Monday, December 27, 2010

A Not-So-Thinly Veiled Brag

Over the last four years I've asked the question in tournament rooms around the globe more times than you can count.

"So how did you win your seat?"

I've met guys that turned a few hundred frequent player points into a trip to the World Series of Poker. A young Brazilian woman who parlayed a satellite entry into more than $50,000 on the LAPT, enabling her to take far better care of her family than she did on her $8/hr job. 18 year-olds who shipped more than 100 WSOP Main Event seats three years before they were legally allowed to play. I always admired their chutzpah, their tenacity, their ability to perform capital miracles as they turned virtual water into wine. But I was firmly rooted in practicality. Earning a paycheck. Chipping away at those credit card bills that hung off my shoulders like sandbags. Such follies were admirable, but not for me.

Although the underemployment I've experienced for the last three months has certainly had a few ill effects on my psyche, it has yielded two positive byproducts-- I've turned out more screenplay pages in the last two months than I did probably in all of 2009 and 2010 and I've actually built myself a workable poker bankroll. For the former I owe a lot to regular kicks in the ass from Pauly and for the latter, I have to give due credit to CardRunners. Taking the time to watch just a few videos a week really took my game out of the muck and went a long way toward helping me ship this:

Sidelined from the WPBT festivities a few weeks ago with a back sprain, I got the idea to play for a PCA Ladies' Event seat while crocked to the gills on generic vicodin. I won my way into the $215 satellite via an $11 rebuy MTT and ended up busting out in 13th place out of forty-something players. I couldn't tell you a hand I played but damn, what a soft field. I decided to make another go of it this weekend but it took a few tries to win that $215 buy-in. I finished 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th (cash each time but no ticket!) in four different $2.20 rebuys before locking up a ticket in the penultimate $11R turbo sat Sunday morning. All that satellite grinding ended up having a +EV effect, however. A lot of the same crowd played those Round 1 sats and many women I'd played with in them ended up in the $215 on Sunday afternoon, so my HUD stats were overflowing on several players at my table.

The most difficult adjustment for me to make was finding ways to combat all the calling stations. There was more pre-flop limping that I was used to, and a good percentage of the time those limpers would call isolation raises, resulting in a lot of bloated pots pre-flop. In this situation, raising the limpers worked great for straight-up value, but it wasn't a move that would get anyone to fold. Neither did three-betting, except in the very late stages of the satellite. Consequently, I ended up playing much tighter than I ordinarily would. My hands held when I got it in good (QQ vs. 99, AK vs. AJ, AQ vs. A6), I won two key flips at the final table, and made one massive suckout (TT four-flushing against KK and 66) to end up chipleader with four players remaining and two packages up for grabs.

With the blinds up to 600/1,200, I had 80,000, and my three opponents had 33k, 32k and 10k respectively. I couldn't exactly fold to a seat, but the pressure came off a bit and I let the smaller stacks cannibalize each other for a while. However, I ended up doubling the short stack when her fives held against my [Qc][Tc] in a blind vs. blind hand. Now two of us had about 53k apiece and the other two both hovered around 20k.

Don't blow it, don't blow it, don't blow it. Just one hand at a time. One hand at a time.

The other big stack, OCQueenie, took out one of the short stacks when her AJ flopped an ace against pocket deuces. She was back up to 80k, I had blinded down to about 40k, and the other short stack had chipped up to 30k. I was starting to get concerned again, but thankfully the two of them took care of the final hand for me. OCQueenie's pocket tens held up against roxieforu05's pocket threes and the "Congratulations" message flickered onscreen.

My hands flew to my face. Was this really happening? Stuff like this doesn't happen to me in poker. I'm more likely to be on the receiving end of some devastating bubble. And devastating this bubble was. At 52 players, the prize pool was only $40 short of awarding one more package, making roxieforu05's third-place finish even more heartbreaking.

I dialed Pauly within 5 seconds of winning, my hands shaking so hard the phone tapped against my beaded earrings as I held it up. The only thing that would have made this win sweeter would have been if he was here with me. I let him know how deep I'd made it when we were down to five players and he was there on the rail for the big finish.

This is the largest amount I've won playing poker in some time. I almost forgot how good a big win feels, it had been so long. Although by the third or fourth go the satellites had become somewhat of a masochistic exercise, I kept plugging away because I felt I had an edge on the field. That, and even with all my time in the poker industry, I'd never experienced the Bahamas in January.

It took several bowls of Blackberry Kush and two double Baileys on the rocks to get me to stop shaking. For so long I've been writing about people who win their way in to these events, scribbling things like "Seat via $33 rebuy" in a notebook before scurrying back to my laptop to report a hand. Finally, I'm one of them. It took a few tries, but dare I say that win or lose at Atlantis, it was worth the grind to prove I could do it.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Old Roles

I've never been an overly Christmassy person. I put up a tree, but that's where the decorating starts and ends. Like any kid I enjoyed getting presents (especially the lottery tickets my mom puts in my stocking to this day) but hated going to church and the foursome of my parents, Mandy and I was usually rounded out by my grandmother, the odd relative, and a couple of my mother's single friends who would spend the holiday at our house. As years went by people passed away, people moved away, people had all sorts of drama, and gradually Christmas dinner was reduced back to that core quartet. Me, Mandy, Mom, and Dad.

I'm 33 and Mandy is 30. The other cousins in our generation are 32, 28, 26 and 25. None of the six of us are married (although 3 are happily living in long-term sin) or have children. And besides the point, Mandy and I are the only ones living in California, with the rest scattered to points east. Although my relationship with Pauly has outlasted many of my friends' marriages, it is decidedly not a marriage and when Christmas comes he makes the journey back to his mother's apartment in the Bronx while I drive four miles down Olympic Boulevard to engage in a strange re-creation of the nuclear family dynamic I grew up in. I miss him of course, but understand that family obligations go both ways. Anyhow, I get to join him in New York for New Year's, which in my mind is the far superior holiday, especially when Phish shows are involved.

This all leads me to my hypothesis that the anxiety I've experienced around the holidays over the last few years is rooted in discomfort with having to step back into that daughter role without any buffers. Don't get me wrong; my family isn't evil. They're actually really nice people and my sister is one of the kindest, gentlest souls you'll ever meet. And on Christmas Day I'm honestly focused on what is usually one of my best culinary efforts of the year. It's just that if you're married with kids, Christmas takes on a whole different tone. Santa and toys and wide-eyed joy. If you're a mid-thirties adult who has never, ever spent Christmas anywhere else than your parents' living room, it makes you wonder if you could ever do something so bold as to take a roadtrip or go to Hawaii one year without completely breaking their hearts.

As many times as they tell me they're fine with it, I know I'm already breaking their hearts by choosing not to do the traditional marriage and kids thing. So to make up for it, I keep playing the role of their kid, waking up in their house to open presents from "Santa." I'm serious. I'm 33 years old and my mother still puts a few things from Santa under the tree so Mandy and I have something to open on Christmas morning (our regularly scheduled family present-opening happens on Christmas Eve due to a German tradition passed down from my grandparents. Mandy typically spends the night at the house rather than do a roundtrip to the valley. With me it's about a coinflip whether or not I'm too smashed to drive home by the end of the night). The ritual is incredibly sweet and my mother has a big heart. It's just, you know, a little weird.

Nevertheless, I will spend Christmas Eve and Day at Mom & Dad's. They will be sad when I decline to accompany them to Mass (not a new thing), and rapturous when dinner goes on the plate. I have a budget of $100 and a trip to Whole Foods to make right now. I need beef, crabmeat, prosciutto, mushrooms, figs, and a whole lot of bacon. I am dying just thinking about the sauce. I really hope Mandy bought wine. So much so, that I just interrupted this post to text her a reminder.

Hopefully I have my shit together enough to post some food photos this weekend. Even though he's 3,000 miles away and will not be consuming this meal I can still hear Pauly saying "less vegetables!" and "Figs? Not eating that."

To you and yours, whatever year-end holiday you celebrate, both Disco Santa and I hope it is happy and merry.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Why I'm Not There

Ten days ago I woke up with some pretty bad lower back pain. I'm no stranger to a little back pain, especially while covering the WSOP or coming off a long-haul flight. Usually it goes away. Well this didn't. It got worse and worse and I put off and put off seeing a doctor because I don't have insurance. By Tuesday afternoon I was laid out on my mother's couch in tears and yesterday morning I bit the bullet and went to Cedars-Sinai. Gotta say the doc there was pretty awesome and when I told him I was a freelancer and paying cash, he went out of his way to help me get out of there on the cheap, knocking his office visit fee down to $165 from the typical $380. The x-ray ($115) revealed that I hadn't pinched my sciatic nerve as I'd feared, but just had a pretty severe lower back sprain. I was sent home with anti-inflammatories and generic vicodin and told that it would not be advisable for me to travel this weekend.

Hence, my absence from the WPBT winter gathering for the first time in six Decembers. I was looking forward to seeing so many of you and I'm truly disappointed. Rest assured, I'm well taken care of; the TV show Mandy shoots for is on hiatus and she is around to help me out, as is my mom, who (despite not always agreeing with everything I write on here) has offered to do my grocery shopping and bring me anything I need.

* * * * *

Since it's the first day in a while that I've been able to sit up at my desk without writhing in pain, I've been catching up on the poker world. I'm waiting on definitive news about the #reidbill just like the rest of you, occasionally bursting out in giggles as it is declared dead/alive/dead/alive on Twitter. Stars and Tilt are shitting their pants, Harrah's and MGM are licking their lips, and many in the poker media are wondering if they'll have jobs if the bill makes it through and a 15-month blackout period begins. Me? As soon as I can sit up for more than two hours I'm playing as many Mini FTOPS events, PCA hyper-turbo sats, and 135-man Rush SNGs as I can before the lights come on and the barstools are stacked up. And when it's cashout time? The way things are now, it'll take a couple of transaction failures and bounced checks before I can hold my bankroll in my hands. If things weren't so sketchy right now with payment processors it's easy to see why so many would be in favor of sticking with the status quo.

(For more on the bill see my lawyer friend F-Train, my writer/professor friend Shamus and the gang at Pokerati. For a pair of cartoon bears discussing JP Morgan's manipulation of the silver market, visit the Tao of Pauly. To learn about insane nosebleed cash games in Macau read The Land of the Unicorns.)

I was also pointed toward a post on Infinite Edge about the future of poker media. Not necessarily in the context of the Reid bill, but about how media outlets are beholden to the major online sites since they are far and away the primary source of advertising and affiliate revenue in the industry. Since online poker sites essentially pay the media's salaries as they are the only companies (a) buying advertising and (b) handing out money for referring them new customers there is, of course, an inherent conflict.

As the economy worsens and the affiliate market crumbles, at some outlets, any attitude outside of "online poker is AWESOME, come play!" is no longer acceptable. Diverting from it in the least can get you replaced with someone who will play ball, and at a lower salary. I know I've paid for it professionally.

Put it this way. If, suddenly, say NBC/Universal was the only corporation willing to buy ads in the Los Angeles Times, don't you think the Times would go a long way toward promoting The Office, the new Black Eyed Peas album, and the upcoming holiday release Little Fockers? Should they dare to write a negative review of any of these products, they'd most likely be immediately punched in the wallet and every one of their employees would feel it. "Journalism" goes out the window pretty quickly and writers become nothing more than thinly disguised PR flacks.

The piece also went on to compliment two-thirds of the Tao of Pokerati (sorry Dan):

"People like Pauly and Benjo have proven how much journalistic integrity can be injected into the most degenerate aspects of the industry. It can be done with style and flair without becoming repetitive."

Some people are still out there doing real investigative journalism in the poker industry. Haley Hintze has been tirelessly peeling many of the layers of the onion that is the UB superuser scandal. And I always think back to Tim Lavalli and Amy Calistri's multi-part piece for PokerNews on the two million extra chips that found their way onto the final table of the 2006 WSOP Main Event. Would something like that fly today or be carefully buried?

Me? Although it's been hard to think of anything other than the searing pain in my back for a while, I'm trying to remain zen about it all. I'm more concerned with writing a screenplay or two and a book before I'm too old or the world goes completely to hell. I've learned a lot about living in the moment rather than living for the future over the last five years. I'm going to keep doing it for as long as I can.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Setlist: Turkey Day

Thanksgiving with my Family- 11/25/10- Los Angeles, CA
special guest Dr. Pauly on guitar and harmonica

Set 1: Good Day Sunshine, Vegetables Ruined Your Maque Choux, Pauly Shaves the Wookbeard>Citizen Pauly, Brownies for Mandy, (There is no) Crosstown Traffic (On Thanksgiving)>Also Sprach Zarathustra

Set 2: Champagne Supernova, Shorting Stocks for Fun and Profit*, Derek Jeter is Washed-Up and Overpaid, Goddamn it to Hell I Can't Carve this Turkey>Food Glorious Food>Red Red Wine, We Need Points>J-E-T-S>We Need Points, Sweet Chocolate Pie**, Sleeping Monkey

Encore: Turkey Cup>Busto Blues> Turkey Cup Reprise

*= Pauly solo acoustic, Mandy on backup vocals
**= to the tune of "Sweet Caroline"

Note: First show of 2010 that did not include Won't You Please Get Health Insurance?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Truth and Consequences

It's not an easy decision to become a writer. First there's the whole vow of poverty thing, the decision to live without a solid net; without the safety of regular paychecks, and an employer that provides health benefits, makes matching 401(k) contributions, and covers half your Social Security and Medicare taxes (in case you didn't know, the self-employed have to pick that whole tab up themselves). Freelancing is a daily struggle. Writing well, even more so. And it's something I'm working on every day.

To really write well you have to put yourself out there. Use your own history and experiences to create characters, to tell a story, to satirize, to meditate on a theme, to tell the truth. It's something I struggle with, especially after my parents decided to dig deep enough into the internet, find my blog and Twitter account, and tell me how much I'd offended them. The first incident was more than three years ago and I'd really hoped they'd just moved on from it and realized that this is just the way it is if you daughter chooses to be a writer. The second was this morning.

Initially, I panicked. Would I have to go deep underground? Start another blog under yet another new identity? Start censoring myself on Twitter? But thankfully, it took me only about thirty minutes to calm down, respond to my parents in a measured, rational fashion, and get right back on the horse. I can't be a writer if I have to stop and consider what my parents will think of my subject matter or me every time I hit publish. Letting go of that need for approval is one more step toward being an artist. It's also another sacrifice and one I need to make immediately.

My parents can respect my choice, or they can keep wishing I was more like them. I've decided to embrace who I am.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Setlist: Dinner with My Parents

Dinner with My Parents - 10/21/10 - Los Angeles, CA

Set 1: You Put On Makeup, Is Something Wrong?, C.C. Sabathia is a Fat Colored Man>Theme from The Archie Bunker Show>The Dodgers Hold the Moral High Ground, How Many Phish Shows Are Enough?, Your Car Insurance Costs...What?

Set 2: A Photo of You at Ellie's Wedding>Were You Really That Drunk>Why Do You Always Bring Up Weddings?, It's My Life*, How is Work>Unemployment Lies>How is Work, Let's Take Your Blood Pressure**, Won't You Please Get Health Insurance?

Encore: Dad Would Sleep Better if He Smoked Weed***

*Bon Jovi Cover
** 104/73
*** Solo acoustic

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Nugs from the Road: Denver

Yeah, I get that the unemployed probably shouldn't be taking trips halfway across the country to watch their favorite band perform, but the train had already left the station when it came to last week's excursion to Colorado for Phish's three-night run in Broomfield. Pauly scored us face-value tickets, we had a free place to crash in the joker's basement, and thanks to the combination of a $300 voucher from Great Lakes airlines that I earned during our Telluride travel debacle this summer and my obscene frequent-flyer mile balance on American, I had free transportation.

A few short thoughts/reflections:
  • Colorado's medicinal marijuana is not only extremely effective but also unbelievably inexpensive. Stuff that goes for $40-45 an eighth in Denver could be sold for $70 in West L.A. I tasted some beautifully cultivated Golden Goat, Sno Cap, White Widow, OG Kush, and a bright, racy sativa called Durban Poison that I'd never experienced before.
  • Every time we set foot in Colorado, I can feel how badly my boyfriend wants us to move there. Los Angeles is becoming unsustainably expensive and while we'll probably stick around the west coast for a while longer, moving to Denver would save us about 30% on rent and more than 75% on car insurance. It's extremely tempting; there's a great music scene and we have a lot of friends in the area, but it's difficult for me to imagine living there. I am not an outdoorsy person. I don't ski, snowboard, climb, camp or ride a bike. And I will never, ever wear Tevas. Still, I told him at one point on the trip that I'd be willing to live there for one year. I don't know what the fuck has gotten in to me.
  • The Phish shows themselves were a mixed bag. I had a great time with the Coventry crew (our stretch Escalade party limo was off the hook), but in terms of song selection it was touch & go. Pauly wrote up some excellent reviews on Coventry: Ten Ten Ten, Eurotrash Night, and Off-Kilter in Colorado.
  • I flew home while Pauly stayed on the road for the remainder of Phish fall tour, including their three-night Halloween run in Atlantic City, which I am so bummed to miss, especially after experiencing Festival 8 last year. I haven't written a lick about poker in 14 days, which is some sort of record for me when it comes to the last four years. I've certainly played some poker during that time and managed to grind up a few hundred bucks, but my creative juices are turning toward other writing projects.
  • When I got home, a copy of the new Phish DVD Coral Sky was waiting in my mailbox. I wrote up a mini-review for Coventry then got accused of homophobia in the comments, which is pretty damned hilarious. I'm probably the only Phish fan on earth who owns over a dozen Barbra Streisand albums and five cast recordings of Gypsy.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Exit Interview

In my heart of hearts I knew what was happening from the moment I opened the email. Meeting tomorrow, over the phone. The wording was clinical, the usually friendly, jovial tone nowhere to be found. I tried to convince myself otherwise, awarding percentages to what it could really be about. But I knew. That's why I wasn't too surprised when the words finally landed in my ear.

In late 2006, at a Mexican restaurant in Studio City, John Caldwell hired me to write for PokerNews. Four years, four WSOPs, and three editors later, I was relieved of my duties, a rare L.A. rainstorm pounding the hood of my Mazda as I sat pulled over on a side street six blocks from my apartment.

In the years that passed between those two conversations, the poker industry changed radically. It's no secret that PokerNews (as well as many of their direct competitors) operate on an affiliate model. In layman's terms, the vast majority of the money they make comes from the referral fees online poker sites give them for each person who signs up for an account by clicking on one of their banners. That used to be a lot of money per player. Now, things are different. The money isn't rolling in like it used to, and it's an industry-wide trend.

PokerNews let me go for reasons that had a lot more to do with dollars and cents than anything else. I was one of their higher-paid employees. That's not to say I was making a fortune-- in order to get by I had to supplement my income with freelance work for other clients-- but it was more than a lot of people earn in the poker media. I think I earned every cent I made there and then some. Of course some pieces were better than others, but I know I'm a good writer. In the moments before being terminated from my job, I was called the "best in the industry." But in the New World Order of cost-cutting and downsizing, it is now more valuable for outlets to hire younger, more inexperienced people to write for them rather than paying more money to a veteran who knows what his or her talent is worth.

I will always be grateful to John Caldwell for bringing me into the PokerNews fold and to Jonno Pittock who showed me what it really takes to cover the World Series of Poker. When I think about the proverbial "jerseys on the wall" at PokerNews, I think about folks like Amy Calistri, Tim Lavalli, Martin Harris, Haley Hintze, Michael Friedman, John Hartness, Gene Bromberg, and my own beloved Dr. Pauly (who even came out of retirement for a few months to assist in last year's editorial transition). That's an extremely talented group right there and I'm honored to have worked with each one of them. I also have to thank Dr. Ken Friedman for being a brilliant editor over the last 14 months. He made me a better writer and I'll never forget it.

Although I am now without full-time employment, I will still be covering LAPT and NAPT events for the PokerStars Blog. And maybe you'll get a bit more of me here again. I can only think of one one strong female voice who is still drawing a full-time editorial paycheck in this industry (that's you, Jess Welman) and I still have a lot to say. In my time at PokerNews I hope I informed you, I hope I entertained you, and moreover, I hope I made you think. Some may call me cynical, some might call me jaded. All I did was try to tell the truth.

As a small parting gift, here's what I thought were my five best op-eds for PN this year:

Friday, September 03, 2010

Durrrr vs. jungleman12, Duke vs. Negreanu, and Other Delights

Happy Labor Day weekend America. Well, at least for the 90% of you who still have jobs. My own day gig with PokerNews has kept me quite busy since I returned home from Phish tour so I thought I'd share some of my better scribblings with you.

I have an op-ed column now that runs on Saturdays. I'm not sure anyone reads the internet on Saturdays, but those brave souls who do got to check out The War of the C-Words last week, where I gave my take on Annie Duke and Daniel Negreanu's latest sandbox fight. This week's topic? The models, washed-up reality stars and porn actresses who are being doled out live event buy-ins by a number of online sites. Stay tuned.

I actually have a healthy balance in my Full Tilt account thanks to their Rush Poker 135-man SNGs. I wrote an installment of Bankroll Builders on these (squishy-soft) games.

Tom "durrrr" Dwan started his second "Durrrrr Challenge" against a guy most of you have never heard of before-- 20 year-old University of Maryland student Dan "jungleman12" Cates. I recapped their first two sessions earlier this week.

Pauly also wrote his take on the Dwan/Cates match in a piece for Full Tilt's Poker from the Rail blog. Check out Freaky Styley: durrrr and jungleman12

Smoke tough and enjoy the holiday my friends.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Tao All-Stars Piece

Yeah, yeah, I know he's my boyfriend but it's still an honor to have my words up on the Tao of Poker. Many moons ago, long before I ever met Pauly or wrote my own blog, I was one of those voracious Tao readers, hitting "refresh" throughout my lunch hour or when I returned to my office between meetings in order to catch up on all the action from the WSOP. Having some of those words be my own now is really something special.

Go read Everything All of the Time: the WSOP's Identity Crisis and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Lost Vegas - Buy it Now!

I'm supposed to be a writer but it's hard to put into words what it's like to watch the person you love the most on this earth fulfill their dreams after toiling night and day on their craft for so many years. I'm bursting with pride today for Pauly, because there is only one day in any writer's life where they can say "Today, I released my first book."

Today is that day for him.

Buy Lost Vegas, available right now exclusively on Buy two. Buy five! They make excellent gifts. And if you can track him down at the Rio between now and the end of the WSOP Main Event, he'd be happy to sign your copy.

Congratulations, my love.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Ladies Event Debacle, Dwan's Bracelet Bet, and More

I woke up this morning in my own bed. As in, the bed in my apartment in Los Angeles. I'm home for a little over 24 hours to attend the wedding shower of one of my oldest friends (I wrote about picking out her gift here). I'm truly multitasking this morning as I'm writing this while watching the USA-England match and getting a pedicure from a man that looks like Doug Lee.

I wrote a couple of op-eds on PokerNews this week you should check out:

Don't Rain on My Parade addresses the debacle at yesterday's WSOP Ladies' Event when a dozen or so men decided to play to "make a point."

Bets Bigger than Bracelets talks about what it takes to get the elite pros interested in the preliminary events at the WSOP.

I also made another guest appearance on the Tao of Pokerati discussing douchebag bracketology. For example, what is worse? The guy who slowrolls you or the guy who screams "YEAH BABY YEAH!" when he wins a pot?

Pauly also wrote his take on dudes playing the Ladies' Event in Dude Looks Like a Lady and Get Baked.

I also got to cover one of the most loaded final tables thus far at the WSOP-- the $10,000 World Championship Stud Eight or Better. Congrats to Frank Kassela for winning his first bracelet.

You can also follow me on Twitter, although today's tweets may be more rich-people-wedding-related than pithy pokery platitudes.

Back in Vegas in 24 hours.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Monday Morning Linkage

I'm back in the Rio covering the $10,000 World Championship Seven-Card Stud Hi/Lo event, or as AlCantHang has dubbed it "The Rock Garden Open." However, hardly anyone was paying attention to the stud action tonight with the Tom Dwan circus unfolding across the room. A good percentage of the Stud hi/lo field was sweating gargantuan side bets on whether Dwan would win a bracelet and seemed to be playing the $10K only to distract themselves. When Dwan lost heads-up, I've never seen all the tension sucked out of the Amazon Room so quickly. Goddammit, I was looking forward to writing the story of how "durrrr" broke the poker economy and took "The Corporation" for more money than Andy Beal ever did.

Anyway, since we don't have that to go on, here's a few stories I wrote this week along with some stellar reads penned by my friends and colleagues.

The $50K Players' Championship drew 116 players, up from last year, but the numbers are down overall at this year's WSOP, as I addressed in Deconstructing the $50K and Declining Donkament Fields.

F-Train also took a look at the year-to-year numbers in his post The Numbers Game.

I had to ship Pauly $60 yesterday after losing my first prop bet of the WSOP. He gave me 3-1 that another Brit would win a bracelet this year and thanks to James "Flushy" Dempsey, I'm out the price of a good eighth of hydro. Check out my beloved's recap God Save the Queen Reprise and Seven for Men.

I made a guest appearance on the Tao of Pokerati, where Michaski and I discussed the finer points of the "douchebag look."

Two pieces I wrote last week on my reaction to Victory Poker's ad campaign have received a bit of attention and plenty of haters. Victory's CEO even commented on the post on the Wicked Chops Poker Podcast. Decide for yourself by reading Ladies, Here's What Victory Poker Thinks of You and Victory Poker CEO Responds to Ad Campaign Criticism.

Finally, if you're around the Rio, take the time and give some of the PokerNews WSOP bloggers and floor reporters some love. They have a grueling, utterly thankless job and certainly aren't getting rich from it. Several high-profile pros have taken to Twitter to bash PN's WSOP reporting and if I had the necessary dough, I'd challenge any of them to do our job for a day and see if they could hack it.

That's it. The sky is beginning to lighten, so I'm bongin' out and going to bed.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Victory Poker CEO Responds to Ad Campaign Criticism

It's not sexism, ladies. It's "just marketing"

After Liv Boeree, Annie Duke, and Vanessa Selbst all took down major tournament titles earlier this year, the Entities at Wicked Chops Poker proclaimed 2010 "The Year of the Woman" and in their latest podcast, they speak with two of the more prominent ladies in the game-- newly minted EPT champion Boeree and Lacey Jones, who seems to be filling her resume with more and more poker television hosting gigs every week. Their third guest, however, was Victory Poker CEO Dan Fleyshman. As you all know by now, I'm not too happy with their marketing campaign and Fleyshman responded to the criticism lobbied at him not only by myself, but several others in the poker blogosphere.

Here is Fleyshman's response, which comes around the 15-minute mark in Episode 3 of the Wicked Chops Podcast

"I was pretty shocked. I mean, like everybody uses models in their campaigns and I think I did a pretty classy job of it. I used Playboy Playmates and I also used traditional models as well, from different countries. But I also used guys. Like, you know what I did? I did like, a strip poker photo shoot last week-- the guys were the ones topless in a lot of the shots and the girls were the ones winning the game. So for everybody to say, like, I don't know, to feel sexist in a way is like, weird to me because my very first charity event, I donated money to breast cancer. I sponsor the LIPS poker tour. I'm sponsoring the womens' events. Like, I'm involved on both sides of this. So it's just marketing. Like, i have to do everything. I'm not just focusing on models and I'm not just focusing on guys. I'm trying to do everything. So it was very shocking. That's why, if you've noticed, on the internet I'm defending myself a lot because I'm not sexist."

Fleyshman goes on to talk about how he's spending every weekend teaching Playboy Playmate Sara Underwood how to play poker, which I'm sure is a huge personal sacrifice.

"It does feel weird to me, because we're so open-minded and we're so across the board so it's weird that so many people would feel we're sexist," Fleyshman said.

Sorry buddy, but any way you slice it, there's nothing "across the board" when it comes to those ads. "Across the board," at least in my interpretation, would mean appealing to a broad demographic. I don't see how any of the images currently put forth by Victory Poker appeal anyone other than young men who enjoy looking at photos of surgically enhanced models.

Victory Poker's message is pretty clear. And in my opinion, "but I donated money to breast cancer" and "it's just marketing" constitutes a pretty weak-sauce response. Instead of teaching Playmates how to play poker, how about sponsoring some professional female players instead? Concerned about "marketing" and "image" and don't want to have someone (gulp) unattractive in your ads? How about putting a drop-dead gorgeous woman like Christina Lindley, Maria Ho or Lauren Kling on your team instead of relying on provocatively dressed models to sell your product?

And I'm sorry Mr. Fleyshman, but you're wrong. Not everyone uses models. Bodog tried that circa 2005 (as some readers pointed out in the comments after my last post) and look at their market share today If you want to head down that road, well, that's where it ends.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ladies, here's what Victory Poker thinks of you

Oh, will you now?

Back in college, I remember sitting in one of those introductory communications classes called "Mass Media and Society" or something of that ilk. We had an assignment to analyze advertising messages and were given pages torn out of magazines to analyze. I can't remember what my own ad was but when I laid eyes on Victory Poker's campaign, I flashed right back to Fisk Hall.

The men in this image are the only ones with seats at the table and cards in front of them. The women are draped around their shoulders like accessories. They aren't playing the game, they're only interested in their men-- and their men don't appear to be interested in them at all for the moment. While each man has a distinctive "look" and personal style, blonde women all have strikingly similar appearances and the brunettes could be twins. The message here is that women do not have a place at the poker table. It's a place for men to play and women to watch. I mean, the women don't even have chairs to sit in! The one in the middle that looks like that plastic surgery chick from The Hills is confined to Andrew Robl's lap.

I understand marketing. I'm extremely pragmatic. And I understand that the online poker market is overwhelmingly young males. Victory Poker is capitalizing on the perception people have of these particular pro endorsers' jet-setting, nightclubbing Vegas lifestyles. And that might get them some customers. Hell, it might get them a whole lot of customers. I just hope that the female players out there think twice about supporting a site that obviously thinks so little of them. I've always had a lot more respect for the online sites (coughPokerStarscough) who haven't ever found the need to resort to such shameless marketing tactics and have instead relied on the quality of their product.

I also read this morning that the WSOP's Milwaukee's Beast No-Limit Lounge or whatever the fuck they called it last year has been renamed "The Man-Cave." While my inner feminist was initially fired up over this as well, I've decided to let the WSOP have their man-cave. Women are too smart to drink that flavorless piss of a beer. I also have the sneaking suspicion that if Jeffrey Pollack was still the commissioner of the WSOP, the unfortunate moniker would have been done away with. Miss you, commish.

I'm used to being a woman in an overwhelmingly male-dominated field. I've done it my whole life. I just hoped we'd come a little further than crap like this.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Betfair Roundtable and TOC Op-Ed

Just a quickie here, kids before I run back into my pre-WSOP cave which includes pumping out articles for PokerNews, SCOOP recaps for PokerStars Blog, and consuming copious amounts of California's finest.

Shamus invited me to be a part of the Betfair Bloggers' Roundtable about the upcoming World Series of Poker along with Pauly, Michalski, Otis, and many other fine folks. Check it out.

I also shared my balloting process for this year's WSOP Tournament of Champions in a two-part op-ed for PokerNews:

Am I really 8 days away from my fifth summer in Las Vegas? Pass the bong...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Good China

When I was seven years old, the mini-mall on the corner of Pico and Westwood Boulevards was torn down and the Westside Pavilion went up in its place. At the western end of this new retail palace was a department store my mom had never heard of before called Nordstrom. I was in need of a dress for my First Communion, so we walked the three blocks over there the day after it opened.

Everything seemed so fancy-- the marble floors, the guy in a tuxedo playing standards on a grand piano next to the escalators, the sequined gowns that hung underneath signs that said "Armani" and "St. John." Over in the kids' section, my mom pulled a pink satin dress off a rack and held it up to me. Looked like it would be a perfect fit. Before letting me try it on, however, she glanced at the price tag.

"Only $28? That can't be right," she said.

"No mommy, that says $228."

Most of the color drained from my mother's face as she immediately re-racked the dress, took my hand, and led me toward the escalator.

That 25-year old moment came back to me only a few minutes ago as I scrolled through an old friend's wedding registry. And when I say old, I mean old. I've known her since before I had to look for that First Communion dress.

I always get a little antsy and bitter when I have to buy wedding gifts, even when they are for people I genuinely care about. As much as we love each other and as long as we've been together, Pauly and I don't plan on getting married. It's not something we need to do, though sometimes we joke around about how we should just do it "for the stuff." Then again, we're not people obsessed with stuff; he especially turns anxious when confronted with how many material things he's acquired since "domesticating" in L.A.

But sometimes, the selfish side of me wonders what it would be like to have dishes and sets of towels that matched.

I didn't think people bought "good china" anymore. These days, it seems like a quaint notion straight out of an episode of Mad Men. When our friends come over for a meal, we eat on a hodgepodge of white Target and IKEA plates and I'm pretty sure no one knows the difference. My parents have "good china" that they got at their wedding more than thirty years ago, and mostly it collects dust in the dining room cabinet. I thought the good china might have been one of those old-fashioned ideas my generation declared ridiculous, like smoking indoors or abstinence before marriage. But after scrolling through my old friend's Bloomingdale's registry, I discovered one thing and remembered another.

1. I guess people still buy "good china," or at least ask for it when they get married.

2. I went to private school with rich people.

The plates are Italian-made, bone-white with a wide silver trim. A perfect blend of classy and arty, just like her. She requested ten and still needed ten. I clicked the quantity arrow to "10" and hit "add to bag."

When the next page popped up I was catapulted back to Nordstrom in 1985. Those plates weren't $90 for all ten. They were $90 each. With tax and shipping, the price tag cracked four figures. For dinner plates. The matching serving bowl is $245 if you're curious.

If I told my mother about the plates, she'd ask me why I was so surprised. "They're loaded," I can hear her saying, her New Jersey accent sliding in on the long vowels. And she's right. Ellie's parents have to be blowing six figures on this wedding. The least they can hope for is that some of their Beverly Hills douchebag friends at least hook their daughter up with some dishes.

Further down the list, I noticed Ellie had registered for the same stainless steel Cuisinart 550 coffeemaker that I use every morning to brew the warm caffeinated nectar that keeps me conscious in the morning hours. I deleted the good china from my cart and added it instead.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

American Idol Season 9: Bowersox and Magnus Highlight Worst. Episode. Ever.

If American Idol was a poker tournament, this week would be the money bubble. Of the 11 remaining contestants, 10 will make the American Idols Live summer tour and guarantee themselves a payday in the $200,000 range. While it's not exactly a sum to retire on, it's a huge boost for a struggling musician and it could go a long way toward financing their art over the next several years if they spend it wisely. Simon Cowell started the show with an ominous warning, telling his little lambs that "it's absolutely the worst night to go" right as they're lead to potential slaughter. If there is a God up there listening, please let it be Tim Urban or that little gay kid.

The Idols also met their first professional "mentor" tonight. And those honors went to... Miley Cyrus? A twelfth-grader fond of flashing her underwear in front of her iPhone camera and dressing like a hooker? What, the Jonas Brothers weren't available?

In a departure from last week's downright specific theme (sing a Rolling Stones song), this week the contestants had all 116 years of Billboard #1 hits at their disposal. Despite the range and depth of song choices available to them, most of the Idols completely whiffed on song choices, turning this week's two-hour performance episode into a never-ending set at some horrifying karaoke bar. Yes, this could possibly be the Worst. Episode. Ever. and if it weren't for Wookie Girl and that little wail-in-a-box Siobhan Magnus, I might have flipped over to the new episode of 90210.

Lee Dewyze "The Letter": I totally didn't get the Rat Pack direction he went in tonight. Why not stay with the rootsy style that was working for him? Dewyze has great vocals and should have picked a song where they could shine instead of crowding the stage with a horn section and a trio of backup singers. Throwing up all these other stage elements to take the focus off himself is totally counter-intuitive at this point in the competition. Does he think he needs some flash to make up for his lack of charisma? Ding ding ding! Dewyze needs to find some panache in a hurry if he's really going to make a go of a career. Although, American Idol has certainly launched bores in the past. Carrie Underwood anyone?

Paige Miles "Against All Odds": Honey I'd be worried about those heels too. And I'd be even more worried about your song choice. A sleepy 80's ballad sung seated on the stairs? This was one of the most off-key, utterly tone-deaf performances in the last few seasons. Miles has this lovely mezzo belt-- why pick a song that falls right in its break? I was looking for the fast-forward button by the one-minute mark.

Tim Urban "Crazy Little Thing Called Love": Wow. I didn't think anyone could stink up the joint any worse than Paige Miles did, but Urban came close. This was Cheesy Dated Teen Idol Crap. Going out into the audience to be surrounded by one's adoring fans is so incredibly presumptuous at this stage. Vote for the Worst is going to have a field day with this one (and apparently a few got in to the audience).

Aaron Kelly "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" :Oh, sweetie. Your "crush" on Miley isn't convincing any of us. And she only dates 23-year old underwear models anyway. Performances like this one are the moments on American Idol that make me want to shoot myself. It's not camp, it's not good music, it's bland poppy shit that teenage girls like. Even if we're talking about him in the context of that genre (and unfortunately, it is a genre), Kelly's high notes are nowhere near anything Clay Aiken or even David Archuleta can do.

Crystal Bowersox "Me and Bobby McGee": Wookie Girl unfortunately ruined her street cred when she had Miley Cyrus sign her guitar. She's gonna catch some shit for that. Hey, I have that dress. And I like her hair up. As for the song, well, I think she should have trusted her instincts and left it in the lower key instead of listening to Miley Fucking Cyrus. But it was a great choice for her and firmly in her wheelhouse. Keep bringing it, Wookie Girl! Hey, she's got a carpet! Just like Phish. Hey Seacrest, sit down. Wanna smoke a bowl?

Michael Lynche "When a Man Loves a Woman" Another snoooooozy song that is noooooot contemporary and sooooo cruise ship. I really want to like this guy but gah, I'm so sick of the lame, familiar song choices. This dude is an R&B beast-- find some freakin' deep cuts or you won't be able to compete with this bunch.

Andrew Garcia "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" Jesus Christ. Another cheesy, loungey arrangement. Shoot me now. Andrew, don't take advice from Miley Fucking Cyrus. Keep that guitar in your arms. This kind of shtick doesn't work for you. After tonight, I'm even more confused about this guy. I also told myself that I'd take a bong hit if any of the judges invoke his performance of "Straight Up." Gah! Kara just said it!

Katie Stevens "Big Girls Don't Cry" Was I hallucinating that she had a bigger voice than what I've hear so far from this girl? This was pitchy all over the place, completely oversung, and... yeah, basically nails on a chalkboard. This wasn't a preview of a hot new recording artist, its was more like a high school talent show performance from the head choirgirl. And I used to BE the head choirgirl. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Casey James "The Power of Love" OK...was it a requirement that a minimum number of contestants utilize the sunglassed horn section? I usually say that everything is better with horns, but in this case, it totally cheesed up the arrangement. This was nothing but bad 80's cover band shizzle. Seriously, can any of these kids pick a song?

Didi Benami "You're No Good" I love how Didi pronounces like four out of five vowels on each syllable. Her high notes were a bit sharp, but at least the arrangement wasn't the bad lounge act like some of her competitors. She took their note about creating drama a bit literally and guess what? Now the judges want her to go back to being "herself." But... they thought that what she did before was boring? See how easy it is to lose your mind?

Siobhan Magnus "Superstition" I laughed out loud when Magnus said"I think it's wicked cool she said my voice has swagger!" when talking about meeting Miley. But gurrrrrl, WTF is with that outfit? Unlike you, I was actually alive in 1984 and that was almost too authentic. Now, a word about her "wail-in-a-box." You know, that obscenely high belt/scream. I get Cowell's point about the high G's and A's. You can't trot that shit out every time. And you shouldn't. You can't hit those things every day of your life at 100% or your voice will be shot in five years. It's still goddamned impressive, though. I'm not knocking it. Just let it be an element of surprise rather than an element we expect every time.

Please, please stay: Wookie Girl, Wail-in-a-Box

Go away. Now: Tim Urban, Paige Miles, Katie Stevens

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

American Idol Season 9: Rolling Stones Week

This is your Top 12, America. How could you?

Last night on American Idol, the Top 12 took on the music of the Rolling Stones. Are these kids even old enough to know who the Rolling Stones are? As I sat there, waiting for the first teenage train wreck to take the stage, I told Pauly that I thought this choice for theme-of-the-week was both good and bad. We were going to hear good songs, even some great songs, but whom among this bunch could even come close to the swagger and drama of Mick Jagger? Could any of these girls turn in a cover of "Paint it Black" that would even come close to the neighborhood of Grace Potter's electrifying version?

Well, I'd be right on one account and wrong on the other. Let's look at last night's performances:

Michael Lynche, "Miss You": Lynche may have stage presence to spare and an easy engagement with the audience, but the vocal on this was so sub-par, punctuated with gasps and hoots straight out of thfe Michael Jackson playbook. The judges jizzed all over it,fff but thankfully Cowell got real and called him out on the "corny" dance moves and affectations.

Didi Benami "Play with Fire": This was a very good song choice but such a strange lyric for Didi, because she is anything but fiery. Didi is more like a lemon tart or some sort of delicate dessert. She did get to open up her vocals big-time in this performance and it was something she really needed to do in order to pick up some votes. The vocals were there, but unfortunately the emotion was only at about half-speed. Oh, and Didi? Struggling for four years in L.A. is NOTHIN' kiddo. Nothing at all. You're here four years and you're aleady in the Top 12 of American Idol? You are fucking blessed.

Casey James "It's All Over Now": I liked the guitar riffs and the blues sound he brought to the song but I'm not gaga over this dude. It was fine enough, and you know he'll move on to next week but... meh? Holy shit, is Simon wearing a cardigan?

Lacey Brown "Ruby Tuesday": Wait a minute. This chick is still on this show? And her parents are pastors? And I've so heard a cover just like this on YouTube hundreds of times. Hold on... why is she sitting down on the egde of the stage? Did she hurt herself? This was a very one-note performance for me. In terms of the arrangement, we needed to see more dynamics and range from her, not just the cutesy lilting vocal shtick that has carried her this far. Still, this was probably her best performance since Hollywood Week. Can you feel the warmth from me for this girl?

Andrew Garcia "Gimme Shelter": Moreno Valley Gangland Boy still hasn't delivered since his genius cover of Paula Abdul's "Straight Up" and...wait a minute... Randy Jackson is wearing a cardigan too? A lavender one? I liked his intentions with the arrangement which took the song an unexpected pop direction, but despite what I truly believe were his best efforts, Garcia just couldn't pull off this vocal. I mean Christ on a cracker, that thing is a mountain to climb.

Katie Stevens "Wild Horses": Oh, heavens. How is this sweet little underage thing going to sing the Stones? And why in God's name did she pick the song Simon just recorded with that batshit crazy Scottish chick who won Britain's Got Talent? And why is her interpretation of "be young" a floral tea party dress and pearl-accented jewelry? Stevens' performance was so high-school talent show I wanted to turn on some Ani DiFranco and self-mutilate. Seriously, this chick and not Lily Scott, America? You're all on crack. When your chosen ingenue is completely outdone by a 48-year old virgin with a monobrow, something just isn't right.

Tim Urban "Under My Thumb": Oh fuck. This kid's still in it too? The reggae-inspired arrangement did nothing more for me than make me want to smoke more marijuana than I'd already consumed in the seventy minutes I'd been watching this drivel. I didn't get it either, Randy.

Siobhan Magnus "Paint it Black": So one of the girls did take on "Paint it Black" and thank you Jesus for letting it be Siobhan. I love this girl. She's like, a total home-schooled freakshow artiste and it's amazing. This was a standout moment for her-- a gutsy, rangy performance that didn't compromise her personal style. This performance was kind of like what would happen if Bjork and Aretha Franklin's love child sang this song. I loved the quiet, waltz-y string intro, and I loved the drama she brought to the climax with that insaaaanely high belt.

Lee Dewyze "Beast of Burden": If you close your eyes, this could have been a Jack Johnson or Dave Mattehews Band single. Dewyze delivered with a contemporary, acoustic take on the song with poppy vocal riffs. This shit is a lotta people's cup of tea and I think Lee knows it. Sure it was a safe choice, but he's not in a situation right now where he really needs to take a risk in order to pick up votes.

Paige Miles "Honky-Tonk Woman": Are you serious? This chick is still here too? Tonight we heard some of those vocals that got her this far, but Paige is still wayyy too cruise ship with her performance elements. She has a voice that deserves a place in the Top 12, but completely lacks a style to go with it.

Aaron Kelly "Angie": Why do I get the impression that the only Angie this kid is ever going to get close to has a penis under his skirt?

Crystal Bowersox "You Can't Always Get What You Want": I don't know what the judges were smoking, but I thought Wookie Girl blew the doors off the place. Coming into this week she was (and still is) one of the clear front-runners, but I have to believe that the judges' critiscism was something akin to a teacher grading an "A" student even harder, just to push her to her potential. This performance, along with Siobhan's are the only ones worthy of downloading this week IMO. I also love that Wookie Girl exchanged hippie gifts with Lily Scott and has her feather attached to one of her dreads. Gah, Lily could have killed a Stones song!

Please please stay: Crystal Bowersox, Siobhan Magnus, Didi Benami
Go away! : Tim Urban, Katie Stevens

I'll leave you all with Wookie Girl's performance from last night, which starts around the 0:36 mark:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Out With the Old

Pot Committed 1.0, July 8, 2005-March 10, 2010

From the minute I put it up over five years ago until about 2:00 this afternoon, I always thought my site was ugly. Cluttered. Hard to read. A blight on the internet, really. About a year and a half ago I first thought about changing it up and I commissioned a logo and everything, but my (extremely) limited technical skills always stood in the way of an overhaul.

But then Pauly started renovating his own sites. And he showed me how easy the new Blogger templates were to manage.

"Easy enough for an idiot like me?"
"Yes, easy enough for an idiot like you."

So with thanks to him for getting me started and to Mookie for the logo, welcome to Pot Committed 2.0. I hope you like it.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010


I am the whitest, blondest girl you'll ever meet. I don't spend enough time outdoors and if I did, I still wouldn't tan. My skin is practically reflective, my eyes are blue-gray when they're not bloodshot from smoking and I blend in far better on the streets of Copenhagen than Punta del Este.

Why then, did every Uruguyan railbird choose to come up to me in media row and start rattling off questions en espanol, rather than the ten or eleven other people who fit a Spanish-speaking profile far better than I?

It boggles the mind.

* * * * *

I spent the last week covering the LAPT Punta del Este in Uruguay. It's a journey that requires about 24 hours of travel on each side and a six time-zone shift eastward. I don't know if I'm just getting old or what, but this was one of the more exhausting tournament trips I've had in recent memory. Never underestimate the extra sleep one acquires when staying at the venue rather than commuting.

On the morning of the final table, I woke up and went about business as usual. Shower, wrestle with hotel hair dryer. Attempt to look presentable. Hit up hotel breakfast buffet. As I came out of my room, PokerNews' Eric Ramsey was passing by on the way back to his own.

"8.8 earthquake in Chile. Ray's watching CNN in his room."

Holy mother of God. 8.8. I still can't fathom what that feels like. Well, maybe I can. It has to feel like the end of the world. I've been twenty miles from the epicenter of a 7.1 and that felt like a bullet train passing through our living room. Windows blew out. The chimney of every house on our block fell into the street. Anything glass-- gone. The refrigerator detatched from the wall and fell flat on its face in the middle of the kitchen. Mariniara sauce everywhere. We were cleaning up for days.

We didn't feel a thing in Punta. Not even the smallest rattle. Then again, we were more than 1,000 miles from the epicenter. That's greater than the distance from Denver to Los Angeles.

Still, I knew my mother would be freaking out. I checked my email and sure enough there was a frantic message waiting in my inbox. I assured her we were fine, that we didn't even feel anything, and we'd be fine getting home.

I watched as the disaster-mongers on cable news waited with baited breath for the resulting tsunami, almost as if they wanted it to happen. Cameras were poised everywhere, waiting to capture the destruction. It sickened me, and thankfully only mild surges lapped over the shores of Hawaii and the west coast. Later, the scene on TV switched to the looters, many of whom were ordinary Chileans who could afford their groceries and wanted to pay for them, but were driven to desperate measures.

"I think we'd better get some more canned food when we get home," said Pauly.

Both of us are supposed to be headed to Chile in two weeks for the next LAPT tournament in the coastal town of Vina del Mar. Naturally, that event is now up in the air. I was in Vina last January and remembered marveling at the houses built into the hillsides that were literally standing up on sticks, much like they do in the canyons of the Hollywood Hills. The mountains are back only a few kilometers from the sea and in the flatter part of the city, massive apartment buildings with floor-to-ceiling glass windows line the streets.

A view of the hillsides in Vina del Mar, Chile

An apartment building two blocks from the beach in Vina del Mar

Canal-side buildings in Vina del Mar

Sign for tsunami evacuation route

My to my mother's delight, we got home without incident. We took a short hop from Montevideo to Buenos Aires, where we both scored business-class upgrades for our long leg from EZE-DFW. After hundreds of thousands of miles of bad beats, we finally sucked out.

Of course, I immediately sat down in 9E and broke the seat, requiring the assistance of flight attendant Tom to get it back in its upright and locked position. Flight attendant Tom also helped close the sticky handle on my wheelie and put it in the overhead for me. When it appeared not to fit vertically, he just shrugged and stuck it in sideways. Such a violation in coach would get your luggage angrily gate-checked and lost on the ground in DFW. Instead I got two full meals, three glasses of wine, a loaner pair of Bose headphones, enough room to stretch out and sleep comfortably, and most importantly, treated like a human being instead of cargo. Usually my emails to American Airlines are filled with venom about my last travel experience. This time, I got to write one about how courteous flight attendant Tom was to us. I hope he gets a bonus or something.

As we deplaned in Dallas, one of the other flight attendants got on the PA and shilled for votes for Alex Lambert on American Idol. Apparently his mom works for the airline.

And speaking of Idol, I have a lot of catching up to do before tonight's episode. Uruguayan TV aired the Olympics, but not Ryan Seacrest & co.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Last Night I...

- Went to the Commerce Casino for the first time in a long time, accompanying Pauly to the boozy WPT Invitational pre-party.

-Saw a lot of C-list celebrities and former reality stars posing for "red carpet" photos in a desperate attempt to stay relevant.

-Was disappointed that Mad Men's Jon Hamm did not make a return appearance (he played last year).

-Caught up with Parvis, Laney, the Wicked Chops guys, Michalski, and other media types.

-Watched Eskimo Clark slither around a free buffet. He liked the chicken-on-a-stick.

-Played in a crazy good $4-8 LHE game with a full kill against a Jesus Freak, a drunk redneck, six Asians, and a very angry Russian dude who played every hand.

-And resisted the urge to break into "She Bangs" as I took this photo of Pauly and William Hung.

For a fuller recap, check out the first part of Pauly's two-part piece on the Tao.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sunset Shrink

My psychiatrist doesn't know me.

I understand that this is a pretty strange thing to be said about the medical professional with whom I've entrusted my mental health, but nevertheless it's true. I see her very infrequently, perhaps once a year, for less than 15 minutes a visit during which she asks me vague questions and I reply with even vaguer answers while I suppress all the sassy replies that threaten to burst out of my mouth. Then, she writes me a prescription for another year's worth of yellow pills that have chemically balanced my brain since 2002. It's always the same prescription. It's usually the same conversation. The whole exchange is so utterly brief. It has to be. Those 15 minutes cost $110. And that's with the self-pay discount.

"Oh, I know who you are."
"I guess they did find my chart."
"Yes, they did. So how are you?"
"I'm all right, I guess."
"How is your work? Do you still have the same job?"
"I don't know, what was I doing the last time we saw each other?"
"It says here you were moving in with your boyfriend. And traveling a lot Is that right?"
"So your boyfriend, he's a gambler?"

I pondered my potential responses. Should I tell her about the sports betting? Or maybe his tendencies to fall into Mega-Pai Gow tilt? Or how fucking impossible it is to beat the rake at $5-$10 limit hold'em?

"No. He's not a gambler. He's a writer too."
"But do you still gamble?"
"If you call the occasional $11 turbo sit-n-go gambling."
"I'm not sure what that is."
"Don't worry about it. I sure don't."
"So how's your mood?"
"Like, in general?"
"Just day-to-day."
"Well, I only feel really homicidal when I'm driving behind idiots on Pico Blvd. who are texting on their iPhones or when I'm seated next to a crying baby on a plane. But I have Xanax for that."
"You do?"
"Yeah. You prescribed it for me."
"Oh, I see. I did. Do you need a refill on that too?"

My psychiatrist scribbled out the same prescription she's scribbled for me for the last eight years. It ain't broken so why rock the boat, right?

"Nice view," I offered, gazing at the mountain-to-ocean panorama outside her tenth-floor window.

She showed me out her door. A handsome Asian man in a black suit with a drug company name tag sat outside in the waiting room.

"Jason, so good to see you! Come on in."

He disappeared inside with my psychiatrist as her assistant signaled for my attention.

"I need that $110 now. Cash or check only."

Friday, February 12, 2010

American Idol Season 9: Hollywood Week

Didi Benami, among the Season 9 front-runners after her Hollywood Week performance

It's OK, you can put down the razor blades. The auditions are over. There are no more 19-year old single mothers with sick aunts and learning disabilities for FOX to tug at the nation's heartstrings with. The lucky 181 that left their audition cities with those precious golden tickets arrived in Hollywood this week and the requisite chewing-up-and-spitting out by Simon Cowell & Co. began in earnest.

You knew some of these poor saps had no chance of making it. Vanessa "I ain't never been on an aeroplane" Wolfe showed some country charm in her initial audition, but completely blew it in Hollywood with a tone-deaf rendition of Blind Melon's "No Rain" that sent every pampered Shih-tzu in the Hollywood Hills into a fit of agonizing howls. By the end of the first round, she was back on that aeroplane on her way back to her hick town along with so many others who shared their sob stories in the audition round.

Skiiboski, he of the five felony arrests in the state of Florida? It's the end of the line, baby.

Justin "Cancer Boy" Williams, the Michael Buble sound-alike? Not gonna happen.

Megan Wright, who charmed the judges with her precocious little brother? Sorry, love.

Whip girl? The Jersey sisters? The dude who did the splits and ripped his pants? Freaky beat-box boy? All goners.

Although many of the contestants weren't able to hit the bar they set for themselves at their initial audition, there were plenty who sailed right over it. Lilly Scott picked up a guitar and killed Ella Fitzgerald's "Lullaby of Birdland." Casey James turned out to be a sick blues singer. And wookette Crystal Bowersox blew the doors off the Kodak with a performance of "Natural Woman" that recalled Kelly Clarkson's star-making turn on the same tune during Season 1. And Andrew Garcia did the best rendition of Paula Abdul's "Straight Up" since Showcase played it solo on the trumpet at his Bar Mitzvah.

Perhaps the most memorable performance of the lot came from Didi Benami,who sang Kara DioGuardi's "Terrified" well... better than Kara DioGuardi.

For the 96 Idol hopefuls that survived the first cut, the dreaded Group Round awaited. In this stage, it's not so much about how the singers perform individually, it's about how well they can learn a piece of music quickly, work with others, and handle simple choreography. After all, they're going to have to shoot all those Ford commercials and perform those dreadful group numbers.

Naturally there was a girl group that couldn't get their shit together, some seriously mangled lyrics, and at least one idiot who embarrassed himself further by asking the judges for one more chance after he was cut. I was rooting for the quirky Denver group "The Mighty Rangers" who dressed like they were about to rage in the lot of a Disco Biscuits show, but their performance ended up a total trainwreck.

And just to prove my heart isn't completely blackened, I did think it was quite touching to watch Michael Lynche watch the birth of his baby daughter over an iPhone. Steve Jobs can't buy better publicity than that.

Surprise of the week? Ellen DeGeneres is a pretty good judge. She injects just the right amount of levity to the process, while maintaining a realistic outlook . I loved it when she fucked with the contestants, telling them to step forwards and backwards.

Next week, there will be more bloodshed as the 71 remaining Idols are narrowed down to the Top 24. Get your knives out, Hollywood.

UPDATE: I just got off the phone with Showcase. He couldn't believe that I didn't remember that Didi Benami used to live in the building next door to us. After a bit of memory-jogging I did recall the other blonde singer who lived with Angelina during her tumultuous breakup with her cokehead boyfriend. She was pale and thin and seemed lost amidst all the drama. She moved out after a few months and apparently, it did her a world of good.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Four Years On

Four years ago today, Hollywood, in the form of a humorless upper-management hatchet man, threw me off the mountain I'd spent the previous seven years climbing.

I wish I could say that I never looked back, and in many ways I haven't, but in reality I look back almost every day. How different would my life be right now if I were a 32-year old V.P. of Feature Production instead of a freelance writer? I'd have a six-figure salary and health insurance, but everything I've learned about myself in the 1,400 or so days I've spent off Wilshire Blvd. tells me that I would be depressed, trapped, and probably alone.

Instead, four years on, I'm happier than I've ever been and still wildly in love with the same man who consoled me that night over 3,000 miles of phone lines as I reeled in shock at the collapse of my former life. That love is better than anything Hollywood could ever give me. Even better than an Oscar? Hell, yes.

For a look back at that fateful day, check out the Pot Committed classic "I gave Hollywood my twenties and all I got was this lousy severance check."

Thursday, January 28, 2010

American Idol Season 9, Week 3: Shut Up and Sing

Back in the day, she was on "Barney & Friends"

What's the line Simon Cowell so loves to use when debating a contestant's merit? Oh yeah, I remember.

It's a SINGING competition.

With three excruciating weeks of American Idol auditions in the bag, it doesn't remotely feel like one.

Instead, it's Welfare Check Idol. Breeder Idol. Terminal Disease Idol.

Andrew Garcia, I don't care if your parents moved you out of Gang Land to give you a better life. Can you sing? (In this case he can, and would have advanced, sob story or not).

Christian Spear, I'm very sorry you got leukemia when you were 4. But the fact that you hung it around your neck actually turned me off from your performance. And you're a damned good singer too. Only 16 and you can sing Etta James like that?

Chris Golightly, it sucks that you were raised in two dozen different foster homes. But you're 25 now. Get over it.

"This is not a Lifetime Movie, sweetheart... you have to have talent," said Katy Perry as Golightly finished an unimpressive audition.

Thank God someone out there understands what I'm talking about.

Still, Foster-Care Boy is going to Hollywood. It'll really suck for him when he's cut and FOX is done exploiting his "story."

This week's episodes also made me remember why Idol tends to avoid Los Angeles on the audition tour: my city is full of desperate faker actors willing to do ANYTHING for a minute on national television. Anything.

Like the scary fag in the rubberized rugby shirt who screamed his way through a Cheap Trick song.

Like Mr. Creepypants Jason Greene who huffed and puffed his way through "I Touch Myself."

Like Neil, that scary fucking dude who raided Kathy Liebert's wardrobe for his audition outfit.

Thank God for the dominatrix chick who used to be on Barney & Friends or I might have just deleted all this dreck from my DVR straight away.

"If she doesn't make it to Hollywood, there's always the pole," said Pauly. "And she lives in Dallas. She's good-looking so maybe we'll see her at the Lodge."

The only reason I'm looking forward to next week? I hear everyone's favorite hippie orphan Rose Flack makes a return appearance at the Denver auditions.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

American Idol Season 9, Week 2: Glitter and Be Gay

Theo Glinton, ready for String Cheese tour

This week's double installment of American Idol auditions featured a black man covered in glitter, a chick who could flex her boobs, more sob stories and at least one arrest. You know, just another day at the office for Simon, Randy, Kara, and their rotating cast of guest judges. Those seats were filled by country songstress Shania Twain in the Chicago round and so-adorable-I-want-to-squeeze-her Broadway dynamo Kristin Chenoweth in Orlando.

Chicago wasn't too fruitful when it came to the talent. Only 13 Idol hopefuls earned a golden ticket and naturally, most of them had tragic pasts to go with their silken voices.

Poor little Katelyn Epperly's father left her and her Momma this summer. Momma always wanted Katelyn to audition for Idol and now that Daddy's gone, Momma's looking for a new meal ticket. After launching into a mini-therapy session with the judges, Katelyn tore up a Duffy song and made it through. Guess what, sugar. Your voice was good enough and you didn't need to take your Daddy issues national. OK?

Another one who didn't need the sob story? Paige Dechausse, who had an near-fatal asthma attack during a voice lesson at age 15. She sang Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come" better than I've ever heard a white girl do it and earned three votes with Simon as the lone naysayer. Again-- I don't care about your tragic past. Just fucking sing.

I'll also be watching out for 16-year old Charity Vance. The Arkansas teen works at the family hair salon. She even performs in the salon for the customers. Seriously, we're only one insulin attack and a grumpy dog away from Steel Magnolias here. But she can sing, and punched her ticket to Hollywood with a delicate soprano version of "Summertime."

The tragic stories didn't stop in Orlando. We met Seth Rollins, who has an autistic son. Oh, and money problems of course. Oh, and he's 28 so it's his last shot at this. As he talks to the camera the gloomy organ intro to Coldplay's overwrought ballad "Fix You" plays over his sob story. Once actually inside the audition room, he sang "Someone to Watch Over Me" and though Rollins can certainly carry a tune, he's no superstar. Despite his glaring lack of stage presence, he gets a unanimous vote into Hollywood (as the anthemic guitar-heavy bridge to "Fix You" plays in the b.g. Vomit.)

My favorite Orlando Idol hopeful had to be Theo Glinton (pictured above). With dozens of tiny mirrors and feathers glued to the right side of his face and a black and silver cape this dude was totally ready for Sting Cheese tour. However, after growling his way through Pat Benatar's "Heartbreaker," he was tossed out of the room in tears.

Then, after a redneck was escorted out of the building in handcuffs for refusing to leave the audition room, an actual felon closed the show. Matt Lawrence robbed a bank with a BB gun and spent four years in jail. Now he wants to be the next American Idol. He turned in a decent cover of Ray LaMontagne's "Trouble"--nothing special really--but Simon Cowell dubbed him the frigging second coming of country music and he flew out of the room, golden ticket in hand. Now, make sure and call your parole officer before leaving the state for Hollywood Week. OK, Matt?

Next week, the Idol judges descend upon the City of Angels to pluck a few more troubled, talented faces from the crowd and from the previews, it looks like the guest judges will be Avril Lavigne and that chick who looks like Zooey Deschanel and sings the "I Kissed a Girl" song. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Otis vs. St. Francis Hospital

Last year, my mother had a heart attack. She didn't even know it was a heart attack while she was having it. She thought she had a respiratory infection and that's why she was having such trouble breathing.

My father called me that morning and told me she wasn't feeling well. He asked me to check in on her and bring her some lunch. The request raised a red flag for me. He wouldn't ask me to do something like that unless it was serious, so I picked up some food and drove across town.

What breathing my mother could accomplish that afternoon was pained and raspy. She could barely get the food down and eating isn't exactly something we have a problem doing in my family. I didn't know what was wrong with her but one thing was for sure. This was no freaking respiratory infection.

She and my father had thought about taking her to the Quick Care in West L.A. the night before, but knew the visit would cost them thousands of dollars with the shitty HMO coverage they had; the only plan she could get approved for after years of history with skin cancer.

I didn't give a shit. After offering to take her in myself and getting rejected, I implored her to have my father take her in when he came home from work. Then I got on the phone with him and told him the same thing.

24 hours later, my mother had a 95% blockage removed from her central coronary artery at UCLA hospital.

Almost a year later, they're still trying to pay for it all. Insurance covered some, but not all of the mid-five figures in costs they acquired. And insurance covers hardly any of the hundreds of dollars a month she has to fork out now for meds.

My parents do the right thing. If anything, they do the right thing too often. And Otis did the right thing too, almost exactingly so when he tried to pre-pay for his youngest son's birth in an act of fiscal responsibility my credit-rating challenged self can barely fathom.

Read Otis' story St. Francis Hospital: The Real Cost of Having a Baby and tell me you don't want to punch a bureaucrat by the end.

My country needs real health care reform, and badly. My mom needs to stop living in fear of losing the little health insurance she still has by getting sick again. And people like me and the estimated 25% of Americans who are freelancers, independent contractors, or part-time workers need access to the kind of coverage our corporate worker bee peers enjoy.

For the record, I have a lot of problems with the bill out there. Frankly, I don't think anyone should be forced to pad the insurance industry's already overflowing coffers by being required to purchase coverage from them (only to get denied for shit later, just like Otis and my mom).

But something needs to be done. Read Otis' post and see if you don't agree with me (and I'm sure you will tell me if you don't, comments are right down there).

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

PokerStars WBCOOP 2010

I'll be donking it up. Hope to see many of my scribbling brethren there!

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, you too can take part by registering on WBCOOP

Registration code: 383794