Friday, June 20, 2008

Collision and Citation

I was lying across my bed writing my Bluff column and playing Omaha hi-lo on Full Tilt when my phone rang and the four words you never want to hear from someone you love escaped Pauly's lips.

"I'm in an accident."

Thank God or whatever power may be up there that the next three were "But I'm O.K."

Seriously, I don't know what I'd do. I can't even go there right now.

Pauly was driving from Scheckytown back to the Rio along Desert Inn Road. He'd left his power cord at home when he'd left to go in to work and needed to retrieve it, thus the mid-afternoon return trip to Summerlin. At the intersection of D.I. and Ranibow, a fire truck with its sirens on ran a red light. One car stopped short. A second car stopped short behind it, and Pauly slammed into the back of that car going what sounds to me like about 25 MPH. The airbag in his shitty rental car did not deploy.

He had to deal with the police and didn't want me to come to the scene right away. I spent the next 30 minutes biting my nails and pacing around the house just hoping to Christ he was truly all right and not just being Mr. Tough Guy. I dangled my feet in the pool as the 110 degree sun baked my skin and my heart pounded in my chest with worry. He finally called back and told me where to pick him up.

About half a block away from the intersection I noticed that his car was still in the left turn lane, flanked by two police motorcycles. And then I saw the front of it, crushed like a soda can, bits of plastic littering the road, wires hanging from the space that used to house a headlight. If the car didn't end up being totaled, it was damn close.

I pulled into the parking lot of an residential building on the southwest corner of the intersection. A girl with bleached-blonde hair wearing a hoodie with rainbow stripes on it pointed me in to a parking space. With her was a guy in his early twenties wearing a black T-shirt with red writing that said "I've been a bad boy, send me to your room." The third member of their party was a dude in baggy denim shorts with a goatee and facial piercings. It was as if the green room of the Jerry Springer Show had been relocated to the parking lot of this anonymous desert condo development. Rainbow Brite totally looked like a tweaker.

Surrounded by these three, Pauly looked quite the upstanding young man. He was very professional with the cops and the tweaker kids didn't seem upset with him at all, even as I learned that a girl who was a passenger in their car had gone to the hospital for minor injuries. One turned out to be a Widespread Panic fan and they commiserated over not being able to attend Bonnaroo this weeked. Pauly had to work. Baggy shorts guy was in the middle of a "custody battle thing."

The rental car was towed away. I took Pauly back to Scheckytown where he started dealing with all the red tape that comes with an accident. After giving his statement to the insurance company and learning that pretty much everything is covered by our policy, I drove him to the Rio so he could get back to work.

I know, right? Less than four hours after totaling his car, Pauly was back in media row, feeding the hungry Tao fans WSOP updates. If that isn't a work ethic, I don't know what is. Though I warned him to call me immediately if he started feeling any pain-- the tough guy thing wasn't gonna fly and we were covered for a hospital trip if need be.

I took Desert Inn back to Scheckytown after dropping him off. While stopped at an intersection, I noticed that the police car situated directly to my left had its flashing lights on. No siren, but the lights were blazing. Had they just forgotten to turn them off or something?

The light turned green. We both went through the intersection and a few blocks later, I noticed the squad car was now behind me. The lights were still flashing. I wasn't speeding. I had zero items in the car that would get me arrested. I was sober as a nun in church. And then I remembered.

The fucking tags.

While hopping between Australia, Europe and Los Angeles this year, I hadn't noticed that my car registration had expired. One usually is reminded of such things when, I don't know, the California DMV sends you a renewal notice? That never happened. I noticed this shortly before we left for the WSOP and called them up, informing them that they (a) hadn't sent me a notice, (b) my tags were now expired and (c) was leaving the state on a long-term assignment. The minimum wage, English-as-a-second-language monkey on the phone told me essentially that it was impossible for an actual human being to send me one because it's all done by computer. Her idea of a solution was to send a check in with a copy of my old registration and somehow, magically, tags would arrive at my doorstep. I wasn't convinced.

"Oh, and by the way all your late fees have jacked up your registration renewal costs to $488.00. Thank you for calling the DMV, have a good day."

Now I was pulled over on the side of Desert Inn Road, not two blocks from where Pauly had been in his accident handing over my license, registration, and proof of insurance to some bald redneck-looking middle-aged cop. I sat there for almost half an hour while he ran everything, made a few phone calls, had three separate conversations with three separate squad cars that stopped by to say hi, oh yeah and wrote me my ticket that came with a September 19th Las Vegas court date, which just so happens to be Day 1 of the WSOP-Europe. I Googled "How much does expired tags citation ticket cost in Nevada" and the consensus seems to be around $400. Which now puts the amount of money the DMV's incompetence has fucked me up the ass for at approximately the $800 mark.

So now we both have court dates and both have a whole lot of bureaucratic red tape to untangle. I'm out a lot of money and he's out of a rental car and his good driver discount on our auto insurance policy.

But still, it's by far the luckiest day I've ever spent in Las Vegas.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

One of Those Days

The minute I got to the Rio this morning, I knew it was going to be one of those days when I found that the crew from 60 Minutes had decided to use my (official reserved) spot in media row as storage for all their equipment. Yes, 60 Minutes is at the WSOP today, shooting footage for a story on all the online poker cheating scandals. Pauly even got up early to go down to the Rio to watch them interview guys like Greg Raymer and Phil Hellmuth. Only thing was, when he got there at the time he was told they were going to start, they were already wrapping up. Methinks CBS and TPTB decided to hoodwink the poker media.

Speaking of the poker media-- if you're fired from a major publication for the worst sin a writer can ever commit (and that's plagiarism in case you're wondering)-- I believe you should have your media badge permanently revoked. Yeah, I'm speaking of someone specific. Let the rampant speculation begin.

Let's talk about good writers for a second. Like my beloved. I was so happy he decided to write for himself and the Tao this year instead of being an official blogging monkey for Poker News like myself-- not only because he's in a FAR better mood/head space than he was during the last two WSOPs, but also as a longtime Tao of Poker fan. Long before I met Pauly, let alone started dating him, I was one of those people firing up the Tao every morning when I got to the office while the WSOP was running just to see who he had pissed next to or what sort of shenanigans were going down at the Hooker Bar. Pauly's writing temporarily lifted the fog of a Monday morning and made me forget just how much I hated my job and everyone I worked with, even for just a few moments a day.

Anyway, of course I'm totally biased, but I think he knocked it out of the park with this one. Check out WSOP Day 18: Never Trust a Junkie. My favorite line? "PLO destroys lives."

I'm covering the $1,500 donkament-of-the-week today. I haven't done one of these yet this year, having drawn assignments on some of the higher buy-in events like last night's $5,000 PLO with Rebuys finale that was won by Phil "OMGClayAiken" Galfond after a 3 1/2 hour heads-up match with Adam "the_houdini" Hourani. I so don't miss covering these tourist-fests that come with crowded hallways, endless lines, and idiot railbirds who come up to me and ask why their brother-in-law/sister/cousin/college roommate isn't in the chip count. I've been going with "Oh, I'm covering another event" or "No speaka thee English" in response.

I'll end this post with an open plea to Phil Hellmuth. Your shtick isn't funny anymore. You're no longer the best hold'em player in the world, I don't care how many fuckin' bracelets you've won. It's getting kind of sad, dude. I used to think there was a nice guy underneath all that hot air, but now it's impossible to separate the "personality" from the man. And all those quotes you try to directly feed to the media? We're just not that interested anymore.

Now if someone had the balls to heckle him at the tables for endorsing UltimateCheat Ultimate Bet, I'd transcribe that shit word for word.

Crankypants Change signing off...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Ladies' Event

"So, why aren't you playing the Ladies Event?" about a dozen different people asked me as I wandered the field with my notepad in hand and my media badge around my neck.

Well, there are many reasons, my friends. One being that after my last 12 months in poker, spending $1,000 on a single tournament would be an extremely bad decision in terms of bankroll management. As in, if I bought in, I wouldn't have much of a bankroll left.

The other is that even if I did have that kind of money to throw around on a WSOP event, I certainly wouldn't buy into the Ladies Event after my experience in it last year. Poor structure, not enough starting chips, bad payout schedule and you'd better hit a hand in the first hour or else you aren't hitting anything else except the rail. If I had $1K to spend on tournaments, I'd play three Venetian or Caesar's deep stack events instead. Those actually carry some bang for your buck.

1,190 players entered this year's Ladies Event, a slight decline from the 1,236 that played last year. It reflects a theme that has played out in all of the events thus far-- flat registrations. Rather than blame it on the decline of poker, I think the current economic state has more to do with it than anything. When gas is $4.40 a gallon (at least that's what I paid yesterday) and peoples' mortgages are suddenly doubling, there's not a lot of room for the average American woman to just decide to head out to Vegas and blow four figures on a poker tournament. And that's exactly who this tournament attracts-- regular gals. And a few token celebrities like Mimi Rogers and Kathy Najimy. Oh yeah, and tons of porn stars who are bought in by the various websites they represent. One of my field reporters told me there were TWIN porn stars playing and I had to check it out myself to confirm. But there they were... twin porn stars, each wearing a hat.

Most of the top female pros decided to avoid this minefield. Annie Duke, Cyndy Violette and Jen Harman had stacks in Day 2 of the $10K stud. Kristy Gazes decided to play the 5 p.m. Omaha-8 event instead and ended up cashing in 28th place. Vanessa Selbst was one of the chip leaders in the $2,500 NLHE but decided to two-table it more for fun than anything, moving all in on almost every hand. Vanessa Rousso, Erica Schoenberg and J.J. Liu all played but didn't make it past the first break.

"Any dudes playing in the dyke festival?" texted Pauly as I blogged the first level.

Rumors had been swirling around that Phil Ivey was going to try to play, given the sheer amount of money he has riding on prop bets that he'll win a bracelet this year. The rumored figure is around $2 million. A player by the name Allan Jaffray (not Allyn Jaffrey Shulman, but close) arrived dressed in drag and attempted to register, but was ultimately turned away. Apparently he'd been egged on to do it by B.A.R.G.E. regulars Sabyl Cohen-Landrum (yep, she just got married) and Patti Beadles. Fortunately, WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack decided to preserve the small shred of integrity this event retains and forbade men from buying in.

One transsexual did make it in, though (and made the money). Not sure if she was pre or post op, but there was some beard stubble going on, not to mention an Adam's apple the size of a golf ball bobbing around on her neck.

Two media pals of mine made the money-- Poker News and Poker Road's Amanda Leatherman who finished 45th and Poker Stars' Brazilian blogger Maria "Maridu" Maynrick who made her second cash of the series, finishing in 35th place. Nice work, chicas!

To illustrate just how fast this structure was, over 80% of the field was out before the Day 1 dinner break. We were down to 62 players by the end of the night and enjoyed a short Day 2 with the final table of nine set before midnight. Tao of Poker favorite "Sweet" Svetlana Gromenkova was the runaway chip leader going into the final table and was by far the most experienced and aggressive player left. Anh Le, who had finished runner-up to Jennifer Tilly in '05 also made the final table. I've played with her on several occasions at Commerce and the Bike and she's a very good player.

We got the main stage to blog the final table, as it was being broadcast live on ESPN 360. Having covered over 100 tournaments now, doing hand-for-hand coverage is pretty rote for me at this point but I was actually excited to do it for the ladies' event, just to see how different the play would be from the open events I usually cover. If you're interested in checking it out, the Poker News live blog from this event can be found here.

The major difference? A lotta limping. One woman failed to ever open for a raise at the FT, preferring to limp-call her opponents' raises. My eyes rolled back in my head when I saw her do this for 1/3 of her stack then proceed to check-fold to a small continuation bet. Not a shocker that she went out first, despite coming into the final table as an average stack. Once we were down to five, everyone tightened up so much that we didn't see a flop for 21 straight hands at one point.

Eventual winner Svetlana Gromenkova played a very similar final table strategy to the one I saw Annette "Annette_15" Obrestad employ at the WSOP-Europe main event. She even cut a similar figure to Obrestad-- petite, stone-faced, and eyes hidden behind massive sunglasses. Gromenkova sat back for much of the early going, playing tight and letting the short stacks duke it out. Once we were down to four, she turned up the aggression and started playing back at her opponents. Unafraid to put in a re-raise or three-bet all in Gromenkova made quick work or shorthanded play and got heads-up with Anh Le at a 2-1 chip advantage.

It looked like Le might finally have her day in the sun when she hit a five on the flop, holding A-5 to Gromenkova's A-K in a pre-flop all in confrontation, reversing the stacks and putting Le in the lead with 1.4 million to Gromenkova's 800,000. Unfortunately for the 30-year old Californian, she'd be a bridesmaid again, finishing second in this event for the second time in her brief career. Sweet Svetlana took down the bracelet, buoyed by a cheering section that included several Atlantic City players as well as newly minted $10K Mixed Event champion Anthony Rivera, who, according to Amy Calistri, loaned Svetlana the Prada sunglasses he had worn when he won that event last week.

No regrets for me for not playing in this, or any other WSOP event. My time will come eventually. For now, it's time to enjoy my fourth day off this summer (already 1.5 more than I had all of the '07 WSOP) and play some cash games.

Or perhaps try my hand at another one of those satellites...

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Satellite

After two days off that were spent entirely outside the Rio, I finally had the itch to play. A week in Vegas already and I had yet to play a hand of live poker. In the interest of reversing my body clock from normal to nocturnal in preparation for covering tomorrow's $10,000 Mixed Game Extravaganza (2-7 triple draw, the five limit H.O.R.S.E. games, NLHE, and PLO) which sports a 5 p.m. start and likely a 3-3:30 a.m. ending, I decided to leave my media badge at home and play for a few hours. From every report I'd heard the satellites were as lively and soft as ever, and though it's not exactly great bankroll management for me to play that high, I've read a lot of SNG strategy and played a helluva lot of single-tables this year and probably have a decent edge over the average satellite joe.

I stood in line in front of three forty-something guys who, from the sounds of their conversation, were (a) friends (b) in town for some sort of gathering and (c) were recreational players. One wore a poker-themed T-shirt and the other two were straight off the sale rack from Tommy Bahama. They were already giving off tells in line. After only ten minutes of waiting, one was bitching about how long it was taking, another was threatening to leave and the third one was berating the floor supervisor for not starting the satellites fast enough.

"There's nine empty tables in there with dealers at them! Nine!"

"They just want to seat the $1,000 players. That's all they want. That guy has only called for $1,000 players. Every time. And all of us want $125 or $175."

"Yeah in like seventy-five or eighty seconds I'm outta here."

"Hey is that Mike Matusow? He looks like he lost 100 pounds."

"I bet it was coke."

"Or gastric bypass."

I could have told them that the "empty" tables with dealers at them were spillover tables from the $1,500 Omaha 8 tournament or that Matusow had dropped 50 pounds to win the $100,000 weight bet he made with Ted Forrest one year ago today. But why give away what you don't have to.

The guy immediately behind me in line started trying to chat me up. I told him I was a Hollywood screenwriter and had just written Warner Bros.' next Katherine Heigl/Seann William Scott vehicle. He asked me what I did during the strike and I told him that I got bored with picketing so I went to New Zealand with my boyfriend to wait it out.

Finally, a floor guy called for players for a $225 satellite. It was a little higher than I would have preferred, but he cautioned that the $125 and $175 ones would probably not go off in the next few hours since everyone was trying to get into tomorrow's $2,000 NLHE event. I grit my teeth and pulled a seat card from his outstretched hand.

I drew the three seat and Chatty McChatster drew the nine. I had a red-faced, rotund gentleman in golf clothing on my right. He swilled Miller Lite the entire time. On my left was a recently retired gentleman with white hair peeking out of the bottom of his black Stetson. He had a jeweled ceramic frog as a card capper and proudly told me that he'd cashed in yesterday's $1,500 donkament-- his first live tournament ever.

1000 chips, blinds started at 25-25 and went up every fifteen minutes. I developed exactly the image I wanted. Tight and aggressive. Don't fuck with me, pick on that other guy down there, OK? I didn't play many hands but on the ones I did my raises and c-bets got respect. We were down from ten to eight by the end of the second level.

Early in the 50-100 level, Chatty shoved all in for 600 and I found 7-7 on the button. I re-shoved to isolate, the blinds folded and I was delighted to see his pocket threes. My hand held up and I was up to a little over 2,000 in chips. I won a small pot with K-K when the flop came down jack high and another small one where I had As-Ts in the small blind and raised, the BB looked me up and the flop came down A-A-Q. My flop bet got no action, but my stack had inched up to 2,500.

The shorties started falling one by one until we were down to four. With the blinds at 150-300, the short stack started talking about chopping it up four ways even though he only had about 1,500 left. The chip leader-- a thin, bespectacled European guy in the one seat declined.

"I won't chop with you. Or her. I'm going to bust you both and then chop with him" he said icily as he pointed toward the total tool in the 6 seat with the shit-eating grin, who had the distinction of checking the second-nut flush behind on the river in a previous hand, not realizing he had made it.

"Well, you can try" I said.

"Yeah, buddy she's probably the best one left. Don't get ahead of yourself there" replied the short stack.

Icy Euro had been tight in the early going much as I had, and had been slowly opening up his game. He had a slight chip lead over the Tool and I, who were similarly stacked. I'd only played one hand with him so far-- a big blind special for me when I flopped middle pair holding the 6h-8h and check-raised him on fourth street when I turned trip eights. With the blinds at 150-300, he made it 700 from the button and I looked down at two red sixes in the small blind.

"All in."

He mucked his cards disgustedly and with that, I took the chip lead.

On the very next deal it was folded to him in the small blind. He raised to 1,100 which looked to be almost half his stack. I peeked at my cards.


I figured I was well ahead of his range and even though I had the largest stack at the table, it was still less than 10BB.

"All in."

"Fuck!" he said, dropping his head into his hands. "I guess I have to call" he said after about a ten-second pause and turned over 5d-8h.

I'm a 2-1 favorite there and I pat myself on the back for getting aggressive and picking him off. Until the flop comes down 5-8-9 and a 5 turns and I'm left with 500 chips and 150 of them are in the small blind on the next hand.

Just kill me now.

The next hand I get 2-4 in the small blind and fold behind the shortie's all in. On the one after that Icy Euro folds UTG and I find Ad-9h on the button. The last 350 goes in the middle. The shortie in the BB calls 50 more and turns over Ks-9c. I'm a 3-1 favorite there, but this time I simply feel doomed and the king in the door confirms that.

Before I can even pick up my purse and water bottle, they're negotiating a chop and I walk out to my car feeling like I've been shot. That's the first stage of tilt. Disbelief.

By the time I made it to the parking lot anger took over. That's the second stage.

"Can I ever win any fucking money?" I seethed to no one in particular as I plodded toward my car.

Then sadness. Poor fucking me. Woe is me. I never win anything. Waaa waaa waaah.

By the time I was turning into our subdivision, the cloud had lifted. I played fucking great tonight. There wasn't one decision I made in that game that I was unhappy with. I got my money in good twice. There's really nothing more I could have done. Yeah I'm still a broke-ass fool with poor money management but had I won that hand, I would have been coming home with at least a thousand dollars in my pocket and I'd be looking at this whole night as a worthy gamble that actually (one time!) paid off.

Instead, I don't feel much of anything.

I guess that's better than kicking holes in walls.

Monday, June 02, 2008


Flies are buzzing around my head
Vultures circling the dead
Picking up every last crumb
The big fish eat the little ones
The big fish eat the little ones
Not my problem give me some

-- Optimistic, by Radiohead

Every year thus far in the post-boom era of the World Series of Poker, the media vultures have circled around the Amazon Room on Day 1, just waiting to see what goes wrong. Pavlov and his dogs might tell them to expect the worst, given the total chaos and ineptitude shown on the first day of the series in 2005, 2006, and 2007. Endless lines. Gridlocked hallways. Those fucked-up Poker Peek cards. Shitty food. Not enough bathrooms. The Poker Tent. Those with a more optimistic constitution might be confident in Harrah's Caesar's when it comes to correcting those problems. But in terms of optimism, there really isn't a lot of that by nature when it comes to the poker circuit.

It's Day 4. The WSOP has run one small, elite $10K event, one record-breaking donkament, and handed out the first bracelet of the year to a talented young Canadian pro. And there's really nothing to complain about.

The registration lines have vanished. The food is better. No poker is being played in tents. There is actually room to move between tables. There are no freaky decks of cards. There's even a coffee and donut cart in the hallway. And an all-you-can-eat sushi joint. Seriously.

I even have the day off today. That's already 40% of the total days off I had all of last summer. Color me surprised.

My first assignment of the series was covering Event #1, the $10,000 pot-limit hold'em World Championship for Poker News. The final table was the deadliest lineup I've ever seen at a WSOP event outside the $50K H.O.R.S.E.-- well-known pros Andy Bloch, Nenad Medic, Mike Sexton, Kathy Liebert, Patrik Antonius, and Phil Laak were there along with internet superstars Amit Makhija and Mike Sowers. As Mike Sexton pointed out to those of us in media row before play started, five of the final table players had all won over $1 million in a single tournament (Bloch- 2006 50K H.O.R.S.E, Medic- 2006 WPT Foxwoods, Liebert- Party Poker Million, Sexton-- 2006 WSOP TOC, and Antonius- 2005 Bellagio Five-Diamond). That's absolutely astounding.

Though I'm an impartial journalist on the floor, I was quietly rooting for Andy Bloch at the final table. He's one of the nicest guys in poker and as Pauly often says, is the best player in the game who hasn't yet won a bracelet. I tend to agree with that statement because Andy is one of those players that excels at all the games. Hold'em, Omaha, stud, limit, no-limit, heads-up, shorthanded... he plays them all. And, it was his 39th birthday yesterday. How sweet would that be to win a bracelet on your birthday?

Alas it wasn't the day Bloch would finally shake that monkey off his back. Nor would it be the day another woman won an open event, or the day Mike Sexton won his first bracelet in 19 years, or the day another 21-year old internet pro claimed victory in a live setting. It was Nenad Medic's night, and the soft-spoken 6'5 former basketball player from Niagara Falls added his first WSOP bracelet to the WPT title he already holds. Bloch finished second after going into the final table as the chip leader. He had an opponent down to three outs on two separate occasions, but in both those instances, the dominated hands sucked out. Bloch was at a 5-2 chip disadvantage when they reached heads-up play and it took less than an hour for Medic to whittle him down.

Despite the positive changes that have been made at the WSOP this year, most of the song remains the same. Broke players still roam the hallways looking for stakes. Collectors seek out perennial debtors. Those IOUs are much harder to dodge when nearly everyone who plays this game for a living can now be found in one room. Young female players with nice bodies and marginal poker skills cozy up to older pros knowing that a few batted eyelashes over the dinner table and maybe a rub and tug could get them a few lessons and a buyin to that $1,500 donkament next weekend. Guys with jobs and wives and mortgages and kids fly out to Vegas to take their one chance at a bracelet and four hours later most of them are sitting at the bar, pouring even more of their hard-earned dollars into the Harrah's till, either in the bottom of a rocks glass or on the screen of a video poker machine, their buyin sucked back into the poker economy. That money will likely end up in the pocket of some obnoxious 22-year old internet kid who makes the final table. Or in the seven-figure bankroll of a superstar player. Or right back in the cash games courtesy of a total action junkie.

Everyone is looking for their piece. The pros, the joes, the online sites, the media. The dealers. Agents. Publicists. Drink companies. Strip clubs. Masseuses. Wives. Girlfriends. Husbands. Boyfriends. Distant cousins. Hangers-on. Taxi drivers. Cocktail waitresses.

Maybe this is the swan song of the poker boom. Maybe there are still a couple of years left in this thing. Maybe a Democratic win in November will lead to the UIGEA being overturned and the floodgates will re-open. Maybe the WPT will get another television contract after all.

I'd like to remain optimistic. The next seven weeks should decide if I will.