WSOP season!

The start of the WSOP each year is a cause for optimism for poker players worldwide.  Many thousands of aspiring poker players arrive in Las Vegas each year to take their shot.  Maybe they will just play in the Main Event or maybe they will just play in one or two preliminary events or maybe they will play as many events as they can for two months.  All of them harbor the secret fantasy that they will catch fire, make the right moves at the right time, and win a bracelet or three or four.  Will some newcomer arrive and be this year’s Jeff Madsen, winning multiple bracelets and fame and fortune?  Will it be you or me?  We all have those dreams and there is no better time than now, when all dreams are possible and there are no bad beats.

I’m planning to play as many events as I can squeeze in starting this weekend and I hope to be able to report fantastic success to you in a few weeks.  I’ve foolishly accepted money from friends to “invest” in my play.  It is a small percentage of the money I’m putting at risk, but it makes me feel a bit more pressure.  I don’t want to squander their cash.  I feel very sharp and I have been playing pretty well lately.  I think I’m seeing the game as well as I ever have.  If I can just get the right breaks here and there, I hope to report on some good outcomes in the coming weeks.  I’m traveling on my own, so my focus will exclusively be on poker and playing well.

Fingers crossed.


Fear and loathing in Memphis

I met up this past weekend in Memphis for a weekend of BBQ competition and poker playing with ITH stalwart NukeDuke and his far too good for him spouse, Leigh_Leigh. If you have a weak stomach for serious drunken debauchery, stop reading now. I’m not talking about a few too many light beers drunken debauchery, I’m talking about a tale that would make a sailor blush. Things that should only be attempted by a select few frat boys or younger people with extremely capable livers. Things that the four of us should not have attempted. I’ll not bore you with tales of transportation gone awry. Suffice it to say that every single encounter with anyone in the travel business was a disaster in one way or another. Can’t get on this flight, lost that reservation, no name on the fancy name-in-lights board at Hertz, hotel shuttles gone amuck — you name it, it went wrong. We did meet a charming young lady from New Orleans who was so absolutely hammered that she was actually ejected from a plane bound for Las Vegas before it could take off. I believe that it was our shared eyerolls at this unfortunate young woman that doomed us later on. We did manage to get ourselves settled into a room in downtown Memphis and called for Nuke who arrived promptly to ferry us to the BBQ scene in his auto. A bit more promptly than we were prepared for, so we made them wait while we finished a few bites of lunch and Suited did whatever it is that women do in the restroom for days at a time. We were planning to walk back to the hotel, so Nuke and his brother-in-law drove in random circles en route to the BBQ place, pointing out areas of touristic interest along the way. At this point, I must tell you how awesome it was to have connections at the BBQ competition. Much of the festivities center around the private parties that each team holds in their own booth. Thanks to Nuke and Leigh, we were invited for backstage access to Leigh’s brother’s booth. He was a charming and convivial host, pouring drinks for us as soon as we arrived. Within a few minutes, we were introduced to his next door neighbor, who had a booth of her own. She happily invited us to crash at her booth and gave us directions and the secret password to get past the security. These booths were not ordinary stalls. You have no doubt attended some outdoor event where people set up large tents to gather under. There was some of that, but there were also high-rise skyscrapers with three floors of scaffolding and live music, elaborate decorations, full bars and, of course, giant smoke-belching BBQ setups. The neighbor’s booth was one of the high-rise variety. As we set out to explore the vast site, our host poured us all margaritas for the road. Eying our 16 ounce cups full of margaritas, he pronounced them inadequate for the long walk we were facing and poured a liter or so of extra margaritas into an empty booze bottle so that we would not get parched as we wandered along the BBQ pathways. After we walked a short distance, Nuke unexpectedly ran into his cousin, who was in town to visit and party and we now had backstage access to three tents. Score! I should have realized that any party that starts with a liter of margaritas is likely to end badly. There are things that happened that I dare not tell you, there are things that happened that I do not remember and there are things that I remember that did not happen. I will tell you that I believe that I drank every kind of alcohol that is made at some point or another. I had Buds from a giant metal trough and fine Scotch whiskey, jello shooters and full cups of Bourbon, lithesome girls dancing on the bar tilted my head back and poured some sugary rum concoction down my gaping maw. I probably had moonshine and muddy Mississippi river water. If you held it up to me, I would probably have drank it. I don’t think I have been that drunk since college. I don’t think I will ever get that drunk again in my life. There was dancing, earnest and serious conversation about poker, jobs and life, knocking over of tables, violent expulsion of stomach contents (not by me!) pink cowboy hats with rhinestone tiaras (worn by everyone — including people we did not know). Fortunately, Nuke and Leigh seem to have forgiven us for our bad behavior since they were willing to hang out with us the next day. I cannot believe how lucky we were to hook up with them. We would not have had one tenth as much fun without them and probably not even one hundredth as much booze. There is more to say about the BBQ proper, but you guys probably don’t really care and I do have some token poker content to share. The four us got up early and felt super-energetic the next day, so we met for breakfast around 2:00pm. After a sluggish start and about 10 cokes and/or coffees, some greasy food and a really bad waitress, we wandered through the BBQ to watch the judging and what not and then took off for Tunica, MS. We selected the Horseshoe as our room of choice and Nuke immediately settled into a 10/20 game. He snagged rockets in the first hand in his big blind, bombed in bets all the way down and got paid to the river. It was a fine start. I listed for the 20/40 game and the 10/20 game for good measure. The women arranged dinner at an excellent steakhouse (truly first-rate). Unfortunately, the only available time was 20 minutes from when I was seated, but we dealt with it. After some maneuvering to protect our seats for the longest possible time, we hoofed it to dinner. The steakhouse featured mutant versions of everything — shrimp the size of cats, baked potatoes the size of basketballs (this particularly troubled Suited, who seemed to think it might turn her into PotatoWoman or something). The food was quite good and helped to turn the corner for me and make me feel human or nearly so. We timed it perfectly and arrived in the poker room just as the floor was preparing to rack up our chips. There was some grumbling when I played about 4 hands and was offered a seat in the 20/40 game. I moved over there and found a shockingly soft game. There was a husband and wife who did not seem troubled by any fancy book learning on poker and the usual array of B&M players who think they are masters of the game. The only bad thing was that they all knew each other very well, so they had a few advantages I did not. It was pretty easy to figure out who had what reputation by watching closely and I got into the rhythm pretty quickly. With lots of action, especially pre-flop and on the flop, it was easy to lose $200 at a time if you went to showdown. I lost a fat pot with QQ to Aces-up when he rivered an Ace to pass me and dropped a number of small pots and stole one or two. I was down about $400, when I caught a flopped two pair with AJ and got a ton of action from an Ace-rag player who had a worse two pair. I then started to figure out whose blinds to target and chopped up a gain of about $600 at my peak. I then went cold, mostly missing flops and big draws and fell down about $200 after a few hours. The table got short and I stopped chopping (they all seemed to be fine with it, since we were short-handed). They mostly played very bad short-handed, like most live players. They also didn’t like it and one by one, they started to wander around the casino until there were just two of us left. He agreed to play heads-up and I was steamrolling his nicely, when the floor ruined my fun by finding him a new game to play. Heads-up was awesome, because the house stopped taking rake and he had absolutely no answer for my aggression heads-up. I won about $500 heads-up and was up $100 or so when I ran out of people to play. They took me back to Nuke’s 10/20 table and I finished the night there. The 10/20 game was actually much tougher than the 20/40 game and I got involved in too many pots and was feeling the effects of last night’s heavy schedule of drinking and excused myself around midnight down $75 for the night. Fortunately, Suited was dominating the $4/$8 game and more than covered my losses, so we cashed out up a few bucks. I forget the exact total, but it was more than enough to cover our elaborate dinner. We said our goodbyes and limped home, exhausted but well-fed and in need of a liver transplant. Nuke and Leigh were the absolute nuts — we had the best time we’ve had in years, thanks to their local connections and charming company. We’re thinking of making it an annual event (but don’t tell them yet).


LOL Donkaments turns into cash for kids

A stray smartass chat comment to Barry Greenstein in a PokerStars chat window asking him to say “donkaments” on TV got the reply from Barry that he’d be happy to say it for $10,000.  If this was an ordinary poker story, that would be the end of it.  But when the guy reported the conversation on 2+2, several people claimed they would pony up some bucks for the cause.  Sure enough, Barry managed to say it on national TV and the folks on 2+2 came through with a pledge drive that ultimately raised $45,000 for Children, Inc, a Richmond-based charity that supports needy kids in our country and abroad.  I put up a post on ITH that raised the last few dollars and ended up with a personal note from Marian Cummins, the CEO of Childrens, Inc inviting me to stop by their offices for a visit.  I did so and promised to share my story with Barry when I next saw him at the World Series of Poker in June.  The other night, I got a call at home from Marian who said she had spoken to Barry and that he hoped I could write up my experiences and post them sooner than that, as he was eager to read about it.  What follows is my account of the experience as posted on 2+2 (although I have taken the liberty to fix a few of the more egregious errors in the original post).

I received a nice letter from Marian Cummins at Children, Inc when I donated a few bucks to them after Barry gave his “LOL Donkaments” shoutout. I figured it was better to give some cash to the kids than to payoff some donk chasing his gutshot on Stars. Since I live in Richmond, Marian invited me to stop by and visit their offices. I gave her a call and made arrangements to skip out of work early last Friday and drop in on them. I’m not exactly a IRS auditor and I know virtually nothing about how to run a charity, but I can always use a few hours away from work, so I thought it would be interesting to meet with them and see what they were all about.

When Friday rolled around, I drove up to their offices off the interstate tucked behind one of the old money Richmond neighborhoods. I hadn’t called them to confirm I was coming and I managed to forgot Marian’s last name as I was driving over, so I was already feeling stupid, since I was going to have to explain what I was doing there to the receptionist.  The story sounded a bit odd and awkward as I rehearsed it in my head and I was trying determine how to explain my situation to the receptionist without looking like a complete goober. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. As soon as I opened the front door, there was a large sign welcoming me by name like some kind of VIP. I smoothly pointed to the sign and told the receptionist “That’s me!” She greeted me warmly and I was soon surrounded by Marian Cummins who is the CEO and Peter Pastore who is the COO. Marian is lovely woman who has been with the organization for a long time and has an easy southern charm that makes you feel comfortable right away. Peter had more of a business background, which became clear when he handled the PowerPoint pitch later on. It was immediately obvious how pleased the entire organization was by the unexpected donation sparked by Barry and made possible by all of us. They were so kind and grateful to me that I really wish all of you could have shared in the reception. I’ll try to do my best to explain what it was like so you can live vicariously through my trip. Although Barry has visited some of the programs in the field, he hasn’t been to the offices in Richmond, so I got the royal treatment afforded to big deal donors, despite my minor role in the whole process. Although the people were so cool, it is quite possible that I would have received the same warm greeting if I just put up $28 a month to be a regular sponsor.

It turned out that the receptionist was the lady who first received the emails that fateful Monday morning. When she told me that she was shocked to find 45 emails (or however many) waiting for her, I teasingly asked her if that was more than usual for a Monday. Her eyes got wide as saucers and she said “Oh my, yes!” It was awesome. Marian explained to me that word travels very fast in such a small office and they all were immediately excited about it. It was obviously a big boost to them on a random Monday. She said that they were all following the BBV thread with great interest that week and they all were completely fascinated by the whole process. If they were freaked out by any other BBV threads, they never let on.

They gave me a tour of their facility and introduced me to everyone who was at work. I met the people who handle the correspondence to the sponsors, the lady who processed all the credit card payments, the PR lady, the accounting guy and pretty much everyone. Virtually every room is named for a key supporter of the charity. Peter’s office is the “Barry Greenstein Room.” I got a picture of the plaque. The office is plastered with newspaper clippings and stories of the kids they have helped and Marian delightedly shared each story with me as we passed them one by one.

They call us “Barry’s Bloggers” which caused one of the younger staffers to roll his eyes. I’m guessing he has tried to explain to them the difference between forum posters and bloggers more times than he can count. I told him I was actually both so I had no objection to the loose use of the term.  Marian admitted that she still used it even though she knew it wasn’t technically accurate because she liked the alliteration.

I already felt very pleased by the whole experience and thought our tour was drawing to a close since we had worked our way through the building, when Peter announced that all of the division heads were assembled in the conference room and that they were waiting for us. I got treated to the full presentation of how the charity is organized, their history and a summary of the projects they work on. It was fascinating, exciting and depressing all at once. They divide their programs by region, with someone for the inner city projects, Appalachian, Latin America, American Indian, and Overseas. They explained the nuts and bolts of how their operation works and answered my questions, no matter how stupid, patiently. They have a network of local coordinators and agencies that facilitate almost everything. This gives them local knowledge and the ability to make the right decisions on the scene. They told me an amusing story about the coordinators in Appalachia. They are all volunteers and at one point Barry toured the operations in the field and was so impressed with the work of the volunteers and the relative hardships that they had to endure that he designated a portion of his donation to be granted directly to the volunteers themselves so that they might get a modest improvement in their own lives.  They explained to me that that the volunteer coordinators in these depressed areas were usually struggling to get by just like most people and how gracious it was of Barry to earmark money to go to those overworked men and women.  With a laugh, the lady who manages the Appalachian division said “Of course, almost all of them gave that to the kids too.”

The obvious enthusiasm and pride these folks have for the good that they have done was contagious and their resolution in the face of unrelenting poverty that threatened to overwhelm me with depression in just an hour or two was inspirational. I don’t know whether to be more disgusted by the fact that we have kids who can’t afford shoes to go to school or medicine to get rid of their lice in such a rich and powerful country as our own or by the even more crushing poverty in the third world. They explained a lot of places where the specific donations from the Donkaments fund were helping them and even more places where Barry’s contributions have made a real change. The approach that they have is probably the only way to navigate in an imperfect world. One step at a time, one child at a time.

I really liked these people that I met and they were clearly making a big effort to show me that our contributions have made a difference. They explained how they are able to use funds like ours to react quickly to unexpected needs. They explained to me that in the Appalachian division they probably get one family a month whose trailer burns down and needs unexpected replacement of the kid’s clothing and shoes and so on. Because the sponsorship money always goes to the designated child, funds like ours give them the ability to react quickly to those kinds of needs.

I wish you all could have been there. It isn’t often that you get to feel like you are doing some good in the world. This is a good and dedicated group of people and they were sincerely grateful for the good deeds that you all have done. I don’t kid myself that we are going to eliminate child poverty, but we are at least going to go down swinging.


I guess my blog isn’t *completely* dead

I’m definitely feeling like poker is starting to run its course for me.  I don’t usually stay interested in anything this long, so I suppose this is some sort of record anyhow.  At the moment, I plan to play four or five events at this year’s WSOP, including the Main Event.  I expect that I will stop playing on a regular basis soon thereafter.  I’ll probably always play some poker here and there, but my love for the game is clearly fading somewhat.  Unless my life situation changes dramatically and I quit my job to concentrate on poker (which is beyond unlikely) I don’t think I’m destined to keep at it for much longer.

I feel like I am always one of the better players at the table in most every setting I have played and I feel like I’m still learning new tricks at the same time.  Poker is a wonderful way to sharpen your thinking because there are so many subtle things to master.  I’m not willing to continue to devote the study time it will take to get beyond my current skill level at this point.  I also feel like I’ve beaten every level I’ve played up to 30/60 and my brief attempts at 50/100 have also been profitable, although I don’t have nearly enough data to be sure I would win at that level in the long run.  One of my strengths has always been an ability to watch the play of others and evaluate to what extent they are making mistakes that cost them expectation.  I find that the mistakes I see at limits 30/60 and up are not as frequent and not as costly as they used to be.  I really do believe that the golden age of internet poker is over.

I’m pretty certain that I’m also going to stop posting on ITH.  I still really love the site and think that I’ve met some really great people there, but if I’m not playing poker so much it doesn’t make as much sense for me to be there.  I’m pretty sure I’m going to make it to 20,000 posts and make my exit at a nice round number.  I expect to attend the ITH meet-up this fall and I’ll still talk to ITHers from time to time when I go to Vegas or get invites to local meet-ups, but I’m clearly starting to burn out on the whole deal.

Of course, if I win the Main Event, everything is out the window.  I suppose I’d manage to keep playing poker then!  I have received a number of requests from people who want to buy a piece of my action at the WSOP and I guess I’m going to sell some of it, since a proper bankroll for 10k events is probably something like three million bucks.  For whatever reason, some of my real-life friends are obsessed with owning a piece of my action and some of the forum folks have also expressed a strong interest.  It feels odd to sell stakes, but I think if I do it by suggesting that they shouldn’t do it, I can find a way that doesn’t make me feel wrong.