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High On Poker

WPBT Still a Part of Me

December 7th, 2015

For anyone who is not familiar with the archives, you the WPBT is the World Poker Bloggers Tour, an informal group of poker bloggers who banded together to meet up in Vegas for a private poker tournament.

Every December, the group meets up in Vegas in December for the annual tournament, where winning the hammer trophy is probably more important than the actual cash prize.

This year, I had to skip the festivities. This is nothing new. I think I maybe missed the last three events, not for lack of desire, but merely due to lack of availability. I’ve worked for my employer for 10 years now, and I still only have 15 days of vacation per year (with no expected change); with a kid (and even before then, as a fan of travel), that left me with no time to make the annual pilgrimage.

Nonetheless, watching the Facebook updates roll in (Facebook has essentially supplanted blogging), its great to see that the crew is still going strong. Its just another reminder that the best part of poker is the people.

Case in point. Part of having a kid is going to kid’s parties. This weekend, I met up with Ham Hands Pauly and Abby, two of the crew from the old Wall Street Poker Game, to celebrate their son’s first birthday. Those two actually met at the Wall Street Game, and to see what they have built together is more impressive than any big stack (save for a big stack at the WSOP…sorry guys, but that’s still pretty high praise).

So, thanks poker, for being a great opportunity for social interaction. And thank you WPBT and Wall Street crew for being the type of people that can check-raise you for your stack one minute, and share a beer with you after you suck out on them. The hey-days on blogging may be over, but if we ever see the expansion of regulated poker sites throughout this country, it’ll only be a matter of time before a new crop of players decide to share their thoughts in text.

Until next time, make mine poker!

I rarely play poker lately, and in my last few sessions, spread over months, I’ve been losing pretty consistently. The losses do not bother me in the aggregate; I realize that it is a small sample size and, for the most part, I’m happy with how I’m playing. But in the short term, after leaving the Sands with a $200 poker loss and a $340 non-poker loss, it can sting a bit.

Nonetheless, I still love the game, so when Robbie Hole texted me out of the blue in the middle of last week and asked me if I wanted to join him to the Bethlehem Sands for a poker tournament Sunday, I was hoping and praying that I could join. Fortunately, wifey Kim is still the wonderful enabler with which I fell in love, so I got the green light for a day of debauchery.

I met up with Robbie in Manhattan. We both arrived at our meeting place early, and hit the road without delay. On the drive down, we had the pleasure of discussing a wide range of topics, both general and personal. Its rare that I drive in cars, since public transportation is great in the city and I do not own a car. When I do ride in a car, I’m usually alone or with wifey Kim and my son. Driving with Robbie, though, for almost two hours each way offered a chance to sit and talk without distractions. I really need to find more opportunities like that.

Once we arrived at the Sands and Robbie got a new player’s card, we made our way to the cashier to buy into the event. It’s a weekly $200 buy-in, with $100 of the buy-in going to a bounty. After buying in, I burned through $40 at a slot machine to kill some time. Lord knows why I wasted my time. I generally hate slot machines, and this was no exception. Alas, Robbie was already playing, so I just went along for the ride. Not that I blame him though; I’m a big boy, and it was entirely my fault.

When the tournament started, my table was shorthanded, but by the end of level three, we had a complete table. Play was good. I felt in tune with the action, and I made sure to pay attention to my opponents’ tendencies. One player two seats to my right (but acting immediately before me, because the seat to my immediate right was empty) was on a particular tear. He was playing well, but I noticed a particular tell, a micro-smile that came one when he liked a card. He held it for a fraction of a second, but it was there, for sure. When I first noticed it, he revealed flopped trips (KT on a TTx flop). He smiled at each subsequent card before getting paid off on the river and showing his trips.

Not long after, I took a large pot from him by slowplaying. I flopped a pair, turned trips, slowplayed to the river, hit a full house and then sized my re-raise on the river in, what I would deem, the perfect amount to get paid off. I was feeling good about my play and I was tuned in to the action. Wonderful.

A while later, a player two seats to my left got into it with the good player on my right. This is the first stupid line of the night. The way the hand played out, I was fairly certain that the player on my right had hit trips again. He had the same micro-smiles, and his betting pattern was very close to the first trips hand. On the river, he placed his bet and the player to my left said this: “That’s how you play trips...[pause for thirty seconds]…you know what, I call.” The player on my right showed his trips and offered to his defeated opponent, “You should trust yourself.” The defeated opponent replied, “I wasn’t sure or I wouldn’t have called.”

Look, folks, this is one of the stupidest things you can say at a poker table, and yet it happens all the time. “I think I’m beat, but I call.” “I think you have trips, and I can’t beat trips, but…I call.” It’s my First Rule of Poker, so longtime readers probably know it before I say it: IF YOU ARE BEHIND, FOLD. Yes, its an oversimplification, but the point is valid. If you have a read and believe you are behind (not taking into account draws, etc.), just fold.

What really happened was that the guy to my left did not trust his instincts and made a bad call. He announced that the other guy plays trips this way to save face before showdown. If the guy to my right does not have trips, the guy on the left is happy because he won the pot. If right guy does have trips, the guy on the left just showed everyone through his speech how smart he was.

Only he was not smart. Why point out to someone that they have a betting pattern? Why tell the table that you can read players or that you can read players but still don’t have the gumption to follow your read? There is nothing to be gained from his face-saving nonsense.

Eventually, the table broke and I moved elsewhere. I was largely card dead, and when I tried to bluff on two occasions, betting wars broke out among other players, so I folded and took the smaller loss.

At the new table, I was forced to play all-in-or-fold mode, since the blinds kept raising but my stack remained the same. Others were in the same spot, which led to the second stupid thing I heard at the table.

A player pushed all-in and was called by another player. When their cards were exposed, the all-in player had something like KT. When he lost (I think to AA), he said, “That’s the best hand I’ve seen in hours.” Well whoopdeefuckingdoo! But that’s not how poker works, buddy.

Here’s the deal: Poker and probability owe you nothing. Pocket aces are statistically expected to occur approximately once every 220 hands or so, but you could go 440 hands without seeing Aces, or you can go 1,000,000 hands without seeing Aces. More importantly, if you have not seen Aces in 1,000,000 hands, that does not suddenly mean that your 27o is stronger. Yet, this shmo was using his card-dead-ness as an excuse for his lack of patience.

It’s the same scenario as above. The player wanted to save face, so he made a feeble excuse for why he pushed all-in with KT. Well, guy, you did not save any face, and you still lost your chips.

Now, that’s not to say that you should never go in with KT there. It’s just to say that being card dead is not an excuse for the play. Hell, when I went out, I had 93s and pushed all-in on a TJQ flop, only to be called by AK. I was the BB, he was the SB, and we limped to see the flop. It was only us, so I could not anticipate his hand, and I was trying to semi-bluff. I was also getting close to being desperately short. So, I’m not on some high horse about going all-in with KT. I went all in with a much worse hand. But my reasoning was at least based on the real world. I needed the chips, my stack was short, and it appeared like my opponent would give up his hand, based on the action. The fact that I had not seen a good hand in a while was irrelevant.

After I busted, Robbie and I played some blackjack, where I lost another $300. Why the hell do I play table games? The answer is that I’m a fucktard. On the drive home, I announced that I was done with table games. Thirty-seconds later, I changed my mind again, knowing I was going to be in AC with wifey Kim for X-mas.

So, I lost money, but I had fun. At least I didn’t say anything stupid.

Until next time, make mine poker!

Hello. My Name is Rusty.

June 11th, 2015

I’ve made a not-so-official commitment to get back into poker. It takes a lot more planning than before, what with the kid and lack of online poker, but deep down, I feel just as passionate about the game as ever. That’s not to say that my game is as good as ever.

In a prior post, I discussed how I did not believe in ring rust in poker. I can now say that I was full of shit. Ring rust is real. The game keeps changing and taking time off from it naturally puts you behind the times. Plus, my live game has always been about feel, and it appears that feel is something that accumulates over time and dissipates with lack of use. Yes, my poker brain has atrophied, and the only solution is to get back into the gym (poker room) and work out (play).

On Saturday night, I returned to the underground game where I won $500 just a week prior. On my first visit, I arrived a tad late, but was able to get one of the two empty seats. I felt bad leaving at around 11:15pm, but I am up by 7:30 am every day and I desperately needed the sleep. This time, I decided to arrive when the game was supposed to start, so that I could leave even earlier – by 11pm – without feeling like I was doing a hit-and-run session.

Alas, my habitual promptness screwed me again. Why is it that poker players can never show up to events on time? I suppose its the same free spirit or anti-social tendencies that make us pick up poker as a game and, oftentimes, way of life. Somehow, though, I buck this trend, maintaining my belief that when you commit to being somewhere at a given time, you ought to arrive by that time (exceptions notwithstanding).

So, I arrived at 7:30, enter the room and find…the host and dealer setting up. Ugh. I could’ve sat with them, but my own anti-socialness got the better of me, so I opted to take a walk and return at 8ish. I strolled a few blocks, found a bench and took a seat. The ubiquitous entertainment provided by the iPhone paid off once again. I was able to watch some of season 3 of Banshee (a pretty kick-ass show on Cinemax) followed by a handful of videos on YouTube discussing poker tells. I knew it would mostly serve as a light refresher on subjects I already knew, but figured it would at least help me get into the right mindset.

I returned to the game around 8pm to find enough players to start shorthanded. The players were different than last time, so I had no pre-existing image or reads, but they were similarly affable.

I remember two hands that stood out to me, because I made the same error twice. I do not recall the specifics of the action, but I recall enough to publicly shame myself into hopefully playing better next time.

In the first notable hand, I had a strong hand (maybe a set?) and faced action from a player immediately to my left. There was a possible low straight on the board, so when my opponent moved all-in on the river, I had to take pause. I decided to use my amazing ability to read tells. The player was shuffling his cards, which any Caro reader knows is a sign of weakness. I obsessed on his hands, trying to decipher if the shuffling did, in fact, mean that he disliked his hand and was magically trying to change them. I didn’t want to give up my strong cards, but part of me felt like I had to be behind my opponent. He did not appear to be the type to gamboooool and his all-in clearly signaled strength. I thought about it for what felt like a long time, but was probably just 2 minutes or so. Finally, I decided to make the hero call. He showed his straight, I mucked and rebought. I had essentially talked myself into calling. Of note, I noticed the same player shuffling his cards in a later hand, where he once again reached showdown with strong cards to win the pot. So, even though my read was wrong, I may have picked up a tell for this particular player that is opposite of what most people do. Or, he may just like shuffling his cards. I guess we will know when I make a bad fold to him at a later session.

In the last hand for me, I held AQ and saw a flop of Q88, with two other players in the hand. I had raised preflop, perhaps as little as $6. I had just watched a video from Negreanu explaining the dangers of playing AQ, and perhaps that influenced my decision to try to keep the pot small, initially. Once the flop came, I bet and got two callers. The turn was an Ace and I figured that I was in great shape. I bet once again and suddenly, one of the better players at the table raised me almost all in. I was already under $150 at the beginning of the hand, and his raise of $60 more would leave me with $4 behind. I once again was faced with a difficult decision. I considered the possibility that he had an 8, but for some reason, my mind kept going back to the Ace. Perhaps he had AK, had floated the flop, and had hit the turn. If so, my AQ (for AAQQ8) was ahead of his AK (AA88K). The other possibility was that he had flopped the 8, but for some reason, I could not see it. In hindsight, I had fallen victim to the awfukkit call, as in, “I’m not doing well, anyway, so awfukkit, I call.” Calling left me with $4, so when he checked the blank river, I announced in a grandstanding voice, “ALL IN” and three my four chips across the line. He insta-called (no respect) and showed something like 85o. WTF. A lesser man will complain about his decision to call my preflop raise with 85o, but a serious player knows that you cannot control your opponents. You can only control yourself. I instantly realized that I had made an awfukkit call.

After that hand, a whopping 90 minutes after starting, I decided to call it a night. I lost $400, but since I won $500 at the same place a week before, I allowed myself the comfort of thinking of it as +$100 over two weeks.

As I took the walk of shame to the subway, I took the time to wallow in my shortcomings. The week prior, despite winning, I felt like I was not playing my best. This week, the trend of poor play continued.

Where do I go from here? Back to the tables. If all goes well, I’ll be playing at a home game tournament on Friday night, where arriving on time earns you 1,000 extra chips (a promotion I can get behind). It will also be my first tournament for 2015, but I have always felt like my grasp of tournaments has been stronger than my cash game, so I’m hoping that I can get back into the swing of things much faster than I have exhibited with my cash game.

Until then, I will continue along, living life without the benefits of online poker. Instead of playing with the benefit of things like the Paddy Power Poker promotions, I will instead be relegated to the few games I can attend every so often in person. Maybe it’s even time to read some poker books. Ring rust is real, and I need to shake it off.

Until next time, make mine poker!

Underground Tells

June 5th, 2015

I have a couple of stories to tell today, both of which involve poker and making reads. One happened at the poker table. The other happened away from it.

Let’s start with the tale that happened away from the poker table. By day, I am a mild mannered attorney. I recently had a client at my office for a deposition. During his deposition, the subject of poker came up. Afterwards, when I was debriefing him in my office, we causally discussed poker some more. To me, this was a bonding opportunity. I later learned that my boss, who has the office next to me, read the situation quite differently.

On a completely unrelated matter, I was in my boss’ office for a meeting. After our meeting, he asked, “Jordan, do you think it is a good idea to discuss your gambling habits with a client?” I was taken aback, but I instantly knew what he meant.

“I can see where you are going with this, but its not like I brought it up. It came up in conversation and its something we have in common. I wouldn’t just discuss it with anyone.”

“But, do you think its a good idea?”

If I were totally honest, I would have responded, “Yes. I think it is a great idea to show a common interest with a client because that is how I build relationships that earn their trust and future business. And I am always thoughtful in execution.” Instead, I said, “I understand what you are saying and it will not happen again.”

That night, I was stuck on my conversation with my boss. Ironically, when he first discovered that I played poker, around 9 years ago, he used to only talk to me about poker. Everything was a poker analogy. “You have to bluff at the negotiation.” “You have to know when to fold, and in this case, we should fold.” It concerned me until I realized that he knew little else about me, so when he needed a reference, it was his go-to. Over the years, though, this fell by the wayside. Now, the topic of poker was brought up, but in a very different light.

Borrowing another analogy, I replayed the two hands in my head. I still believe my conversation with the client was well played. He and I have an extremely good working relationship and in my experience, being friends with my clients is the best way to ensure that they are happy with my work, no matter what the outcome.

I then considered the conversation with my boss. Well played again, or so I surmise. What he was saying makes sense in a vacuum and definitely makes sense given his play style. He is more aggressive than I am, which can work if you have enough experience to back up your aggressive stance. I am more of a concilator in my approach. But confronting him about this difference would not result in a +EV situation for me. So, agreeing in principle was enough. I didn’t need a fight I couldn’t win.

Now let’s turn to the actual poker situation. I recently found another underground game. I attended my first session on Saturday, buying in for $200 and cashing out for $700 a few hours later, playing 1/2 NLHE. As I assessed my play afterwards, I had to admit to myself that luck very good to me that night. I played well, but luck may have carried the day. But one hand really stood out in my mind.

With KK in MP, I raised preflop to $12 or 15 and saw a flop with two other players. The first to act was a player who I read to be fairly sloppy and not well thought-out. The second was a player I pegged as crafty and thoughtful. The fact that he stared a hole in me during the entire hand (even after he folded) confirmed my suspicions.

The flop came down with a King, Ten, and a low card. All were diamonds.

With top set, I bet the flop, $35, somewhat wary of the flush draw. It was possible that someone had already had the flush, but I decided to bet and see what happens. I realized that checking was not a good option, because a free turn card could give someone an easy four flush board to take my pot with a single diamond hole card or bluff me out. Betting would make me vulnerable to a check-raise, but I still had outs for a full house if someone had the flush, and I could reassess once the re-raise was made. Alas, the sloppy player called and the thoughtful player folded (but kept staring at me).

The turn was another Ten, giving me a full house.

It checked to me and I considered giving a free card, in case he was on the flush draw. I hesitated as I considered what to do carefully. I motioned to check but caught myself. I then decided that since he called my flop bet, he’d likely call a bet on the turn. I considered the amount carefully and opted for $40. It was close enough to the flop bet to make it seem comparatively small, but it was big enough to help build the pot. He called.

The river was another diamond. I decided to throw out a fake tell. I rolled my eyes as if to say, “Go figure the diamond comes.” I then waited for the action.

My opponent pushed all-in and I called. He showed an Ace-high flush; he held the Ace of Diamonds and some other non-diamond card. Before I showed, the thoughtful player guessed my hand, “Quad 10s?” Nope. I showed my full house and won the pot.

After the hand, the thoughtful player explained his read. “I saw you hesitating on the turn, trying to decide what to bet. That’s how I knew you had a monster. You were choosing carefully.” Gulp! That was an unintentional tell. Duly noted. The dealer joined the conversation: “I saw you roll your eyes on that river, so I knew you were strong.” Shit! He used the classic Caro tell, strong means weak and weak means strong. I was looking weak so he knew I was strong. I sheepishly acknowledged the situation and moved on to the next hand.

I replayed the action in my head later, as I headed  home. I learned two things from the situation. First, I need to be more aware of how my actions are perceived, including in situations where I hesitate. That was a tell of which I was unaware. I can offer ring rust as an excuse, but excuses don’t win pots. Second, by sharing the information after the hand, I learned a lot about the game. I had confirmation that the thoughtful player was analyzing everything. I now know I can use the delayed betting tell against him as a fake tell, for instance. I should also generally avoid him, since he is more aware of what’s going on than some of the competition. More generally, I have to accept that this group of players is somewhat savvy. Not all of them, but if a dealer is verbally sharing his thoughts on reverse tells, then this is clearly a group that is willing to think about poker in depth. Normally, I would not impart the knowledge of a dealer on the group, but this was a fairly tight group, so the lines were blurred.

I plan to return this Saturday. Let’s hope I can put some of these lessons into action.

Until next time, make mine poker!


Raised, the Graphic Novel

April 20th, 2015

Howdy, readers! As you probably know by now, the poker writing has taken a dip, likely because my opportunities to play have decreased. Fortunately, I found another creative outlet. If you have some time to kill, check out Raised, a graphic novel written and illustrated by me! It’s free online for your reading pleasure.

2015-02-12 18_18_20

Until next time, make mine poker!

Soft Florida (Trip Report)

March 9th, 2015

I forgot how to do this. Do I stretch first? I don’t want to pull a muscle.

A couple of days ago, I was reviewing my poker sessions in the Poker Journal app when I realized that I had only played poker twice so far this year. I had a trip to Sands in Bethlehem, PA in late January and I had the recent pleasure of visiting the Coconut Creek Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida last week. As I reviewed my meager sessions, I thought to myself, “Of course its difficult to write about poker. I barely play.” But alas, I did play recently, so maybe this won’t be so hard.

Last week, I spent some time in Florida to see my grandfathers, both of which are around 94 years old. It was an overall wonderful trip. The weather was ideal in Florida while NY was hit by snow storm after snow storm; my extended family were a delight; and wifey Kim gave me a free pass to spend a night playing poker. Which leads us to…

Look folks. Despite my lack of play, I remain a bit of a fiend for the game. Parenting, however, takes its share of my free time, so when opportunity arises, I have to take whatever I can get.

Wifey Kim, the progeny and I had spent the day in West Palm visiting one of my grandfathers. We returned to my cousin’s home in Ft. Lauderdale and began the bedtime routine. My cousin has a 2-year-old, so we had everything we needed to make this an easy trip for a toddler. The plan was to leave for the casino as soon as wifey Kim took over the sleep routine. I do baths, she does books and putting him into his crib. Once bath was done, my cousin Jarrett asked about my plan.

Jarrett: “I haven’t been to the casino in a while. What do you play?”

Me: “Usually 1/2 No Limit or 2/5 No Limit. I know you don’t play poker, really, so you may not be interested.”

Jarrett: “No Limit? Yeah, I don’t think so. But I’ll still join you and play some of the other games on the casino floor.”

Me: (pausing) “Um, okay. But, well, look. I’m going to play poker and only poker. I’m not really going to be that great company. We won’t even be in the same area. And I plan on staying until 11pm and then leaving. So, you can come and I’d love the company, but I wanted to give you an idea of what I had in mind.”

Jarrett: “Yeah, that’s fine with me.”

Me: “Also, I plan on leaving ASAP.”

Jarrett: “Oh. Well, I still have to put sheets on the bed first, and they are in the dryer, so why don’t you go ahead without me and I’ll meet…”

I’m pretty sure he said that he’d meet up with me there, but I was already running out the door before he finished his sentence.

I rode the 20 minutes to the casino in silence, accompanied only by the sweet voice of Google Maps telling me where to turn. I parked in the self-park lot and made my way into the casino.

The casino itself seemed pretty large. The parking lot was far from full, but the casino floor seemed busy. I looked for signage that would eventually led me to the poker room. Alas, I could not find it until I got a bit closer to two elevators. Sure enough, the poker room was one floor up, away from the main casino floor, and in no time, I was in my place of comfort.

The poker room itself was fairly nice. I cannot say how many tables they had, but I would assume it was north of 30. There was a tournament going on off to the side, and 1/2 and 2/5 cash games running. There may’ve been other stakes/games running as well, but time was short, so if there were other games, it never registered with me.

I looked at the lists, considered my small bankroll for the day ($500 only, since I had to hit an ATM), and opted for 1/2 NLHE. It helped that there were seats open, whereas 2/5 would require me to wait.

I hit up the cage to buy chips. The max buy-in was $200, so I went with the max and found my way to Table 3.

There are rumors that Florida is a poker boom town. Yes, I know Florida is a state and not a town, but “boom state” sounds silly. Well, if that one table for around 2 hours is any indication, all the hype is true. Rather than a bunch of retirees, I had a table of young guys (and a few retirees). The young guns were apparently having a pissing contest, as each one showed more braggadocio than the next. Players were calling and betting loose, and gabbing the entire time. To their credit, this was a friendly crew and even when a player was lamenting a suckout, it was done with little venom.

I can only recall two hands right now, and I do not recall much in the way of detail. In the first, I was dealt AsTs and since action was loose, I opted to raise to $12. I got probably around four or five callers. The flop came down T93. With top pair, top kicker, I decided to bet my hand strong. I went with $45. It folded to one player, who called all-in for slightly less. We saw the turn (Ace) and river (another Ace). I flipped my cards to show my full house and take down the pot. That’s when the table started remarking about how lucky I was.

Me: “Well, I think I was ahead when the money got into the pot, but yeah, I guess a full house is lucky.”

Everyone Else: “No, you idiot. You hit a jackpot.”

That’s when I noticed the high hand jackpot, the lowest of which was $100 for Aces-Full. I went runner runner for a $100 bonus and I didn’t even realize that it was a possibility. The floor was called, I gave my license and signed a form, and received a crisp $100 bill (as opposed to chips).

The only other hand I recall was a flopped set. The board came down with two flush cards, so I bet approximately the pot, hoping to push the flushes out of the hand. I think my post-flop bet was in the $50 range. I got two callers. The turn was a blank, so I opted to push all-in. One player hemmed and hawed before folding. The other called for less. He only had around $50 behind. In hindsight, I should have been more aware of his stack size earlier, but I am not sure I would’ve done much differently, since the other player had the bigger stack. Regardless, he called and the flush came on the river. My opponent had K4s, and had flopped top pair with the flush draw, so I cannot blame his post-flop action (I guess). What he was doing in a raised pot with K4s, though, is beyond me.

I had a great time joking around with the table. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If you are going to play poker, you should strive to have fun whether you win or lose, because there will be days that you are destined to lose, so you may as well enjoy yourself. In this case, I won, $154, including the $100 jackpot. It was not an impressive sum on its own, but considering that I only played for around 2 hours, it wasn’t a bad showing either.

The next morning, I took my grandpa out to breakfast with my cousins and paid for everything with my winnings. After all, if you cannot enjoy the money, what’s the point.

Now, I just need to find my next opportunity to play.

Until next time, make mine poker!

Back to the Sands

February 2nd, 2015

I took a recent trip to the Sands poker room, to much success. Having a baby, now a toddler, can be a wrecking ball to free time and sleep, so my play has obviously been greatly reduced. I even stopped tracking my results after a program I was using got jacked up and I lost a bunch of old data. But, it’s a new year and wifey Kim remains a paragon of virtue and understanding, so with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday declared a work holiday by my employer – the first time this has happened in the almost ten years I have worked here – it seemed like the Good Lord himself wanted me to get away for some hot poker action.


I texted around to my buddies, but most had to work, so I ended up traveling with my bro-in-law Marc. Marc and I have an interesting relationship. I love him like a brother, no doubt, but there is a fun rivalry. We love to gamble against each other and whenever we play poker, there is an undertone of one-ups-manship. I must be his lucky charm though, because whenever we play, he always seems to eke out a slightly better result, no matter how well I do.


We arrived at the Sands after an easy drive in a Zipcar. It was early, a little before 11am, but the Sands in Bethlehem always has some action going. I put myself down for the 2/5 and 1/2 lists. Marc opted for 1/2. As I was called to sit down at a new 2/5 table, the floor called a new 1/2 table which included both Marc and me. While I had mentally planned to play 2/5 since I feel both ready to move up in stakes regularly and my lack of play made me feel like higher stakes would mean more overall profit over fewer sessions, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take it easy at a fresh table with my bud. He took the 9 seat, I took the 2 seat.


It’s a couple of weeks later now, so individual hands elude me. However, I do recall working my $200 stack up to about $420 before everything started to fall apart. Meanwhile, Marc, who was treading water while my stack increased, began to win as my stack decreased. Next thing I knew, I was reloading my stack, having dropped below $200 total.


I was definitely feeling tilt set in and it was already 1pm or later, so I asked Marc if he wanted to grab some lunch. He was on a roll and decided to stay put, so I stood up, headed to Emeril’s burger place and grabbed a seat at the bar. $20 and a damn good burger later, and I was ready to return to the action.


Before I left for lunch, I moved to the 10 seat, immediately to the left of Marc. I sat down hoping to turn my luck around, while eying Marc’s huge stack, which had grown to north of $600. I like Marc a lot, which is a blessing since he is now bound to me through marriage to his sister, and despite our rivalry, I wanted to see him win. I just wanted to win along with him.


In the very first hand back, I was dealt AA. “Amazing,” I thought to myself. “I got back just in time.” I won that pot and a few hands later, flopped a set for another nice pot. Meanwhile, the guy who had taken most of my chips from me before lunch had suffered a change of luck. When I left, he had probably $800 or so in front of him, and now he had a much less intimidating stack of $500 or so. I had changed seats mostly to get position on him, but looking back, I wonder if I was beating myself and blaming his “skills” on my losses, rather than just losing to a superior player. On the other hand, perhaps he had fallen into the same trap as me; when I was winning, I began playing looser, to my detriment. Perhaps he, too, was now off of his game, initially emboldened by his big stack until his luck turned sour; now he was in tilt mode.


His stack continued to dwindle until he was fairly short. Meanwhile, my stack was doing fine. I was into the game for $400, and I had worked up a stack of about $300+ when I had my final noteworthy hand of the night. I had 66 and called a small raise from out of position. Marc was in the hand too, as was my Nemesis, the former big stack. The flop came down 6TJ or something awfully similar. There were two hearts and I did not hold a heart. I checked. My Nemesis pushed all-in for around $100. I was salivating when, surprisingly, Marc called. I decided to make clear that I had a winning hand. Also, I didn’t want to give Marc a chance to hit a flush or something similar. I raised $100 on top. The action was back to Marc and he thought long and hard, before finally calling. The next card was a blank and when Marc checked, I pushed all-in for around $200. Excuse me if my overall math does not make sense, because time has erased some of the details, but I recall that the bet was more than $200. Marc really tanked and I decided to Hollywood. I even went so far as to stand up and pace, acting like I was on camera. I was really hamming it up when he finally folded. (Note: When I first wrote this, I said he called, but upon further thought, I now recall that I wanted him to call, but he did not). The river was another Ten and I showed my full house, 6s full of Tens. I won the pot, busted my Nemesis and put a small dent in Marc’s stack.


We played for a while longer before calling it a day. When it was all said and done, I had won around $325. Marc had won about $375. Even with that last hand, he had managed to beat me. Arguably, he did all the work, collecting from strangers and then I robbed him of some of his profit. I like to think of it that way because it makes it feel like an accomplishment over Marc, as though he was my mark (no pun intended), as opposed to me falling short of his winnings. Either way, it was great to leave with a profit.


The next day, I was still in the mood for poker, but playing at an online casino remains illegal in New York. Now, I just need to wait for some other holiday or weekend where wifey Kim can watch the spawn and I can travel ninety minutes to a poker destination. Alas, the trials and tribulations of parenthood.

Until next time, make mine poker!

The Very Dark Game of Poker

July 11th, 2014

Before I get started, for those who still check here from time to time or follow the RSS feed, I want to be clear: The tone of this post may be different, but it is all me. I don’t write often, but when I find something that captures my interest, it is nice to have a place to share it. So while I usually write about my personal experiences, today I wanted to discuss a story taking place in the poker media that got me thinking about the game we all love to play. Without further adieu:

One of the biggest stories at this year’s WSOP was the refusal of Daniel Colman, the winner of this year’s Big One for One Drop tournament, to give media interviews. Colman defeated one of the Holy Trinity of Poker, Daniel Negreanu, for the title, to win more than $15,000,000 (of which he will likely only keep a small fraction, with the rest to be distributed to his backers). After winning, media outlets sought his interview, but aside from an interview he supposedly gave to ESPN, he refused the media attention.

Naturally, this got the poker world abuzz. Most people don’t know the name Daniel Colman, but he is well regarded in the poker community for his skills as a heads-up no limit hold’em specialist. His general attitude, however, may not be as warmly received.

For most players, winning the Big One for One Drop would be a boon. There is the obvious benefit of $15M+, but there is also the added benefit of media coverage for the prestigious event, which can open additional doors for the winner. Antonio Esfandiari was able to parlay his win last year into a sponsorship deal with Ultimate Poker and if Colman were willing to play ball, he could potentially earn a sizable sum through endorsement deals that come with winning the highest buy-in tournament in the world against the best players in the world.

Beyond that, a lot of players think that it is imperative that players use the media to promote the game. Poker and its economy is dependent in some part on the influx of new money and players. When a pro gets some media attention, its in their (and every other pro’s) best interest to promote the game in a positive light. Colman was having none of that.

After enough pressure, Colman finally posted a statement of Two Plus Two. Wicked Chops Poker has a good review of why it was such a poorly written statement, along with the complete text. It can all be summed up by the first sentence, “I really don’t owe anyone an explanation but Ill give one…First off, I don’t owe poker a single thing. ” He comes off angry and defensive. He then derides the ugly side of the game, including the fact that most people lose. He likens it to alcohol or cigarettes, in that it should not be advertised. Finally, he shuns the idea of self-promotion before calling the game of poker, “a very dark game.” I love that quote.

My knee jerk reaction was that he was an ass. After all, he chose to play in this prestigious tournament, won (and generally wins) a lot of money playing the game, yet when he wins a tournament where media attention is all but certain, he refuses to play along and actually slams the very activity from which he makes his living. I then let it marinate and came to understand some of his points, if not his manner of communicating them. I have felt in the past that poker is a game where we prey on the weak, and that is not something that is positive in any sense. There are people who are problem gamblers and perhaps it is even noble to refuse to promote the game. Finally, I read Daniel Negreanu’s excellent blog post and came to realize that despite the common feeling I may share with Colman about some of the darker aspects of the game, there are many more positive aspects that should be promoted.

As a high stakes player, it must be very easy to see the negative aspects of the game. People could be playing with more money than they can afford to lose, or are living the “baller” lifestyle with little actual money behind it. Poker tends to intersect with other fringe activities, like drugs, drinking, and other forms of gambling. Walk though any casino and try not to feel depressed at the seniors turning into slot machine zombies, the broke drunk trying to find uncashed tickets, or the hookers hanging out looking for their next john. It’s damn depressing. But Negreanu did a great job reminding me (us?) of how poker is so much more than that.

Poker is a game that anyone can play. It is a social experience, where friends, old and new, can get together and compete for pennies, if they so choose. As Negreanu points out, for seniors, it may be an opportunity to socialize and the mental benefits of the game for seniors (and likely anyone) is important. It’s literally exercise for the brain. For me, growing up, it was something for me and my friends to do on a weekend evening in the safety of one of our houses, instead of hanging out in the park drinking underage. Now, its a fun past time, and a great way to meet new people, even if we are just friends at the table. And its still an excuse to hang with my buddies.

Negreanu also correctly points out that, yes, most people lose, but that does not mean that most people are losers. Negreanu uses the analogy of the NBA and PGA. Lots of people want to play at that level, just like lots of people want to play at the level of a top poker pro…but just because you cannot, does not mean there is no value in playing basketball or golf. Plus, those who are willing to push to get to those elite levels sometimes do pay a cost, physically or otherwise, but that does not make the thing they are pursuing somehow evil.

Finally, Negreanu points out that while there may be problem gamblers, they are more prone to go to the quick high of a slot machine or table game than the slow intellectual grind of a poker table.

So, I’m with Negreanu. Colman does not owe poker anything, but gratitude would be appreciated.

I am also with Negreanu that this is really a matter of integrity. If you have a problem with the game of poker, quit. If not, then play ball. Use that interview to talk about some of these darker aspects. Get your message across to the public. But taking your ball and going  home, that’s some weak ass stuff.

I’m definitely of two minds on the subject, but when its all said and done, Daniel Colman was wrong, not because of his thoughts about poker, but because of his actions. His thoughts are perhaps incomplete, favoring the darker side of the game and ignoring the positive aspects, but I am not interested in being the thought police. But when you benefit so much from an activity and you enter an event that, if you win, will come with media attention, the least you can do is provide a couple of interviews. Or just don’t play the One Drop. No one wants to interview the online heads-up pro Daniel Colman, so stay there and play your “very dark game,” and let class acts like Negreanu handle the very well-lit game that comes with playing on the biggest poker stage in the world.

Until next time, make mine poker!

Poker & Degeneracy

June 25th, 2014

It should be no surprise to anyone familiar with this site that poker attracts degenerates. In fact, my buddies and I often use the phrase as though it were a batch of honor. We plan trips to casinos without the wives so we can have a degenerate’s weekend. We take pride in playing poker so long that food and sleep become an afterthought, not to mention showering. Part of this is the counterculture character of the game. In the eyes of John Q. Pubilc, we are gamblers, and gambling is a vice, if not an outright sin. So we embrace the idea of being a degenerate because it is a funny way to diffuse or even co-opt the terms used by people who want to denounce poker players. The other part of it is the reality that we are just being ironic. My friends and I all have day jobs, so we are essentially just pretending to be degenerates for a brief period of time.

All that said, there are truly some degenerates out there and if there were one part of poker I find distasteful, its dealing with these degenerates. There are varying definitions and degrees of degenerate-ness, from the successful player who spends too much time at the table (probably the least of the degenerates) to the gambling addict who spends his last dime on poker instead of housing (cough-TBC-cough). There are degenerates who mix poker and drugs and others who are willing to win at all costs, including cheating.

The whole world of degeneracy fascinates me, likely because I am too anal retentive to actually be a real part of that world. I always joke that my anal retentiveness keeps my addictive personality in check, but there is definitely some truth to that statement. I may be willing to play online poker on sites like PKR.com, but I do so with money that I can afford, at stakes that will not affect me or my family. I may want to win, but I follow the poker rules, never cheat, and avoid angle shooting. I have too much respect for the game and myself to act otherwise.

Yet, I still can’t help but focus on the degeneracy, if for no other reason than it fascinates me. I used to play at an underground room with a player who I thought of as a very successful guy; my impression was built on his play and also his bankroll. He always seemed rolled for the biggest games offered and acted like the money meant nothing. One day, he mentioned that he just came from a pizza place. I asked offhand if he had just ate or something and he mentioned that he was just off from work. I don’t remember how I asked it, but I think I asked something akin to, “Do you own the place?” He responded, “No. I just work there.”

“WOW,” I thought. This guy works at a pizza place, likely making little more than minimum wage, and yet I am envious of his willingness to play high stakes with no regard for money. Meanwhile, I make a decent living and couldn’t accept playing anything higher than the cheapo tournaments or 1/2 NLHE at the card room. It’s the craziest thing. I both envied his degeneracy and was disappointed by it.

Then I read tales from guys like TBC. Let me first say that I LOVE TBC’s blog. For those who are unfamiliar, check it out. I don’t know if TBC would take offense, but he fits squarely in the broad definition of degenerate. The man would rather spend his small bankroll on a -EV machine than on rent. He lives a nomads existence, devoid of a home, close friends (aside from those on the Internet), or a family life (his mother and adult son live in KS, but he rarely visits them). If I were living TBC’s life, I would be miserable; and yet, I can see the attractiveness of having no responsibilities, or more accurately, neglecting all of your responsibilities in favor of following the base urges to gamble gamble gamble.

Poker and degeneracy are inevitably linked. I suppose that’s why I love them both, even if I do keep both my poker and degeneracy in check.

Until next time, make mine poker!

Father’s Day Gambling

June 25th, 2014

Father’s Day is an interesting holiday. I think I can safely say that I am not alone in my feeling that the best Father’s Day (at least for the father of a 10 month old) is one spent without any father responsibilities. Sure, celebrating with family is fun, but I don’t want for material things, so when the discussion of a gift was floated, I suggested that the best possible gift would be a much-needed break. Unfortunately, Saturday night was dedicated to wifey Kim’s dad and Sunday was for my family’s barbeque, so all I had was Saturday morning to early afternoon.

When I have free time, two things immediately come to mind: golf and poker. Golf turned out to be a no-go because of scheduling issues, so poker became the frontrunner. Sadly, online gambling is still illegal in New York, so it wasn’t like I could just dedicate some time and fire up a site like darkknightslots.com. Instead, I had to find my way to a casino in a manner that was economical and convenient to my time constraints. Its times like these when its good to have friends.

Robby Hole has always been a good gambling buddy, and Father’s Day weekend was no exception. We had made plans to meet early in the morning by his place in New Jersey. This meant that I had to be up and out of the apartment by 7:20 AM, which would normally be ridiculous for a weekend, if not for the fact that if I am lucky, my bio alarm clock (read: my son) usually wakes me up by then…and there’s no snooze button on a bio alarm clock.

Robby and I made the 90 minute or so drive with his girlfriend, who prefers slots to poker. I strolled into the poker room and placed my name on the 1/2 and 2/5 list. Lately, I’ve been preferring 2/5, but since play is few and far between, I was okay with playing 1/2, if it meant I could start sooner. A few minutes later, a new table opened up, Robby joined the table, and we were off.

I wish I kept notes of my play, but I was more focused on playing than blogging or making notes. It was an up and down day, but when the dust cleared, I walked away up $86. It’s not an impressive sum, but a win is a win. I also did not have to rebuy, which was rather nice. Meanwhile, Robby Hole went on a tear, getting paid off with the nut flush vs. the second nut flush, catching a full house on a major all-in hand against multiple opponents, and generally playing a strong game. It was wonderful to see him leave the table with a nice profit that eclipsed my own.

Equally impressive, albeit due to luck and not skill, was his $900 cigarette break. During play, Robby decided to have a smoke, so he went to the slots area, where it is allowed. When he came back, he had a $900 ticket from a slot he had played absentmindedly while puffing away on his nicotine. He earned it from a nickel slot machine. Ironically, as we drove to the casino, Robby mentioned how he had considered quitting smoking. Well, he just had 900 reasons why not to quit (counterbalanced by the 1,000,000 reasons to quit).

After playing for about four hours, Robby, his gf and I made our way to the Carnegie Deli in the Sands. The portions were obscenely large. Full, we then made our way to Pai Gow Poker, since there was not enough time to get back into actual poker without feeling rushed. Pai Gow was great too. I left up $100 to Robby’s $200 or so profit.

Overall, it was a very successful trip, both socially and financially. I love the Sands, although I have to admit that there is one aspect about the place that makes me uneasy. On one hand, it is a great room, with a poker room right in the middle of the casino floor, plentiful 1/2 and 2/5 action, and 90 minutes or so from NYC. On the other hand, the place is owned by Sheldon Adelson, a staunch opponent of online poker. I can see how as a businessman, Adelson would loath competition for his brick and mortar casinos, especially since the Sands has not been able to capitalize on legalized online gambling in Nevada, New Jersey or Delaware. However, if I want to hang out in my skivvies and play free bingo no deposit at gamevillage.com or play free cleopatra slot machine here in the comfort of my home, then from a purely legal standpoint, I don’t see much difference between hitting a slot machine’s buttons at a casino or if I click here from home.

As a brief epilogue, I was at the BBQ on Sunday when I received a text from Robby. On his way home from dropping me off at the train station, he grabbed a scratch-off lotto ticket…and won another $600. It just goes to show that good things happen to people who help me gamble.

Until next time, make mine poker!