Friday, January 29, 2010

Another Nice Tournament Score

So I've mentioned a few times this week about the UBOC tournament series running over a ten-period period over on UltimateBet. As you know if you read here, I do love the software, the players and especially the tournament structures at UB, with deep stacks and just generally more skill-favoring, slower blinds escalation than at any other major online poker site. By a mile. Even in the non-deep-stack events end up having better stacks and more time to play than most other online mtt's available today. So I've dipped my toe in to several of the UBOC events this time around, for the first time I have ever played in UB's version of FTOPS or WCOOP, and one that I was really looking forward to was UBOC #4 last weekend, the $120 buyin, 30k guaranteed sniper (bounty) tournament. I play the nightly 9pm ET sniper mtt with a $120 buyin most nights I play on UB, and it is one of my favorite tournaments out there and one I have had a lot of success in, so naturally this larger version of my nightly favorite immediately attracted my attention. And, while I'm too lazy at this point to do a full recap post for this run, here's what I ended up with last Friday:

So, it was $4758 and change, another awesome score, and now my second score in under two months in a major online poker site's periodic tournament series, building on last month's 27k win in the Mini-FTOPS on full tilt. Plus, I also managed to score 18 bounties by the time all was said and done -- as with my live bounty tournament win a couple of weeks back in AC, I was chip leader through most of the last three hours of this tournament -- for another $360 in bounties bringing my total cash over the 5k mark in Friday night's UBOC 30k guaranteed $120 Sniper Event.

All that said, as I mentioned I was the chip leader in this thing for most of the last few hours heading up to the final table, having built a massive stack when I made a straight on the turn against one guy's flopset and the other's pocket Kings when they both decided to bet and call tiny bets and easily priced me in for the draw based on pot odds alone, let alone the implied odds in a no-limit event like this. I lost the chip lead heading into the final table, but I got it back at some point around halfway through. I recall at one point I fought my way back to the chip lead again with 5 runners left. 25 minutes later, I would exit, out in 4th place, leaving 12k on the table between my payout and the 16k first prize. How did this happen to me again?

I've looked and looked and re-looked at my screen shots from the final table run, and I think my problem here is best attributable to an incredible run of bad timing when down to the last half of the final table, after about five hours of having great timing with my bets and raises to be able to survive this late along the way. I've written a lot about the importance of having great timing in any large-field nlh tournament, but so much of mtt success, especially late in tournaments, comes down to not pushing into the guy with Aces, or top pair, or AK, and not running any monsters into higher monsters, which are always crushers in final table play. But halfway through the final table in UBOC 4, over the span of 25 minutes, I raised preflop and then was forced to fold to an allin reraise before the flop 7 consecutive times. That's never good. UB is deep, but nowhere is it that deep that you can literally raise preflop and then fold to a reraise without even giving yourself a chance to see or win a flop after seven consecutive failed raises. I could not believe it, and this after raising pretty much with reckless abandon for over 7 hours to even have survived anywhere near this far (you don't eliminate 18 shitdonks without betting and raising a lot and mixing it up quite a bit). But two of those 7 raises were standard button-steals from me with two low unconnected cards, both of which were easy folds for me rather than risk calling off a big stack on. Two of them were also button- or cutoff-steals with decent cards -- one with KTs (I folded to a reraise from a guy who despite being a little short had not pushed his entire stack in for more than an hour and was clearly just in holding-on-for-dear-life mode), one with KJo (I knew the reraiser held an Ace, and at the time he had just under the number of chips that I held). And the other three were also standard preflop raising hands for 5 left at the final table, one A6o in early position, which I folded rather than call a large allin reraise with a likely dominated hand, and two were 44 and 77, also both easy raises pre in this spot but neither of which did I have any interest in calling an allin reraise with and then racing or being dominated for most of my stack. It was just a terrible run of I think the right play preflop and frankly the right play by me to fold as well, but it took my chip-leading stack and turned me into the short stack over the span of 25 minutes without me having any chance to even play some poker or see a flop to show for it. And as the short stack, I ended up raising a guy allin on a 9♠5♠3♥ flop with a flush draw and an over when I held A♠7♠, my opponent made the pretty much mandatory called with pocket Kings, I did not hit and IGH in 4th place.

So again, 5 large is 5 large, and to have the opportunity to make that kind of money from this game and have such a great time doing it -- knocking out 18 people from a single tournament is always a good time in my book -- is awesome of course, no doubt. But once again I find myself more angry than pleased with the result, as half an hour earlier I had been chip leader with 5 left and in line to nab 16 grand and change for first prize, and then boom, out in 4th for "only" 5 grand.

It's a good consolation prize to be sure. But I need to keep focusing on turning these 4-figure scores into 5-figure scores if there is to be any chance of me stepping up my game from here heading into 2010. It's been a great January so far for me poker-wise, but just one or two big wins here is what separates a good month from a good year in poker profits.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mtt Update

Still haven't had the time to do a proper recap of my score in UBOC Event #4 a few days back. It's just hard to find the time this week in the evenings with all the double-guarantee tournaments running all day long on full tilt in addition to the rest of the UBOC series on UltimateBet. If I don't get to do a real recap, I might just post the two or three most significant hands for posterity's sake, but hopefully this is something I will get to in the next day or two.

In the meantime, I had my first cash in a big mtt on full tilt of the past three days, a tiny score for just a few hundy in the 150k, which is double the usual 75k guarantee which runs nightly at 8pm ET for a buyin of $150 + $13. Normally this is a tournament I stay away from, because (1) I am rarely home in time to play it from the beginning anyways, and (2) even the few times when I have been able to play, I find the level of competition to be noticeably better than at the $50 or $100 level where my mtt play tends to focus. I think I've only cashed in this thing twice before in my entire life, so in that sense running through to the final 60 or so players was a nice feat, especially with the mtt being double its usual size, up in the 1200-player range on the day. But in the end, a run to the 60s just doesn't mean squat in terms of cash in a tournament like this, so I'll take my $300 profit and plow it back into full tilt's double-guarantee tournaments over the next couple of nights.

For the first night in a few, I did not participate in any of the UBOC events. They smartly have a "mini-UBOC" which runs the exact same tournaments as the big UBOC events at the exact same times, but at one-tenth the buyin. The problem with these events for me is that, for the most part, the mini UBOC events only have a tiny guarantee -- usually 10k or less -- and I just don't generally take the time these days to play any mtt without at least a 20k guarantee. I just don't want to go through the rigamarole and roller coaster of luck and timing that it takes to run deep in one of these tournaments, bust out in 4th place, and win what? $500? Definitely not worth it from my perspective. So I've been staying away from the mini UBOC events generally, but otherwise I think the variety of events in the UBOC has been pretty great, personally. They've had some rebuys at reasonable buyin levels, they've had some nice deep stack sniper (bounty) tournaments in the $100-$200 range, and they've had events in no-limit and limit holdem, both 6-max and full-ring, as well as plenty of Omaha and Stud events to pique my interest. As I mentioned yesterday I have built up a massive stack in a few of these other events but so far it has not translated to any big scores since UBOC #4, and on Wednesday night I was tempted by the $1000 buyin nlh event that seemed to be attracting all the big pros from UB's roster.

I originally registered for the 1k buyin tournament, but later unregistered after more carefully considering the situation. I have the money in UB thanks to my score last week in UBOC #4, but do I really want to drop a grand to play this tournament? It struck me how different buyin levels are at live vs online tournaments. In a live casino, a tournament with a $1000 buyin would be big, but nothing so huge in my experience that it would attract all pros or something. Not even close. For the most part, if I play a $1000 buyin event in a live casino in Atlantic City or Las Vegas, I would expect the average level of skill of my competition to be mediocre at best, with plenty of total donkeys in the mix ever-ready to get involved with subpar hands and try to suck out on someone even for $1000 a pop. But in an online tournament, the 1k buyin events in my experience tend to turn out a whole different level of opponent. I'm not trying to say these things are not beatable or anything, but in an online event, a 1k buyin tournament will generally speaking be comprised of mostly solid players, something I would never say about a live 1k buyin event. I've written about this before with respect to the Monday 1k mtt on full tilt -- that field every week is good enough such that my expected value from playing the tournament is measurably lower than when I play, say, the 5050 or a similar-level of buyin. The bottom line is that, for online poker play at the major sites available in the U.S., all the lower limits available make a buyin like 1k something that generally speaking only the best of the best tournament players are looking into.

With that in mind, I ended up unregistering from the 1k UBOC tournament and saving that dough for a better spot. Again, it's not a question of not having faith in myself or not thinking I can do it. I do have faith and I do think I can outlast anyone in the world in the right situation in a large-field mtt. But, that doesn't change the fact that my expected ROI of entering the 1k event is significantly lower over the long run that my expected ROI of entering the other tournaments I normally confine my play to.

Tonight's UBOC was much better as I recall, although I think there is only one of them instead of the normal two events starting simultaneously at 8:05pm ET. I think tonight's is a $200 or $300 buyin pot-limit Omaha event or something like that. Too lazy to look it up. But I checked on Wednesday night and I recall thinking that Thursday's UBOC would be a fun one to play, so I will definitely plan to be there at 8pm. I'm sure I'll make an appearance in the $26 buyin 28k guaranteed (56k this week!) 8pm mtt on full tilt as well, and you might even see me once again in the 40k (80k this week), $150 buyin mtt at 8pm as well. The 8:30pm ET 50k ($30 rebuy) that I won recently is also a distinct possibility. I haven't had a big cash yet in this week's double-guarantee festival on full tilt, but that won't stop me from trying. It only takes one great run to make up for several months days of mtt futility.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Big MTT Week

Whew! With the UBOC going on over on UltimateBet -- and the events starting at actually playable times for Americans (mostly 8:05pm ET) as opposed to WCOOP at pokerstars these days -- as well as Full Tilt's double-guarantee week, I have been playing the most mtt poker I've played in probably a year over the past week or so. As I have alluded to previously, I made a deep run to the final table in one of the UBOC events earlier this week, about which I plan to get a post up later this week for sure recapping what ended up being another solid tournament score for me, albeit one where I -- again -- left a lot of dough on the table thanks to multiple bad breaks when down to the final few at the last table. But otherwise, I have been trying to get in on as many of the larger mtt's on full tilt in the evenings as I can, even taking it so far as to leave work a bit early one day this week to get in on the 7pm ET mtt's which I pretty much never, ever get to play anymore thanks to work and family obligations.

So far, as I mentioned I made a big hit in the UBOC a few days ago, but on full tilt I have just not been feeling the love yet after two nights of heavy mtt playing (heavy for me, anyways). I continue this week to amass some massive stacks in the UltimateBet tournaments -- some leading to small cashes and some to no cash at all, sadly -- but I have had very little luck getting anything serious going on full tilt so far, and I'm not sure exactly why. I think part of it is that, despite my hope that there would be tons of overlay in these events with the guarantees doubled, what we're finding instead is that every fonkadonk and his mother are joining in on these tournaments to try to get a piece of the swollen prize pools that this week offers. As a result, unlike past times when this double-guarantee promo has been run, I have literally yet to see a single tournament on full tilt with any overlay at all. The 50-50 usually attracts around 1000 runners for very close to the 50k guaranteed in the prize pool. So this week, they turn it into the "Fifty Hundo" with a 100k guarantee, and what happens? 2200 donklickers show up to try to slip on some banana peels and stagger their way into the money. The 28k at 8pm ET on full tilt, which usually attracts around 1500 runners at $26 apiece, this week suddenly sports fields of over 3000 runners every night. And like I mentioned, for the most part these additional players are not the more skilled players who you might normally find participating in the large-field $26 and $50 mtts available on line. No, for the most part I think these extra guys are by a vast majority flonkeys -- the kind of guys who would never normally play in an mtt at this level -- but you are just hoping to get lucky and get deck-smacked for a few hours and try to make a hundy or two.

With such a huge influx of flonkadonks in the big guarantees on full tilt, it's no wonder to me that I am not having success. I've never really done particularly well in the $26 level nlh mtts on full tilt. If you think about it, most of my success has either been at the next level or two up ($50 or $75 buyins or more), or in rebuy events which again distort the buyin levels up from just allowing anybody with $26 of scratch in their full tilt account to register to donk it up. As compared to a guy like, say, Chad, who has been called the King of Donks for a reason after he won the nightly 10pm ET 32k on full tilt like seven times in one year, I simply do not fare as well against the lesser competition as I do against just one level up from the bottom of the large-field mtts. I have written about this before and have long thought that this is because these clowns simply do not understand when to fold, be it preflop, on the flop, or afterwards. And you know what? I could not count how many times -- just in the past two days of double-guarantees week on full tilt -- I have been called down in a big mtt by an abject moron making a hideous play, even some times where they actually turned out to be ahead. Because I have noticed that, when the board comes down 9TJ with two suits, and then the river brings an 8 of the same suit as the other two sooted cards, there is just no way you're getting your opponent to lay down his pocket Kings, not on the flop, and not on the turn, and it just doesn't matter how much you're betting or how well you have told your story of strength right from the getgo in these things. I've always fared better against opponents who know how to fold at least a little bit, and that is exactly what appears to be missing from the fields this week on full tilt as opposed to the normal participants in these events.

But that doesn't mean I'm going to stop trying. I would love to say that I'm just not going to try to push anyone off a hand unless I am holding a monster for the rest of this week on full tilt, but in a nutshell I get dealt a monster hand only about once a week or two, leaving me with no other option but to make plays when I know more or less exactly what my opponent has that I cannot imagine him calling me down with. They just keep calling anyways. Thank god there's been UB this week to get my game on in sort of the opposite -- a smaller field of players where people are at least willing to fold if it is obvious they are beat, even if they started off with two good cards in the hole. I don't see this as much of an issue on full tilt in general, but this week it's just been painful watching these tournament morons call call call with shit, and then either suck out or just end up ahead because they aren't smart enough to fold their pocket pair to the obvious straight or flush on the board, etc. Unfortunately I do not think Wednesday's action in the UBOC is any good from what I recall, so I might be stuck playing a million full tilt mtts again, resigning myself to just hoping to limp to the min-cash like all the other monkeys while praying to get slapped in the face with the deck.

There's just so much money at stake, I feel like I can't stay away.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ballys Tournament Win

A couple of weeks back I headed down with some friends to Billy's poker room in Bally's in Atlantic City and played in the $200 bounty tournament the poker room was running, which ended up having 45 runners and a total prize pool of a little over 6 grand. I knew going in this would be a real luckfest, typical of most daily tournaments in Atlantic City, with 20 minute blind rounds, usually lasting 4-5 hours from what I was told when I registered at the counter. And, never having played a live bounty tournament before, I learned that each participant would be given a single $25 actual casino chip along with 10k in starting $T chips, which would have to be given to the person who eliminates you along with your chipstack. Although stacks were deep for the first few minutes with starting stacks of 10k and blinds that would begin at the standard 25/50, those blinds would jump quickly in this aggressive tournament structure to 50/100 after just 20 minutes of play and then double again to 100/200 just 40 minutes after the start. Again, this is also typical in my experience of most of the daily poker tournaments available in AC these days.

Early on, not much happened with me for the first couple of rounds, so I tried to be patient while I looked for a way to double up early. I won a couple of pots with aggressive betting -- standard Super/System sort of stuff -- and quickly I climbed my stack up to around 12k in chips for the early chip lead at my table. But then I let my read get me into a very bad situation, one I was lucky to escape from. I open-raised from late position with ATo, the best hand I'd seen by about 45 minutes or so into the tournament, and the old man in the big blind, who had defended a couple of times before despite seeming very tight like most old men are, defended again by calling my preflop raise, and I put him on shizznit after he had already shown an over-willingness to defend his blind in just a few minutes that this tournament had run so far. From watching him I felt like I knew this old guy woulda reraised me if he had anything substantial in the hole, especially given how actively I had been open-raising already in the earlygoing, so I was liking my AT here, and I liked it even moreso when the flop came down AJ7. The old man checked, I confidently bet after his check, and he paused a bit before calling. I wasn't sure what this meant, but my best guess after this call was either a small pocket pair, or perhaps a low ace that he just got lucky with. The turn then brought a raggy 3, the old man checked again, so this time I made a bigger bet to try to end this right here with my likely-ahead-but-vulnerable top pair. And this was when the guy nearly fell out of his chair "thinking over" his response. I mean, he leaned back, took a very loud deep breath/sigh, stretched out his arms and legs very prominently, and just made a huge production of the whole thing as he considered his options. Eventually after a good, solid minute of very overt activity, the guy check-raised me allin. He had been a little short already before this hand began, mostly from defending his blind to liberally and then taking it too far, and it was all just such a stoopid production he made that I figured he just had to be bluffing. I mean, who would make such a damn production out of it if he was actually strong? I thought to myself, "That has got to be 'strong-means-weak' in action", even though I knew this guy was generally an old, tightish guy. I thought quite a bit over it, knowing that AT on this board is nothing to write home about, but in the end my gut told me he was weak since before the hand began, and so I decided to listen and called for half of my remaining stack. Old man flips up? The ever-mighty A3. So he defends his blind against a preflop raise with A-rag, and then he makes the very questionable move of also calling my c-bet on the Ace-high flop with his top pair no kicker. He lucksucked me hard by hitting his kicker on the turn after his bad flop call, made a ridiculously huge public production to further suck at poker and accidentally "trick" me into thinking he must be weak just because no one with even half a brain would ever want to make it so obvious that he had a strong hand. Anyways, he effed me and I would be down to just over 2000 chips from my 10k starting stack, and that's when the river rewarded the better player by dropping a miracle 3-outer Ten for the resuck. Ahh the resuck. Nowhere else in poker is something so unwelcome and unfair when done to you and yet so deserved and just when it works in your favor. And with the turn of a card I moved from losing 80% of my stack to nearly doubling up late in the first hour of what I understood was normally a 4-5 hour long event. A very good turn of events for me.

Early in Round 4, just more than an hour into the tournament, I called a preflop raise from across the table with my 66 in the big blind, against a guy who had open-raised almost every single time the pot was unopened when it got to him the entire way through this tournament -- I mean seriously, maybe ten different times in an hour -- and always c-bet the flops after he was the last raiser pre-. The flop came TT4 with two clubs, and I checked to the preflop raiser who led out with his standard c betty-looking thing, which I opted to call as I assumed my pair of 6s was at least as likely to be ahead here as to be behind, and the betting was still small compared to the stacks. The turn brought another miracle card -- a 6 to turn me a boat -- and of course I checked and of course the unstoppable aggromonkey bet again, smallish. I thought it over for a while, hollywooding as much of a thought process as I thought would be believable, and then I once again just called, eying the amount in the pot and deciding that I could still make a credible river bet or raise for most of his stack if necessary. When the river brought an offsuit Queen, I figured my best chance to really get paid here was if the guy happened to have a big, big hand, and his betting out twice after the flop supported such a conclusion. David Sklansky's No-Limit Holdem book a few years ago covered this same topic, but sometimes the best way to get paid big in nlh is to bet as if your opponent has a large hand, and assume you weren't going to get paid much anyways if he doesn't have a big hand, but this way you are sure to maximize your big hands when you are in fact up against another monster. In this case, I immediately moved in my entire stack, which was much larger than the size of the pot given my recent near-double, and just hoped for a call. When the guy started agonizing, I knew I had made a good decision; clearly, he had something he really liked, and he did not just want to give it up like that. As my ooponent kept thinking, the seconds ticked by and I began to worry that he might fold. So I tried to channel my very best bluff face by acting completely stone-faced, like I was afraid the guy might see through my ruse. I tried to put up the exact same face that I look for when I think someone is bluffing. Whatever I did, eventually it worked, as the guy turns to me and says "I can't find a way to lay it down."

As soon as I heard that, I knew I had his stack, and my second $25 bounty chip in just the first hour and a half of the tournament. No way he says that line if he also has a boat, and with anything else on this board I know I've got him beat. Turns out, he had AT and had flopped not only trips, but trips with top kicker. I probably would have had to really do something crazy to get him to fold, but I didn't, and I shot up near the top of the leaderboard before the end of Round 4 in a tournament that would end up finishing during Round 13.

At this point, with a nice fluffy stack of chips in front of me, I did what I do best and commenced operation bullystack. With my big stack and as close to full utility as I was going to get in this fast-paced tournament, I turned on the jets and absolutely steamrolled the table, garnering several comments over the ensuing hour or so in the process while I bet and raised everyone else out of pot after pot after pot. I raised pretty much every time the action came unopened to me, mostly with absolutely no regard to the cards I was dealt. I remember winning a pot with a raise holding 42o, another with 86o, and there were many more just like those as well. And I didn't just drop the hammer on these guys during this stretch, either; I dropped it twice. Within the span of maybe 7 or 8 hands. Most people do not know this, but live hammers -- in particular, when not done to other bloggers -- are so much more dramatic than they are online, by a factor of like ten. People get really taken aback by that shit for some reason, who knew. But I love the boost it gives my image, and I just need to be sure to be prepared to show down some better cards for a while if need be. Or, just keep on pushing and try to make more than I lose from the aggression, which is exactly what I did over the next couple hours of this tournament. The key was that without exception I managed to fold to any reraises I faced when I did not have the hand or the pot odds to back it up. Yes it caused me to lose chips after having raised preflop with some regularity, but again the key to playing the bully is to make sure tht overall I am making more chips from the times everyone folds to my raises then I'm losing from the times people keep pushing me off my largely bullshit hands. Playing first-in aggro but smart to reraises, I knocked out three or four other players along the way to the final table, but we finally consolidated around Table 1 -- the table I had started at a few hours earlier -- when down to ten left.

I entered the final table as the chip leader, as we took our second break of the tournament just after we re-drew for seats to start the run to the money in the top 6 positions. I know I was the chip leader -- I had around 87k in chips to start the final table out of the 450k total chips in the tournament -- because when I came back inside from my second smoke break of the event, they had removed the yellow 100-dollar chips and brought in a nice light-blue color chip denominating 10,000 dollars in its place. I remember it so vividly because I had left for my smoke with a massive pile of chips in front of my seat, so big and unwieldly from repeatedly scooping up tons of little pots with nothing in there, sprinkled in with a few stackings of shorties for good measure. The pile was so big that I remember I had been having trouble finding places to keep my arms as I reached down to peel up the corners of my hole cards. But then out of nowhere, when I came back from the 10-minute break, I had this tiny little pile of chips, and at first I was all whatthefuckjusthappened and ready to go find the Tournament Director, until I realized that the primary change in my stack was the switching out of 3 1/2 huge stacks of red 1000-dollar chips and replacing them with a pile of just 8 of these light-blue 10,000 chips. But I also knew I was the chip leader because nobody else around the table had more than two blues along with their remaining reds and the purple 500 chips, while I had 8 of 'em. The rest of the stacks around the final table ranged from shorties with around 10k to about 60k for the closest stack to my own.

Mercifully, mostly due to the silly structure of this tournament that had even me as chip leader holding just over 10 big blinds with blinds of 4000-8000 and a 400 ante, the beginning of the final table went fast as the shortest stacks were forced to push almost on their very first big blind when sitting with Ms of just around 2 or even less. Typical daily casino nlh tournament structure, with typical laughable final table pushfest ending. The good part of that at least like I said was that the first 3 final table eliminations happened fast, with me grabbing one of them when a shorty pushed under the gun and I found AJs in the big blind and called. He had A8s and I held to pick up my 7th knockout chip of the tournament and getting me back to break-even for my buyin (including my own bounty which I still held on to at the time). These first few elims took us down to 7 players remaining, with 6 slated to pay out, in amounts roughly equal to $500, $600, $750, $900, $1200 and $2100, give or take some change on each. So as the bubble loomed -- a bubble which lasted probably about 40 minutes thanks to at least three allin suckouts from the short stack as any self-respecting tournament bubble would insist upon, which is an extremely long period of time for when the average chipstack was about 65,000 chips while the big blind had risen to 10,000 chips -- I noted how much the payouts in this tournament were weighted towards the top two spots, increasing by roughly just a hundred bucks a spot between 6th and 5th and 4th and 3rd place. This would make it especially important to make it to the final couple of spots in this event, and in my mind it also increased my desire to do a chop if anyone was interested since with just an average M of 6 this was obviously anybody's game -- even I as chip leader had an M under 10 -- and it was clear we were going to be subject to the vagaries of poker luck, and who happened to pick up TT vs 88 first or who got the AK and won a race against JJ. So, after about half an hour of bubble play, as the blinds moved up to 6k-12k, further dropping the average M to near 5, someone suggested a save for 7th place, which I readily agreed to and literally took $20 cash out of my pocket and suggested that everyone do the same. Pretty quickly everyone left agreed as well and I offered to be banker for the $140 save to ensure that 7th did not go home empty-handed, and hopefully loosening up the action a bit among the short stacks. And it worked, as within just a few minutes a shorty with an M under 2 pushed KTs and got called by AK, sending him home with his $140 cash booby prize plus whatever bounties he had managed to amass, and launching us into the payouts for the final 6 finishers. At the moment I had slipped to second place after folding a couple of times to allin reraises from stacks big enough to cripple me (any reraise is crippling when even the chipleader's M is under 10!), but when one of the two super short stacks suggested a chop, even I figured it wasn't worth pushing for then as two or three of these guys would likely be gone very shortly and then would increase significantly the chance of us actually finding some unanimous agreement on splitting up the remaining prize pool.

We played a bit further, and as expected two more guys dumped out early when luck and the silly blinds forced them in with lesser hands, one of the running into AA as I recall thinking at the time how fun that is to pick up pocket rockets at the final table of any tournament. Unfortunately, I had had a couple of more times where I laid down questionable hands to reraises in an attempt to amass a stack to last until those lucrative top two spots, and finally when down to four remaining I found myself the short stack with about 65k in chips, a little under two-thirds of the current average. When the action folded around to me in the small blind a few minutes later, I felt compelled to push with any two cards to pick up the 12k from the big blind and try to increase my stack by almost 20%. I did so, and the big blind, who was the chip leader at the time and thus had the chips to burn, began to agonize over whether or not to call. That sucked for me, since I was holding 53o, and I tried to give off my best indication of strength, acting confident, strongly stating my chip count when he asked, and just generally looking around and being active like I picture someone with pocket Aces would be, as opposed to the stone-faced, motionless aura I try to work when I want someone to think I am bluffing. It did't work, the big stack called me and flipped up A9o. Whoops.

The flop was a whiff for both of us, still leaving me with 6 outs twice, and then the turn brought the most beautiful 3 I can ever remember seeing in a poker game, securing my double up and reallllly pissing the big stack guy off bigtime. He referred to this derisively as a "suckout" the rest of the way through the tournament, including while we waited to receive our payouts from the overworked TD as well, and I didn't bother correcting him that (1) his A9o -- a hand I imagine would have called there with as well -- was only roughly a 60% favorite when the money went in, not exactly a suckout-level beat, and, more importantly (2) when I pushed with the 53o, I was far more than 50% to win the hand given the likelihood that the big stack would fold there, plus my 40% chances of winning with what would surely be two live cards vs. just about anything the big stack was likely to call my push with. But no matter how you slice it, I had doubled up with 53o, and thanks to the extremely short stacks around the table, this put me slightly back in the chip lead, a lead I would lose a minute later when I once again folded a hand I had raised with preflop (KJs) when one of the other large stacks pushed in on a reraise. The guy to my right then eliminated the 4th place finisher and took a comfortable chip lead when his AQ bested the shorty's A6 allin preflop.

It was at this point, down to just three players left with me in 3rd place around 100k in chips, while the other two guys had around 150k and maybe 200k or so, that the big stack surprisingly offered to chop. He was a really good guy, someone who I had gotten to know a little bit over the past four hours where he was mostly at my table, as well as over a couple of smoke breaks along the way, and I was happy to see that he had enough knowledge and experience in casino poker tournaments (turns out he comes to AC a couple of days per week) to be willing to agree to a chop even when holding the chip lead. His immediate proposal was for each of the three of us to take $1200, and then leave the last $900 and change in the prize pool to play for. I always like a chop that assures everyone a decent payout of at least the minimum that the next player out would receive but then still leaves some skin in the game to go ahead and finish things up, so I agreed, and so did the 2nd place guy after a few minutes of finagling. We all shook on it and then moved on to play it out.

And that's when I picked up my only big pocket pair of the tournament -- a big fat pair of pocket Aces. So sweet. Long story short, the big stack raised ahead of me with what turned out to be QJo, and my allin reraise from my short stack wasn't enough for him to consider folding given the odds, and I ended up doubling to a nice fat stack. While I was still stacking my chips, the shorty to my left was eliminated in 3rd place on the next hand, his face still clearly smarting from losing his chip lead to my 53o, and as soon as we found ourselves heads-up, I offered the nice guy who had originally offered the chop to chop out the remaining $900 as well. Looking at our stacks, I had probably just under three times as many chips as him, and I quickly offered him a 600-300 chop of the remaining 900, with him being allowed to retain his own $25 bounty chip as well as part of the deal. He quickly reviewed the stacks, took a second to think, and then happily agreed.

Two smokes and a bunch of wasted time later -- the TD was just starting to pay out a 12-way chop in a turbo tournament that ended at the same time as ours when we agreed to our final chop -- we recieved our receipts to take to the cage for our payouts. 3rd place took our chopped amount of $1200, plus the three $25 bounty chips he had won during the tournament, and the nice guy in second won $1500, plus his two bounty chips and of course his own that he retained as part of our deal. And I cashed out with the remainer of the prize pool per our deal, which came out to $1890 and change. Plus, I had won a whopping nine bounties along the way at $25 a piece -- some nice booty for playing big-stack bully for about three hours straight to end this short tournament -- and retained my own as well, giving me a total of an extra $250 for my efforts on top of the $1890 cashout from winning the tournament. How I managed to eliminate more than a fifth of the total people running in this thing seems pretty incredible, but more than that, I played a solid game from start to finish. I made the one big mistake early on my semi-misread on the turn against the guy who had lucked into two pairs, but that's one of the big lessons I've learned over my time playing mtt's over the past few years -- the good players are the ones who not only play well, but the guys who make the most of the good luck that they do receive. I got lucky to get that guy in there willing to call a preflop raise and then call a flop bet with top pair worst kicker, I got extremely unlucky with that 3 on the turn, and then I scored a major resuck suckout on the river to not only keep from losing 80% of my stack, but to score an early double as a result. Would I go on to spew everything away over the next couple of blind rounds? Or, as I did, would I take that "second chance" to give serious consideration to every play I made, settle down and start playing my game the way I know best? That's one of the keys I am noticing more and more during my big tournament runs as well as those of most people I know: everybody gets lucky sometimes, but the best players make the absolute best of that luck when it does happen to them.

And so goes the story of my second live daily casino poker tournament win, good for around 2 large net of all expenses and the buyin. Most importantly, I had a blast playing live poker as usual, and once again I found myself throughout simply overwhelmed with all the information I felt I was picking up from these players after what seems like a lifetime of purely online play. Not only am I pleased to have a nice start towards my most important poker goal for 2010 -- to turn more of my rare final tables into victories instead of just top-4 or top-3 finishes -- but this only strengthens my resolve to find a way to play some more live poker during 2010, however that has to happen. It's very hard for me to get out to a casino and play at a time when they have regular tournaments scheduled, but I have just had such an amazing run of success in live poker tournaments of late that I am left feeling like I am straight-up leaving money on the table if I don't find a way to get in a little more live tournament action this year than I have in the past. In fact, after this win in AC to start off the year right, my thoughts have turned towards Foxwoods, where I know they run a major poker tournament series every Spring and again every Fall in what I understand to be the nicest, best poker room on the East Coast. I haven't been to Foxwoods in more than a decade -- certainly since before their WPT poker room was installed in the basement of the Rainmaker Casino -- but I'm thinking that 2010 should be the year that all that changes once and for all.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Football Frenzy, and Favre F*cks it Again

Kostanza FTW!! That's right -- after going an abysmal 6-21 or whatever it was in my final 27 picks of the NFL season, including the first two rounds of the playoffs where I finished 3-5, it had become painfully obvious to me that I had turned into the Joe Bloggs of picking NFL games. There's just no other way to see it, and I am nothing if not introspective. So, being that I was still interested in picking these games, that left me with little else to do last Thursday night other than to pull a George Kostanza from undoubtedly the best Seinfeld episode ever, and just pick each game exactly as I normally would, and then bet the opposite of those picks. I mean, I literally won just 6 out of my last 27 picks, so that means I was reliably wrong in my analysis an amazing 78% of the time! Who in the world has access to an indicator that spot-on for NFL games, right? Just me. And the result?

A big, fat 2-0 on the weekend. And what a weekend it was of NFL football.

Where to begin? I suppose let's start with the Colts. I don't want to write a lot about what an amazing performance Peyton Manning had against the vaunted Jets defense, who coming in had only given up 8 passing touchdowns all season before Manning torched them for three on Sunday afternoon, mostly because I know everyone else in the world is gonna be gushing about the guy for the next two weeks straight. But it's pretty clear what happened in that game in my eyes. When the Jets played the Bengals in the playoffs, Darelle Revis essentially took Chad Ochocinco out of the game as far as big plays, and qb Carson Palmer and the Bengals couldn't get it going anywhere else enough to make a game out of it with the Jets. Then last week, when the Jets visited the Chargers, once again Darelle Revis essentially took Vincent Jackson out of the game from a big-play perspective -- V-Jack actually had a very productive day but he was not in the picture in the big plays and did not sniff a touchdown on the day. Although Antonio Gates also went on to have a similarly nice day in stats but never getting near the end zone, the bottom line is that Phillip Rivers and that team were simply not able to make effective use of their other players once V-Jack wasn't going to be catching any 45-yard touchdowns on the day, and the Jets' defense ended up totally stifling and embarrassing the Chargers in front of their home-town fans. So when the Jets brought Darelle Revis into Indy-town this weekend for the right to play in the Superbowl, they figured he would be able to essentially keep Reggie Wayne out of the end zone, and once again they were right. But unlike Carson Palmer and the Phillip Rivers before him, Peyton Manning had just the answer for the deletion of Reggie Wayne from his repertoire in this game: Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie. Two rookies. Rookies! And this time it was the Jets who just had no answer, as Manning absolutely lit up that defense for nearly 400 yards and 3 touchdowns just through the air, and as expected the Jets were just not able to keep up.

Think about the Jets' side of things for a minute, it hardly needs to be said out loud how clearly this was a very solid year for the beleaguered "second franchise" from New Jersey York. I mean, this was a rookie head coach in Rex Ryan who, by the end of the season, seemed to have more or less figured out this league, didn't he? What he did to the Bengals was one thing, they had a very good year and many expected them to win the game in the Wildcard round a few weeks back, but it was the Chargers game that really cemented this team's season this year as more than just a passing fancy. And they also played a rookie quarterback behind center all season as well, and even though there were a great many low points during Sanchise's 2009 campaign, he certainly finished up strong, winning seven of his final eight starts before losing to the Colts, and winning three out of four on the road in his final four games of the season to make it to the conference championship in his first season as a pro. This team has a long way to go to be able to best the likes of Peyton Manning, but at the same time, unlike some teams that played this weekend, it's not like they mistake'd themselves into losing to the Colts on Sunday. The best team in the AFC from start to finish is the one going to the Superbowl now, and the Jets made a nice effort but simply did not have what it takes to stop Peyton Manning, most likely the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. When you see a guy doing what he does statistically -- taking on all comers, including the NFL's best defense in the Jets this weekend -- and also clearly playing the role of offensive coordinator, audibling and calling the plays regularly on offense, and the offensive line coach, etc. it's easy to forget that no other player in the league does that. Manning is just mind-numbing.

Anyways, I promised myself I wouldn't write about Peyton like that in this post. So moving on to the other game, this was another great shootout-style of game like we've seen elsewhere in the NFC playoffs this year, only the point totals at 31-28 were not quite as high as previously, mostly because there were 87 turnovers in this game. And the New Orleans Saints are going to their first Superbowl ever. For those of you who have spent any amount of time in New Orleans over the years, can you even imagine the party going on there last night (and still now I am sure)? Or in two weeks if the Saints manage to find a way to outscore Peyton and the Colts? Wow. Drew Brees only threw for 197 yards, but his three touchdowns were enough to keep pace with the Vikings, who badly outgained the Saints on the day and seemed to move the ball at will before either AP, Brett Favre, or a combination of both AP and Brett Favre would fumble the ball, with the occasional interception thrown in as well for good measure.

And for the Vikings fans out there, what a sick, sick way to end the 2009-2010 season, obviously. The Favre haters out there -- and lord knows there are a shit-ton of you, you know who you are -- could literally not have scripted this thing better. I mean, the poetic justice of Favre coming back to the Vikings this year, having the year he had, with 30-some tds and just the 7 interceptions, to then end the team's run in a situation where his team basically had a long field goal attempt to win the game already, and really only needed 5 or 10 more yards to give their kicker a really good shot, by throwing that interception. It's like a movie, almost. A horror flick for the Minnesota fans out there, that is for sure. Favre actually threw too hideous picks in the game, as I've heard some monkeys on the radio since the game give Favre a pass due to the rush about to hit him on his first pick, in reality that's exactly what made that so horrible. He Eli Manning'ed it! The rush was coming in his face, and rather than chuck the ball away, or just tuck it in and take the sack, instead Favre leans back on his heels, falling backwards, and just sidearms the ball forward to avoid getting tackled with the ball. And it goes right to the Saints defender cutting in from the side, who of course Favre didn't see as he fell backward and lashed out his arm blindly at the last possible second.

And then Favre's interception with his team very close to field goal range with 8 seconds left in a tie game....I mean, if you're Brett Favre, how do you throwing a fuggin pick there? How? Your team is close to field goal range, your kicker's career long is the exact 57 yards that this kick would be right now if the Vikes cannot pick up any more yards. If you can get maybe 5, maybe 10 more yards, that would probably make a big difference. Just run the ball, maybe throw a real short, real quick screen or something. Whatever you do, just make sure you don't throw a pick. Not with a chance to win the game and go to the Superbowl already within our grasp. While Mark Sanchez of the Jets for the most part played a solid game against the Colts in the early game on Sunday, it turned out to be Brett Favre who played more like Sanchise, throwing just 1 touchdown but the two huge interceptions that kept his team from having a chance to win this game in a spot where they very nearly already had a chance to win if they could have only held on to the ball.

And while I'm on the topic, Brad Childress embarrassed himself so much as a head coach this year. I mean, he's actually worse than Andy Reid! Hands down. Not only was there the whole debacle this year where Favre bent him over and fire-raped him when Childress failed in his attempt to wrestle play-calling control back from Favre who was repeatedly changing running plays to passing plays all season long, but Childress single-handedly contributed to his team's breakdown at the end of regulation, and it was the kind of mistake that is so blatant, so overt, that people all over the country (yours truly included) were pointing it out right when he did it, as opposed to just after the fact. After Chester Taylor ripped off a nice run for a new first down in Saints' territory, Brad Childress made the unthinkable decision to just run the clown down until there was just time for one or two plays left, rather than using a couple of well-intentioned running plays to do that while also picking up a few more yards along the way. Instead, because Childress allowed time to whittle down to only one or two plays left, when his team then made an incredible procedure penalty to get moved our of field goal range, he put Favre in a situation where Favre felt pressure to make some kind of a play, and to do so fast. This doesn't absolve Favre from his shit throw or his penchant for ending seasons and dashing his fans' hopes with overtime interceptions late in the playoffs, but Childress deserves a huge amount of the blame for his utterly obvious, even-in-real-time evident gaffe that directly cost his team a trip to the Superbowl. Brett Favre might be careless in the clutch, but Brad Childress, you are a bona fide moron.

This week I should have two fun posts on stories of nice tournament scores I have made of late, one at Bally's in Atlantic City in their daily bounty tournament and one in the UBOC going on right now at UltimateBet.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

NFL Conference Championship Picks

OK, we're going to try something new here with this week's NFL picks. After going something like 6-21 in my last 27 picks this season (including the playoffs), I've gotten to the point where I cannot make a good pick to save my life. In fact, that has become just about as reliable an indicator as any other pattern I'm seeing out there, to the point that I'm ready to put my money where my mouth is and bet on it.

That's right -- it's time for some opposite picks. Works like a charm.

So first, we've got the Indianapolis Colts favored by 8 points at home over the New York Jets. Here is where normally I would point out how incredibly well the Jets' defense has been playing, including completely stifling the 11-game-win-streak San Diego Chargers in San Diego last week to the tune of just 7 points scored before trash time in that game by one of the NFL's most prolific scoring offenses. I would also point out that it was just a 5-point game early in the third quarter when these two teams met a few weeks ago before the Colts pulled their starters and eventually lost to allow the Jets into the playoffs. I would mention how the Colts are simply not the excessive-scoring offense that they may have been in the past, looking at their schedule all throughout this year. Lastly I would point out how well Mark Sanchez has been playing here over the past month, in particular in not trying to do too much and in not throwing costly interceptions or making idiot plays. All of this leads me to the obvious conclusion that a spread of more than a touchdown simply is too much for this game.

And thus, the pick is? Indianapolis. Lay the 8. It doesn't make sense, but like I said picking the opposite of what makes sense to me would have been a very profitable strategy over the past month of NFL football.

In the other game this weekend, it's the New Orleans Saints favored by 3.5 over the visiting Minnesota Favres, and again I think it's pretty clear which way my sensibilities lean. Although both teams absolutely shat the bed at the end of the regular season this year, the Saints are the home team, they were the better team during the entire season this year, and they looked to have bounced back even harder last week in a 45-14 brutalization of the defending NFC Champion Cardinals than the Favres did in smushing the Cowboys. Especially given Brett Favre's penchant for stepping down in big spots late in his career, and since I have the feeling that this is finally going to be Drew Brees' time to shine, that line of barely more than a field goal seems a bit on the low side to me. Thus, since all logic dictates a pick on the Saints, take the Favres, plus the 3.5 points.

Should be a fun chance this weekend to see just how bad I am really running in these NFL games. Because, if you get every game you pick wrong for a month, so then you decide to go opposite of what you want to pick the games as, and you go on to lose those opposite picks as well, then you know you are *seriously* running bad.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

More on Avatar

So the recent movie I keep hearing Avatar compared to out there over the past couple of weeks is the Lord of the Rings trilogy. As I may have mentioned yesterday, in my opinion Avatar succeeded brilliantly in almost every spot where every LOTR film failed.

Ultimately, the recent LOTR trilogy basically boils down to Peter Jackson whacking off and ejaculating all over himself for about 10 full hours. I mean, this guy never saw a scene in his life that he wanted to cut. So he took a story -- admittedly, a long one -- and stretched it out into 10 hours of incredibly slow-moving, dragging-along action. Sure, he made a real spectacle out of it, with the costumes and the fight scenes and all, and those aspects of the movie were good. But you can't change the fact that I must have looked at my watch 20 or 25 times during the first movie in the theater, and I never even bothered to go see the second or third until they came out on tv and I could watch them over a couple of months which is how long it takes to get that much time together in one place to watch an epic like the entire LOTR trilogy.

I hardly remembered I even had a watch while Avatar was on. Although 2 1/2 hours is still a long movie, for another spectacle piece like this it's not too bad, and it moves very fast. You're just learning so much, experiencing so much, and really feeling like you are part of the action thanks to the filming and the 3-D effects, it's a more active moviegoing experience in a lot of ways than ever before, and the 150 minutes blew by except for maybe some parts as the last hour built towards the conclusion. In LOTR I couldn't watch an hour of that garbage without flipping the channel onto something else, just to get some fast-moving action. If Avatar was on tv right now, I would punch you if you even tried to pry the remote from my clenched hand.

The costumes were another comparison point between Avatar and LOTR from what I am hearing, and again, as incredible as this was in LOTR, ultimately I just don't see how using real people and real clothing and real costumes can compare to what we can now create using computers and cutting-edge technology to synthesize directly to the reel. This certainly was the strong point of Jackson's LOTR trilogy, and again he did a fine job with it, but can you really compare the way Pippin or Frodo or even the dwarves or elves looked, with how the Navi looked in Avatar? How can you? The Navi didn't even have to look, or move, or do anything like real people, whereas everyone in LOTR except for maybe Gollum and a few of the monsters was still restricted by the chains of reality, of humanity. The Navi could be anything. The CGI technology has finally gotten so realistic with Avatar that they created an entire planet of aliens and animal-like creatures that seem 100% as real as if they were real life things being filmed by a real life camera crew on real life Pandora. I mean, just this past weekend the first of the new Star Wars flicks came on Spike at night, and I watched a good hour or so of it in the background while I did some work and played some poker. And you know what? Not only is Jar Jar Binks annoying as shit with that idiot voice, but the animation really isn't that good. It's fine and all, but it's a bit like going back and watching the first Terminator movie now -- Jar Jar really kind of bounces a bit awkwardly when he walks, and there are multiple scenes where you can tell the other actors are really talking to nothing, and that Jar Jar was simply added to the scene later by computer. There was none of that in Avatar, none that I noticed anyways. Through a combination of the very latest in cameras and cutting edge computer and 3-D technology, Avatar comes off to the viewer as if you are right there in the thick of the action going on all around you, and like it is totally and completely real. LOTR? Not even close to the same thing.

On the overall creativity scale, Peter Jackson's take on LOTR once again falls woefully short of James Cameron's effort in Avatar. Although this would have been a golden opportunity for Jackson to set himself apart by taking some unique or particularly interesting takes on what has been done before in at least two other movies of the famous trilogy, instead Jackson pretty much stuck right to the script, including making characters pretty much the same way as they have been portrayed before without adding a whole lot in the way of true ingenuity or original conception. LOTR would have been a great opportunity to throw in things like the shiny-tail bugs or the wisps from Avatar -- they could have been all over the place, really, but that's not really what LOTR was all about the way that Jackson cast it. Jackson's attempt to recreate every scene from the book in more or less sequential order comes off just like that -- an endless 10-hour progression of scenes, each one done up to the nines as far as costumes and such, progressing towards a conclusion in the mountains of Mordor. And even the ending of LOTR would have been a great opportunity for Jackson to give his own vision of Hell, Evil, Satan, whatever you want to call Sauron, but I like most people I know was underwhelmed by the attempt. There wasn't much of anything in Avatar that was not depicted with the utmost of originality and flair. From the floating mountains, to the choosing of the bird-things, that early scene on Jake's first night on Pandora, etc., it was all just done on a level above and beyond LOTR. Frankly I think that is a tremendous insult to Avatar and a tremendous understatement of the level of ingenuity and detail that went into creating the best movie in over a decade.

As I think I mentioned yesterday, I think a much better analog to Avatar is 1999's The Matrix. Now there's a movie that rocked people's worlds like Avatar is. There's a movie I might have seen twice in the theaters. There's a movie I literally still talk about with regularity among friends and colleagues. Who the fike talks about Lord of the Rings? Other than you D&D loving, chain mail-wearing, King Richard's Faire-going dorks that is. Like Avatar, The Matrix is visually stunning, including fight scenes and chase scenes pretty much better than any movie before it. Both movies are captivating on a level not approached by any other normal movie, and I chuckle at the thought of anybody sitting in the theater back in 1999 watching The Matrix and continually checking their watch to see when the thing was going to be over. No way. I looked at my watch more than the screen when I saw the first 85-hour movie of Lord of the Rings!

Like Avatar, The Matrix also employed new technology and new direction with camera angles and such as compared to everything that had ever been created before it. As such, it changed movies forever, as since then about 30 movies have been made using the same floating-wire technology to enhance their own fight and chase scenes. It, like Avatar, was a completely unique piece of direction, something which a movie like LOTR cannot possibly say. LOTR was down-to-the-detail done-up, that is for sure, but it didn't really push the boundaries or send movies off in a new direction at all. It just did the same thing that had been done before, but on an extremely mega and detailed scale. Avatar and The Matrix, however, were as I've said, completely unique. The Matrix used wires and a new perspective on shooting to create the coolest fight scenes ever made. James Cameron invented his own camera technology and 3-D to place you literally right in the thick of the action in Avatar in a way that has simply never even been approached before.

As I said yesterday, I don't think there is any reasonable argument that Avatar is not the best movie of the past decade-plus. I think The Matrix back in 1999 is the last movie to come along that really can make a good argument to be as good or better than Avatar. It's definitely not as visually stunning as Avatar is -- ultimately not even close, really -- but the uniqueness, the originality, and just the awesomeness of that story surpasses the plot of Avatar for sure. It will always be difficult to compare a visual movie like Avatar to a drama like Shawshank or whatever genre you would call The Matrix, but in my mind there is no doubt that Avatar ranks among the top examples of films ever made by humankind.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hands Down The Best Movie In Years

I'll be honest with you guys -- I have about four posts already mostly written, at least in raw form, waiting and ready to be posted about various topics. The large amount of poker I have played over the past few days. A recent trip to Atlantic City to the 1-2 cash tables. Another big weekend of NFL playoff action. But something happened to me this weekend that I just had to sit down and start writing about right after it happened, almost in an attempt to extent the experience for myself as much as to share it with the rest of you out there. What did I do you may ask that had such an effect on me?

I went to see Avatar.

Now, if you've read here for any considerable period of time, then you will know that I am generally a very harsh critic on movies. I don't like mostly any of the drivel that comes out nowadays, mostly because movies today for the most part only get made if they are expected to turn a profit, and in order for a big studio to expect to turn a profit, they have a certain formula, or "mold" if you prefer that term better, that they compare every screenplay they see to. If it fits the "likely to turn a profit" mold, then they make it, and if it doesn't, they generally pass. The result is that most of the movies that hit the theaters today are designed not to be great or to stir up your emotions, but rather, ultimately, to make money. They just target different segments of the population from which to profit is all.

But every once in a while, a movie comes along that seriously challenges the status quo. I mean, a movie that you would not consider going to the bathroom during, one that not only has you breathless all the way throughout, but has you buzzing with excitement for several days afterwards. The kind of movie that even regular joes like myself would be willing to see twice. In the theaters. At $20 a pop. That, my friends, is Avatar.

I will not give any specific spoilers at this point here in case anyone out there has not yet seen this movie. But suffice it to say -- and this is coming from a guy who has to this day steadfastly refused to ever see Titanic -- James Cameron is a stark raving genius. Avatar has finally made that obvious to me beyond all doubt. I have really liked some of Cameron's movies in the past -- Terminator 2 and The Abyss come immediately to mind as great examples of his directorial prowess, in addition to all-time top-grossing film Titanic which as I mentioned I have to this point in my life proudly and purposefully skipped. But I never thought of him in that absolute upper echelon, up there with the Speilbergs and the Scorceses, the master storytellers of their time. But at this point, there can be no doubt. James Cameron is a mad scientist of movies.

Where can you even begin to describe what Avatar is to the institution of movies. No matter how hard I try, words cannot describe that certain je ne sais quoi that Avatar has. Ultimately, I think it comes down to creativity. There has most definitely never, ever been anything like this in the history of life on earth. Nothing even close, really. It's not so much that most of the characters in the movie are computer-generated and yet move, talk and interact amazingly exactly as if they were real actors. And it's certainly not the 3-D, which is very cool and certainly something that helps push this movie over the edge of all-time greatness, but in the end the 3-D is actually quite understated compared to other 3-D movies and experiences I have seen in the past. I would estimate the 3-D is only about 5% of the coolness of Avatar, despite the technology being wielded extremely skillfully by Cameron as he weaves the story of the world of Pandora into the pop culture of the earth around forever.

No, it's not really the incredible, best-ever computer animation, and it's not the 3-D that make Avatar so special. And it's not the plot either -- the plot that I had heard from several sources was the weak link of the movie, a trite, many-times-over told story as predictable as the day is long. The plot that had me with such painfully low expectations going in to this movie, just like I usually have and am most often vindicated for. But not this time. The plot of Avatar is actually pretty good. It's not stupendous. The story itself isn't going to literally change your life forever on an emotional level like going to see Shawshank Redemption or The Matrix did. But it's good. It's interesting, and it does the job in a big way, having been executed pretty much flawlessly by an absolute perfectionist in James Cameron. Truth be told, the plot pretty much is the weak link of the story, but that is only because the plot is probably roughly a 7 out of 10 while the rest of the movie -- the execution of the movie -- is the closest thing to a perfect 10 I can remember in a long time.

Which brings me back to what that special something-something is with Avatar: creativity. That's what it comes down to. Did you ever see The Fifth Element? For true science fiction fans, The Fifth Element is to me about as truly original and creative of a flick as we've seen since the 1970s brought us Blade Runner and the beginning of the Star Wars saga. So many new ideas, so many new-looking aliens, with new powers and new outlooks. It's a thrill to watch every time it comes on TBS or one of the pay stations, and I rarely turn it off whenever I happen upon it during my surfing. But Avatar clearly surpasses The Fifth Element in the originality department -- both in the way it is shot but even in just some of the little details as well that the great directors are famous for covering so adeptly. Some of the "animals" (for lack of a better term) that we run into on Pandora are simply incredible, even right down to whoever thought up the idea for them in the first place. For those of you who've seen the movie, I'm thinking for example of those wisps that look like forget-me-nots that cover the main character at the beginning. Or those spiral flowers that all disappeared their entire stalk to quickly when he touched them at the beginning? Or what about that incredible bug we saw a few times that, when touched, erupted its tail in a brilliant spinning sprial of light? What they thought of to make the world of Pandora seem real, and alive, and yet completely alien, is truly amazing, really, like absolutely nothing I can ever recall seeing in my lifetime.

And it was more than just the visuals that Cameron worked so hard, and in fact waited for several years for the 3-D and other technology to catch up to the vision he has had for Avatar for the better part of a decade, that make Avatar the brilliantly original film that it is. The movie is just as rich in interesting and truly creative ideas as it is in visuals. Again, for those of you who have seen the film, but without giving any real spoilers, I'm thinking of the whole notion of linking the pony tails in their hair with the animals. Or the Tree of Souls. Or the whole Matrix-like use of avatars to begin with. As I keep saying over and over to anyone who will listen since seeing this movie this past weekend, you have most definitely never seen anything like this, period. Until now, no one has pushed the envelope quite this far in terms of what you can think of and then portray on-screen.

And I would be remiss if I did not as well mention specifically the way this movie is shot. If you read that link I had up above, it describes how James Cameron not only waited for years for 3-D technology to catch up with his vision for Avatar, but he also personally developed a new camera that shoots in hyper-realistic images directly to the human eye. Between that, the 3-D factor, and Cameron's impeccable taste for shooting all different kinds of scenes in just the right way, sitting back and watching this movie is like a huge palatial feast for your rods and cones. It's that simple. The fight scenes are tremendous, sort of combining the best of Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Evolution and The Matrix if that makes any sense at all, and the imagery, the characters, really everything are an incredible combination that you just don't see in movies today.

I think I've said all I need to right now about the specifics of the movie, but would love to hear anyone's thoughts on the movie if you've seen it in the comments. Hammer Wife and I are still talking nonstop about Avatar after more than 72 hours since leaving the theater, and we are already planning to drop another $50 to go see it for a second time in the IMAX theater, which will mark the first (and I bet only) time Hammer Wife and I have ever seen a movie twice in the theater, or even remotely considered doing so. But there is just nothing in the world today like seeing this movie, plain and simple. I don't think there is any doubt that Avatar is among the top ten movies of all time, although I think I will give it some time before I try to figure out where exactly to place it in the all-time pantheon of cinema. One thing is for crystal clear sure though: Avatar is not just the Best Picture for 2010. It is hands-down the best movie in at least ten years. The Matrix in what, 1999, definitely gives Avatar a run for its money, interestingly for many of the exact same reasons that make Avatar such an incredible and amazing gift to the human race. But I'm just thinking back to the films that have won Best Picture since 1999 -- Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, Chicago, the third Lord of the Rings, Million Dollar Baby, Crash, The Departed, No Country for Old Men and Slumdog Millionaire, and having seen all of those but for Crash, it is honestly hilarious how badly Avatar. destroys them all. I am sure you will agree, if you don't already.

Please go see Avatar, James Cameron's gift to humanity.

Just make sure you have the $20 a ticket you are likely to pay to get in.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

NFL Divisional Round Picks

Four more games this week, in the week where we usually see the blowouts but who knows as there do appear to be some compelling matchups to decide who will battle it out for the conference championship in the respective conferences. I went 2-2 last week, which as I mentioned is not a profitable way to be, but it was my best performance in a month and ultimately saw me correctly pick half the games when not being given a choice in which games to select, so I suppose I can be halfway-satisfied with .500 in the first round of the playoffs. Looking forward to getting back on the profit train after now five weeks away from that whole part of the station. So without further adieu:

1. Arizona Cardinals +7 at the New Orleans Saints. The early Saturday game has all the makings of an extreme shootout to kick off the divisional round of the playoffs in the NFL, as the Cardinals come in fresh off of their thrilling 51-45 victory against the Packers that included them giving up five touchdowns in the second half of that game alone. And the Saints have been reeling themselves, losing their last three games after a 13-0 start, and having not won in more than a month at this point. Given what the Pack did last week, one can only assume that the Saints will not have any trouble scoring the ball, and there is no way I am betting against Kurt Warner doing much of the same for his squad after his incredible performance last week and in the post-season in general over his career. Even though I believe the Saints should find a way to win this game at home, there is enough chance that the Cardinals could win outright that, when combined with all the ways they could lose but by less than 7, the value just once again seems to sit with the underdog in this matchup in my eyes.

2. Indianapolis Colts +6 vs Baltimore Ravens. The Saturday night game is one where I like the favorite, for the first time in this entire playoffs so far in fact. I picked Baltimore last week and I have a lot of respect for Joe Flacco, Coach Harbaugh and everything the Ravens managed to do this year in fighting their way into the playoffs out of a very crowded bottom of the AFC playoff race. And I do not think the Colts are some kind of an unbeatable team by any means, as we have seen year in and year out since Tony Dungy was the coach of this team and could only find the promised land once with Peyton Manning at the helm. But ultimately I have a metric shit-ton of respect for Peyton Manning, and I think his creativity, his awareness and his spontanaeity at the line will be enough to get the victory against a Ravens team that seems really undermanned in the passing game. With this explosive, quick-strike Colts offense playing in the dome at home, and with the Ravens getting a little old on defense, there is a good chance that the Colts drop behind early in this one, and I don't like Flacco et al to play well enough from behind to keep this quite to within one score.

3. Dallas Cowboys +3 at Minnesota Vikings. The Sunday 1pm game is another one like my first pick above where I just think there is more value on the underdog than on the favorite in the game. The Cowboys have looked great over their past several games, while the Vikes haven't played well against a real opponent in going on 6 weeks now thanks to a weak end of the season for Brad Childress & crew. And with as many weapons as the Vikings have on offense with Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson and all those good receivers, I honestly think the Cowboys are one of the few teams in the league that can go toe-to-toe with the Vikes on the talent front. Although Minnesota's rush defense is excellent, they have not faced an O-line like Dallas' yet this season, and the Vikings have been shown to be very vulnerable to strong passing teams. With Tony Romo playing very well lately and taking especially good care of the ball, I predict a big day for Miles Austin and especially for Jason Witten, and I suspect it will be enough to at least keep Dallas in this game heading into the fourth quarter. It's another example of where I think the chances of Dallas winning outright plus the chance of them losing by a field goal or less is just a bit greater than Minnesota's chance of winning by more than 3.

4. San Diego Chargers -7 vs New York Jets. I don't know exactly how this game plays out such that the Chargers win by a touchdown or more, but I just have a feeling that the Jets' run ends here on Sunday afternoon. Although I would not at all be shocked to see the Jets keep this one within 7 points, ultimately I think the Jets' defense is just not going to be good enough to contain all the myriad weapons the Chargers can throw at you (pun intended) on offense. Sure, Darrelle Revis is a beast and I think clearly the #1 cover guy in the NFL today, but unfortunately for Jets' rookie head coach Rex Ryan, Revis is just one man. So they can put him on Vincent Jackson and basically take Jackson out of the game, but then they still need to worry about Malcom Floyd and Darren Sproles coming out of the backfield (each with 45 receptions on the season), and of course let's not forget big Antonio Gates, the best tight end in the league today as well. And then there's always Sproles and LaDainian Tomlinson coming out of the backfield. I just don't think this Jets defense has it in them to hold by far the NFL's hottest team down for long enough to keep this one real close. And as I mentioned with the Ravens above, if the Jets fall behind early to the Chargers' juggernaut offense, that ruins the game plan of keeping Jets' rookie qb Mark Sanchez from having to do too much. They fall behind early and I could see a flat-out blowout in the making for San Diego.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

National Bunch of Clowns (NBC) and the Conan Speech

I am so, so confused. So because Jay Leno is an unfunny clown who has cost the local NBC affiliates millions of dollars with his bomb of a 10pm Tonight Show clone, NBC is now kicking Conan O'Brien to the curb from his own long-promised "Tonight Show" hosting job? After just seven months? Of Jay Leno sucking? That is some promise right there, way to keep your word, NBC.

Somebody get NBC a poker blog right away please.

In any event, no matter how all this ridiculousness with Late Night shakes out, Conan O'Brien's commencement speech at Harvard back in 2000 was and still remains the funniest, best commencement speech ever given as far as I know:

I'd like to thank the Class Marshals for inviting me here today. The last time I was invited to Harvard it cost me $110,000, so you'll forgive me if I'm a bit suspicious. I'd like to announce up front that I have one goal this afternoon: to be half as funny as tomorrow's Commencement Speaker, Moral Philosopher and Economist, Amartya Sen. Must get more laughs than seminal wage/price theoretician.

Students of the Harvard Class of 2000, fifteen years ago I sat where you sit now and I thought exactly what you are now thinking: What's going to happen to me? Will I find my place in the world? Am I really graduating a virgin? I still have 24 hours and my roommate's Mom is hot. I swear she was checking me out. Being here today is very special for me. I miss this place. I especially miss Harvard Square - it's so unique. No where else in the world will you find a man with a turban wearing a Red Sox jacket and working in a lesbian bookstore. Hey, I'm just glad my dad's working.

It's particularly sweet for me to be here today because when I graduated, I wanted very badly to be a Class Day Speaker. Unfortunately, my speech was rejected. So, if you'll indulge me, I'd like to read a portion of that speech from fifteen years ago: "Fellow students, as we sit here today listening to that classic Ah-ha tune which will definitely stand the test of time, I would like to make several predictions about what the future will hold: "I believe that one day a simple Governor from a small Southern state will rise to the highest office in the land. He will lack political skill, but will lead on the sheer strength of his moral authority." "I believe that Justice will prevail and, one day, the Berlin Wall will crumble, uniting East and West Berlin forever under Communist rule." "I believe that one day, a high speed network of interconnected computers will spring up world-wide, so enriching people that they will lose their interest in idle chit chat and pornography." "And finally, I believe that one day I will have a television show on a major network, seen by millions of people a night, which I will use to re-enact crimes and help catch at-large criminals." And then there's some stuff about the death of Wall Street which I don't think we need to get into....

The point is that, although you see me as a celebrity, a member of the cultural elite, a kind of demigod, I was actually a student here once much like you. I came here in the fall of 1981 and lived in Holworthy. I was, without exaggeration, the ugliest picture in the Freshman Face book. When Harvard asked me for a picture the previous summer, I thought it was just for their records, so I literally jogged in the August heat to a passport photo office and sat for a morgue photo. To make matters worse, when the Face Book came out they put my picture next to Catherine Oxenberg, a stunning blonde actress who was accepted to the class of '85 but decided to defer admission so she could join the cast of "Dynasty." My photo would have looked bad on any page, but next to Catherine Oxenberg, I looked like a mackerel that had been in a car accident. You see, in those days I was six feet four inches tall and I weighed 150 pounds. Recently, I had some structural engineers run those numbers into a computer model and, according to the computer, I collapsed in 1987, killing hundreds in Taiwan.

After freshman year I moved to Mather House. Mather House, incidentally, was designed by the same firm that built Hitler's bunker. In fact, if Hitler had conducted the war from Mather House, he'd have shot himself a year earlier. 1985 seems like a long time ago now. When I had my Class Day, you students would have been seven years old. Seven years old. Do you know what that means? Back then I could have beaten any of you in a fight. And I mean bad. It would be no contest. If any one here has a time machine, seriously, let's get it on, I will whip your seven year old butt. When I was here, they sold diapers at the Coop that said "Harvard Class of 2000." At the time, it was kind of a joke, but now I realize you wore those diapers. How embarrassing for you. A lot has happened in fifteen years. When you think about it, we come from completely different worlds. When I graduated, we watched movies starring Tom Cruise and listened to music by Madonna. I come from a time when we huddled around our TV sets and watched "The Cosby Show" on NBC, never imagining that there would one day be a show called "Cosby" on CBS. In 1985 we drove cars with driver's side airbags, but if you told us that one day there'd be passenger side airbags, we'd have burned you for witchcraft.

But of course, I think there is some common ground between us. I remember well the great uncertainty of this day. Many of you are justifiably nervous about leaving the safe, comfortable world of Harvard Yard and hurling yourself headlong into the cold, harsh world of Harvard Grad School, a plum job at your father's firm, or a year abroad with a gold Amex card and then a plum job in your father's firm. But let me assure you that the knowledge you've gained here at Harvard is a precious gift that will never leave you. Take it from me, your education is yours to keep forever. Why, many of you have read the Merchant of Florence, and that will inspire you when you travel to the island of Spain. Your knowledge of that problem they had with those people in Russia, or that guy in South America-you know, that guy-will enrich you for the rest of your life.

There is also sadness today, a feeling of loss that you're leaving Harvard forever. Well, let me assure you that you never really leave Harvard. The Harvard Fundraising Committee will be on your ass until the day you die. Right now, a member of the Alumni Association is at the Mt. Auburn Cemetery shaking down the corpse of Henry Adams. They heard he had a brass toe ring and they aims to get it. Imagine: These people just raised 2.5 billion dollars and they only got through the B's in the alumni directory. Here's how it works. Your phone rings, usually after a big meal when you're tired and most vulnerable. A voice asks you for money. Knowing they just raised 2.5 billion dollars you ask, "What do you need it for?" Then there's a long pause and the voice on the other end of the line says, "We don't need it, we just want it." It's chilling.

What else can you expect? Let me see, by your applause, who here wrote a thesis. (APPLAUSE) A lot of hard work, a lot of your blood went into that thesis... and no one is ever going to care. I wrote a thesis: Literary Progeria in the works of Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner. Let's just say that, during my discussions with Pauly Shore, it doesn't come up much. For three years after graduation I kept my thesis in the glove compartment of my car so I could show it to a policeman in case I was pulled over. (ACT OUT) License, registration, cultural exploration of the Man Child in the Sound and the Fury...

So what can you expect out there in the real world? Let me tell you. As you leave these gates and re-enter society, one thing is certain: Everyone out there is going to hate you. Never tell anyone in a roadside diner that you went to Harvard. In most situations the correct response to where did you to school is, "School? Why, I never had much in the way of book larnin' and such." Then, get in your BMW and get the hell out of there.

You see, you're in for a lifetime of "And you went to Harvard?" Accidentally give the wrong amount of change in a transaction and it's, "And you went to Harvard?" Ask the guy at the hardware store how these jumper cables work and hear, "And you went to Harvard?" Forget just once that your underwear goes inside your pants and it's "and you went to Harvard." Get your head stuck in your niece's dollhouse because you wanted to see what it was like to be a giant and it's "Uncle Conan, you went to Harvard!?"

But to really know what's in store for you after Harvard, I have to tell you what happened to me after graduation. I'm going to tell you my story because, first of all, my perspective may give many of you hope, and, secondly, it's an amazing rush to stand in front of six thousand people and talk about yourself.

After graduating in May, I moved to Los Angeles and got a three week contract at a small cable show. I got a $380 a month apartment and bought a 1977 Isuzu Opel, a car Isuzu only manufactured for a year because they found out that, technically, it's not a car. Here's a quick tip, graduates: no four cylinder vehicle should have a racing stripe. I worked at that show for over a year, feeling pretty good about myself, when one day they told me they were letting me go. I was fired and, I hadn't saved a lot of money. I tried to get another job in television but I couldn't find one.

So, with nowhere else to turn, I went to a temp agency and filled out a questionnaire. I made damn sure they knew I had been to Harvard and that I expected the very best treatment. And so, the next day, I was sent to the Santa Monica branch of Wilson's House of Suede and Leather. When you have a Harvard degree and you're working at Wilson's House of Suede and Leather, you are haunted by the ghostly images of your classmates who chose Graduate School. You see their faces everywhere: in coffee cups, in fish tanks, and they're always laughing at you as you stack suede shirts no man, in good conscience, would ever wear. I tried a lot of things during this period: acting in corporate infomercials, serving drinks in a non-equity theatre, I even took a job entertaining at a seven year olds' birthday party. In desperate need of work, I put together some sketches and scored a job at the fledgling Fox Network as a writer and performer for a new show called "The Wilton North Report." I was finally on a network and really excited. The producer told me the show was going to revolutionize television. And, in a way, it did. The show was so hated and did so badly that when, four weeks later, news of its cancellation was announced to the Fox affiliates, they burst into applause.

Eventually, though, I got a huge break. I had submitted, along with my writing partner, a batch of sketches to Saturday Night Live and, after a year and a half, they read it and gave us a two week tryout. The two weeks turned into two seasons and I felt successful. Successful enough to write a TV pilot for an original sitcom and, when the network decided to make it, I left Saturday Night Live. This TV show was going to be groundbreaking. It was going to resurrect the career of TV's Batman, Adam West. It was going to be a comedy without a laugh track or a studio audience. It was going to change all the rules. And here's what happened: When the pilot aired it was the second lowest-rated television show of all time. It's tied with a test pattern they show in Nova Scotia.

So, I was 28 and, once again, I had no job. I had good writing credits in New York, but I was filled with disappointment and didn't know what to do next. I started smelling suede on my fingertips. And that's when The Simpsons saved me. I got a job there and started writing episodes about Springfield getting a Monorail and Homer going to College. I was finally putting my Harvard education to good use, writing dialogue for a man who's so stupid that in one episode he forgot to make his own heart beat. Life was good.

And then, an insane, inexplicable opportunity came my way . A chance to audition for host of the new Late Night Show. I took the opportunity seriously but, at the same time, I had the relaxed confidence of someone who knew he had no real shot. I couldn't fear losing a great job I had never had. And, I think that attitude made the difference. I'll never forget being in the Simpson's recording basement that morning when the phone rang. It was for me. My car was blocking a fire lane. But a week later I got another call: I got the job.

So, this was undeniably the it: the truly life-altering break I had always dreamed of. And, I went to work. I gathered all my funny friends and poured all my years of comedy experience into building that show over the summer, gathering the talent and figuring out the sensibility. We debuted on September 13, 1993 and I was happy with our effort. I felt like I had seized the moment and put my very best foot forward. And this is what the most respected and widely read television critic, Tom Shales, wrote in the Washington Post: "O'Brien is a living collage of annoying nervous habits. He giggles and titters, jiggles about and fiddles with his cuffs. He had dark, beady little eyes like a rabbit. He's one of the whitest white men ever. O'Brien is a switch on the guest who won't leave: he's the host who should never have come. Let the Late show with Conan O'Brien become the late, Late Show and may the host return to Conan O'Blivion whence he came." There's more but it gets kind of mean.

Needless to say, I took a lot of criticism, some of it deserved, some of it excessive. And it hurt like you wouldn't believe. But I'm telling you all this for a reason. I've had a lot of success and I've had a lot of failure. I've looked good and I've looked bad. I've been praised and I've been criticized. But my mistakes have been necessary. Except for Wilson's House of Suede and Leather. That was just stupid.

I've dwelled on my failures today because, as graduates of Harvard, your biggest liability is your need to succeed. Your need to always find yourself on the sweet side of the bell curve. Because success is a lot like a bright, white tuxedo. You feel terrific when you get it, but then you're desperately afraid of getting it dirty, of spoiling it in any way.

I left the cocoon of Harvard, I left the cocoon of Saturday Night Live, I left the cocoon of The Simpsons. And each time it was bruising and tumultuous. And yet, every failure was freeing, and today I'm as nostalgic for the bad as I am for the good.

So, that's what I wish for all of you: the bad as well as the good. Fall down, make a mess, break something occasionally. And remember that the story is never over. If it's all right, I'd like to read a little something from just this year: "Somehow, Conan O'Brien has transformed himself into the brightest star in the Late Night firmament. His comedy is the gold standard and Conan himself is not only the quickest and most inventive wit of his generation, but quite possible the greatest host ever."

Ladies and Gentlemen, Class of 2000, I wrote that this morning, as proof that, when all else fails, there's always delusion.

I'll go now, to make bigger mistakes and to embarrass this fine institution even more. But let me leave you with one last thought: If you can laugh at yourself loud and hard every time you fall, people will think you're drunk.

Thank you.

Now doesn't the guy who wrote and delivered that to a bunch of teenaged nerds in Boston deserve his own show during the prime time late-night slot? Especially one that was promised to him for nearly 10 years? I mean, at least for more than seven months, right?

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Out With the Old

While I did not get a post update yesterday, I did use that time to do something else fun and exciting: I picked up my new car. I traded in my 6-year-old vehicle for the brand new 2010 version of the same model, and I cannot tell you how awesome it is already. Not so much the whole driving-a-new-car thing in its own right, but rather because I already realize how much my life had become a slave to all the little problems my car had after 6 years of hard use by me. That old thing served me well, don't get me wrong -- carrying me through about a year of a 60-miles-each way daily commute in its first year or so, then countless hours of city driving (and city parking) and road-tripping to the country, and then for the past year another 30-miles-each-way daily commute once again. It's been a horse for me, and I am thankful for it. But for whatever reason, this thing has had about a million things go wrong with it over the past few years, and I realize now after just 24 hours with my new car just how much I had simply adapted my lifestyle while in my car to work around all of the little problems, and just how utterly freeing and joyous the feeling of an immaculate new car can be.

To name just a few of the many, many things I won't be missing with my new car, and yet which I had simply grinned and bore it with the old one:

* Both the front and back bumpers of the old car were sliced and diced in a way that only someone who has parked on the streets of New York City seven days a week for many years can understand.

* There was a dent on the driver side front door where some jackass bent my side mirror into the frame of the window several years ago.

* Part of the door on the very bottom had been bent out and stuck out a couple of inches from the car down near the ground.

* Dent in the passenger side of the hood, probably where the teenagers hanging out at our 24-hour CVS in my town slammed into it on their skateboards one night when I ran in for a drink or whatever (god do I sound like an old man or what?)

* Driver side window only opened maybe 70% of the time when the electronic switch on the inside was pressed.

* Passenger side window only opened maybe 80% of the time when the electronic switch on the inside was pressed. You would think the previous two were the result of a blown fuse somewhere in the car and easily fixable, but when asked the monkeys at my car's service shop in Manhattan gave me some part names I could not understand, and then told me the repair would be upwards of two grand. No thank you, fuck you very much.

* Driver side window did not close maybe 25% of the time when the electronic switch on the inside was pressed.

* Whenever the driver side window did close, it never, ever closed fully, always leaving a large gap at the top left side of the window where air would pour in to the vehicle, even in the dead of winter. As a result, I had already gotten used to jiggling the window open, then shut, then open, then shut, at least two or three times every single time I shut the window, just to get the window back on the right "track" or whatever and actually make some kind of a seal with the window frame.

* Speaking of the driver's side window seal, I also had to cut away most of the outer seal on that window sometime last year because, due to the window never really staying on its track, the seal started bending inside and getting stuck in the window every time it closed. This of course only worsened the gap left by the window even when it did decide to actually close upon command.

* The visor on the driver side of the car no longer extended but rather would just stick in its original position no matter how hard it was pulled or prodded. So much for blocking the sun when it's low to the horizon I guess!

* After five years of no occurrences, suddenly when it first got hot (90's) in May of 2009, I took the car on about an hour drive from lower Manhattan back to my house, and it stalled for the first time while idling in the parking lot of a Dunkin Donuts in Westchester to get my kids something to drink. Throughout the summer and fall of 2009, the engine probably stalled out while in idle (on, but in park) maybe 5 or 6 other times, plus it even stalled one time while I was in drive, in the middle of an intersection near Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. That sucked. It had gotten to the point where I would not sit with the car in idle at all, for fear of another stallout and not being able to restart the vehicle. Sometimes it would need to sit for several minutes before it would restart after a stall.

* About a month ago, after moving my car up the driveway to let Hammer Wife out in her car one morning, when I went to the car to head to the gym that evening, the engine would not start. At all. Or, more accurately, it started, the battery worked, everything, but the engine would not roll over. I must have played with it for about an hour that night and again the following morning. Eventually some guys from a local garage were able to get the car to start, but especially with the cold winter we are embarking on here, I was not optimistic about future ignitions with the vehicle.

I think this just about covers the biggest, most annoying of the issues. And that right there marks the first time I ever sat down and listed everything that was wrong with the car over the past couple of years, because before that I just didn't want to deal with it. But I can't tell you how freeing it was to simply push the automatic close button on my driver's side window and not only not have to toggle back and forth for ten minutes to get it shut, but to not even have to think about it once I had pushed the button.

And this time, I don't plan to wait so long to replace this car when it is getting old and busted. Instead of buying like I did my last car, I am leasing this time around, with an incredibly low monthly payment thanks to my trade-in, most of the faults in which were not explicitly discussed with the dealer. So in just 36 months I will get to have a brand new car and go through this great feeling all over again.

Hopefully by then the American car companies will have gotten their act together enough for me to buy a fuel-efficient car made in my own country. Fat chance.