnovers, touchdowns on returns, giving up big play after big play. It's been a great season, four months between losses, but it was easy to see this coming. Whether Roethlisberger is hurt or not doesn't really matter, he's played like a rookie the past two weeks, and it's finally caught up to the Steelers. Oh well. They have a good foundation to build on, no one saw so much as a playoff berth this season, let alone a 15-game winning streak. The sad thing is that you only get so many chances to go to the Super Bowl, and the Steelers have blown three chances and are in the middle of losing another by horrible play. And that sucks large.

    UPDATE: Well, at least they're showing some signs of life. No sooner do I ask if Randle El has even dressed for the last 2 games and he takes a screen down to the five, and The Bus does the rest. So, we'll see.

    UPDATE UPDATE: Tough game. Tough way to end the season, losing the title game on our home field. Again. And losing the way we did. Patriots are the better team, but the Steelers played their 2 worst games of the year in the playoffs, and didn't deserve to go to the Super Bowl. The play of the game? In my opinion, it wasn't the TD on the interception return, it was the pass Roethlisberger threw to Burress in the end zone on 2nd and goal to start off the 4th quarter. The ball was well-thrown, Plax had his guy screened off, he goes up to catch it...and the ball clanks off his right hand. He didn't even get both hands on it. That one play should guarantee that this was the last game Plaxico Burress plays in a Steeler uniform. Can you imagine Randy Moss dropping that ball? Terrell Owens? Deion Branch? Burress has tons of talent, and he's produced about 1/10th of what capable of. The Steelers have a history of not paying a lot for wide recievers (Hines Ward will be an exception) and I think the Steelers would be mad to invest a lot of cash in a player who, time and time again, doesn't produce when he's most needed.

    Should the Steelers have gone for it on 4th and goal? In retrospect the answer is yes, and I personally would have taken a shot. I understand Cowher's thinking, there's still 12 minutes to go, a ton of time, and your defense has risen to the occasion in the 2nd half. He didn't know the D would collapse the rest of the way, but a touchdown in that situation really puts the Pats under the screws and gets the crowd roaring. After all the horrible plays that come before, the Steelers needed some heroics to pull it out, and Cowher didn't give the offense a chance to perform a miracle.

    Just a ghastly game, to cap off a ghastly weekend. Every day was a nightmare, I'm actually looking forward to going back to work tomorrow. Fortunately I sit in a fairly isolated area and won't have to deal with many people crying over the loss. The whole city will be in mourning, probably through the Super Bowl. No Penguins to take our collective mind off the loss, and the Pirates are of course a joke. It's gonna be a long, blue time here in Pittsburgh, let me tell you.

    UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE: And to top off a truly horrible weekend, I just busted out on the bubble in an SNG up against three terrible players who seemed determined to give their chips away but wouldn't bust the low guy out. I finally had to go all-in with 5-9, the other guy turns over QQ, I hit my miracle 2 pair on the flop, but the board pairs another card and I'm out. The play before was unreal, but I couldn't get a hand. I still should've made the money, but the 2 chip leaders would re-raise preflop like T400 and then fold when the short guy bet T150 into the pot. Thanks, guys, just give him enough chips to get back on his feet.

    I'm in a bad, bad mood. Think I'll go to sleep, where I get at least a few hours of relative peace and quiet.

    Friday, January 21, 2005

    Why Will the Steelers Win Sunday? Me, of course

    It's unlucky to be superstitious

    I could spend 15 column inches explaining in Xs and Os terms why the Steelers will beat the Patriots and go to the Super Bowl. But what do I know? These are two excellent teams, well-coached and stocked with players who show both skill and heart every time they step on the field. How can you not like and admire Tedy Bruschi? How can you not like The Bus? There's been no trash-talking between the two teams leading up to this game, it's actually been a love-fest, and yet we all know this will probably be the most physical game of the season (current holder of the title, Pittsburgh-Jacksonville).

    So I can't give practical reasons why the Steelers will win. I just have to go with what I feel in my gut. And what I feel is...a bubbling cauldron of acid reflux. I was near to puking the entire Jets game, in part as I'd made a tactical error and eaten the tacos my buddy Mark made for halftime. Good tacos, but spicy food is NOT a good menu selection when you're riding a hellish emotional roller coaster. This week I will try to lay off the hot stuff, though I believe Mark is making meatball subs and I believe our friend Greg is bringing some kind of ninth-degree chili. Well, I have a bottle of Tums to bring along, anyway.

    I made other errors watching the game last week. Like every die-hard (read:insane) sports fan, I've collected a formidable list of superstitions and talismans that constrict my behavior in maddening ways. For example, on Sunday I will be wearing my Jerome Bettis jersey, which I ONLY wear on game days. Today is Black and Gold day here at work, but the idea of my wearing my jersey today (and using up all its good karma) is anathema. I'd sooner strip naked paint #36 on my chest and jump off the bank into the Allegheny River. Really. I would.

    Under my Bettis jersey I always wear a white long-sleeved T-shirt I bought when I was in Pitt's MBA program. It's a nice roomy T-shirt and I started wearing it one cool day when I was going somewhere to watch the game. Steelers won, and a fetish was born. You can see the "Katz Graduate School of Business" logo through part of my jersey, but I care not. This is about luck, not fashion. Steelers better win the Super Bowl this year, 'cause that shirt is getting a bit tatty. While I always wash the T-shirt before each game, I don't wash the jersey. Can't wash the luck away, right?

    I have 2 Terrible Towels, one of which is lucky, the other cursed. The lucky one comes with me, the cursed stays at home, naturally. When watching last week's game I committed one serious offense and forgot a bigtime luck-generating habit. The offense was drinking during the game. THIS IS STRICTLY FORBIDDEN. I know, not drinking while watching a football game is like, I don't know, not drinking before the consummation of a marriage, but for me it's bad luck. I developed this insane tic during the Penn State-Michigan game in 1994, during the Lions' national championship year (and don't tell me Penn State didn't win the title that year. Biggest sports ripoff in the last 25 years). I'm sucking down suds, the Wolverines take the lead. I stop at halftime and the Lions roar back to victory. I've been watching football sober every since.

    Except last week. Had a few beers before kickoff, and then the Steelers race out 10-0 and it looks like the rout is on. No harm in keeping the party going. Right. I cut myself off as Reggie Tongue raced 86 yards down the sidelines. And the Steelers righted the ship (eventually) and won the day.

    I watched them win not while sitting on the couch, but by standing and pacing behind it. Not much room back there, but I'm so constricted by stress that standing up and pacing and bobbing about help burn off a few thousand calories that otherwise would just go toward heating my blood. I started doing this at Mark's house back in...'93 I think it was. It was the year the Steelers beat the Belichek-led Browns in the first-round playoff game. Steelers stunk against the Jets until I took up my position by the couch, victory soon followed.

    The problem I face right now is that I followed most of these conditions 3 years ago, and the Patriots still beat the Steelers. But I think I have this all figured out. One, I wasn't standing behind the couch, because we watched the game at my friend Matt's house. Two, and this is the big one, NEVER, EVER WATCH A BIG GAME AT MATT'S HOUSE. My friend Matt and his wife Kris keep a lovely home, and it's always a joy to visit and spend time with them there. Just not during a goddam big game. It's the Bermuda Triange for our sports hopes and dreams. We watched Pitt get liquidated by Utah earlier this month. We saw the Penguins lose like a half-dozen playoff games there. So right there I think we've solved a major jinx, meaning I can be comfortable with all my other quirks and twitches.

    So I think I'm ready to focus all my psychic and karmic power to the Steeler cause. We're gonna have a big crew watching the game, and hopefully we'll enjoy a rousing victory. Which would present another problem. Mark has decided that, should the Steelers make the Super Bowl, he's going to the game. Come hell or high water, he'll be in Alltell Stadium rooting on the Black and Gold. Meaning we'd have to watch the game somewhere else. I know our friend Mike is hosting a Super Bowl party, as he has the last six or seven years, but the Steelers weren't IN any of those games. Would we shatter the harmonic convergence if we watched the game somewhere else? Or would two victories exhaust the karmic mine of Mark's house and require us to decamp for fresh territory. I'm sad to say, these are the things that keep me awake at night. Well, they will Saturday night--the rest of the week I have other scary, unmentionable horrors to haunt me.

    So I've done my part. It's up to the Steelers to do the rest. And I'm confident they're up to the task. The weather will be a big story leading up to kickoff, we're due for 4-6 inches, maybe more, but it looks like it'll hit on Saturday, not Sunday. I haven't decided yet if that's good luck or bad. To save myself a wee bit of stress, I'm gonna go ahead and call it good.

    Wednesday, January 19, 2005

    Big Fish, Little Fish

    A most enjoyable night at the tables the other night. Didn't plan on playing, but after I did my good deed for the night (went grocery shopping for my wife) I thought I deserved a little treat. Especially as she had me buy like 15 different vegetables and going thru the self-check line takes forever when you have to look up each veggie on the screen and weigh it and look the next one up...

    Actually, I could write a whole post about the new self-checkout lines at grocery stores. But not today. So I decide to play a $10 SNG (being a moron I've been playing the $5 ones, meaning I've been paying 20% juice instead of 10%, but I've finally seen the light). My computer can't load the NL tables fast enough so I've been playing pot-limit, which is fine by me, though the games take longer. Right off the bat a guy gets knocked out when he slow plays trips to the river and gets caught by a straight. A few hands later I do the same thing, guy flops trip queens, makes tiny bets to keep everyone around, and I hit my open-ended straight. We end up re-raising our way to all-in and I double up. A few hands later I hit a set, check-raise three players and get one guy to push all-in, and I add another T800 to my stack. It's been so long since I've had a big stack in a SNG that I almost don't know what to do.

    But only almost. We quickly get down to 4, meaning next guy out don't get paid. And these guys totally turtle on me. It was DELICIOUS. I raise, they fold. I bet on the flop, they fold. I think the game went on for 75 hands, and I won 47% of them. Plus two of the guys were Steeler fans and we kept up a happy chat during the game. When we finally got down to three I had T7000 and they other two each had around T500...with the blinds at 200-400. I had an ace each of the last two hands and busted them back-to-back. Fifty bucks in my account and I felt like King Poker. Fold and tremble before my mighty...might.

    But I know the danger of hubris, so I decided a humbling experience might be in order. So I sought out and found the blogger table--but this time, I intended to actually sit down and play. I went in with the attitude that if I lost my $25 buy-in, so be it--but I was going to play tight, tight, tight. I mean, I'm folding queens if there's a raise ahead of me, as of course there always is at this table of madness. This is not a game for the weak of heart. Or the fragile of liver.

    I was sitting on the edge of my chair, my focus laserlike. I just wanted to play a few orbits, maybe see a flop or two, and keep my losses around $5. So about 3 hands in I'm dealt KK in early position. I raise, and of course everyone immediately tosses their hands away, knowing I'm neither drunk nor skilled and must therefore have a monster. Only Otis refuses to respect mah authoritah and calls me. OK, I want a call, right? Right. Except that every time I watch the blogger table he's taking down pot after pot, and right now he's sitting on over a hundred bucks. The flop comes queen high, and I make a big bet, determined not to let him outplay me. He folds, I cancel "brown alert", and show down my cowboys. See, I'm setting up a table image here, I'm letting everyone think that I'm tight-weak. The fact that I AM tight-weak is besides the point, at least in my own mind. This will pay off for me later on.

    Of course Otis pulls out the needle and he knows exactly where to stick me. He casually tosses out the name Isabelle Mercier, whom he's seen in three-dimensions compared to my two, and I'm green with envy and weak-kneed to boot. So when I get dealt aces in the big blind and he makes a position raise, I come over the top for seven bucks. Perhaps I should have limped and tried to trap him, but I think it's more likely that in the end I'd be the trappee and not the trapper, and maybe he'll think that my re-raise is me antler-rattling in response to his taunts. He calls, and when the flop comes king-high I go flat-out loco and push all-in. Great bet, that, either he's gonna fold or he's gonna call me with the better hand. The fact that he folds is good in that I don't lose my whole stack, but had I played with a bit more style, a bit more panache, I might have won a bigger pot. Isabelle, I think, would not have been impressed with that play, and I hung my head in shame.

    That was about it for me, I didn't get a decent hand the rest of the way. Well, I got hands that play in the fishy preserves I usually frolic in, but as I mentioned at the time, you don't see a lot of "limp-check-check" at this table. Those sooted connectors everyone loves to play? Forget it, unless you want to call a $7 re-raise out of position.

    If you're trying to decide if you should sit down at a particular table, I think this is a good rule of thumb: If you dread the idea of getting a big starting hand, including aces, you probably should get up and walk away. I will definitely play at the blogger table again, when I think my game is a bit more up to speed. And I have a large supply of Tums. But for now I will stock up on malt vinegar and keep on fishing, and sharpen my teeth before I try swimming with the sharks.

    Tuesday, January 18, 2005

    Dream a Little Dream

    Has this ever happened to you? You're sitting in your cube/office, morosely stirring creamer into a hot cup of coffee. Some perky bastard peeks his head in and says, "Hey, Bob (let's assume your name's Bob), you don't look so good."

    And you mumble, "I didn't get much sleep last night," and as the jackass gives a quizzical look you say, "just had some weird dreams".

    And the asshole sits on your desk and says, "Weird dreams? Man, let me tell you about the weird dream I had last night!". And the prick spends the next 25 minutes telling you about this dream where he was in this place, it was like a haunted house, but it WASN'T a haunted house, see, and he was there with this girl who dumped him in college but he didn't care because in his dream he was married to Jennifer Aniston, which made Brad Pitt jealous so he had to pull out his ninja sword and fight Brad to the death..."

    And it goes on and on and on and ON. Nothing is so boring as to hear other people talk about their dreams. Whether dreams are a window into the soul or your brain dumping crap to free up some RAM, dreams are best kept to oneself. A woman I used to work with came up to me one day and told me that she had a dream about me, her, and a big tub of hot fudge. Probably a nice dream, though it gave ME nightmares, as she was a way-scary psychopath who made Glenn Close's character in "Fatal Attraction" look like Mary Poppins.

    When I feel compelled to tell someone (almost always my wife) about a vivid dream I had I try to keep it simple:

    Me: "I had a dream last night we needed milk."

    Wife: "I bought a gallon yesterday."

    Me: "Whew! That's a load off my mind!"

    My wife tends to go on a bit with her dream explanations, and I try to stay attentive. Sometimes its easier said than done.

    Wife: "I had a dream last night I conked you on the head with a shovel, buried you in the back yard, and married Pierce Brosnan. What do you think that means?"

    Me: "I think that means tonight I'm sleeping in the gameroom with the door locked and the shotgun across my chest."

    I love the "what do you think that means" part of any dream explanation. I'm not Freud, for God's sake. The hell would I know? I don't take dreams too literally. If I have a dream where I'm a cybernautic killing machine and I'm slaughtering the population of Houston, I don't wake up thinking that I have unresolved issues with Texans. Or George Bush, for that matter. My subconscious just wanted a little killspree, and that's it.

    I do understand that there are dreams that have "symbolic" meaning. The one where you're in a public place and you're naked, that's a big one, though I don't remember what it's symbolic of. When I have that dream, I'm always trying to find clothes to put on, but no one is standing around pointing and laughing at me. Everyone seems to ignore my nakedness. I don't know if that's a good sign or bad.

    The other big nightmare I have is that I have one class to go before graduation, it's in a subject like theoretical polymer chemistry, I haven't been to a class all semester, and I don't even know what BUILDING the class is in. Now, this dream hits a little bit close to home, as I was an attendance-challenged undergrad who actually MISSED his very first college exam. Thought the test was the next day, my bad (still ended up with a B+).

    Why is it that those nightmares are so vivid, so REAL, while the good dreams are sketchy and blurred? You know, you're having a dream where you're in the kitchen making pudding, you're making chocolate pudding, you're making gallons and gallons of chocolate pudding and you don't know why, and suddenly here come the USC cheerleading squad! And guess what?! They all want to pudding wrestle!

    "Wait!!" the blondest of them asks, wrinkling her pert little nose, "is that chocolate pudding!?"

    "Um...yes?" you answer nervously.

    "Yay, our favorite!!" she cheers and they all jump up and down and you jump up and down with them and they start waving their pompoms and stripping off their sweater-skirts and its right about this time that one of my motherfucking cats knocks my lamp on the floor because he doesn't like the way the food is arranged in their bowl. And it's hard to return to Dreamland after you've been chasing a cat around the house for 15 minutes while brandishing a 9-iron.

    Why do I bring all this up? Because last night I had a poker dream. I don't think I'd ever dreamt about poker before, unless it was strip poker with the Girls of the ACC. In the classic book "The Biggest Game in Town" author A. Alvarez mentions a friend who says he dreams about poker more than sex. Poor bastard, I say, especially if his dreams are like mine was.

    I was playing in the World Series of Poker, which for some reason wasn't being held in the Horseshoe or the Rio, but in the dingy basement of someone's house (and, yes, I'm sure it wasn't the Horseshoe). There were two folding tables open and that's what we were playing on. Actually, I wasn't playing, I'd just been knocked out and had taken third place. As I walked away I kept asking how much I won, and no one could give me the right answer. I walked up the stairs that led to the upper floor of the house and started calling my friends and family to tell them how I did, and none of them seemed interested in the news.

    That's all I remember about the dream, except for who won. Hasan Habib beat Erik Seidel. Now, more than any explanation for what my dream meant, I want to know why the fuck Hasan Habib and Erik Seidel are characters in my dreams? I mean, I shouldn't be dreaming about Erik Seidel. I don't know that ANYBODY should be dreaming about Erik Seidel, including Mrs. Seidel. From everything I've read and heard Erik is a great guy and an outstanding player, but that doesn't mean he should have a speaking role in my subconscious.

    I guess I shouldn't be that upset by it--we WERE playing poker, not something...else. And it's not like I have dreams about poker all the time. Like Saturday night, after the Steeler game, my mind gave me a break and I had a dream that I was riding my bike through the park near my house. That's it, just a bike ride. Nice. Then Sunday night, well, I had a dream that I was at a barbacue in my parents backyard and there was this flash and this gigantic red-orange mushroom cloud blooming over Pittsburgh. Uh-huh. So, the last 3 nights, my dreams have gone something like this:

    1. Bike ride through park
    2. Hometown annihilated in thermonuclear holocaust
    3. Lose World Series of Poker held in basement

    I guess what I'd like is some CONSISTENCY. It can't be good for my brain, switching from pastoral calm to atomic nightmare to dislocated normalcy on consecutive nights. I say I should lay off the beer and spicy food, but the one night in the last three I did that Pittsburgh got nuked.

    I assure you that I will not be writing any more about my dreams (and especially not if they involve Isabelle Mercier, you hounds). I think tonight a glass of warm milk before bed, that may soothe my psyche. And keep Erik Seidel from disturbing my rest.

    Monday, January 17, 2005

    Peyton Manning-- the NFL's Napoleon Bonaparte

    Even with the score 6-3 at halftime you knew the Pats-Colts game was over. Because we'd seen this all before. The Colts fast-break offense cannot thrive on grass in cold weather, and the Patriots were able to disrupt Manning's timing by three-quarters-of-a-smidge and render him a spent force. There may be no QB in NFL history better than Manning at identifying defenses, adjusting to them, and throwing a perfect timing route. But watching him try to improvise, watching him try to scramble around and buy time for his receivers? It's painful. I tried to think back over the season and tried to remember how many big plays Manning made when he was flushed out of the pocket and freelancing. I couldn't think of one. Give him any kind of resistance and he's totally ineffective.

    It was painful to watch, as I'd rather watch my Steelers play the Colts than the Patriots. Watching the game reminded me of what the Duke of Wellington said after he defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. Modestly explaining how he won the battle, the Iron Duke said, "They came at us in the same old way, and we beat them, in the same old way". As always the French attacked in column, as always the British defended in line, and as always the line beat the column. The Colts flayed teams with their quick-hitting offense and overwhelmed defenses who couldn't get pressure on Manning. But on an icy grass field and snow blowing in the wind, the Colts WR played with hearts three sizes too small and the Patriots were constantly in Manning's face. It didn't take a defensive genius to think up that game plan.

    So the Patriots come to Pittsburgh, and all the football pundits are saying, "The Steelers can't play like they did against the Jets and expect to win". Gee, you think so? Brilliant insight, that! I went to the Pats-Steeler game in October and saw the Steelers dominate the line on both sides of the ball. True, New England didn't have Corey Dillon, and he is a great player, but he'll be going up against the #1 run defense in the league, not the Colts D. So the idea that Dillon alone turns this game into a foregone conclusion somewhat escapes me.

    Everyone, including myself, says that Ben Roethlisberger has to play better for the Steelers to win. Again, no duh. A local columnist damned our rookie QB with the ultimate dig--he said that Big Ben played like Kordell Stewart...on one of Kordell's bad days. That stings. But let's not forget that a few weeks ago Tom Brady had an atrocious game against the Dolphins yet did not go into the tank for the rest of the year. I think Roethlisberger will play much, much, MUCH better this week, if only because he can't possibly play worse. Wait...I said that a few times about Kordell, too. (Shudder).

    So who knows who's gonna win the game? I'm not going to worry about it till kickoff. Steelers got lucky to beat the Jets, but didn't the Pats get lucky to beat the Raiders in 2001? Play the game and see what happens.

    I played me some poker this weekend and did rather well. Played 3 SNGs and won a gold, silver, and bronze medal, adding nicely to the bankroll. Made a few adjustments in my play. Early on I kept pots small and didn't do a lot of goofy raising that wouldn't chase anyone anyhow, and took the opportunities that presented themselves. I'm finally over my bankroll-induced gunshyness and playing much more aggressively, to good effect. I'm certainly not playing my A-game yet (like I have an "A" game) but I'm up to a solid B-minus now. I'm up to "godawful" from "rancid". A marked improvement.

    A review of Matthew Hilger's book I think comes next (been reading the damn thing for a month, it's finally penetrating). Lots of people seem to like the new look, which is good to hear. Having a new design, one that doesn't resemble anyone elses, is important to me for some reason. I'm not one who values style over substance, but, dammit, some style is nice once in awhile. It's inspired me to write more, and I hope to branch out and write about more than just poker in the weeks and months and years to follow. Still gotta add some links...maybe I'll do that now.

    Sunday, January 16, 2005

    Some Random "Tilt" Thoughts

    No sense in writing a whole review of the Tilt premiere, as its been done elsewhere and I'm a day late and a penny short. But after watching last night I do have some observations:

    • As I watched last night I noticed 3 big dissimilarities between watching a dark, gritty drama on ESPN as opposed to HBO. Besides the quality of the acting, writing, and direction. First, no swearing on ESPN, but there's nothing they can do about that. Two, commercial interruptions on ESPN, but there's nothing they can do about that. Three, and this is the big one, HBO doesn't have a running score crawl at the bottom of the screen. I couldn't believe that ESPN still had the bar at the bottom of the screen showing scores and sports news. I'm trying to follow the story and I keep thinking, "ooh, Siena beat Centenary in women's hoops...".
    • I cannot take seriously a character, who is a grown man and a casino executive, who asks people to call him "Lowball". I don't care if you're the greatest Lowball player in the world, that's not a nickname you would voluntarily use.
    • I cannot take seriously a character, in a show about poker, with a name like "Miami". Even if the character is a woman. I think the writers bought the book Cliche Poker Nicknames and flipped open a random page.
    • The show starts by quick-cutting images of Las Vegas, from the Strip to 4th-rate nudie bars and delis and then back to the glitz and glamour. I don't know who invented the quick-cut (Eisenstein?) but he should be put a bag and thrown into a large body of water. The Vegas Strip is one of the greatest spectacles on earth, and it would've been nice to SEE it for more than the .27 seconds it was shown before the inevitable quick-cut to the next image. Quick-cutting is, of course, a valuable tool, but the mere ability to quick-cut does not a good director make.
    • Daniel Negreanu wrote in his blog that he couldn't believe the bad light that the show puts poker in. I agree, I'm a bit shocked that ESPN, which has made a lot of money televising poker the last 2 years, would make the game look like its populated solely with cheats, lowlifes, scumbags, crooks, psychos, and losers. I'm also a bit shocked that Negreanu, who makes a brief cameo with T.J. Cloutier in the show, had no idea what the show was going to be about. I would've thought that either he would've asked, or the producers would've told him. A lesson for us all--if you're asked to make a cameo in a TV show or film, get a copy of the script first. We should all add that to our New Year's Resolutions.
    • If I sit down in a poker game, and there's a 12-year-old girl sitting there with thousands of bucks in front of her, I get up and leave. Because I'm either going to take a karmic battering winning a little kids' money, or she's some sort of savant who's going to drive away in my car at the end of the night. Either way, I'm goin' home.
    • If the patter at Vegas poker tables is as annoying, predicable, and banal as it was in this show, I may take up hopscotch. Are we going to be subjected to a whole season of, "I don't think you have it...raise!" "I think you just gave something!" "Re-raise, huh? How much you got in front of you?" Blah blah blah blah blah blah. There were a few good lines in the show, but none of them came at the poker table. Well, the guy pulling the bigger gun and saying "re-raise" was a good one. Actually, that guy made a bigger impression on me in that one little scene than the 3 main characters did in the whole show.
    • Michael Madsen was good, but this a role that he could really have some fun with, but in the first episode we learn that he's a sadist, he's a card-cheat, he's a lousy casino executive, and yet he's presented as this nearly omniscient Vegas operator. We'll have to see if he rounds into Tony Soprano-like complexity or Homer Simpsonesque cartoonishness.
    • I do agree with the "Matador" that all men's rooms should come with hot and cold running strippers.

    Enough. I could go on but I've gone on long enough. I played some poker myself last night, losing about $8 on a hand where I was dealt pocket aces and could not keep 5 other players from coming along with me all the way to the river, where I was run down in the end by 2 pair. But I won it all back plus an extra seventy-five cents when I went runner-runner to fill in a full house. At that point I chose to withdraw and go to bed.

    Pretty much the whole city is still in blissful disbelief that the Steelers will be playing in the AFC title game next week. Pittsburgh's had a tough year, the city declared bankruptcy, we had massive flooding from Hurricane Ivan, there's been little good news to distract from some pretty serious problems. The Steelers have given everyone something to talk about, something good everyone can enjoy together. Had they lost would've sent the whole city into a profound depression. Instead we all still have hope. And it feels good.

    Saturday, January 15, 2005

    Sorry, Pauly

    Glad I didn't check my email until the Steelers had commited 3 acts of football seppuku, as Pauly offered a wager on the Jets-Steelers game. Nice to see the Steelers giving up touchdowns galore on ridiculous plays like they did against NE in the title game a few years ago. Think I'll go puke and see if the Steelers can pull out an undeserving win.

    UPDATE: TOUCHDOWN! Now let's have the defense bring the pain and get the ball back.

    UPDATE UPDATE: Never in the history of the NFL has a team deserved less to still be alive. Big Ben has made a season's worth of rookie mistakes in one half. And yet the Steelers still survive. We're all emotionally exhausted. And here we got OT, with no right to be alive.

    UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE: Unreal. I'm spent. We all are. What a horrible performance, what terrible play by Roethlisberger, and yet the Steelers somehow survive. I can't believe they won. Not after two horrible picks, a fumble in the red zone, a punt return for a TD, and still they find a way to win. I can't believe it.

    Sorry Pauly, indeed. You must be hurtin, and I empathize. That's how I felt nearly the whole game.

    It's DRINKIN' TIME!!!!

    UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE: It's gonna take some time for the win today to sink in. I should be elated and I'm just beat. It seems impossible that the Steelers won. When the Steelers beat the Browns in 2002, I thought that was as improbable a win as I'd ever seen. Steelers would score and make it close, and the Browns would score and kill our hopes. The Browns had like 3rd and 10, Holcomb throws a perfect pass to Dennis Northcutt, he's open by about 15 yards--and he drops it. He catches the ball and the game's over. He totall honks it. And the Steelers march down the field on their 4th desperation drive of the game and score to win it. That was an unbelieveable win. This was just as improbable. Two missed FG, including one that clangs off the crossbar. After that miss we're all going apeshit, and then Big Ben throws his worst goddam pass of the season and we're in despair again. Ups and downs, ups and downs. Eventually you get worn out. As I am right now. Being a sports fan sucks sometimes. Sometimes its great. Today was a little of one and a lot of the other. Beer, I think, is the solution.

    Can the Steelers win next week? They've got a better shot than the Jets. Don't care who we play, next week is gravy. Maybe its the Steelers turn to be the Team of Destiny.

    UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE...AHH, THE HELL WITH IT: It occurs to me that after slamming the writers of Rounders for having a character saying that destiny chooses our future I shouldn't be saying that the Steelers might be a team of destiny. I do have a functioning bullshit detector, but after today's game, which had more ups and downs than a $375 lap dance, it wasn't at full power. I don't believe in teams of destiny...until after they win the title they're after.

    Watching Tilt. I won't bother reviewing it since there are so many out there, but I'll be writing something about it, I'm sure.

    Here We Go Stillers, Here We Go

    I'm as loyal a Steeler fan as you'll find in the 'Burgh, but I would rather they go 0-16 than listen to the absolutely HORRIBLE Steeler fight song they used to play all the time on WDVE when they were in the playoffs. So far I've been lucky enough to miss it entirely, and I'll try to keep the streak alive heading into the game today. I don't mean the "Steeler Polka" song from the 70s, which is a great fight song. Pittsburghers reading this will know what horrible song I'm talking about, and non-Pittsburghers shouldn't subject themselves to it. Know what I oughta do? I oughta write a new Steeler fight song. Have to give it some thought.

    The Steelers go 15-1 and yet it's the Patriots-Colts game that's being called the early Super Bowl. Which is fine with me. Let the other teams (and fans) have all the extra pressure. Not that I'm not nervous about the Jets, but we beat 'em once before, and I'm confident we'll beat 'em again. Note the royal "we" that I and all sports fans use. As if I'm going to line up next to James Farrior.

    We're watching the game over my friend Mark's house, and as he has a laptop with WiFi I may be live-blogging the game. But probably only if the Steelers start putting the wood to the Jets, as I'll be too intent on the game (and my friends will be livid if I'm typing during a tense game). I asked Mark (who's a doctor) if it was appropriate for me to apologize to the ER staff for wasting their time when I went to the hospital the other day thinking I had a stroke. Which I did.

    "Well..." Mark said, "Yeah. We appreciate that."

    At least Mark said I had some reason to be scared, though there are reasons besides a stroke for temporary loss of feeling. I still feel a bit stupid for going to the hospital, but very happy to be alive and well. Gonna be a great day for football, temps in the low 20s, blue sky, perfect.

    Played a little poker last night, after first doing some karmic adjustments. I could write a 5,000 word post about my little superstitions and quirks and whatnot, but I don't want to inflict that on my readers. I did some cleaning of my den, polished my desk, and brought out the big gun--my DVD of The Young Ones. That's what I was watching when I won the Grublog Classic, and I've been having such a tough run lately that I needed all the psychological help I could get.

    Played a little ring game first, and, sigh, its so frustrating when people just WANT to give you their money and you can't get a decent hand to play. The table was loosey-goosey and so passive you might've though everyone was taking Guinness intravenously. There's a bet in front of you? Call. A raise? Call. We had like 10 flops in a row with 7 or so callers of a single bet, and then two flops in a row with 7 callers when the betting was capped. Yeesh.

    But I was able to get up around ten whole dollars, though I ended up dropping half of that on one hand when I made trips on the flop only to be facing a guy with an open-end straight flush draw. He got his card on the turn and nicely trapped me. Nothing to complain about, but it stung.

    I decided to play in a 2-table SNG, which I'd always enjoyed more than the 1-table tourneys and always done better in anyway. And I played pretty doggone good--except for my final hand. I was always right in the middle, chipwise, until we got down to the final 9. And it was a most unusual table. One guy had a huge chip stack, a few guys were short, and the rest of us had roughly the same amount. And the table got wicked tight. I mean, this is Empire? We went like 10 hands in a row without a flop. We went like 20 hands in a row where only 2 players saw the flop or there was no turn card. It was odd, not going up against rock'em-sock'em players, and actually fun, playing "proper" poker.

    I knocked one short guy out when my AK beat his KQ after a king on the flop, and then as the blinds got high I was able to steal quite a few times with pretty good hands. The chip leader was seemingly asleep, he didn't play a hand for about 3 orbits, which was great for me because he was directly to my right and he surrended his little blind to me on 4 separate occasions, which helped me out a ton. We finally got down to 4, meaning I was in the money, when the guy in 3rd position doubled up on the chip leader. And then the shortstack won a nice pot, meaning I was now the short guy. And I made my dumb move. I had QJ under the gun and pushed it my whole stack. The blinds were 300-600 and I hadn't played a hand in forever, so I hoped I'd get some respect. But not from the chip leader, not with AK. And one impatient play cost me a chance to move up. Truth be told, it was 1AM, I was exhausted from the night before, and I thought I was being clever. Nope.

    I stopped by the blogger table to lurk and watch a little of the mayhem. Yinz guys are nuts.

    OK, time for some drudgery before the game. Probably write a bit more after the game. Go Steelers!

    Friday, January 14, 2005

    In For a Quicky

    I planned on writing a review of "Tilt", but I ended up hanging out at the bar until 1AM arguing over our volleyball team's tactics. So I didn't see "Tilt", as I thought I'd be home by midnight and could tape it and watch it tonight. Then again, gee whiz, you think maybe ESPN will show it again tonight? And every night for the next week? From what I've read it sucked, as I predicted in an earlier post. And from what I saw it sucked, too--it was on one of the TVs at the pub we got to. It was like that scene in "The Simpsons" where attorney Lionel Hutz is about to defend Homer on some charge and he comes into the courtroom and says, "Mr. Simpson, you're in luck. I watched "Matlock" in a bar last night. The sound was off, but I got the gist of it".

    A review in Slate panned the show, and the writer wisely asked Paul Phillips what he thought would make for an interesting series about high-stakes poker. Phillips said, "In what other line of work do people spend every day trying to take their friends' money? Except for the real lowlifes who have no friends, it's inevitable that you make friends with people you play with a lot. There are so many ways it can impact a relationship."

    Which I've always wondered about. I remember during the Borgata WPT event (the one where Hoyt Corkins slow-braised Phil Hellmuth) that Daniel Negreanu and Erick Lindgren and Ted Forrest were cheering Mohammad Ibrahim on--as well they should, being that they're friends. Friends who play poker together all the time and are therefore trying their damndest to take each other's money. Now, I like playing poker with my friends, and it's delicious to win, but I'm only winning the odd fiver or so. I'm not walking away with a couple hundred thou of their money. It's a strange warping of friendship, and it might have made for an interested show. Of course, that's not the path ESPN chose to follow.

    We should have known this because "Tilt" comes to us from the duo who wrote "Rounders", which is credited (quite rightly) for kicking off the poker boom. Chris Moneymaker said he started playing poker after watching "Rounders", and his WSOP victory brought millions (both people and dollars) to the game. Everyone wants to be Mike McD, and after seeing an amateur win the World Series, anyone COULD be him.

    I've written and deleted probably 5 reviews and/or criticism of "Rounders", mostly because the points I wanted to make about the movie were already out there. But there are two things I want to mention, one's just an observation, and the scene that, to me, ruins the movie.

    Here's the observation--"Rounders" is unusual in that it's a movie whose very success makes it an anarchronism. The main crisis in the movie is Mike and Worm trying to raise enough money to pay back the debt Worm owes to Grama (and Teddy KGB). We see Matt and Ed hustling from game to game, golf clubs and frat houses and finally a fire hall filled with off-duty cops, where Worm's fundamental scumminess rises to the top (a side question--can you survive in prison with a nickname like "Worm"?). Mike then has to play heads-up against KGB with his life on the line. There's your drama.

    What would Mike and Worm do if that situation came up in 2005 instead of 1998? They wouldn't be racing all over New York City looking for a game--they'd be holed up in Mike's bedroom 4-tabling the 15-30 games at Party. The poker boom that "Rounders" kicked off has been manifested itself for the most part online, where you can find games at just about any limit you want at any hour. True, you can't see your opponent twisting apart Oreos and figure out by which piece he eats whether he's bluffing or not (another side question--if you saw KGB do that, and thought it was a tell, would you be confident that it was really a tell and not just him PRETENDING it was a tell? Me neither) but I think Mike and Worm would have considerable success playing online instead of hustling live games. Watching "Rounders" now shows a romantic, dangerous side of poker that online play, in large part, now overshadows.

    The scene that ruined "Rounders" for me was NOT the scene where Petra comes up to Mike's room, throws herself at him, and is inexplicably rejected. By definition, no scene that features Famke Janssen in a slinky black dress can be a terrible scene. It was an absurd scene, it made you question the sanity of the protagonist (and the writers), but it had Famke Janssen in a slinky black dress.

    The scene that had me shaking my head was the one where Mike goes to the bar to drop something off to his law professor, and Petrovsky invites Mike to sit down and have a drink. The two get to talking, and Petrovsky tells Mike about when he was a young man, how his parents insisted he go to rabbincal school, and how he realized he couldn't follow that path because he didn't truly believe. He went to law school, became a successful and respected man--and yet his parents never forgave him, and never spoke to him again. Ouch.

    Mike asks, "If you could do it all over again, would you make the same choice?"

    And Petrovsky smiles and says, "What choice? We don't choose our destiny--our destiny chooses us."

    This is, without a doubt, one of the stupidest lines ever spoken in cinema history. Not the words themselves--we've heard similar claptrap in countless other movies. But look at the man who's saying them. He's a JUDGE, for Chrissakes. He's a LAWYER. He's a professor at a LAW SCHOOL. He's this archtypical wise and caring mentor. And his advice is just wait for destiny to intervene?

    Is not the law supposed to govern the CHOICES people make in their lives? I mean, having destiny choose for you is great when it decides to make you one of the best poker players in the world. It sucks when it chooses to hand you the shitty end of the stick. Can you imagine a defendent in Petrovsky's court standing up during his sentencing hearing and saying, "You Honor, I know that giving that crack cocaine to those Girl Scouts was wrong. Selling rocks to pre-teen girls in exchange for their cookie money is something I shouldn't have done. But...(cue music, close up on eyes welling with tears) was my DESTINY. From the moment I slipped out of my mother's womb my life led me to this point. I know that exchanging hard drugs for the sexual favors of pubescent girls is wrong, but this is what destiny CHOSE for me. My mother wanted me to be a pediatrician, but destiny decided I'd be involved with kids in a different capacity."

    No one with a properly installed bullshit detector would have let Martin Landau speak those words. Especially in a movie about POKER, for cryin' out loud. What is poker but a series of decisions, with good players making better decisions than bad players. If the result of every hand is already predestined, what's the point of playing? Why don't we all just write a check to Phil Ivey and take up surfing?

    OK, enough ranting. I did enough of that last night at the bar. Up till 1AM arguing about the same thing over and over again. And the last hour of that I wasn't even drinking. I think only Drizztdj would care about this, but we play in a co-ed league (4 boys, 2 girls) and we're running a 5-1. Which involves lots of switiching back and forth and up and back and knowing instinctively where you need to be. Instincts we lack. We had the same conversation last night we've had over and over again, I think we should be playing a simple setup, but the rest of the team likes playing this way even as it costs us 5-10 points a game because we're running around like the Keystone Kops. Oh, on top of that, our setter (the "1" in the "5") is one of our guys, so we have a girl hitting in the power position. It's absurd. We know a lot of the people on the teams we play against, and they keep asking the same question--why the hell are you playing like that? Don't ask me, I just show up and do my job like a good boy.

    Steelers play tomorrow, the whole city is bedecked in Black and Gold. Jets played us tough the first time around, but we didn't have Burress or Haynes, and I think playing 2 OT road games in a row is gonna take a serious toll on the Noo Yawkers. Gonna be cold, about 20 degrees at kickoff, and the fans whipped into a frenzy. I look for the Steelers to be physical from the start and grind the Jets into a greenish paste. But we shall see, and I shall write about it.

    Thursday, January 13, 2005

    Whaddya Think?

    Well, I said I wanted a new look for the blog, and here it is. I'll be doing some tweaking over the next day or so, and of course adding to my blogroll and all that sorta stuff. I love this look, I wanted a 3 column blog, I like the smaller fonts, the black type on white background, a little Pittsburghese black-and-sortofgold motif.

    Mucho thanks to fellow Pittsburgher Brian Kopec, who was gracious enough to let me commit felony template theft. Brian is that rarest of birds, a blogger with a site devoted to the Pittsburgh Pirates. You wanna talk about bad beats? Try rooting for the Buccos the last 12 years.

    I must also thank Ryan over at PokErrata, who read about my quest and whipped up a template for me in about 17 seconds. It is amazing, the broad range of talents and abilities people out in the blogosphere possess, and how generous they are with their time. Thanks, gentlemen. Now I just have to fill these virtual pages.

    UPDATE: I'm in the middle of adding links and changing things here and there. If you check my blogroll and you ain't there, let me know. I'm sure I forgot a bunch of people, I try to keep track of everyone who I read and who reads me and who comments and all that jazz.

    Man, I love the way this looks, I'm well pleased. I'm gonna try to get a picture posted pretty soon (of myself, unfortunately, and not Isabelle Mercier). And now, back to the tweaking.

    Tuesday, January 11, 2005

    One of Those Surreal Days

    I wasn't going to write about this, but it has a bit of a poker punchline so what the hell. Woke up this morning not feeling so hot. Upset stomach, no big deal. I mentioned to my wife that I hadn't taken a sick day since last April, when I ended up in the hospital for four days after getting chomped by a spider. Pride goeth before the fall, as the old saying goes. There's also the fact that, as a temp, I don't get paid for sick days. Or holidays. No vacation days either. Or benefits. Or profit-sharing. Anyone for Communism?

    Got to work, took a Tums, felt better. I did my morning duties and took a second to see if Hank had posted the 2nd part of his Full Tilt P0ker tale, which I documented in my previous post. I went back to work, but I still didn't feel good. It wasn't my stomach, it was more of a general uggh feeling, like I was slightly out of it. I drank some water and went about the day, but I had this strange sensation in my head, like I'd just gone up in a airplane and my ears needed to pop. Actually, it was just my right ear that needed to pop. I reached up and twiddled my ear...and it was numb.

    Now, I've heard of arms and legs falling asleep, but not ears. It puzzled me. It felt like my ear had been shot up with Novacaine. I was starting to wonder what the hell was going on when I touched my cheek--and it was numb too.

    What was befuddlement turned to fear. Part of the right side of my face, my ear, cheek, down to the jawline, was definitely numb. Not totally insensate, but I'd lost a lot of feeling. Which scared the crap out of me. I typed "signs of stroke" into my browser and pulled up a medical page that mentioned "sudden loss of feeling in face, arms or legs" as a symptom.

    I tried to get hold of myself. "You're not having a stroke" I told myself, "it's something silly and temporary. Relax". I relaxed long enough for the pinky on my right hand to start tingling and I proceeded directly to full-blown panic. Was this psychosomatic? I couldn't be sure, but I was sure that my face was numb. Plus I've had problems like this before. About 8 years ago I had a similar episode at work, but that time I got so lightheaded I nearly passed out. It happened on and off for a few weeks then went away. But no numbness, not anywhere.

    So I did a little game theory exercise. What were the odds I was having a stroke? One in a hundred? A thousand? If I ignored what was happening it was very likely it would go away. If I ignored what was happening and it DIDN'T go away, there was a chance I'd die or be severly damaged. If I went to the hospital and it was nothing I'd just blow a few hours of my time, a ridiculous copay, and some embarassment. If I went to the hospital and it WAS serious I might save my life.

    Scared properly shitless now I did something stupid. I got my coat, mumbled to my coworkers I was sick and leaving immediately, and headed for my car. There's a hospital about a 5 minute walk from where I live, but like any dumb animal I instinctively fled toward what I considered a safe place--the hospital near my house where I went with my spider bite and where my friend Mark has his practice. I know that driving myself to the hospital while fearing I was having a stroke was incredibly stupid, but common sense was long out the door.

    Got to the ER, and as I walked in I definitely felt awful. I'm sure a lot of it was nerves, but my arm and hand hurt, and my face was still numb. I told the triage nurse what my problem was, and as I filled out the admittance card I tried to gauge if my horrible handwriting was worse than before. Didn't look like it. Nor did I have any muscular weakness, in my face or anywhere. Nor did my thoughts seem muddied or disorganized. The nurse who looked me over gave me a few basic tests to see if I was indeed having a stroke, and after I passed those she led me to an emergency treatment room for, well, emergency treatment.

    I got hooked up to some machines and had blood taken. You know that you're really sick when you could care less when they pull out the needles. When my leg ballooned after the spider bite they could've said, "Gene, we're gonna shove this garden-hose-size syringe right up your ass," and I would've been dropping my trousers with a song in my heart. I had much the same attitude this time.

    The ER doctor came in, gave me a few more tests, and said that I probably wasn't having a stroke. But to be safe they'd do a CAT scan to see what, if anything, was going on inside my skull. While I waited I called my wife and of course got her VMS, so I had to leave a message like this, "Now, don't worry, but I'm in the ER because I thought I was having a stroke and I'm about to have a CAT scan. I'm sure I'm fine, and I'll let you know what I find out". Nice. About 10 minutes later the nurse brings me a phone, it's my wife who tracked me down. I told her what I told her on the machine, I'd let her know how things went with the CAT scan.

    About this time I started feeling better. My pulse, which had been around 85, slowly slid down to about 62. My blood pressure returned to normal. I think the realization that I wasn't about to die had a calming effect on me. They wheeled me into the radiology lab and I got to have my first CAT scan, which was pretty cool. Amazing the technology we have today, and how banal and routine it is for the people who use it. I mean, while I was there I had an EKG, I was hooked up to a couple gizmoy monitors, had a CAT scan, and for the nurses and doctors it was like they were using a can opener. Whoopie.

    They wheeled me back to my treatment room and asked if I wanted the TV turned on. Why not? It would take some time for my results to come back and I figured I'd catch some CNN. I dozed a bit, woke up, and started flipping channels. Incredibly, unbelievably, I stumbled across a broadcast of the Fox Poker Superstars. Poker is indeed everywhere it's needed. My nurse came in to see if I needed anything, saw what I was watching, and he said, "God, I've gotten so hooked on these poker tournaments on TV". And we ended up blabbing about the WSOP for about 5 minutes until the doctor came in with my results.

    I hate to say this, but you feel a certain smugness when a medical professional tells you that your brain is OK. I thanked him for the compliment, and thanked him for his explaination that my symptoms, while scary, are somewhat common and often go away on their own. He told me to take a daily aspirin (which I used to do anyway), and seek help if the problem returned. Fifteen minutes later I was dressed, discharged, and back in my car.

    It was 2PM. What to do? Well, I'm a temp, so I went back to work. When I walked into the office I got a few quizzical looks, as you might expect. People usually don't go home sick and come back the same day. I told my boss what happened, showed off my bloody IV bandage, and...went back to my cube.

    A very, very strange day. My itinerary went something like this:
    • 6:30AM-8AM-- Wake up, dress, drive to work
    • 8AM-10AM-- Work
    • 10AM-11AM-- Start feeling bad, start worrying, panic
    • 11AM-12:30PM-- Drive like maniac to hospital, get admitted, get blood taken
    • 12:30PM-1:00PM-- Wait for and then get CAT scan
    • 1:00PM-1:45PM-- Watch poker
    • 1:45PM-2PM-- Learn I'm not going to die, I'm OK, get discharged
    • 2PM-5PM-- Drive back to work. Work.

    Strange day. I think this will keep me from bitching about bad beats for a few days at least. As I drove back to work I wondered if this whole episode had all been in my head, figuratively instead of literally. I did write recentely about my depression at turning 36. I thought it over, and rejected it out of hand. 'Cause my ear was NUMB. And what psychological reason could there be for THAT? I'm not that complex, nor that disturbed. I feel stupid for going to the hospital, but at the time it was my only rational course of action. Why risk it?

    Christ, I'm tired. Burned off a few kilowatts of nervous energy. Maybe a little poker to soothe my weary heart. Or maybe a nap.

    An Extremely Short Post

    Before we get into my pathetic whining, we must send out huge congratulations to Hank, who has been hired by the obviously wise folks at Full Tilt Poker. It seems like huge news in the pokerblogger community comes nearly every day. Unfortunately, the post that follows does not fit in that category.

    Let's not beat around the bush--I'm playing some awful poker. I could try to explain away my recent run of awful results by parroting the Party line that I'm getting killed by the fish and eventually my luck will change. Well, no it won't, not if I don't start playing better. I just got knocked out of a SNG because I lost my freakin' mind. The shortstack on my left and I was keeping up a merry little chat, guy seemed nice, he got short because of a tough beat. Moron that I am I was playing this SNG, chatting with this dude, and also peeking at the mayhem at the blogger table. Focus, Gene.

    Short dude goes all-in, it folds to me in the big blind, it's only T150 more for me to call, I have 8-9, two live carDs, what the hell? I lose, dropping me down to about T700. Brilliant. Next hand it's folded to me in the SB and I go all-in with 2-4. Not 2-7, mind you. He calls with A-8 and even though I spike a 4 he deservedly hits his ace on the river and bounces me. This is not an unusual out for me lately. I'm givin' chips away, and this has gotta stop. I'm stinking out the joint. I need to do some studying, do some thinking, and play much better. I know I can play better, I'm rusty, but I've only myself to blame.

    Perhaps I was distracted because Otis made an appearance at the blogger table and bragged about how he'd hung out with the lovely Isabelle Mercier for a bit while he covers the PokerStars WPT event. No, I definitely was distracted, as I wondered if he or BG or AlCantHang had the decency to mention my name...probably not.

    Speaking of ACH, I was at a party Saturday night, I was getting my sixth or seventh beer when I passed the rather comprehensive bar mine host had set up. There was an unopened bottle of Southern Comfort sitting, I shouldn't open it just to take a taste. See, I don't think I'd ever HAD SoCo before, as I tend to stick to the ales and lagers. But when I went for my seventh or eighth beer, the bottle was opened. Well, why not, seemed a pokerblogger thing to do. Poured myself a splash, took a sniff, and drank it down. And what came to mind was this--why not just buy a fifth of Robitussin? Sweet stuff, kinda coaty on my tongue. I remember what happened the rest of the night, so you know I stopped right there.

    Actually, I could've used some SoCo after our volleyball game tonight. We play in a co-ed league, it's competitive (meaning, if you don't know what you're doing, you could get hurt) but it's not Olympic caliber. We're probably the 2nd-to-worst team in the league, but we're pretty good, we gave the champs a scare in last season's playoffs. But we play this advanced system with players switching back and forth and trading spots, and tonight we got so confused that no one had any clue at all what the hell we were doing. The ref actually docked us a point and told us to get in proper position, which was goddam embarassing. I've argued that we shouldn't be playing this system, as we've been doing it for nearly 4 months and we STILL have no clue what we're doing, but I've been vetoed. I nearly quit tonight, I was so pissed off. We made fools of ourselves. And yet we nearly won the 1st and 3rd games. I love playing, yet every time we leave the gym I'm muttering to myself in frustration. This, perhaps, is not the best frame of mind to be in when playing poker. The 3 beers I drank afterwards notwithstanding.

    As I said, an extremely short post. Christ, I have so many posts marked as Draft in my list that it's giving me a complex. Maybe a long writing session tomorrow, no poker until my brain comes 'round.

    Thursday, January 06, 2005

    Don't Panic

    I'm sick of this template so I'm testing a few of the other ones Blogger offers to see if I like any of them any better. Brainiac that I am I forgot to copy and save my previous template, so when I started dicking around with the other ones I lost all my links and my sitemeter stuff, so I gotta re-do all that once I decide what design I'm gonna go with.

    I'd like my blog to have a somewhat-unique look, but as I have no HTML skills nor really any skill in design nor much noticable taste I'm handicapped. Maybe I'll just surf the web and steal something...that might be a plan.

    Tuesday, January 04, 2005

    A Late Birthday Present

    Thanks to all those who wished me a happy birthday yesterday, and thanks to all those who didn't rip me for being a self-centered, whiny brat. that how Phil Hellmuth feels all the time? The poor bastard!

    Played volleyball last night, played well, but we lost. Went to the bar, had wings, had a few beers, and then we took off early because 2 of my teammates had to get up early, boo hoo. I was beat, actually--five weeks off did not not help my conditioning. But I didn't mind heading for home, because I planned on playing a cheapie SNG before bed. I only had $13 in my account, meaning I had 2 more tournament shots to make some hay or I'd be retired again. No pressure.

    For some reason I can't get on the $5 NL tables, they fill up too fast, so I've been playing PL instead. The problem with pot-limit is that you don't get the insane all-ins that quickly knock people out, and so the games go on much longer. Well, they do if you survive that long--the last couple I played I got knocked out 8th and 7th, thanks to a 1-outer this one bastard hit and my K-high flush going down to an A-high. But dammit, I was gonna cash in this one, because it was my damn birthday. I could feel it!

    I know this is not a news flash, and I know I'm beating a dead horse here, but, my God, so many players at Party are terrible. Just AWFUL. I'm speaking of the low-low bottom feeders, I mean, they don't seem to have a clue what they're doing. I'm sitting back watching 2 guys go back and forth re-raising after a raggedy flop until they're all in. The one guy has Q-10--no pair, straight, or flush draw. The other guy has J-10--again, no pair, straight, or flush draw. I can only think they were trying to outbluff the other, though how you outbluff a guy when he's already all in escapes me. And they weren't colluding, either, the Q-10 guy sniping quite a bit when the J-10 guy hit his out on the river. I mean, I can't lose to THESE guys, right?

    Halfway through looked like that was gonna happen. Down to about T650, I raised with AJ in the big blind and had 2 limpers come along. Flop comes J-high and I bet the pot, only to be raised by the next guy and re-raised all-in by the next. I still had about T500, and I figured I had to be beaten by an overpair or something. Well, yes--the first raiser had KK (didn't raise preflop) and the all-in dude had J-8. Well, had him beat anyway, but now I was down to T500 and looking like I'd be in bed by midnight.

    The blinds increased, I had AQ in the little blind, a few limpers limped and I raised the pot. The big blind called and everyone else folded. The flop came 2-3-7, I only had about T250 left, there was about T230 in the pot, so I bet the pot. The other guy calls me. Now, I only have T20 left, so what the hell? Just put me in and lets get this over with. I was already getting ready to switched off the lamp near my desk when the turn came and I put my last few coppers in. The other guy called, of course, and I'm ready to see the bastard turn over the Hammer.

    Instead he turns over A-8. I look at his cards a long while, the river turns another deuce, and incredibly, incredibly, I double up. I couldn't believe it. The guy should've just written me a check and saved time.

    The tourney continued, I won another nice pot to become chip leader, but I lost nearly half my stack trying to get us down to 3 handed when the AQ that held up that last hand lost out to KJ when a king hit on the flop. I lost a bit more when this one guy re-raised my pot-sized preflop bets, and pretty soon I was down to the felt. When I was dealt pocket 7s under the gun I shoved in my chips and prayed. It didn't look good when the little blind called, and even worse when the big blind called. But I had a feeling...see, you read blogger posts and articles about "real" players and they talk about a hand and they say they had a "read" on their opponents. You can't really do that playing low-limit stuff at Party, because if you try to "read" most of you opponents there you'll be reading See Spot Run. But this time I felt very confident that both my foes had aces with decent kickers, meaning my pair would be the favorite.

    I felt quite a bit better when I spiked a 7 on the flop. The other 2 players got all-in, and sure enough, they turned over AK and A-10. I tripled up, going from chip dog to boss hog. The one player I'd just beaten only had about T250 left, and when he went all-in I called with K-10. He turned over QQ, but I hit a king on the flop and I was in the money. Yowza!

    But a $4 profit is not going to rebuild my bankroll. I need to start winning these things, and so I rolled up my sleeves and started hammering away at these jokers. I got lucky and got some big cards in my hand and raised heavy to win the blinds, which were big enough now that a big raise meant putting these guys to the test. One thing I remembered from Cloutier and McEvoy's book about Pot-Limit, when you make a raise, always bet the pot. Don't give away information with the size of your raise, and get the pot as big as possible as fast as possible so you can protect your hand. And that's what I did, hitting the "Bet Pot" button over and over again.

    Except for the hand where I held K-9 and the flop came 2-9-9. On that one I checked the flop and the turn, the low stack went all-in, and I put the wood to him. I now had a 3-1 chip lead, I had the initiative, and I had the win in my sights.

    It helped, however, that I had luck on my side. After stealing one round of blinds, I bet the pot with A-9. He went all-in, and I thought my ace might be good. Uh, no. He had AJ. The flop comes A-Q-J, yuck. But another queen shows on the river, and we end up splitting the pot. The Fates are on my side.

    I pretty much had this guy dialed in by now. If I limped, he would immediately re-raise me, so all I had to do was wait for a big hand, limp, and crack him. And so two hands later I'm dealt AA. I limp, he re-raises, and I decide to just call, hoping to end it right here. The flop comes Q-high, he goes all-in, and I call. He turns over Q-7 and he's in the soup. Things happened kinda fast here, the turn and river cards came up almost instantly, and I at first I only noticed the ace on the river. But the turn card was a queen, meaning the poor bastard spiked his 2-outer only to be liquidated by MY 2-outer. Lady Luck, she be a cruel mistress.

    $25 into my account, Happy Birthday indeed. I now have the tinest bit of wiggle room. Nice to win again, it's been, oh, five months since my last SNG win? When I went on hiatus I was playing $30 SNGs, but winning this was just as much fun. Hey, it's action, ain't it?

    OK, back to work. I hate foreshadowing what's coming up, since it puts pressure on me to get stuff done, but I can't resist it. I have a book review to write, a little poker book commentary/screed, and a book proposal of my own titled "Mean Gene's Guide for Terrible Players--How to Make Your Money Last a LITTLE BIT Longer". Oh, and I'll be writing a short story of Pauly's online 'zine, something along the lines of "The Talented Mr. Ripley Plays The World Series of Poker". Hey, Matt Damon would be PERFECT for that role... get this widget Please visit Pokernews site for more poker news, poker strategy articles or poker rules.

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