Thursday, June 30, 2005

Striking a little gold in Tunica

TUNICA, Miss. -- I had the morning to kill before Sham and Mark drive up from Atlanta. In the back of my mind all day was Gold Strike's $20 buy-in ($10 rebuy, $20 add-on) Early Bird tournament at 11 a.m. But it was in the back of my mind and I wandered next door to the Horseshoe, thinking that surely the largest poker room here would have some games for me. But that early in the morning, they didn't. Two tables were full.
I drove over to the Grand Casino, wandered up to that poker room. Two tables there were going, but they looked like they were full of gray hairs that knew what they were doing. Not much money to be squeezed from them, I didn't suppose. Plus the lady behind the poker counter was on the phone the entire time I was there, waiting. I eventually went downstairs to blow the free $5 in slot play they give new cardholders.
I came back to Gold Strike just before 11 a.m. when the tourney started. I had horrible hiccups the entire first few rounds. In the 45-player tournament, I didn't see anyone really imposing- mainly locals who were mainly retirees. Good folk, but no Phil Ivey-types.
The Early Bird tourney is nearly like a shootout. Blinds go up every 10 minutes, so it's not too long before you're facing the move-in zone (5x the bb). Luckily, I won every race I was in. My first one, early on, I raised all-in with KQs utg. I was called by JJ and caught a K on the river. The next time, I went all-in in late position with 33 vs limpers. One guy called, exposing a 3 of spades while another guy was thinking. The other guy folded. I flopped a set of 3s and went on to make a flush with the 3 of diamonds.
When there were two tables left, I was forced to go all-in in late position with KTo. The bb only had to call for 2,000 more. He had K2s and I won the hand! Next, I was in the bb for 2,000 chips and an utg player called with AJo. But the sb only had 3,000 and went all-in for 1,000 more. I was like "Crap!" -- I had 23o and I was forced to call. I only had 3,000 in chips left. But I flopped a 3, pushed all in, and then the utg called. I made 2 pair on the turn- with lowly 23o! The mouse that roared!
That brought me to the final table. A local with the chip lead suggested that instead of having only the top 8 spots play, it was only fair that $50 be deducted from first and second and be given to 9th and 10th. Yes! In the money!
I was perpetually the short stack and when the blinds were 2,000/4,000 I pushed my remaining 7,000 in chips with A7o. An early position player called me with A6s. Domination! I won that hand and crippled the guy, who later busted out.
Soon I had made it to 6th and was really feeling aggressive. People were letting raisers win preflop pots. I felt I only had to be careful for the gray-hair rock to my left who kept destroying people with premium hands. At this point, if I busted out, I'd win $141.
But then the chip leader who suggested that 9th and 10th get payouts suggested we chop- he said "Give me $100 more and we can chop the rest." Everyone agreed, ending the game. We turned in our orange chips and 2-6 received $323- not bad for this little tournament!
It was my third final table for these daily tournaments (I made final tables at the Sahara and the former Horseshoe in Las Vegas last year) and I was really happy for the boost to my cash bankroll while here!


TUNICA, Miss. -- The last day has been a great one for poker. Yesterday afternoon I got to interview 2004 WSOP World Champion Greg Raymer -- I'm doing a piece on online qualifiers and the outlook for this year's main event. I was very impressed with Mr. Fossilman-- he is a very even-keeled kind of guy. I asked him a question about the poker lifestyle and he sought to dispel that myth as an easy way for a poker player to go broke. He was on his way to the WSOP lowball tournament.
I caught a plane to Memphis and then drove to Tunica. It pretty much is like I remembered it -- I've been here twice before, but those days were before I started playing poker. We're all staying at the Gold Strike -- it has an awesome poker rate for hotel rooms -- something like $25/night but you have to play for five hours.
So I decided to trog it out right off the bat. At first I couldn't get a table, then decided I would sit at a $3/6 Omaha limit hi-lo table just to get the meter running. After seven minutes (and no hands played) I was whisked away to a $1-2 NL hold'em table. There I spent five hours-- play was a little tricker than I'd even seen in Las Vegas. A terrible player put a $50 bluff on me on the river. I shouldn't have been so weak to him. I was down a little more than $100 when I got AA and ended up all-in on the turn. This guy called me and I made Jacks full of Aces on the river. Cashed out a little bit of money after five hours.
Tunica is sort of like Tatooine -- it's really in the middle of nowhere and I'm not sure country is the right word for what I saw at the tables tonight. There was a guy from Little Rock missing a tooth and a second guy there seemed to have half of a tooth. There was a pregnant woman playing who smoked -- no lie -- in between hands. Where was I??
Later I drove down to Sam's Town and played in a $3/6 table that was so passive my first three pots were bluffs. The little poker room had Krispy Kremes, and it was like 3 a.m. so I was in heaven. Only there mosquitoes were a little bit of a problem and the dealer got some and sprayed it on his bald head.
After an hour -- and up $56 there -- I was too tired to function. Now I'm back at the 'Strike and ready to sleep, regroup and get ready for Hal and Mark to arrive.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The new WSOP venue

Craps used to be the game in town. Now it's poker. It'll be like that for the next 10 or 15 years.
-Drew, a dealer at the Sahara.

LAS VEGAS -- First off, the old Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas will always be special. Downtown is where many people from Hawaii stay when they are on package tours and Vegas has always been the meeting place for members of my family. (If you already live in paradise, where would you go for vacation???)
In addition, up until this trip, I've pretty much stayed downtown. Recently, however, I found the Sahara's poker room offers the same great rates as the Horseshoe ($39 weekday, $59 weekend). The Sahara, of course, is in the middle part of the Strip, only a few minutes' drive to the Wynn and a little closer to fishy places to play like the Excalibur and Luxor or my favorite, the Bellagio. The rooms are simple but nice and the Sahara's expanded poker room is great to play in. The Horseshoe rooms seem like they've seen much better days.
The Horseshoe, of course, has been the main venue for the World Series of Poker until this year when Harrah's (who now owns the WSOP) moved it to the Rio Pavilion behind the Rio hotel and casino. Last year when I went to Vegas during the WSOP, you could hear the clatter of people playing in the crowded WSOP play area at the Horseshoe.
This year, I didn't know what to expect when I drove to the Rio Pavilion. It basically gives you your regular conference center feel. Until you walk into the main WSOP playing area. There are so many tables there -- I guess you have to if you're going to hold a 6,600 player tournament!
Right now, with the bracelet events that lead up to the WSOP going on, the place is not jam-packed full. On one side of the vast room you had the tournament going on. On the other side was a cash game area. Very convenient and it keeps the energy of poker going in one area.
In the tournament area, you pretty much can stand right next to people playing. Yesterday, Doyle Brunson, Scotty Nguyen, Clonie Gowen, Jennifer Harman Traniello and Barry Greenstein were still playing. Greg Raymer was nearby, in PokerStars gear, signing autographs for people. Lots of young 20-something kids were taking pictures and you could tell if there was a pro nearby because of all the people swarmed around his or her table.
In the hallway outside the playing area are exhibitor's booths plus a concession area where you can buy pizza, snacks, drinks, salads, which is great because you don't have to run very far from your table or miss play for too long because you're hungry.
It'll be interesting to be back in a few weeks to see the full range of poker exhibitors who will be there for the main event and its crowds.
Seeing all this confirms for me how popular poker has become and how great the game will be for quite some time.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Wynn vs. Bellagio

LAS VEGAS -- Before I came to Vegas, I read a columnist's piece on the Wynn that basically said the Wynn is very reminiscent of the Bellagio. When I visited, I found that's shockingly true. Especially the signs, which use the same (or similar) typescript as the Bellagio.
The Wynn's poker room appears smaller than the Bellagio. It doesn't have that familiar crush of people like the 'O has. The automatic card shufflers pretty much set the standard for the industry now.
I've felt very comfortable playing at the Wynn, almost a cozy feeling. It's not hard to get into games and there are plenty of tables. At the Bellagio, the wait times can be pretty long. I wish I could rock back in the Wynn chairs like you can at the 'O.
But the Bellagio, I think, offers much more of a overall casino experience. You have to walk through the lobby of the 'O and most of the casino floor before you can get to the poker room. And to me, there's nothing else like it in the world. You're walking under the Chihuly glass on your way to work, wearing poker clothes more than likely, sidestepping Asian couples in full wedding gowns and tuxedos (this really happened to me today) or tall blondes wearing miniskirts and stilleto heels, trying to negotiate the tile in the middle of the Bellagio casino pathway.
The redesign of the Bellagio's poker room is incredible. The only way to compare it is that it is to its old incarnation like what the refit of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek: The Motion Picture was to the old USS Enterprise from the TV series. It is totally different but plays on its previous elements. You walk into the main floor. Directly in the back is Bobby's Room, a place for private high limit games. That's Bobby Baldwin, the former World Champion, Super/System chapter author and president of the Bellagio. The regular high limit area is the same but the poker room goes to better lengths to shield it from the stares of players in the regular floor.
At the Wynn, the poker room is right next to the parking garage. I like that because it's easy to get in and out but I likely won't see the rest of the casino for a long time. It's also good that there's a sundrie and sandwich shop nearby- it's a big deal when poker players get hungry! But you don't get the poker-is-bigger-than-me feeling you get at the Bellagio.
Everything said, I'll probably be at the Wynn much more, at least until my bankroll and play can support and justify playing at Bellagio's bigger limit games. That might not be for a while!

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Poker ambassador

LAS VEGAS -- Back at a railed-off table in the corner of the Wynn's brand-new poker room, there's a guy with short blond hair with a boyish frame, silver stud in his left ear, looking intently at the felt. That's Daniel Negreanu, the poker ambassador at the Wynn's poker room.
Recently he issued a poker challenge, that anyone can take him on in freezout games of between $100,000 and $500,000, any games they wish. Early this morning, he was in his fourth match against cash game superstar Barry Greenstein, the guy who donates most of his winnings to charity.
A huge line of people crowded a rail at the back wall near his table. For the better part of an hour while I was there they battled back and forth and then broke at midnight, which people there say they usually do. Negreanu got up and brought his rack of chips to the cashier in the poker room, a daypack over his shoulders.
Seeing the pros there gave a nice feeling to playing at the room, but I really wanted to just play. I hopped in a nice $1/2 $100 minimum NL (no cap)- I bought in $200.
I was really rusty and wasn't used to all the crazy raises that people at the table made. Bad raises with bad cards and even worse, bad calls. This one guy at the end of the night who looked like a young Gus Hansen, reraised a gray hair's raise to $32 with AJs. Flop was AKK, the young Gus kept betting into him and the old timer was like "No way possibly you could have any of that."
Why? Well, the gray hair had AK. They turned their cards over and the young Gus spiked an A on the river. Pzzow! That split pot had the old guy muttering over and over of how he had been trying to trap the young gun only to have to split from a 1-outer. "That's poker," I say to him.
I was so rusty, not raising like I should and having to flee pots when people had the better of me. I got frustrated so at one point I raised preflop with Q2o under-the-gun. Five people called me. The flop, luckily, was AQQ, so I bet it out and everyone folded. I showed the cards and it gave me some extra room to work with. Whenever I raised in the future, I'd tell people I had the ol' queen-deuce again.
At about 3 a.m. (Las Vegas time) I left the Wynn and went up the Strip to the Excalibur and entered another fishy $1-3 NL game there. I ended up down about $100 there, making a mistake against a short stack who bet $50 preflop, I had just limped with QQ and the guy had been making raises with terrible hands throughout the night. So I jumped over him and put him all in. Unfortunately he had KK and that's poker.
Interestingly enough, I sat to the right of a young guy also from Atlanta who said he played in the Buckhead game there and a really loose Midtown game. That game has a $300 cap but later on in the night you can rebuy "up to the second highest pot." He said that game is much safer than the Buckhead game, which I've never been to.
I'm up early surprisingly today and I plan on making the most of my time here. A weekend (that's about the amount of time here I have this time around) is too fucking short!
More later.
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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Poker Journalism

In about 19 hours I'll be on my way to Las Vegas. I can't wait to see what I will find there. I'm traveling light armor, only a few changes of clothes, the bare necessities.
Monday and Tuesday have been great -- I interviewed Josh Arieh on his WSOP pot-limit Omaha win- his second bracelet. He's such a nice guy on the phone that I was a little shocked last year doing the write up of his third-place finish in the WSOP main event and then seeing the ESPN footage. He says he's had a six-year drought of major tourneys, so the win over Jesus Ferguson must have been incredibly redeeming for him.
Tuesday I got to talk to Matthew Hilger, author of Internet Texas Hold'em and a money finisher in the WSOP main event last year. Like Arieh, he's an Atlanta area resident and Hilger is back in town after playing several WSOP tourneys. He placed in the money in two and broke even, which is impressive.
It was great talking to him about what the venue at the Rio is like -- Hilger says it's pretty good -- and I'm incredibly excited to go there. But a torch has been passed. This year's Main Event will have the final table featured at the Horseshoe and then that's it. Harrah's of course bought the rights to the WSOP and the games forever more will be on Harrah's properties such as the Rio.
I'm excited to try my hand at a $50 satellite at the WSOP- winner takes all -- $500. Matt said he didn't play in any but he hears that the tables are fairly easy.
He hasn't had a chance to play at the Wynn yet-- I can't wait to do this.
We also talked Tunica. He was there for the Jack Binion Open in January and said there really isn't too much to do there but gamble. I'm still looking forward to that.
So hopefully soon I'll be sitting at a table, hearing chips ruffle and seeing cards being dealt. It'll be great to be there at the same time as the WSOP but I'm really just wanting to be there to play.

Friday, June 17, 2005


War! The Republic is crumbling under the attacks by the Separatist leader, Count Dooku. There are heroes on both sides. Evil is everywhere.
-Title card, Star Wars Episode III, Revenge of the Sith

Good against remotes is one thing. Good against the living, that's something else.
-Han Solo, Star Wars, Episode IV, A New Hope

For weeks I have thought about the battles going on in Las Vegas, at the World Series of Poker. I was in town to play last year while the series was ongoing. It's like that first scene in Revenge of the Sith where the two Jedi fighters swoop down and you see the battle above Coruscant for the first time. Republic Star Destroyers blasting Trade Federation capital ships, swarms of fighters, the chaos of battle. You're playing your own little games at the Horseshoe. Meanwhile, Sammy Farha is battling Johnny Chan heads up at the Golden Nugget to take the edge off a hard day's work at the Main Event. You shouldn't miss this for anything.
In contrast, poker in Atlanta seems so calm, so far away from it all. My friends and I play for buy-ins we can afford. Even online it's hard to sink a bankroll. (But I've tried!).
But Las Vegas is different. You never know what to expect, who you'll run into. Every time I see a pair of crutches at the Bellagio, I look around -- Doyle Brunson must certainly be near. On my way up to get chips once, I brushed by a pink-haired Annie Duke walking the other way -- after she cashed out a stack of hundred dollar bills.
Mark is coming back from Chile for good and we've built a trip around him for next month, to coincide with the starting days of the Main Event. But as luck would have it, I have a couple days free next week and I'm going by myself.
The original plan was to fly to Chicago and see my parents -- and take in the suburban riverboat casino poker rooms. But the flights were way expensive. Even using award travel, it cost as many miles to fly there as it would to go to ... Las Vegas.
Now there's a plan.
I thought about it. Looked into the logistics. Yep. It's certainly doable. A small weekend in the middle of next week can net me about five four-hour sessions if I take my time about it.
I have to go.
In the past I was hesitant about deployment to Las Vegas and certainly gunshy after suffering some bad beats at the tables.
But now I feel like I'm ready. I've been playing -- and winning -- online at the betting limits I would play in the casinos. I think a year has made a difference in my skills and play.
And I'm looking forward to a punishing postseason schedule -- in three weeks, Las Vegas, Tunica and Las Vegas.
It'll be interesting to see what appears in these columns next.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Cat vs. maniac

Stop using the standard attacks. Use the unorthodox. Don't let your pursuit of trinkets cloud your reality. Remember what I taught you general, if you're to succeed in combat against the best of the Jedi, you must have fear, surprise and intimidation on your side. What, if any one of element is lacking, it will be best if you retreat. You must break them before you engage them -- only then you will ensure your victory.
-Count Dooku to General Grievous, "Clone Wars" on the Cartoon Network

Was it ever in doubt?
-Poker pro Josh Arieh during the 2004 World Series of Poker

DOES IT HURT?, the maniac typed. Her trash two pair with 23o left me reeling with only five dollars and change at Full Tilt's .25/.50 NL table. I could imagine a glee on her face, as red as Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode I. It's like being in some Western, the bad guy standing over the good guy who just got knocked on the ground, blood on his lip, the sun in his face.
It's just variance, I typed in. A good chunk of my Full Tilt bankroll was being tied up in a fishy $2/4 6-max table, and I only had $35 more dollars left to resupply after clicking on the "Get Chips" portion of the screen. I click it and pick myself back up.
MI WILL PLAY SERIOUS NOW, she types, mocking me.
The next hand, thankfully was KK. I was to the maniac's left and when she raised $1.75, I went all-in. Nobody in their right mind would call something like this. But a maniac is like a monster, totally unpredictable and likely very lacking in that part of the brain that dishes out logic.
She calls with AJo. The kings hold up.
Does it hurt? I immediately type. Payback is a bitch. I've been trash talking people way too often recently. Something I need to think about.
IT'S NOT MY MONEY. comes the creepy "A Prayer for Owen Meany" response.
I WILL GET IT ALL BACK, she types again as the next hand is being dealt. I hope she's not breaking things right now. Hee hee.
Next hand, she's all in again. This time for more than $40.
I have KQo. Not the best of cards.
The timer beeps.
Kurokitty, you have 15 seconds to respond.
I call. I can crawl back to my bankroll if I need to.
Some other guy also calls, for $20 more. Uh oh. He has AK.
She has A3s.
Card's poker odds calculator says Mr. Big Slick has a more than 48 percent chance of winning the hand. Maniac has a 26 percent chance and I'm a little less than 26 percent.
Flop comes and its a pair of tens and a rag.
Q on the turn. I feel buoyant. This just might work.
River is another rag. The maniac has left the building. And I end up tripling up off some guy who wouldn't have called me otherwise.
A year ago, say, I wouldn't have known what to do against a maniac. It's still questionable calling with what I had the second time around.
But now more than ever, I know that playing people correctly is clearly a crucial part of poker.
What is someone's mindset? Why are they calling you down with what they have?
You can study the Jedi arts, but it ends up not being enough. You have to understand how to strike where your opponent is least suspecting it.
Deception and aggression are such a large part of the game I think that poker is less "Jedi" than it is "Sith"-- the archenemies of the wise do-gooders in Star Wars.
Maybe the Jedi arts help you counter endless arrays of betting and raises by would-be deceptive opponents. Being contemplative like ol' Ben Kenobi likely helps you avoid tilt and helps you get ready for the next round, even when you've been knocked down by a maniac.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

It's not the spoon that bends

Boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead... only try to realize the truth. Neo: What truth?
Boy: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon?
Boy: Then you'll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.
-The Matrix

Back in Biloxi, there was an unfamiliar sensation -- sand underneath my feet and cool water from the Gulf.
During the poker trip last August, we passed by this beach at least a dozen times. But we weren't there to enjoy the shore. We were there to make money.
Saw a bunch of trash -- plastic bottles -- on the shore. The sand caved underneath my feet. We saw a fish that had been picked clean, everything except the head, like something out of a cartoon.
The plan was to go there, let Jill take in some sun, and then I would make my way back to the casinos. Revenge was in order.
First chance I had last August, I settled in at the Grand Casino-Biloxi's $10/20 limit table. And got crushed by the waves of variance. I lost $600 just like that, my last insult being losing with AA to a flush that a gray-hair made with the 2 of clubs.
"Looks like it's time for me to go to the kiddie table," I said before making my way to the $1-4-8-8 spread limit tables.
I held my own the rest of the trip. Up and down, playing spread limit, some $1-2 NL and even making $270 at the Grand's $5-10 NL table, where Mark and I maxed out our daily ATM withdrawal ($500) just to play. I've never been more out of my element than I was there.
I was looking forward to taking some money out of Biloxi.
I hadn't planned on going there at all. One plan initially was that I would drive there on my way to New Orleans, taking advantage of an extra day of vacation that I had off. But I decided to fly with Jill to New Orleans instead.
The day I was to leave Atlanta, Poker Girl called me, saying we should go to Biloxi. But I already made plans for that Memorial Day weekend.
But in New Orleans, Jill talked up a woman at the Riverbend bar we were at (The Maple Leaf) and was told she should go to the Gulf shores if she wanted to find a good beach.
And I knew exactly where that was.
It's surprisingly close from New Orleans. You just take Interstate 10. It's an hour and change.
We played on the beach for a little bit and then settled into wooden beach chairs there, where we proceeded to play heads-up hold'em.
Then it started to rain.
That really changed everything. Now there really wasn't much for Jill to do. She said I could still play poker if I wanted. We went into the Grand-Biloxi to pick up chips for myself, Sham and Drew. No tables were open.
We made stops at the President and the Copa to get $1 chips for the gang. Jill stayed in the car and read.
My last chance was to play at the Grand Casino-Gulfport, my favorite of the four poker rooms in the area. But it wasn't fair. I didn't have to play while Jill had nothing to do.
I picked up chips in the poker room for my friends and then we came back early.
It would have been sooo sweet, but revenge wasn't in the cards. Sometimes you're just happy to leave to play again another day.