Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Waiting for K.C.

So I'm in the office, leaning back, trying not to attract too much attention because I've secretly placed my Ultimate Bet hat on my head. I must have left it here from the other day when thunderstorms rolled through the state and drenched us with rain. Caps aren't at all part of office attire but I like how it mixes informality with my white dress shirt, my $100 Ermenegildo Zegna tie, my Russ Ortiz tie, part of a starting lineup of ties that I've named after Braves pitchers from the previous season.
It doesn't take long for the hat to draw suspicion.
"What's up with the hat?" asks Baze, one of our photogs.
What's up with the hat is I'm already looking forward. In 48 hours I'll be watching live cards be shuffled and I'll be riffling chips in the riverboat poker rooms of Kansas City, where I'm attending a wedding. I collect poker room chips, so I'm looking forward to a few more in my collection.
On Monday, it'll be a year from the first time that I ever played online .25/.50 limit on Pacific Poker. Now I'm playing $3/6 regularly, multitabling. Bonus chasing. And surfing the variance waves. Mark also.
Where will this end? I long to be able to one day be sitting across the table from Poker Girl (not her login) on Party Poker, at her usual $15/30 limit.
April will be an interesting month as well. Later next month, I'll return to Las Vegas with what I call the new "Coalition of the Willing," a group of fellow home-gamers who bring a mix of live-table experience, from previous trips to Vegas and Biloxi, to experience in the Emory game. I also have to decide by then if I want to join my folks for a May trip to London. I hear they play poker across the pond.
Everytime I go back to Las Vegas I feel different. It's not intimidating like it was last May when I found myself playing 2/4 at The Plaza, staying up all night in the process. What's the same though is I love my second city, knowing the streets like a taxi driver, speeding down The Strip late at night, the casinos' neon lights bouncing off the car.
The hat is off. My game face is back on. I've just finished a story that I've been working on and I'm ready to get out of here. I pick up the hat. It has a little wear but is still new. My old UB hat that I've had for a long while, I left in a cab when I was in Santiago visiting Mark. Gone forever.
"Maybe you should put back on the hat," says Baze as he walks by.
I do. And flick-tip up the hat with my middle finger, like in those old Western movies.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Shamrock Royal & the John Juanda Club

If I was on full tilt, I'm now on extra full tilt.
-poker pro John Juanda, slumming it at Full Tilt's $3/6 table

You know what's cool about this royal flush? It's clubs, on St. Patrick's Day.
-me, to Mark via IM.

Fast forward to Friday. I just get to work and the goddess of the office says what did you do for St. Patrick's Day? I mean, what the fuck do you think I did? Poker Girl is in Vietnam visiting her family. Meg the flight attendant was out somewhere. Kelley was tired and didn't want to go out. And u, goddess, we don't really hang out anymore.
So that left me at home Thursday evening on St. Patrick's Day. Sour grapes: I didn't really want to go out anyway. I'm not phobic but I don't like crowds. And it was really cold out, at least for Atlanta. 39 degrees and dropping. So that left me, a frozen pizza and no limit to the amount of limit (well, three tables only) I could play at Absolute.
I'm in a $3/6 table when I end up with my second royal flush ever! And a royal flush of clubs, the mother of all Shamrocks on St. Paddy's Day!. (The imagery is a little better if you use 4-color decks like I do - clubs appear green). I was in late position with K10s and the Poker Gods were kind enough to let me limp in. I immediately flop a flush, 8QJ of clubs. I check. The button bets. I call.
Turn pairs the board. Another 8. I'm like fuck. My plan to check raise him is screwed, but I do it anyway. The button bets. I raise it up. He three bets it and I call.
The river is a marvelous ace of clubs, the hero of the Shamrock clan. But I'm in between bites of pizza, I don't even realize the daddy-o hand I have, and I check. The button checks behind me and I win the pot.
Whew, I think. He didn't have a boat.
Someone says "nh" and I automatically say "tx" and only then do I realize what I have.
Last year I hit a royal flush with KJs in Ultimate Bet's .10/.25 micro NL table. It was one of those dogs of a hand that if anyone bet I would have had to scuttle it. But I made it. It made UB's jackpot and I was credited with $50 bonus dollars.
Absolute isn't enough for me, so I try to burn the March 50 percent bonus later that evening on Full Tilt. Meg is back and I'm still trying to convince her to go out, via IM.
That's when something weird happened. The $3/6 table I was at went small all of a sudden and I clicked to leave. I found a full $2/4 table and I kept clicking on it but it was saying that I didn't have any more money to play with.
So I went back through the screens and found that I was still in the $3/6 table - I never clicked yes to "Do you really want to leave?" And now I find the table is full, with kurokitty, my icon, still sitting there.
And a John Juanda, no-limit master and runner-up Player of the Year, is playing there.
So I stick around, just another fish willing to say that he was beaten around by a poker great.
It's actually a great thing about online poker and pros who are sponsored by some of the sites _ when else are you going to get to interact with them? You see them at places like the Bellagio all the time, but I still haven't yet mustered up the courage to step up to the $1,500/$3,000 mixed game and say, "Is this seat taken?" If I did, I'd have to settle for one chip (at best) like that scene in Swingers where the guy wants to play blackjack and gives them all his money and he gets three black chips back.
It was interesting seeing the effect Juanda had. Many people were talking to him, complimenting him on his plays.
His presence really loosened up the table -- I mean, he capped it pre-flop with a 98o, a dying quail of a hand that didn't amount to anything. His $100 buy-in went up and down, but mainly up. Normally these tables are soooo tight.
Mark is the founding member of the John Juanda Club. He jumped in a $1/2 NL table when Juanda was playing and was dealt the A-K. Only this time, AK was good and Mark flopped top pair. Juanda raised him all-in with an open-ended straight draw and Mark lived to tell the tale. He told everybody, as he should have! We were a long way from the Sadr City-like $5 buy-in games we know at home.
So anyway, I was dealt AsJc in the big blind. Juanda raises it up to $6. Me and two others call. Flop is 2, 9, Q, all spades. I check. Juanda bets out, it gets called, I check-raise for two bets. One guy folds and it is three-way.
Juanda: If I was on full tilt, I'm now on extra full tilt.
I'm not sure what he was referring to.
Turn is the 6 of spades. I make the nut flush. Small blind checks it. I check it. Juanda bets out. Small blind gets out of the way like those shopkeepers in those old Westerns, caught in a Main Street gunfight.
I raise. I've just check-raised John Juanda twice!!
Juanda makes it three-bets. So it's going to be one of those nights.
Observer: Show us ur angry face JJ.
Poor kuro has 15 seconds to act (I'm not sure what I was doing).
At the last moment, I make it 4 bets.
Dealer: John Juanda folds.
I get to muck my cards and the $75 pot is mine.
It's easy to bet out with the nut but what I loved about being at that table was that at least online, I wasn't intimidated by the presence of a much better player. He was just another guy with some money I wanted to take, maybe another dude without better plans on St. Paddy's Day?

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Off the line

Seat 4: It was smart that he parked the carjacked car in the same parking garage.
Seat 8: The whole State was looking for that car.
Seat 4: The guy said "I didn't shoot the deputy." No lie.
Seat 8: All those hours he was in her house when he could have been in the Caribbean. Or Houston.
-Conversation at a $2/4 game at Poker Stars

But my big news is, I spotted a '(kurokitty)' byline on
>an article in today's Brisbane Courier Mail that dealt
>with a crime in Atlanta. Can that be YOUR son? I got
>all excited, having never known a reporter before.
>Not that I know one now, but it's close. I thought
>he'd like to know he got international coverage!
-e-mail from one of my mom's friends to my mom

So I'm just sitting there, at the $2/4 table at Poker Stars, just minding my own business and trying to make a buck or two when out of nowhere, these two people seated at the table start talking about the courthouse shootings. One dude is from Houston and I can't even recognize what city the other person is from. And all of a sudden it's like I'm getting chat ticker like it's some Wolf Blitzer interview on CNN.
Aaarrrgh. Fine. I'm just here trying to seven-table my life away on 'Stars and Full Tilt, like some alcoholic with a bottle in a brown paper bag and a dire need for a new liver. I'm glad I wasn't there long enough -- or they didn't know better -- for them to put their cursor over "Kurokitty" and find out I'm from Atlanta. Then I'd have to tell them that it's my fucking parking deck and I still have to park there everyday, knowing for long before the carjacking that it's a skeevy place to be in before and after work.
When I walked over the spot where the carjacking took place on my way back with lunch from CNN Center on Sunday to my office tower, I looked down and half expected to see dried blood on the ground. Before the deck just had a reputation for car break-ins. I felt much safer leaving my car in a deserted school parking lot, the rendevous site for the now-defunct Emory game. Jump me on open ground, shame on you. Jump me in the bowels of a concrete deck, which the Atlanta police didn't even bother to check after that poor newspaper reporter told them he had been carjacked by the shooting suspect, shame on me.
This is my weekend, after having spent three of the last four days working on the carjacking story. I'm thankful to have time off the line to worry about other things.
When you're working on a breaking news story, time just blurs right by you in straight lines, like hyperspace in the original Star Wars trilogy. You sit on your butt for hours at a time in the office making phone calls if you're not out trying to chase something. You practically starve waiting for your calls to come in, sitting there like locals in Biloxi who practically lived at the poker table so they would not miss a single hand should the Poker Gods throw down a thunderbolt in the form of a $50,000 jackpot.
"I feel like I've spent eight hours in a washing machine," I yell across to my goddess of an editor. She's wearing these gorgeous patent leather sandals she bought for her birthday and I don't know whether the $100 bill I peeled from my poker bankroll and gave to her as a present contributed to any of that. I don't ask.
The whole case is so surreal to me. Why would this guy freak out so much? If he didn't like the thought of possibly getting prison time for a rape conviction, he's going to like being executed much less. Georgia is one of those states they won't spare the syringe needed to give you the juice.
It's made me be even more aware of things around me, and more importantly, to watch out for the really random things. Like Sklansky says in the intro to The Theory of Poker. "Expert players do not rely on luck. They are at war with luck." Luck is what puts you and an alleged killer in need of quick and easy transportation in the same parking deck at the same time with no one else around. Sure, luck is the same thing that lets you have margaritas with a flight attendant two days later. But this is definitely a world in which you pretty much remember the bad beats instead of the good, should they happen to you.
But all that is a blur. I have enough groceries to last me the next two days. I swear I am not going to leave this house for anything. I am just going to play and play and bust the shit out of yokels who never bothered to learn starting hands. Absolute. Full Tilt. Gaming Club. And 'Stars. I'm going to watch my bankroll grow and think of all the other beautiful women who are meant to receive presents courtesy of the Poker Economy. My date with Kelley -- cancelled because of the Friday shootings -- is on. It's so on.
But Thursday, it'll be business as usual. I'll have my game face on, an Armani tie for the goddess of the office, and maybe even a couple dozen Krispy Kremes, courtesy of insurgents who love to play poker. I'll settle in, make some phone calls and hopefully we'll be ready for whatever comes next.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Crime and play

"There will be many surprises; unexpected gains are likely."
-message in old fortune cookie I opened today.

The sun is going down in Atlanta now as I write this, bronze light reflecting off a skyscraper just across the street from our newsroom's office tower. This kind of light reminds me of what it's like after I end an afternoon session at the Bellagio or the Orleans and zoom my way back from The Strip back to the Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas.
And today I was equally as drained as playing a 4-hour session in live play. The edge has completely worn off after spending a day in the office helping report the story of the Atlanta judge, deputy and court reporter shot to death, allegedly by a man on trial for raping his ex-girlfriend.
Today was my day off, but like working in the military, you really never have a day off as a reporter if something big breaks.
I started my day off early, playing $2/4 7-Stud and $2/4 and $4/8 Hold'em on Gaming Club Poker and the usual $3/6, $2/4 and $1/2 tables on Absolute. Things were going quite well. I stopped to take a nap -- I had the entire day, after all -- and then I was called in by our assistant bureau chief.
The adrenalin that you get when you are working a breaking news story far surpasses the roller-coaster ride you have after an all-in at the Bellagio. You race to work, not knowing what you're going to have to do or what you'll come up against.
Years ago, as a young reporter in northern California, the paper I worked for dispatched me to El Portal, Calif., to interview people who may have known a suspect in the Yosemite murders. I interviewed people at the very inn where the person later arrested for the crimes had been working. They also sent me to a very shady part of Modesto to knock on the door of the last known address of the suspect at the time (who later was not arrested). I took a deep breath, and knocked on the run-down door of the triplex. No one answered.
Today involved calling officials on the phone, making sure we didn't miss any nuggets of information from police and proescutors' press conferences. Pouring through background check material for anything that might give us an idea of the suspect.
I learned that the suspect may have pistol-whipped a newspaper reporter in the same parking deck that I park everyday.
I completely forgot about poker. What would I have done today? I would have continued to burn bonuses, hopefully making money along the way. I would have had lunch with Kelley.
It made me remember that outside the world of cards, cats and chips is the real no-rebuy life I mentioned in earlier posts. That you make decisions based on your best judgment and that things can happen to you, no matter how well prepared you are.
Life once again has nudged me away from poker's online world and made me stop and think - there's more to life than just play. I'll probably stop to reflect some more, but hopefully not too much, as I deal, bet and laugh at the Friday Game.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Friday Night Game

Seat 1: So why do you play poker?
Seat 8: I play poker 60 percent of the time for the money, 30 percent of the time for the joy of it and 30 percent of the time for the social aspect.
Seat 1: Dude, that's more than 100 percent.
Seat 8: Oh.
--from the infamous Emory game.

So there I was, with jacks in the hole, all-in with two callers after my pocket pair flew over the flop.
Ordinarily I wouldn't be so worried, but the flop was 7x2. And at this .10/.20, $5 max buy-in home game, they had a special promotion where anyone who had the "Hero" -- sevens full of twos -- or the corresponding "Sidekick" -- twos full of sevens-- would win $5.
And with two inexperienced players calling my pot pre-flop raise, no telling what they had.
The turn is a two. I can feel my stomach starting to rumble, like it did last September when I raised with QQ at the Bellagio and got four callers. Looks like this is the end of my buy-in.
It had been four months since I had attended this home game in Tucker, Ga., not too far away from the Wednesday home game that got Mark and I started on our poker careers. Altogether, a knowledge of pot-odds, starting hands and value betting had netted me about 9-to-1 on my money last year at those games, but I stopped going.
I said I wanted to focus on my online play and my bonus chasing. Indeed, when you can 4- or 7- or even 10-table at much higher stakes, you're bound to make more money. It also was a pain to fight Atlanta's horrible rush hour traffic out of the city on a Friday evening.
But I was also skittish at being drawn out by random cards, losing a buy-in on the river.
Four months later, I am a completely different poker player, my understanding of the game so much different, thanks to thousands of hands in multitable NL .10/.25 games online, thanks to developing comfortable pot-bombing (and corresponding bluffing strategies). Sklansky's Small Stakes Jedi arts taught me to understand the value of premium cards over others, but it really hasn't been until I purchased the PokerTracker database program that I really understood variance and true long-term poker.
It's scary to see how bad random cards are for your long-term poker health. I mean, you don't always want to be a rock, but the data after thousands and thousands of hands shows the value of premium cards.
It also taught me that even though in a live game you might see 30 hands per hour, poker is a sport for the long-run. I should have known from my own poker data that I don't have to win every evening to come out ahead. 9-to-1 is 9-to-1, after all.
And these home games are games that you would dream about in a casino. Inexperienced players who don't know starting hands, who don't know the hands you never want to call raises with. Games where beer, vodka and other sundries freely flow. The atmosphere is better than a casino, you're among friends and it's completely comfortable.
And safe -- unlike some of the illegal games I've been to in the Atlanta area, there's no need to look over your shoulder and out of the corner of your eye -- no one's going to come in with a gun and scoop up your $5 buy-in.
Back to the river. The Kem card was flipped over and it was a blank. The jacks held up against two other callers. But I should have known they would. On Party Poker, after 3,442 hands, JJ has held up 66.67 percent of the time. Likewise, after 4,940 hands at Absolute Poker, the same hand has held up ... 66.67 percent of the time.
From the JJ hand, I doubled up and stayed much later than I normally do, feeling I would have a good chance to make more money. I went on to make a $46 profit -- nearly 10 buy-ins -- at the end of the night, even after playing occasional hands of NL Omaha, a game I have nearly zero experience playing.
And it was a good night out, being among friends and sharing the joy, the money and the social aspect of poker.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Road to Perdition

Betty the Waitress: So what brings you guys to the middle of nowhere?
Michael Sullivan Jr.: We're bank robbers.
-The Road to Perdition

"I got to see what you have. I'm all in."
I took a deep breath before saying it after the flop to the person in seat 5, next to me, who had called when I raised with KQs in a game of $1/2 PL hold'em at the Atlanta Poker Club. It was the first time that me and Mark were there, simply a nice house off of Atlanta's famous Interstate 285 perimeter.
Inside there were two tables of tournaments going. Ginormous plasma screens with games on and a lovely collection of casino chips from all over the country.
Flush with success at NL home games, online and stints in Las Vegas, Mark and I had started to branch out to larger games all over Atlanta, including the famous Emory game and another NL game in Gwinnett (one nice game there that Mark has nicely documented on his blog).
So we ended up at this nice "private" poker club, where it didn't take me many hands to nearly lose all my money. The flop was xKx, I bet the pot and the guy in seat five called me. Like in NL, that shitty Q kicker I had in my hand likely was trouble.
I don't know how it is with other people but my heart beats about as fast as I can run in the last quarter-mile of the Peachtree when I come close to losing all my money. But at the same time I was impatient. Make a move if you've got the nut, fish.
"What I have? I'm wondering what you have," said Seat 5, when he folded. I breathed a sigh of relief -- I was already reaching for my reserve $200 buy-in. I cashed out some money and got home about 2 a.m.
It was a perfect time to start a journey.
My parents had been in Bangkok for the last three years (my father was building a factory for his company) and I had one of their cars the entire time. Of course, having two cars in urban Atlanta isn't really necessary and I was more than ready to hand it back over in Chicago.
But to do that, I would hit casinos with poker rooms along the way.
For some reason, at 2 a.m. I decided this would be the best time to head out. I took Interstate 75 in the dark and got as far as Chattanooga, Tenn. I spent the night there and the next day, drove on Interstate 24 through Nashville, moved north on Interstate 65 to Louisville and then went on Interstate 64 west to my first destination, Caesar's Indiana.
Close to the river, it looked like some enormous cult compound in the middle of nowhere. The hotel room was nice but I wasn't there to rest. I ambled my way over to the riverboat entrance, signed up for a card and made my way down to the poker room.
I played $4/8 hold'em for a few hours and cashed out $150. I imagined that lots of the players were local Indiana boys who lived on nearby farms and replaced their "Hoop Dreams" with card dreams that they saw on TV. A young dealer there definitely belonged in Vegas -- he did amazing riffs with his cards, he could snap a card out and it would flop out right on the table. I think he was doing this because the guy in Seat 1 had a really hot girlfriend looking over his shoulder the whole time. Some older guy was so bad that every time he wanted to rebuy some chips I would jump up and say "I'll get it!" cheerfully -- you had to run over to the cage outside the poker area.
I left, took a nap and ate at the Caesar's buffet, reflecting that I was in the middle of nowhere, a city guy from Chicago who lives in Atlanta, hitting locals with Sklansky's Jedi arts. This was a mini-vacation come true.
It was time to hit the poker room again. I stayed for a few more hours, next to some guy who was getting sloshed with round after round of Corona but the result was the same, another $150. I was gathering steam with this poker trip.
The next day, I got up and drove for a few hours until I reached the Casino Aztar in Evansville, Ind., just near the Illinois border. The casino property looked a little older and far less glamorous than Caesar's Indiana. Here at the Aztar they had $5/10, which I had never played before, but it was the lowest limit they had. I bought in for $200 and asked if I needed more. "If you can't play $5/10 with $200, you shouldn't be playing, honey," an older poker room manager told me. (Now days I probably wouldn't want to play that limit with that little money).
It was card misery for at least an hour when this lady next to me must have been playing 80 percent of her hands kept on winning. I finally caught up and decided to hit the road, with $100 more than I started with.
The trip up from downstate Illinois was longer than I thought. All along the way I was tempted by signs of casinos I'd never been to before but my parents had: Par-A-Dice, in East Peoria, Ill. On the outskirts of Chicago, I passed by places I had been to in my old slot-and-video poker days: Argosy's Empress Casino and Harrah's Joliet Casino. On Interstate 80 west, I was so tempted by a sign for Binions Casino Horsehoe Indiana.
Late in the evening I finally reached my parents' home in the Chicago suburbs. My mission was accomplished and it was like a poker version of The Road to Perdition, travel from city to city playing poker and winning along the way. I didn't have time, but I vowed next time to hit the poker rooms just across the state border from Chicago in Indiana.
At my parents' home, there still was plenty of work to be done: my multitables were ready online.