Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Last November Nine?

I was perusing my own archives yesterday, ostensibly to select some of my better pieces as writing samples for prospective employers. Not that there are any of those knocking my door down these days, but better to be prepared, right? In between my realization that I had not composed a traditional resume in over 12 years and the desire to bathe my scratchy throat with a glass of ice-cold chocolate milk, I came upon a list of op-ed ideas I'd scribbled down on October 4, 2010. One of them jumped out at me.

"Has the November Nine run its course?"

I didn't end up penning that one. I probably could or would have written the opposite side of that argument in 2008 or 2009. Back then, it was an innovative idea that had the potential to generate a lot of revenue for Harrah's and the "Niners" alike. And for a while, it did.

Later that day, I read this PokerListings piece, in which writer Arthur Crowson questions WSOP communications honcho Seth Palansky about the future of the November Nine.

“We’re committed to it but I think what we learned over the summer with the live and taped programming is that we’re going to have to revisit the concept after this November,” clarified Palansky.

My, how one year changes everything.

More than six months post-Black Friday, we've seen the poker television landscape decimated. Poker After Dark? No mas. NBC Heads-Up? No mas. My favorite new poker show The Big Game? No mas. And ratings for everything else, including the slickly packaged Mori Eskandani-produced WSOP broadcasts? In. The. Shitter. I'll go out on a limb and say that even if the events of Black Friday hadn't occurred, the drastic culling of poker TV hours was still an inevitability-- it just would have taken more time.

Bottom line? People just don't seem to want to watch it anymore, no matter how many bells and whistles are tacked on. Heck, even I don't watch it anymore and I'm supposed to be one of those "hard-core fans" producers and advertisers and network execs count on. These days, if I'm going to dedicate hours to watching poker, it's in the form of a strategy video or a final table replay-- something that can (and has) enabled me to make more money in live games. Because I'm sure not making it in the media anymore. And living in San Francisco sure is expensive.

This year's November Nine will more likely than not be the last one we see. One of the primary reasons for creating the four-month delay was to give the Niners the opportunity to pick up sponsorships, do a shitload of publicity, and "build anticipation" for the final table. Now, with poker's principal advertisers and sponsors (online poker sites) sidelined in the United States, what sort of deals are these guys going to get, if any? Mainstream corporate sponsorship has been the holy grail the Harrah's brass has sought for the WSOP since the boom, but their quest has largely come up empty in terms of the November Nine (and not for lack of trying. Really really trying). Rather than wearing patches touting Nike, Red Bull, or Mercedes-Benz, the Niners have largely shilled PokerStars, Full Tilt, and various online training sites. Oh, and that patio furniture company that threw a few bucks at The Grinder last year.

Not only has poker's sponsorship model drastically changed/disappeared, the game's delivery system has evolved. Rather than sticking with a produced, tightly packaged episodic format aired months after an event's completion, more and more of them are being live streamed online. Broadcasts like Live at the Bike and EPT Live pioneered this concept as far back as 2005, and it's now being widely used on the WPT, the WSOP-Circuit, and the WSOP itself. It provides instant gratification for the viewer, and technological advances have made it much cheaper and easier to implement. What sort of hard-core fan will still sort through hundreds of hands on a live blog trying to extrapolate the action when he or she can simply watch it all unfold on a 15-minute delay?

Put it this way. I watched the live stream constantly while the WSOP Main Event was playing down to a final table this July. But I haven't watched a single packaged WSOP episode on ESPN this year. And I'll probably watch the live stream again next weekend when the cards go in the air inside the Penn & Teller theatre.

Fans haven't changed, but their appetite for certain delivery systems has. I don't watch movies in 2011 the same way I watched them in 1999 and I don't follow poker the same way I did in 2007. Only three years ago, I made the bulk of my income live-blogging tournaments and now it's a method that is nearly obsolete. The optimist in me thought the death of tournament reporting and the rise of the live stream might give way to a rebirth of longer-form poker writing, but Black Friday put a stop to that when the taps of the two online behemoths pumping cash into the industry were abruptly turned off.

Magazines and online sites I once wrote for have precious few advertising dollars rolling in. Some have folded altogether. Others will no doubt follow in the coming dark years of the game, before the U.S. Government gets their shit together and finally legalizes online poker. But I have no more faith in those charlatans and snake-oil salesmen than I do in Full Tilt Poker, who still owes me $1,945 of my own money.

I believe there's a larger reason why folks have stopped watching televised poker. It's not only that the casual fans stopped tuning in as the boom drew its last breaths. It's not only that Black Friday effectively stopped the influx of new American players to the game. It's not only that televised final tables were increasingly made up of people folks had never heard of rather than familiar old-school pros. It's all of those things, but it's bigger than that.

People aren't just broke, they're broken. They are so fucking broken they're actually starting to turn off the Real Housewives and rise up out of their self-induced collective coma against the institutions rigging the game in this country. Russ Hamilton's crimes are downright quaint when held up against the shit Goldman Sachs gets away with every single day. With economic depression, high unemployment, falling wages and a bleak future facing the citizens of our hopelessly sold-out country, who the hell wants to watch a bunch of 23 year-olds in hoodies play cards for millions of dollars? Why give a rat's ass about the newest poker-minted millionaire when you can't even play a $10 sit-n-go in your own home anymore thanks to our government?

Think about why people got hooked on televised poker in the first place. Not just because they found it exciting and suspenseful, but because they knew anyone could win. Anyone could ship a satellite package online and parlay that into tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in a live event. Anyone could end up under those lights, popping champagne with Mike Sexton. Lots of "anyones" did, and millions were inspired to play. Without that carrot, it's well, just an empty stick. Live streaming will sate the diehards and perhaps the Main Event will always live on in some form of edited package, but I expect even more programming to die out unless online poker makes a quick, legal comeback.

On April 15, thousands of people who once had a way of supporting themselves outside the system had their way of life taken away with one stroke of Preet Bharaha's pen. When it comes to the fall of online poker in the U.S., the powers that be weren't getting their "fair share" of that juicy green pie. So they leveled the industry altogether in order to eventually weasel their way in. It won't happen in the short-term, but it will happen eventually. There may be time pressure for those clinging to the last vestiges of the industry, but there's no time pressure for them. Our money will always be there, ready for the taking the minute that tap is turned back on. Perhaps when the big banks finally start collecting all those precious transaction fees from online poker players we'll see someone in a JP Morgan Chase patch at the final table. Remember, guys. You're only allowed three. B of A gets three too, and so does Citibank.

I didn't apply for a press credential to last year's November Nine. I drove out there, saw some friends, dropped off Pauly and was back on I-15 south before cards went in the air. I didn't apply for them this year either, even though I will be in Las Vegas when someone finally holds that bracelet aloft. You're more likely instead to find me somewhere off the Strip, in a cash game or a nightly tournament, iPod in my ears and 16 oz. of steaming coffee in my cup holder, trying to grind out the rent money. After all, I do have another skill set that has thus far helped me avoid complete financial ruin. I might as well use it.

For what it was, though, the November Nine certainly had its moments. And most of them revolved around the friends, family, and fans of the players who came out to support them, often in matching specialized shirts (seriously, who doesn't love a group costume?). I'll miss their infectious energy and I'll miss the spectacle, but they'll no doubt be channelled into whatever new delivery system the Harrah's brass conjure up. A 48-hour delay? A week? Maybe I'll be around to cover it live, maybe I won't.

But I'll surely be watching the stream.

2011 November Nine photo by Jay "WhoJedi" Newnum

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Occupy Oakland General Strike 11/2/11

Stand in solidarity with Oakland today. Instead of watching another rerun of Keeping Up With Kim Kardashian's Divorces, take action against the banksters and corporate goons. Unless you're closing your account and moving it to a credit union, don't go to the bank. Don't hit up the ATM and eat another exorbitant transaction fee. Instead, use the powers of social media for good and spread the word. Tweet your followers. Put one of these cool posters on your Facebook wall. And if you're near a local #occupy movement, head down there and and see what its all about. Protesting isn't just for hippies and anarchists anymore, kids, despite how much the media tries to paint it that way.

If you're in the Bay Area, three rallies are scheduled for tomorrow at 9 AM, Noon, and 5 PM at 14th and Broadway in downtown Oakland as well as a 4 PM march from that location to the Port of Oakland.

For more info, hit up Tao of Fear and for ideas on how you can participate in the general strike visit Occupy Oakland.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Full Tilt Poker's New Brand Identity: Ponzi Scheme

"Didn't you work for that poker ponzi scheme company?"

This was the first line of an email I received today from an old friend, a Hollywood veteran but a total civilian when it comes to poker, online gaming, and the casino industry. I don't fault him for wondering. It's a valid question, and one I'm sure to be asked again and again. He only knew about it because it was on the front page of the New York Times. And if the Times calls it a ponzi scheme, well, it must be.

"No. I freelance for the one that gave all the players their money back. I did have almost two grand in an account on the other site that I'll never see again. Gross mismanagement, yes. Pyramid-like qualities? Yes. Ponzi scheme? No."

After living with my boyfriend, an ex-Wall Streeter, for 5+ years and having my eyes opened wider to the financial world by the day, I can confidently say that Full Tilt Poker was not a ponzi scheme. Ponzi schemes do not generate revenue, as Full Tilt did for several years. No, Full Tilt fucked up in a million other ways, most notably the utterly brain-dead decision they made in late 2010 to continue crediting player accounts with deposits before actually receiving them. Not segregating player funds was another biggie. And paying out close to half a billion in dividends and continuing to send giant monthly checks to their owners even when management knew the company was insolvent does indeed take the cake. But that doesn't make it a ponzi scheme.

In this case, "ponzi scheme" is the DOJ's PR strategy. It's a sexy phrase. It's in the public consciousness. People might not know exactly what it is, but they know IT'S BAD. It's like that thing Bernie Madoff did! That greedy, rich, sick fuck. Marry "ponzi scheme" and "online gaming" and you've got a front-page story the public will lap up. You have a small group of owners who paid themselves $443 million and tens of thousands of ordinary poker players out $390 million worldwide. It plays well on the evening news. In this economic climate, any story where little guy gets fucked over while a select few make out like bandits is a mouth-watering cupcake topped with populist frosting.

That's why I'm getting emails from people who could give a fuck about online poker but know I have something to do with it.

By using this phrase in the opening salvo of their amended complaint, the Department of Justice effectively rebranded Full Tilt Poker as a ponzi scheme, regardless of whether or not that assertion is true. Much like no one will ever be able to separate Ultimate Bet or Absolute from "cheating scandal" (and that one was true), Full Tilt will inexorably be linked with those two words. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharaha made sure of that and won the PR war in the process.

Poker biz folks have spent the last 48 hours cringing at those two words. Not because they're Full Tilt sympathizers or condone the company's alleged crimes, but for the pall it is casting over an already-battered industry. The whole "this shouldn't reflect badly on everyone" argument doesn't exactly hold up when such a massive slice of the market is either under indictment or underwater. The question now is whether the industry can possibly recover from the nightmare it's facing. In other words, you thought the UB thing was bad? Get a load of this.

Full Tilt Poker will be liquidated. The DOJ made sure of that too when they released the amended complaint on the same day the Alderney Gaming Commission held its hearing on Full Tilt's suspended license. Not 24 hours after the DOJ dropped their bomb, rumors began circulating that the AGC would permanently revoke Full Tilt's gaming license. There will be no white knight. No one is going to touch this mess. Full Tilt's remaining assets-- the software itself, Rush Poker, and a bunch of office furniture in Dublin-- will all be sold off. And the inevitable civil claims against the owners' personal assets will drag through the courts for years. It won't stop until all those dollars are emptied from the owners' offshore bank accounts, and even then, it probably won't stop.

Is there a future for online poker in the U.S.? Not immediately. This Full Tilt mess just set us another two steps back. And with online poker now branded as a "ponzi scheme" in the public consciousness, politicians will be even warier about getting behind regulation and legalization. American land-based casino entities ultimately got what they wanted-- a "level playing field" (aka "no more Stars or Tilt, ever")-- but if they don't step up with some serious, SERIOUS lobbying dollars and bring the banking industry along with them, they'll never get anywhere with the feds. Online poker will never be politically popular enough to fly on its own.

Can anyone get the industry out of this mess in Washington? Well, it's certainly not the PPA. A limp-dicked lobbying operation almost wholly funded by Full Tilt and PokerStars, the PPA claimed to represent the interests of players, but in actuality, they only represented the interest of their two biggest donors. Why else would they come out against the Reid bill last December? Um, because it would put them out of business in the U.S. since they were in violation of the UIGEA? Ding ding ding! Doesn't that 15-month blackout period sound positively dreamy right about now? We'd already be nine months into it. I'd be gunning for a 2012 WSOP Main Event seat from my living room in San Francisco on come spring, instead of wondering if I'll ever be able to play another hand of online poker. The PPA will forever be haunted by the specters of their former board members Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson, and the hundreds of thousands in dirty dirty Full Tilt player-owner money they took in donations over the years.

Wait wait wait... hundreds of thousands? These donkeys took almost half a billion in dividends and only spent about $1 million greasing the legislative wheels? Did they learn nothing from the real ponzi schemers on Wall Street who are almost never prosecuted? Instead the industry was left hanging like Stringer Bell in The Wire after he gave that suitcase of cash to Clay Davis. And you all know what happened to him two episodes later.

What's left of the industry is moving on without the United States. PokerStars' traffic levels have almost completely rebounded from Black Friday. Young, mobile online players of means are leaving the country, a few hundred more each week. They're setting up shop everywhere from Vancouver to Malta and shipping tournaments just like old times. They post photos of their "grind cribs" and twitter ironic things about how much more freedom they have in Mexico than the U.S. Sure there will be the inevitable downswings and visa problems and deportations, but for now, like always, they'll just grab that money while it's there. It's what we all did in the poker industry. Grabbed as much as we could before the party was shut down, hardly pausing to consider what would happen later.

Later is here, everyone. And it's not looking good. Not for Americans, anyway.


11:50pm: OK, so the PPA didn't exactly *oppose* the Reid Bill per se. Their abysmal efforts in getting it passed just made it seem that way.

Chris Ferguson photoshop by 2+2 user chytry

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hometown Glory

Thank you, Los Angeles. You've been a great audience. Don't forget to tip your waitresses.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Long Goodbye

It hasn't fully sunk in that I'm moving out of Los Angeles one week from today. On a practical level, I've certainly taken the necessary steps to prepare, spending the better part of my downtime since the end of the WSOP divesting myself of a sizable percentage of my physical possessions. 14 bags of corporately-produced clothing that I wore to slave for a corporation half a decade ago went to Goodwill. Three bankers boxes of books and DVDs are still sitting in the trunk of my car, waiting to be sold to a secondhand shop in Hollywood. Cabinets and drawers full of junk I forgot I owned have been sorted, catalogued, and (mostly) discarded. Most of my clothes are already inside a dresser in San Francisco and the winter coats and heavy sweaters I'll no doubt be donning in the upcoming weeks and months have been cleaned and pressed. I suppose it's the fact that I'm still hanging on to this apartment until the end of the year, the fact that it's still filled with furniture and appliances and art on the walls that separates me from the reality of moving. The 800 or so square feet I've called home for the last seven years will remain largely unchanged, albeit inhabited by a trusted caretaker. I'll make the 380-mile journey south come Thanksgiving to placate my parents' wishes to spend the holiday with both their daughters, and again for an unspecified amount of time around Christmas that has yet to be decided. It's a long, but necessary goodbye.

The move was met with mixed reactions from my family. My mother was sad, but ultimately understood, having moved clear across the country when she was 23 to a place she'd never been. Mandy was thrilled and can't wait to visit after her hellacious 10-week shoot in Las Vegas is complete. My father, as expected, was downright funereal in his tone and went on a negative offensive (It's cold up there! Public transportation is horrible! Everything is so expensive!). He's less dour now, but still unconvinced, and probably hoping that after the initial six months, will settle back down in Southern California, in and of itself, a highly improbable scenario. But he's my father and he loves me and I'm a lot more like him than I'd care to admit. So I get it.

Outside of my family, everyone who I was once close to in Los Angeles has moved on, or I see them so often outside of Los Angeles that our mutual home based has ceased to matter. My holy triumvirate of Showcase, Bean, and Ben are all on Eastern Daylight Time. My blogging brethren are scattered all over the world and the poker circuit limps on, although my role in that traveling circus is constantly being redefined. So there aren't too many goodbyes to be had. Los Angeles will always be my hometown, but home now is with Pauly, wherever life may take us.

I see a future without this couch and this table, without the zen blue of my bedroom walls and the dark woods of Pauly's office, without my grandmother's dining room table and the orange chair my father used to sprawl in as he studied for his law school exams more than forty years ago. It's also a future without the circular saw presently grinding away in the neighbor's yard, so there's that too. It'll be replaced by the rattling our bay windows make as the Muni whirs past and the wind through the giant ficus that stands guard outside our new home.

It's a future that is only a week away, and one I'd jump into tomorrow if I could. Anyone want to finish packing for me?

Friday, July 29, 2011


For two weeks, I had to drive through the intersection at least four times a day. Sometimes more. What used to be the windshield of my Mazda was still sprinkled across the center divider, growing more granulated by the day. It sparkled as the sun hit it in the mornings, twinkled a cruel reminder as the headlights of my rental car shone across it when I made my way home in the depths of the desert night. He hated that intersection far more than I ever would, closing his eyes to block out flashbacks of the wreck as we passed through.

Every day. At least four times a day. For two weeks. That's 56 chances to relive the horror, at a bare minimum. There's little wonder we fled Las Vegas as fast as we possibly could.

When I got the call that morning, it was him. I knew he was alive. He told me to look out the second-floor window and I'd see the scene of the accident. All I could see was an ambulance. I threw on shoes and started running. And when I got to the end of the block and made the turn north, I finally saw the car.

The entire driver's side door was punched in. Every airbag had deployed. The velocity of the oncoming car was so great the roof had buckled upward. Six windows, shattered. Mirror dangling off the side. The clearer my totaled car grew in my field of vision, the faster I ran, until at last I saw its driver walk out from behind the ambulance, looking almost completely unharmed. Sweat poured down my face and his as we finally embraced and sought out shade from the 105-degree heat. He had cuts on his arms, glass all over his clothes and some soreness that was sure to grow worse, but he was fine. The airbag saved his life. Mine too, because after ten seconds of imagining life without him, it wasn't a place I ever wanted to go back to.

The paramedics started questioning him to check for head injuries.

"Do you know what day it is?"

"I have no idea, but it's Day 1B of the World Series of Poker Main Event and I have to get to work."

"Do you know where you are?"

"Unfortunately, I'm in Las Vegas."

"Who is the President of the United States?"

"You know, that puppet Obama."

* * * * *

We'd been thinking about moving for a while. Pauly has never liked living in Los Angeles. Aside from the warm Januarys and the easy access to medicinal marijuana, there is absolutely nothing about this place he enjoys. He hates its food, its gridlock, it's vapid people and plasticine culture, its image-conciousness, and its lack of foot traffic. And after the accident, he wasn't going to be driving a car anytime soon. I don't hate it here, but its drawbacks are constantly multiplying. I've spent 85% of my life in Los Angeles and I'd like to see that figure drop. So why not get out while I can? It's not like I have a job that ties me to this place. The great thing about being a writer is that you can do it anywhere.

After Black Friday, we talked about Colorado. Our cost of living would drop dramatically and we already had a built-in network of friends in the Denver area. We started looking at Craiglist for rentals and talked to people about potential neighborhoods, and I was doing my best to remain open-minded to what would be for me, a great cultural/lifestyle shift. I mean, I'd be moving to a place where Tevas aren't just considered acceptable, but they're the norm. I'm not a hiker, a biker, a yogi, a skiier, or a boarder. My last experience living in a cold climate led to a decade-long affair with antidepressants. I know I'd enjoy being around friends and a great music scene, but could I really hack it living in Denver?

Then, like a fairy godmother, or perhaps Glinda the Good Witch, in walked Halli.

I met Halli in Vina del Mar, Chile of all places. I was on one of my first assignments covering the Latin American Poker Tour for PokerStars and she was there her best friend, Shirley Rosario. Shirley was playing the tournament and when Halli wasn't sightseeing or grinding the cash games, she was hanging out with our little media crew-- me, Otis, Chip Bitch, and Joe Giron. Back then, Halli was a cash game pro based at the Bike, but more recently she returned to San Francisco and moved back in to the sprawling Lower Pacific Heights Victorian that has bounced between herself, her brother, and various friends for years now.

When Halli came out to the WSOP and told us she was looking for someone to share her place with now that she'd ended her five-year relationship with her boyfriend, it was like a light turned on. It was almost too perfect. We'd be able to live in a place we both loved for less than what we paid in L.A. Pauly wouldn't have to drive at all. And don't even get me started on all the cool shit that is within walking distance of Halli's house-- everything from dive bars, to sensational Peruvian food, to world-class music venues like the Fillmore. Not to mention Halli herself. She lights up any room she walks into with her contagious energy... then she'll whisper vitriol in your ear about the fedora-clad hipster couple in the corner booth.

We spent the last three days up there and our new digs fit us like a glove. So, as a down payment of sorts, we walked into a mattress store on Geary and bought a bed. I teased Pauly about being in his late thirties and finally owning his first real piece of furniture. The plan right now is to stay at least six months. Maybe more. Maybe a lot more? I'll hang on to my place in L.A. through the holidays, but we'll have to make a more definitive decision about what to do with it at the beginning of next year.

* * * * *
"That looked like a new car," the paramedic said to me. He had short dreadlocks and kind eyes and tried to distract me as Pauly was treated.

"He bought it for me for my 30th birthday. I'd never had anyone buy me a present quite like that."

"It was a helluva present. It saved his life."

The back door slammed and the ambulance pulled a quick u-turn as we headed toward the freeway. A quartet of cops and tow operators still peered under the hood of my black Mazda as they prepared to haul it away. It was the last time I'd ever see it. A week later it was declared a total loss and I signed away the title in exchange for a check.

I bought another car. The same car, just a new color. And a moon roof. I was probably their easiest sale of the week, walking in off Santa Monica Boulevard and buying it just like I might a dress or a new pair of shoes. At one point, I pulled out my phone and showed the guys at the dealership the accident photos. One just could not wrap his head around the fact that Pauly hadn't even broken his arm. The other turned ghostly pale and zoomed in to get a closer view of the airbags before mumbling something about calling his wife.

Pauly loves the new ride, but is even happier about spending less time in it now that we're relocating to San Francisco. I can't say I blame him. I have great hope that this move will not only foster a better daily living environment, but be creatively fruitful for both of us. I could already feel it after only three days.

Only 31 more until a new era begins.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011


When the WSOP schedule was released I was confronted with a decision-- play the Ladies' Event or travel to upstate New York to attend a three-day Phish concert. If the Ladies' Event fell on any other weekend during the WSOP, there was about an 80% chance I would have played. Despite the score I had earlier this year, it still would not have been sound bankroll (or liferoll) management to buy in to any $1,000 event directly. Of course, there were other avenues available-- single-table satellites, selling action, and even at one point pre-Black Friday, sponsorship. The more I thought about it, however, the more it turned into hardly a decision at all. Of course I was going to choose to spend Fourth of July weekend seeing my favorite band with the love of my life over a poker tournament. And, as it turned out, I couldn't have picked a better weekend to leave Las Vegas and the World Series of Poker temporarily behind.

Stand too close to an impressionist painting and it is, in the inimitable words of Alicia Silverstone in Clueless, "A big ol' mess." Move back a few feet and shapes start to form. Make it a few yards and you'll begin to see the scene for what it really is. I had to get 2,500 miles away from the Rio to do just that.

We returned just in time to witness the final table of the $50,000 Players' Championship, where Phil Hellmuth is making his third run this summer at his record 12th WSOP bracelet. Although its a little strange NOT to be live-blogging the whole thing from start-to-finish, I can't say I miss it. At this point in my journey as a writer, I have a far better perspective standing further back from this particular painting. The same goes for the Main Event, which roars to a start tomorrow. My time is far more profitably spent these days grinding out rent money in the $1-2 and $2-5 NLHE at Venetian. No amount of words I speak or write will do anything to change the dramas that constantly repeat themselves in the poker world. And for that healthy dose of perspective, I have to thank the 30,000 strangers who gathered around a racetrack this weekend in Watkins Glen, my boyfriend, who encouraged me to join them, and four guys named Trey, Mike, Page, and Fish who put on one helluva show.

Good luck to everyone chasing the dream in the Main Event. I'll see you at the tables.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Guest Post on Tao of Poker: Apocalypse Now

With Pauly out of town on his first Phishing adventure of the summer, I filled in this weekend with a guest post on the Tao of Poker. Head on over and check out Apocalypse Now.

Moving back over to the featured table now, where Maria Ho is about to go heads-up with Allen Bari for the $5k NLHE bracelet. Hit up for chip counts and updates, because my badge is off for this one.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

In Which I RISE to the Occasion

Some of you may have figured it out by now, but I'll make it formal here. In addition to writing dispatches on the Tao of Poker, I'm also part of the team behind the RISE Poker blog. A partnership between Poker Royalty, RISE clothing and Zen Gaming, RISE Poker is a subscription-based online poker site that is 100% legal in U.S. America. We have a sick lineup writing and doing photography for the blog including Pauly, F-Train, Benjo, and WhoJedi. It's sort of like every superstar free agent got together to form their own ball club and I'm proud to be a part of it.

Here's a few posts I've already penned for RISE:

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Phil Ivey Suing Full Tilt, Won't Play WSOP

A dramabomb did detonate on the first day of the 2011 World Series of Poker. It just wasn't the one anyone expected.

For weeks, the poker community has been speculating as to which members of Team Full Tilt would show up at the WSOP and whether or not they would don the red and white patches that have become synonymous with their public personae. Although former Full Tilt president Howard Lederer did return to the United States a few days ago to attend to a personal matter (his mother's memorial service), most folks in media row believe he wouldn't dare show his face inside the Rio until a plan was in place for Full Tilt's U.S. customers to be paid out. Other Team Full Tilters, however, weren't quite as concerned about potential face-to-face confrontations at the Rio with angry players. I spotted a patchless Phil Gordon early this afternoon at the Bad Beat on Cancer booth. A few hours later I saw John Juanda in the satellite area and he was wearing a patch. The $25,000 heads-up event that began at 5 p.m. today was littered with red pros, many of them logoed up including Erick Lindgren, Patrik Antonius, Brandon Adams, Huck Seed, David Benyamine and Juanda. Lederer didn't play, of course. Neither did Chris Ferguson or Andy Bloch. But the most glaring absence was Phil Ivey. This is a man with some serious bracelet bets, not to mention a solid favorite against the field.

As Dutch blogger Remko "happyfreaked" Rinkema wrote on his Twitter account earlier today, "Biggest upset of the first day is obviously Phil Ivey not showing up. Is he out for the summer?"

Turns out, he is.

As the first round of the $25k drew to a close, Ivey posted a statement on his official Facebook page that ignited a frenzy. Although the veracity of the statement was briefly in doubt, it was quickly confirmed by the Entities at Wicked Chops Poker via a conversation with Ivey's manager. Released in six parts, here is the complete text:

For many years, I have been proud to call myself a poker player. This great sport has taken me to places I only imagined going and I have been blessed with much success. It is therefore with deep regret that I believe I am compelled to release the following statement.

I am deeply disappointed and embarrassed that Full Tilt players have not been paid money they are owed. I am equally embarrassed that as a result many players cannot compete in tournaments and have suffered economic harm.

I am not playing in the World Series of Poker as I do not believe it is fair that I compete when others cannot. I am doing everything I can to seek a solution to the problem as quickly as possible.

My name and reputation have been dragged through the mud, through the inactivity and indecision of others and on behalf of all poker players I refuse to remain silent any longer. I have electronically filed a lawsuit against Tiltware related to the unsettled player accounts. As I am sure the public can imagine, this was not an easy decision for me.

I wholeheartedly refuse to accept non-action as to repayment of players funds and I am angered that people who have supported me throughout my career have been treated so poorly.

I sincerely hope this statement will ignite those capable of resolving the problems into immediate action and would like to clarify that until a solution is reached that cements the security of all players, both US and International, I will, as I have for the last six weeks, dedicate the entirety of my time and efforts to finding a solution for those who have been wronged by the painfully slow process of repayment.
In a word, (well, actually two,) holy shit.

Ivey's page was immediately flooded with supportive statements from players and fans. It's the first official word anyone's heard regarding the payout situation from a member Team Full Tilt, who have all supposedly been muzzled by lawyers. Ivey, no doubt, has a substantial sum of his own money tied up on the site. The seven-figure-per-month dividend checks have stopped coming. So why not file a lawsuit? Not only is it a good PR move to do Bill Clinton's "I feel your pain" routine and align himself with the disgruntled U.S. players, but he's also one of the (very) few Full Tilt Pros who can actually continue to support himself in the lifestyle he's grown accustomed to by playing poker. Ivey loves the game, he'll put in the hours, and he'll take on anyone. Did Howard Lederer cart his bags of money over to Bellagio and step up to the plate in high-stakes cash games over the last couple of years? Of course not. And why would he? Lederer is smart enough to understand that at this point, he lacks any sort of edge in those lineups.

Ivey's statement, however, was not the only drama circling Team Full Tilt today. After losing his Round 1 match to David "Bakes" Baker in the $25k, 2010 WSOP-Europe Main Event champ James Bord hung out on the rail and waited for John Juanda to finish his match before confronting him with a barrage of obscenities. I believe the words "thieving prick" and "disgusting human being" were tossed around before Bord threatened to attack Juanda in the parking lot. Security intervened, and the two were physically separated.

It will be interesting in the next few days to see if similar confrontations pop up. I'm never one to condone violence, but people are angry, quite a few are broke, and after 45 days without moving even a small step closer to returning player balances, they want answers. They're mad as hell, they're not going to take it anymore, and today, Phil Ivey was effectively canonized as their patron saint. Could other Full Tilters fall in step? Yeah... somehow I doubt that. The situation, however, is reaching UB proportions and will grow worse by the day inside this building until someone from Full Tilt other than a low-level PR monkey steps up and starts communicating.

Slow news day, huh?


11:45pm: Pauly, Benjo and I recorded a Tao of Pokerati podcast on the Ivey/Juanda drama. Check out Episode 2: Ivey suing Full Tilt and Juanda harassed.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Darkness on the Edge of Town

I'm seated on a camping chair in the cement-and-gravel backyard of my seventh Las Vegas residence in six summers. It's so perfectly clear and pleasant outside I could almost weep. I hear a bird chirp and it reminds me of the dead one Pauly found next to the back wall only minutes after we arrived. I know that there's another bird carcass around the corner beyond the padlocked fence painted a shade on the lighter end of the cream-to-adobe spectrum that covers nearly every square inch of surface, man-made or not, in the Las Vegas Valley. Taking a look at our parched surroundings on the edge of town it's not difficult to figure out their cause of death.

The din of Los Angeles had been eating at my patience over the last six weeks I spent there-- the leaf blowers, circular saws, and car alarms, the bickering couple upstairs and their boundlessly energetic kitten, the can fairies pillaging the dumpster outside our bedroom window, and the relentless crush of traffic, whatever the hour. It's quiet out here, save for the goat that woke Pauly and Benjo early this morning. Apparently a few of them live in the rogue structure behind our subdivision in a fenced-off square of land. I'm enjoying the brief silence before turning my life over to the World Series of Poker for the sixth straight year less than 24 hours from now.

Although I know my frame of mind will undoubtedly change over the next few days, there's just something more zen about my outlook as I approach the Series. I'd say about 90% of that is due to the fact that I'm no longer a slave to live updates. What I will be doing at the WSOP in terms of media will reveal itself in the coming days and I will certainly be playing a lot more than I have been able to in past years. I look forward to being able to write within a different structure, one far more akin my first WSOP than the five that followed. And as usual, if you're snapped wearing a heinous outfit-- it's not slander if it's the truth!

I keep going back to a conversation I had in a bar back in Los Angeles earlier this year.

"Something big is going to happen at the WSOP this year, I can feel it," she said.

I didn't believe her at the time. The media veteran in me won out. But it was also two months before Black Friday.

I'll see you at the Rio.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Jack Tripper Stole My Dog: Available Now on Amazon

What does the title mean? Read it to find out.

Who publishes two books in a year?

Pauly, that's who! I'm all at once flabbergasted, inspired, and proud of my beloved.

While Lost Vegas covered his real-life experiences over four years at the World Series of Poker, Jack Tripper Stole My Dog is (thankfully) a work of fiction. You'll understand why I said "thankfully" when you hit Chapter 5. The tale of Russian cab driver Ivan, the women in his life and the passengers he ferries around Manhattan, JTSMD also paints a portrait of New York City one year post-9/11. It's funny, it's salacious, it's offensive, it's heartfelt, and it's available now in paperback on A Kindle/e-pub version is forthcoming and expected in mid-June.

Pauly and I recorded a short podcast where I spoke to him about his creative process and the aforementioned Chapter 5. You can listen to it here.

Click here to buy a copy!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

WSOP Flashback: Leaving Los Angeles, 2008

I was told on more than one occasion that the "jail sentence" metaphor I conjured up in this post led to my eventual sacking from a certain media outlet more than two years later (can you concieve of a more bullshit excuse?). Nevertheless, I believe it speaks honestly to what we all feel around this time each year as we prepare to bunker down for seven weeks in Las Vegas.

Desert Calling
originally posted 5/26/2008

In many ways, it's like preparing for a jail sentence. You get your affairs in order, leave sets of instructions, close up the house, give the keys to its caretaker. You say goodbye to your loved ones and warn them that you may not call a lot because the hours are messed up and one day tends to bleed into another as the sun rises and falls, rises and falls over the parched Nevada desert. You know that in a week's time words like Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday will cease to matter; only Day 1, Day 2, Day 3. You know that 2 a.m. will, at some point start to feel like 2 p.m., that meals will happen whenever there is time, and that little time at all will be spent in the scorching outdoors.

Your new home is a room the size of an airplane hangar cooled to the temperature of a refrigerator and you'll spend over 500 hours serving time in there over the next seven weeks. You've committed no crime, but you're a repeat offender. You know the consequences, you understand how punishing the grind will be. But you're still drawn there. Drawn to the lights in the desert. Drawn to the clatter of chips and the promise of fortune and the patches of darkness that lurk around every corner of the city. Year after year. Summer after summer. Three of them now.

The sun, unforgiving. The heat, persistent. Oppressive. Unfathomably dry. The valley, overflowing with identical tract houses in various states of construction or foreclosure. The roads, newer and wider the further you drive away from the highway. Mile upon mile of chain restaurants, discount superstores, anonymous office parks, and subdivision after subdivision after subdivision. The Strip, it's grimy sidewalks sizzling, overflowing with tourists from California, from St. Louis, from North Carolina, from Utah, from London from Stockholm from Melbourne. They come to escape. To gamble. To get married. To find Elvis. They come to see America. They come seeking a dream. They come seeking a quick fix. They leave and come back, leave and come back. But always come back. They always come back. I always come back.

We wonder how we got here, how any of us got here, and why, after all we know, we continue to return. On every drive through the desert I wonderwhat were those slings and arrows of fate that turned me off Wilshire Boulevard and onto this two-lane highway?

24 hours. To pack, to prepare. To plot. To brace. To sleep. To inhale those final lungfulls of ocean air and enjoy the comfort of a cool breeze.

The lights in the desert are calling. I have to answer.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Hairy Situation

Dear Juniors,

It this were any other restaurant, I probably wouldn't be writing this letter. But the fact is, I grew up around the corner from here and have been a customer since I could walk. I blew out candles on birthday cakes from your bakery. My parents used to bring home your chicken soup where I was sick. I've never, ever sent a plate back at Junior's and as my boyfriend (and dinner companion) mentioned to me, he's never seen me send a plate back at any restaurant we've patronized in the five years we've been together. Yesterday, however, while grabbing an early dinner at your establishment, I had to send my turkey burger back not once, but twice. It's pretty easy to tell when a turkey burger has been undercooked. The inside shouldn't be pink at all. And two bites in to this half-pound monster, a swath of chewy, pink, uncooked meat greeted me.

So I sent it back. My waitress was quite gracious about it and returned about five minutes later with the same patty, re-grilled, on a fresh bun. Unfortunately, although the outside was nearly blackened by now, the center was still not cooked through. So I sent it back again, and with my boyfriend now finished with his meal, I asked for the burger to be wrapped up to go. The waitress presented me with a fresh one and asked if I wanted to check it before I left. I said I trusted her. Big mistake.

When I returned home twenty minutes later and sat down at my dining table to finally eat my dinner, I found not one, but several black hairs inside the burger, which I clearly wasn't eating now, but for which I'd still paid about $20 when tax and tip are figured in.

I don't wish anything in return except for the money my boyfriend paid for the meal I was never able to eat. You also might want to look into the gentleman operating your grill around 6:00 pm on Sunday, who was apparently so offended at my criticism of his culinary skills that he decided to cover my turkey burger with hair from some unspeakable orifice.

It really does sadden me that after more than 30 years, I may never eat here again. And after reading this, I think you can understand why I've lost my appetite for Juniors.



P.S.-- And to the man who put hair in my burger I say this-- don't you know that shit doesn't fly anymore in the age of social media?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Media Banned from Playing WSOP Bracelet Events

Via a tweet from Lee "@Chingster23" Davy it leaked out this morning that an "unwritten" WSOP rule forbids credentialed members of the media from playing WSOP bracelet events.

"Just been informed by WSOP that I cannot play in a WSOP event if I am also going to carry out Media work. Just saved myself a lot of money," he wrote.

I guess the year of the poker media is over, at least when it comes to World Series events.

I've spent the last five summers doing nothing but promote the WSOP. I've spent every June evening since 2006 grinding out live updates, and now the powers that be are telling me and everyone else who has worked their ass off on media row that their money is no longer welcome in the Amazon Room. And in such a circuitous way. When, exactly were we going to find out about this "unwritten rule" had Chingster23 not brought it to everyone's attention? Before or after we picked up our credentials three weeks from now?

Playing in a WSOP event is the highlight of the summer for many members of the poker media. It's a needed reprieve from the grind of reporting and a rare opportunity to live in the world we spend our days writing about from the sidelines. Sure, Harrah's will gladly take the media's money when they charge us $8 for a stale pizza at 1 AM, but should they want to plunk down a grand to take a shot at the dream they are really selling-- a bracelet-- that money is no longer welcome. Or, as Pauly said to me a few minutes ago, "Poker is a game of skill. They don't want you to play that. But they have no problem with you donking off your paycheck at craps or pai gow. Or in my case, they'll gladly take your sports bets."

A lot of us in the media rely on poker to supplement our income. We make barely enough to get by as it is. Even those lucky to have jobs or a few paying freelance clients have seen our paychecks shrink up significantly over the last year. Now, with online poker no longer an option for those of us living in the U.S. (as well as the foreign media working at the WSOP-- they can't play from Vegas either) we're left to make that money up in live games. I know I was planning on grinding a lot more this summer to cover my expenses. Now I'll just have to take my business across the street to the Venetian.

Oh, wait! But satellites and cash games are OK! Hold on... I can play a satellite for a WSOP event, but I can't play the event itself? What the fuck am I supposed to do with my lammers then, since selling them is technically illegal? There's another "unwritten rule" for you, or at least that's what I was told both times I was busted by security last year for doing just that-- a practice as old as WSOP satellites themselves. Why, then would I choose to give Harrah's my rake in the cash games when there are plenty of other options?

The WSOP knocked over a hornet's nest with this one. They broke the cardinal rule- don't upset people with pens or a platform. Just as I was getting excited about my annual sojurn to Vegas, that "pilgrimage" Ty Stewart so elegantly described on this morning's media conference call, I'm finding nothing but a bad taste in my mouth.


2:42pm: Well that took only ninety minutes. See what happens when the poker media actually works together? I got a voicemail from WSOP pooh-bah Seth Palansky just a bit ago reassuring me that I'd be able to play bracelet events this summer. He followed it up with this two-part tweet from the @wsop account:
"Is it too late to say April Fools Poker Media? (j/k) I screwed up. I hear you. We'll come up with an alternative that lets u do both. Give me a day to vet, but I think there's a way to do this that is more fair. Will provide details as soon as we can, but please rest easy."
Thank you, WSOP for listening. And thank you, poker media for a quick, decisive response.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Follow the Money, Part 2: Where Online Sites Spend Lobbying Dollars

I had some more fun poking around Open Secrets last night, searching out where online poker dollars landed in Washington. Again, this isn't breaking news or intended to be any sort of dramabomb-- it's all publicly available information.

Over the last two years, PokerStars spent $1.26 million on lobbying. They were the seventh-largest donor in the casino/gambling sector in 2010. #1 was Caesar's/Harrah's with $3.9 million and surprisingly, The Poker Players Alliance was #2 with $1.8m. Coming in at #3 with $1.66m was the Interactive Gaming Council, a Vancouver-based trade group representing offshore online gaming entities including PokerStars and Full Tilt.

$900,000 of PokerStars' $1.26 million went to a lobbying outfit headed by former House Majority/Minority Leader and Democratic presidential candidate Dick Gephardt. Beginning in Q3 2009, the Gephardt Group was paid $150,000 per quarter to represent PokerStars on Capitol Hill. They were no small client either; Stars' lobbying dollars represented 9.1% of their $6.59 million take in 2010, tying them for first place with Peabody Energy among the Gephardt Group's clients when it came to reported billing dollars in 2010. Despite the hefty paychecks they received over the last six quarters, the Gephardt Group has never commented publicly on their work for PokerStars, nor do they explicitly list PokerStars as a client on their company website next to their other "stand-up" clients like Goldman Sachs, United Healthcare, and the Government of Turkey. Instead, Rational Entertainment Enterprises, the name of Stars' holding company, is listed. PokerStars is also referred to as "Rational Entertainment Enterprises (on behalf of PokerStars) in the Gephardt Group's lobbying disclosure paperwork filed with the House and the Senate.

So...although Dick Gephardt doesn't mind taking PokerStars' money, he sure seems ashamed to be in business with them. For $150,000 a quarter, he should be wearing a .net patch every time he does a stand-up on CNN.

The remaining $360,000 of Stars' lobbying dollars went to the St. Louis-based law firm of Stinson, Morrison & Hecker at the rate of $60,000 per quarter. Based on the information available on OpenSecrets, PokerStars appears to be their largest client when it comes to government affairs. Of the $1.21 million they reported from clients for lobbying in 2010, Stars represented almost 30% of their receipts. Second-largest was a New Zealand-based dairy company called Fonterra. The firm's other clients primarily lie in the energy, agriculture, and oil & gas sectors. The only lobbyist listed was Jane E. Duecker. Her bio on the firm's website reveals that she is a former assistant attorney general for the State of Missouri and served as the Chief of Staff to the Governor from April 2003 to December 2004. Although it lists her work in a variety of industries, gaming is not mentioned.

PokerStars wasn't the only major online site that engaged in lobbying activities. PartyGaming spent $2,155,000 on lobbying over the last four years: $1.65 million in 2007, $170,000 in 2008, $60,000 in 2009, and $240,000 in 2010. Here's where it really gets colorful-- $1.35 million of Party's 2007 lobbying dollars went to a company called Avatar Enterprises based in Collinsville, IL. Avatar was run by Gary Frears, a man who has been in trouble with various state, municipal, and federal agencies since the early 1980s. After a stint as a fixer for the Illinois Department of Transportation, Frears worked for the Democratic Party's national finance committee before moving into his own business deals. After securing a $13.4 million from the State of Illinois to build a Holiday Inn in the city of Collinsville in 1982, Fears defaulted on the loan and never repaid it, leaving the state hanging on $31 million in outstanding principal and interest by 1995. The state ultimately sold the property at a loss in 2007. Fears moved to Florida in the mid-1990s and began investing in Indian casinos. Almost every deal was fraught with drama and ended acrimoniously.

Frears turned to lobbying in the mid-2000s, acting as the registered foreign agent for the Moroccan government in addition to his work for PartyGaming. Avatar also received a payment of $606,048 from Russel DeLeon, husband of PartyGaming founder Ruth Parasol. The IRS is also after Frears, seeking over $300,000 in income taxes dating back to 2001 from international currency transactions he made with Deutsche Bank. More information on his tangled web can be found in this article: Fears and Lobbying in Collinsville.

So, to recap--along with the (completely toothless) PPA, two of the major forces repping online poker interests on Capitol Hill over the last few years were Dick "Don't tell anyone I'm working the pro-gaming lobby" Gephardt and a notoriously shady motherfucker in trouble with the IRS.

Still like our chances for legalization/regualtion?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Black Friday Fallout

It's lunchtime in Los Angeles and I'm ready to pour a cocktail since I was just able to cash out my life savings PokerStars account. Although perhaps I should put down the shaker until the check clears. Now that the reality of Black Friday has sunk in for me and future plans are being hastily assembled, one other stream of fallout is beginning to come to light.

I miss playing. I really do. Watching sporting events just isn't the same without six-tabling Super Turbos. I was just starting to get decent at Badugi. And opening up the Womens' Sunday tournament was really a mistake. I'd personally vowed to win that fucker at least once by the end of 2011.

Anyhow, here's a few of the things I've been reading and some info on how to get your money out of PokerStars.

PokerStars cashouts now available for Americans: We're obviously not out of the woods yet, but I let out a huge sigh of relief when I heard PokerStars was starting to process cashouts from U.S. players. I first heard about it from Kevmath, and a quick listen to the Two Plus Two podcast confirmed it. The cashout methods available to Yanks depends on the balance you have on the site. If it's $2,500 or less, you can get a paper check. $50,000 and over requires a wire transfer. With $2,500-$49,999 the only option available is something called a "direct bank transfer." You'll need to provide both your bank account number as well as the ABA routing number, which is typically found on the bottom left of your paper checks. Some folks have already reported that the DBT worked for them. Count me among them-- after a brief hiccup where I couldn't enter my entire account number the transfer finally went through. My remaining T$ and step tickets were also converted to cash at 100 cents on the dollar.

No 'mo rodeo: File this under inevitable. News started leaking today that former WSOP commissioner Jeffrey Pollack is stepping down from Professional Bull Riders, Inc. (PBR) to focus on his new role as Chairman of Annie Duke's Federated Sports & Gaming league. FS&G looks like it might be one of the few beneficiaries of the events of Black Friday, now that Full Tilt has done away with the competing Onyx Cup.

Forbes op-ed by Gary Loveman: Yup, he's the sad-faced suit telling you to seek help for your gambling problem in those commercials aka the CEO of Harrah's. He did, however, pen a pretty solid piece in Forbes today that put forth a far clearer argument for legalization and regulation than the PPA ever has. Say it with me-- tax revenue, job creation, game security, consumer protection. Sure there was a bit of underlying "Haha! We gotcha Stars and Tilt! Here we come!" bubbling beneath the surface, but did you expect anything less?

I also enjoyed Matt Matros' op-ed in the Washington Post. Looks like the two of us have similar plans for the immediate future.

dmoongirl sounds off: I'd just started reading dmoongirl's CardRunners blog a few weeks ago. She's a 26 year-old married mom of a toddler who has been an online pro for 6 years, playing $25/$50 6-max NLHE. A week ago she was comfortably supporting her family and filming interviews for the upcoming poker documentary Boom. Now she's out of a job.

Moving Forward, Not Starting Over: Shamus wrote about the podcast I did discussing Black Friday and mused on his own future plans.

And finally, Pauly checks in from Peru, where he penned this stunner about his spiritual journey at Machu Picchu. Check out Cusco - Ollantaytanbo - Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Follow the Money: Online Poker and Political Contributions

So much money...where did it get us?

Back when I worked in the film industry, a favorite pastime among junior D-people was to play around on, running names of producers, directors, executives, and A-list actors to see where they were spending their political dollars. In the wake of Black Friday, I pulled up the site over my morning coffee and decided to check out how much lining-of-the-pockets the American members of Team Full Tilt did over the last four years (2006-2010). Although this is nothing close to breaking news (it's all publicly available information), the results are pretty interesting.

Howard and Susie Lederer (NV): $355,635
Andrew Bloch (NV and MD): $176,992
Chris Ferguson (NV): $109,100
Phil Ivey (NV): $92,470
Erik and Ruah Seidel (NV): $91,800
Phil Gordon (NV and WA): $49,900
Jennifer and Marco Traniello (NV): $40,800
John Juanda (CA): $17,200
Erick Lindgren (NV): $12,000
Allen Cunningham: $0
Mike Matusow: $0
Tom Dwan: $0

Couldn't find anything on those last three, at least on Open Secrets. But for the nine individuals listed above them, that's a grand total of $945,897 of dirty dirty Full Tilt money over three election cycles.

I expected as much from the FTP pros with percentages. But what about the other industry big-guns/sponsored pros/guys with deep pockets? Here's a few more names I looked up:

Leon Black, Founder, Apollo Management (NY): $296,250
Barry Greenstein (CA): $76,100
Joe Sebok (CA): $51,700
Rafe Furst (CA): $50,050
Daniel Negreanu (NV): $41,200*
Doyle Brunson (NV): $40,800
Dennis Phillips (IL): $30,700
John Pappas, Executive Director, Poker Players Alliance (DC): $25,250
Tom McEvoy (NV): $18,700
Ray Bitar (CA): $17,500**
Vanessa Rousso (FL): $17,450
Annie Duke (CA): $15,000
Joe Cada (MI): $13,500
Mori Eskandani, Producer, PokerPROductions (NV): $10,400
Phil Hellmuth and Katherine Sanborn Hellmuth (CA): $10,000***
Perry Friedman (NV): $10,000
Greg Raymer (NC): $7,300
Barry Shulman (NV): $4,000
Steve Wynn (NV): $3,000

*= although he's a Canadian citizen, he has permanent U.S. residency (aka a green card)
***= two checks @ $5,000/ea. to the PPA in July/August 2009

And here's a few Hollywood names for good measure from the same three election cycles:

Alan Horn, COO, Warner Bros. Pictures (CA): $312,296
Steven Spielberg (CA): $243,650
Tom Hanks (CA): $74,700
Jerry Bruckheimer (CA): $53,400
Jeff Bewkes, CEO, Time Warner (NY): $48,900
Sumner Redstone, CEO, Viacom (CA): $33,400
Les Moonves, CEO, CBS Corp. (CA): $17,400
Oprah Winfrey (IL): $2,300
Dr. Pauly, Internet Physician (NY): $420

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Jack Tripper Stole My Dog: The Trailer

Pauly impresses and inspires me to no end. Less than a year after putting out his first book, he's back with another. Get ready for Jack Tripper Stole My Dog, hitting the shelves in May! Support independent writers!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011 Black Friday Podcast

Happy 4/20 America! Smoke 'em if you've got 'em!

Last night I recorded an episode of's Today in Sports Betting with RJ Bell discussing online poker's "Black Friday" from a media perspective. Lord knows poker players love themselves some sports betting (look who I live with)and the reverse is certainly true. RJ himself plays some $5/$10 NL at Bellagio and we discussed the impact Friday's events will have on the media, online grinders, sponsored pros, and live games.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The End of the (Poker) World as We Know It

I boarded a plane in Hartford, Connecticut yesterday morning, wearing a PokerStars sweatshirt, carrying a PokerStars player bag, and having just completed a week of work at the NAPT Mohegan Sun. I was looking forward to a few days off before beginning one of two weeks-long writing assignments for PokerStars and would have probably spend a significant chunk of that time off grinding up a little income on PokerStars (and Full Tilt). As I sat down in my cramped seat on the American Eagle CRJ that would fly me through a thunderstorm to Chicago, where I’d have less than half an hour to change planes due to our late departure, I checked my email and Twitter account one last time.

The world was ending. The online poker world at least.

The U.S. Department of Justice just put thousands of Americans out of work, myself included. I’ve grown accustomed to walking the razor’s edge of a freelancer’s life; I made it through the UIGEA, media downsizing, and budget cut after budget cut. Then, when my financial outlook was at its absolute bleakest, I managed to ship a live tournament and buoy myself through that particular rough patch. Now I’ll be mummified in red tape before I see a significant chunk of that money, not to mention the rest of my bankroll and everything I’ve earned since then. It’s more money than I’ve ever had in one place in my entire 33 years on this planet. And my government is not only withholding that money, but taking away the way I earn my living because they think it’s better that they make my decisions for me.

Where’s my unemployment check? Oh that’s right. I won’t get one, and neither will the thousands of people who just lost their only source of income thanks to my country’s ever-increasing nanny state. And it was so nice of them to wait for April 15, when most of us had already paid our taxes on all that dirtily procured income. As my friend Erica Schoenberg put it on Twitter in the aftermath of the announcement—“I should be able to smoke a blunt, abort a baby, marry a girl and play online poker if I want to. Quit telling me what to do with my $ or body. FU.”

Amen, sister.

Once I was on the ground in Chicago, a flurry of emails ensued between Pauly and I as I tried to see if he could transfer funds out of my Stars account from Peru, where he’s on assignment covering the LAPT Lima. No dice. Although I’m confident that Stars and Tilt will make it right for their players and we will see our account balances returned at some point, I see this taking months, if not longer. This isn’t just money I was going to live on. It's essentially my entire life savings.

After a sprint through O'Hare Airport, I made my connecting flight to Los Angeles. Strangely enough, for the first time in about six months my upgrade cleared at the gate. It seemed like a nod from the universe saying “Here you go sweetie, sorry your life is completely fucked at the moment.” I took my seat in 5A next to Joe Giron, the best photographer in poker, and we commiserated over a couple of Canadian Club and sodas. After a while, we both had to forget about it and temporarily tune out. Without in-flight wifi, we were completely cut off at 35,000 feet. We ate shrimp cocktails, chicken with pasta, and that ice cream sundae everyone envies from the economy seats. I was acutely aware that this might be the last time I'd do so on a flight paid for by PokerStars. Joe watched The Office, while I zoned out to an episode of Survivor.

The tribe has spoken.

I looked up and the Rocky Mountains were out my window. Grand, ancient, and snow-capped. Stunning. I'd been thrown off steep cliffs before and have always managed to climb back up. I couldn't see a way back up from this one, at least not toward poker and at least not in the foreseeable future. Anyway you slice it, I lose. Everyone in the industry loses, be it money, a livelihood, the freedom to do what you love or even your ability to live in the country you pledged allegiance to every morning of grammar school. Online pros are already talking about leaving for Europe, Canada, or anywhere else the Nanny States of America can’t reach them. Men and women who were able to spend more time with their families thanks to the freedom online poker provided will be dusting off resumes and entering the worst American job market in over 80 years.

But oddly enough, as those mountains turned to desert, I found a strange sense of peace. Every time I have been pushed off a cliff, I found something better. Hollywood shoved me off the seventh floor of a Wilshire Blvd. high-rise and I found the love of my life. The UIGEA cost me the job I'd barely begun with Party Poker and I ended up traveling the world several times over for other clients. One of those clients unceremoniously sacked me and it sent me down a path that led not only to my first major live score, but to me revisiting outside writing projects I'd long struggled with. I can only hope that my fall from this particular mountainside will see me finishing them.

I'm lucky enough to have a partner who saw this shitstorm coming a long time ago, and has prepared us well for it. A lot of people aren't as fortunate as we are. Life will go on, online poker will even go on someday when the industry finally figures out the right people to pay off. It doesn't matter to me anyway. I gave up on politics a long time ago. I understand who really pulls the strings in this country and it’s not the president, Congress, or anyone else who is elected to public office. It’s powerful corporate interests, and the online poker industry in the U.S. and everyone who earns a living in it is now collateral damage in the ongoing war between B&M casino entities, online operators, and the federal government.

It was winter when I left here two weeks ago. It's 88 degrees today. My boyfriend is still in Peru and I miss him terribly. And since I can't fire up a super-turbo SNG to blow off some steam, I may even go outside.

Friday, February 25, 2011

American Idol: the Good, the Bad, and the WTF?

Hollywood Week has come and gone and at last, we're left with our Top 24-- 12 guys and 12 girls who will be at the mercy of the American voting public next week. On the whole, I think it's a pretty impressive crop of talent this year and thankfully devoid of the over-population of white guys with guitars that were forced on us last season (now we get white guys on piano and bass!). There's a guy with Tourettes AND Asperger's, two former maids, a lot of dudes who love to screech out high E's and a menagerie of sickly precocious 15-year olds. Here's a look at who I'll be watching...and muting... over the next few episodes:

The Good: Casey Abrams
I am loving this quirky little w00k who crawled out of the San Bernadino Mountains and thankfully found his way to Hollywood. He's a gifted musician, a creative arranger, soulful without being over-the-top, and despite the unfortunate Taylor Hicks comparisons, has a sound that I welcome on Idol. Here's his Hollywood Week solo-- "Georgia on My Mind," self-accompanied on stand-up bass.

The Good: Pia Toscano
This chick was entirely off my radar until the latter stages of Hollywood Week, but as Randy would say, she "blew it out the box" with this solo performance:

The Good: Tim Halperin
Ladies, can we say adorable? Love the soft, lilting timbre in his voice that is sure to make teenage hearts melt across America. Here's his piano-duet version of "Something in the Way She Moves" with Julie Zorilla.

The Bad: Jacob Lusk
Please pass me some of whatever Randy Jackson was smoking when he declared this the best performance in ten seasons of American Idol... and a little of what Lusk injested before this utterly spastic rendition of "God Bless the Child." This year's motto appears to be "scream your face off if you want any attention from the judges" and this "spa concierge" from Compton (huh?) takes it right to heart:

The Bad: Clint Jun Gamboa
Can he please crawl back into the Long Beach karaoke bar he came out of? The guy has a decent voice, but you can barely hear its tone over all the runs and falsetto screeching. No subtlety here, folks. AND he kicked Child Tony G (aka Jaycee Badeaux) out of his group during Hollywood Week for a finishing touch of cutthroat cattiness. Watch him mangle "Georgia on My Mind" if you dare, or are simply an aural masochist:

The WTF?: Thia Megia
I wanted to projectile vomit when rocker Jessica Cunningham was cut and this creature was let in. This disgustingly precocious 15-year old already stunk up the small screen last year on America's Got Talent and rather than allowing her teenybopper vocals to marinate and mature for another year, the judges let her in on her first try rather than giving the nod to Cunningham, who, after making the Top 40 for a second consecutive year, instead had J.Lo ruin her 25th birthday by sending her home. I hereby declare Thia Megia this year's Jasmine Trias. Which means she'll probably stick around a lot longer than we want her to. Her screamy, high school talent show treatment of "You Raise Me Up" starts at the 1:16 mark.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

American Idol Discussion on Wicked Chops Podcast

Grrrr. I'm a lil' tilty at the moment after having my wallet assaulted at the DFW currency exchange counter. I'm used to getting screwed when it comes to changing USD for foreign money, but this particular transaction cost me nearly 20% in juice. That's got to be a new record when it comes to my global travels for poker, and it's not exactly an expense that can be reimbursed. Vomit.

Anyhow, the Entities at Wicked Chops Poker were kind enough to invite me on this week's podcast. Along with Chops and WPT's Jeff Holsey, we delve deep into our collective favorite topic-- American Idol-- after discussing Peter Eastgate's "un-retirement" and Ashton Griffin's 70-mile prop bet. Give it a listen here.

If all goes as its supposed to, I should be touching down in Sao Paulo, Brazil in about twelve hours. It's a good thing that the PokerStars Blog team has the best local guide ever, our own Sergio Prado, a SP native who writes the Brazilian blog. Without Serge I'd be in trouble because the only words I know in Portuguese are "good morning," "beer," and "go fuck yourself."

For now I have three hours to kill in the Admirals Club, the first season of Community on my hard drive, and a free drink waiting for me at the bar.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Top 5 American Idol Season 10 Hollywood Week Hopefuls

It's been an excruciating four weeks of audition episodes on American Idol and thankfully, tonight the show moves in to Hollywood Week (and the ensuing cattiness, tears, mental breakdowns, and forgotten lyrics). Before the drama kicks off, I thought I'd take a look back and share with you who I'll be watching closely during the next round. All five (well, actually six with the Gutierrez Bros.) have serious raw vocal talent and also benefitted by having their "stories" (or at least some sort of schtick) featured on the broadcast. There is plenty still to see, but these are my favorites thus far. Feel free to add your own $0.02 in the comments.

Mark Gutierrez, 28 and Aaron Gutierrez, 27
Hometown: Redlands, CA
Audition city: Los Angeles
You'll remember them because: They're the Latin Jonas Brothers.

Lauren Alaina, 15
Hometown: Rossville, GA
Audition city: Nashville
You'll remember her because: Steven Tyler called her "beyondo cute" after she sang his song "Don't Want to Miss a Thing." That and the tragic rainbow tye-dye dress.

Chris Medina, 26
Hometown: Oak Park, IL
Audition city: Milw00kie
You'll remember him because: He wheeled in his brain-damaged fiance to meet the judges.

Casey Abrams,19
Hometown: Idyllwild, CA
Audition city: Austin
You'll remember him because: He carried around a mouth-powered keyboard at auditions called a melodica.

James Durbin, 21
Hometown: Santa Cruz, CA
Audition city: San Francisco
You'll remember him because: He's the dude with Tourette's and Asperger's.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Year of the Poker Media?

Our salaries may be falling and our jobs disappearing, but four of us donks-with-notebooks have managed to score life-changing money in tournament poker over the last couple of months. The latest member of the poker media to accomplish this feat is Remko "happyfreaked" Rinkema, a writer/reporter for Early this morning, Remko finished in fourth place at the Estrellas Poker Tour-Madrid main event for a €26,100 score (about $35,500 USD). For the 99% of you who do not read Dutch, check out this hilarious Babelfish translation of's writeup.

Remko is true to his nickname. Despite the hour or the circumstance, the guy almost always has a smile on his face and he has a few freaky tendencies (like his frequent $50 cab rides from the Rio to Naked Fish during dinner breaks at the WSOP, where he consumed copious amounts of Las Vegas' finest sushi). Consider this your invite for a victory baked lobster roll this summer, buddy!

So, to recap. In the last 51 days Kristy Arnett won a MiniFTOPS jersey, Rob "veeRob" Perelman shipped the Hearland Poker Tour-Red Rock, I won a crazy-tall trophy at the PCA Ladies Event and Remko made a televised final table and $35K. Of course we're not the first poker writers to win tournaments-- Ryan won an LAPC event in 2006, Pauly, Dan and Lana won Dream Team Poker in 2009, and Otis shipped a Ceasar's Megastack event last summer. But the confluence of events in such a short period of time does beg the question. Is it the year of the poker media?

A hearty mazel tov to Remko. Who's gonna be next?

Friday, February 04, 2011

New Tao of Pokerati - Super Bowl Wagers

As close to a lock as you're gonna get this Sunday

I taped a guest spot on the quickest gambling podcast on the internet, the Tao of Pokerati. Filling in for Michalski, I sat down with Pauly to discuss my one and only Super Bowl wager.

2011 Super Bowl: Exotic Betting on the Super Bowl with Change100 (4:19) - Pauly and Change100 chat about "exotic" proposition wagering for this year's Super Bowl. And if you're looking for some easy money, then you're in luck because Change100 also shares a tip on how long it will take Christina Aguilera to sing the national anthem.

For more on our week in sports betting, check out Your Hands and Feet Are Mangos, Part 2. My beloved has so corrupted me that I just put a 20-spot on Ivy League basketball. Go Yale?

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

American Idol, The Rum Diaries, and How I Lit $335 On Fire

I try to live my life with few regrets, but if I have one it's that Showcase and I never got our shit together and auditioned for American Idol while we were still eligible. It's not like I was a lock to make Hollywood Week or anything-- on my best day Simon Cowell would have labeled my musical theater-trained belt "too cabaret"-- but it still would have been a cool footnote in our personal histories. At the end of last season, when Crystal Bowersox lost to Lee DeWyze, I felt like I was done with the show after nine seasons as a faithful viewer, but the ensuing shake-up at the judges' table led me to come back for more. The jury is still out for me when it comes to Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez's contributions to the show since we're still in the cringingly awful audition stages of Season 10, but I will say this. Goddamn I miss Simon Cowell. These folks are just too damn soft.

I'm taping an episode of the Wicked Chops Poker podcast this afternoon where I will no doubt go into more detail about specific contestants with the Entities. So stay tuned for that.

While Pauly took last week to do nothing but drink and bet on basketball (as detailed in his epic post Your Hands and Feet are Mangos), I didn't do much else besides organize my finances (thanks to my PCA score I am now debt-free for the first time since I was 18), hack through red tape at the passport office so I can go on an assignment Brazil in two weeks, and play online poker. I stunk up the joint when it came to MTTs, but thankfully made most of those buy-ins back in cash games and SNGs. Full Tilt's Double Guarantees Week and their new Multi-Entry Tournament shtick was like handing a back of rock to a crackhead, and I hit the pipe hard over the weekend when it came to those suckers.

Yesterday, instead of firing up the laptop, I hit the road and drove out to the Commerce Casino to play in an L.A. Poker Classic prelim. I sang along to the Glee soundtrack all the way down the 10 and as Maridu messaged me yesterday, "I'm pretty sure that's a tell." The structure for the $335 Double Stack NLHE was downright amazing for a low buy-in SoCal tourney, with 10,000 in chips and blinds starting at 25/50. Unfortunately, I got caught up in a very weird hand in the second orbit that cost me a significant chunk.

The UTG player, who seemed like an online guy both in terms of his look and his bet sizing raised to 125. A guy in an Angels hat flat-called and two calling stations in middle position flatted before the action came around to me on the button. I looked down at two kings and three-bet to 700. All four players called. The flop was 9-J-Q rainbow. Ewww. UTG guy checked, Angels hat bet 2,000, and the two calling stations folded. I hated raising, I hated folding, I didn't have any sort of read on Angels hat yet, and I still had UTG guy behind me. I decided to call, and UTG guy called behind me. 9,500 in the pot now. The turn was the 9s, pairing the board and giving it a second spade. UTG guy looked like he might bet, but then decided to check, and Angels hat quickly bet 4,000. I got the hell out, UTG guy shoved and Angels hat snap-called, turning over pocket queens for the nut boat. UTG guy had K-T for the straight and busted out.

After that, I couldn't win a pot to save my life. The one time I did flop top pair with A-T, I got raised on the turn on by the tightest player at the table and let it go. Angels hat was running over the table with his massive stack and was getting smacked in the face with the deck-- he showed pocket aces, pocket kings, quads for fuck's sake. My stack steadily eroded and I ended up check-shoving a 5-3-3 flop with pocket eights only to run into Angels hat's Q-Q. With that, my $335 burst into flames and instead of heading downstairs to ignite a few more hundred dollar bills in the cash games, I decided to drive home before rush hour traffic rendered that task impossible.

Queens against eights again, how about that?