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.