ITH Convention Trip Report

My real life has become impossibly complex in the last few weeks and I had to cut back the travel schedule for the ITH convention to the shortest trip possible. I wound up flying out on Wednesday after work and back on Sunday. My office scheduled a huge presentation for Wednesday morning which ended up in an all-nighter Tuesday night to get ready for it. I was enormously sleep-deprived before I even headed out, which didn’t bode well for the next few days.

My lovely wife (SuitedPair, to my ITH brethren), has far too many virtues to catalog here. Stoic acceptance of the annoyance of air travel is not, however, one of them. In her own words, “I don’t do coach.” Fortunately, I’m a high rolling poker playah and I was able to work out a deal with my frequent flyer credentials and secured spots in the front of the flying bus. Given that USAir only offers a paltry 8 seats on their 757 model, this is not as easy to do as it might seem. As veterans of the Las Vegas travel scene, we knew that you don’t want to check your bags if you can possibly avoid it. Waits of an hour at peak times for the stuff to start dropping down the belt are not uncommon. The plan to do everything in carry-on luggage turned into a plan to buy a bunch of new suitcases somehow. They are really cool and we did get everything on board with a minimum of hassle. The flight out was uneventful, although we did have a remarkably bad flight attendant. USAirways “feeds” you with a basket of various salty snacks in first class unless there will be a meal (there is almost never a meal). Normally, they wave the basket under your nose ten or twenty times during a long flight. Some of the stuff in the basket is pretty good, so I’m always happy to see it. This guy showed it to us as the flight got underway announcing “take as many as you want, I’m not bringing it back” or something similar. He never did. He did have a lot of time to sit in the jumpseat and chill, but no time to bring new drinks or do the basket deal. He also was rude in his announcements and comments to people, somehow managing to make “Thank you for your cooperation” sound threatening. If I wasn’t the laziest guy about this sort of thing, I’d whine to the airline and get him in trouble.

When we landed, I had a voice mail from my man NukeDuke advising me that Matthew had made the final table at the Rio and the rail was ITH city. My lovely bride had reached her limit and asked me to drop her at the hotel first. We had a nice little one bedroom apartment type thing at the Hilton Grand Vacation Club with a kitchen, huge bathroom and seperate living area for which I paid the dirt cheap basic room rate and got upgraded. The Hilton folks really treat me very well on a consistent basis. We were also quite pleasantly suprised to find a bouquet of flowers from Albert (Sandsstorm) along with a nice note thanking me for my help with things ITH. That was a very gracious touch and made me very happy.

Once I sped to the Rio, I was able to determine that Matthew’s event was down to four players and although they may have been very nice, none of them were Matthew. I made some phone calls and got the 53o story from Matthew, congratulated him on his nice showing. I ran into a guy I played with for several hours at the limit event a month or so ago and found out he had made three final tables this WSOP. He complimented me on my play when we were together and we agreed on our obvious superiority to the rest of the table. He was suprised I was a nobody because so many people kept coming up and checking on me and talking to me. He said he thought I must be a pro that just hadn’t made TV yet. I guess that is a good thing. I checked out the cash game action at the Rio, but since the Main Event was winding down, there was very little going on. I watched the last event for a while, which was winding down to last three or four tables and was filled with poker royalty. I wandered back to the hotel when my second or third wind died down at 3:00 am or so.

We woke up a bit too early due to time zone weirdness and goofed around getting provisions and making breakfast and testing out the enormous jacuzzi and wandered off to try to find some ITHers. I talked to Albert on the phone and he told me that a lot of the ITH folks were playing the noon event at the Venetian lately. I had a really bad connection with Leigh (NukeDuke’s wife) and she told me that Nuke and Ammon were heading to the noon tourney, so we boogied to the Venetian to either join in or railbird. Unfortunately, they were playing at Caesar’s Palace. We wandered around the poker room until we were satisfied that we didn’t know anyone there, shrugged our shoulders and ate some noodle soup. We decided to wander over to check out the Imperial Palace and see if there were any ITHers in the poker room. The poker room was not terribly lively, but they offered me a seat at 2/4 so I took it and waited for ITHers to come to me. The play was about as comical as you would expect 2/4 at a minor casino to be and I avoided the worst of the bad beats and chiped up about $100. I was the only one who ever raised pre-flop and the table seemed divided about what to make of me. As you might imagine, none of them adjusted very well. Suited wandered off to play our new favorite Texas HoldEm casino game. After a while, the poker room manager came over and asked me if I was Nsidestrate and conveyed greetings from a railbird who turned out to be Krazytxan. I called her over and we chatted for a while. She is as nice in person as she seems online. I sent her in Suited’s direction. Our conversation about my high-rolling ways seemed to increase the bafflement of the table about me and it really didn’t seem sporting to keep messing with them, so I racked up, wished them all good luck and cashed out. It didn’t seem to be a hotbed of ITH poker players anyhow. I found Suited and Becky ramming and jamming at the table game, where we had a great time chatting away, but a poor result at the casino version of Hold’Em.

We made a brief detour from ITH stuff to meet up with an old friend from high school over some sushi.  The food was only so-so, but it was awesome to catch up with our old bud.  It is funny how our lives have run in parallel.  He is a germ-phobic lawyer, just like Suited and a former professional poker player.  He played pro in between college and law school and it was fun to hear his stories of the old days when stud ruled the planet and everyone had to get Super-System for a small fortune at the Gambler’s Bookstore.  He still plays for fun here and there and it was really cool to find him again.  We’re definately going to hunt him down whenever we’re in town now.

It was soon time to wander up to the ITH kickoff reception and meet and greet my ITH buddies. It was so much fun to catch up with folks from last year and meet lots of new faces. I was very pleased to see Ammbo and his lovely wife in attendance and we had a great time getting caught up. I tried to talk some sense into his wife and get her to flee from the practice of law at top speed. She laughed at the right spots, but didn’t recognize the truth in my words yet. It was a great time meeting everyone and getting my drunk on. The party in the conference center kept on going to the poker room. We played some awesome drunken HORSE. We had to explain how to deal the game to some of the dealers, but they seemed to enjoy the exuberant spirit of the game. I found the Stud round a bit boring, so I added a $2 bounty for the low hand at showdown. I found a reason to throw a chip at NukeDuke several times and unlike the usual donkfest poker, I actually lost chips somehow. It have been that notorious chip thief Hilger who got them, but I seem to remember losing most of them to Leigh (I hope she doesn’t spell it Lee). After it became clear that I should have won all their money, I decided to wander over to the double flop Hold’Em table, mostly because they seemed to get their drinks served faster. I’m not going to say that this was due to Tanya sitting at that table, but it seems possible. Cybrarian and Torch seemed to be the big winners at this discipline.

We eventually wandered off to a craps table that had lots of ITHers making noise, so I threw some money around. Someone new to craps asked me for my strategy and I tried to explain my approach of throwing more money on the table after each roll in a way that made it sound more clever, but failed miserably. I just use a few code words like “odds” and “press it” and the pit guy does whatever I’m supposed to do. All I know is that if someone makes a really long roll, I get a bunch of money. The way I play, I’m paying money out for the first five or six rolls and then I’m getting paid on the rest of them. If the guy goes exactly six rolls, I get my butt kicked. If he goes fifty rolls, I’m kissing Taz and raking in chips. I think I won about $50 at the end of the session, so it was a good, but not great one. Craps is the perfect game for a group of dunken friends, since there is a lot of common goals and shouting.

I’m ashamed to admit that the late hours and excessive drinking caught up to me the next morning and attending the morning seminar / trivia contest was not to happen. I managed to get cleaned up well enough to show up for the first limit tourney at 1:00pm, which felt like early morning to me.

I didn’t make a great showing at the first limit event.  Early on, I missed a lot of hands and got myself in a shorter stack position sooner than I would liked.  Just like all limit events, the blinds rapidly got to a point where no one had room to play on the big bet streets.  I felt that if I could have accumulated a nice stack, I could have really put some pressure on the other players, but I never got there.  I made a nice suckout on Alan Schoonmaker, whose expertise in poker psychology did not prevent me from sucking out on him with a gutshot and overcards to make a broadway straight on the river.  I declared that if I wrote a book on poker, it would be called Sucking Out for Fun and Profit.  I tried to egg Piemaster into some poker psychology book trash talking, but he remained polite and friendly.  Alan also seemed like a very gracious guy.  I bounced out around 18th or so (I think) when JJ was no good once an Ace flopped.

We escaped from the Imperial Palace after a number of folks told us that dining there should be a last ditch option and reappeared in time for the evening NL event.  We had plans for catching the Cirque show of Love, featuring Beatles tunes with JeffNC later that night, so I had decided I was going to be very aggressive early on and try to accumulate chips or bust out.  I got in a terrible situation against Matthew where he pushed all-in when I had an open-ended straight draw.  It was a classic squeeze play and I was sure that he wasn’t very strong.  However, since I had only the draw and no pair, I expected to be a dog.  I had 11 outs twice, but didn’t hit them and was the first one busted.  I’m sure the rest of the table appreciated that I doubled Matthew up early.  I got to chat with some people once I was on the rail, so it was actually a good thing.  Suited also busted early, so we boogied over to the Mirage to play some poker with Jeff before the show started.  I started out at a 10/20 game with BugsBunny which was decent, but beatable.  I got moved to a 20/40 game that was very soft.  The game is played with red chips, so everyone had massive stacks of red chips to splash around with.  When you three bet on the turn, it is a pain to count out 120 in red (24 red chips).  I didn’t do that well at chip handling, but I played good poker.  I lost about $100 at the 10/20 table, but roared back at 20/40 to finish up around $500.  My theory is that the pots got so physically big that everyone would call down with crap because the pot odds were distorted in their minds by the huge pile of chips.  Whatever the reason, I think I could take this game for plenty if I had more time.

The Cirque du Soleil performance of Love was absolutely outstanding.  I first have to acknowledge the technical aspects.   The sound field was amazingly sharp.  There were multiple speakers in each seat and I’ve never heard the Beatles sound better.  The music was remixed by legendary producer George Martin and the results were amazing.  The muddy quality of many of the Beatles tunes were completely replaced by an extremely bright and modern sound.  He also interspersed cut-up bits of other songs into well-known songs that was sometimes brilliantly successful (Octopus’s Garden was one that really worked and there were bits of a million things I couldn’t quite place in Strawberry Fields) and sometimes fell a bit flat (the Revolution transistion into Back in the USSR seemed more like a bad theme park medly transistion).  There was a very strong focus on the later catalog (Sgt Pepper’s, Abbey Road, The White Alblum) and by and large the music absolutely worked.  If you are at all a fan of the Beatles, I think you would have to come away with your love of the music renewed.  The other amazing technical aspect was the stage.  It is a materpiece of motorized hydraulic activity.  Giant hunks of the stage rise and fall, set pieces lit from the ground, pieces slide together and apart and over and under each other in an amazing technical ballet.  The staging was so awesome I was sometimes distracted into thinking about that instead of the actual performances.

Much of the on-stage action was classic Cirque acrobatics and flying, rope and bungee cord swinging stuff with elaborate costumes.  The theater in the round approach meant that many of the pieces were so visually busy that I could hardly deal with all the input.  I found that they worked just fine on the more frantic numbers — the surreal Mr Kite circus seemed right on time.  However, my favorite pieces were actually more simple and lyrical.  The highlight of the show for me was Here Comes the Sun with an almost dance based sensibility.  It was lyrical and full of longing and just seemed pitch perfect to me.  I also adored the Octopus’s Garden, with a few simple characters with amazing costumes and a perfectly executed undersea theme.  While My Guitar Gently Weeps sounded so good I could hardly bear it.  There was a semi-comic rendition of Blackbird as a spoken word piece that was semi-comic and absolutely terrible.  The half-pipe rollerblade demonstration during Help left me cold, but other folks seemed to enjoy it.  All in all, I thought it was a great show.  It had more dazzle than you could count and the music was good enough to forgive the minor slips.  A major plus for me was that there were no mimes disguised as clowns.  That stuff just annoys me.

After the show, we caught some drinks with Bugs and JeffNC.  Bugs and I agreed to meet up and play some more poker after I got Suited loaded into bed.  We tried a number of rooms, but found amazingly little action going on.  We ended up at the Bellagio where I played very shorthanded 30/60 in the wee hours of the night.  This is the first short-handed table I’ve ever played live where the other players had some understanding of correct short-handed play.  I wasn’t too glad to discover that.  When I first sat down there was someone apparently on tilt and playing badly, but he was hitting everything.  That cost me a few hundred.  I was battling back and forth four handed when I decided to rack up and take off.  None of the other three players were bad enough for me to justify playing 30/60 so short-handed.  They pled with me to stay, either because the game would break up or because they thought I was a fish.  Someone else joined in and I got lucky on his second or third hand.  I looked down at QQ and raised it up to three bets preflop against the new player and one other.  The flop came down QQx and my eyes lit up.  I fired off a bet, since a check would look too odd in that situation.  The new guy called and the turn brought a harmless Jack (most cards are harmless when you flop quads).  The new guy liked this Jack just fine, because he check-raised me.  In rapid sucession, we went three-four-five-six-seven bets.  At this point, I figure he has to be on JJ.  It seems like he has to figure me for QJ or Qx, unless he thinks I’m a complete dope who would bet AA this way.  He pauses for a long time and mucks JJ face up.  This hand erases any previous losses and I end up winning a few dollars, although I still don’t think it is a great game.  Once it gets six handed, I don’t feel bad walking away.  I collect Bugs from his table and haul him back to his hotel in the rental car.

The next morning is a bit rough, since I slept about two hours, but I manage to run enough water over my head to wake up and struggle down to the limit tourney.  I go on a very nice run from the outset and manage to bluff and bully and catch cards to a big chip stack.  By the time we get to three tables and take a break, I’m the chip leader of the event.  Unfortunately, the blinds are so high that being chip leader doesn’t last long if you lose a hand or two.  I lose exactly two and I’m now a short stack.  The first hand I had a straight flush draw against Torch, who was banging the whole way down.  I had a million outs so I called all the way down until I had to fold the river since I wound up with something very close to the nut low.  I then got in a bunch of trouble with a blind v blind situation that went badly.   I called a raise in the big blind, check-raised the flop with nothing and fired out on the turn.  On the turn, the SB very reluctantly called.  On some level I thought that was the place that he would either fold or decide to call down, but I still fired one more bet on the river.  After an agonizing think, he called with King high and I was now a short-stack.  I think the bluff was probably worthwhile, because he almost folded, but it cost me a lot in the end.  Shortly therafter, I was in the hand of the event for me (and Nutjob).  Torch had just donked off his stack and was all-in for 2/3rds of the SB.  Iceman raised it up in EP and Nutjob re-raised to 1800 chips.  I “raised” all-in for 1900 chips and both Iceman and Nutjob called.  This resulted in an 800 chip main pot with Torch, me, Iceman and Nutjob and a 5,100 chip side pot with the three of us.  Iceman and Nutjob both had enough chips left to bet or raise, but with no side pot in play between them they had little incentive to do so.  I held AJs, so I think I pretty much had to play there.  Ryan (Iceman) didn’t concern me all that much, since I had seen him raise pretty light, but Nutjob wasn’t three betting there without a hand.  The flop wasn’t ideal, coming down KQx.  Iceman and Nutjob both checked quickly.  The turn was another rag, bringing a flush draw into play.  Check-check.  The river was another Queen, completing a runner-runner flush draw and to my dismay, Iceman fired out a bet into a dry sidepot number 2.  Nutjob immediately mucked JJ face up, figuring Ryan had trip Queens, a flush or a King and his Jacks couldn’t possibly be good.  I stood up, prepared to make my exit, when Iceman tabled AT.  I blinked once or twice and realized that my AJ was good.  I think Ryan thought that I was all-in for the baby pot and that he was bluffing for the huge side pot.  He probably forgot Torch was involved.  I scooped both pots and was now a serious factor in the event again.  Nutjob went for a walk.  I have to say that I was impressed by Nutjob the entire time.  He never blew up and was gracious about the hand every time it came up.  He played well and everyone I spoke to thought he was a great guy to be around.  I really enjoyed meeting him after our mafia adventures.  I then started to bully again and was one of the big stacks at the final table.  I was the chip leader before long and whittled the field down one by one until there were three left.  I called a raise with QT and flopped real good with a QTx board.  It just got better when I turned the full house and wound up getting everyone else all-in with worse hands.  I was quite happy to win an event, even if I should have knocked out earlier.

After the event, a bunch of the ITH employee crew snared Suited and I and invited us to a McDonalds lunch.  They seemed unduly interested in my plans for the afternoon and we wound up having a great time goofing around at the casino hold’em tables.  I figured out why they were keeping me under observation later, but at the time I just thought it was slightly odd.  Under their careful watch, we made it on time to the pizza party prior to the Main Event.  It turns out that I was something of a Guest of Honor at the pizza party and they were making sure I didn’t ditch it.  Albert made a nice speech thanking me for my contributions to ITH and they presented me with a very nice crystal trophy.  It was really touching for me to see the smiles and hear the applause from my fellow ITHers.  One of the absolutely amazing things at the ITH event was to hear everyone talk about what they have gained from ITH and how it has improved their play and made them money and found them new friends.  I had a number of people come up and tell me stories about how much they learned from something I wrote or how grateful they were that the higher limit players would take time to respond to low limit questions.  Since we have all been on the other end of the learning curve, it is really cool to hear stuff like that.  I don’t know if there are a bunch of jerks who post on ITH and don’t show for these events, but I honestly can’t think of a single person I met that didn’t impress me even more in person than they do on-line.  We just have an amazing group of cool folks.  My main regret is that I didn’t get to spend more time with some of the people I met.

I played a bit better at this NL event, hanging around until we reached the all-in fest portion of the evening when the blinds got out of control.  Despite being pretty short stacked, I held on to finish somwhere around 12th place.  I had Niin to my left, so my blind stealing chances were reduced somewhat.  I don’t remember the hand I went out on, but I’m sure I was drawing slim.  Suited made her second final table of the convention, but her Ace-x blind steal in the Cut-Off ran into Royze’s KK on the Button and that was all she wrote for her.  We had a blast listening to Ryan’s outstanding color commentary on the final table and a rather looser and more exuberant Matthew battled Albert heads-up.  Tanya and Becky battled for roles as lead cheerleader and Albert somehow managed to defeat Matthew’s monster 53o on the ultimate hand of the contest.  When Matthew pulled ahead with a pair of fives on the flop, I really thought we were going to get the storybook ending we deserved.  I played with Albert for most of the night and he played very well and was a deserving winner.

It was both more fun and less sleep than I am used to having and I can’t wait to do it all again.  ITH folks are the coolest people in poker.  I’d like to especially acknowledge our Euro friends like Nardo, Piemaster, SteveGriff, Cybrarian and Primitive who came a very long way to hang out and play poker with us.

By Nsidestrate

I'm a hard-core limit ring game poker player who is becoming a degenerate sports bettor. I'm sure it will all make more sense if you read on.