Friday, July 28, 2006

Blue Ridge Parkway -- Leaving it all behind

DUBLIN, Va. -- As I lie in the grass, I remember where I've seen this setting before. The green, rolling farmland hills are the same. The wispy clouds in the sky are the same.

Images of Maui, my grandparents' farm halfway up Haleakala mountain come to mind. But I'm not there. I'm in the fabled Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, with Kelley at her annual family reunion.

As I lie there, I think of my laptop and its broadband card in the trunk of my shiny kurokitty of a car, further up on the hill.

Could I? Here, in an alternate paradise that reminds me so much of my mother's home?

To check, I pull out my cell phone.

No signal.

Oh, well.

I'm about five hours away from Atlanta, having crossed two entire states just to get here. This is where you would come if the nukes ever came.

This is where I would come in a world without online poker and games of chance. Staring up at the blue sky, I think about it. And in that instant I know I could do it. Just walk away from The Game forever. Leave it all behind.

"So long and thanks for all the fish" would be my last post, quoting the Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy. And you'd never hear from me again.

My world would be filled with the tangible, the stuff that made Kelley wince when she was trying to sell the reunion to me -- aunts and uncles getting into everbody's business. Other relatives complaining about the get together. I already had reservations for the weekend at Sam's Town, Tunica. But I came on this trip anyway.

In my bizarro-world of pokerless life, I would be much more fit, trolling up and down the hills of the empty two-lane roads of the parkway. I would be a better boyfriend and friend, having plenty of time on my hands to talk about politics or to sit in a wooden swing and watch a wispy-clouded sunset with someone dear.

It's time for the cookout. Hand in hand, I walk with Kelley up the grassy hill.

At its apex, I once again take in the panoramic view of the rolling wooded hills that makes the Blue Ridge so famous. This time something else tugs at my mind.

I pull out my cell phone and open it, one more time.

It's a cell signal, a weak two-bar sign of life from the Cell Phone Gods that make all portable online poker possible.

It's the weak heartbeat that Superman hears at Batman's funeral in The Dark Knight Returns when Bruce Wayne has faked his own death. It's the Poker Gods saying, sure, you can leave it all behind.

But c'mon dude. Not just yet.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The good deals in life

I found myself across the table from Chick-fil-A fast food restaurant founder Truett Cathy today. His headquarters is filled with countless antique cars, sports cars and Remington sculptures.

When I asked about them, he said he didn't just buy them -- he got good deals for them. He bought a bunch of the sculptures all at once; the cars come from a yearly auction in Auburn, Ind.

More and more, as I work my way through the online poker/casino 'verse, I also find myself looking for other things that may be beneficial to me in regular life. For one, I feel you're crazy if you enjoy poker at a brick-and-mortar casino, exposing yourself to a poker room's hefty rake, without building a bankroll through the bonuses available online.

I frequently check the 2+2 Forums' Internet Bonuses section, the Bonus Whores news section and of course, Scurvy's site for the latest in bonus offers.

"It's so hard to hold on to money," my financial advisor once told me, clutching her arms to her chest.

In addition to the 2+2 forums, I often see what people in the frequent-flier world are up to in the Flyer Talk forums. It's really similar to bonus whoring in a way, since there are people there who are experts at finding countless ways to accrue frequent flier miles.

Of them, the Rewards Network has a promotion right now with most major airlines in which you can get 25,000 frequent flier miles if you dine at 25 restaurants listed with them and spend $25 by the end of the year. You have to register for the promotion by July 31.

For a metropolis like Atlanta, it's no problem, as I often dine out with friends and I quickly listed at least 20 restaurants in a very close proximity to where I live. Twenty-five thousand miles is a trip to Vegas for all I care, for something I do anyway.

I just cashed out points in the my Coke rewards program for 1,500 Skymiles today. You just type in codes found on top of 2-Liter bottles or 12-packs. (If they had something similar for rocket fuel, no telling what I could get).

And similarly, I also cashed e-Rewards money for 1,000 Skymiles today. By signing up there, you are sent a multitude of consumer surveys that credit your e-Rewards account just for giving your opinions.

Maybe it's not that much return for the effort, but doing extra things to keep my frequent flier bankroll up allows me to get in extra trips -- I've used miles this year to Atlantic City, San Jose and Las Vegas in the past -- to meet the toasters on their home ground, which is very +EV.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Tunica bound

I bought this shirt with your money.
-T-shirt at the WSOP gift shop, Rio Convention Center, Las Vegas

So I'll be heading again back to Tunica, Aug. 11-13. Hopefully this time around I'll be flush with cash from staking Absinthe for 1 percent of his winnings from the WSOP Main Event. He won a seat a few days ago in Full Tilt's WSOP Second Chance tournament.

Maybe it's silly to pay $200 for a stake in something that's now like a lottery. But it's also a show of support, it's a salute to a good year he's been having so far with tourneys. Poker magazine databases say he's won more than $123,000 with six different brick-and-mortar cashes, including $113,000 for winning a $300 buy-in NL event at the L.A. Poker Classic earlier this year. The Hendon Mob even has a profile page for him (but no picture, just a sinister-looking silhouette).

Online sportsbooks are listing him as 2500 to 1 to make the final table. But many more people will cash in the $10,000 buy-in event and if he makes the money, he won't have to go too deep before ol' kitty sees a profit.

And $200 isn't too much of a sacrifice for a gambler. Spending that feels way better than accidentally betting 100 British pounds on an online hand of blackjack.

The Poker Gods seem to be supporting me in this endeavor. Not five minutes after I transferred the money to Troublecat at Full Tilt poker, I doubled up twice on the WP's NL tables, making toasters more than pay for my stake, a potential piece of a fortune.

"I'll stake you anytime," I tell Ryan via IM, loving the coincidence.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Breaking down hands

The all-in reraise by the swede for $400 after I had already made a $50 half-pot blocking bet on the river made me feel sick to my stomach.

"AA?" He typed that before he made the bet and visions of him making his flush on the turn entered my mind.

Swede was super-aggressive, frequently re-raising me with better position a day before at a NL200 table on WP. But this was NL$400 and I picked up a thought that he might have been overcompensating for his horrible postflop play by not wanting people to see flops.

Me: Limped utg, several callers. flop was 48Q, two diamonds. I felt like my 99 was the best hand so I bet near pot on the flop. He called.

The turn was the 9 of diamonds, making my set but also putting up a totally dangerous card. I checked and called his $32 pot bet.

The river was a blank. Getting beyond the sick feeling, I thought that my hand still was the best hand and that the all-in bet didn't make much sense.

I also felt like I could lose $300 more.

I called. The chips came to me, he showed 9To, for a pair of nines.

My first thought: I should go shopping now. LOL.

I'm finally watching High Stakes Poker now and what impresses me is the ability of the pros to break down hands. Sure, they make mistakes from time to time but they do not let things cloud their judgment. Like commentator Gabe Kaplan says, they are less likely than amateurs to commit to big pairs for a lot of chips after the flop.

They also mix it up -- I almost laughed yesterday when I got raised by someone who I had notes on when trips came on the flop. My notes said that he liked to just check-call with trips. The player wasn't tricky at all, so I could scratch trips out and I felt comfortable making the call.

Another time, in sucky room's NL$400, I get reraised all-in on the flop from the button when I have AA in the sb. I quickly called and found 22 unimproved and was able to take down another pot. It's good to be aggressive but I think too many NL players think this will be a cure-all for their lack of creative play.

Treating your tables like they are your own version of high-stakes poker will give you the focus you need to make careful decisions and play like a pro.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

North Carolina -- The Interstate 85 bonus burn

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Approaching the South Carolina border on Interstate 85, a white streak catches my eye from inside the car.

It's the reflection of the concrete barrier median whizzing by at 80 mph on the screen of my laptop. I look up to make sure nothing is around me and then take a quick glance downward.

I've been dealt a 7 and a 5. The dealer has a Q. I hit.

I don't know how the $4 hand of blackjack on InterCasino turned out because my attention is back to the road.

I'd never recommend driving and playing (although there is a story that Phil Ivey 6-tabled once on his cell phone during the entire drive from L.A. to Las Vegas) but I turned my laptop and its wireless broadband connection on when I was stuck in 2 mph traffic slowed because of construction near Charlotte. It's handy that cell towers often are along the side of interstates.

Facing boredom and not much fear of a 2 mph fender bender (we weren't going anywhere), I balanced the laptop in between the gearshift and the passenger seat. Later, I was able to balance it on my knee. I didn't have to look away from the road much that way.

When I first got my broadband card last fall, I tried playing poker once on Interstate 85. I would not recommend that to anyone. It's impossible to keep track of the action and you just end up missing turns. With blackjack, you have more control of the action. Five miles before you decide whether to double down? No problem.

Approaching the South Carolina border, I was up only a few dollars. I'm not sure how much of the $2,500 wager requirement I burned. But it was better than doing nothing.

Across the border, I packed up the laptop when I pulled into a truckstop to get gas. I'm not sure I would do it again, but it was an interesting experiment in the world of broadband gaming.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

North Carolina -- A cat goes home again

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Every time I go on a road trip I feel like Luke leaving Dagobah. Only my X-wing is new and shiny and smooth and today I jumped from Atlanta to my former hometown -- in less than five hours, picking my spots and dodging the two speed traps along the way.

I haven't been back here in years. Much of it is not anything like I remember it -- as a high school student, I never held dear the lushness of the trees and grass, I never expected the density of shops to be so heavy. It went from Tatooine to Coruscant in just a decade.

In between helping Kelley deliver a load of things from her parents' old house to her new one -- several very thirsty plants, a milk crate of seashells from the North Carolina shore -- I holed up in the hotel room, my Blue Ice underneath the laptop to keep it cool so I could double through toasters in NL and PL in sucky room.

In many ways, I feel like I've left Dagobah by leaving Las Vegas. Like in the end of The Empire Strikes Back, my skills are not yet complete, but I've picked up so many things along the way. The Miller/Sklansky No-limit book has unlocked many of the things that I've been afraid of -- open raises with less-than stellar cards to be tricky, taking risks that can felt a Full Tilt pro and add to your bankroll.

Tonight the NL200 game on the WP just opened up like a hula hoop after playing weak-tight and worse at NL$2/5 in Las Vegas. There was a lot of scurrying at my feet and I'm pretty sure I've just fucked up a lot of people's PT data on one Kurokitty. How do you explain the loose calls with 43o against a pre-flop raiser and a call? Why exactly did he open raise with A7o and take down the pot on the flop (High-Stakes Poker, unfortunately).

Already home, some of the crew (me, Doug) is already planning a Tunica trip. Can't wait. Hoping that I'll have a Kitty Kitty Club ($20/40 limit) bankroll by then and I'll definitely be in the $2/5 games.

But now I'm here in North Carolina, being all contemplative and secluded far away from the daily grind -- and the bigger wars, such as the recent House vote against Internet gambling. Sometimes going away again after you've already returned from a trip is the best way to get back.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Las Vegas -- The New World Order

Peace, through superior firepower.
-Point Break

LAS VEGAS -- Laura Prepon walks by as I sit at Table 7 at the MGM Grand's poker room, her stunning blonde hair and slender body unmistakable among the dozens of poker players there.

No one seems to notice the actress.

In the past, Table 7 was usually the site of a pretty donkish $4/8 limit hold'em game. But now it's $1/2 no-limit, the breakfast of toasters.

In fact this whole half of the poker room used to be limit. The other, less trafficked side was where the no-limit players played.

But no longer. In the new world order of poker, no-limit is king. The MGM's poker room has done the right thing, by putting the popular game on the most-trafficked side of the poker room, where hundreds if not thousands of people can see it and perhaps get into the game.

All this year, from Las Vegas to New Orleans to Seattle to San Jose to Tunica and back to Las Vegas again, I've really questioned whether it was worth it for me to go and take trips to brick-and-mortars.

After all, it costs money to fly or drive, you have to pay for a hotel room and the food prices are expensive. Then there's the rake and long waiting lists and only being able to play at a single table.

At home, I can eat what I want, my rent is already paid for, I can play off of two computers many tables at a time, I receive money in the form of bonuses or 100 percent rake return (at the World Poker Exhcange-yay!) for my play.

But the $2/5 NL games here in Las Vegas have changed my perspective.

They are totally profitable and super soft. I'm walking home with a grand in my pocket, thanks to two hands where a guy in the Mirage thought it was a good idea to call my pre-flop all-in with QQ (when I had AA) and at the MGM Grand when a tilty guy with AK re-raised me all in. I had AA.

Luckily the hands held up. I think you'd see a lot of folds from experienced online players in those same situations.

And because it's such a trendy game, you get a chance to play with people like Prepon or Full Tilt poker pro Perry Friedman and the like. Definitely a way to spice up your usual routine.

This year I've really wanted to cut back on trips but now can see myself coming back more and more.

I think it totally could be worth it.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Las Vegas -- Perry, meet Snowman Taterlegs

How could you play 8-3?
-Full Tilt pro Perry Friedman, after getting busted by 83s at the MGM Grand's $2/5 NL game

LAS VEGAS -- Thank you, Ed Miller.

It's $2/5 NL at the MGM Grand's poker room. The guy in the Full Tilt hockey jersey that says "Perry" on the back of it is trying to make a go at my blind, bumping it up to $15.

I look down at my cards. 83. Also known by bloggers as "Snowman Taterlegs," it's the second worst (best?) hand in poker next to 7-2, the infamous hammer. But at least it was suited. I call.

Flop is 33T.

Fireworks are going off in my head as I try to do my best impression of pro is going to have me for lunch. I check.

Perry Friedman makes it $25. I reach down at one of my eight stacks of red, pulling one out and setting it on the felt.

I hear him mumble "All-in" and I immediately call.

"If you have the 3, I'm beat," he says, showing AT.

Of course I have the 3. The next two board cards are meaningless and Perry is now reaching for his wallet, saying "How could you play 8-3?"

Well, Mr. Miller and David Sklansky have a lot to do with that. On the plane over I was working through their new No Limit Hold'em: Theory and Practice and it's an understatement to say that it's good. It's like receiving alien technology that's far advanced from your own.

It seems a large premise of the book is to be able to analyze the implied odds to get in there with hands that can cause your opponent to overcommit and go busto when you hit the monster.

Added value to such a premise is when your opponent is famous for going on tilt, chronicled for all to see in the book Tales From the Tiltboys. Friedman asked me four times later if I was playing 83 again.

"That's what you get for raising my blinds," I say playfully.

(On one hand, limped from the button, I actually was. I played it aggressively and beat out an opponent who likely had top pair king while I made a flush on the river. Another limp with 74s nearly felted this guy to my right who also was playing a king strongly. I made a boat on the river).

Obviously if you're playing Gus Hansen hands you have to know when to fold'em. I mainly was giving Friedman a loose call and was expecting to gladly fold on the flop when nothing hit. I also wasn't expecting an all-in after I check-raised him on the flop for $100.

Later, Mark felted Friedman again with a set of 2s versus Friedman's flush draw. Nonplussed, Friedman dug in his pockets for another $200 and was off to the races again.

I would have been happy even if I didn't win any money at that game -- Friedman made the game lively and fun. It was almost like an extension of the Full Tilt pros' policy of playing in cash games throughout their web site, a good practice and good for the game.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Las Vegas -- The power of the straddle

LAS VEGAS -- Not too long after I finally get to sit down at the blogger's $2/4 HORSE table at the MGM Grand's poker room, the blinds greet me to my right.

And before the dealer starts throwing out the cards, I know what to do -- I ceremoniously throw out four chips into the middle of the table.

Straddle. It's the best way to make yourself known to your table.

The straddle prompts Johnny from poker nation to put out a $6 re-straddle, although he's told that that bet isn't live. When the cards come, Alan (link later!) makes it $8. I think Felicia calls. I cap it. Johnny calls.

Both Johnny and I have not looked at our cards. I go ahead and bet it out before the flop comes.

The cards come out. There's KT8. I think it gets called around at this point.

The turn comes. Another 8. I bet it out blind (Johnny and I still have not looked at our cards).

"I believe in the power of the straddle," I say, remembering my Dec. 4 birthday straddle at Binion's NL $1/2 table.

Alan raises. "Have you looked at your cards yet," he asks. Felicia folds. I call it, believing he likes his AK versus the random and unknown hands that Johnny and I have.

Johnny folds, showing 26.

I hold out chips above the felt's play line as the river card, a 4, comes. "Do you want me to bet?" I ask Alan, not knowing whether he'll raise me or not. Four dollars already is in his hand.

"That depends on what you do."

Not sure of what I should do, I drop the chips into the pot at the last moment. He calls.

I'm thinking I'll be looking at AK. He flips over AT.

I spread my cards out side by side. "Which one do you want to see first?" He points to the one on the right.

It's a four. Hmmm.

I turn over the other card. It's an 8, making my boat and immediately I reaffirm my belief in the power of the straddle.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Las Vegas -- Fishface

I'll take the good with the bad, I guess/Level 3 teflon plate on my chest...
-50 Cent

LAS VEGAS -- So Ryan turns to me and makes a fishface.

The guy in Seat 1 at our $6/12 limit table, who has been calling the whole way, suddenly bets it out when a K comes on the river. Ryan (Absinthe) looks at him and calls. The toaster flips over K7o, for two pair. Ryan has an account of that evening here.

I got in after about an hour's delay because of bad weather in the area. The guy next to me in my first class seat had this huge bankroll. He was going to the Venetian for a couple blackjack tournaments and to play a few events in the WSOP before coming back for the Main Event. "I bought my seat online so I could pick which day I started," he said.

He claimed to know Josh Arieh and celebrated with him when Arieh won his second bracelet last year. And he was telling me about ferocious private games in Athens, one in which pots climb up to $25,000 at times.

It was an interesting, and probably credible, conversation about the higher end of poker. I thought it was interesting that he shies away from higher limit cash games in Las Vegas because as the out-of-towner, he wouldn't really know the players too well. Guess it makes sense if there's a lot of money on the line.

Las Vegas was the same old place I had left in March, gone was that gee-whiz feeling that I've felt in the past and instead I felt like I was just returning back to a familiar place, like a place where I lived or worked.

I'm glad Ryan had been telling me to come play at the MGM, because I easily could have just crashed out in my room at the Sahara. I was surprised how crowded it was, even for a Wednesday night.

Waiting for the limit table, I donked about $80 right off the bat at a $1/2 NL table with JJ in the sb and the bb short stack jacking it up with a bunch of limpers. Flop came a queen and I check-raised the bb toaster. He called. I put him all in for the rest of his money on the turn, $14 more and at that point I developed a 4-flush draw that was surprsingly live. But it didn't hold up and he turned over KQs.

I'm not sure why I hate short stacks so much and I'll go out of my way to bust them. Maybe they're taking the space of a regular-paying toaster. LOL. Soon after I was called to Ryan's limit table.

After Ryan's toaster left, the already shorthanded game broke up. I think both Ryan and I were pretty much committed to staying as long as this guy was there -- he pretty much played every hand and called and just check-called the nuts.

When the guy in seat 2 left I thought about being a jokester and sitting in between Ryan (seat 3) and the toaster, sort of like how Ted Forrest had the chance to sit in between Chip Reese and Andy Beal in the opening chapters of The Professor, the Banker and the Suicide King.

Afterward, chatted with Ryan and his wife -- she may be able to get Drew a UFC ticket to Saturday's match. They have a marvelous room at the MGM that looks out on Hooters, Mandalay Bay and the other properties on the southern part of the strip. With a $109 poker room rate (4 hours of play daily), it's an awesome value for the money, but I like my Expedia-procured $39/night ($89 weekends) rooms at Sahara without a workthru requirement.

Now 2 a.m. (5 a.m. at home) I headed back to the Sahara. I should have stopped by Bally's but didn't. Hopefully I'll maximize my playing time better this trip, but I usually don't and easily succumb to my cat-natured desire for sleep.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Was it ever in doubt?

You will soon be crossing desert sands for a fun vacation.
-fortune cookie message

I'm a little glad I didn't teach Giovanna Josh Arieh's famous WSOP phrase, but it turned out to be entirely appropriate for yesterday. Her anxiety was through the roof before the World Cup match between Italy and Germany.

Today, the Tour de France is on and I'm wondering about all these fit Europeans. They're riding bikes, they're running around kicking a soccer ball, while me and my friends sit around, cooking brats and trying to blow shit up with our fireworks. Perhaps dealing destruction is an American sport, after all.

Italy in the WC finals will make for an interesting Sunday in Las Vegas. Drew and I are planning to watch the game in one of the Strip's uber-ginormous sportsbooks, maybe like Mirage or Bellagio or somewhere and I'm going to actually for the first time in my life place a wager on Italy. Drew says he'll do the same if Portugal advances. It will be fun city.

All the craziness the last few days has prevented me from touching any cards but I'm looking forward to grinding it out at the tables. Hopefully my flight won't be too delayed because of thunderstorms today and I'm hoping to get in at a reasonable hour to meet up with Absinthe at the MGM's 10/20 table.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Ready to deploy

Just putting the finishing touches on getting ready for the trip. I leave Wednesday evening and it's not soon enough.

Picked up a very cool Victorinox satchel bag that can hold my laptop and my professional digital camera gear (decided to bring it after seeing CC's great WSOP pictures).

Loaded it up with everything else I need, my poker room tracking cards, my session notebook, the black Bellagio chip I always carry when playing and, my lucky tiny plastic sword (as per the KoL game).

On Thursday, I withdrew a full brigade from my Neteller account, expecting it to take a few business days. The money arrived in a day and I immediately dispersed it to separate accounts so I can max out the daily ATM limit at my bank on three debit cards if I need to. (Hopefully I won't need to!).

Things have been running smoothly. I had been banned from one casino network, only to be reinstated and given $40 the next day. I built up $500 in profit on casino war, blackjack and even slots (hit a triple bar for $100 using two coins). But I then went on a near-50 bet downswing on $10/hand blackjack. Extremely frustrated, I put it on autoplay, not wanting to get tilted every time I got drawn out or busted. Quickly enough, the computer gave my 50-bets back and even then some! It's probably the largest profit I've ever made from a casino bonus. I am soooo glad.

It feels like a year since I last went to Las Vegas, instead of the four months since I went with Sham. Can't wait to play in and get chips from the Venetian, Red Rock and even South Coast poker rooms.

Until then, I still have lots to do, including many of the monthly poker bonuses. There's never an end to work!