Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Everything All of the Time (Reprise)

Last July, only a few days before the start of the 2010 WSOP Main Event, I wrote these words for a piece on the Tao of Poker called Everything All of the Time:

"The World Series of Poker is in the midst of an identity crisis. The WSOP needs to decide what it is. Is it the most prestigious festival of poker in the world? Or is it a poker fantasy camp marketed to the masses?"

I was certainly not alone with this viewpoint. I can't tell you how many players I spoke with last summer who were frustrated with the polarized schedule of event buy-ins. If you're a NLHE tournament player you essentially have two choices-- play in one of more than a dozen $1,000 and $1,500 buy-in events with field sizes ranging from 2,500-3,000 players, or play in a $5,000 buy-in event against 800 of the world's top online wizards. Should you choose the $1,500 event and chip up a bit, only to lose one medium-sized pot in the early going, you'll be under 30 big blinds by the start of Level 3. Should you choose the $5k, you'll start with a comfortable 200 big blinds, but once you look around your starting table, you'll shit yourself and suddenly feel far less at ease.

By the end of last year's Series, I concluded that there were three major issues that needed to be addressed when it came to writing the WSOP schedule for 2011. With its release on Monday, it appears that TPTB made a concerted effort to fix one of those three, but completely left the other two alone.

1. Reduce the number of $1,000 and $1,500 NLHE events in favor of more tournaments at the $2,000, $2,500 and $3,000 buy-in level. This didn't happen at all. If you want to play a $2,000-$3,000 buy-in full ring NLHE event at this year's WSOP, you have exactly one opportunity to do so, in Event #36, $2,500 NLHE. There are zero NLHE events at the $2,000 and $3,000 levels, seven with a $1,500 buy-in and five open events with a $1,000 buy-in. The only increases when it came to mid-buy in WSOP events in 2011 will be in limit and mixed game tournaments.

2. Reduce the overall number of events. This didn't happen either, although I didn't expect it to. Try telling any corporation to make less money. 58 bracelets will be awarded in Las Vegas this year, up from 57 in 2010. Commence the "value of a bracelet" discussions in 3-2-1...

3. Figure out a way to give players more manageable tournament hours. This should have happened four years ago, but I'll give credit where credit is due. The plan to play no more than ten levels a day in any given event is going to turn a lot of frowns upside-down in the hallways of the Rio. No more coming back on Day 3 with 37 players and having to play down to a winner, even if the sun sets and rises again during the process. Of course, not knowing how many days each event will actually last means that whatever media outlet ends up getting the "official" tournament reporting contract is going to have a super-fun time scheduling their reporters. Glad I don't have to do that anymore.

It makes total financial sense that the WSOP would want to funnel as many players as possible into the weekend donkaments. Poker tourists are the ones who spend the most additional dollars on Harrahs' properties in the form of rooms, food, and pit gaming. Their sheer numbers also juice up the prize pool, which in turn gives the pros a good reason to show up at the Rio at noon to gamble it up in those fish-infested waters in the hopes of either gathering a big stack early or busting before registration for the 5 pm event closes. That's what those $1k and $1.5 events are. Far more of a gamble than anything else the WSOP offers. Double up quickly or you're toast. Not a whole lot of play for your $1,500 IMO.

If you're a limit or mixed games player, you'll be in hog heaven this summer. There are plenty of events at a variety of buyins to choose from, not to mention the new $2.5K 10-game tournament which will include Badugi for the first time at the WSOP. If you're looking for a deep-stacked NLHE structure at anything less than a $5,000 buy-in, you're kind of SOL at this year's series. If you have $1,500 to spend and are willing to take a big gamble in order to have a shot at a bracelet, then you have at least a dozen opportunities to do so. And if you're a sponsored pro, nosebleed cash gamer, or trustafarian, there are 18 events with buy-ins ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 that are calling your name.

If I play a WSOP event this summer, it will most likely be the Ladies' Event via a satellite. Nothing else on this schedule shows enough value for me and my budding bankroll unless I get my limit hold'em or O8 game in serious shape by June. Again, I don't think I'm alone here. Playing tournaments is all about picking your spots, and my spot is not in a shallow-stacked $1k with a 3,000-deep field. Were there more $2k or $3k events on the schedule, I might be planning a satellite budget. Instead, should I find myself wanting to sling cards for 12 hours, I'll probably be across the street at the Venetian, where I can play three $545 events with a 240 big blind starting stack for the price of one donkament. There won't be a bracelet at the end of that rainbow, but there might be another thirty grand. Which, as I can now tell you from experience, is pretty nice.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bahama Pauly or Why Rum Is Evil, a semi-live blog

I feel responsible that my boyfriend is addicted to coconut rum and well on his way to becoming a raging alcoholic. After all, I was the one who took him to the islands and got him hooked on the sweet pink nectar that is a Bahama Mama. Pauly makes them just as well as any Atlantis bartender after practicing relentlessly in our kitchen this weekend as the NFL's "final four" played out. Pauly's friend Chicago Bob joined us for the games, watching in agony as his Bears fell to the Packers in the first half of the afternoon. As the Jets-Steelers game approached, Pauly's Bahama Mama consumption soared to new heights, coating his usual hair-pulling and pacing act in a thick layer of high fructose corn syrup and Malibu Rum.

Sunday's highlights:

11:31am: First Bahama Mama is mixed. Shaken, not stirred. Mine is half-strength since I'm grinding Sunday tourneys.

12:24pm: Pauly babbles about how he decided to bet Green Bay because he heard about some multi-million dollar bets on the Packers that were just placed at a Central American sportsbook.

12:30pm: Kickoff in the Bears-Packers game. Bob arrives bearing an entire french apple pie.

1:05pm: I'm already out of three tourneys after running into three sets. It was bound to happen. So I buy into two more.

1:35pm: Jay Cutler gets sacked. Pauly says it's because he has sand in his vag.

2:15 pm: Pauly is on his third B.M. "If we survive the apocalypse, I'll gladly start a sportsbook with you in Costa Rica," he says as Chicago Bob anguishes over the Bears offense.

2:45pm: Some dude none of us has ever heard of is now playing QB for the Bears. Chicago Bob says "We're done."

3:16pm: Out of the Stars $11 rebuy. KK falls to AA. The lesson here is that a four-betting Brazilian always has it. I was taught that lesson last week, but I obviously didn't learn.

3:40pm: Kickoff in the Jets-Steelers game. Pauly is on his sixth Bahama Mama.

4:00pm: Pauly is swaying.

4:20pm: Smoke break. Holy Grail OG. Was grown by a priest and that's no lie.

4:30pm: Jets lay an egg in the first quarter. Why did I become a Jets fan again?

5:07pm: @TexDolly tweets "yep, i've got the Jets…early bed time tonight."

5:15pm: Pauly decides to invade the Ivory Coast. Mumbles something about a power vacuum and needing a cop car to corner the cocoa market. "Once we have the military's cooperation, the cocoa fields are ours!"

5:17pm: Pauly tells Chicago Bob they are buying more cocoa futures in the morning. Surprisingly, Bob does not disagree.

5:20pm: Discussion of cocoa futures reverts back to their plan to manipulate the mortgage market.

5:39pm: Fuckin' A. Out of the $18K Super Stack and the Double Deuce just short of the money in both.

6:05pm: First incidence of Pauly walking outside because he can't handle the pressure.

6:08pm: Pauly walks back inside and immediately bangs into a chair.

6:15pm: With pineapple juice supplies running low, Pauly turn to Newman's lemonade and invents "The Cromartie."

6:29pm:More mortgage fraud discussion. Chicago Bob: "If you're a fruit picker making $14,000 a year and you're kicked out of your $700,000 house after putting no money down, you didn't lose ANYTHING!"

6:41pm: Pauly begins banging his head against a closet door.

6:50pm: The Jets lose. Rapelesberger & Co. advance to the Super Bowl. So this is what it's like to be a Jets fan. Pauly owes Mean Gene a 4x4 and a chocolate shake from In & Out Burger payable at the 2011 WSOP.

7:00 pm: Chicago Bob departs. He leaves behind the entire french apple pie which Pauly instantly dubs "breakfast."

7:21pm: Pauly and I begin discussing what to eat for dinner.

7:25pm: "I don't want to go to In-N-Out Burger. I don't want to sit in the car because the way you drive I might puke."

7:26pm: Pauly decides to speak in a British accent while giving me his order for the local pita joint.

7:40pm: "Oh, THAT'S why I'm wasted. I've only had rum, pineapple juice, and cheese sauce all day!"

7:41pm: Me: You only drink to kill your feelings. Him: Well, I'd better drink more then!

8:15pm: I return to the apartment with our food. Pauly inhales a garlic chicken panini but only makes it halfway through his chicken kebab wrap. We both note the exceptionally phallic shape of said wrap.

8:30pm: Pauly passes out sitting up on the couch while watching a documentary about Nazis narrated by Rob Lowe.

8:45pm: He suddenly wakes, demanding a glass of water, two Motrin, and the remainder of his "penis sandwich" before passing out 30 seconds later.

9:28pm: I conclude that Pauly is out for the night and store his leftover sandwich in the fridge before turning down the bed for him.

9:31pm: "I can't believe you're 86ing me from the living room!" he slurs, followed by "Get me Motrin!"

9:33pm: First snores emanate from bedroom. Awesome. Now I can watch Teen Mom 2.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Beyond Fairy Tale: The 2011 PCA Ladies Event, Part 2

"So, what do we call you?"

Here it was, the only thing I'd been dreading. Make no mistake, there was absolutely no downside to making Day 2, but I knew that if I made the final table I'd have to pull back the curtain on my identity, use my real name and allow myself to be photographed. For 5 1/2 years I had successfully confused the public, my readers, and many inside the poker industry itself with my relentless pursuit of anonymity. I wrote under at least three pen names. And in the age of Twitpics, YouTube and Facebook, I kept my picture off the internet. Initially, I chose that path because I was a Hollywood development executive writing a poker blog. When that part of my life ended and I started traveling internationally for poker, I decided it was just as well to keep it up, even if only for safety's sake. Were there other more deep-seated emotional reasons as well? Probably, but I'll save that for my shrink.

Mad Harper, one of PokerStars' media directors, was standing in front of me with a notepad. I've worked different events and drank in hotel bars with Mad in half a dozen countries and she knows the lengths I've gone to stay under the radar. I bit the bullet and told her that once I made the money, it was OK to let the cat out of the bag.

Once I made the money. Not if I made the money. In that moment, I was floored by my own confidence. Having the chip lead certainly helped.

My plan for the first couple of levels back was basically to not do anything stupid. After the overnight redraw I had position on a couple of short stacks and took advantage of it, stealing some blinds and making a couple of successful preflop three-bets. I had chipped up to nearly 150,000 and was in the big blind when the action folded around to Veronica Dabul on the button. With the blinds at 1,000/2,000, she had about 35,000 behind and opened for 5,000. I looked down at Ad-Qd and made it 15,000, half her remaining stack. Veronica tanked for about a minute before shoving and I quickly called to see her Kd-8d. An eight hit the flop, and Veronica doubled up, but she busted out a short time later in 11th place.

I made the nine-handed final table with somewhere in the neighborhood of 130-135k. I knew I had lost the chiplead, which was now held by Ricki Lake with more than 200,000. Blinds were at 1,200/2,400 and the woman directly to my left had less than ten big blinds. We were right on the money bubble, ninth place leaving with nothing while eighth would take home just over $3,700. Less than an orbit in, a huge hand unfolded between Lauren Kling, who also had about 130,000 and Ricki. Lauren opened from under-the-gun and the action folded around to Ricki, who called on the button. The flop was 9-6-3 with two spades. Lauren led out, Ricki raised, Lauren four-bet, and Ricki moved all-in, having Lauren covered. Lauren looked positively tortured, but she said "I have to call," pushing her large-denomination chips across the line.

Lauren tabled 6-9 for top two pair while Ricki sheepishly turned over 8c-8d. Although Ricki picked up a straight draw on the turn, Lauren's hand held and she rocketed into the chip lead with more than 360,000. Ricki was left with about 70k.

After the dust settled from that hand, a discussion broke out about doing a save for the bubble girl, each of the eight players in the money contributing $100. We hadn't voted yet when Little Kristen opened for 4,800 from early position and I looked down at pocket aces. I three-bet to 13,500, and it folded around to High Heels Poker Tour founder Lauren Failla in the big blind. She moved all-in, Little Kristen moved all-in behind her, and I called, having them both covered.

Me: As-Ah
Little Kristen: Ks-Kc
Lauren F.: Jh-Jd

I'm only a 2-1 favorite in this situation, but my hand held up, the board running out all small cards. Lauren F. had Little Kristen covered so she ended up with 8th place money, while the tough, tiny Canadian bubbled. She was so gracious in her exit and we almost immediately voted to do the save anyway. Not all of us had cash on us, so Vicky Coren put up the bucks and we'd all pay her back. Watch that ever happen in an open event.

"Hey Pauly, you got a hundo?" I shouted.

"Not anymore. I've just been to the sportsbook."

True story there. My beloved was sweating the Steelers-Ravens game on the big screen at the back of the tournament room as much as he was sweating me.

I could not get my hands to stop shaking. I was dropping my chips everywhere and knocking over stacks of them. It took me almost an entire orbit to get everything cleaned up and counted. Lauren Kling and I were roughly even at 350k apiece while the rest of the field had stacks ranging from 20k-90k. It was the first time I allowed myself to see at least five figures at the end of the tunnel for me.

We went down from seven to four rather quickly. Short-stacked Kathy Jamison went out in seventh after fearing for her tournament life on the bubble with nine big blinds. Ricki Lake took out Deb Qualley in sixth in a very strange hand where Ricki moved all-in on a 9-high flop holding K-J and Deb called with Q-T. Ricki departed in fifth place a short time later leaving an all-blonde final four-- myself, Lauren Kling, Vicky Coren, and Viktoria Lucenkova.

Blonde power

Four-handed play went on for quite a while. Lauren and I had about 75% of the chips in play between us while the two Victorias were both under 20 big blinds. Lauren ended up taking out Russian Vicky while I eliminated British Vicky with pocket nines against As-5s.

I had Lauren slightly outchipped going in to heads-up play. We took a quick break before getting started. I was already guaranteed more than $18,000 and as I looked in the ladies' room mirror, I told myself that whatever happened, I was already ecstatic about my result. Lauren is one of the most successful (and marketable) up-and-coming female pros on the circuit. She's shipped tourneys for six figures and has already made nearly $1 million in combined live and online earnings. It wouldn't be a tragedy to lose to Lauren, and I imagined that the title meant more to her than the cash.

Almost everything about heads-up play was a blur. Someone told me later that a pack of guys behind me were continually screaming at each other about prop bets regarding water slide races. (Pauly and Jen Shahade eventually determined that if you're going to bet, bet on the right-hand slide). I was so far in the zone that I didn't hear them at all. I was able to pull out to a significant chip lead after one monster hand where I value-towned a set and Lauren folded the river. My strategy at that point was just to chip away at her stack and avoid doubling her back up to something more workable. I could tell she was frustrated and card-dead and I was raising just about 100% of my buttons. Once Lauren was down to about 20 big blinds, she started re-shoving over those button raises, but the poker gods were shining on me and we didn't go through too much of that before I picked up Qs-Qd. With the blinds at 3,000/6,000 I raised on the button to my standard 13,000 and Lauren moved all-in. I snap-called and she tabled pocket eights. Everyone sweating swarmed to the edge of the rail and craned their necks as the board came out. I couldn't tell you what it was, all I know is that there was no eight and no straight cards. My hands flew to my face just as they did when I shipped the satellite win and I struggled not to burst into tears right then and there.

I immediately rounded the table and shook Lauren's hand, telling her how much I genuinely respect her game. It was when I finally found Pauly on the rail and melted into his arms as he whispered in my ear how proud he was of me that I finally lost it and let the tears flow. I looked around and saw the faces of so many friends. Otis. Jess Welman. Jen Shahade and her boyfriend Daniel. Many of the gang from the PokerStars Blog and some of my former colleagues from PokerNews. And Gloria Balding in an adorable red dress holding a microphone. Holy shit. I had to give an interview and take a winners photo! I did my best to stop my eye makeup from rolling down my face, thanked myself for packing a lip gloss in my purse, and posed with my pocket queens for my first-ever authorized photo on the internet.

Showcase told me he'd never seen me so happy as I was in my interview with Gloria. And in the short-term, he's probably right. Poker, both the game itself and the industry surrounding it, had beat me down over the last couple of years. The further I progressed as a writer and member of the media, the more income I lost over cutbacks, layoffs, and frankly, stupid petty bullshit. And the more income I lost, the less I could actually play poker, for fear of losing next month's rent or credit card payments.

It was only when I was shoved off the cliff and hanging for dear life by a fingernail that I found the internal fortitude to finally say "fuck you, I'm not going to let anyone make me feel this way anymore." I sat up and started coming back to life. It really is true that once you turn your head around, your poker game will turn around right along with it. I can already feel that this win is a huge springboard for me into a new era. I'm not only back from the brink of financial ruin, I'm infused with the confidence I probably always should have had.

There's no more living behind a nickname anymore. You know who I am. Now it's time to make good on my promises.

Oh and Bank of America? Fuck off.


This story actually has a pretty hilarious epilogue. You see that trophy sitting next to me? Big-ass trophy, right? Well, a trio of online guys cooked up a prop bet that involved stealing it from the tournament room late on Day 1. They took it to the PokerStars party and then back to their room where they posed for pictures with it and posted them on 2+2. I'll just cut to the best part:
At around 4AM, after we got back from Aura and were hanging out in my room, security knocked on the door and simply said "I am here to collect the trophy you have in dis room."

So the head of Atlantis Security, Simien something, takes the trophy and is about to leave without saying another word, when he turns around and says "Why you take da ting that is not yars? This is a womun's trophy, are you a womun?" He goes on to lecture us for 2-3 minutes about why what we did was inappropriate, writes down my name on a notepad and leaves.
For the record, I thought it was kind of comedy gold. Juvenile of course, but undeniably funny. I'm just glad it was recovered. It's now on a truck somewhere in the greater Miami area, bound for the Bicycle Casino if you guys want to try and hijack it again. There was no way TSA wasn't going to classify that thing as a weapon.

Four blondes photo by Matt Waldron. Winners photo courtesy of

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Beyond Fairy Tale: The 2011 PCA Ladies Event, Part 1

"This is beyond fairy tale... it's inconceivable!" - Norman Chad

This whole journey started with a strange feeling. I don't get them often, but if I've learned anything from history, it's that when I do, I need to listen to my better angels. I'm not religious, psychic, or otherwise gifted with ESP. I'm a bankroll nit and after getting sacked from my full-time writing job in October, I'm among the 20-or-so percent of Americans that are currently underemployed. Less than a week ago, I was wondering how I would make it three more months without finding a new source of income. To put it lightly, I probably had no business even playing satellites for the $1,100 buy-in Ladies Event at the 2011 PokerStars Carribbean Adventure. But sometimes I do find myself believing in destiny.

Off an $81 satellite investment, I found myself touching down at Nassau airport last Wednesday evening, my hand clutching Pauly's as our too-small-for-my-tastes aircraft shuddered to a stop. 36 hours later, I was sitting behind my 10,000-chip starting stack in a 96-player field that included pros Kathy Liebert, Vicky Coren, Veronica Dabul, Maria "maridu" Mayrinck, Lauren Kling, Olympic gold medalist Fatima Moreira De Melo, actress and talk show host Ricki Lake, and author/chess champion Jennifer Shahade, whom I'd finally met the night before after being a fan of her writing for some time. I was also so pleasantly surprised when I ran into Pauly's little step-sister Mo, aka @DiscoSisII. I had no idea she was going to be at the PCA, let alone play in this event and I was thrilled to finally meet her face-to-face.

At my starting table were two other women I'd never met but had wanted to for some time-- Maryann Morrison, the editor of Woman Poker Player, and Alexis Gilbard, who worked behind the camera on the first season of the Big Game and now freelances for Fox Sports. Alexis is a fellow Angeleno, and as it turns out, we live ridiculously close to one another. She is also an aggressive, thinking player and sat two to my right for nearly all of Day 1. I had to make a big laydown to her on the turn in an early hand where my A-T flopped top pair on a pretty wet board. Between that hand, and a two pair over two pair hand I lost to Maryann, I was down to 50% of my starting stack by the end of the first two levels. It wasn't ideal, but I didn't let myself worry about it too much because the structure was excellent and I still had over 50 big blinds.

I got back to a little better than my starting stack after doubling through Alexis. She had been playing very aggressively, opening more than a third of her hands and since I'd made that earlier laydown, I was actually trying to stay out of her way. With about 24,000 behind, she opened from middle position, I three-bet with two black kings in the cutoff, and she made the call. The flop was J-9-baby, all spades, giving me an overpair and the second-nut flush draw. She checked, I c-bet about 60% pot and she moved all-in, having me well-covered as I started the hand with a little less than 6,000. I called pretty quickly and she showed As-9h for middle pair and the nut flush draw, putting us in a 51/49 flip going into the turn. I dodged her 13 outs twice and was back up to a far more comfortable 11,500.

Just as I was getting ready to relax a little, Lauren Kling was moved to my direct left. She's a lovely woman with a badass collection of Chanel purses, but there were maybe 93 other players in the field I'd have rather had in that seat. She's aggressive, aware, and has probably played hundreds of $1k tournaments in her career while I can count mine on one hand. Lauren had already chipped up to 45,000, which at that point was about triple the average stack. As much as I didn't want to get involved with her right away (and out of position to boot), well, I did.

With the blinds at 100/200/25, the action folded to me in the small blind. I opened for 525 with Jh-Th and Lauren called. The flop was K-Q-x with one heart. I c-bet 850 with my open-ender and she called. At that point I'm giving her credit for a queen at minimum. The turn, however, was another small heart, giving me a flush draw to go with my straight draw. I decided to check with the intention of calling anything other than a weird overbet and she bet 1,800 into the 3,000 pot. I called and bingo-bongo-bango the river was another heart. I was fairly certain that my flush was the best hand at that point but (a) would really really hate getting raised if I bet out and (b) would really really hate having her fold if I bet out. I thought there was a very good chance she'd bet again if I checked, so I did and she made it 3,700. I called and Lauren wasn't pleased at all to see my hand.

"I had you on the flop and the turn!" she said with a sigh.

I was up to 21,000 after that pot and hovered right around that amount seemingly forever. Card dead at an increasingly aggressive table, I pretty much tread water and got away with one three-bet against Alexis that got her to fold pre-flop. I was getting a little frustrated and bored, until a hand came up that nearly stopped my heart. We'd just come back from break and the blinds were up to 150/300/25 when I found my first pair of aces. I opened from middle position for 750 and Stacey Sullivan, a Foxwoods regular and one of the tougher players at the table, called from the big blind. The flop was Q-T-7 with two clubs. Stacey checked, I c-bet, and she came in with a check-raise. I put her on a top pair hand like A-Q or K-Q or a strong draw and there is certainly a good case for reraising right there given my equity against those hands, but I had a very tight image at that point and thought I might prematurely blast her out of the pot. I sold it a little before making the call. I instantly regretted my decision when another queen came on the turn. God I hated it. She led out for a bit more than half the pot and I called. The river, however, changed everything. It was another queen, making it much more unlikely she had one in her hand. Now, aside from the flush and straight draws that didn't get there, I had her on a very narrow range of pocket pairs that could potentially call a shove-- K-K, J-J, T-T, or even the other two aces. If she had quads, well God bless her. Stacey checked and I moved all-in for my last 6,700. When she didn't snap-call, I knew I was fine and focused on remaining as calm and still as possible while she thought through her decision. After close to five minutes in the tank, she folded.

Shortly after we tangled in that hand, Stacey asked me for my screen name. It turned out that she had read my blog shortly before departing for the PCA.

"Oh man, sorry about your cat," she said.

I hit the dinner break with 41 players remaining and a bit better than the average stack. Pauly and I went over to the PokerStars party and I downed some pork tenderloin, caesar salad, and tortellini with pesto sauce along with one Bahama Mama (a tasty pink rum concoction) to settle my nerves. My friend Ryan always tells people not to forget to eat during tournaments and I'd done just that. Aside from the 16 oz. Jamba Juice I'd started the morning with, I'd been operating on pure adrenaline.

My table broke shortly after we returned from dinner and my new seat found me two to the left of one of my favorite people on tour, Maria "maridu" Mayrinck. I still had to contend with Alexis as well, along with Megan Milburn, who recently made a runner-up finish in the Ladies' Event at EPT London. Megan was on my left and a tiny dark-haired slip of a girl named Kristen was on my right. All four were strong players. After a bad run where my stack dipped as low as 10,000, I chipped back up to 59,000 after knocking out a short stack with A-A vs. A-2 and eliminating Alexis with Q-Q. Then came the hand that changed everything.

Maridu was a bit frustrated after enduring a nasty beat where she got it all in with a set of eights and her opponent runner-runnered a flush. I also knew she had a 1:20 pm flight the next day that she really wanted to be on. With the action folded to her on the button, she made a standard opening raise and I looked down at Ah-Kh in the big blind. I three-bet and Maridu didn't waste much time before moving all-in. Our stacks looked pretty close. I eyeballed her chips and counted her down at 47,000. I had just short of 60,000 to start the hand. If I called and lost, I'd still have a reshove stack. If I called and won, I'd be the chip leader with 20 players remaining. If I folded, I'd be below average and seriously sweating the money bubble. She did want to catch that flight.

I called.

She turned over pocket kings.

I wanted to puke.

The flop was ten-high with one heart. The dealer burned and turned, flipping over the 5h, giving me a ray of hope with a flush draw. An ace or a heart on the river would win it for me. I closed my eyes as he burned again and picked up the river card. I couldn't watch. The screams cued me to open my eyes.

It was another heart. OMFG.

As the dealer counted down our stacks, I realized that I'd completely miscalculated Maridu's. She had 57,000, not 47,000 and had I called and lost I would have been left with two big blinds rather than 12. Suddenly I was the chip leader with about 120,000. Holy. Mother. Of. God.

I bagged up 102,700 at the end of the night, which was still good for the chip lead. 16 players were left, eight would be paid. I was just happy to be alive. Among the Day 1 survivors were Veronica Dabul, Vicky Coren, Ricki Lake, Megan, Little Kristen, Foxwoods Stacey, Lauren, and Mo (yay!). The rest of the evening was spent in the Coral Bar with Pauly, Otis, and a slew of poker media friends. The pride on their faces was already better than a min-cash. I allowed myself one more Bahama Mama before popping a Xanax and drifting off to sleep.

There was still work to be done.

(To be continued...)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

It Wasn't a Dream

I'm still in shock and for someone who has worried about money every day of her adult life, it's a strange feeling to have a little extra in the bank. The trophy is pretty sweet too; it's the first and only one I've ever won!

As anyone who has been to PCA knows, the internet at Atlantis is super-slow/unreliable but I just wanted to give huge thanks to everyone who sweated my run, both virtually and physically. Your comments, tweets, and emails meant so much and lifted my spirits at every turn. I also want to send a special thanks to my friends in the poker media who were railing yesterday-- the win was that much sweeter with all of you there.

Once I'm back on U.S. soil, I'll post a full recap.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Ladies, please shuffle up and deal

I woke up the last two mornings with the ocean right out my window. If I stare straight ahead at it for long enough, I can almost tune out the coral-pink buildings in my peripheral vision and the sound of Top 40 tunes playing at the pool four stories below. Welcome to Atlantis Paradise Island, or as I've been calling it "Vegas by the sea."

I'm short on time this morning as I pour coffee and Jamba Juice down my throat and attempt to do a decent makeup and hair job. The PCA Ladies Event begins this afternoon and thanks to my lucky satellite win on the day after Christmas, I'll be sitting behind a chip stack in about two hours' time. I met some of my fellow qualifiers last night at the ladies' cocktail reception including the lovely Jennifer Shahade, an author and chess champion who is now making her way in the poker world. I was also introduced to my new favorite cocktail, a pink creation called a Bahama Mama (Pauly had a few as well, to incessant teasing and cries of "do you want a tampon with that?") I'm truly excited to play a big buy-in event again and the jitters that have haunted me in the past are strangely nowhere to be found this morning. I'm freerolling just being here and ready to play my best game.

Unfortunately, the internets at Atlantis make the connections I've dealt with in South American hotels seem downright speedy and the international roaming charges I've already acquired on my cell phone are enough to make you faint, so it'll be a little difficult to send frequent Twitter updates. Hopefully some of my friends in the media will let me hijack one of their laptops on a break so I can let you all know how I'm doing.

Now, to apply a little mascara, hopefully without getting it all over my face.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

A Eulogy for Willie (1996-2011)

WTF, dude...get me out of this retarded hat

My heart was already in my throat as I picked up the phone. My father goes to bed every night at 8:30. Seeing his number on the screen at 10:05 could only mean something was drastically wrong. I was relieved to hear that nothing had happened to my mom (last phone call like this she'd had a heart attack), but a wave of melancholy came over me as my dad explained to me that he was at the animal hospital with our 14 year-old family cat Willie.

I noticed a huge change in her when I was at their house for Christmas and had a feeling that this holiday would be her last. Her typical demeanor, at least when I came around, ranged from indifference to mild hostility but this time she made the effort to brush against my leg or sit on my lap and allow me to scratch behind her ears. She knew she wasn't long for this earth and took her opportunity to say goodbye then and there.

The vets told my parents that Willie was suffering from advanced lung cancer and rather than put her through the pain of chemotherapy that might not even help her, they decided it was best that we put her down. Mandy and I rushed over to the westside from our respective apartments in order to see her one last time. She took her last breaths in Mandy's arms as my mom stroked her head. We caravanned home and Mandy and I helped my father bury her in our backyard by flashlight. Willie had a proper Catholic funeral, my mom sprinkling holy water on the tiny cardboard casket as Mandy flashed me a look that said "they have holy water in the house?" A small statue of St. Francis of Assisi watches over her grave.

Willie had a long, full, even luxurious life clawing my mother's furniture, stalking critters in our backyard, and relaxing in the Southern California sun, squinting her green eyes at anyone who dared disrupt her reverie. I'm so thankful for the years we had with her and for the happiness she brought all of us, especially my parents. She's free of her pain now, and chasing birds with the angels.

Rest in peace, sweet girl. We miss you already.

Willie stalks her prey, spring 2008