Friday, December 26, 2008

2008: The Year that Was

I took a page from Pauly and Benjo's books and put together a collection of photos I took during 2008 over the course of nearly 80,000 air miles traveled. I so enjoyed reminiscing about my travels as I searched through my largely disorganized photo albums; hell, I even laughed to myself as I remembered puking on the airplane from which the second photo was taken. Enjoy them.

Byron Bay, Australia.

Near Queenstown, New Zealand.

Red Rock Canyon, Nevada.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Monte Carlo, Monaco

Denver, Colorado

San Francisco, CA

Barcelona, Spain

London, U.K.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bluff Readers Choice Awards: Vote for Pauly!

Hey guys-- take a minute of your time today and go vote in the Bluff Magazine Readers Choice Awards. My beloved and the Tao of Poker are up for best poker blog. The rest of the categories cover online poker rooms, live poker rooms, televised poker broadcasts and your favorite players. You could win a weekend at the WSOP Poker Academy or a year-long subscription to the pokerdb just for casting a vote.

Vote early. Vote often. Vote Tao.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Run-Good Challenge 2: Kid Dynamite Wrests Crown Away from your Humble Hostess

I've never been an actual bridesmaid and if I were a religious person, I'd thank God every day for that. I watched that dreadful Katherine Heigl movie 27 Dresses on cable a few weeks ago and was reminded how lucky I was to never have had to wear a foul taffeta confection and stand at an altar while one of my girlfriends promised to love, honor and cherish. While I played in the Run-Good 2 Grand Final, dozens of weddings went off in the city of Las Vegas-- and one of them was the legal union of two of the best people I've had the pleasure of meeting through the poker blogging world. Gracie and Sweet Sweet Sweet Pablo were certainly on my mind as I sat down to play in our suite at the MGM Grand.

Before he went downstairs to play his numbers for the day, Professional Keno Player Neil Fontenot spun some heady tunes to get us into the right frame of mind since we both had a lot of money on the line here. Lots of STS9, down-tempo house and Phish bootlegs. I was psyched to see the guys at PokerListings had set up a nice double-stack structure for the tournament; I tend to do much better with larger starting stacks than the typical online poker 1,500 chip pushfests. With a bowl full of Swiss Cheese by my side, I moved headlong into the foray.

Kid Dynamite got off to a huge start, claiming nearly half of the Poker Shrink's stack on the first hand when his A-K outkicked Shrink's A-J on a raggy, ace-high board. KD took a significant chip lead over the rest of us and pretty much wouldn't have to look back for the rest of the tournament. I employed my typical weak-tight ninja strategy in the first few levels-- seeing cheap flops, check-folding them when I missed (which happened nearly 100% of the time over the first 50 or so hands), and adopting homeless heads-up pots. Finally I picked up my first real hand, 9h-9s, in the big blind, but ended up folding it to an early position raise from KD, a flat-call from Michele Lewis and a three-bet from Benjo. I would have flopped middle set when it came down Ad-9c-4c, but it turned out that I avoided disaster. Benjo, Michele, and KD all checked the flop. When the turn came the 5c, KD fired out 900, Michele folded and Benjo shoved for his remaining 1,685. KD didn't have much of a decision and called the extra 785. Benjo had top pair with Ah-Jd, while KD had straight and flush draws with 3c-3d.

Bang! 2s on the river and the Tao of Pokerati star unfortunately earned Gigli honors as KD made a wheel. Benjo was multi-tasking-- playing the Run Good while simultaneously doing French-language commentary for PokerStars' EPT Live broadcast from Prague. He even had fans railing him! They said things like this:

"Gl benjo lol... a part le premier mail j'ai eu aucune reponses"

Roughly translated that means "good luck you snail-eating donkey anus."

(Actually, I don't know what the hell that means)

I picked up As-Ac on the very next hand and raised Spaceman's limp to 4BB. He called and we saw a Qc-6c-2s flop. I led out and he wisely folded. I played maybe two or three small pots as we approached the first break. Most if not all of them were against Spaceman and though I wish I could say I bluffed the shit out of him or pulled some crazy move-- I actually flopped a couple of hands.

Poker Shrink was the next to bust, at the hands of the unstoppable KD. Shrink shoved a J-T-7 rainbow flop with his A-K, but KD made the call, having outflopped the doctor with A-J. I was able to claim a few of those chips from KD a short while later when I was dealt my favorite hand-- T-8 suited. Of course I had to play it. And man, did I play it badly.

With blinds at 75-150 I opened for 450 with Th-8h and KD called from the small blind. The flop was A-9-7 rainbow and KD checked it over to me. Looking back on the hand and the range KD could have flatted me with in that spot, I should have led out with my draw. Small pocket pairs are likely to fold there and if he did have an ace, there's a good chance he would check-raise and I could have either gotten away from it, or three-bet shoved him, potentially making him fold a weak ace. Instead, I checked behind and got a free turn card. It was the Ac, putting two clubs out there. KD bet 450, a little less than half the pot, and I called (now my internal dialogue sounds like this-- "Fuck, fuck I should have bet the flop!"). The river came the 8d. He checked and I checked behind. KD showed Ks-Qh and I narrowly escaped with the pot. After the hand, I was third in chips behind KD and the Luckbox.

I continued my streak as Spaceman's nemesis when I busted him out in 7th place. I opened Ks-Qs for 450 from UTG and everyone folded around to Spaceman, who shoved 1,755 from the big blind. Getting 1.8-1 on my money I had to call and ended up in the race situation I thought I was in. The 8-high flop was good for Spaceman, but I spiked a king on the turn to take him out on the money bubble.

In the first edition of the Run-Good, we ended up with an all-female final three, comprised of myself, Amy Calistri, and Michele. Unfortunately, the sizzling Texan was eliminated in at my own hands, in some estrogen-on-estrogen violence. Crippled on an earlier hand where she flopped trips and Luckbox turned a full house, Michele shoved her last 620 with A-T and I called 420 more with K-J in the big blind. I rivered a king and eliminated the cougar in 6th place.

In the inimitable words of Mike Matusow, "Poker, poker, it's all skill."

Down to 5 players, Amy was the short stack and she channeled her inner run good to double up a few times after being down to the 3-5 BB range, first with 8-9 against KD's A-K, then with A-2 against Luckbox's K-7, and finally with A-K against my 7-7.

"She's like Rocky vs. Drago" said Kid Dynamite, who was ultimately her executioner when his K-K held up against her 6-6.

Down to 4 players, chip stacks looked like this:

Seat 1: Kid Dynamite (9615 in chips)
Seat 6: change100 (5085 in chips)
Seat 8: Matt Showell (3350 in chips)
Seat 9: Luckbox (8950 in chips)

I had taken a decent hit after making a big laydown to the Luckbox (I had tens, he told me after the hand he had aces). I hovered around 5,000 for a while before picking up pocket eights and seeing a 4-3-3 flop against KD. I shoved over the top of his lead bet and picked up about 2,000 on the hand. Things started looking bad for KD when Matt Showell doubled through him after flopping a set of jacks.

"i can't believe i'm going to finish 4th in this" lamented KD.

Now I was more or less card dead, save for one hand where I picked up A-J suited and folded to KD's shove after I three-bet him pre-flop. KD was back in business after that with over 8,000. Down to 4,000 I open-shoved Qd-Jd and Matt called with T-T. I couldn't have asked for a better flop than Q-rag-rag with two diamonds and a jack on the turn. Poor Matt was down to only 400 and busted two hands later.

With Luckbox, KD and I all in the 8k-10k range we did a chop for the majority of the prize pool and left some on the table for the winner. With all of us now going hardcore for first and no real difference between second and third, Luckbox went crazypants aggressive the earliest. I opened Ad-8d from the small blind and folded to his three-bet, which knocked me down a rung and left me in push mode. Luckbox got it all in before I could pick up a hand, though, his K-J succumbing to KD's A-K to eliminate him in third place.

Heads-up starting stacks looked like this:

Seat 1: KidDynamite (22205 in chips)
Seat 6: change100 (4795 in chips)

So, yeah. I was pushing or folding and praying for a double-up, and got it with my A-2 sucking out on KD's 6-6. My final hand, though, came when I open-shoved K-6 and KD called with A-T. No second suckout and Kid Dynamite captured the title. Congrats, man!

Thanks again to my favorite Canadians, the boys at PokerListings, both for sponsoring this tournament and for inviting me to play in it. I enjoy the good-natured competition with writers and players I respect as well as the world stage on which to showcase my extraordinarily mediocre poker skills.

* * * * *

That morning at 5 a.m., before we finally went to bed, Pauly showed me some video from Gracie and Pablo's wedding. I cried. Then I watched it again. And cried again. Good tears.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Online Poker

I have registered to play in the PokerStars World Blogger Championship of Online Poker!

This PokerStars tournament is a No Limit Texas Hold’em event exclusive to Bloggers.

Registration code: 485514

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


I've lived 150 miles from the Mexican Border for about 85% of my life. Yet I had never ventured south of it until this week. As a high-schooler, I was too much of a dork to rise to the level of rebellion required to make an illicit weekend trip to Tijuana. In college, I was too stoned and miserable to care. In my twenties I was trapped in my office and didn't go much of anywhere, and in the three years that have passed since I left the 9-5 life, my debauchery has spread from Las Vegas to Key West to Amsterdam to Sydney... but never Mexico. Then (in Las Vegas, ironically, over fajitas) Otis hired me to cover the LAPT Nuevo Vallarta for PokerStars and Pauly got the green light to take the reins on this one for PokerNews. After the bleary weather and odd food I'd encountered in Poland, this assignment seemed like a vacation.

80 degrees. All-inclusive resort, meaning nonstop free food and drinks. Beautiful ocean. Magnificent sunset. Reuniting with other friends that comprise the marauding band of travelling poker media. Greg Raymer's smiling countenance looking down at me from a life-size poster next to the check-in desk, as it does on every tour stop from Scandinavia to Latin America. The waiver we're told to sign, stating that we promise not to gamble.

Say what?

Did the Federales know the sums Pauly and Otis had previously wagered on the toss of a lime? Would they come leaping out of the bushes should we engage in a few friendly hands of Chinese Poker? I've had to sign all broadcast and print rights to my own image away upon arriving at a poker tournament. I've been Polaroided, had my passport scanned, even been required to apply for casino membership before being allowed inside a tournament venue. But, as I would quickly realize-- those events all took place in countries where gambling was legal. Not here.

"So, you are the Pauly!" exclaimed Danny, the Brazilian reporter for PokerNews' Portuguese-language site. He was a fan of the Tao, and Pauly checked off yet another foreign country where he was recognized by a fan.

We were at the PokerStars welcome party. Waiters milled around carrying trays of Margaritas, Daquiris, beer, and shots of tequila. A few hundred twenty and thirty-something guys in Stars swag wandered around, picking at the buffet as a mariachi band performed onstage. Some guys were doing a rather energetic dance where they clanked two knives together as they high-kicked. I wondered how much I'd have to pay either Pauly or Otis to try it.

It was Otis' birthday that night. We made sure to tell that to the Mexican chick with the whistle who was pouring shots of tequila down peoples' throats. Otis got an extra-long pour. Pauly took one too, though most of the tequila ended up on his shirt. She came after me, but I waved her off. She persisted.

"I just got out of rehab!" I blurted, finally chasing her away.

I crashed early that night, leaving Pauly and Otis to bond like men do. At about 3 a.m., the sound of the room door shutting woke me up. Pauly stumbled in and crawled into bed. He smelled like tequila and cheap beer. The stench oozed out of his pores. I tried to kick him out and make him sleep in the other bed but he passed out and thankfully, rolled over in the other direction.

The next afternoon, the tournament got underway smoothly and on time. Shirley Rosario, whom I'd coincidentally been seated next to on my flight down here, was playing, as was PokerStars Brazilian blogger-turned sponsored pro Maridu. I'd written a few short features and had finally gotten the hang of posting to the blog when, as most of you already know, the tournament was suspended with 89 out of 242 players remaining.

I won't go into the drama of the next 24 hours out of respect for PokerStars, my employer on this assignment. But, as Otis said on his blog, I'm pretty sure you know where to look for that part of the story.

* * * * *

I slept in on Sunday morning and found myself watching NFL games in our room at a time I thought would be spent covering the final table. We had both FOX and CBS but the commentary was in Spanish. The Giants were "Los Gigantes," the Cowboys "Los Vaqueros." When a reciever dropped a pass, the announcers would call "pasado incompleto!"

Eventually, I wandered outside and sat under a palm-frond umbrella with a book. I sat there and read for an hour. A group of fortysomething guys sat next to me. From the way he was talking, I could tell that one of them had been among the 89 players who had ended up cashing the tournament.

"I got $7,900, I'm sitting on the beach and I'm not in Ohio!" he said, holding his bottle of cerveza aloft.

Pauly wandered outside a few minutes later. He had ten minutes to make a decision. Should we stick around for another 24 hours, or get on the last flight out tonight?

I didn't really care. I was on the beach reading a book. I was sitting in 80 degrees and going home to 75. I didn't have a deadline to worry about for several days. There was free beer at a bar 20 yards away.

He confessed, though that he was getting a bad vibe about the place.

"Like when we saw that three-legged dog in Nimbin?"

"Sort of," he replied.

"Then let's go home."

Six hours later, we touched down at LAX. And though he typically has little more than thinly-veiled disdain for my city, this time he saw the freeway lights and smiled.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Run-Good: Dominating the Also-Rans

It's 70 degrees and sunny outside right now. A sparkling Southern California day. Just like the one before it. And I've spent the majority of the weekend indoors, hunkered down writing. The rest of the country can collectively give me the finger right now.

The majority of yesterday, however was spent on the virtual felt, first playing in the second week of the Poker Listings Run-Good Challenge 2, followed by my weekly $11 PLO donation at Saturdays with Dr. Pauly.

Last week, in the first Run-Good tournament, I was clawed by the Cougar, her A-K brutally cracking my A-A with runner-runner Broadway to bounce me out in 9th. She went on to cash in third place, behind Matusow biographers Poker Shrink and Amy Calistri, who went 1-2 respectively. When I checked out the recap on Listings, I was surprised to see I'd picked up one point-- at least I was on the board.

I started off this week's event pretty strong. I flopped good, hitting a set of sevens against Michalski for a nice early pot, then flopped sevens full against him only a few hands later to claim the rest of his stack. Now armed with one of the larger stacks at my table, I started raising a lot of hands, but didn't get much action, save for Luckbox re-popping me from the button when I opened J-T suited in the cutoff. I folded and was really card dead after that, save for picking up A-Q suited and whiffing the flop. Ultimately I open-shoved about 10BB from the cutoff with A-9 suited, Luckbox re-shoved on the button with tens, and I couldn't improve, despite picking up a flush draw on the turn. I was out in 6th, but picked up a few more points.

After I was eliminated, we were left with four short stacks and Benjo, the Eurodonk chip vacuum. The voice of French poker mowed down the field after getting off to a roaring start when his Q-Q snapped off Kid Dynamite's A-A with a two-outer on the river. As Benjo reported on his blog, his friend Davidi Kitai, a Belgian poker pro, was standing behind him and summoned all his infamous luckdonk powers to conjure up that Queen on the river. Congrats to everyone's favorite Frenchman on a spectacular victory. That $600 USD should be able to buy him two baguettes, a pack of cigarettes, and a lap dance.

With Week 1 point heavies Poker Shrink, Amy, Michele, and Luckbox going deep again and Benjo's win, the five of them have essentially locked up five of the six seats in the Grand Final. As the Poker Shrink wrote on his blog:

"There will be a wild scramble for the remaining three open spots with
Change100 holding a dominating position among the also-rans."

I like dominating the also-rans. I guess it worked for me last time.

After the Run Good, it was on to Saturdays with Dr. Pauly. It's no secret I totally suck at PLO and I'm usually a lock to be one of the first 10 players out. This week, though I actually made some hands early and even held the chip lead for a while, but ended up bubbling. I think it was like the fourth or fifth time I've bubbled this tournament. Boooooooooooo.

I looked up at the clock and it was nearly 4:00. The sky was already darkening, the day having nearly slipped away. Which is when I decided to hunker down and spend the rest of the evening writing as movies I've seen a thousand times like Speed and Juno played out in the background. Lately I've been working on an old project like my life depends on it. Well, actually it kind of does.

I'll leave it at that.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Gobble, Gobble

I am so in love with this picture. Aren't they soooooo cute?

Hopefully by 6 p.m. PST I'll have a head full of chardonnay and be able to join in the pokery festivities while wading in a tryptophan haze. That is, if my parents can get their shit together and get the food out in time.

This year, color me thankful for another year not spent in a cubicle, the opportunities I've had to travel, my family's continued good health, and especially, for that guy on the right with the missing tooth. On a day when my worst fears were entertained, he ended up walking away from a car wreck without a scratch on him. I can never repay the universe enough for that one.

Happy Thanksgiving, my fellow Americans. And all you Eurodonks--enjoy fleecing the drunk Yanks on PokerStars tonight. I hope to be there with you.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tales from the Hooker Bar and Other Tuesday Pimps

I'm still in Warsaw and have finally found some edible food in the form of a chicken, proscuitto and parmesan sandwich on whole grain bread sold at a local coffee shop for only 9 Zlotys ($3 U.S.!). We'll set the final table today, play it tomorrow, and I'll be on a plane back to my fire-scorched hometown on Thursday. Pauly said the air in L.A. is so bad he can't even open the windows in our apartment, despite the blazes being over 40 miles away on either side of the city. Yiiiikes. Dana and I will be doing the play-by-play over on Poker News.

Speaking of my beloved, he's penned one of his best pieces in recent memory. I was present for at least some of the antics at the hooker bar last week in Vegas, but the really juicy shit went down after I went upstairs to pass out at 5 a.m. Hit up the Tao and check out Existentialist Conversations With Hookers: Maelstrom at the Hooker Bar.

Both of us will also be playing in the second edition of the Poker Listings Run-Good Challenge starting this Saturday. As you may know, I miraculously took down the first edition last month, defeating everyone's favorite cougar Michele Lewis heads-up and will be back to defend my title. This round is going to be a wee bit more difficult with pros like Liz Lieu, Lacey Jones and Matt Stout in the mix. Some of your favorite bloggers (and mine) will also be playing, including Luckbox, California Jen, Dan Michalski, Benjo, Amy Calistri, Poker Shrink, Short-Stacked Shamus, Spaceman, and Kid Dynamite.

And now, it's time to head downstairs and watch some Scandis check-raise each other into oblivion...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Polish Observations

In the last few days, I've covered the WSOP Main Event final table, driven the 280 miles from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, and had a 16-hour stop at home to do laundry and re-pack before getting on a plane to Poland to cover the EPT Warsaw. Until this morning, I was cranky, starving, and jet-lagged to say the least. I finally feel somewhat human again, due in no small part to the excellent coffee here in the media room.

As for Vegas, I thought the Main Event final table was a success from a spectator standpoint. Amidst a climate in the U.S. where the poker boom is essentially over and mainstream interest in the game wanes by the day in the face of a slumping economy, there were thrilling hands, spectacular suckouts, and for the most part, great poker was played. Ratings for ESPN's "plausibly live"telecast were up over 50% from last year and nobody got whacked during the 117 day break so I'd bet on another delayed final table next year. Me? I'm just glad the damn thing is finally over.

The real highlight of that weekend in Vegas were the late night hijinks with fellow bloggers, which Pauly has written up in his inimitable manner over on the Tao of Poker. Go read Emissaries from the Land of Indulgence because it's better than anything I could write about that weekend.

And now, some observations from my first day in Warsaw:

In Poland, I easily pass as a local. In most of the European locales I've frequented (Barcelona and Monte Carlo especially come to mind) I kind of stick out and instantly appear American. Waiters in restaurants, hotel concierges and cab drivers take one look at me and start speaking English, despite my attempts to communicate in the local tongue. Here, where my pale skin and blonde hair cause me to blend in quite well, people just start rambling at me in Polish, a language which to me sounds like Russian spoken with a heavy lisp.

Polish food is scary. I've been on what my friend and fellow reporter Owen calls the "EPT Starvation Diet" since landing here - which I'm cool with. Between the added walking and the significantly decreased food consumption I usually drop 4-6 pounds per EPT event and consider that an added bonus. On my first morning I was up in time for the hotel's breakfast buffet and was sufficiently horrified at the spread, which consisted of several strange cold salads, a fish terrine, egg rolls, mini hot dogs, cold-cut salami, a selection of cheeses, and very stale toast. I'm usually a pretty adventurous eater, but I draw the line at fish salad for breakfast. I emerged from the buffet with a cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice. I would have gone for the pre-packaged yogurt, but I saw a picture of what looked like a peach on the front of it-- a fruit to which I'm violently allergic. Couldn't chance it.

In Poland, Pizza Hut is a sit-down restaurant.
There's a Pizza Hut around the corner from my hotel and while it was closed by the time I got off work last night, it was open this afternoon and I popped in for lunch on my way to the casino. The interior looked like a Chili's or an Applebees or any other sort of American chain restaurant-- no take-out counter in sight. After the waiter greeted me in Polish, I was seated in a large leather booth and ordered off a rather extensive menu which included pasta and salads. Total cost for a green salad, a small pizza and a Diet Coke? 24 Zlotys, which is about $8 US. Which brings me to my next observation.

Poland is quite inexpensive. Fancy a vodka from the hotel mini-bar? Only 12 Zlotys, or about $4. A cab from the airport to the city center? 35 Zlotys or about $11.50. I brought about $500 with me and I doubt I'll spend even half of it here.

Poland is fucking bleak. Back in college when I spent four frozen winters in the midwest, I'd often play that Counting Crows song "Long December" on my walkman as I chattered my teeth on the way to class. It made me think of home, the Hollywood Hills and reminded me how long it had been since I'd seen the ocean. When I think of those winters I see gray skies, leafless trees, people in parkas shuffling around. I'll probably come away from Warsaw with similar memories. I have seen the sun exactly once since being here, and it promptly hid behind a cloud about ten minutes later. Tonight, it was pitch-black by 3:45 in the afternoon. With sun-up around 7 a.m., that's less than nine hours of daylight.

I don't know how those Swedes and Alaskans do it.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Showcase, Sarah Palin, and the Crazy McCain Man

As many of you may have read in the news, there was quite the controversy this week in West Hollywood when a local man put up an elaborate Halloween display in his front yard, which included a John McCain dummy popping up from his chimney and a Sarah Palin dummy hanging from a noose off the front porch. Naturally, it attracted media attention, but apparently it was serious enough that the Secret Service started an investigation.

Well, guess who now lives across the street from the house in question? Why, our own Showcase!

Showcase was getting ready to go out last night when he heard the sounds of a protest coming from the end of the street where the Palin dummy was still hanging. He texted me and I told him to grab his video camera and go shoot the scene.

Here's his footage, complete with his interview with a crazy old man in a McCain shirt who professes his love for Sarah Palin.

The display, however finally came down this morning when the homeowner gave in under pressure from the Mayor of West Hollywood and the Sheriff's office. Apparently, Sarah has been cut down, but McCain remains in the chimney.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sick Girl

I vividly remember my first migraine. I was in my old green Saturn fighting traffic on Riverside Drive on my way back to the studio. I was still an intern, and had been running errands for my cokehead producer boss all afternoon. I remember staring at a traffic light across the street from a dilapidated strip mall when the dark spots first started to appear. Blinding pain shot behind my eyes. The light changed and I drove a few blocks but I couldn't shake the spots. I was sufficiently freaked out enough that I pulled over onto a side street near Ribs U.S.A. and parked under a tree. I sat with my eyes closed while I tried not to freak out about how I was going to drive back to the lot.

That still goes on record as the worst headache I've ever had, but the one that hit me 48 hours ago takes the silver medal. No amount of Motrin or Advil could relieve it and I could hardly keep my eyes open for more than a few minutes before having to close them to somewhat abate the excruciating pain. Add to that having a sore throat, no appetite whatsoever, and probably significant dehydration based on the color of my piss this morning and you have a very sick girl on your hands.

My mother stopped by yesterday to bring me some soup and a Barack Obama bumper sticker and was completely horrified by her sweaty, fevered, extremely disheveled daughter. Ever since, she's been imploring me to go get a flu shot.

"Especially with all those damn airplanes you sit on!" she reasoned. "Even your father got one and he won't take an aspirin!"

So, this Wednesday, I'll be humoring her and getting a goddamn flu shot.

I woke up this morning and the headache was gone along with the fever. The dull throat pain remains so I won't be indulging in any unpressed trichromes in the near future. Still, I'm grateful to even be running at 70% capacity. If I still felt like shit tomorrow my uninsured ass was going to have to go sit for five hours at the free clinic with all the illegal Mexicans.

And I'm really not a very good sick person.

Pauly is flying to Budapest tonight to cover the EPT Hungarian Open. Hungary is one of those "what the fuck" places one never thinks they'll wind up, and yet there he'll be. I researched some of the local cuisine and told him he'd better get ready for a lot of chicken paprika and ghoulash. Another thing I never knew about Budapest? It's actually two cities-- Buda and Pest divided by the Danube. When I told this to Mandy yesterday, she had the same "WTF?" look on her face that I had when Pauly told me.

Safe travels, my love. Viva la paprika.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sixteen Bars

The previous record was twelve and we intended to shatter it. That was on my second trip here, the first with my beloved, and at the meet-cute stages of my relationship with fine California medicinal marijuana. This was now my fifth trip to Amsterdam, my fourth with my beloved, and a fitting end to a month spent on European soil. I'd been sick my entire last week in London and what ended up being a 22-hour final table at the WSOP-Europe Main Event hadn't done anything to help my recovery along. Orange juice and a steady flow of speed-laden British cold medicines had been keeping me afloat and finally, by my second morning in Amsterdam, I began to feel human again.

Pauly had rented us an apartment for the week from some Lithuanian woman. The place was decorated in bright orange paint and matching orange IKEA textiles and had a small kitchen and a loft area for sleeping. We hit up a Dutch grocery store and braved the ham aisle and the dairy section, emerging with supplies to make bacon, egg, and kaas croissants. They turned out pretty tasty and gave us fuel to start our totally exhausting days of riding the tram, visiting coffeeshops, smoking pure joints of fine Dutch cannabis, wandering the streets, patronizing local restaurants and museums, and, of course checking out the hookers. Most of them looked bored as they passed the hours sitting in their windows-- chatting on their cell phones, text messaging, leafing through magazines, or nibbling on croissants.

After sleeping in until the early afternoon on the first few days, I was ready to leave the apartment on Thursday morning by 11 a.m. Our mission: sixteen hash bars in one day. I excitedly piled on some of my purchases from H&M including a bright peacock-blue wooly Euroscarf. Yeah, it's totally useless in Los Angeles, but I'm finding myself in Northern European cities more and more these days. Not to mention it was totally cute and only 9 Euros.

Bar #1: Barney's. Along with Grey Area, Barneys has the most consistently excellent product in Amsterdam and has the Cannabis Cups to prove it displayed in a large case behind the counter. We started off the day with a gram of Willie Nelson (€13)-- a sweet, fruity strain with such a lovely taste it's best smoked out of a bong or bowl. Sufficiently baked, we headed across the street for mushroom and cheese omelets at their sister location, Barney's Uptown. Though they don't sell weed there, you're welcome to smoke it while waiting for your food.

Bar #2: Dampkring Harlemmerstraat. The coffeeshop formerly known as Pink Floyd's was bought up by the Dampkring franchise last year and while it had retained its decor despite the name change upon our last visit, not a shred of the original remained this time. The tattered "Dark Side of the Moon" poster and acrylic rainbow-colored bongs had been replaced with plasma TVs scrolling video images of anything from flowers to a wet dog shaking itself off. The windows were backlit with neon green lighting and suede-upholstered banquettes paired with angular tables lined the walls . The product was as good as ever (we rolled a joint out of our €8.50 gram of NYC Diesel) but the old atmosphere was sorely missed.

Bar #3: Pablow Picasso. We stopped in to Pablow Picasso just for some drinks and Chinese poker in their homey loft area. I picked up 4 points on Pauly to take my score up to +15 overall while we indulged in a bowl of Grey Area's famed Grey Haze, dusted with my new favorite thing in the whole wide world-- unpressed trichromes. Blast. Off.

Bar #4: Siberie. We took a bit of a walk to sober up a bit and ended up at an old favorite, Siberie. A locals' place situated canal-side near Pauly's old place on the Singel, Siberie boasts great batches of an indica strain called Lavender. We picked up a gram for €9 and commenced another round of Chinese Poker where I gave back 3 points.

Bar #5: Amnesia. This is another locals' place that recently went under a major renovation. Again, I'm not a fan. The old Amnesia had a homey, hippie, neighborhood vibe-- red walls, lumpy pillows along the window seat, an open back door that gave it an airy, welcoming feel. Now it's dark and clubby, its eggplant walls lined with banquettes covered in chocolate mock-croc leather. Gold buddhas adorn nearly every surface and the back door is no more, blocked off by a sleek ebony bar with track lighting. The product, though? Still consistently good, if a little pricey. A gram of G13-Haze, one of my favorite strains to pick up in the 'Dam ran us €14.

Bar #6: Grey Area. Gram for gram, trichrome for trichrome, the best weed in Amsterdam. Covered in stickers, run by Americans and big enough only for three tables, Grey Area is home to the Grey Haze, otherwise known as "the best weed change100 has ever smoked." And I have smoked a lot of weed. I mean... a LOT of weed. Like I astound myself sometimes a lot of weed. We'd picked up an eighth of it the day before and still had plenty left over, so we decided to mix it up and go for a gram of the Recon, a strong, sweet L.A. Confidential hybrid that retailed for €11.50/gram. We enjoyed one bowl of it straight up in the house glass to get a taste, then added some unpressed trichromes to the second bowl. We rolled out of there and onto a tram bound for the Leidseplein and another half dozen bars.

Bar #7: The Rookies. Our first stop in the Leidseplein was Rookies, a large, homey coffeeshop that has amazing fresh mint tea. We sat outdoors in the brisk fall air and smoked a joint of Northern Lights (€7). At one point, a group of about ten cops walked past us without batting an eye. God bless the Netherlands.

Bar #8: Bulldog Leidseplein.
As 4:20 approached, we picked up an headed for the Bulldog. The Bulldog chain of coffeeshops is pretty cheesy and there is far better product to be found, but I like this one for its awesome enclosed porch that looks right out onto the square for some excellent people-watching. An increasingly ailing and sneezing Pauly indulged in a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice and we celebrated the high holy hour with a bowl of Willie Nelson.

Bar #9: Rokerij Leidseplein. Lately I'm a nut for any derivative of the U.K. Cheese strain. My local dispensary had something called Swiss Cheese a few months back and it was to die for, so it's no surprise that I snapped up a gram of Big Bouddah Cheese (€12) when I saw it on the menu at Rokerij. Dark, clubby, candlelit and prone to blasting the untz untz music, we stayed long enough to smoke a joint of the Cheese and down another cup of fresh mint tea before moving on.

Bar #10: Dolphins. This coffeeshop was new to me, but Pauly had been here a few times before with Senor. I got a €10 gram of the house special, White Dolphin, which was light and uplifiting. The interior was done in an under-sea vibe with patches of coral and starfish adorning the walls along with painted murals of the ocean floor. Some reggae might have been a perfect accompaniment, but unfortunately, their loudspeakers spat out Top 40 hits like Brandy and Monica's "The Boy is Mine" and Usher's "Yeah." And the fact that I'm pulling those song titles out of my ass amazes me.

Bar #11: Dampkring. Yep, the original, which famously graced the big screen in Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Twelve. It was packed as usual and we grabbed a couple of drinks at the trippy, mushroom-like bar while sucking down a bowl of some of that lovely Grey Haze.

Bar #12: Abraxas. On our last stop before breaking for dinner, we walked into Abraxas, a hip, multi-level place near Dam Square. I scored a €13 gram of Cream Cheese and it turned out to be the best strain we'd tried all day. The unpressed trichromes were practically unnecessary with this stuff and we settled into one of the upstairs couches for a relaxing, pre-dinner smoke.

Bar #13: The Jolly Joker. Our bellies full, we crossed the Damrak into the red light district. After checking out the hookers, we arrived at Nieuwmarkt Square, a little oasis of bars and sidewalk cafes amidst a tawdry area best known for places like "Sexy Land." We hit up the Jolly Joker and enjoyed a pre-rolled joint of their surprisingly strong house weed before adjoining to our next stop.

Bar #14: Hill Street Coffeeshop. All lavender and white and floral, Hill Street was pretty girly for a hash bar. It looked like it should be serving organic teas and sandwiches with the crusts cut off rather than bags of hash and weed. Again we went for a pre-rolled joint of the house weed and by the end of this stick, I was pretty well blotto. But now was not the time to quit. It was time to rally!

Bar #15: 420 Cafe. An oldie but a goodie. The place you always end up at at the end of a good bender. Where everybody knows your name and there's always a bag of NY Diesel waiting for you. We were still one away from being done, but 420 Cafe was on the way to our last stop, and a visit was practically compulsory. 420 used to be one of the few fabulous places in the 'Dam that served up tall frosty glasses of Amstel along with an excellent selection of cannabis, but those pesky Dutch laws ended that fun a little over a year ago. We went for broke-- rolling our entire gram of Diesel into a single joint, dusted with unpressed trichromes. If that won't fuck you up, I really don't know what will.

Bar #16: Abraxas Spuistraat. Our last stop for the evening was the new Abraxas branch situated right around the corner from the orange apartment. Hardly able to sit up straight anymore, I sat at an outside table, my wooly scarf wrapped thrice around my neck as we smoked our final stick of the night. It hadn't even taken twelve hours, but we'd made it to sixteen bars.

"I could do twenty. Easily" boasted Pauly as he sucked down a hit. I weaved around in my seat, my eyelids growing heavy despite the cool night air.

Perhaps on the next trip. But for tonight, the sweet sixteen was all right with me.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Win, and the Aftermath

I tend to play better after being on the road. One of the many by-products of covering tournament poker is having the opportunity to watch the world's best players at work. Their fearlessness rubs off on me. I recognize spots where I could be playing more aggressively, inducing bluffs, check-raising lighter than I normally might. I not only see where I might play too tight, but I better understand when that style is not only necessary, but optimal. I also tend to play better right after a win. And during this stint on the road, I finally notched a long-awaited win.

I stare at chips all day when I'm on the road. Not money, just chips. Most of the time I forget that actual money bought them and isn't that really what we're is supposed to do? Playing online, watching that cash balance rise and fall with every hand, every buy-in, every tournament finished out of the money, contemplating all the hoops that require jumping through to replace that balance should it dwindle to zero-- it's that much harder to blur the line. But adding the win to that equation, the soft, inviting cushion of a healthy online balance mixed with the injection of confidence that the win supplies... optimal conditions are created.

Going east to west on a nine-hour time change is far more taxing than its reverse. I've been up before five the last four mornings and have spent many of those darkened hours playing online while I wait for some sort of breakfast-serving facility to open. I haven't had a long stretch of hours to play in quite a while. So I played tournaments, an area I haven't concentrated on in some time. I wondered if I even had a prayer in adapting to the mega-field low-buyin MTT of 2008, seemingly stacked with 17-year old Scandis who three-bet every other hand.

But wait a minute... rewind. What was this "win" anyway?

God bless the motherfuckin' Run Good Challenge. I miraculously took down the Grand Final and the $1,235 first place prize. Ship. It. Holla. It was an excellent way to spend my night off during the WSOP-E Main Event. Pauly also made the final and finished fifth. Poker Listings put on an excellent and entertaining event-- thanks to Matt and Dan and I look forward to defending my crown in the next series.

But seriously. I hadn't won a decent sum like that in poker in a lonnnnng time. I didn't play another hand after that while I was in Europe, leaving Pauly to grind it out at limit hold'em in the morning hours. But in the pale morning light of Los Angeles with a steaming cup of tea next to my laptop, I thought, "why the hell not."

I entered a $22 Turbo MTT on Full Tilt and finished five off the money. Then a $12x180 turbo on Poker Stars where I ended up busting two off the money. Next was the Stars $11 rebuy where I was 169th of 2,774, and would have had a top 10 stack had the internet not chosen the moment someone pushed at my A-A all in pre-flop to crap out. The next day I hit up the 11R again but only outlasted 2/3 of the field, but finished 69/881 in a KO tourney on Full Tilt for another small cash. I played the FTP $2K guaranteed Razz tourney that Otis has won several times and finished seven off the money while simultaneously going deep in the $32K Guaranteed, ending up 110/1539. And then this morning, I played the $30K Guaranteed on Stars and notched my deepest finish yet of the week, 47/3411.

Eight tournaments, four cashes, three near-bubbles, one mid-tourney bust.

I sound like every second-tier live pro bitching to anyone who will listen about how their WSOP is going.

But unlike them, I'm kind of happy with these results. I'm super-rusty. I didn't lose money And I still have some game. And watching 20-year old German kids in hoodies check-raise each other apparently still helps me find my mojo.

* * * * *

As the British Airways 747 flew past Downtown L.A. at 3,000 feet, I actually smiled. The streetlights were coming on. The sun, dipping into the Pacific. The cars, idling on the freeway. My father's, one of them.

However temporary, it was good to be home.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

I Run Good... Against Spaceman at Least

I'm relaxing on the balcony of my London flat, eating Thai noodle salad and waiting for Pauly to arrive from Amsterdam, after his flight was unfortunately delayed. Both of us are playing in tonight's six-handed Grand Finale of the Poker Listings Run-Good Challenge. Earlier this week, I duked it out with Spaceman heads-up to see which one of us would advance to the final, as we were both tied in points from our preliminary event performances.

I jumped out to an early lead in the HU match, courtesy of flopping two pair with junk hands on two separate occasions. From there I switched into small-ball mode, not wanting to get too out of line with marginal hands as I know Spaceman plays a very aggressive, often tricky game. It wasn't too hard to keep playing small pots when I couldn't flop a pair or even a draw, and my lead eroded a bit before I doubled up Spaceman when his A-8 of hearts made a flush on the turn against my K-Q. I ground up my stack a bit more before I shoved over the top of his opening raise with A-7 and he made a great call with A-9. We were back to where we started yet again. I managed to suck out spectacularly when I shoved with K-5 and Spaceman called with A-K, rivering a 5 in dramatic fashion to double up. The final hand came when I pushed with A-6 and Spaceman, called with J-T, having only 5 BB or so and despite him picking up half the deck in outs on the turn, I ran good and survived to advance to the final.

It was a challenging match for sure and Spaceman played great. It was also probably the longest $1 HU SNG in history, clocking in at 83 hands.

The Grand Finale kicks off at 11 a.m. PDT/2 p.m. EDT/7 p.m. GMT on Poker Stars. I'm also delighted to see that poker blogging women make up half the field, as I'm joined by two tough Texans in Amy Calistri and Michele Lewis. Rounding out the field are Poker Listings' strategy guru Dan Skolovy, Short-Stacked Shamus and the one and only Dr. Pauly. A $3,000+ prize pool will be divided among the six of us. Come rail and see if I can run good!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Jed Bartlet Meets Barack Obama: Aaron Sorkin on the 2008 Election

This is, quite possibly, the best thing I've read on the current state of American politics. Written by my favorite living screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, it appeared in Maureen Dowd's column in the New York Times. In it, The West Wing's President Jed Bartlet gives Obama a little advice.

Aaron Sorkin Conjures a Meeting of Obama and Bartlet

The meat of it:

OBAMA What would you do?

BARTLET GET ANGRIER! Call them liars, because that’s what they are. Sarah Palin didn’t say “thanks but no thanks” to the Bridge to Nowhere. She just said “Thanks.” You were raised by a single mother on food stamps — where does a guy with eight houses who was legacied into Annapolis get off calling you an elitist? And by the way, if you do nothing else, take that word back. Elite is a good word, it means well above average. I’d ask them what their problem is with excellence. While you’re at it, I want the word “patriot” back. McCain can say that the transcendent issue of our time is the spread of Islamic fanaticism or he can choose a running mate who doesn’t know the Bush doctrine from the Monroe Doctrine, but he can’t do both at the same time and call it patriotic. They have to lie — the truth isn’t their friend right now. Get angry. Mock them mercilessly; they’ve earned it. McCain decried agents of intolerance, then chose a running mate who had to ask if she was allowed to ban books from a public library. It’s not bad enough she thinks the planet Earth was created in six days 6,000 years ago complete with a man, a woman and a talking snake, she wants schools to teach the rest of our kids to deny geology, anthropology, archaeology and common sense too? It’s not bad enough she’s forcing her own daughter into a loveless marriage to a teenage hood, she wants the rest of us to guide our daughters in that direction too? It’s not enough that a woman shouldn’t have the right to choose, it should be the law of the land that she has to carry and deliver her rapist’s baby too? I don’t know whether or not Governor Palin has the tenacity of a pit bull, but I know for sure she’s got the qualifications of one. And you’re worried about seeming angry? You could eat their lunch, make them cry and tell their mamas about it and God himself would call it restrained. There are times when you are simply required to be impolite. There are times when condescension is called for!

OBAMA Good to get that off your chest?

BARTLET Am I keeping you from something?

OBAMA Well, it’s not as if I didn’t know all of that and it took you like 20 minutes to say.

BARTLET I know, I have a problem, but admitting it is the first step.

OBAMA What’s the second step?

BARTLET I don’t care.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Can I Run Good?

Over the last few weeks I've been participating in a very cool tournament series, sponsored by those wacky Canucks at Poker Listings. I was one of twelve invited bloggers to participate in their Run-Good Challenge, a series of four freeroll tournaments on Poker Stars where the top three walk away with free money.

Uh, yeah. Sign me up. Change= always looking for free money.

In the first week's installment, I played on about 90 minutes of sleep after staying up all night to cover a WCOOP Event. Naturally, I was Gigli, but Pauly came in second to the runnin' really good Dan Skolovy of Poker Listings, who took it down. Only poor Dan can't claim any of the prize money, so his $600 first prize was rolled over into the next event's prize pool.

I did better the second week, playing from Barcelona. I finished third, good for an extra $160 in my Stars account. Unfortunately, I knocked out Pauly on the bubble. He hated me there for a good three hours. I picked up a few points too-- at least now I didn't look like a total retard.

Third time wasn't exactly the charm, as I went out I believe in 10th when I tried a stop-n-go against Shamus, shoving on a queen-high raggedy flop with A-K. He called with Q-J and I was out.

The top 6 in points advance to next week's Grand Finale, which is conveniently (for me) held on one of my days off from covering the WSOP-Europe. I was sure I was out of the running until I saw that Spaceman (who similarly slept through Event #1 due to WCOOP vampire hours) didn't finish in the money in Event #3, leaving us tied for the last spot. We're gonna have to duke it out mano-a-mano in a heads-up SNG on Stars later this week to break the tie.

The other blogging luminaries advancing to the final include Short-Stacked Shamus, Dan Skolovy, Pauly, Amy Calistri, and everyone's favorite cougar, Michele Lewis who advanced to the final despite being temporarily displaced from her home by Hurricane Ike.

And... either myself or Spaceman. I'm comin' for ya Tennessee boy...

Thanks so much to the Listings guys for putting this on. There will be future editions, I'm told so stay tuned.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Happy Birthday Pauly!

It's Pauly's birthday today! Go stop by the Tao of Poker or Coventry and send him some love!

I'm so sad to be 3,000 miles away from him today, but I know that he and Derek have awesome plans-- catching the next-to-last game to be played in Yankee Stadium. I definitely wish I could be there instead of stuck inside a casino.

Happy birthday, love. I'll see you soon :)

Friday, September 19, 2008

25 Days

The Santa Maria del Mar church, Barcelona, Spain.

It's been a long time. Twenty-five days. Longer than it's ever been in this space.

I didn't fall off the face of the earth. I didn't disappear. I went to a music festival in San Francisco and a Radiohead show in Chula Vista. I covered the WCOOP on PokerStars and the fifth-season opener of the EPT in Barcelona. I flew up to London yesterday to cover the WSOP-Europe and moved into a sunny flat in Soho with Gloria, PokerNews' new on-air personality. I picked up groceries this morning at Sainsbury's. I am eating a baguette dressed with proscuitto and cheese and drinking a real Diet Coke, not that Coke Light shit they have on mainland Europe.

Which brings us up to this moment, but says virtually nothing of the last 25 days.

Pauly went back to New York right before Labor Day. I immediately flew into home-decorator mode the moment he left, finding myself in the aisles of the Burbank IKEA before his flight even took off. For weeks I'd been mulling over what to get him for his birthday. It's really a difficult task buying for him-- he's not so much the man that has everything, but the man that wants nothing (though the Bose noise-cancelling headphones were a definite hit last year). If you've read his blogs over the last few months you'll know that he's been in a frustrating place creatively, and that if he had one wish in the world, it would be to be able to go into a room that was his, close the door, and write.

So that's exactly what I decided to give him.

Until now, Showcase's old room housed nothing but a futon for overnight guests, a plastic set of drawers, and a portable putting green. Now it's Pauly's west coast office.

I assembled all the furniture myself, too. The desk was a breeze compared to hanging those curtains, which took three attempts and two different drill bits. I had to rush to get it done before leaving for Europe, but was thrilled with the results. I think he was too.

I test-drove the office while blogging the WCOOP over the next three nights. Though I kept vampire hours of the 8 p.m.-6 a.m. variety, it kind of helped put me on European time in advance of getting here. Also, it was one of the most drama-free assignments I've had in poker. Blogging a tournament where there are no railtards to trip over? And there are hand histories? I'll take that any day. It was also kind of fascinating to watch the entire final table of a $10,000 online event. These guys three-bet like I smoke weed.

I flew to Barcelona without incident. No screaming infants or foul-smelling seatmates. The hotel was modern and clean and close to the casino. TV only got five channels, though and one was Al-Jazeera. I knew my way around from last year and knew what to expect so I came into the gig pretty relaxed. That is, until I approached the casino on the first day. I saw Gloria, walking in a daze, her Blackberry to her ear, looking quite distressed. She had been robbed, her backpack stolen right off the back of her chair while eating in a nearby cafe. Laptop, money, passport-- gone. And even worse, the staff at the restaurant wouldn't do a thing to help her. As much as we tried negotiating with casino management, Glo couldn't even get inside without a passport per Spanish law, leaving her to take a taxi across town and begin dealing with the red tape at the U.S. Consulate. Fortunately for her, she got hooked up with a new passport right away, but it certainly left me shaken. That night, I locked my passport, all but one credit card, and all but 50 Euros in my hotel safe.

There were more than 20 robberies around the Casino Barcelona during the EPT, ultimately necessitating a press release warning the players and media. Guess the local thieves figured that was the place to be that week. While crime was flourishing outside, the conditions inside the casino had improved drastically from last year's disaster (wherein, your heroine was knocked off a chair by unruly drunken railbirds). Access was improved, there was more of a barrier between the rail and the media, and they opened the casino early for the tournament players and media so no one was getting shoved around in line by the anxious cash game players wanting to get their name in the queue as quickly as possible.

I had three days in Barcelona after the tournament, but was wary of hitting up certain areas of town, like La Rambla with all the theft going on. Turns out it was good I avoided that street, as a full-fledged riot broke out there my last night in town. I did hit up Barceloneta beach, as well as the Gracia area on the west side of the city, home to a lot of cool shops as well as the Parc Guell, designed by Gaudi. The architecture at the park's entrance is astounding and the steep climb up to it affords a truly magnificent view of the city.

I also re-visited my favorite place we ate last year, Celler de Tapas in El Born. I got those incredible prawns again, along with squid, Mallorcan sausage, and lots of other stuff my beloved would never eat.

Mainly, though I walked and thought. Sometimes with my iPod on like the locals, most of the time just listening to others around me converse in rapid-fire Spanish and trying to understand what I could. I contemplated my future. I thought about the kind of writer I wanted to become. I read most of this book Pauly had given me before he left-- The Artist's Way. It's kind of a self-help book for artists and is pretty damn brilliant if you can get past the God stuff. And if you're into God, well then it's totally for you. One of the things the book gets you in the habit of doing is writing three pages every morning before you do anything. It's supposed to be a brain dump, to get everything out of your head so you can focus on making your art, whatever that may be, for the rest of the day. You're supposed to do it longhand, but that's not for me, so I arrived at the equivalent of 1,000-1,200 words on the computer. None of it is meant to be read by anyone but you.

The more I wrote this shit out, the more I got into it, the more things I started to figure out by doing it, the less I wanted to put anything out there on the blog. I liked writing just for myself. I liked not having any expectations. I liked the silence. I had to take a break so I could do this again, and do it better than I have before.

"It's rough having a secret identity" I said to one of my colleagues.

It was cheeky and off-the-cuff, but the statement stung with truth. Putting your life out there on a blog is easy if no one knows who you are. Once those walls come down, it's much more difficult to remain honest. People fake it, people exaggerate, people write what they want others to hear. That's something I've never done, nor ever want to do here. I've built walls and moats and more walls still around this space when it comes to my family and some of them continue to find new ways of leaping over them. So it's harder for me to write about stuff like tripping on liquid acid in Golden Gate Park knowing my mother's going to read it and give me a troubled look the next time I see her. You'll have to wait for the Truckin' story on that one.

The Artist's Way lists twenty commonly held negative beliefs. "I can't be a successful artist because..."

2. I will hurt my friends and family
6. I don't have good enough ideas.
20. If I haven't become a fully functioning artist yet, I never will.

The good news, is I have put seventeen of those twenty to rest.

Still working on those last three.

It's good to be back. And if you stuck around, thanks.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Outside Lands/San Francisco Photos

I'm back in Los Angeles after five days in San Francisco, three of them spent at the Outside Lands Music Festival. It was one helluva trip.

A slew of new photos from the weekend are up on my Flickr page. Here are a few highlights:

Pauly & the Joker model their track suits. Mine was green with white stripes.

The Grateful Dead House

Buddha in Golden Gate Park

The Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

Hippie Bus parked at Ocean Beach

Thursday, August 21, 2008

If You're Going to San Francisco

The dog days of summer are upon us, and so is my last summer hurrah with Pauly, the joker, and Professional Keno Player Neil Fontenot. This morning we head north up I-5 to San Francisco for the Outside Lands Music Festival. I'm pumped to see some of my favorite bands like Radiohead, Widespread Panic, and Wilco right in the middle of Golden Gate Park.

For updates from the festival you can follow me on Twitter, or check in at Coventry Music Blog for reports from all of us.

There is no camping involved. Thank God.

One thing I will not be bringing with me to the muddy hippie fields is a certain birthday present I pre-ordered for myself several month ago. It finally arrived this week. Ladies (especially Michele Lewis), here's my stunnnnnning new Rebecca Minkoff bag, as worn by the attractive but vapid Lauren Conrad of MTV's The Hills. It even fits my laptop.

Enjoy your last days of summer. And don't forget about my banner contest! I'm still accepting entries!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Pot Committed Banner Design Contest

As I wandered the aisles of the Amazon Room this summer at the WSOP, I started contemplating re-designing Pot Committed. It's been three years, people hate reading text on the black background, and moreover, I'm just kind of sick of it. However, before I can turn this template over to a certain awesome freelance web designer, I need a new banner for the top.

That's where you all come in.

As I am far better with words and letters than fonts and Photoshop, I'm calling on the collective creativity of my readership to help design a new logo/banner for Pot Committed. If I pick your design, I will send you $100, via a Full Tilt Poker transfer, or a good old fashioned snail-mail check.

In terms of design parameters, I'm thinking of something (obv) that incorporates both meanings of the phrase "pot committed." If you watch the television show Weeds, I love what they've been doing with their opening credit sequence this season, with the pot leaf quietly growing to life in a corner.

Have at it, creative geniuses. Submissions are due by Friday, August 22 at 5 p.m. PDT. My deepest thanks in advance for your efforts!

Any questions? Shoot me an email.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bleeding Dodger Blue

Life inside L.A. city limits so rapidly ages its inhabitants-- a rather ironic situation for the de facto capital of nips and tucks. The lines across my forehead deepen every time some jackass pulls blindly out into traffic, not noticing that I'm headed straight for his passenger side door. Or when I get two lanes of gridlocked cars to let me make that left turn, only some bimbo on a cell phone decides to plow her VW Jetta straight into the spot in the intersection that says "KEEP CLEAR" and stay there, as I sit, helplessly curved into opposing traffic while she texts the pretty boy hipster she met last night at Bar Marmont.

Millimeters at a time, those lines deepen. Today's three-mile roundtrip jaunt to the diner for lunch came complete with two near-death experiences. It's enough to make me long for the day when I make enough cheese to pack up this shitbox and move to a place where I don't have to drive. Like Manhattan. Or Amsterdam.

Of course, aside from the vehicular warfare in the streets there are many things to love about Los Angeles. Sun. Warmth. Beaches. Weekday matinee movies. Zankou Chicken. The Hollywood Bowl.

Dodger fans are not one of them.

Along with the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter," the din of lawnmowers on summer mornings, and the putter of my mother's yellow VW bug, Vin Scully's voice was one of the iconic sounds of my childhood. My father would set a small black portable radio up on the wall in the backyard and listen to Scully call the action of guys like Fernando Valenzuela, Kirk Gibson, and Mike Scoscia as he went about his weekend ritual of drinking a six-pack of domestic beer and watering the yard. I'd be doing my homework at the picnic table or inside at the kitchen bar and there was Scully's voice, omnipresent in the background as I learned long division, read Animal Farm, or made a papier-mache replica of Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Still, I've always hated the Dodgers, despite being a native of their city. My east coast-transplant mom bought me a Yankee doll during the 1981 World Series, and later, a Yankee Cabbage Patch Kid. That's really all it took to successfully brainwash me. My father was naturally horrified and proceeded to convert Mandy, all of two years old at the time, to his side where she remains to this day.

I love the Lakers, and if I followed hockey I'd like the Kings. I imagine if L.A. had a professional football franchise, I'd be a fan of them too. Just not the Dodgers. Never the Dodgers.

From 1986 on, my parents had season tickets to the Dodgers. I was dragged to many a game as a child, and nursed many a sunburn from roasting out in our field level seats. Sometimes I'd get so overheated my mom would buy those frozen chocolate malts and use them to cool of my face before we'd eat them. I was almost always on the verge of passing out by the seventh-inning stretch. Mom and I would wear Yankee hats and always root for the opposing team, much to the chagrin of my father and Mandy. Back then, there wasn't much cause to feel threatened.

Cut to: 2008. Monday night's game was a blowout for the Dodgers by the end of the sixth inning. Pauly, Derek and I were already talking about leaving. We'd had our fill of Dodger dogs and had enjoyed a few laughs with the four Phillies fans that sat in front of us.

"Conshohocken, PENNSYLVANIA!" shouted one of them repeatedly at a pair of Dodger fans behind us, referring to Tommy Lasorda's birthplace.

The pair responded by attempting to pelt the Phillies fans with peanuts. Then limes. Then beer cups. Only problem was, they were hitting us instead.

Derek stood up and told them to cut it out and stop throwing shit. Which only made them throw more shit. Half a beer hit me and I ducked as Pauly stood up. Words were exchanged. And then, out of nowhere, these two drunk cholos decided to leap across three rows of seats and lunge at Derek.

I didn't see the punch land, as I was busy ducking again. When I looked up, security was coming down the aisles and hauling one of the guys off. Then I saw the blood. Holy motherfucking shit.

As we climbed the stairs up the aisles, people actually started booing us. And throwing more shit. Real classy. I flipped off the crowd as blood gushed from Derek's chin.

Ten minutes later, we were in the security office waiting for the LAPD to arrive. The asshole who punched him was in custody under a citizen's arrest. Naturally, Derek wanted to press charges. After the paramedics put a stitch in his jaw, Derek and Pauly gave their statements to the cops while I waited. I watched a bumblebee slowly die on the carpet in front of me. Remarkably, as dozens of ticket-takers and ushers dropped off their equipment and clocked out after the game, not a single one stepped on the bee.

Here's L.A. justice for you. Drunk asshole punches you at baseball game with hundreds of witnesses. If you want to press charges against drunk asshole, you too must be arrested and deal with the ensuing red tape and the blemish on your record despite doing nothing wrong. That's a lot of explaining to do to prospective employers and/or creditors over one punch. Or, you can not press charges and everyone goes home. Those are the options offered to you by the Los Angeles Police Department. "We don't want to bother to figure everything out, so we'll just make it as difficult as possible for you to seek that justice you deserve, OK? Unless you're famous and this shit is going to be on Entertainment Tonight. Then we'll do everything we can and make sure to keep your publicist in the loop."

Derek's a tough guy. Pauly said he barely flinched when the punch landed. Though I'm not sure how soon he'll hurry back to L.A. after we put him on a plane home to New York with a sunburn, facial stitches, and a bag of antibiotics.

At least he enjoyed the weed.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Don't Forget--Tao of Poker 5th B-Day Tournament Tonight!

Just a reminder that the Tao of Poker 5th Birthday Tournament is happening tonight at 18:00 PDT/21:00 EDT on Poker Stars. Winner gets a $5,000 seat in the Borgata Poker Open! I will be there, as will many of your favorite bloggers including Al Can't Hang, Joe Speaker, Derek, Gracie, Spaceman, grubette, LJ, and Sir Waffles.

Check out the Tao of Poker for more details.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Set Code to Away

My parents hardly ever go on vacation. They made a couple of jaunts to Hawaii a few years back when the economy was better and air travel was cheaper, but they've otherwise elected to spend their leisure time closer to home, on one of L.A. County's beaches. However, with the impending closure of Yankee Stadium for new digs next door, my Jersey-bred mother wanted to take in one last game before its gates were shuttered forever. My father bleeds Dodger Blue and loathes the boys in pinstripes (a running theme in their 32 years of marriage) but loves my mother more and they planned a week-long jaunt to the east coast. After hitting up Friday's Yankee game, they'd visit with my mom's family for a few days before heading south to Asheville, North Carolina. My dad fell in love with the area when he was there on business a few years back. Ever since, he's been talking about unloading our grossly over-valued West L.A. home for something three times the size and one-fifth the price in the mountain enclave so they could retire quietly and comfortably.

Usually, Mandy would take care of the house and their moody, 12-year old cat while they were away. This time, since my mom had diligently checked in on my apartment and forwarded me my mail in Las Vegas, it was all I could do to repay the favor.

Thursday night, Pauly and I made our first trip over to the house. It's shady backyard was a welcome reprieve from my small, poorly ventilated apartment. He fed the cat and I grilled up some filets topped with Roquefort cheese. Polenta cakes and fresh asparagus also went on the grill for me, and for the vegetable-loathing Pauly, I sauteed some shiitake mushrooms and sliced onions in olive oil. The cat roamed the yard and we drank beer, smoked bowls, listened to music and played online poker as dusk fell.

The next night we aborted our plans to grill and decided to pick up Zankou Chicken instead. Pauly had been suffering all day since Google/Blogger's retarded bots had frozen his blogs and was preparing to move his sites if need be. He popped some pharmies and I drove us across town.

I opened the door to my parents' house and hear the familiar warning beep of the alarm, meaning I had 60 seconds to turn it off before all hell broke loose. I set down my stuff and went for the keypad. I didn't notice Pauly bolt for the back door.

Before I could enter the code and disable the alarm. Pauly opened the back door. ("I just wanted to free the cat!" he'd claim later) The alarm kicked off its deafening wail. Well, fuck.

I punched at the keypad in vain, but the damage was done. I screamed for him to shut the door, but he couldn't hear me and I ran out there to do it myself. The door was shut, and his face had gone white. I tried the code again. No dice. I didn't want to do it, but I grabbed my phone and called my parents. Before I could get two sentences out, the house phone rang.

"That would be the police. I have to get that, hang on" I said to my father, who sighed heavily from 3,000 miles away.

It wasn't the police on the phone-- it was the alarm company.

"Yeah, hi-- I'm these guys' klutzy 31-year old daughter whose totally faded boyfriend opened the back door before I could punch in the code. How do we turn this thing off? Yeah, don't send the L.A.P.D., everything's fine."

What ensued in the next half an hour involved a screwdriver, unplugging red wires and black wires, the use of a flashlight and a trip to the basement.

"I feel like I'm in Die Hard or something" I quipped to the alarm rep.

The Zankou Chicken was cold by the time all was said and done. I ate it on the picnic table outside, drenched in sweat after the whole ordeal. I gave a nibble of chicken to the cat, who was completely traumatized. Pauly apologized and I told him I wasn't mad.

Pauly, victorious in grapefruit tossing

Yesterday, we returned and spent nearly the whole day there. We grabbed breakfast at Junior's and played Saturdays with Dr. Pauly from the back yard. He was almost Gigli when he ran into set-over-set, and I lasted through about half the field before getting it all in with a Broadway straight on the turn vs. AgSweep's set of aces, but she boated up on the river to take down the pot. GG me. While Derek battled his way to the top spot, I played five HU razz SNGs (what?) and won four of them. Congrats to Derek on his second SwDP win!

We fired up the grill for dinner. Well, actually I did the firing, and gave it a little too much gas. The flames exploded in my face and I heard the sizzle of burning hair.

Thankfully, no eyebrows or eyelashes were lost. It didn't even hurt. However, a small swatch or hair along my forehead was completely singed off. That's going to be an interesting one to explain to the hairdresser.

Pauly made cajun-rubbed burgers with pepper jack cheese and I grilled corn on the cob and topped it with garlic butter. Yummmmmmmmo. Totally exceeded all expectations.

Then... there was the lime-tossing debacle. Pauly had totally crushed me at grapefruit tossing two nights before, and decided to invent a version of his "Inside the Limes" game that he and Otis had pioneered at the WSOP. He selected a diamond-shaped swath of the back patio and decided that if you hit a certain area with your lime, you won a designated amount of money. There were four large $1 sections, four smaller $5 sections, four even smaller $10 sections, and the center two bricks in the diamond were the $20 grand prize. We got two tosses a round. I also got to "shoot from the ladies' tees," a four-pace handicap toward the diamond (which became quite controversial later in the game).

I quickly jumped out to a $24 lead, figuring a way to bounce the lime off the lip of the fireplace so it landed in the $5 spot. Soon the lead grew to $44, and Pauly started mounting a comeback. He tried a little trash-talking when he narrowed my lead back to $29, but I wasn't having any of it. I hit two $10s in a row and was back up to $49 when he took a bathroom break.

After that, as darkness fell, it was just a massacre. I was throwing anywhere from $6-$15 a round and Pauly kept hitting donut holes. He blamed the low-hanging tree branch for interrupting the arc of his lime. He blamed the quality of the lime itself. He claimed my handicap rigged the game too far in my favor. Maybe so, but he didn't quit me until I was up by $153.

Commence mega lime-tossing tilt. A slice of chocolate silk pie helped abate it only a little.

I didn't last much longer after we drove home. I popped a muscle relaxer, having tweaked my back while sneezing in the shower that morning. The feeling that ensued was an odd sensation of being active in mind but completely useless in body. I fell asleep halfway through the second set of the Phish Walnut Creek DVD Pauly just got in the mail.

Tonight's menu included BBQ chicken, baked potatoes slathered in garlic butter, grilled asparagus and garlic bread, washed down with Stella Artois. We've definitely been eating well since temporarily acquiring a grill and a back yard.

I don't think I'm a very good cat sitter, though. She seems utterly depressed in my father's absence.

(For food photos of the above referenced meals, check out Pauly's Flickr page .)