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

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    Tuesday, February 28, 2006

    Deny Me Everything

    Although it's fair to say that my Catholicism can now be found in the "lapsed" category, I still give up something for Lent every year. I may have my issues with the capital "C" Church, but it's much harder to take Jesus Himself to task. Love thy neighbor, care for the poor and downtrodden...if only we had more of THAT in the world. And whether you believe the story of the Resurrection, according to the Good Book He suffered horribly and died out of love for each and every one of us. Giving up something I enjoy for 40 days seems like the least I can do to say thanks.

    But WHAT to give up? Back in grade school the class wag would say "I'm giving up homework!" and we'd all laugh and think what a wonderful world it would be if we kids had that sort of power. Of course we didn't, and as adults we still don't--I can't give up work, either. Unless I want to be sleeping under the 7th Street Bridge like the guy I saw yesterday morning. And it's a bit cold to be doing that, let me tell you.

    There are those who go the Draconian route. My friend Kris gives up sweets every year. Not just chocolate--sweets. No pie, no cake, no doughnut. I think fresh fruit is OK (scurvy, don't you know) but beyond that nothing sweeter than broccoli. My friend Rick does the no TV thing, but this isn't quite as macho as it sounds. First of all, Rick doesn't have cable, and his TV is one of those 35-year-old Magnovox dealies you see most often now in the Smithsonian. And he only gives up watching TV in his house. It's perfectly OK for him to go SOMEWHERE ELSE to watch NASCAR or March Madness or whatever else he can't bear to miss. Which reminds me, it's time to change the lock on my front door.

    I've never gone that extreme--except for one year. It was 1997, and I was in some state of moral flux. Either I'd just been dumped by a girl or I'd failed to make a play for a girl in time, something idiotic like that. And I felt I need to make some sort of statement that would prove to the world that I was ready to turn over a new leaf, become a new man, an even Meaner Gene. And so, fool that I was, I gave up alcohol for Lent.

    Now, I'm not an Olympic-caliber tippler. But like just about everyone, I see that pint glass filled to the brim with an amber-hued ale and it's like an angel herself is giving me a big hug. And to give up beer--and wine, and liquor, and any other fluid ending in the suffix -ol--was to my mind the sort of stupid, quixotic, brain-dead gesture I was looking for.

    My God, you wanna talk about 40 fucking long days?

    I drank A LOT of Diet Pepsi. You might think that cutting out all those empty calories would've helped me lose some good weight. No such luck--I ate more to make up for the liquid joy I was missing out on. The worst part was teetotaling during March Madness. While we don't go crazy like we used to, in years past I'd spend upwards of 20 hours in sports bars over the first two days of the tournament, all of it in a delicious buzzy stupor. This particular year we got tickets to see the opening roun games in Pittsburgh (I saw Coppin State pull the biggest upset in NCAA history, knocking off #2 seed South Carolina) so that was one day I wasn't chugging Bud pounders. But the rest of that weekend I was miserably sober. It didn't help that I was recovering from strep throat and beer would've done wonders for numbing my throat.

    It's something of a joke with my friends that I always pick Arizona to go far in the NCAA tournament. I can't count the number of times I picked them to go to the Final Four, or even win the thing, and see them get beat in the first round by the likes of Santa Fucking Clara. Well, this was the year the Wildcats went all the way and won the title. And I'd picked them to lose in the second round. We watched the Final Four games in a local bar the Saturday before Easter, the clock taunting me as it strained and groaned it's way toward midnight. Arizona knocked off North Carolina to make the title game, and my friends wanted to leave. It was still like 10PM--I wanted to hang around till midnight so I could have the bartendress line pints up like thoroughbreds waiting for the start of the Kentucky Derby. And then drink 'em all down.

    Nope, they wanted to leave. I got a stay of execution by putting in an emergency to-go order of wings (I gave up wings as well, to show you how warped I was) and when they arrived we were off. At home I watched TV, waiting for midnight, waiting for the moment when I could crack the top off a bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and reach the finish line of this Amazingly Stupid Race.

    Midnight. I opened the bottle and had the discipline to pour it in a glass. Just to prove that I was in control. And that first blisfull taste...

    It wasn't that great. Oh, it was GOOD, but the context was all wrong. I wanted to be in a bar, I wanted to hear my friends cheering and shouting, I wanted to chug a watery Miller Lite and bellow for another. This was too quiet, too anticlimatic. Plus the wings were cold and I didn't feel like sticking them back in the microwave.

    In time I leapt off the Wagon in the proper way, I think as I watched Arizona beat Kansas and my friends jeered me as the worst front-runner in March Madness history. I proved something to myself by giving up alcohol, though WHAT exactly I proved is a bit murky. That I love beer but could, if stranded on a keg-free desert island, resist hanging myself? Ehh. Nice, but not life-transforming.

    Now Lent is here again, and I'm not sure what to give up. Meat? Thought about that a few times, but frankly it'd probably bankrupt me eating fish every night. Poker? Nah, I went months without playing before, it'd hurt but I've been there, done that. Sex? Ha. HA! That almost makes me want to fucking LAUGH OUT LOUD. Maybe I'll just mimic Rick and give up watching TV at his house too.

    Monday, February 27, 2006

    8883 Miles to Ho Chi Minh City

    When I flew out to Vegas last December I think I described it as an "epic journey of discovery", which was perhaps just a wee bit of a hyperbole. But it would be no overstatment to say that about the trip my cousin Noreen is about to embark upon. On March 3rd she's flying to Vietnam as part of a group called the Friends of Danang, and she'll be spending 10 days (I think it's 10 days, the dateline thing has me confused) seeing the country for the first time.

    On July 9th, 1969, Noreen's dad (and my uncle) was killed in Quang Tin province during an ambush. I've heard countless stories about my Uncle Jimmy since I was a little kid (he died when Noreen was eight months old and I six) but for years Noreen has been talking to the men in my uncle's unit and digging up old pictures and letters and making herself into a world-class pain in the Army's ass as she fought for (and eventually received) documentation about his service and how he died. Never doubt the power of the Freedom of Information Act, people, nor the power of sticktoitivness.

    So now Noreen is going to Vietnam to see the place for herself. She has a blog set up for the trip here: and as she posts stuff I'll link to it as well. Her "regular" blog is at Reeny's Doodles, where she writes about stuff leading up to the trip. I heartily recommend you check them out.

    She put together a collage of pictures of my uncle, many of which I hadn't seen before. And so, this is who we're talking about:

    Darn it, can't get the collage to expand. Just go to Noreen's post here and you can click it and expand it to get a better look.

    Thursday, February 23, 2006

    Like Sand to the Oyster

    Before I get into a few irritating things that happened today, I just got done watching the first run of the men's Aerials in the Olympics. it me, or is what they're doing friggin' unbelievable. I watched the women yesterday, and, like, wow. And the men are just as insane. They fly up this ramp, soar 50 feet in the air, and do about a dozen tricks before they land. It's an entire gymnastic floor exercise routine carried out while the athlete is falling at 32 feet per second. Per second. I think there's another "per second" in there. Physics? Not my strong suit.

    I sent a nasty email to a CNN sports writer who, totally offhand, accused the ref who made the pass interference call in the Super Bowl of favoritism because he's originally from Pittsburgh. I wrote a long letter of protest, providing evidence to support my case, mocking him for having none, and asking if there was any editorial supervison at CNN or if anyone with thumbs can just walk in and grab a desk. I titled the email "Brilliant insight!" to hopefully fire enough neurons in his prefontal lobe to get his attention.

    Two weeks later he writes back and his whole reply is "Nice brilliant insights yourself". A mock! My dander, it went up. Either ignore me or at least engage me in verbal battle. Hell, when I wrote about the Super Bowl I got comments from people I consider my friends who basically called me a Black-and-Gold sack full of shit. But I took it in the spirit those comments were intended. And I made a list. A long, long list.

    Can someone explain to me why the line, "I'd like to jump you" was deleted from Smokey and the Bandit? And when Sally Field says that she wants to jump a house, a river, why can't Burt Reynolds say "Jump me"? That's out of bounds? I don't get it.

    Tell you what, the announcers for the women's figure skating sure know how to drain all the joy out of it, don't they? They bitch after every stumble, bitch about how the skater doesn't have fire, doesn't have enough artistry, doesn't have any fight. I mean, who pissed in Dick Buttons' Wheaties this morning? What's with the negative waves? No wonder American Idol is kicking the Olympics' ass up and down the slopes. At least Paula Abdul says something nice once in awhile.

    I take a shuttle back and forth to work. Our driver the first week looked so much like T.J. Cloutier I wanted to ask for his autograph. He listened to country music on the ride over. I'm not a big country music fan, though I did buy the O Brother Where Are Thou soundtrack before it won the Grammy (brief pause to pat self on back). I definitely don't like pop country music. I don't listen to Toby Keith. Period. So the first week back and forth I hear this country-fried schlock and I try to shut out the bad noise so the song doesn't get stuck there.

    But there was this one song, I guess the singer was talking about people who are protesting the war and criticising the President, and he asks (in song) if they remember when those buildings came down, and what it was like when we were attacked, and that if these protesters did remember that day (9/11, yes, I remember) they wouldn't protest. Um, didn't this guy read the 9/11 Commission Report? Folks are protesting the war in Iraq. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. Just more proof that intelligent political discussion rarely takes place with guitar accompaniment and background vocals.

    The new driver listens to the wack-job right-wing talk show host in town. This guy used to be a DJ on the local bubblegum pop station (he also hosted a local afternoon quiz show) before he found his life's work--bashing "liberals". Liberals in his lexicon being anyone to the left of Bob Dole. I can't help but pity the guy. The DJ, not the former Senator. Let's say you really hate liberals. Or conservatives. Or, say, people who insist on drawing to gutshots without pot odds. Pick your poison. Now, imagine having to spend four hours a day, every day, for fifteen years, excoriating these people. It has to warp your mind, no matter how little you actually believe in what you're talking about. You froth at the mouth long enough, your brain has to go gooey. That's a hard way to earn the weekly envelope.

    Wednesday, February 22, 2006

    Like I Have Something To Talk About

    I've owed Pauly story for Truckin' for about a year now, and the guilt is right on top of me and compelling me to work. So I resurrected a thing I started about a year ago (I actually titled the file "thing" in a fit of uncreativity) and I've been clattering away at it. It's not so much a story as a friggin' novella, I'm up around 4,000 words and it ain't nowhere NEAR done yet. It might end up with a word count around 15K or something absurd like that, meaning Pauly can just chop it up into 15 bite-sized pieces and I can sleep at night. For a year.

    I do feel guilty about starting writing projects and not finishing them. And I feel guilty all the time. My Hellmuth opus cost me sleep. A thing (that word again) I started four years ago that I published in serial form (and anonymously) and never completed. I really need to get away for a bit, no TV, no Internet, no one around, and just bust my ass writing. Hey, it worked for Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

    I watched High Stakes Poker the other night, and you gotta take your hat off to Barry Greenstein. Loses about $180K to Sam Farha when his aces get cracked by kings on the last hand of the night, and he just counts out the chips and ships 'em over. I'm sure he wasn't happy about it, but he took it like a pro. Hell, I felt nauseous afterwards. I unfortunately didn't catch what Sean Sheikhan said that got Farha so ticked off, but I can imagine. He seems determined to out-goofball Hellmuth and Matusow, though he lacks their senses of humor. If Hellmuth's schtick can be called "humorous", which I suppose is in the eye of the beholder.

    I had my first losing session playing micro NL the other day, dropping a whole two bucks before I called it quits. I would've finished up again had I not lost a bundle (figuratively) when I held 9-10 and had the flop come 9-10-J. Bet, raise, call, and when I nine comes on the turn I figure I have the straights and flushes under my heel. The money goes in the middle and the bad guy turns over J-9. Ouch, babe. Fortunately he was shortstacked and I dropped but a pittance. I have to say, I can't remember having this much FUN playing poker in a long time. True, I've been winning, but I'm just enjoying myself a ton. I guess because the stakes are so low that I don't think about the money, which is the key for successful play. Perhaps my game has taken a quantum leap forward? Perhaps. Or, perhaps not. Probably not. Nah. No frickin' way. Fuck no.

    We're all settled into our new building, and what a nice new building it is. Lots of natural sunlight, so my usual mid-winter bout of rickets has been avoided. It's just so clean and roomy and stylish. There's another building similar to ours next door and it was announced a big sports bar is going in there (along with a steakhouse) and a Mexican/Cajum bar is going into the ground floor of our own place. I see myself drinking much Dos Equis come the summer. Have a few beers, walk over to PNC Park and pick up some GA outfield seats, enjoy the night. Sweet.

    The only complaint I have is with the cafeteria, which is good, but not fantabulous like our old one. No Sizzle Salads, no fish sandwich. The food is good, but not great. I had a chicken carbonera sandwich, and it was OK. Just OK. They don't seem to have deep-fryers, and when I saw that we get baked tater tots instead of hand-cut fries, I wept. I had a good hamburger, but the mini-pizzas were just ehh. The pre-made salads and wraps look good, and the potato soup looked great. But there are logistical problems, you have to wait in line no matter what you want (the old place had four different stations plus a salad bar) and the same people making the food also dish it out, creating problems when something runs out.

    Well, I've been bringing my lunch anyway, need to drop some serious weight, and the new fitness room is helping with that. That's just fantastic, though I need to get an iPod or something. I was there by myself the other night (the TV's haven't been installed yet) and I found myself pedaling away while staring blankly out at the blazing lights of the city. I saw my reflection in the window...and I found myself looking away. Creeped me out, man. Like he was looking into my soul. So he could steal it.

    Monday, February 20, 2006

    President's Day Memories

    Ah, I just can't help thinking back on the great times I've had on previous President's Day. All the parties, the revelry, the expensive gifts...good times, people, good times.

    I didn't even know my office would be closed today until Thursday, I thought this was one of the superfluous holiday we were open. So I'm celebrating by getting my car inspected and doing laundry. Hail to the Chief indeed. I stayed up till 2AM last night trying to bust two morons playing at my micro NL table. They chatted non-stop with every sentence ending in "lol" and they enjoyed belitting everyone's play, including my own. I did a good job of not tapping the aquarium glass, as neither had any clue what "pot odds" are and I didn't think a tutorial would be to my benefit. I pride myself on not tilting or taking things personal, but staying up till 2AM trying to bust a guy with three bucks in front of him isn't healthy.

    I watched the Daytona 500 yesterday, and I have a question. Tony Stewart pulled out of line and smashed into Matt Kenseth, sending the #17 car sliding through the infield and then back into traffic. Kenseth didn't get hit head-on by any of the oncoming cars, but if he had, and had he or one of the other drivers been killed in the 190MPH collision, would Stewart be arrested for vehicular manslaughter? Stewart made it clear after the race he hit Kenseth deliberately, so the motive is right there. I like watching hard-nosed racing, but Stewart took out a guy with a real chance to win the race. And then bragged about it. Wouldn't sitting Stewart for a couple of races put an end to this nonsense? Before the race Stewart said that eventually someone would get killed at Daytona or Talledega because of the bunching restrictor-plate racing creates. Was he just trying to produce a body to make his point?

    Speaking of fast cars and good 'ol boys, aren't we overdue for a Smokey and the Bandit remake? I just saw a promo for the Burt Reynolds opus and I'm shocked that Hollywood hasn't gotten around to reheating that particular bowl of grits. Smokey and the Bandit is, in my opinion, the worst movie to watch with the profanity edited out. Hearing Jackie Gleason's raspy voice overdubbed by some Yosemite Sam impersonator is depressing.

    Think Nike is wishing they'd never heard of Bode Miller? The commerical they're showing now where he spouts nonsense like, "Even if I don't win...if I have a run that...inspires people...then it doesn't matter if I don't win a long as I move people with my run...". What a lot of nonsense. I love watching the downhill, but I don't think even Bill Johnson or Franz Klammer ever moved me to write a symphony or a sonnet. I think I'll stick to New Balance shoes for the time being.

    Actually, who's having the worst Olympics: Bode Miller, Michelle Kwan, Wayne Gretzky, the Austrian biathalon team, or the Norwegian cross-country team? It seems like every story out of Torino is about choking or brain-locks or scandals or lost opportunities or nations in despair after their hero's collapse. Great fun.

    That's actually why I don't like watching a lot of the events in the Olympics, both winter and summer. There's no room for error. None. You watch some 17-year-old girl who has devoted her entire life to her sport. All those mornings up at 4AM in the freezing cold, all those falls, the coaches screaming at you, your childhood sacrificed for a dream of glory. And then you two-foot a triple axel and the jackass NBC announcer is shrieking "What a TERRIBLE mistake! You can't those mistakes if you want to win the GOLD MEDAL!". One little slip and you're a failure. And its much the same with skiing and snowboarding and bobsled (sorry, bobsleigh) and many, many other Olympic sports.

    I mean, imagine if Kobe Bryant was given the ball at the top of the key and told to make the shot. If he misses, his season is a failure. Period. By his own admission Ben Roethlisberger had a lousy Super Bowl, throwing a pick that could've cost the Steelers the game. But football is forgiving enough a game that he made some huge plays and won the game. If Sasha Cohen falls during her long program, she's done. And it's hard for me to enjoy watching her (or anyone else) skate knowing what that person has on the line.

    Then again, I'd watch Tanith Belbin skate even if she was playing in goal for the Penguins.

    Saturday, February 18, 2006

    Let's Salvage Some Dignity!

    Played poker with folks from work last night, and to be honest I didn't play so poorly that I should feel ashamed. Got all my money in with QQ against A-9, and of course the flop comes A-10-2. All clubs. He had a club, I didn't. The turn is the goddam queen of clubs. So if the board pairs I win. It doesn't, and I don't. Making matters worse is that I dealt the hand myself. No biggies, I grab a beer (well, two) and wait.

    So more people show up and we've got 14 players at 2 tables for the next game. I deal the first hand and give myself pocket fours. I just call with three in the pot, and the flop comes 3-4-5. A guy who isn't shy about putting his chips in the pot does just that, putting all of them in. I can't be behind here, can I? I call and he turns over 6-7 for the flopped straight. Ugh. I need the board to pair to survive. It doesn't, and I don't. Out on the first hand. I dealt that too.

    So while everyone else has fun I go watch Steeler highlights on the NFL Network. And have a beer or two to ease the pain. An hour later I'm back in the game and thinking my luck has turned. I win three pots in succession, two of them with the Hammer, which of course I show down as proof of my skillz. With six left and three making the money I'm dealt pocket kings. I raise big and one of the guys' wives calls. The flop comes Q-8-4. I bet, she goes all-in. I call, she has Q-8. An eight on the turn and I'm out. I dealt that motherfucking hand too.

    The next tournament I once again make it to the final six. I lose about a third of my stack when I call 2 all-ins with AK, think maybe I have the hand won when the board comes all little cards, but one player has jacks and instead of being chip leader I'm in trouble. A few hands later I have AK again and push. I'm called by the same guy who knocked me out when I had trip fours. This time he has the pocket fours. And he flops a set. Turns a full house. I'm out. And, again, I FUCKING DEALT THE HAND TO MYSELF. Fucking getting PISSED NOW.

    I was ready to book, it was getting on 2AM and while I'd been there for six hours I'd actually only sat at the table for about 42 minutes. And I'd drank, oh, 23 beers. But, what the hell, I only had $10 left in my wallet, either give it some company or send it to a new, more loving home. This time one of the guys knocked out early dealt the whole way, so I couldn't stack the deck against myself. Top two paid, and down to three I had to push with AQ. I was up against A-9 and A-6, but I turned a queen and, miracle of miracles, I tripled up. I made the money, pushed with a straight draw that didn't get there and ended up with second and twenty bucks. And a small measure of redemption. Now if I can just learn to deal...

    Friday, February 17, 2006

    The Thumbscrews Were Effective, Ja?

    It was odd writing the name "Isabelle Mercier" in my last post without writhing in agony from the electrodes the doktors implanted in my brain. I've undergone aversion therapy the last six months to break me of my puppydog crush on the divine Ms. M and it seems to have worked. Six months of endless pain and suffering and torment. Well, that's love for you.

    I do feel a bit guilty not mentioning that Isabelle finished 7th in the EPT event in Deuville, but as I followed her progress I could feel the electrodes charging for a punishing jolt so I chose discretion over a fried hypothalmus. And just the other day ESPN ran a nice little interview with Isabelle...Isabelle...Isabelle...

    (please excuse this brief interruption)


    What was I talking about? Dunno. I was eating my lunch, I started writing, there was this blue flash...I'm such a scatterbrain! Odd, my chicken noodle soup tastes like a handful of pennies. Needs salt, maybe?

    Everyone in the building is talking about a car that just, like, drove into the river right by Heinz Field. About 100 yards from our office. I can't see anything and it's like 10 degrees out so my curiousity will have to go unsatisfied.

    Thursday, February 16, 2006

    Don't Bash the 'Burgh

    Ask me what my dream job is (aside from Isabelle Mercier's chip-caddy) and I'd say I'd like to be a newspaper columnist. To write about whatever I wanted, with a large audience reading my every word. That'd be awesome. That's a big reason why I started this blog, to give myself the outlet no reputable news organization would. When I was first out of college I applied to be a guest columnist for our neighborhood paper. It would've been a nice way to break into journalism by a side door, they held a dozen column inches a day on the opinion page for an Average Joe or Jane to write about whatever moved them.

    I thought I'd be a good candidate. I was a writing major, I had clips to prove I knew my way around the language, and I had enthusiasm like you wouldn't believe. Heck, I even used to deliver that paper from time to time when I was a kid. You'd think I was a shoo-in. Nope. I never even got a rejection from the opinion editor. I sent follow-up letters, I called him--nothing. And it's not like this was some hectic big-city daily, they only published during the week and probably had a circulation of around 50K. Prick. They ended up going with a predictable slate of "interesting" voices--a businessnam, a housewife, a girl in her freshman year of high school, a senior citizen. Not a lot of brilliant copy came out of that, as I recall. Maybe that was the whole point of the exercise.

    So when I read newspaper columns I came at them with an envious eye, because they have the job I want. And though there are good reasons why I might be a lousy columnist (I'm shy, I'm lazy, my writing style becomes more baroque every day) I still think maybe I COULD be a good columnist. And when I read crap that is, well, crap, my blood boils.

    It boiled double when I read a column written on January 18th by Bill Johnson of the Rocky Mountain News. Johnson wrote a piece about visiting Pittsburgh on the eve of the Steeler-Bronco AFC title game, and he pretty much trashed my home. He wrote that Pittsburgh is a "butt-ugly" town and that was the tone of the rest of the piece. He described a blighted city burdened by abandoned steel mills overgrown with weeds and inhabited by "hard" people who think about nothing but football.

    Thing is, that doesn't describe the city at all. I think I wrote about this before, but the steel mills have been gone for decades. The mill where my father worked is now a huge retail/entertainment complex. Reading the piece made me wonder if Johnson had made it all up out of whole cloth. He describes a "forbidding" skyline, which is nonsense, our skyline is small but brightly lit with some interesting architecture. He wrote that the South Side was home to 100-125 bars, which is patently ridiculous. If only!

    Johnson also wrote about seeing a man who was standing on a street corner wearing a dress and holding up a sign that read "I BET AGAINST THE STEELERS". And here is where Johnson made a big mistake. Maybe he made up the stuff about the mills and the weeds and the bars and all the other stuff he dissed us with. But he definitely made that up, at least the part about seeing it. Because it happened days before he arrived in Pittsburgh and it appeared on the local news.

    Johnson got caught, and his column now comes with a correction. An article written by a critc named Michael Roberts said that Johnson should lose his job over this, in part because this isn't the first time he's made this sort of "mistake" before. Roberts' piece got picked up and linked by Jim Romenesko's column, meaning it should get more play that it otherwise would.

    I was not one of the "Pittsburgh-based bloggers" who Roberts said brought Johnson's malfeasance to light, at least I don't think I was. You can leave comments about articles at the Rocky Mountain News and I did just that, going far beyond the "you're a jagoff!" stuff many Pittsburghers wrote. I wrote at length about how the abandoned steel mill images were 25 years too late, about how Johnson misidentified the river he was supposedly looking at, about how even as a hatchet job it was vague and senseless.

    I'm glad to see that feathers outside Pittsburgh got ruffled. I don't mind criticism of my home town...well, actually I do, but God knows Pittsburgh ain't perfect. Hell, how many cheap potshots did I take writing about the parade? Cheap, cheap potshots. But if you're gonna bash the 'Burgh, you'd better have compelling evidence right at your fingertips. We're the touchy sort.

    Wednesday, February 15, 2006

    Bringing Down the Thunderbolt

    About two weeks ago I cashed out my online accounts (why I did such a daft thing must wait for another post) but I did leave myself a tiny lifeline. I wanted to cash out nice even amounts and so I left three bucks and change at PokerStars. I didn't plan on playing with it, but last Friday I was home and comfy in my sweats and I felt like playing some poker before I nodded off. I took my little all to a NL table with blinds that fit my budget. Like, two- and five-cents. As my readers know by now, pride is not one of my faults.

    Or is it? I played Friday night, played a little on Sunday, a little tonight. And I've turned those three dollars into...let's see...nearly forty-five bucks. A fifteen-fold increase. Just think, if only I'd started with fifty grand instead of three singles...

    I'm just playing for fun, to while away an hour before bedtime. Which is bad--one reason I cashed out was to spend more time doing more productive things. But after I've done my good deeds for the day, playing a little poker soothes me, gets me ready for bed. As I am right now--I worked out for the first time in about a year tonight and I'm bushed.

    But back to my big poker insight. I've been playing these micro NL tables for, oh, three days now, and while the sample size might not pass muster so far as statistical significance goes, I've come to the conclusion that it is well-nigh impossible for me to lose in these games. I mean, maybe I'll lose the odd hand. I even lost a whole FIVE DOLLAR BUY-IN on a single hand (I had A-5, he had A-Q, we both flopped two pair, ehh).

    What's the secret? God knows, I possess no unique skills or anything like that. No, the reason it's impossible to lose is that these folks don't know how to bet. Or, they know how to bet, but not how much. The betting patterns I've seen are pretty much inexplicable. It's a poker maxim that you can't think about the money when you play. It's just a chip, whether that chip is worth five cents or five grand. Well, playing micro people REALLY don't think about the money. Because they don't bet enough of it.

    The blinds are two cents and five cents. Check under the cushions in your couch--go ahead, I'll wait--and see if you could rustle up a reasonable buy-in. Thing is, that really doesn't excuse horrible play. Why, if you're raising pre-flop, would you only bump it to a dime? That's the standard raise. When there are raises. These tables are so passive they should come with defibrulators.

    So the raise is a nickel. Five whole cents. Yeah, I can fade that, especially with five callers. Thing is, after the flop, the betting remains the same. There's fifty cents in the pot, guy leads out for a nickel. Call, call, call, zzzzzz. Forget about calculating pot odds--you got 'em. Hell, so long as you can hit runner-runner trips you got pot odds.

    All you gotta do is bet appropriately and you can't lose. If you bet enough to screw the other guys' pot odds, you'll make the money. And when they don't bet enough to shoo your draws away, you win pots you would've abandoned otherwise. When you win, you win A LOT more than when you lose. Like, tenfold. I had a king-high flush up against an ace-high flush. I bet, the other guy raises me. He raised me two dimes. Literally. I smelled a rat and brilliantly flat-called. I would've flat-called two bucks. I had a guy flop set over set on me and it only cost me a quarter (a flush and straight draw gave me pause). Meanwhile I make sure I got paid off properly when I hit my monsters.

    Now, it stands to reason that these players aren't the best. If they were brilliant poker minds they wouldn't be playing goddam penny poker. I know this, I am not a fool. But I cannot BELIEVE some of the table talk. I have seen more verbal abuse at these tables than anywhere else I've played. The chat I saw tonight...I have to pull it from the hand history and post it, the way this guy melted down...he made Phil Hellmuth look like the Dalai Lama. Over a few eighty-cent pots, he went loco. I'll post what he wrote, he was totally bonkers. Here's a mid-tirade quote: "I've won some FIVE DOLLAR TOURNAMNTS, you ****!". That's...really pathetic.

    I had a guy call me a series of expletives because I hit a gutshot on the river to beat his top pair. When I explained that maybe he should be mad at himself because he'd checked AFTER THE FLOP AND THE TURN he dismissed me with a "whatever" and "what's the point, donk?". I let it slide and the Poker Gods smiled and let me bust him good. I was called a fish by a guy because I called with pocket fours on a board that was a minefield of overcards and possible draws. I called because the guy bet a nickel into a pot with over a buck in it. Everyone folded, I gambled with my 25-1 odds and came through. The way the guy reacted you would've thought I'd knocked up his daugher. And his wife. And his mom.

    It's all a bit absurd. I'm having a lot of fun playing at these limits, I'm quite literally "playing", I don't have it in my brain to really focus on poker right now. Poker is a very, very difficult game to play well, the gap between "good" and "great" is a vast chasm indeed. But it's not that hard to play the game better than a gorilla. For awhile I thought about writing a book, on how to avoid making a complete ass of yourself while playing poker. God knows no sane person would come to me for advice on poker strategy (which doesn't explain why I have a poker column...ah, who cares) but I think I could write a funny book about the nonsense we all see and that I particularly see at the low-limits I inhabit. But then there are so many poker books out there...seriously, who out there HASN'T written a poker book by now? Let me see your hands...

    Ah, what a pathetic post. Bragging on myself for beating players without a clue. Risking the wrath of the Poker Gods for declaring my invincibility. Pride indeed, foolish category. Actually, this post was nearly never written. Last Friday I was down to around two bucks after an hour and I was honestly looking for a hand to push so I could go busto and hit the sack. I was dealt the Hammer. There was a raise, I re-raised big and he called. Ugh. The flop came 7-2-9, with two spades. Ahh. I decided to bet out, he called. Another deuce on the turn, and I check-raised him all-in. I revealed the Hammerboat. He wasn't pleased. Oh, the nasty things he called me for re-raising with the Hammer, the aspersions against my mother and the questions about my sexual preference, oh my. He just didn't understand Hammer power, nor the power of Fate. Which, for a change, was on my side.

    Tuesday, February 14, 2006

    Happy V-D Day! Uh, No, Just V-Day

    Ah, Valentine's Day, when withdrawn and emotionally-stunted men can show the inchoate love and affection they hold for the women in their lives simply by purchasing a card and some candy. Some might call Valentine's Day a cynical holiday manufactured by florists and Hallmark to keep their otherwise pointless business models intact, but I like to think of it as the one day during the year where a guy can be sappy and gooey and vulnerable and express the joy the mere sight of his beloved brings to his life. And then watch him dissolve into a puddle of shame and self-loathing as that woman either tosses the card in the trash or slaps him with a restraining order. Yes, I am a hopeless romantic at heart.

    A few quick and, hopefully, amusing stories about Valentine's Days in my past. Nothing sappy, nothing gooey, and God knows nothing humiliating. Though there has been humiliation on this day, believe me.

    First one--as I was about to make my debut on this planet there were discussions about what I'd be named. My paternal grandmother came up with a great name--Valentine. Yes, my grandmother, who otherwise seemed to have her head screwed on straight, wanted me to be named Valentine after I believe her grandfather. My maternal grandmother, hearing about her counterpart's proposal, said something along these lines--"No fucking WAY is my grandchild gonna be called Valentine. She had two sons of her own and didn't fucking name THEM Valentine, so no fucking way in hell is MY GRANDSON gonna be named no motherfucking VALENTINE!!"

    It was something along those lines. So, instead of being named Valentine, I was christened Eugene. Yeah, that's a big step up.

    Two quickies, one a tale of transcendent ecstasy, the other a quest that led to incredible suffering. The good one first. Before I got married my then-girlfriend and I had a little tradition of making a big dinner on Valentine's Day instead of fighting the crowds and going out. On the Saturday following the Big Red Day we'd wake up early and go to the Strip District, which is home to a bunch of wholesalers and shops and where you can get the best seafood and cheese and other goodies. We'd take our time, loading up on scallops and shrimp and fresh Italian bread and good cheese and biscotti. And then we'd make dinner together and just hang out. Very nice.

    On this day we made fettucini alfredo with scallops. I don't think I've ever told the story of my near-death experience with seafood alfredo, but this time it was pretty good. Not great, we were a bit disappointed, but not bad either. For dessert my fiancee made a cheescake, and after she put it in the oven we both got a bit distracted with other things we were making and forgot how long it'd been in. The smell of smoke alerted us to the fact that it was getting burnt. When we pulled it out the top of it was a dark, crusty...crust. She was really upset, thinking it was ruined, but I tut-tutted and said it was fine, even as I knew it was probably toast.

    We eat, and if you've ever eaten fish and alfredo at the same time, sleep comes quickly. She conked out right away, and I watched the 1998 Olympics and tried to be interested in the men's figure skating. It was nearly impossible, and I thought a piece of that cheesecake might either perk me up or put me down. I cut myself a slice and hoped I could at least scrape the burned part off.

    I loaded a forkful and moved it to my mouth. When I say that it was the best goddam dessert I'd ever eaten in my life I'm not kidding. It was fan-friggin-tastic. The burned part wasn't burned, it had perfectly carmelized and added such a scrumptious texture and flavor that I made a sound like, "GHHHUUUUUHHHNNNNN!" I made so much noise that she woke up, wondering why I was in a near-orgasmic state while watching Elvis Stoijko perform triple-lutzes.

    I ate that cheesecake bit by tiny bit, my eyes closed, as if in prayer. It was so good, so GOOD. When it was gone I knew I would never see it's kind again. First, because it had been such a surprise. And second, we never could quite get the top to burn, but not burn, the same way again. It was magic in a bottle. Well, a spring pan.

    That's the good story. The bad one happened when I was a sophomore at Penn State. I'd been introduced to a girl, we hit it off, but I wasn't sure I wanted to date someone after having my guts yanked out and fed into a pasta-roller by my last girlfriend. So I sorta blew her off, only to bump into her right before Christmas break. She was nice, I was nice, so why not? We ended up going out once or twice before Valentine's Day rolled around.

    Guys, a bit of advice--if possible, don't start dating a girl right before Valentine's Day. Wait until AFTER the day passes. You will save yourself all sorts of pain-in-the-assitude, not to mention some long bread. If you meet a girl at a New Year's Eve party, as what she's doing for St. Patrick's Day. This should be self-evident.

    Anyway, I didn't know if I should get this girl anything for Valentine's Day. We'd gone to a movie, we'd hung out once, but did this obligate me? I thought, a card, sure, with some witty note inside. But my friends looked at me like I was loco and said that I HAD to get her flowers. Hopeless romantic or not, I blew this one. I should've known that I had to do the right thing here or else I was either gonna be in the doghouse right out of the gate or immediately kicked to the curb. Trouble was, it was already the 14th. Time was not on my side.

    You might think that, being in the mountains, Penn State gets a lot of snow. It doesn't, at least not while I was there. What we got a lot of was rain. And ice. On that cursed day it wasn't too cold out, maybe the mid-40's. I went to class wearing a heavy Irish fisherman's sweater my mom had bought me the year before. No coat. The sweater was warm and, besides, I looked fabulous in it. My plan was go to class and hit the campus bookstore on the way home, because the PSU Horticulture Society had been selling flowers in the lobby all week and I'd snag some posies then.

    Good plan. Which was shot to hell when I walked in and saw that, while they might've had flowers by the bushel earlier in the week, they were now pretty much down to mulch. I didn't see anything that didn't look as though it'd passed through a lawnmower. "Any chance you're getting some last-minute flowers?" I asked. I was looked upon as a crazy person.

    It was time for concern, but not panic. There were two florists in town that I knew of, plus I could hit McClanahans to see if they had any. McClanahans is a sort-of catch-all store in town, you can buy pretty much anything there. Except, on that day, for flowers.

    I should mention, because it's very important, that the weather had changed. While I was in class the temperatures fell from the 40s to the mid-thirties. And, as I left McClanahans dressed only in a wool sweater, it started to rain.

    And rain pretty hard. I had no umbrella. I walked up College Ave, getting colder and colder, and after four blocks or so went into the first flower shop. They had nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not even a PICTURE of a flower. I went back outside. It wasn't raining anymore. It was sleeting. It felt like a million ice-cold pins were hitting my face as I walked all the way down College to my last hope of salvation.

    When I walked in the store I was nearly insensate from cold. But I saw a color I hadn't seen in any of the other shops--pink. They weren't roses, and I stuttered and stammed but finally managed to ask the person behind the counter what kind of flowers they were. "Carnations", I was told. "I'll take a dozen," I said, getting the shakes. "Do you want pink and red?" this sainted woman asked. "We have both." I nodded, and five minutes later I had a bundle of flowers wrapped in tissue and cellophane. And I'd spent about 1/20th what a dozen roses would've cost.

    I was meeting my girl for dinner at her dorm, and I would have to hustle if I didn't want to be late. God Himself rained down ice and hail upon my head as I trudged my way home. My sweater now weighed as much as a flak jacket, and little icicles were forming at my cuffs and along the hem. My hair was plastered to my scalp and a rime of ice formed along my brow. I don't think I've even been so cold in my life. It really wasn't funny at the time, I was so hypothermic that once I got to my dorm room I couldn't get my fingers to pull my key out of my wallet. Once I pulled off that stunt I pulled off my sweater, sending shards of ice flying, put on a fresh shirt and de-iced my head. And then it was back out into the storm, this time armed with an umbrella.

    She loved the carnations. "I don't like roses," she said, bless her heart, as she filled a vase with water and arranged the flowers. Her room was overheated and I gladly would've stayed there for hours. I was still so cold that I couldn't stop chattering, and when I gave her an abbreviated version of my story (I didn't tell her that the reason I'd been running around in the rain was because I hadn't been sure if she rated flowers) she thought that was just so precious. We ate dinner, with me not contributing much to the conversation because I was still thawing out, and when we returned to her room about 90 minutes later the carnations had blossomedinto big poofy balls of color. She was delighted. I was delighted. We hugged and I held her close and I held her long, both from a genuine affection and because the laws of convection meant my frozen torso was sucking heat from her warm body. It was almost better than sex. Almost.

    So have a nice Valentine's Day, everyone. I demand it.

    Sunday, February 12, 2006

    Hanging Out With Celebs

    I was cleaning junk off my bookshelves when I came across a photo taken about a year ago. I don't usually brag about my close personal relationships with the high and mighty, but what the hell:

    That's me chilin' with Morris the Cat. Morris is the one on the left.

    So what's MTC like? A class act, all the way. No attitude at all, which is amazing when you consider that not only is he famous, he's also a cat. His handlers let me get close enough to scratch him behind the ear, but after that I was escorted from the Presence. But I have this photograph, to remind me of that magical day. I'm proud to share it with you.

    Saturday, February 11, 2006

    Public Service Announcement--I'm Serious

    StudioGlyphic, whom I've been reading for a long time and who I watched win the WPBT event in December, has a friend in need and the blogger community is rallying around to spread the word asking for help. His friend's girlfriend is very ill and needs a bone marrow transplant, and finding a donor will be difficult because she's from the Phillipines and there aren't as many potential donors from there in the registry.

    Here's a link to Glyph's post about his friend. You never know who might stumble across something on the Internet, and the more threads we throw out there on the web the better chance something will stick. Thanks.

    Friday, February 10, 2006

    Is It My TV, Or...

    Does Jim Lampley's hair look like fiber-optic cable? I mean, my hair has had that extruded fiberglass look, but his's like it's lit from WITHIN. And his suit, it looks like it's made of some kind of polymer.

    Has there ever been a more anonymous Olympics than the Tornio Games? I'm totally in the dark about who the top athletes are and I have no patriotic fervor for Team USA. I like the Winter Olympics, especially the hockey and skiing and ski jumping. But I think NBC's gooey personality-driven coverage has killed much of my interest in watching gavel to gavel.

    Brian Williams just said something about how the Olympics brings us all together, that North and South Korea marched in together or they're standing in the same stadium, something like that. Yeah, I'm sure the citizens of North Korea, who have suffered horribly the last 50 years, take great solace in that.

    Nice of Bob Costas to talk over the very start of the opening ceremony. Which, I have to say, looks totally absurd. Maybe you have to be there. And I'm not.

    I'm impressed. Costas has been silent for nearly 2 minutes now. He's probably like that Ted Patterson guy from those beer commercials, straining in agony and in a cold sweat. Whoops, there he goes. Ah, this interpretive dance symbolizes passion. Got it.

    They have cows on...sleds? 'Kay.

    The thing is, if you're in the stands, you can see everything, but it's so far away you probably can't focus each little part. On TV you can't get the big picture. You need to, like, be suspended a hundred feet above the stadium. By dirigible, perhaps?

    OK, think I'll return to watching season 2 of 24. Lemme tell ya, this Jack Bauer guy? Got lots of stamina.

    Wednesday, February 08, 2006

    Super Bowl No More

    As promised, I will not write about the Super Bowl after this day. Probably.

    When he was in Vegas back in May my friend Mark put a bet down on the Steelers to win the Super Bowl. The money he just won paid for his seat in Ford Field...through the first quarter.

    I'm interested to see what the league does with Mike Holmgren. Saying that his team had to play against the Steelers and the guys in the striped shirts would normally earn Mike an automatic fine, but when the NFL let Joey Porter's comments pass after the Indy game they set a dangerous precedent. Porter should've been fined, even though the league admitted the call on the Polamalu interception was wrong. The league came out yesterday and said there were no officiating errors (hey, it wasn't me, it was the league, go yell at them), and add the fact that Holmgrem is a coach, is on the Competition Committee, and made his comments not in the heat of the moment but a full day later, and he might be looking at a big hit to the wallet. But the league giving Porter a pass puts the NFL in a tough situation. Which is fine with me, let 'em squirm.

    I had a not-very-sportsmanlike thought as I watched the victorious Steelers ride by during the parade. I thought back to Roman days, when a general would arrive home after winning a war and would be granted a triumph, a huge parade where the whole city would turn out and sing his name to the heavens and see all the booty he brought home. Often the defeated ruler would be in the parade as well, dressed in his royal finery to show Rome the mighty foe they'd just conquored. I thought it's be kind of funny to see Mike Holmgren, dressed in blue and wearing a Seahawks ball cap, draped with chains while sitting in the back of a convertible. It would add some spice to the game, yes? Especially if, as in Roman days, the enemy leader was executed one year to the day later. A bit of absurd humor that made me laugh...until I realized that Bill Cowher would've been ritually strangled in Dallas nine years ago. I let the thought go.

    I made a comment about new balls being rotated in and some said I was making excuses for Big Ben's Bad Ballgame. Not at all--in fact, I said specifically I wasn't using that as an excuse. I heard about this because Matt Hasselback talked to other QB's who played in the Super Bowl and they all urged him to get his hands on some of the official balls so he could get used to how slick they were. The guy on the radio said this wouldn't affect Roethlisberger as much because he wears a glove that has some tackiness to it. It's a stupid thing to do and should be stopped.

    There was also a rumor floating about that the NFL is thinking about moving the conference championship games to neutral sites. This would be an abomination. It seriously dilutes the advantage the best teams earn during the regular season, and, far worse, it threatens to turn the AFC/NFC title games into mini-Super Bowls, with Ashlee Simpson singing at halftime and even more desperate, self-perpetuating hype.

    I loved how after the game all these reporters went on and on about Joey Porter made up the controversy about Jerramy Stevens. Um, Stevens said something fairly innocuous, bored reporters breathlessly told Porter, he responded in typical fashion, and the media spent the next five days regurgitating it as though Porter had called for a nuclear strike on the Space Needle. Who really cared about the Porter/Stevens feud? The players, a bit. The fans, yeah, some. The media? Good lord, it saved their asses. At last, they had SOMETHING to write about.

    The Steelers won their last eight games of the season. If they had lost any of them, their season would've been over or effectively over. They had to beat the five best teams in the NFL during that span (Chicago, Cinci, Indy, Denver, Seattle). They traveled to Minnesota to beat a Viking team who had won six straight. They had to go to the home of their most detested rival, Cleveland, and annihilated the Browns 41-0. They beat the Lions...well, hard to make much hay about that, although Joey Harrington looked like an actual NFL quarterback during that game. My point is this--is this the greatest stretch of games in NFL history? Surprise, surprise, I think it is.

    Which leads me to my final point. Earlier in the season much, much was made about Indianapolis trying for an undefeated season. A perfect season, one that would match the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Let me tell you something. Any season that ends with a Super Bowl win is a perfect season. I've been going back and re-reading game stories from earlier in the year, and the ones I was immediately drawn to were those from the games we lost. We lost to New England. To Baltimore. Indy. Cinci. Lost those games, games where you hung your head and sighed and wondered what went wrong.

    And in the end, those losses were just obstacles in the journey to the championship. A team should try to win every game it plays, but the most important thing is to win the title. I would feel no different about the Steeler victory right now if they'd gone undefeated. In fact, I might not feel as good--overcoming the odds is certainly a big reason to be proud of this team. Before the season Ben Roethlisberger--who really should get his own psychic hotline--said that this Steeler team might not win as many games as the team that won 15 straight the year before. But they might end up winning the last one. And that's what happened. You try to win every game. But even if you don't, you'll find that winning the last one makes all the difference.

    How Not to Have a Parade

    Some free advice--if your hometown is about to play for a championship, urge the city leaders to plan the victory parade well in advance. The local media made serious hay about Seattle planning their parade before the game was played, and this was seen as an act of monumental hubris. In fact, this was an act of, like, PLANNING, which the parade today could've done with.

    I walked from the North Shore to downtown around 10:30, and it was already nuts. I called my friend Scott (who drove up from Baltimore just for the parade) and got a general idea where he was. Here's the first snafu--it was reported that the reviewing stand was going to be in Point State Park. It wasn't until I got to Gateway Center that I learned the stand would Gateway Center. Which is not a big piece of territory. It would've been nice if we'd known of the change before the morning of the parade. I think the reason for the switch is that to enter Point State Park you have to walk through a short tunnel, and with 250,000 people attending the parade, and the chance that many of them would walk toward the Point hoping to hear the speeches, officials realized that our city might see a re-enactment of the Black Hole of Calcutta. Massive casualties not being a good way to celebrate One for the Thumb, they changed the location.

    Why, oh why, are there so many friggin idiots in the world? I finally tracked down Scott and Neil and Vince and Ben, but crossing the last 15 feet to reach them was an ordeal. The lawn facing the reviewing stand was jammed, but people were shouldering their way through. But blocking my way was a complete jackass who'd brought one of those folding lawn chairs and was sitting right there in the middle of the crowd blocking everything up. I thought at first he was in a wheelchair, but no, he just decided he was going to sit there and everyone else be damned. He had one of those portable UHF televsions...why the fuck not just watch it at home. All he could see from his seat were thousands of asses. Fucking idiot.

    So I get to my friends. It's cold. Not bitter, but cold. The place is jammed. So we wait for about 30 minutes for the parade to wind its way down Fifth Avenue. As soon as the first hint of action occurs, people start hoisting their kids and girlfriends up on shoulders to get a better look. Completely blocking the view for everyone else. One girl, who frankly could've used a copy of Pilates for Doughballs, cut off my angle of vision to Fifth Avenue and would not get down, even as everyone behind started screaming at her behind. Once the guests of honor started mounting the stage my view was blocked by a little kid sitting on Daddy's shoulders. I searched the ground but couldn't find a rock to throw at the little bastard's head.

    The stage. The stage was not a stage. It was one of those trailers you see at festivals and concerts where they sell T-shirts and other souvenirs. It was narrow and dark and rusty and looked like shit. I mean, for the halftime show of the Super Bowl the Rolling Stones roll out a massive stage shaped like their lips-and-tongue logo with people dancing in the, uh, cavity. To celebrating winning the actual game the stage looks like something you'd see up on blocks in a trailer park. "If you needed proof the city's broke, there you go," said a wag standing beside me.

    Most of the people around us were great. Everyone was having fun and laughing and cheering for our beloved Steelers. Not that we could SEE our beloved Steelers. The stage sat at ground level, so unless you were over six feet tall you couldn't see jack (or Hines or Joey). I'm six feet tall, meaning I spent a lot of the time on tippy-toes. My calves are friggin' killing me.

    We cheered and cheered and cheered. Play-by-play announcer Bill Hillgrove says, "And now, welcome Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato!" And the crowd goes "BOOOOO!!" Onorato is fairly popular here, but as he started to speak he was drowned out by a raucous cheer of "SAVE OUR PENS! SAVE OUR PENS! SAVE OUR PENS!". He leaves the podium, and Hillgrove says, "And now, the Mayor, Bob O'Connor!!". I'm sure O'Connor knew what he was in for. "BOOOO!!! SAVE OUR PENS!! SAVE OUR PENS!!!" Jesus, how I love seeing democracy in action.

    One politico who came out very well was Lynn Swann, who is running for governor. He spoke movingly about what this win meant for this generation of Steeler fans, including himself. His words were drowned out by the crowd, but this time they were chanting "VOTE FOR SWANN! VOTE FOR SWANN!" Incredibly, Swanny raised hands to shush us and kept talking about the game. Methinks he'll do well in Western PA. I later saw our current governor, Ed Rendell, standing next to his car and cheerily greeting people and letting folks take snapshots. Seemed very nice. He's an Eagle fan. He's doomed against Swann in this part of the state.

    Hines Ward arrives to a chant of "MVP! MVP!" He starts to speak, but one of the helicopters (there were three) hovering above moves down and the sound of the rotors drowns out most of what he's saying. It doesn't help that the sound equipment is about as advanced as a junior-high PA system. The choppers fly so low I half-expect to hear Ride of the Valkyries before a volley of rocket fire.

    The Bus arrives, with the Lombardi Trophy in hand. The route through the city was as jammed at Gateway Center, and at times the crush of people forced those standing at the curb into the street, blocking the parade route. It got so bad that Bettis got out of his car and walked down Fifth Avenue with the trophy in hand. How tempted would you be to race out there and grab it? Maybe not so much when you see how big some of these guys are. Max Starks...he's a big dude. Joey Porter looked like a little kid standing next to Max.

    When the Bus finished his speech there came the deep, familiar BOOM BOOM BOOM sound of fireworks launching. They go off, but directly behind one of the buildings of Gateway Center. You couldn't see them go off. Oy vey.

    Still, it was cool to see many of our conquoring heroes...well, the tops of their heads. A co-worker lent me her digital camera and asked me to take a picture of Big Ben. I held it up over my head, pointed in his general direction, and started clicking away, hoping his freshly-shaven mug would show up in at least one shot.

    So, again, if your city is in position to win a title, get to work on the parade right away. Don't worry about providing bulletin board material, don't worry about karma. Planning for eventualities is what good government is all about. And you should be confident that your team will win and all that planning will be worth the trouble. At least get the goddam stage five feet in the air. And if you team is lucky to win and you go to the parade, fill your pocket with rocks beforehand.

    Tuesday, February 07, 2006

    Give A Little Back to Detroit

    As part of his cynical, relentless quest to win the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Pauly is asking the poker blogging community to help out our good friend the Boy Genius, who just had surgery and who hasn't been able to eat pizza or wings or anything good for weeks because of his gasterointestinal (well, mostly intestinal) problem. Making a small donation to BG will help defray some of his medical costs which, even though he has insurance, will make a dent in his prosciutto budget.

    I'm also asking any Pittsburghers reading my Super Bowl ramblings to contribute if they play online and have the means, because BG is from Detroit and that city treated us so well the past few days. Particularly by being convieniently located just 300 miles away. And in our moment of glory let's pause and think on what it must be to be a Lions fan, without a really good team since the days when girls put on poodle skirts to wear to the sock hop.

    Details on how to contribute are here at Pauly's. He's one step closer to Stockholm.

    As for me, I got a parade to attend.

    Monday, February 06, 2006

    Commercials, Super Bowl and Full Tilt

    Some actual semi-poker content here. I'm watching the Poker Superstars show that was televised on NBC before the Super Bowl, and I have to say that the Full Tilt commercials are pretty goddam funny. I was somehow distracted during the Lindgren-Matusow commercial featuring the Hammer, but it looked pretty funny. The Lederer-Seidel commercial was pretty funny.

    But the Phil Ivey commercial made me laugh out loud and demanded a rewind. "Have a nice day," Phil says, and Mean Gene laughs. It's his expression, and the tone of his voice. Outstanding.

    The Super Bowl commercials I only half-watched, as I tried not to spontaneously combust. I liked the FedEx commercial very much. The Hummer commercial was friggin awful. The Diet Pepsi "Brown and Bubbly" was beyond friggin awful. I'm switching to Coke, right now. I liked the Bud commercial in the stadium with the fans turning the cards.

    If I was commissioner of the NFL, I would get rid of the Super Bowl halftime show. It's gotten ridiculous, and while the Stones weren't as horrible as some folks say, why is an 45-year-old English rock band playing during our biggest sporting event? It's like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band playing at the FA Cup Final. It bewilders. Last year it was Paul McCartney. This year the Stones. What's next, do they dig up and reanimate Mozart? A concert solely of whalesong from a dozen humpbacks swimming in specially constructed tanks at midfield?

    I'm pretty pissed off about the constant bitching on ESPN and beyond about the officiating. Partially because the Seahawks have some reason to be pissed. To my mind there are only 2 plays that had any impact. The Big Ben TD was a touchdown, or was close enough you can't complain. Or, if you want to complain, the Steelers score on 4th down and an inch and the point is moot. The Hasselback personal foul meant nothing, as Hines Ward would've scored on the reverse pass had the play been 15 yards further back. Moot.

    So we have the Darrell Jackson interference and the holding penalty. Let's say the Seahawks get both calls. Let's even assume that the Seahawks score a TD after the pass down to the 2 yard line. That only ties the game up. And in those circumstances I think the Steelers still win. Because if the score had been 14-7 instead of 14-3, I don't think the Steelers call the play that Big Ben threw the pick on. With an opportunity to go up by 2 scores I think the Steelers would've just run the ball and either scored or, more likely, kicked the field goal. Giving the Steelers the lead. At best, those calls cost the Seahawks 11 points. Meaning the game wouldn't quite yet be in Seattle's control.

    I'm a big believer in fair play. I think the officiating was pretty poor, in this game and throughout the playoffs. I found myself not enjoying the win because I want the game to be adjudicated fairly and the win without taint. But to say that the officiating cost the Seahawks the game stretches credulity. Maybe with a tie game Big Ben leads the Steelers on a triumphant game-winning drive. Steelers did make 2 first downs late playing ultra-conservative. I think I've finally cleared away whatever residual guilt I feel about the win.

    That said, good Lord, the officating needs to get fixed. How many terrible, huge calls were there in the playoffs? Dozens. As I said before, officiating an NFL game is a daunting task. They need full-time refs.

    Another thing. Why the hell do they rotate a different, brand-new ball in for every play. The balls are slick, they haven't been rubbed down, and they have a logo right where the QB's thumb goes that makes it even more slick. I don't blame Big Ben's problems on the balls, but why on Earth would you introduce this idiotic variable into the biggest game of the year? The league showcase? Is it really necessary to extract a few extra thousand bucks out of the game and impact the game? How about we get rid of the ludicrous halftime shows and let the teams use rubbed-down balls?

    The Super Bowl is so overhyped that its become a parody. Short of Jesus returning to Earth in the middle of the 2nd quarter, the game can't live up to expectations. Look, obviously I'm a pretty serious football fan. I like football. I don't like pretentious self-serious nonsense. Lose Media Day. Lose the halftime show. Lose the footballs treated liked each is the Shroud of Goddam Turin. Play some football.

    The chances of this happening? Less than absolute zero.

    Pictures tomorrow, from my friend at the game and maybe some from the parade tomorrow, if anyone I know has a camera. Gonna be cold. Awesome.

    Mandalay Bay Magic

    It all started in Vegas.

    That's where the Steeler Super Bowl run started, standing and watching the games in the Mandalay Bay sports book during the blogger get-together in December. I can't believe it was that long ago that the win streak started. We HAD to beat Chicago that day, and with a three-game losing streak it didn't look very likely. My brother and I detoured in one of the bars to watch part of the game, and saw a Bears fan jump out of his chair and stalk off after Lovie Smith inexplicably accepted a penalty instead of letting the Steelers punt. Verron Haynes converted the second chance at 3rd down, the Steelers proceded to move down the field and score a touchdown--just as that ticked-off fan returned.

    And then back to the sports book, to watch the Steelers put away the Bears and the Chargers to incredibly lose to the Dolphins. I watched Iggy cheer as his Bengals beat the Browns on a last-second field goal, but they were already too far ahead of my Steelers to worry about. I had to hope the Cowboys could knock off the Chiefs and give us more reason to hope.

    One problem--all the poker bloggers gathered round put money on the Chiefs. What to do? Loyalty to the WPBT is in my bones, but my devotion to the Steelers makes up my very marrow. God, what a horrible analogy. Anyway, I watched the game hoping there was some way everything could turn out all right.

    And that's just what happened. Lawrence Tynes honked a FG to tie the game, and the Cowboys, giving 3 points, won by three. And the game ended as a push. I felt bad that my fellow bloggers didn't plump out their purses with their winning tickets, but they didn't lose their money either. It was the absolute best outcome for me, and, of course, it's always about me, me, me.

    Had you told me that day, as I drank and chatted with the best and brightest, that in two months time the Steelers would be bringing the Lombardi Trophy back to the 'Burgh I would've assumed you were smoking the rug. I was just hoping the Steelers would get in the playoffs, maybe steal a game, prolong the season a bit. But to actually go on and win the Super still seems surreal.

    Quote of the Year

    I'm sorry, I'm probably going to be a pest the next few days, if you aren't interested in Steeler gloryfing you may want to stay away the next few days. How about this--I promise not to write anything Steeler related after Wednesday. I'm going to the parade tomorrow, I'll write something about that and be done with it. I care enough about my readers to give them a heads up.

    Anyway, this is the football quote of the year. This came after Cinci beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh on December 4th:

    "It's time for a change," Cincinnati receiver Chad Johnson said. "It's like going from a black and white TV to a color TV. It was Pittsburgh; it's Cincinnati now, and it'll probably be that way for a while now."

    We now cancel the Heavy Irony Alert.

    Thumbs Up

    I'm totally exhausted. I don't know that it's hit me yet. Give Seattle credit, they kicked our butts the first quarter but could only get 3 points. This time we got the calls, although the Jackson pushoff was just that, and the Locklear did have his arm wrapped around Haggans. I thought Big Ben broke the plane before he got hit, but that was a call that could've gone either way. I'm sure Seahawk fans are plenty pissed off, and I don't blame them.

    But I think the better team won, even if we didn't play our best game. The smashmouth Steelers came up with two incredible, game-breaking plays to, uh, break the game open. We won ugly, but the only word that matter is "won".

    I'm sorry, I'm beat. I did drink the lucky Yuengling, I watched the first half with my shoes off (fool, fool!) but put them on in time for Parker's run. I'm just so happy for Cowher, and Bettis, and Dan Rooney, and for everyone here in Pittsburgh and beyond who bleeds Black and Gold.

    Some minor rioting in Pittsburgh, a few fires, some arrestes, police in riot gear walking around. Parade on Tuesday, and I will be there. I will no doubt be posting more about this in the next few days, weeks, years, until you're all sick to death of it and remove me from your subscription lists.

    We won the Super Bowl.

    Sunday, February 05, 2006

    Here We Go

    Kickoff is finally here. Well, almost. Two weeks is too goddam long. Too much hype. Too much full-court media nonsense. I don't know if the media buildup is more annoying if your team is in the game or if they're not. Can't stand it any more.

    I wrote a long, impassioned post about what the Steelers mean to Pittsburgh and what a win today would mean to our city, but Blogger was down for maintenence and in re-reading it, it was a bit mawkish. So rather than post it I'm simply going to ask that everyone out there who plans on watching the game and really doesn't care who wins to switch your allegience to the Steelers, and to send all your positive waves to the guys wearing the white shirts and the black hats. We thank you for your support.

    UPDATE: I just got a call from my buddy Mark as he was walking into Ford Field. He was drunk and pumped and in very fine voice. By his estimate Steeler fans outnumber Seahawk fans by about 50-1. I believe that Seahawk fans are very supportive and devoted and deserve the 12th Man accolade the team bestowed on them. But they must be prepared to be ground into dust under the heels of the vast Steeler Nation.

    Heading to a party in about an hour. My lucky bean/nacho dip is chilling in the fridge. The Yuengling is in the garage and is at the perfect temperature. I'm pumped. I'm psyched. I wanna hit someone. Someone small. HERE WE GO STEELERS, HERE WE GO!!!!

    Friday, February 03, 2006

    A Possible Declaration of Shenanigans

    There a story on (which also appeared in Bluff Magazine) that I have some trouble believing. Rather than summarize it here just go read it:

    The Ultimate Bad Beat

    Now, is this kosher? If the betting is over, and you show your hand, and it's the winning hand, can you THEN concede the pot? Once you've shown the table that you indeed have the best hand, can you give up the pot by tossing the cards in the muck? If she had just mucked without showing and then SAID she had pocket kings, well, OK, there's no way to know for sure. But I would think that the moment she exposed her cards, the moment everyone saw that she had quads, the hand would have crossed the demarcation line in the space/time continuum and would now be Over. She would no longer have control over events, because the events had already arrived at their conclusion.

    I will admit that I'm no expert on playing in casinos, but this doesn't seem to be logical. If I'd been at the table I would've freaked. I would've demanded my share of the jackpot. To the point of threatening legal action. The conditions were met, the hand was witnessed by several casino employees...I want my money. Or maybe I'm totally in the wrong here. Enlighten me.

    Thursday, February 02, 2006

    Level Three Humiliation; or; Ooooh, That Smell

    Know what's fun? You go to work, you walk around the office all morning, you talk to people, including your boss, and your boss's boss, you get coffee, go back to your desk, and only as you sit down do you realize that, oh joy, your fly has been unzipped the whole time. That's just awesome.

    A bit later I go to the restroom. I open the door, and am smacked in the face by the overpowering smell of women's perfume. I guess there are worse smells that could confront you in a bathroom, but this was bad enough that nearly gakked on my shoes. It was so intense that I can only imagine that someone broke a bottle in there, but that begs the question, who would bring a bottle of perfume into the men's room? And why? I'm not Sherlock Holmes, I'm not going to launch an investigation, so this will have to go into the files as an Unsolved Mystery. But unless I see a HazMat team go in there I'm using the restroom upstairs the next time I need to, you know.

    It reminds me of a story from long, long ago. When I was in high school I worked for a sporting goods store, and one night I'm working in the hunting/camping/fishing section when this husband and wife walk in. We were having a big sale on tents, and we had 3 big ones set up as a display. That's what this couple were looking at, and I walked over to ask if they needed help. They were in their late thirties and looked to be quite affluent. He looked like an engineer--shaggy side-parted hair, big square eyeglasses, and he wore a polo shirt under a blazer. His to explain. Let's say that the proper amount of makeup a woman should wear to maximize her inherent beauty is a variable designated as "x". This woman wore, I'd say, 23x of makeup. I mean, you could renovate a 3-bedroom townhouse in a distressed part of town in the same time it would take this woman to get ready in the morning. If you went at her with a power washer for five minutes she might've been quite lovely. As it was, you looked at her and said, "Whoa."

    I started to walk over and asked if I could help them with anything. I was still a good 10 feet away when I caught a whiff of her perfume. I made a mistake--I didn't stop. I didn't retreat. I kept moving toward them, like a chump, and thus began a ghastly experience I remember to this day.

    It wasn't that she wore a lot of perfume--although, truth be told, she wore A LOT OF PERFUME. The problem was that whatever she wore surrounded her in this dense, powdery cloud. It wasn't alcohol-based or whatever it is that provides the base for perfume. It was like Chanel or Givenchy hired some rogue Soviet scientist and had him weaponize their fall line. I took a deep breath and in my mind's eye I saw my lungs filling with billions of tiny particulates, clogging my alveoli and cutting of my air.

    I coughed, hard, and then coughed again. The man ignored my problem and asked a question. I swallowed and answered in a croak. I stopped coughing, but I COULD NOT BREATHE. Every time I tried to pull in oxygen my lungs locked up and forced me to exhale. I've experienced some respiratory problems in my time--I got a bit of smoke inhalation after a wok-related mishap in college, and for a few winters (but not this one) I got a touch of asthma that made me think I might bark up one of my lungs.

    But this was worse. Because I had to try and pretend that this woman wasn't a walking WMD. My eyes teared, my nose ran, and I felt my face flushing as I struggled to breathe. Incredibly, neither took any notice of my agony. Perhaps they were used to it by now? I didn't know or care. I wanted them gone so I could stick my face in the sink and suck down some water.

    But they were really goddam interested in these tents. I thought she looked as likely to be interested in camping as Paris Hilton would be about joining a motherfucking convent. The man looked at the opening of the one tent and asked if it was OK to go inside.

    "Sure," I gasped.

    He climbed in. AND THEN HIS WIFE CLIMBED IN WITH HIM. I thought he was a goner. I wondered if I would have the courage to reach in and grab him by the ankles so I could drag out his blue-lipped corpse.

    "No, this is too small," he said before, Lazarus-like, he climbed back out. I'd taken this moment's pause to pull as much air into my body as possible, but as soon as she re-emerged my lungs locked down again. They climbed into the 2nd tent. Now, the first one was designed for 3 people, so they should've had enough room. This one was designed for 3-4, and after they both lay down and stretched out they decided this one was better, but maybe still not big enough.

    "Do you have kids going with you?" I croaked.

    "No, just us." he said. I noticed something--they were always holding hands. They were holding hands when they showed up to ruin my day, and every time they got out of the tent he helped her up and continued holding her hand. And with perfect clarity I saw that they were looking for a tent big enough to conduct whatever fleshy congress they were into. So now my queasy stomach added its voice to the chorus of misery.

    They got in the 3rd tent, which was big enough to house five people. And I remember this moment like it happened yesterday. My manager, a guy I really liked, came down from the office and walked down the aisle. About fifteen feet away he stopped, his nose twitched, and he mouthed the words, "What the HELL?"

    I pointed at the tent, which was rustling. He stepped back, stepped back, and went back up the stairs to the office. The lovebirds came out and said that tent was too big, that the other one might be OK. "Thank Christ," I moaned to myself. While they chatted, my manager came back with the store manager. They took a few steps, sniffed, the store manager's face showed his astonishment and disgust, and then they disappeared again. Leaving me to deal with this alone.

    They weren't done. They wanted to look at backpacks. This woman looked as though she spent more time on her nails than Bill Belichek spends on film study, and she wanted to try on backpacks designed to carry 75 pounds of gear. They tried every fucking backpack on the wall. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't get a single deep, cool, cleansing breath. The man kept peppering with questions and I couldn't muster enough breath to interrupt and excuse myself.

    They didn't buy anything. I was with them a good 45 minutes. It is entirely possible that I suffered slight (slight?) brain damage from oxygen debt. After they departed my manager came down and said, "Are you OK?". My face was a tomato. I nodded. He walked over to the smallest of the tents and took a peek inside. He jerked his head out and said, "Keep the fly open, we need to air these out."


    "And don't let anyone else in there."


    "Especially kids. Don't let any little kids in there."


    About an hour later I got paged. I pick up the phone and it's my manager, up in the shoe department, which is at the other end of the store. I can tell his hand is covering the receiver. "I can smell it UP HERE."

    I survived, went home, went to school, and that evening went back to work. The store manager sees me, marches right up, and says, "I opened the store this morning. It was like she was standing right there beside me."

    So that's my story for today. The moral? Zip up, and remember that perfume is supposed to entice, not asphyxiate. Nothing life-altering, but at least I didn't bring up the Super Bowl. For that, be grateful.

    Wednesday, February 01, 2006

    1000 Words

    No Super Bowl Content, Honest

    I'm sure yinz are sick of me talking about the Super Bowl and the Steelers, so I'll give it a rest, at least for today. Except to say this--after every Media Day at the big game, I find myself thinking that the Freedom of the Press is a vastly overrated constitutional right.

    I finally got to see an episode of GSN's "High Stakes Poker" last night. For a poker junkie like myself it was good stuff, but I don't think cash games are likely to be of much interest to casual viewers. The sense of drama just isn't there. Oh, sure, the eyebrows go up when Daniel Negreanu throws in two bricks made up of greenbacks, yeah, that gets your attention. Raising someone a million dollars in real money would be exciting, you'd think. But it really wasn't. This is due in part because of the players involved--they've seen and done this all before, and to them it's no big deal. Barry Greenstein lost a $100K pot to Doyle Brunson when his QQ ran into aces, but from Barry's expression you might've thought he was sitting in a restaurant and been told they were out of the soup of the day. A bit miffed, but that's all. No jumping up and down, no histrionics, no "Vindidcation baby!".

    Ted Forrest lost his buy-in. A hundred grand. Gulp. He pulls a $50K marker out of his pocket, tosses it to the dealer, and he's back in the game. Now, you'd think that pulling a chip worth fifty grand out of your pocket with the same insoucience I'd show in pulling out a quarter at a vending machine would be pretty goddam dramatic. It isn't. It was pretty cool, baby, but it wasn't dramatic.

    I didn't see the first episodes so I didn't see what was up with Negreanu and Brunson buying in for so much more than the other players. Negreanu kept tossing in his two whale-choking wads of cash and forcing everyone out. Until Greenstein doubled up on him. I thought it odd that other players had actual cash in front of them as well as chips--during one hand Jennifer Harman picked up a chip, paired it with ten grand in cash, and tossed both into the pot. I wondered if there was some psychological angle at work here. There's the old saying, "The guy who invented gambling was bright, but whoever invented chips was a genius". I wonder if for these pros using actual cash isn't a sort of reverse psych out. Maybe they've become so inured to seeing chips as chips, instead of money, that the sight of actual money makes them think, "wow, money". Perhaps they look at a stack of bills in the pot and think, "Mmm, that's 10,000 Frostys." To pick up on the most recent Wendy's ad campaign. I haven't had a Frosty in a long time. Frostys are good for the soul.

    I wouldn't presume to know what goes through the mind of a top poker professional (especially Shawn Sheikhan) but I know what went through my mind when we played cards in college and there were dollar bills in the pot. We all said, "". We'd play cards in Scott and Andy's dorm room, almost exclusively a game called Declare. You get 3 cards, and as the action moves around the table you have to say if you're in or out. If you stay in you're allowed to draw one card. If you lose the hand, you have to match the pot.

    If you play Hold-Em and don't have a handle on the power of position, play Declare for a few hours. It was ALL position. About the only manuevering in the game came when you bluffed that you had a pat hand and tried to make you opponent break up his pair to go for a flush. Or when you decided he DID have a pat hand and your pair of tens wouldn't hold up. The pots started small, maybe sixty cents, but if you had a few multi-player hands it could balloon to the point where nickels and dimes wouldn't do. You had to pull out the wallet and get out the green.

    Coins...what are you gonna do with coins? Just put them back in your change box and use it for the next game. Or, if you were lucky and snagged some quarters, you could do laundry. That's sexy. But when there was green in the pot, your options grew exponentially. You could get nachos down at the dining hall snack bar. A turkey sub from McClanahan's. Beer. You could buy sweet, sweet beer.

    When there was green in the pot you knew there were guys who would fight for it. Gary and Andy would almost always play if there were a few bills in the pot--especially if they were the ones who put them in there. Talk about defending your blinds--they would go balls to the wall with junk to reclaim the tatty Washington they coughed up the hand before. Ah, good times. Playing Declare, drinking Black Label, watching "Macho Man" Randy Savage on the Arsenio Hall show. Good times. get this widget Please visit Pokernews site for more poker news, poker strategy articles or poker rules.

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