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.