Saturday, July 28, 2007

One Week in Photos

Here's a few of the photos I snapped during our weekend in NYC and on the way home from Vegas:

Pauly and the Polar Bears, Central Park, NYC

Alice in Wonderland Statue, Central Park, NYC

Basil Pesto Chicken Sandwich, Riverdale Diner, NYC

View from Our Hotel, Upper West Side, NYC

Mao, MoMA, NYC

Matisse's Fish, MoMA, NYC

Lee Krasner Painting, The Met, NYC

Map by Jasper Johns, MoMA, NYC

Monet's Water Lilies, MoMA, NYC

My natural state of being

Last stop on our way home, Las Vegas, NV

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Anniversary Waltz

I started writing Pot Committed two years ago this month. I had returned to work after taking a week off to play in the 2005 World Series and after some excruiciatingly long staff meeting, I closed my office door, pulled up, and started pecking out a post during my lunch hour. Out of boredom, out of creative suffocation, out of wanting to find someone, anyone who related to what I felt about the game of poker and the roller-coaster ride of emotions that comes with learning it. And over the next six months, I got to know the men and women of the poker blogging community, many of whom have become cherished friends.

I had no idea when I wrote that first post that the Hollywood D-Girl stage of my career was about to come to a crashing halt. Or that this tiny little space on the interwebs could open up an entirely new path for me as a working writer. Or that I'd meet a wonderful man at a homegame called "Murderer's Row" six months later and still be with him today.

The easiest part of my decision to start a blog, actually was naming it. As you all well know, Pot Committed has two very different meanings. And until a few months ago, it represented the two halves of my life. In January, I decided to take my poker content over to PokerWorks because, frankly, it was a paying gig and I needed the money. Though I wrote a lot of stuff I'm proud of over there, I started to feel like a kid with divorced parents shuttling from house to house. I had two houses and two rooms, but there was so much moving around that neither place felt like home anymore. I'm so thankful to Linda for the opportunity and wish her and all the other bloggers (many of them those cherished friends I was talking about) continued success, but I must say, it feels so good to be sleeping in my own bed again.

Welcome back to Pot Committed. Did you miss me?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Jerry Yang, Faith, and the World Series of Poker

"Oh baby I reconsider my foolish notion / Well I need someone to hold me but I'll wait for something more/Yes I've gotta have faith" -George Michael

The once-red carpet that would greet me every morning on my way into the WSOP had faded to a grayish rose from six weeks under the searing Nevada sun. The parking lot, once packed to the edges with the sunburnt vehicles of poker hopefuls was nearly empty on the morning of the final table. The portraits of WSOP winners past came down, one by one and the 230 tables that once filled the Amazon Room have all been broken down and carried away. On Tuesday morning, the Rio was almost business as usual. A retail employees' convention had taken over most of the space in the building and the legions of twentysomething iPodded donkeys that once crowded the hallways were replaced by a few hundred polo-and-khakis weaking conventioneers, all sporting name tags and lugging black computer bags. It's up to them now to get drunk at the Tilted Kilt and donk off money at Pai Gow and keep the hookers in business. Because the WSOP is over, at least for another year.

The final card was burned and turned at about ten minutes to four in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Jerry Yang took his pocket eights up against Tuan Lam's A-Q. A queen flopped and the media let out a collective groan-- if Lam won this pot, we might be here another three or four hours. And then the seven of diamonds came down on the turn. Four more outs for Yang. An eight or a six... an eight or a six. I think the media was praying just as hard as Yang at that moment. Laurie the dealer burned and turned the river. And it was a six! The crowd went nuts, chanting "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" as Yang embraced his family. In one of the most international final tables ever seen in the WSOP Main Event (Russia, Denmark, Canada, South Africa, and the U.S.) Laos-born, Southern California-dwelling Jerry Yang, who had run over this final nine with sheer aggression had emerged victorious.

"It's over?" said Jonno with a shocked look on his face as he flipped off his headphones. He'd been logging data into the PokerNews hand simulator for 13+ hours and couldn't believe this seven-week orgy of cards had finally reached its conclusion. Mean Gene and I took off for the edge of the stage to get a better look at the victory celebration. The handful of passed-out spectators that were curled up on the floor or sprawled across chairs at the back of the Amazon Room stirred and awoke, asking "so what happened on the last hand?"

Jerry Yang gave a thoughtful and soft-spoken victory speech. He thanked God and his family and pledged to donate 10% of his winnings to three different charities-- The Make-A-Wish Foundation, Save the Children, and the Ronald McDonald House. He spoke about how blessed he was to be able to raise his family in America after escaping war-torn Laos as a child with his parents and siblings. Yang told us that he'd use his winnings to provide his kids with a quality education and to give back to the people in his community. And he'd let his wife quit her job.

This display was an incredible contrast from one year ago when Jamie Gold strapped on his bracelet. Yes, he made that cell phone call to his sick father, but at that moment in time, most of us were so flabbergasted at the seemingly unstoppable bout of luck that led to his victory, and had been uncovering stories about Gold's Hollywood agent past over the last several days. A guy who sucked out hand after hand and was producing a reality show called "America's Hottest Mom" was taking $12 million home to Malibu. And a young man named Crispin Leyser was watching this all unfold from the bleachers and would go on to sue Gold for half his winnings less than two weeks later.

In Jerry Yang, poker has possibly the best ambassador we could ask for right now. In a time when our ability to safely and legally play this game is being struck down left and right, we've crowned an educated, religious family man as our new World Champion. To hear Yang tell it, God was watching over him during that final table and it was his faith that paved his way to victory.

Hear that, religious right?

Yang's a small, quiet guy. "He's like Yoda" said Pauly this morning as we watched his victory interview on PokerNews. He was barely on the media radar when we got down to four tables on Day 6 and I couldn't tell you the name of one person inside the Amazon Room that picked him to win it all. Most (myself included) were banking on Lee Watkinson, or Alex Kravchenko or Philip Hilm. Yang's not the guy you'll see making an ass out himself at the tables or tilting off his winnings in the pits or slipping into the elevator with a hooker at 4 A.M. He's a psychologist from Temecula with 6 kids who got into this whole thing on a $225 satellite at Pechanga. He's just a regular guy who took a shot.

* * * * *

I've learned a lot about this game since coming here. I've learned that I'll probably never be a great player, or even a very good one. While I tend to make many more correct decisions than incorrect ones at the table, I will never have the mental and psychological fortitude to truly succeed at it. I'm too emotional, and it's something I cannot change about myself. I get enraged when I get bad beated. And frankly, I don't like feeling that way. When I make poor decisions, I beat myself up about it for hours, even days. And I don't like feeling that way either. I also (and it's embarrassing to admit this) sometimes feel like I deserve to win more than other people. I've put in more time, more months, more years, more dollars, more thought than that ass hat across the table that just hit his five-outer on me. I need the money more. I need the respect more. I need something emotional from succeeding at poker and this is not a game that pays positive emotional dividends. I might be a winning player if I had a different emotional makeup. But unfortunately, I'm stuck with the one I've got. I can continue to work on how I handle my emotional responses to the turn of a card, but I'll never have the blank stare of a Phil Ivey, the icy calm of a Katja Thater, or the cerebral indifference of a Howard Lederer.

Additionally, I do not have the necessary detachment from the value of money that is required to be a winning poker player. Until I have a steady income and am completely out of debt, a bet will never just be a bet. It will be the cable bill, or a pair of shoes, or a roundtrip ticket to New York. I never approach a big money situation thinking it'll yield me a bigger bankroll. I think, "well, I can pay off X or Y." It's a recipe for disaster. It's little wonder that I continually lose. It's little wonder I've never had a decent bankroll. And I'm pretty sure it's just dumb luck that I've ever won a tournament. Even the donkeys get lucky once in a while.

Despite all of this, I still play. I still write about the game for a living. I still think about it, and read books about it and cover major tournaments. All of us in the poker media are in the media for a reason-- primarily that we're not good enough to make a living at the game. This WSOP is the beginning of me accepting that. That I'm not good. And that most of the time I feel like shit after playing.

There are parts of me that are a little bit sick. Like the tourists that stuff quarters into the slot machines weekend after weekend, I'm constantly looking for that big score to solve my financial problems. I worked my ass off for 8 years in Hollywood and never saw any money for it. I worked 80 hours a week to earn barely enough to get by. And in the end, it all amounted to absolutely nothing. I know that bitterness leaks over into my poker game. There's definitely two poker players within me-- the player I was before I lost my job and the player I became in the aftermath of that. Deep within myself I know the only way I'll ever crawl out of debt is to write my way out. That needs to be my first thought when I sit down at the tables. Fuck, it needs to be my first thought when I get up in the morning.

These are the things I have to get over to become a winning player. Not playing K-J offsuit out of position or learning how to make more effective re-steals in late-stage tournament situations.
I have to learn to have faith.

I have 72 hours left in Las Vegas before getting back on the road to Los Angeles. I've never wanted to leave this city more. I miss the cool breezes and the moisture in the air. I miss Showcase and my sister, and the bacon at John O'Groats. I miss the ocean and I miss the cool comfort of my own bed. It'll be a long time before the flashing lights and ding ding dings of the slot machines put a smile on my face.

It's been a helluva ride my friends. But it's time I went home.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

CBS= Bitter, Much?

This article from CBS Sportsline trashing the World Series of Poker as a "celebration of the sad and stupid" is such a trainwreck you have to read it yourself to believe it. It is unbelievably misguided, wrong-headed, poorly researched and full of vitrol from a writer that no doubt, has some piece of unfortunate personal or family history when it comes to wagering. Or maybe he just got his aces cracked one too many times on Poker Stars.

Of course, at no point does this writer address or delineate the difference between playing poker, a game of skill, and pissing away pensions and social security checks on pure gambles like slot machines. Nor does he dicsuss the concept of personal accountability, preferring instead to blithely insult the 50 million Americans who play poker, most of them responsibly. Instead he elects to compare poker players to heroin or crack addicts.

Of course there are poker players that are problem gamblers, just like there are poker players who are serious drug addicts (coughvinnyvinhcough). And there are doctors that are drug addicts and lawyers that are alcoholics, and young heiresses like Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie who are out there driving luxury vehicles under the influence of a cocktail of champagne and pharmaceuticals while America's youth continues to idolize them and voraciously read every detail of their personal lives in publications like Star and US Weekly. And I think there are plenty of us out in the poker media that give ample coverage to poker's dark side-- and do so responsibly.

I'm also almost entirely sure that Gregg Doyel, the author of this uninformed drivel, is blissfully unaware that Jon Moonves, brother of CBS CEO Les Moonves, (a.k.a. his boss) is one of the chip leaders at the "abomination called the World Series of Poker." Over/under on when he gets his pink slip, anyone?

Or maybe, CBS is just bitter that NBC's poker coverage has totally kicked their ass, while they're achieving dismal ratings for the Ultimate Blackjack Tour.

Some choice excerpts:

"High-stakes gambling is for addicts and idiots, which makes the World Series of Poker a celebration of the sad and the stupid. Watch this train wreck for yourself. It's available live on the Internet and will come to free television later this year thanks to ESPN, which can next build on this viewer experience by televising a DUI checkpoint or maybe a crack house."

"But still we tolerate and even celebrate this abomination called the World Series of Poker, this 10-day advertisement for addiction and loss. Now listen. Normally, I'm not one to rail on about the evils of this sport or the dangers of that one. Let boxers box. Let race-car drivers race. Let football players bang helmets. Let UFC fighters fight. This is a free country, and those are legal, noble pursuits even with their inherent risk. Freedom is cool."

Gambling is not. Freedom to gamble is like freedom to inhale crack or inject heroin. You may enjoy it once or twice or a hundred times. You may be that one unlikely person impervious to its evil lure. But in most cases the addiction will eventually win."

"This is the world today. We'd rather not work hard for our fortune. We'd prefer to win it in the lottery or on a game show or at a felt-covered table. This is why U.S. college students are flunking out at an alarming rate as they spend their time hooked to a computer, trying to beat an endless supply of anonymous losers on the Internet."

You got that boys and girls? Freedom is cool, gambling is not. Bare-knuckled fighting is a "legal, noble pursuit" but you're no better than a crackhead if you enjoy playing cards. I'd also like to know his sources on the "alarming rate" at which college kids are flunking out of school due to online poker. Has a study been done? Has he met these kids? Is one of them his? Inquiring minds want to know.

If you'd like to let Mr. Doyel know how you feel about his piece, you can email him. Hurry, before he's unemployed.

The Tinseltown Invasion

Yesterday was Hollywood Day at the WSOP Main Event, or at least it seemed like it in the section I was covering. Todd Phillips, director of Old School, Road Trip, Starsky & Hutch, and Bittersweet Motel (the Phish movie) had a helluva Day 2 and jumped out to the chip lead by mid-afternoon. On one of my trips past his table, I stopped to count his stack and he leaned over and asked me "So, what's the biggest stack in the room?"

"About 300-320K right now."

"Well I've got 342" he boasted, with a smile.

"Then I guess it's you."

Tobey Maguire was also moved into my section, right before the dinner break. He took a seat next to Pot Committed reader and online poker whiz Mandy Baker, who had steadily been building her stack all day. I had a similar experience myself when I played in my first WSOP event in '05. When my first table broke, I got moved two to Tobey's right. I was wearing a baseball cap from one of the Big Man's recent flicks and Tobey asked, "Hey, you work for those guys?" I nodded like a geek and just prayed I wouldn't make a donkey move in front of him.

Montel Williams also played his Day 2 today, but busted out early. I also noticed Nick Cassavetes on the roster and wondered if it was the same dude who directed "The Notebook."

A little-known actress called Deanna Dozier also made it to Day 2. She played today under the glare of cameras and constant media scrutiny despite the fact that no one has ever heard of her. I looked Deanna up on IMDB and she has credits from one episode of MadTV, a bit part in the 2005 Robert Downey Jr. flick Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, and a starring role in the film Girls Gone Psycho, which thus far, has only had a theatrical release in Vietnam.

So, basically, Showcase has more film and television credits than this girl. That's not saying much. And still, every lens was trained on her face. Sabyl Cohen had to make the final 7 tables last year for anyone to sit up and take notice of her. Oh waiiiit.... that's right. Sabyl isn't a petite twentysomething blonde girl. What was I thinking?

I got off work at dinner break and when I got home,I found that I actually had the energy to play a couple of tournaments. I played an $11 6-max NLHE one on Full Tilt. 251 runners, 30 paid, change100 finishes... 37th. Is that just like me or what? You know, if I didn't, I don't know, lose every single coinflip, run queens into kings and get rivered out of 3 pots where I was better than 4-1 on the turn, I might have made twenty whole dollars. I was crushing those fucking donks. Seriously, I don't know anyone with poker luck as foul as mine... except maybe grubby.

At the same time I bought into a $5.50 H.O.R.S.E. MTT. I've been donking around at the very low limits in H.O.R.S.E. cash games for a few minutes a night since coming to the Series. Covering so many mixed game events sort of gave me the appetite for it. 109 runners, 16 paid, change100 finishes... 24th. There goes another 2 1/2 hours of my life I'll never get back.

I've been dead tired for a month now, but I have very rarely wanted to put my fist through a wall. Oh right, that's because I WASN'T PLAYING ONLINE POKER. Or, really any poker for that matter. And when I was playing live? I wanted to put my fist through a variety of clueless old people dribbling off their pensions at the Station Casinos. In the words of my boss, Tony G, I want to "rip them apahht so hahhhd."

Maybe I should talk to my psychiatrist about increasing my dosage when I get back to L.A. Or perhaps it's because I've been smoking maybe 25% of my typical weed intake since the WSOP began. Though I must say, for a girl completely spoiled on California medicinal bud, the product I've enjoyed here in Vegas is pretty damned good. Blueberry, Trainwreck, Hindu Kush, Bubble Berry... excellent stuff.

Day 2B starts in just under ten minutes. 1305 runners will whittle down to about 400 by night's end. Vinny Vinh's stack, blinded down to 3,300 when he took off on his Day 1 dinner break and never returned is sitting on Table 225. There are rumors abound that his backers hired bodyguards to ensure that he shows up. We'll have the skinny on PokerNews, that's for sure.

If you survive today, you have a great shot at cashing. It's time to pump up or go home.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Meeting Mama McGrupp

"So, how should I introduce you?" Pauly asked, as I drove down Flamingo toward Caesar's Palace. "As my friend? My girlfriend? My roommate?" His mother was in Las Vegas for the Fourth of July weekend and we were meeting her for dinner at Trevi in the Forum Shops.

"At this point, do whatever you want, Pauly. Whatevvvvver is easiest for you" was my reply.

Look, there are no questions as to the status of our relationship. We're together. We have been for well over a year. Pauly has met my family a number of times. He's eaten my father's BBQ, watched the Yankees with my mom, treated Mandy to beers and Mexican food. But that's mainly because he's spent a helluva lot more time in Los Angeles than I have in New York.

Well, that and my parents are "normal" (his words).

Over a year in and I had yet to meet Mama McGrupp. Pauly assured me it was for a good reason. All I knew about this woman was that she was five feet tall, chain-smoked, had a wicked New York accent, was overly fond of Amaretto, and never had anything nice to say about anyone.

"Whatever you say, don't tell her you're Irish. Even a little bit. Just stick with German. She hates Irish people because of my father. She could also blatantly insult you at any moment, so be prepared" Pauly warned.

By this point I was terrified. I almost hoped he introduced me as his roommate or colleague. I'd be more likely to avoid a barrage of potentially loaded questions.

"Mama's on the warpath" Derek said as we walked up. Pauly mumbled a response laced in a sort of shorthand only brothers bound by over three decades of struggles with this force of a woman could understand. My stomach had been on the floor since we'd parked the car at Bellagio and walked over the bridge to Caesar's Palace. I could see her staring at me from ten feet away. I turned on my Hollywood smile.

"Mom, this is my friend Nicky," said Pauly (ohthankGod).

"It's a pleasure to meet you Mrs. McGrupp" I said as I extended my hand. I got a limp, cold handshake in return. Pauly's aunt and two of his cousins were with her and they seemed far friendlier. We adjourned to a large round table indoors.

I sat between Derek and Pauly, figuring that was the safest seat at the table. I ordered a glass of Shiraz and Mama McG got a whisky sour-- the first of several.

As I glanced over the menu, Pauly's cousin Meg asked me about working at the World Series. I gave some short, happy answers that didn't give away a lot while Mama stared at us from across the table, sipping her drink. After that, I buried myself in conversation with Derek, trying to avoid eye contact with Mama. She looked suspicious and annoyed.

I ordered a nice Chicken Marsala. Pauly and Derek both got the Veal Parmesan and Mama had the lasagna, deciding that she couldn't order the veal too since both the boys had.

"I'll give you a taste of mine when it arrives, OK Mom?" said Derek, attempting to placate her. She mumbled something unintelligible.

"I met your boss today" Mama said to Pauly. "He said you were a good writer."

"He's a great writer!" I piped up.

Mama looked at me like I had stood up, climbed atop the table, and urinated into the bread basket. My face flushed scarlet and I took a long sip of my Shiraz as I looked around for a hole to fall into.

"The Rio was nice. I thought it would be really seedy where you worked. But it's nice. Not as nice as the Wynn, but it's OK."

"You're thinking of Binions, where the World Series used to be. That's downtown where it's really sketchy" Pauly explained.

"I couldn't find a matchbook there-- I looked all over for a matchbook and tried all the bars but they didn't have any. I want to get one from every casino."

"Well I'll make sure to pick one up for you."

"We went in that, that Poker Expo thing ? And they were spraying this cologne I liked, but he wanted to get out of there so I couldn't get any" she said, glaring at Derek.

"Do you want me to get you some of the cologne?" Pauly said, his patience fraying.

"No. Forget it" she spat.

Thank God the food arrived. The chicken was tasty and it came with some lovely fresh green beans-- at least $200 worth if we're talking in Pauly veggie prop bet terms.

Derek, as promised, sliced off a nice piece of his veal parm and reached over to place it on Mama's plate.

"No! I don't want it! Don't do that! You hate it when I mess with things on your plate, so don't you do it to me!" she barked, out of nowhere. Derek put the veal back on his plate with a sigh.

I must have looked a little shocked at this outburst so Derek leaned over and whispered "Dude... this like, isn't even a 1 on the Richter Scale." Wow.

Mama and I didn't really say anything to each other after that. I finished my meal and she downed three more whisky sours. She didn't touch her lasagna, claiming that she had "lost her appetite" after the veal incident with Derek.

"Here, you eat it" Mama said, passing her plate to Cousin Meg. Meg accepted the lasagna with a smile.

"I'll share some with John too" she said, with a nod to Pauly's other cousin at the table. She sliced the lasagna in half and picked it up with a fork and knife, ready to set it on his plate.

Only it never made it to his plate. Almost in slow motion, the lasagna slipped from the fork-and-knife hold and fell... straight into her purse. Meg buried her head in her hands.

It looked like she might cry, until she started to laugh. Hard. The entire table, even Mama, cracked up as she pulled bit of ground beef and marinara-sauce-stained papers out of her bag.

"So, does anyone want dessert?" inquired the waiter.

"Nojusthebillpleasewhenyougetachance" said Pauly before anyone could interject.

65 minutes after arriving at Trevi, we made our escape. Mama bid us goodbye with little interest and left with Derek and the cousins to go get show tickets.

Pauly charged out of the Forum Shops in his New Yorker walk that requires me to nearly jog to keep up with him. He blasted past the Caesar's poker room.

"No poker?" I asked.

"No. I need to get off tilt."

We headed back across the bridge to Bellagio. We passed their poker room, the gaming pits, and at least two bars before I realized where we were going.

Gelato is the cure for Mama-tilt. I got Oreo, he got Mint Chip.

"So, now you get it, right? The hell I have gone through with this woman for over thirty years?"

"Pretty much."

"And she wasn't even that bad tonight."

"That's what Derek said."

"So you've met her, you happy now?"

"Yes. And we don't have to do it again, I hope for a very long time. But there is one thing though."


"You do look a lot like her."

"Oh God..."

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Tilt Me and Die Hard

Know what's worse than flopping two sets in a row in the $4-8 game at Red Rock and having them cracked both times by the same clueless old man's runner-runner flushes?

Getting bad beat out of your bonus.

PokerNews was cool enough to organize a $10K freeroll for the 30 or so of us that busted our asses for the last 5 weeks at the WSOP. Ten spots were paid, with $2,500 for first.

I played exactly one hand.

Three limpers to me in the 25-50 level. I raise to 300 from SB, Tony G calls from EP, two other limpers call. Flop J-T-blank with two hearts. I lead for 700, Tony G folds, 2nd limper moves in, 3rd limper folds. I insta-call with A-A. He has Q-J offsuit. Turn 9, river 8. IGHN and double up some Dutch dude I've seen like twice the entire time I've been here. He has me covered by 50.

I can't win at this game. Doesn't matter how well I play. Four years at it now. It just never seems to work out for me.

I was on such tilt afterwards I had to pound a Corona and go see LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD just to get off tilt.

And then, as I walked out of the theatre into the rancid heat, I was still on tilt.

Now I'm just waiting to go have dinner with Pauly's mom. Whom I am terrified of, yet have never met.

If I survive tonight without sticking a needle in my arm or jumping off a freeway overpass, well I just might make it out of this town alive.

And now I owe all you fuckers a dollar...