[Part 1 of this story can be found here.]
My first hours in Vegas, I crossed the threshold between searing desert heat and numbing casino cold at Bellagio, Caesars, Luxor and several other casinos (some of which had no poker room at all), looking for a game that was comfortably within my nascent holdem experience but entirely non-existent on the Strip: 2/4 limit holdem. At that time, capped buy-in no-limit holdem wasn't spread by any of the casinos -- that would change later in 2003 -- so it was limit or nothing. Can you imagine! Only four years ago, not a single poker room on the Las Vegas strip spread a cash no-limit holdem game. Not that I would have played it if they had it. Not at that time.
I was finally directed to Mandalay Bay, where I found a 4/8 limit holdem game with very strange $1 and $2 blinds. As I look back on it now, it's kinda laughable how much that game intimidated me. Remember, this was MY FIRST TIME playing in a casino. I didn't understand the procedures, the protocols, the ethics. I heard a dealer declare a "Third Man Walking Rule" and was utterly confused what he meant (two people were gone from the table; if anyone else got up, their chips were going to be picked up). Not only was I a bit bewildered by what was going on around me, but I was also playing over my head -- the game was twice as big as I had intended to play. It was an inauspicious start, but I didn't drive to Vegas for nothing, so I sucked it up, bought $200 in chips, and took an empty seat.
[Why didn't he play in LA, you may be asking. At that time, I didn't realize there were card rooms in LA. That's why. Also, there was something exciting about making my first trip to Vegas. How I hadn't been there before my 27th birthday is beyond me.]
Again, looking back, the whole situation was laughable. I mean, it was 4/8 at Mandalay! Today I could beat that game with my eyes firmly fixated on the low-cut dresses of the Mandalay cocktail waitresses. Back then, I was pretty green.
I spent a portion of that session seated next to a guy a little younger than me, named Carlos, who was a Vegas local. Apart from the usual pleasantries, we hadn't said too much to each other until about halfway through the session.
"You call too much," he told me.
I'm never one to give lessons at the table, but Carlos had determined that I was only raising with ultra-premium hands and big flops, passively calling just about everything else, and was nice enough to tell me so. At that time, I thought he was dead wrong. No way was I a calling station. The results speak for themselves, however: I lasted 10 hours, but after 10 hours my last chips were thrown into a pot pushed to somebody else. The only hand of significance I remember was flopping a set of aces, and I'm pretty sure my opponent folded on the flop after I nearly creamed my pants when the ace hit the board. So much for my poker face.
At 7am, I staggered out into the early Vegas sunshine, my foot starting to throb painfully from what would turn out to be a very, very bad infection [to quote the doctor I saw when I got back to New York: "If you had waited another day or two to see me, you might not have had this foot"]. The indisputable fact: I was a loser. My first time I played poker in a casino, I went broke. In fact, my first two or three times, I was a loser, and the fourth I broke even. I was so sure before I went to Vegas that I could play, that I was better than many of my opponents because I studied poker, because I played online, because I played weekly tournaments with my friends. In the end, I was just another donkey at the beginning of a very long, very steep learning curve that I'm still climbing today.
That trip was a series of firsts for me: my first time to Los Angeles; the first time I met Leah, who wound up playing the role of "degenerate's girlfriend" for over a year after I moved to LA, although she herself was no saint (it is to my unending discredit that I never told my parents about her. I certainly wasn't ashamed; I'm just not sure how I would have told my parents "I'm dating a 19-year-old stripper"); my first time swimming in the Pacific; my first of many times driving up the 15 to Las Vegas; my first time in Vegas; and my first time playing poker inside a casino. I was no stranger to casinos, having spent most of my life within easy driving distance of the craps tables of Atlantic City and (later) Foxwoods, and I was no stranger to poker, having spent most of my teenage Friday nights in somebody or other's basement playing poker variants with colorful names like Guts and MoFo, and many college and law school nights playing games like Baseball and Anaconda. It just never occurred to me to put casinos and poker together until I started playing no limit holdem with the UCB boys in Spring 2003.
What a strange trip it's been since. I have to honestly say that I never pushed myself hard enough, never learned as much as I should have, never improved and moved up in limits as much as I could have. To only be at 20/40 four years later is shameful in some ways. But I'm glad that my first time didn't turn into my only time. It would have been very easy to give up, to call it quits, especially since I was still wary of putting money into online poker sites. I'm also glad that my first time didn't turn into my "all the time", because as much as I love poker, like anything else it can quickly become a fucking grind. Poker is best served as one of many hobbies for me, something at which I've definitely improved, and can play for not insignificant amounts of money, but that will never make or break me or become my life.
God only knows what might have happened if I had left the casino a winner that first time.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
[Part 1 of this story can be found here.]
Monday, July 30, 2007
...the only thing that could possibly explain how I played in two home games this weekend, thus doubly breaking my general proclivity against playing weekend home games. May as well go whole-hog, right?
The first was a Very Special Above Malibu Reunion, timed to coincide with the 9th Annual Del Close Marathon at UCB. (Yes, Virginia, I really was an improvisor for several years. A damn good one, at that.) The Above Malibu game is where I cut my teeth on NLHE, and it was a pure joy to play with some of these guys again. That game was everything a home game should be, but there was nothing outstanding about my play for this particular session. Made some good reads, was hitting more than my share of flops and draws, that sort of thing. When the game broke, I was up a couple buy-ins, which were promptly liquidated into dinner, beer, and cab fare.
On Sunday, CK of the surreptitious blogging, threw a game together in the South Slope. [I have now given her the gift of what pitiful traffic my once-weekly postings generate, so hopefully she will stop her womanish whining about how sore her shoulder is.] Her last attempt at organizing a game, a week or two prior, she gave all of the invitees exactly 45 minutes notice to respond whether or not they were in. Addict much? Unsurprisingly, that game didn't get off the ground. This time, the notice period was a more reasonable two days, and seven players assembled on a rainy afternoon for some 2/4 limit 2-7 Triple Draw, followed by 1/2 NLHE.
I wish I played as well Sunday as I did Saturday, but we all have things we wish for in life, and most of them we don't get. It was a combination of a tougher table (which showed my NLHE rust more easily and quickly than did Saturday's session), not being able to flop much of anything, and gifting SoxLover with $120 by pushing my QQ into his KK. That was a horrible decision, given that my spidey sense was telling me to fold and that the only hand I could possibly be ahead of is AK.
Tale of the tape: down a buy-in, possibly up a home game if it runs on Sunday nights. Knowing the junkie who organizes it, that seems unlikely. After all, who ever heard of "only" playing a 5-hour session?
Monday, July 23, 2007
We interrupt the tale 'My First Time' for two reasons, both located after the jump.
Reason the First
It pains me to say that Dawn Summers is no longer in the cellar of the Dead Pool standings. Hers was the only roster that contained Tammy Faye Baker, who undoubtedly is crying in the afterlife as I type this that more people didn't choose her. Times like this take me back to Bloom County:
Anyway, standings updated at right.
Reason the Second
Okie-Vegas! From the moment I got off my plane at Will Rogers World Airport and met a smiling Maudie, until the time I took my leave of Gracie as we prepared to board our respective flights home, I was surrounded by the best quality of people. I don't want to take anything away from the other attendees of Okie-Vegas (in no particular order: Katitude, 23Skidoo, Surflexus, TripJax, fellow New York lawyer Jordan, oossuuu, Instant Tragedy, and Yestbay1), several of whom I met for the first time and all of whom get the RTFT Seal of Approval, but I really want to shine the spotlight on the two people who made this happen: Maudie and Gary Cox.
Maudie, at this point, I have known for a long time, almost since the beginning of this poker blogging thing. She enriches the lives of everyone she meets, it seems, and although I suspect she sometimes feels a bit out of place amongst what is mostly a younger crowd for her, I have never once felt that she IS out of place or that she is any different from the rest of us. I doubt it will make her feel great when I admit that she's only a few years younger than my mother; I hope it will make her feel great when I admit that it amazes me that she's only a few years younger than my mother, since I could never see my mother having half the experiences at this point in her life that Maudie has had, many of which I've shared with her over the last several years. Maudie graciously opened her home to Gracie and me, even going so far as to get us 'Welcome to Oklahoma' gifts, and made me feel welcome from the moment I passed the security threshold as she fumbled with her new iPhone, trying to snap a picture to mark the occasion.
As for Gary Cox, many of us who met Gary for the first time last December in Vegas took an instant liking to him. He's super friendly, incredibly easy-going, extremely good-natured and can pop off a hella wicked bender. Those of us who came out to Okie-Vegas got to see a few other sides of Gary as well, sides that are evident in his writing but really strike home when you witness them for yourself: how generous he is (to throw open BOTH of his homes for a bunch of ne'er-do-wells from across the country); how he can make anyone feel welcome and at ease just about anywhere, including the most "local" of local bars I think I've ever been to (how local, you ask? One of the patrons had never used a computer, and when I heard Gary giving directions to one of the bloggers over the phone, he told them "It's 10 miles past Binger, then a left and another 5 miles". Binger, by the way, was more or less a one-intersection, no stop-light town of exactly a half-square mile in the middle of nowhere, western Oklahoma); and how doting he is on his family (his home is FULL of pictures of his wife Carrie and his two girls).
My two favorite moments of the trip both came near the end. After trying in vain to find anyone who would karaoke 'Suddenly Seymour' with me (130 Pounds of Fury Backed By 1200 Watts of Power!), I decided 'fuck it, I'll sing both parts myself', thereby further solidifying my Under Suspicion title by (a) selecting a showtune, and (b) singing the female part. In the middle of the song, Maudie, who had protested loudly and vigorously for two days that she would not sing karaoke, stepped up to the mic with me and started trying to sing a song she didn't really know. Gold, Jerry. Gold.
Later, as I was taking my leave of Gary at the end of a long two days, I thanked him profusely for his hospitality, and asked him to be sure to thank his wife as well, since she had already retired for the evening. Carrie cooked a MOUNTAIN of extremely tasty food for us, in addition to breaking the karaoke ice by belting out some impressive renditions of 70s songs. Anyway, I told him how impressed I was that she would do all of this for us, and for him. Gary grinned and replied, "Yeah, she's really great. That's why I do what I'm told."
Most of my friends in New York City, upon hearing that I was traveling to Oklahoma, reacted the same way: "Why in the hell are you going there?" If they ever met poker bloggers like Gary Cox or Maudie, they'd understand. Thanks, you guys, for making the trip a ton of fun.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
July 7, 2003 was a Monday. According to the "World's Tallest Thermometer", it was 110 degrees in Baker, California that day as I pulled into the parking lot of a Del Taco to stop for a bite to eat of some vague, food-like substance. The soft top was up on my boat of a rented convertible Chrysler Sebring. That way, the Sebring sailed on the hot desert breezes, rather than have them crash over the sides of the car and through my hair. I like heat, but not that much.
Another 90 miles to go. 50 miles to the border.
For the trip, I made a mix CD of road songs. Overall, with perhaps one exception (Pink Floyd's 'Run Like Hell' was woefully out of place), it was a solid CD. The tracks were beat mixed somewhat, so that the tempo of the CD constantly increased from the first track -- Kenny Rogers 'The Gambler' -- to the last -- Lindsay Buckingham's 'Holiday Road'. I threw the CD in and let it play a few times on the way up and down the mountains of the 15. As cliched as it may sound, when I crossed into Nevada by the Primm casinos, the CD started over with 'The Gambler'.
That quiet, solitary trek along the 15 from Los Angeles was my first experience with desert. I'm an East Coast boy, born and raised in the New York City metropolitan area. We don't do desert over here. My entire impression of desert to that point of my life was of sands swallowing the tombs of the pharaohs. I was surprised to find no sand at all, but instead the austere reds and browns of the Mojave as the Sebring skimmed the shimmering asphalt of the 15 to a meeting a dozen years in the making. The austerity of the tableau spread before me appealed to my quiet, calculating nature. Later trips, in Spring of 2004, would reveal a desert in bloom, pale greens and yellows complementing their brown and red brethren. I don't think I'll ever forget the beauty, the imagery, of that scenery. Even in the desert, life finds a way.
It was just before 6pm when I rounded a bluff and saw my destination, glittering in the oranges of the evening sun. Almost 300 miles after I had left the City of Angels, I had risen up thousands of feet into the mountains to descend into the depths of depravity offered by Sin City. Anyone who has ever made the drive knows the bluff I'm talking about. One moment, you're driving along the 15, empty as far as the eye can see except for a ribbon of black. Then, you round that bluff, and Las Vegas is suddenly there, popping out of the desert like some damn mirage.
"Vegas, baby. Vegas." With renewed energy, I kicked the convertible up to 90 and sped towards my destiny.
[Part two of this story can be found here.]
One of my co-workers told me this morning about a commercial he saw on television last night for a prescription medication used to treat restless legs syndrome that he thought would be perfect for me. It's called Mirapex, but I like to call it "the little miracle pill". Check out these side effects:
There have been reports of patients taking certain medications to treat Parkinson’s disease or RLS, including MIRAPEX, that have reported problems with gambling, compulsive eating, and increased sex driveSeriously, it's like some white-coated guy in a lab in New Jersey sat around thinking, "We need to increase our sales of pharmaceuticals to F-Train. How can we do that? I know! A pill that makes him want to gamble more, helps him gain weight, and makes him hornier than a 16-year old!"
If anybody has a few spare Mirapex just taking up space, you know where to send them.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
As much as I hate feeding trolls, I feel I have to do it this time, because the troll is CBS. Consider this my open letter to "national columnist" Gregg Doyel in response to his recent column on the CBS Sportsline website entitled "World Series of Poker Fails to Highlight Losers, Addiction". (And a tip of the hat to Change100 for bringing it to my attention.)
How does a "national columnist" for CBS Sportsline write such a horribly misinformed, poorly researched, and scaldingly vitriolic diatribe? Better yet, how does this columnist's editor agree to run such a diatribe?
When it comes to hard-core gambling, there are no winners. Just losers.That's funny, I've been keeping spreadsheets for years that track my poker play, and they show me significantly in the black every year. Guess I'm just consistently lucky?
Those are great stories, but every lottery has its handful of winners.Wait, I thought there were no winners. Which is it?
Those calls were placed within six months to the same hotline in Indiana.Can you tell me what games the people who called the Indiana gambling hotline were playing? Were they playing house-banked games, by any chance? Because your article seems to use the World Series of Poker as a focal point for problem gambling, but it was very short on specific examples of poker-related problem gambling.
Some studies say as many as three percent of all Americans have a gambling problem Some studies say that the Holocaust never happened. If you try hard, you can find a study that says just about anything. What do the bulk of the studies say? And why didn't you give comparative numbers for drug addiction and alcoholism, to which you thought fit to compare gambling at other points in the piece? Could it be because the rate of alcoholism in this country is almost double the highest number that "some studies" represent as the rate of people with a "gambling problem" (whatever that means)?
Freedom is cool. Gambling is not. Freedom to gamble is like freedom to inhale crack or inject heroin. Hmm, so I guess really what you're saying is "freedom for you to act only in a way that I think is socially responsible" is cool, because the last time I checked, freedom meant "the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action", without any specific limits on what type of action was in question.
Admit it -- these three sentences make absolutely no sense. What you're telling me is that because "some studies say that as many as three percent of all Americans have a gambling problem", the other 97% should be prohibited from their enjoyment of an activity that produces negligible detrimental effects on society. Do I need to give you the rate of alcoholism in this country again, or can we just agree that you had a brain fart when you wrote those three sentences?
Regular people go to jail. Regular people commit suicide. Because of gambling.Yes, and regular people go to jail and commit suicide because of infidelity. You're not making a particularly convincing argument here.
This year, almost 12,000 were expected.Seriously, do some research. I don't know of a single industry analyst that predicted 12,000 entries into the Main Event this year. In fact, almost all of them predicted there would be fewer entries, due to the effect of the UIGEA on online poker sites (which were primarily responsible for the run-up in entries since 2003).
In closing, I would expect a "national columnist" for CBS Sportsline to be held to slightly higher journalistic standards than were displayed in this column. Gregg Doyel seems to have a personal axe to grind (perhaps a personal or family history of compulsive gambling). No poker player doubts that compulsive gambling exists and that it can ruin lives. All we ask for is a little more responsibility in the discussion of the issue, instead of the idiotic, uneducated shrieking found in this column.
Folks, people with opinions like this are part of the reason why the UIGEA was passed and why so many of us have a difficult time finding a legitimate, legal live game. I'm not sure how we go about educating these people and disabusing them of their horribly misguided notions about poker and gambling, but I wouldn't expect any progress on these fronts (without the assistance of massive amounts of money and power) until we do.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
I step outside my office a half hour early ONE time, and all hell breaks loose.
First, AlCantHang tipped me off to the demise of Lady Bird Johnson. Then, not to be outdone, Chugarte emailed me notice not only of the Johnson death, but of the croaking of Charles Lane earlier this week as well.
Two deaths reported in the same day? The marmosets that power the servers responsible for the RTFT Dead Pool scoring algorithm can't handle that kind of shit. They can handle plenty of kinds of shit, their own not least, but not that kind.
Well, I rolled up my sleeves when I got home, cursing the marmosets for their impish charms but utter worthlessness as coders (I'll outsource to India next time like everyone else, thanks), and calculated the scores myself. By hand. The end result is that four separate teams had hits today, causing a major shake-up in the standings. And although I triple-checked the math convinced it must be wrong, one of the teams hit BOTH deaths today and is our new leader. He's already insufferable enough as it is. If you're really curious, click on the link to the standings at right.
By the way, a heartfelt "waytago!" to Dawn Summers for keeping up her impressive streak of last place teams in fantasy sports.
Friday, July 06, 2007
Some guy walked into New York, New York casino this morning and started squeezing off rounds. He managed to wound four people before being tackled by several people standing nearby. What I love about the story was this quote from a casino spokesperson: "Guests are being informed that it's business as usual."