Sunday, February 27, 2005


Vincent: Okay, look, here's the deal. Man, you were gonna drive me around tonight, never be the wiser, but El Gordo got in front of a window, did his high dive, we're into Plan B. Still breathing? Now we gotta make the best of it, improvise, adapt to the environment, Darwin, shit happens, I Ching, whatever man, we gotta roll with it.
Max: I Ching? What are you talking about, man? You threw a man out of a window.
Vincent: I didn't throw him. He "fell"
Max: Well what did he do to you?
Vincent: What?
Max: What did he do to "you"?
Vincent: Nothing. I only met him tonight.
Max: You just met him once and you killed him like that?
Vincent: What? I should only kill people after I get to know them?

When you're ahead at the Bellagio, there's no better feeling in the world. You're rocking back and forth in your plush chair, making jokes with your neighbors, even enjoying a fruity drink (although Doyle tells you in Super/System to never drink while working). The cocktail waitresses are tall and pretty and you're very much in tune to the constant clack-clack of chips going back and forth in the greatest poker room on Earth.
But bouncing out completely changes your perspective. In September, I found myself suddenly $785 in the hole after raising with AK at the Bellagio's 2/5 $200 buy-in game. Two callers. Flop was Axx, all spades. Some guy bets $100 straight out with K10, a one-card spade flush draw. I have no spades. I reraised him all-in for $71 more. He caught a spade on the turn. "Nice hand," I tapped the guy on the shoulder and walked out.
It could have been a way better trip for me. On Sept. 11, I flew out to Vegas with my friend Mark so he could raise money for his upcoming new life in Chile. I used my miles for his flight, telling him how easy it would be- just a month before I had broken a guy who just sat down at my must-move table. He re-raised a guy with JJ with his aces. I called his $40 bet with a pair of tens just to be along for the ride. I don't know what the other two cards on the flop were, but I do know the third was a ten.
The guy with the jacks checks. All of a sudden, the guy with the aces all-ins his entire $450 stack. I call immediately. I was about to have a heart attack, though, afraid this guy would make his 2-outer. But it didn't. And I walked away with two racks of chips.
But the September trip was more brutal. Mark busted out of the no-limit game just hours before I was to take him to the airport, down $322 as opposed to bringing money to Chile.
And now I was down $785.
Collateral is a pretty dumb movie but it kind of made its point with me. Here you have Vincent, a professional hitman who is going around L.A. doing all kinds of bad deeds. But he gets into this shootout with his cab driver, Max, a complete novice. And the pro gets killed at the end of the movie, like a J-4 suckout on the river.
The movie was out about the time that I was on my losing streak. I hadn't seen it yet but I became determined to be a poker-playing Vincent -- I would go from poker room to poker room and wrest money from fish until I was back. I would be cool and calm about it. A professional hitman.
At least that was the plan.
Soon afterwards at the Flamingo, I made myself sick. I made the money I lost at the Bellagio in two hands, with a flush and then a straight and then lost all but $46 of the profit on promising, but ultimately poor hands.
I then continued on my search for easy games, cashing out $16 from Bally's 4/8 in an hour. Then winning $332 back at the Bellagio's NL game. The Monte Carlo's 2/5 $300 max NL game also was nice to me, netting me $72 in an hour. I also saw that Keena, a former dealer at the often cramped and smoky Sahara, was now dealing at the more elegant poker room.
I played $2/4 hold'em with guys ordering rounds of tequila shots at the Luxor's beginner's poker room. Some older guy was trying to intimidate the novices with raises all the time - I busted him with some Small Stakes Hold'em Jedi arts. $46 more in that hour. Late in the evening, at Excalibur's beginner's $1/2 $100 max NL game, I was in a quagmire. I was on my 2nd buy-in and was soon about to lose that. Frustrated, I went all-in with an open-ended straight draw against two callers. I won that on the river, adding $68 more to my pile. It was 2 a.m. and I was like, "I don't know about you, but I'm going to bed."
I entered the next day down only $141. I dropped down to -$180 playing at Harrah's new poker room. I doubled up at the Bellagio with an RPG- a set of 10s vs one of the off-duty dealers there. Poker great Gus Hansen was right at work in the high-limit area, playing $1,500-3,000 mixed games.
I took a break and then in the evening went back to the Bellagio, right where it all started. I pot bet with QQ and got 3 other callers. The flop had all undercards and the third guy looks up and says, "There's only one thing you can do." I laughed and nodded. "I'm all-in."
The guy next to me called with a pair of 10s with A10 and a flush draw. My queens held up and I was relieved. I made $70 more on the next hand with AK, my pair of kings on the flop holding up against 77.
I ended the trip up about $350, but that was gravy. Coming back in 24 hours, was like coming back after being down four touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Something to remember.

My War

"The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club"

So I'm standing in an aisle at the Publix after work eyeing a jar of queso dip like it's a Playboy behind the counter of some convenience store. I never used to eat this shit but now I want it. It's fast and cheap and the perfect thing to eat while on my way to becoming a fatass four tabling whatever kinds of games I can find to burn a bonus at Poker Room.
And this is one of the many moments recently that I realize that poker has changed my life. I can't tell yet where I am in the variation scheme of things, whether my behavior is extreme and needs to be reined in. I gave this chick $100 from my bankroll once (well, twice) just to see how she would react. I used to love traveling to other countries (still do) but now am content to shuttle back and forth to Las Vegas nearly monthly. My career as a reporter doesn't seem to interest me that much anymore and it's just like any other job.
I used to run more than 40 miles a week and about this time last year, ran under 7:30-minute miles to qualify for group I-A of the Peachtree Road Race, the town's premier 10-K. Now, all of my time goes into poker and I'll be lucky to get 40 miles in a month. I'm trying to change that because as a health reporter who writes for a living I know all about the things that can kill you faster than playing Ace-x for a living. Life is the greatest no-limit game of all. A no-rebuy freeroll. Along the way you pick up pots - a good job, a cool car. Maybe a wife and kids. And there are plenty of bad beats to be had. Some yokel hits you with his Beemer (hasn't happened to me though). You run a light in front of a cop. Ovarian fucking cancer. Nobody asked you to play and you're probably not any good at it anyway. You just play.
I've been interested in blogs ever since reading a story on our news wire about Spc. Colby Buzzell's "My War" blog. He was a solider in Iraq whose "Men In Black" blog about having to fight in Mosul is probably one of the most captivating accounts of the entire war. Insurgents dressed up all in black come from everywhere in an ambush that would have made the fight against the Rangers depicted in the book "Black Hawk Down" seem pale. I would link it but he's taken all of the interesting things off of his site. I guess we can read it when his book comes out.
Playing poker is in no way comparable to the no-rebuy NL conflict going on right now in the Middle East and elsewhere. But poker is all about aggression and conflict. My war is a perfect one for my generation. A war that's fought over money. One that's often played out like a video game where you just sit on your ass for days on end.
And as another conflict between men (and women), we use the terminology, although I get a kick every now and then that even people we play with in Vegas don't have any idea. "What's an RPG?" they say. Well, it's what I just broke your ass with. A set (three of a kind) is devastating in hold'em, especially in NL. You're holding rockets and this guy just calls your raise with a little pocket pair, like 66. You pot bet when three raggedly-little cards come out on the flop and all of a sudden he's still with you. Even when you say, to your regret, "all-in" on the turn. That's what happened to me a few months back at a $200 buy-in, 2/5 game. You think "motherfuck," when you get up out of your plush rocking seat. But you don't say it. It's the fucking Bellagio, after all.
My mom has this saying she's always telling my dad, who loves to analyze lottery numbers and loves video poker: "At the end of your life, will this have been worth it?" I definitely know what she means. All the long hours spent. The people not seen. The breaths and heartbeats wasted against a computer or in a smoke-filled room.
And I don't know what to say. I don't have any illusions about the game. I'm not playing it thinking I'm going to be a millionaire. It's like running to me: I just do it because I can. I just like it.
And here I am, on a rainy Sunday evening. Prostrate before the Poker Gods, playing a 3/6 table and three .10/.25 NL tables. I've had AK and AA to devastating effect. I busted out of one of the NL tables with JJ that got reraised preflop. On the flop I said, fuck it, I'm all-in. I lost to queens. I just busted a guy in the small blind who reraised me all in on a flop of 2JA when I pot bet in late position with KJs. He had J2 --two pair-- and I lucked out by having an A fall on the turn and my K kicker playing. I've eaten a frozen french bread pizza i got at the store.
And that queso dip? It's so fucking good.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Poker Cats say play!

"It's a long season, and you gotta trust it."
-Bull Durham

It's not a very well known aspect of poker, but having a good poker cat can mean the difference between being a long-term winner and loser. It's like having a good astromech droid in the back of an X-wing.
This blog is dedicated to my two cats, kurokitty and Clonie (of course named after pro player Clonie Gowen). Poor Kuro's good name hopefully hasn't been sullied too much as my login all over the online poker world, from to Party Poker and beyond. Kuro is an aggressive kitty who loves to win the vittles, but Clonie is a true maniac. As a pair they are a true Dr. Kitty and Ms. Hyde.
I'm going to use this forum as a way to chronicle my development as a poker player, which has taken me from home games (and a few illegal ones) in Atlanta to the Bellagio, which has one of the best poker rooms in the world. There are plenty of laughs along the way and stories that should be told. It'll also be a bridge between my real world job as a journalist and the "red pill" world of cards, cats and money.