Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Saga Continues

I heard on ESPN this morning that apparently, last weekend LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh all met up together "to discuss potential landing spots" for the three players.

If this is true, it is in my mind a huge story.

And more than that, when you add in the way LeBron has spoken about "the team he goes to next", the Tom Izzo stuff when LeBron would not even return one phone call to his potential coach in Cleveland, and now this meeting of three young stars in the NBA in Miami on the weekend before free agency begins, it is just looking more and more clear that LeBron is not pining away to stay in Cleveland. He is definitely looking around at his options, and he is definitely interested, so this is not going to be the easy road for the Cavaliers that many supposed pundits were predicting just a few weeks ago, that much is clear at this point.

Anyways, when I first heard this story, my immediate reaction was basically "No way all three of those guys could play on one NBA team!" When Chris Bosh himself was asked about that possibility last week on ESPN Radio, he described it as a fantasy, as "PlayStation type stuff" to use his words. But then I started thinking about it, and I'll be damned if it does not make a whole lot of sense to me.

From a talent perspective, it does seem like it could be a little bit crowded on the floor with Bron, D-Wade and Bosh all in there. But then you think about the other great teams of the last several years, and when it comes right down to it, they've all got two if not three bona fide all-star type of players on their team. Whether it's been Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Nene, or Shaq, Kobe and Brian Shaw, or Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, or Kobe, Gasol and Odom, there almost always seem to be three big players on each of the great teams of the past generation or so. The most recent Celtics team seems like the closest comparison, although even that threesome fails to capture the amount of talent and skill that would be the floor every night with LeBron, Wade and Bosh on the court, especially with Pat Riley at the helm. But despite what could sound like a lot of potential clogged lanes and ball hogging, the three players all do kinda play different positions, and in its own way I can almost see the three working together. D-Wade brings the ball down the court, LeBron steps out and takes that first pass, he dishes it off to Bosh on the inside. Bosh looks for the shot, finds D-Wade back out at the top of the key, who fakes the shot and instead throws the perfect alley-oop to LeBron who is streaking in from the opposite baseline from where he started the play. I really can see it, the more I think about it.

The other side of things is the finances, but strangely Miami is basically the one place where the money could actually work. Wade can be re-signed by the Heat and he can get a Larry Bird exception so his money does not fully count against the team's salary cap. The Heat could then sign Bosh and LeBron to multi-year contracts at or near the max, and the three players could unite in Miami -- one of the top few funnest cities in America by most counts -- and make a sick run for the NBA title. And don't even act like Pat Riley would not be out of retirement and coaching that team within how many seconds of the signings? 5? 1? 0.1? Lord knows that slick, pompous Riley must be fuming as he sees Phil Jackson -- who took the reins from Riley's Lakers team in the early '90s and has never looked back, winning 11 of 20 NBA titles while Riley has toiled in the Heat front office for the past several years -- winning year after year after year, all while assembling teams with clearly more talent than anybody else in the league.

Obviously nothing is set in stone yet by a long shot, and LeBron hasn't even begun fielding the offers he's going to be seeing in spades starting on Thursday at midnight. But the fact that LeBron has shown absolutely zero interest in helping his former team in Cleveland secure LeBron's services in the future, while at the same time making plans for a three-way powwow with two fellow NBA stars halfway across the country is to me very telling. LeBron isn't not interested in dealing with his free agency yet at all. He just doesn't want to deal with the Cavs.

I have a hunch that the next few weeks are going to change the NBA more than any few weeks in the sport's history.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

The Chopping Block

I had an interesting experience with chopping a tournament recently, and I wrote this post at the time but am just completing it now. Earlier this year I played in a no-limit tournament in a casino with a large poker room where they regularly run tournaments. It was a $200 buyin event, and it was fairly small, more like a multi-table sitngo than an actual mtt, with I believe 58 entrants, give or take a few. Long story short, I end up at the final table with around an average stack, and then I pick up a couple of big hands, run a huge bluff, and before you know it I'm sitting in 2nd place with just a few players remaining. For some reason, I never seem to be able to bust out the third place guy when I am heads-up, and the same held true here as my opponent across the table knocked him out to come into heads-up play with me with him holding about a 2-to-1 chip lead.

2-to-1. It sounds like a big number. I mean, it means he had literally almost twice as many chips as I have. In this thing I think there were just under 600k total chips in play (approximately 58 runners and 10k starting stacks), so it was something like 370k to 210k as we started to play, and you could just tell this guy thought he was killing it. The look on his face said it all -- he kind of knows how to play the game, but in truth he cannot believe he is sitting here playing heads-up for the $2150 first prize. He's played so well, it's never been in doubt for him today, and now he's come into heads-up with a monster stack. He is the best player in the casino on this day, and he just knows it.

Which is why, when I suggested that we discuss a chop, the guy chuckled. Out loud. He wasn't really being a dick I suppose -- he just honestly thought he had this in the bag and wasn't really considering doing any kind of a chop. The top two payouts were scheduled to be $2150 for first and $1350 for second, so he looks up at the tournament board on the closest television screen, considers the payouts for a minute or two, and then turns and offers me a chip chop. Meaning, we add up each of our percentage of the total chips in play, and then divide up the remaining prize pool according to that ratio.

Now, in theory I am not against this approach, but the bottom line is that it really only works well when you're heads up if the two stacks are fairly close. I mean, if the guy with 55% of the chips wants 55% of the prize pool, there might be some logic to both players agreeing to that split, since the chip leader will secure the "win" and the largest share of the prize money despite having very little actual advantage in the final result by virtue of his slightly increased chip stack. Meanwhile, the underdog will secure close to 1st place money in his own right, while holding less than half the chips in heads-up play and probably in line for more like a third of the total prize pool for the top two spots if left as is. In my case, I had already told my opponent earlier at the final table that I was not opposed to a chop based on our chip counts, but again that was at a different time, with still multiple players left at the table, and with very different chip stacks. At this point, I explained to the guy that applying this formula would lead to a ridiculous result, and he started getting belligerent with me. In fact, he would so not listen to what I was trying to say that we ended up having the TD run the numbers on the chip chop so that we could have them right in front of us to help make explanations and negotiations easier.

In a nutshell, with payouts of $2150 and $1350 scheduled to go to the top two finishers, I was already guaranteed to win at least $1350 with no chop at all. However, I had 210k chips to his 370k, giving me roughly 36% of the chips in play, while my opponent held 64%. This would mean that, if we chose to do an exact "chip chop", he would take 64% of the total $3500 prize pool for the top two spots, and I would take 36%. This translates to a chop of $2240 for him, and $1260 for me. The guy just kept arguing and arguing that he was crushing me, he had twice as many chips so he should just twice as much of a payout if we chop it up. Finally, when the TD literally wrote the numbers down and put the paper right on the table in front of me and my opponent, I tried to show him why it makes less than zero sense for me to agree to the chip chop: I would guarantee myself less money ($1260) than I was already guaranteed under the tournament's original payout schedule ($1350)!!

When finally confronted with the numbers right in front of his face, it seemed to finally start to sink in with this guy that there was no way I was going to agree to a straight chip chop at a time when he had a bigger percentage of the total chips than the payout schedule awards to the top finisher over 2nd place. It would literally never make sense to agree to this kind of a chop in this situation -- as I tried to explain to the guy, I wouldn't agree to a straight chip chop even if our stacks were a little closer, such that I was guaranteed $1350 for 2nd place is it stands, but with a chop I could guarantee myself slightly more, say $1450 or something. For only a lousy extra hundred bucks, I would much rather push allin blind on the next five hands and try for the quick random double-up or die trying and take my $1350 in the first place. For this reason, and of course due to the fact that I knew that even at down 370k to 210k, I was just one double-up away from a huge chip lead of close to 3-to-1 myself, I told the guy after finally getting my point across about the chip chop that I would be willing to agree to chop the remaining $3500 only for $1850 for him and $1650 for me, or else we should just play it out. He kinda sneered at me and said "let's shuffle up and deal then!". And so we did.

First hand, I found KTs and, really not caring much at this point, pushed allin before the flop. He folded. On the second hand after the failed chop, my opponent raised it up 3x before the flop, and I instantly pushed allin again when I looked down to find A8, also suited. He thought it over for a decent while with a pissed off look on his face, and then eventually folded his hand again. I pointed out to him that, with the blinds having just escalated yet again a couple of hands earlier, that I was now probably close to 90% of his chip stack if he wanted to just agree to an even chop of $1750 each. Insulted, he immediately rebuffed my offer and we dealt out a third hand. AJo for me, and I pushed allin once again, and my opponent folded with another frustrated look on his face.

As the dealer mixed up the cards for the fourth deal, I saw my opponent's eyes drop down to my stack, then back to his. Having already prepared for this moment, I let him know that I was now just 20k behind him in chips, meaning that we were currently sitting at approximately 300k to 280k. I once again urged him to agree to an even chop, and as the dealer set to start the deal, he blurted out "OK, I'll take the deal, let's just chop this up!" I confirmed we were splitting the payout evenly, and he agreed, commenting that "it just doesn't make sense to play it out at this point". A sentiment with which I totally agreed, don't get me wrong. But the guy cost himself a few hundy by not agreeing to a more fair chop just four hands earlier.

I've seen this happen many, many times at final tables of mtts, both live and online, at really all buyin levels. Invariably, the guy with the biggest stack at the table -- and this phenomenon is generally worse with the fewer the number of players remaining in the tournament -- but the biggest stack pretty much always feels entitled to more of the prize pool than he probably deserves. They always seem to feel like their chip lead is insurmountable, this despite the pressure of the blinds on the short stacks, the low Ms across the board, and the resulting tremendous influence that luck will have on the final results. In my experience, ranging from chopping up the $3 buyin mtt's on pokerstars way back when and all the way up even to my final table at the Venetian Deep Stack last summer with hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line -- the top stack almost always overestimates his chances of winning the tournament and rarely ever wants to give up enough to make a chop worth it for the other players.

Similarly, as surely as the big stack will overestimate his chances of winning the tournament outright, I am also not sure I have ever participated in discussions to chop at a final table where the proposals are for the most part rejected by the shortest stacks, in particular when there are more than two or three players remaining in the event. Just as the big stack never seems to be willing to give up enough from the first prize money, the group as a whole never seems to be willing to give the short stacks enough to get them out of the same situation I was in with this guy at heads-up earlier this year. And if the stakes get big enough, this phenomenon with the short stacks is only magnified. Take my Venetian final table last year, for example -- I distinctly remember several failed chop discussions happening in that thing, starting from probably with 8 players left and going on all the way down, pretty much after every single bustout. And mostly every time, the remaining short stacks were not even close to agreeing to what was being proposed. Sure, with 6 players left, 6th place was slated to pay probably about 9k, and the chop being proposed was offering 11k to those players with the shortest stacks, and 11k is appreciably better than 9k for sure, both in percentage terms as well as absolute terms. But, when with one lucky double-up or one pocket Aces these guys could immediately jump to a stack that would put them in line for a 20-30k payout let alone a shot at the 101k first prize, why would they agree to give up potentially 100k in lost wins just to secure an extra $1500 or $2000 right now? The bottom line is, most of the time, the short stacks with multiple players left don't agree with this, and they won't.

As I have discussed (and shown) here several times in my day, I am always willing, if not looking to, chop a tournament when the stacks are shallow, the blinds are soaring and the stakes are worth caring about. But any chop will need to make sense to all the players involved, and invariably the greatest pressure points are focused on the extremes -- the largest and the smallest stacks remaining in the tournament. The bottom line is that, since the winner typically nabs such a huge percentage of the prize pool in his payout, the guy with the chip lead will by definition have to be by far the guy who gives up the most absolute dollars in any big chop, and typically those give-ups will flow mostly in absolute terms to the smallest stacks remaining in the event, who will need to be adequately compensated for giving up a chance to get back into the thick of things for the top payouts. Ultimately with experience I have learned that no chip lead is nearly as safe as you think once you're down to short-handed play with small Ms and a lot at stake, but unfortunately not everyone you run into at your average casino final table will have much (if any) understanding of this important poker tournament concept.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Simply Amazing

Well I was going to write today about how hard I've been working at my job lately, how incredibly tedious it can be sometimes and about how I just have to persevere even though I work harder than anyone I know a lot of times and often with relatively little to show for it. But then this tennis match came along and made me forget all about my day-to-day complaints about anything.

Well, let's go back a step first. The World Cup actually became damn interesting on Wednesday morning. I was off site and unable to really enjoy it, but I did get to listen through most of the game on my commute into work yesterday, and the tension levels -- and the corresponding level of interest in the game -- was just incredible. As we stayed tied at 0-0, and with England grabbing the early 1-0 lead over Slovenia, everyone listening or watching the U.S. - Algeria soccer game knew that either one of two things could happen -- in fact, needed to happen -- for the U.S. to make the Round of 16. We either needed to score a goal, or we need Slovenia to score a goal. Either option would get us through the Group and into the next round, but as the U.S. missed chance after chance after chance, the tension just grew and grew for U.S. soccer fans all around the world. As someone who thinks most soccer players in this country are huge dorks and certainly doesn't give a crap about the sport or its success here, I have to admit, it actually got really interesting to me. As the time ticked away and England grabbed their victory, our game entered stoppage time and we knew at that point it had to be us, and when Donovan was in the right place after rushing the net on the offensive drive to put back the easy rebound, I will admit something I won't ever probably admit to again: I screamed. Out loud. I was in my car and I actually rolled down the window and screamed. It was that exciting.

Anyways, originally this post was going to be a whine about how hard I've been working, but then after the World Cup actually found a way to make me interested, then they were going to be the topic of today's post instead, and I was already imagining writing it in my head. But then this tennis match happened.

59-59? I mean, is that for real? I had to watch SportsCenter just because I had to make sure it wasn't just a typo. A typo repeated all over every sports ticker on tv, internet site and media outlet this side of TASS. I had to watch just so I could see what 59-59 looks like on the scoreboard at Wimbledon.

It's pretty rare that something comes along and shatters an all-time record by this much. I mean, this is like the equivalent of someone showing up and hitting 125 home runs in one year, or someone in the NFL throwing for 90 touchdowns in a season. So you take the longest tennis match ever played in the history of the sport, and then add 66% to that. And that's just how long the match is so far. These two guys are still tied. At 59 games apiece in the crucial fifth set.

Tell me something -- is there any way we can just give them both the victory, and let them take on the next opponent in the tournament as a tag team? They can alternate playing by games or something. I mean, who do you think is going to be more fatigued in this one? The guy having to play every game against two men who are alternating games? Or each of the two guys who can barely walk let alone run or swing a racket, having to play every other game against a well-rested young guy who has played only one match in the past two days, not three full matches (at least)?

It's either that, or just make the winner of this match this year's overall Wimbledon champion, and go ahead and award the trophy and everything right there after this thing ends today. Hopefully!

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dude Where's My Car

While channel surfing early last night, one of the HBO's was showing what I think is a greatly underrated comedy of the last decade -- "Dude Where's My Car?". Now I am no kind of Ashton Kutcher fan -- I've never once watched That 70s Show and have never seen Punk'd -- and I don't exactly love Sean William Scott either (though he has been funny in several movies, come to think of it), but "Dude Where's My Car" is a seriously funny movie. There is something about that scene with the back tattoos that makes me able to watch it over and over and over again, and like many of the other good comedies of the past decade, most of the scenes in this flick are are actually pretty damn funny stuff.

Anyways, in watching this movie for the first time in probably five or six years, it occurred to me how much this is actually "The Hangover", but long before "The Hangover" was ever made. Not that "Dude Where's My Car?" invented this move either necessarily, but basically the movie begins with these male friends waking up the morning after a crazy party, totally hung over, their place completely trashed, and not remembering anything about what they did last night. In both films, however, the friends quickly notice that something is missing that they urgently need to find. In "The Hangover", it's their friend who is about to get married, while in "Dude", it's their car (duh). But in both films, what ensues is a hilarious misadventure that involves the friends working backwards from whatever clues they are able to find about what they did the night before, eventually ending up in finding their missing thing that they so desperately need.

What's especially interesting to me is some of the details that are eerily similar between the two movies. Like, both crazy nights involved the friends throwing around tons of money and being all crazy at a strip club. One of the first places the protagonists end up in both films is the strip club, where everybody seems to know them even though they have no clue who any of these people are. In both movies, one of the friends -- who has a wife ("The Hangover") or a girlfriend ("Dude") hooks up with a smokin' hot chick (in "The Hangover" it is Heather Graham, and in "Dude" it is Kristy Swanson) during the night of which they have no memory whatsoever. And, in what has to be the strangest coincidence of them all, in both movies, the friends actually inadvertently stole a bunch of money from a sexually ambiguous person who pursues them throughout the plot. In "The Hangover", it's that crazy Asian guy who also played the doctor in "Knocked Up" for those of you who watch all of these kind of movies, only in "Knocked Up" he was a regular guy, whereas in "The Hangover" he is an oddly effeminate, very strange-talking gangsta type. In "Dude", it's that Rene Russo look-alike stripper who stole 200 grand from her club and apparently gave it to the friends to return to her later, which they never did. It is hard to ignore this obvious parallel between the two movies, and frankly I find it hard to believe that the writers of "The Hangover" were not at least subconsciously influenced by having seen "Dude Where's My Car" previously. The plot commonalities are simply too great to ignore.

"Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuude! What's mine say?"
"Saaaaaaaaaaaweeeeeeeeeeeeeettttttt! What's mine say?"
"Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuude! What's mine say?"
"Saaaaaaaaaaaweeeeeeeeeeeeeetttttttahhhhhh! What's mine say?"

Classic. Go watch "Dude Where's My Car" if you haven't ever seen it.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

More Referee Hijinks

Wow. No sooner had I posted on Friday about the disturbing trend among officials in sports today actively trying to influence the outcome of their games instead of just trying to call it as they see it, than that crazy referee in the World Cup game between the U.S. and Slovenia called the phantom foul on America's go-ahead goal with very little time left in the game, that would eventually end in a 2-2 tie. That is yet another example of exactly what I'm talking about. Here is a ref who amazingly not only calls a foul on the U.S. to erase a crucial goal that could easily prove to be the difference between the U.S. team advancing or going home in the World Cup, but to this day has yet to even announce what the foul was, or even who the foul was on.

Huh? WTFZOMG that cannot be true! Oh but it is.

This jackmonkey called the foul, disallowed the goal, and never told anyone -- despite as you can be sure repeated objections and pleadings from the American team -- who the foul was on or what that player did. Never. No one. FIFA even came out in a press conference over the weekend and said they are not taking any action with respect to the call, and they confirmed the decision not to discuss it further, including ever announcing who was called or what they did.

As Mike and Mike were discussing on ESPNRadio this morning, can you imagine if this was done in a real sport? I mean can you even imagine? Kobe Bryant runs down the court, slices through a couple of defenders, launches from near the foul line and dunks it, and then Bleep! A whistle blows, the ref signals for a foul, but won't say who it's on or what the foul was? Then the NBA eventually steps in and confirms the call and that they're not going to divulge any of the details of the call? Or it's the Superbowl, tie game late in the 4th, and the wide receiver of the offense streaks down the field untouched, catches the game-winning touchdown, and then the ref just throws a flag and takes back the touchdown, never saying on whom or why the flag was thrown?

Here is where I would launch on a multi-paragraph rant about how this lack of control over their renegade officials is a big part of why soccer will never, ever make it in the United States. If, that is, I thought this was some accidental stoopid call by the ref that the league just didn't want to overturn. In reality, though, when you see a call that bad, that inexplicable (if anything, our guy Bradley was utterly mugged as the kick came out) and in that big of a spot, it's pretty clear that it's intentional. I mean, think about what the rest of the world thinks of the United States right about now. And they want to see us succeed in soccer even less than in any other endeavor going these days. So when he makes that call and waves off such a crucial goal after such an amazing comeback, and declines to saw who did it or what they did, and then the league holds all that up, you should be able to tell what's going on here. The anti-American referee did not want to see the U.S. win a game he was so positive they were going to lose half an hour earlier, and so he made sure it didn't happen, and then the league totally supported the move.

F soccer, F the world cup, and triple F to the people who don't see what a problem over-active sports officiating has become nowadays.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Sports Today

The NBA has a serious problem. I know they are just coming off of what should be the best possible ending for any NBA season -- Game 7 of Celtics - Lakers in the NBA Finals -- but damn that sport has just become so totally unwatchable.

I tuned in to watch maybe three or four minutes of actual game time in the fourth quarter on Thursday night, and goddam if the referees did not "Joyce" it up and totally try to determine the outcome of the game. I mean, I barely watched any of the game, and yet just in the few short minutes I was tuned in, I saw no fewer than three plays -- each of which on their own surely seem like a small, insignificant play -- which not only could arguably have gone the other way, but probably should have gone the other way. I saw Kobe Bryant lower his right shoulder and plow right into someone stationary in the middle of the lane on his way to the hoop, it was an obvious charge, and yet there go the ref's hands to his hips to indicate a blocking foul. I watched the Lakers defender clearly tip the ball out of bounce under his own hoop, and the referee immediately award the ball to the Lakers. I saw Rasheed Wallace get called in the crucial final minutes of the game as the Celtics gave up the lead for an over-the-back foul on Pau Gasol that wasn't even close to callable contact.

It's becoming more and more of a problem in sports today. Now more than at any other time in sports history, the referees are slowly but surely asserting their influence over the outcome of the games they are there to call, not participate in. That's what upset me so much about this idiot umpire with the Tigers' perfect game a couple of weeks ago on my first day in Las Vegas. Yes he said all the right things and gave all the appropriate apologies after the fact, but the bottom line is this: any professionally-trained umpire -- especially one in perfect position to see and make a call like Joyce was -- simply should never, ever miss that call, unless he is already predisposed towards missing it. Period. I mean Joyce was right there, staring right at the play. And it wasn't even remotely close, as the replay has clearly shown over and over and over again. How does he miss that call? Yes, everybody makes mistakes, but as an objective viewer of the world around me I can't help but notice the disturbing trend that seems to get worse almost every single year. These officials are exerting more and more influence over the outcomes of sporting events.

You see it in the NFL all the time of course, too. When was the last game you watched where the referees couldn't totally change the outcome by calling a crucial holding penalty on a big play, or that damn pass interference flag being thrown at seemingly the least deserving time (or not thrown at the most deserving time). But the NBA has got to be the worst of all. There is simply zero clarity to the rules of the game, to what is kosher and what consitutes a foul. And then the referees are not held to a uniform standard of how they enforce those rules. They aren't even consistent with themselves quarter to quarter. I've heard about 15 different people say since last night how great the first three quarters of Game 7 were last night. The refs were letting the teams play, it was up and down the court, defensive-minded, tough-as-nails basketball, and the crowd and the viewers really got their money's worth. Then suddenly in the 4th quarter it's like it was different refs. Suddenly there was a whistle every time up and down the court. The Lakers ended up at the line 21 times just in the 4th quarter, of a game they basically won by a couple of baskets. Suddenly, it's a blown out-of-bounds call to give the Lakers a second shot and a new 24 seconds here, it's don't call that obvious foul on Kobe so he doesn't get his fifth early in the fourth quarter there, and it's let's make sure the Celtics don't get that rebound over there by calling a bogus off-the-ball foul.

And before you clowns say it, no I am no kind of a Boston Celtics fan. My lord you people, I am from Philadelphia and grew up hating on the Celtics more than any other team in the sport, bar none. So don't go there. This has nothing to do with me being bitter about the outcome of the series, which I felt was very obvious from day one and from which I never wavered until Kobe and Phil walked off with their billionth titles late in the evening. I have absolutely no personal stake in either team winning this series, I haven't watched the NBA this year and trust me when I say, I don't really care who wins one iota.

I just don't give two craps about the NBA and I cannot imagine when I will again. Ever since they officially caught the referee throwing games to shave points and fix lines -- which was just a couple of years ago, for crying out loud -- with the way the refs in that sport impact the outcome of every single game nowadays, I just don't see how anybody out there can really take those games seriously. I know I sure don't.

Oh, and by the way. Phil Jackson has now won 11 of the last 20 NBA championships. With two different teams, and really that's with three different teams when you take into account how different Kobe's Lakers team is from Shaq's Lakers team some years ago. And the two Bulls teams were distinct as well, though with Michael and Scottie on both along with Phil, I guess we can still count them as the same team. 11 out of 20 NBA championships. What must these other coaches think of themselves?

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bad Beat Stories

I'll tell you what's the one thing I miss the least about not being in Las Vegas anymore: the bad beat stories.

Anyone who's played in a number of significant live events, ever been to the Amazon Room at the Rio during one of the breaks in the live WSOP action, and certainly those poor guys and gals out there covering these poker tournaments for seven weeks straight, knows exactly what I am talking about. You get your 15 minute break, you head to the bathroom, outside for a smoke, or just find a quiet place to relax inside the poker room, but you can't avoid it. The incessant chatter of your fellow players, all meeting up during break time to swap bad beat stories.

It's such a weird thing to do, in my opinion. I mean, I've told a gillion bad beat stories in my day and I'm sure I'll tell a million more. But don't these people at the tournament realize that (1) they sound exactly like everybody else around them, and (2) nobody probably believes them anyways?

For starters, it never ceases to amaze me how many different people -- literally hundreds, at any given second during any large tournament break -- are out complaining about the horrible thing that befell them at the poker table over the past couple of hours. It's literally all around you. I go out to have a breaktime smoke, and I have to walk about 150 feet away from the building before I can't hear anyone telling a stupid bad beat story from somewhere. And they all sound exactly the same! It's amazing. To your left: "So I pushed all in on the flop, and the guy calls me with Jack-Two. Jack-Two!! Can you believe it? And then of course, a Two on the turn and another on the river and I lost three-quarters of my stack just like that.". Meanwhile, over by the next pillar in front of me: "I re-raise with pocket Aces before the flop, and the guy in middle position just smooth calls me. Flop comes down JT8, he bets out, I push and he instacalls with K9. The straight fills on the turn and I'm out." So you turn entirely around and walk to the corner, and then it's the guy who walks up next to you on his cell phone, talking to some lucky person: "I push allin with pocket Kings, the guy snap calls me with pocket 8s. The flop is clean, the turn is clean, and then motherfucker the river is an 8 and I'm crippled!" It's just everywhere, and I have to say it is literally probably the most annoying thing about playing in big live tournaments.

And yeah, the other part about this that I just don't get is do these people really think everyone believes every word they say? F-Train made a funny comment to this effect in his blog the other day as well, but poker tournament players as a rule must be the smartest, most skilled group of people on the earth. I mean, if you believe every bad beat story you hear just during the first break of a major live tournament like the WSOP, then by the fourth or fifth hour, there is literally nobody alive who got their chips by getting the money in ahead. Nobody. You stick 1800 players in a big giant room and play some no-limit, there's just no way you can have 900 suckouts and only the 900 donkeys left who got it in behind. Shit, some of these stories you hear are just so outlandish, you just know they're at least partially if not totally made up. Do these people really think everyone else is that stupid? Yeah, I'm sure the guy called you down with K6 unimproved allin on the flop with nothing, then hit runner-runner 6s for trips to beat your flopped two pairs. And yeah, I bet the guy called you allin with AQ unimproved on the Ten-high flop and then went Jack-King for the runner-runner straight. I'm not saying I've never seen plays that bad (surely I have), but the odds of most of these stories being true -- or at least not omitting some material fact that makes what happened to them not close to as bad as they are making it out to be -- is astronomically low. My guess? A good half of the clowns making the walk of shame during the first couple of rounds, if they got runner-runnered, they probably flopped big and checked intead of betting a couple of times, basically forcing their opponents to catch up for free, and then got bounced and conviently "forgot" that they allowed their opponents to catch those free cards to eventually beat the speaker. And most of the guys who busted early who claim to have been "rivered" really took on a race with the JJ vs AKs type of hand, were ahead until the river, and then either the Jack, or the Ace/King fell on the last card to knock them out "on the last card". With the stories that you hear from every direction, all around you, hanging out in a place like the Amazon Room for an entire day during WSOP time, you just know a good portion of what you're hearing is total and complete bullshit.

So that's my rant for today. The next time you're playing in a live poker tournament, I challenge you not to be one of the clowns with the pervasive bad beat stories. I'm sure you will come off better to those who know you and certainly to anyone within earshot, but I guarantee you you will feel better too not spewing out these largely made-up and overblown stories of woe for all the world to imbibe.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What's the Big Deal About the WSOP?

Bill Rini had an interesting post up earlier this week about the World Series of Poker, and why it is such a Big Huge Deal in the poker world. Although the whole post is definitely worth a read, I have duped below Rini's essential point from his very entertaining post:

"That being said, this time of year seems so contrived to me. You have about two months of journalists/bloggers, PR people, poker rooms, etc, all trying to make something out of what is usually nothing. Day after day everyone has to come up with some reason to make it seem as if something exciting is going on regardless of the lack of anything exciting actually going on....

The biggest online poker rooms pay out a bigger prize every Sunday than some of the WSOP events. While I’m quick to give a congrats to winners, is anybody really impressed if you won the $1000 buy-in hold’em event? Will anybody remember your name the next day? Yet, nearly the entire poker journalism/blogging world is there covering every boring detail."

It's all true, isn't it? So they why is the World Series of Poker such a Big Huge Deal?

I've spent much of this past week pondering this very question since reading Bill's post. And I think I have my answer.

It's the Legends.

The Legends are the ones who tell me the WSOP is so special. It's Doyle Brunson dedicating entire sections, entire chapters even, in Super/System to Jack and Benny Binion and the legend of the WSOP. It's Phil Hellmuth writing page after page about how winning WSOP bracelets is the end-all be-all for a poker tournament player. It's Ivey and Deeb and Lederer and Seidel and Farha and Chan and all the others in the poker world who focus on the number of bracelets each player has. It is those things that, for me, make the World Series of Poker what it is.

In addition, with the proliferation of poker on television, on podcasts, on YouTube, etc. as compared to, say, ten years ago, and with all of these WSOP events essentially being "open" events where anyone can go and play if you're willing to plunk down the buyin, there is in many ways more direct access to the legends and the big-name pros in this sport than in any other. Which itself makes the whole WSOP thing kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy, because all the big pros and the legends play in the WSOP because they all think of it as the end-all be-all, and then if I want a chance to go to a poker venue and see, interact with, meet and maybe even play with all those same pros that I know and love from tv, then going to the WSOP takes on special significance for me as well because that's the one place all year where I can go to meet all of them.

And let's not forget the side games, which any of those legends above in addition to pretty much all the pros on the circuit today will tell you is where the real, consistent money is during WSOP time. It's basically 6 weeks out of every year when more or less every donkey in America -- in the world, really -- descends upon the same city, and puts their (sometimes) hard-earned cash on the line. I have zero doubt that there is more poker "dead money" -- both in cash, and in tournaments -- in Las Vegas during these six weeks than there is in any other city anywhere else in the world, at any time, ever. Period.

So the legends are the ones who have told me that the World Series of Poker is what it's all about. That's what makes the whole WSOP thing such an attraction for many students of the game, aspiring pros, tournament wannabes still looking for their first big big score, and cash gamers looking to test their mettle against the best players around at their level. And that's what originally got me to want to go out to Las Vegas during Series time in the first place myself. But along with that is the attraction of knowing that you can see all of those people you love to watch on tv, live and in the flesh, in the Amazon Room. Shit, they can even sit at your table and play live against you. It's unheard of access to someone who in many of our minds is already a bit of a "legend", and that also adds to the allure of heading to Sin City during this period every summer. And lastly, -- and I am as good an example of this as anybody -- the skill players know that, due to the crowds who are drawn to Vegas every summer to be there during WSOP times, there is simply no better opportunity in the world at any other time of year to make money from all the fish and the monkeys who you will run into in the various card rooms all over the city, be it a WSOP tournament at the Rio, the Deep Stack at the Venetian, the daily MGM morning no-limit tournament, or the Bellagio for cash games, etc. After my last few years in the desert around this time of year, I am more convinced than ever that Las Vegas during the WSOP is the mecca of poker profits for a seasoned poker veteran with a couple million hands of experience and a desire to leave town with more money than he or she started with.

So that's my answer. Why do you think the WSOP is such a big deal?


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Props to Good WSOP Coverage

Other than the usual media outlets, and of course Dr. Pauly's excellent coverage year-in and year-out from the Rio, I thought I would give some props today to a blogger who has been putting out quality content almost every single day here during the 2010 World Series of Poker -- F-Train. I've been a reader of F-Train's blog for some time, but probably never so much as I have become over the last few weeks since the WSOP started. In a world where so much is made of every single poker tournament played at the Rio over a six-week period, many of which are openly referred to as "donkaments" by those in the know, in largely shallow-stacked events where luck predominates over skill in the eyes of anyone who really understands how mtt's work, F-Train has had very little trouble finding something interesting, well thought-out and well-reasoned to say about the Series almost every single day.

One thing F-Train has been doing is keeping track of the number of players this year as compared to last year in the corresponding WSOP events. A couple of weeks back when F-Train started tracking this, a disturbing trend appeared -- and one that surprised me to be honest, given the (somewhat) improved economic situation both in the U.S. and abroad as compared to last year -- each of the first five events of the 2010 WSOP was down in participation from the corresponding events in 2009. In fact, 8 of the first 12 events saw a drop in attendance since last year. I was really surprised -- even having just been out in Vegas, at the Rio in fact, and remarking here on how incredibly slow Vegas was in general as compared to prior years in the summer -- because I just didn't get how fewer people could be playing in the Series this year given the general improvement in the global economy over the past 11 or 12 months. Last year, the WSOP started just two months away from those disgusting March 2009 lows in the stock market, and just a month or two away from the four and five hundred thousand jobs lost every single month, and in general the market was what, a full 35% or so lower than it is today? How could more people have plunked down between $1500 and $10,000 on a luck-dependent poker tournament last year than this year?

Well, I was less surprised to see F-Train's recent updated post on this topic, where this strange trend seems to have reversed itself, in line with all logic and reason. Since Event #14, 11 of the last 12 WSOP tournaments have recorded increases in attendance since the same event in 2009. What started out as a strange, somewhat inexplicable dropoff in participation has proven to be just a slow start to the 2010 WSOP, and it appears now that we are going to come in I bet between 5 and 10% up for WSOP participation overall this year as compared to last. So far F-Train is the only real media outlet I have seen keeping close track of these numbers, and it's been an interesting angle that has made for some interesting posts and thoughts during the WSOP this year.

Similarly, F-Train had some excellent coverage on the scandal with the WSOP Ladies Event this year, a nice post detailing the truth about the behavior of Men Nguyen when he won his 7th bracelet earlier this month, and of course some excellent reports of the Tom Dwan circus when Durrrrr managed to steal the center of attention from the entire Amazon room when he played his way to heads-up in Event #7.

As I mentioned above, F-Train has found a way to provide interesting content related to the WSOP on a daily basis to a poker tournament loving guy like me. You should check it out if you haven't been already.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Random Musings

There's been so much going on lately, but with the whole Vegas trip things at work and in life have been even more hectic than usual. While I have some time today I wanted to post some thoughts on a number of issues.

1. The Lebron James saga took an interesting turn this weekend in my mind, with word came down that even as of Monday morning, Tom Izzo has "not been able to get in touch with" Lebron James regarding Izzo's decision about whether or not to take the Cleveland Cavaliers coaching job. Not been able to get in touch with him? After all this public exposure now, for days on end? I'll tell you what: if you're a Cavs fan right about now, the fact that Bron-bron hasn't even taken a single call from Tom Izzo all this weekend is just about the worst possible news you could hear, and I think it speaks volumes about James' motivation and what he is thinking at this moment about his future. I mean, James could have at least spoken to Izzo (cuz how the hell can Izzo possibly make this decision without knowing knowing if it includes or excludes Lebron?) and could easily have given him some kind of comfort that the two could go together to Cleveland in 2010, that he would need one more big star on the team first, something, anything if James was feeling all lovey dovey towards the city of Cleveland right now. But clearly he is not. Izzo is now in a ridiculous position, because on the one hand he can't leave his school and his players hanging for weeks on end here, but on the other hand, if he takes the job and Lebron comes back, Izzo has a championship-ready team immediately on his hands and that's what his expectations are going to be. But if Izzo takes over the Cavs and Lebron decides to go elsewhere, well then what Izzo is taking on is a 100% completely different job in every way, one where he will be lucky to even make the playoffs and where his success will be measure perhaps in games won over successive years but not at all by championships or even post-season performance at all. So Izzo of course has desperately been trying to reach Lebron now for what, four days on end, and so far, nothing. Lebron's head is elsewhere right now, it's as easy as that, and as I said that is the worst sign yet I've seen for Cavaliers fans.

2. I finally saw on espn.com sometime on Sunday night that the U.S. managed to come back and tie England in the World Cup on Saturday. Not that I personally care, but that late U.S. goal has got to be the best thing that ever happened for espn or whoever is making money off of the popularity of the World Cup telecasts in the United States. I still don't know who that is because lord knows I'm not watching those matches. Nobody needs to wonder why soccer has never made it in this country when all these matches so far cumulatively have totalled about 8 goals scored. But in any event, I don't know who our next opponent is or when we will play them, but I'm sure I will hear about it via the various media outlets I am bombarded with on a daily basis because we managed to tie that first match against England. After giving up a goal to the Brits just four minutes in to the match, we could very easily have given up hope and then I can assure you, nobody in America who is not a first- or second-generation immigrant would have given two craps about that game or any other soccer matchup left this year. Instead though, we Americans can continue our every-four-years delusion that this time maybe we have caught up and will finally get to hoist the World Cup trophy in 2010. Dream on.

3. The Philadelphia Phillies have flat-out lost the eye of the tiger, it's as clear as a bell and you could see it after about two weeks into this season. It's like they came out this year, started winning a few games, and then decided that they were already in the World Series for a third straight year so they just needed to coast until they got there. You need to hear proof that this team is grossly under-performing on offense right now? The Phillies are dead last in the National League East with just 272 runs scored in 61 games this season. This team that led the National League in runs scored each of the past two seasons -- and didn't really lose anybody of note in the offseason (if anything, we replaced the defensive-minded Pedro Feliz with the far superior offensively Placido Polanco) -- now has scored seven fewer runs than the Nationals, 11 fewer than the Mets, 24 less than the Marlins and 40 runs fewer than the division-leading Braves. The Phillies deserve every inch of the deep, deep hole they have dug for themselves this year, and it's a shame too because Roy Halladay has been just about as good as advertised with an ERA under of 1.96 and a stellar 1.02 WHIP (plus a perfect game) through now 13 starts as a Phillie, and Cole Hamels looks to be bouncing bad pretty decently from a crappy 2009 as well. J. Happ's been on the injured list all season and is looking to get healthy soon as well, so from a defensive perspective the team is faring ok. But on offense it's like this juggernaut with Rollins (albeit injured much of this year so far), Victorino, Utley, Howard, Werth, Ibanez, Polanco et all is simply a different team entirely. And I can't help but notice the correlation between our offense really sucking and our team allegedly getting caught stealing those signs from the bullpen in the outfield a few weeks ago. I still think it sounds silly to suggest we would possibly sit a guy in the bullpen with bino's if we wanted to steal signs, but I've never been one to deny the facts either, and the timing of the stealing signs thing obviously matches up more or less exactly with now this month-long streak of offensive ineptitude for the Phils.

4. Hey, are there any bloggers out there cashing yet in the 2010 WSOP? I certainly did not pull my own weight in this regard in 2010, that's for sure, only playing the one event and never putting up much of a fight. I know Columbo was in my event as well and fared far better than me, but I believe busted also short of the money, and I think I heard as well that Garth, LJ, Blood and a few others have fallen short of the money as well. It feels like just a few short years ago that we had like 5 or 6 bloggers making it decently into the money in WSOP tournaments. Maybe that's happening again this year and I just don't know it, I don't know. But otherwise, are we getting worse as poker players the longer we blog and play poker together?

5. With Las Vegas 2010 now just a fading memory, it is already just a few weeks until the Hammer Family's annual July 4 beach trip. And with how things have been at work lately, that shizznit cannot come fast enough. With the July 4 holiday coming on a Sunday this year, we are now in the last year before a several-year jag where the placement of the holiday will make travel and work plans very annoying. But this year, Sunday is perfect, my office is closed on Monday so it will definitely make the travel and traffic planning much easier on everyone this year. But enjoy it while you can. July 4 will be on a Monday next year (not the end of the world), but then a Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in the three years after that, which can always kind of suck for those of us working stiffs.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Las Vegas 2010: Parting Thoughts

As usual, I had an amazing time in my annual visit to the desert, and for the second straight year, quite a profitable one as well. As someone who has made numerous Vegas runs over the past couple of decades, I am well versed in the different types of visits one can have, gambling-wise. Sometimes you come out of the gates and you kill the casino on the first day, and then you spend the rest of the trip playing with the house's money, win or lose. Those trips are always fun, mostly because there's just no stress factor since you never really have to consider risking much or any of your own money over the entire visit. Unfortunately, such trips are also very rare, as it is exceedingly difficult to come out and win money for the entire trip in just your first session or two.

Another type of Vegas trip just sees you slowly bleed away your bankroll more or less from start-to-finish, and sadly these tend to be probably the most common type of Vegas visit, in particular since all of the games on the casino floor (other than poker, really) are mathematically designed to have a negative expectation for the player. Maybe you don't lose everything you were willing to lose when you came out there, or alternatively maybe you end up going into your wallet or your bank account a time or two more than you had intended, but in the end, you bleed it away little by little, maybe have some fun doing it and maybe with some decent positive runs built in along the way, but there have been plenty of Vegas runs in my day that work just like this, and in the end it's still entirely possible to have a great time even if you're losing I find, as long as it's not a total blowout right off the bat that sees you lose way more than you wanted to be willing to when you started out.

What I had on this visit was the third kind of trip, where I started off unable to get out of my own way, doing absolutely nothing but losing for not just one but two full days in all of my gambling pursuits in Las Vegas. I lost a big buyin ($1500) in the World Series, and didn't play particularly well in so doing. I lost at cash poker as well on Wednesday. I lost more cash on Thursday, plus my $340 buyin to the Venetian Deep Stack although at least I managed to play pretty well in that one. I even lost some small sports bets throughout those first couple of days, and the bottom line is that, while I can certainly afford the money and in fact brought it out to Vegas in cash, fully prepared to lose it, I was pretty much disgusted after two full days in the desert at just how much money I had managed to lose with very little to show for it in real terms. I was down easily over $2000 as I went to bed on Thursday night, and more than that, as I mentioned above, I had that nasty feeling that I can only get when I simply do nothing but lose at every single thing I touched for two full days. It's a horrible feeling, and I'd be lying if I said that the thought never entered my mind that I should just pack away the rest of my cash and not gamble on anything else for the rest of the trip.

And oh what a mistake that would've been! As someone who's spent 4 or 5 days or more at a time at gambling resorts like a hundred times in my day, I can't count the number of times my trip has gone like this, where I just lose and lose and lose some more for several sessions, maybe spanning several days, and then at some point, it's like a switch is flipped and suddenly everything is all rosy. On Friday I had that big session at 2-5 nl at the Bellagio, a very nice set of wins on the Flyers in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals -- the only game in the series, it turns out, where the Flyers actually played especially well and failed to give up a single soft goal -- and by the time I got back to the cash tables at the Pavillion in the Rio that night, my entire psyche was totally changed from how it had been just that morning. I was happy, I was feeling lucky, and I was generally psyched to get back out there and play, feeling very confident that I would leave that session a winner. And I did, to the tune of another full buyin on my way to basically erasing all of my losses from the first two days. Throw in Saturday's big win at Aria plus some good coin from the Belmont Stakes, and it's just amazing to think that I actually considered not gambling much anymore after Thursday night because it just didn't feel like I could win anything. So there is a lesson buried in there somewhere, though I am struggling a little bit to express exactly what that lesson is. I guess it's that, when you're playing games that are largely based on luck, it is incredibly easy to run bad for a while and then to run good for another while over a different period of time. Sometimes you're gonna go out to Vegas and get nothing but creamed for 4 days straight and go home a big loser (I've had plenty of trips like that, as I assume most of you have), but hey the next time you're out there you might pretty much win start to finish, and in my mind it's all one big, long session. I think it would have been the wrong response for me to stop playing once I was down after a couple of days, of course because I still had some money to lose, but also because to do that denies me the chance of going on a good run, which especially when it comes to games like poker and sports betting, is entirely possible in particular if I can find some smart spots to get my money in ahead.

One thing I should mention as a lasting impression from this trip is how incredibly slow Las Vegas is right now. Now I know it's hot as hell and summertime is generally the city's slowest time of the year, but to be perfectly honest I've been out there now what, four straight years in the midst of the desert heat? So I can make worthwhile comparisons at least about the level of busy-ness around this time of year over the past four years. And my comparison is that this time was -- by far -- the slowest Vegas has been in the last four years of my visiting in the summertime. I was at the Rio on Tuesday night, where the WSOP itself is held, and even there I was shocked at how totally slow the main casino was, how much availability they had in rooms, how empty the pool seemed, etc. Now you might think this relates only to the Rio due to their less-than-preferable off-the-Strip location, but keep in mind I switched to the MGM starting on Wednesday night, where I stayed for the next four days or so. And even though the MGM is one of the older of the new casinos on the Strip, I spent most of Thursday hanging at the Venetian, and I spent a good deal of time last week at the Bellagio as well as Aria. So I definitely got around, both in terms of geography and in terms of the different "classes" of resort in Las Vegas, and I'm here to tell you: that place is slow right now. None of my party had to wait for a wide open spot at $10 craps or $10 or $15 blackjack the entire week long -- even on Saturday night, for that matter -- and I didn't wait on any list to get a seat at the cash tables in a single poker room in the city, including two visits to the Bellagio's room which as recently as last summer would have between 30 and 50 people on the waiting list at all times. No, business in Vegas in general is just as slow as it's been in years, and you could see it everywhere you looked. Shorter lines to play the table games, more free slot machines, shorter waiting lists in the poker rooms, attendance at the WSOP is down, way fewer slutty chicks walking around looking like ho's on Friday and Saturday night, easier to get reservations at your preferred times in the best restaurants in the city, I could go on and on.

I usually take a paragraph after my trip to review some of the most luxurious or cool things we were offered while out in Vegas, and I imagine that this, too, is directly related to the dearth of big players out at the MGM properties during the time of our stay, but I think in general I already covered this one pretty well in my previous posts this week. Between the Skyloft itself, and the service associated with it, and the rooms that the rest of us were given (nice plus-sized suites just a few floors down from the Skyloft), it was already pretty much worth our while to be there. Throw in the limo rides and the Maybachs, even for travel from one location in Las Vegas to the next (neither of them being the MGM), and then of course there was that incredible dinner on Friday night in the Skyloft room featuring anything and everything that the MGM had to offer. And the best part was -- not sure if I expressly mentioned this already or not -- it was all free. All of it. As in, at the end of the trip, they literally took all four rooms charges off the bill -- including mini-bar charges, wifi internet charges, etc. -- as well as every single meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner) we ate on any MGM property. This included breakfast every day at the MGM or Bellagio buffets, it included a couple of lunches or late-night meals at Studio Cafe in the MGM, and it also included dinners at Prime (in Bellagio), Fiamma (in the MGM), and Japonais (in the Mirage), although I missed a couple of those due to playing in other poker tournaments at the time. And the big dinner on Friday in the MGM Skyloft? Also totally free of charge. In fact, the only thing the MGM asked any of us to pay for were a couples massage that one of the couples with us went and got on the second day of our stay -- and frankly, if those two had actually gambled any reasonable amount (they did not, really), that would have been removed too I am quite sure, as I have definitely been comped a massage or two in my day. Of course some of us lost money on the gambling while we were out there, but as far as expenses go, we lived it up in rich style for several days and didn't have to pay a dime for it. You just can't beat that when it comes to affording a luxurious type of vacation.

What do I regret not doing this trip? Not much. I played as much poker as I could handle during my four days in the desert, and although I would have liked in theory to play that second WSOP event on Friday, when push came to shove and I had the time and the money to go and register, I opted not to because I felt simply tournament'ed out after the previous two days' attempts over some 16 hours of tournament play at both the Rio and the Venetian. So I don't regret that. I had wanted to get out to see the Pawn Stars shop, so I was glad to get that taken off the list, disappointing though that visit was. I feel no need to do the helicopter thing to the Grand Canyon, having done it now three times before -- including just last year -- so that's not something I even thought of this time around, and I got my annual dinner at Prime in, so really I hit all the major things I wanted to do. I guess the two things I would put on the list of things I wish I had done on my trip would be, first and foremost, to go and see the Wynn. I've still never set foot in Wynn or the new building Encore, although I have consistently heard that these are two of the very nicest properties in the whole city. For my past couple of trips, visiting Wynn has been loosely on my schedule, although both times it has taken a back seat due to other things (like winning thousands of dollars at poker, silly me). I was glad to get to see Aria and a little bit of the massive City Center project this time around, but in the end that was my time to see Wynn and I ended up going with City Center instead. Oh well, there's always next year.

One last thing I should mention is my tremendous success at cash game poker during this trip. Several people have asked me will I be playing more cash poker since winning so much dough this past week? And the answer is: maybe. For those of you who have read here for a while, I got pretty into cash play maybe three years ago, and in the end I got pretty good at it and was easily able to play a profitable game at any normal-stakes table online. But you know what I found? I really didn't like it. Playing winning cash -- at least the way I play it -- is boring. It's mechanical, and while of course you have to make consistently good decisions under pressure, that's not something I have a big problem with and as a result I find it generally not all that difficult to play a profitable game at low-stakes no-limit holdem. But tournaments, on the other hand, now tournaments are hard. They are far from mechanical, and ultimately the increasing blinds and antes force you into pots you would never ever ever ever ever play in a cash game context, and even though that itself can be a source of some frustration, in general that to me is what makes poker tournaments so difficult to master, and ultimately so much fun. So, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tempted to play a little more cash after my solid success over my last 7 or 8 sessions in Las Vegas last week, but ultimately, having already been there done that before, gotten pretty good and decided that it just wasn't what I was looking for, I doubt it will take over any significant part of my poker play going forward. Maybe it's something I will dabble in more in live play as I always feel like my reads are 10 times better than when playing online, but online I doubt if you'll be seeing me spending a whole lot more time playing cash poker than in the recent past. That said, I did win nearly a buyin last night at the 1-2 nl tables, so who knows where this may end up. I may be on High Stakes Poker next year, prop betting Phil Ivey that I will win a bracelet
during the 2011 WSOP. Stranger things have happened, huh?

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Saturday in Vegas: The Culmination

OK, so when I left off here, Wednesday at the WSOP last week was a confidence-sapping debacle, and Thursday at the Venetian saw me regain my confidence but without anything to show for it in terms of profit for the trip. Friday, however, saw all of that change, as I lived large in luxury at the MGM, won close to two buyins at the Bellagio cash tables and another buyin at 2-5 nl cash courtesy of the Pavillion at the Rio. I had also won another $600 or so on the Flyers stepping up in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, to get me pretty much back to even for the entire trip, heading into my last day and my last night in the desert in 2010. As midnight passed on Friday night into Saturday morning, I found myself of all things checking out the video poker, one of the few games in the casino that can actually be beat if you play correctly and if you take full advantage of the best payout lines the casino has to offer. Things had been going so well for me in the live poker realm, that I decided it was worth a shot at the $1 buyin video poker machines, where I have had many big hits before in my day. Fortunately for me, my luck continued as over a two-hour span I hit two flushes, three full houses and two four-of-a-kinds. This netted me another $350 or so in profits, and after many many drinks on the night, I awoke bright and early the next morning in my bed, ready to face the world and try to really put a stamp on another profitable trip to Las Vegas by hitting up the poker tables one last time. But first, I had a couple of other items to attend to.

For starters, we called and got a Maybach to drive us out to the pawn shop in North Las Vegas that is featured on the new History Channel show "Pawn Stars". This is not a show that I watch a whole lot, but I've seen it on the tube before, and my sister in law and her daughter are major fans, and I have to say it was fun to see all the guys in the flesh after watching them on tv. That said, the Pawn Shop is definitely a bit underwhelming when you actually get there and take a walk around the store. It's not at all big, and to be honest the majority of the merchandise available to be purchased is jewelry, none of it especially beautiful or nice. I guess that is just reflective of the type of stuff people come by these stores to try to pawn in the first place, but I suppose I was expecting to see more of the interesting stuff that is featured on the tv show every week. I guess that stuff just sells quickly or something, because other than a few old-fashioned radios, cash registers and guns, there really isn't much of interest available for purchase in the shop. And I know I mentioned it's not a big store as it is, but these days, with the success of the tv show, a good 30-40% of the store is actually dedicated to selling Pawn Stars merchandise -- hats, t-shirts, mugs, shot glasses, etc. -- which leaves even less room for the stuff I had come to buy. So I was glad I went, but I was just as glad when I saw our gray Maybach turn the corner into the parking lot and I eased back from the 115-degrees-in-the-morning heat into the luxury of my fully reclining seat behind my chauffeur, and back to the MGM we headed.

In my desire to get to see some of the casinos I have wanted to visit but never yet had the chance, and knowing that we had reservations for dinner at Prime at the Bellagio that night, I decided I wanted to go and check out the poker room at Aria on Saturday afternoon, so after a quick jaunt to the lazy river in the MGM pool area to round out a very hot morning, I prepared for my first visit to Aria. But first, I made another quick stop at the MGM sports book, this time to place a couple of wagers on the Belmont Stakes that was set to run at 3:32pm local time on Saturday afternoon. Do I know anything about horse racing, you may be asking, and the answer would be a resounding No. But, my sister in law is hugely bigtime into horses. She and her daughter have been grooming and riding horses for years, they've been to riding camp, on riding trips, and they are currently looking into buying a horse of their own. On one of their many horse-related trips, they had the pleasure of meeting one of these leprechaunesque professional jockeys, a guy they said was super nice and sweet named Mike Smith. Well, as my sister in law informed us on Saturday morning at the Pawn Shop, it turns out that Mike Smith was running one of the horse's in that afternoon's Belmont Stakes, in the big one, Race #11. She and her daughter both love Mike Smith and told me he is a prime candidate to win his first triple crown race as a jockey. So, long story short, on my way out to Aria, I stopped by the MGM sports book and placed two bets: $100 on horse #3 to win, because I liked the name "Uptowncharlybrown" and I liked his odds at roughly 10 to 1. I mean, who wants to bet on a 2 to 1 favorite, where you're only going to get paid the amount you bet, and that's if your horse somehow happens to hold on and capture the race? The 50 to 1 horses are usually dogs, I figured, and the reward from the 2 to 1's and 5 to 2's is usually not worth the risk IMO, so I like to focus on the mid-range dogs like the 8 to 1's and 12 to 1's. In this case, horse #3 in the Belmont fit my criteria. And, of course, I placed another $100 of my new-found winnings on horse #7, Drosselmeyer, jockeyed by the one and only nice guy himself, Mike Smith, to win, who was also in my sweet spot of around 12 to 1 when I placed the bet. And with that, I left for Aria.

Aria is a very nice casino, although a bit dark and maybe a bit stiff for my tastes. The poker room is nice -- it does not quite have the panache of a place like Bellagio's poker room nor the expanse of the Venetian's, but it's comfortable, the drink service was timely, and the dealers did a good job unlike the Venetian where I once again saw multiple examples of major dealer gaffes in what was just half a day of hanging out there on Thursday. Aria's daily afternoon no-limit tournament was slated to start at 1pm, so I bought in for the $150 price using my MGM Players Club card, and almost immediately the tournament was ready to begin. We had in the end 74 runners in this mid-afternoon tournament, and with 20 minute blind rounds (less than the 30 minutes I had been told, but in the end easy enough to adjust to) I figured we would be looking at a good 5 or 6 hours until this thing was done.

Early on in the Aria tournament, within the first hour of play, with my stack only down marginally from its starting level of 10,000 but far from the table chip lead after two early eliminations in what proved to be a very aggressive tournament on the day, I called a preflop raise from the small blind with pocket 7s, and the flop came down 972 with two clubs. I checked since I was not the preflop aggressor here, my opponent led out, and I immediately got the vibe from his super-confident action that this guy wanted to get called. I mean, I didn't think for a half a second that I was behind top set, but rather I read this guy for a big pair, and someone who was not even conceiving that his overpair could possibly be behind. Thus, I did what I would not normally do when flopping a set, and I actually raised the flop. Blinds at the time were 50-100, the preflop raise had been to 400, and my opponent had led out for 650 into an 850-chip pot, so I bumped it up on the flop but only to 1800. I wanted to get some good chippage into the middle, but at the same time when raising the flop with a set, you definitely don't want to push it too hard that you scare away your opponent with the overcard, so I made my raise only about 1.5x the size of my opponent's flop bet, and he smooth called. The turn came a Queen of clubs, a card I did not love for fear of running into pocket Queens -- squarely within the range I had my opponent on already -- or the filled club flush on the turn. But ultimately, my read said big pair, and the way he checked to me on the turn eliminated all possibility in my mind that he had nailed his pocket pair with the turned Queen. No, his confident demeanor still said he thought he was ahead, and with that I had him on either Kings or Aces, so I led out on the turn, just enough to be representing strength but little enough that it would leave my opponent with a large enough raise to think he has fold equity. And that's exactly what happened -- he reraised me on the turn for most of the remainder of his stack, I pushed for a few chips more, and he called, flipping up pocket Kings, and just like that I had secured the early double that is so crucial in these quick casino tournaments.

I managed to slowly chip up from 20k in chips for most of the next hour or so, using my big stack to my advantage and stealing, re-stealing and c-betting with abandon where I could, and before I knew it we were a couple of hours in, more than half the field was gone, and I was still around double the average with close to 40k in my stack. From a quick look around the remaining 4 tables, I appeared to be one of the chip leaders, which gave me the enviable ability heading into Hour 3 to look up some of the tightass Harringbots who would predictably begin pushing on short stacks as we move to the latter half of this field.

Unfortunately, these things did not work out quite as planned. Every single time I raised any pot before the flop, pretty much all during the third hour of play (meaning for three consecutive blind rounds), I got reraised. I mean, every single time. I absolutely cannot stand when this happens, but it does seem to be a fairly common occurrence if you play enough poker tournaments, in particular if you bully-raise as often as I tend to do. Invariably, because I know how to effing fold, I end up laying down to these reraises, which is what I did on Saturday at Aria, over and over and over and over again. I literally wasted away more than half of my stack from its highs over maybe 4 blind rounds, and by the time 5 o'clock rolled around, we were down to the final two tables, but I was getting short, down to just over 25k with an average of just over 40k in chips. I was extremely frustrated, both at myself for pushing so aggressively for such a long period of time, and at my cards for not allowing me to push back or call any of the action I was seeing seemingly every time I made any kind of a move. I know there is seriously no way to possibly survive in a short, quick tournament like this without pressing the action quite a bit more than one's cards would dictate, so I knew what I was doing in raising and trying to steal as much as I was through the middle rounds of this thing, but the fact is that I probably laid down to reraises at least 7 or 8 times in a row over the preceding couple of hours, my image had to be completely and totally shot after raise-folding so, so many times recently, and I was extremely frustrated and was starting to accept that my image was so destroyed that the others at the table were probably reraising me light at this point, knowing that I still could not profitably call and that I was clearly someone who was willing and able to lay down a hand.

My frustration and lack of cards came to a boiling point early at the last two tables, when down to 16 players left (the top 7 finishers would be paid), I open-raised again on the button, this time with a semi-playable Q8s, and the big blind took one look at me and quickly raised me big with a stack size a bit larger than my own. When I saw the look on his face and then him reaching for his chips, something just flipped in my head, and I figured eff it, this time I'm going with it if these guys think they're going to reraise me allin light over and over and over again. I instantly pushed allin, and he instacalled, showing pocket 8s with a toothy grin as I flipped up my sooted Q8. The flop was clean, but then a miracle Queen on the turn lifted me back into safe territory and slightly above the average chip stack, while my opponent in the big blind flipped out, yelled out the F word as loud as he could, slammed his hand on the table, and started demanding to know what I thought he was reraising with. #1, just like it is important always to be cognizant of your own image at the poker table, it is equally important to be cognizant of everyone else's. If this guy could not figure out that I would be fixing to push allin with almost any two the next time someone reraised me preflop, then he simply was not paying attention, so to ask derisively what I thought he had there just misses the point entirely. And #2, next time perhaps you can take at least 2 seconds before you instacall allin with a hand like pocket 8s. I folded hands at least that good probably four times during the middle stages of the Aria tournament, laying down middle pairs to raises on the flop twice as well as twice folding AT or AJ on an Ace-high board against a guy who had raised from early position before the flop, so I'm sorry if I can't feel bad for a guy who instacalls allin with pocket 9s and then flips out when he loses to an overcard. Obviously it was a gross suckout for me, but at the same time I think an observant opponent would have known that I am likely to push in that spot with many hands that could at least be just 2-to-1 dogs if not basically races against a middle pocket pair like that. Not saying I would have folded the 9s if I were him, but you certainly wouldn't hear me ask an asinine question afterwards like what he thought I had when he pushed on me with his Q8s. Obviously, I was desperate, I was frustrated, and my image was shot, and he should have known that I would be looking to get it in there with any reasonable hand, which is exactly what I did.

Oh, I should as an aside mention that during those difficult couple of hours in the middle of this tournament, I did get a nice emotional boost when they showed the Belmont Stakes, and after not making an appearance in front all through the race, suddenly on the last turn here comes Drosselmeyer and Mike Smith around the outside making his move. "And down the stretch they come!" yelled the announcer as Smith whacked and whacked and whacked his horse some more, climbing ever closer to the front of the pack as the final straightaway loomed ahead. Just seconds before reaching the finish line, Drosselmeyer pulled ahead by a nose, and in the final several gallops that lead grew as Mike Smith ran to victory, grabbing his first triple crown win and making my sister in law and niece extremely happy in the process. And, as Smith's horse ended up going in as a 14-to-1 favorite by post time, I also scored a tidy $1400 profit on my bet on Horse #7 to win, while my brother managed to nail the exacta with his ticket on horses #7 and 5, which paid him a sickening $3600 and change on a $50 bet. Watching a big horse race in a casino is always fun, and having money on the eventual winner despite not knowing jack crap about the sport was a big bonus emotional up in what was otherwise not an enjoyable few hours for me in the Aria tournament.

Anyways, so with 15 players remaining (my big blind guy busted on the next hand with just a very short stack remaining, glaring at me the whole time while he gathered his things and left the table), I was in around 5th place in chips, and from here it was like the dam burst a little bit and I started finding myself in a number of decent situations. One shorty pushed into me from late position when I held AQ and I made the call and held up against A5s. As the shorties continued to drop out, and the action was mostly allin preflop at this point in the tournament, I got lucky and caught a second one to get to the final table when a medium stack in front of me made a largeish allin raise preflop and I looked down to find pocket Queens. I put him in, he called with KJs, and he proceeded to hit a King on the flop before I turned a Queen to put him out of misery and arrive at the final table with the #2 chip stack of 10 players remaining.

In keeping with my usual early final table style, I generally stayed away from confrontations as we neared the 6pm hour, allowing a couple of the short stacks at the final table to consolidate as they beat each other up, and within maybe 10 minutes of starting the final table action, we were down the final 7 spots who would make the cash. The bottom few ITM players would receive smallish payouts relative to the $150 buyin for this tournament -- $500, $700, $900 and $1100 -- but as usual it was the top few spots where most of the payout cash was concentrated, in this case paying out $4200 to first place and $2400 to second, so I was focused on doing whatever I had to do to make it to heads-up play and really get a good start on what I hoped would be a very profitable Saturday in Las Vegas. Seven players left quickly turned to five as we had a three-way allin on the flop with a set of 5s against AK and a flush draw with J7 of clubs on a KT5 board with two clubs on it, with the flopset amazingly holding up to create the new chip leader, and then five quickly became four as the new short stack at the table quickly pushed allin with KQs preflop and got called by AQ, which also miraculously held. With four players left and around 190k in chips, I was still in good position to make a run at the top spots, and I had already secured at least an $1100 payout in what would prove to be my best nlh tournament performance of the week, but I wanted more. I played tighter than I normally might for a few orbits, folding A9s at one point to an allin reraise from one of the large stacks at the table, and before long the shortest stack got it allin with top pair on the flop against the chip leader who had flopped a hidden two pairs, and then there were 3. The stacks were around 400k to my 160k to 140k for the guy to my right, and we went back and forth, exchanging each other's blinds and
antes, for a good 15 or 20 minutes before I finally found pocket Jacks and faced yet another preflop raise to 30k from my opponent. I opted to just push allin, a move I had made twice already recently at this final table against suspected stealers who I knew did not want to bust from this thing without holding strong cards, and the player called me with AT, leaving me in good shape and somehow holding for a near-double. We were down to two players left, with me around 350k to his 400k or so, but this player simply did not have much experience at all in heads-up play, that was very clear. As soon as we got to heads-up, this player raised every single hand without even barely looking at his cards -- almost as if he read somewhere that he is supposed to play that way, without really understanding the thinking behind it, and I went through a 3-hand run of AJ, A8s and pocket 7s and all three times I raised him strongly and he folded, leaving me with the chip lead for the first time in the tournament. We played maybe another 5 minutes or so, and then eventually we both limped preflop, me with K7o, and when the flop came K64 rainbow I bet out as I had so many times at this final table. My opponent raised me, and try as I might, I just did not think he had the final table tournament wherewithal to only raise here when he was strong, or to fold if he was not. After having made a few decent folds late at the final table, I just didn't think he had me beat here, and I opted to push him to the limit with a large raise right here and now. My opponent thought but only for a couple of seconds before calling allin with 76, for second pair and a backdoor straight draw. Of course the 5 on the turn had to give him an open-ended straight draw to go with his two-pair and trips outs, but somehow I dodged them all with a harmless 2, and I had won the tournament!

We stuck around a little while longer to secure our payouts, and with 42 fresh, crisp $100 bills stuffing up my wallet, I quickly jumped on the tram from Aria directly over to Bellagio, where my friends were waiting to head over to Prime for our 7pm dinner reservation. And dammit if that place does not get better and better every single year! This year it was our usual Prime order -- the seafood platter for 5 as an appetizer, plus the onion soup that is so good there, and then of course for me the 12-ounce filet mignon. I swear that is the most flavorful, most tender steak I have ever eaten, and like I said, year in and year out Prime continues to deliver with a fabulous ambience, excellent, attentive service, and just the top quality food that I have come to expect from what is pretty much my favorite restaurant in the world today.

After Prime, it was off to see the new Elvis-themed Cirque de Soleil show back at Aria, which I have to say I thought was only ok at best. I mean, the acrobatics are cool and all, but I continue to feel like the first Cirque show in Vegas -- Mystere, over at the Mirage since at least 15 or 16 years ago when I first saw it -- has always been the best in that it already included what the Cirque folks thought was their best material. All of these other Cirque shows that have come out over the past several years -- O at Bellagio, Ka, Love (the Beatles-themed show) and at least two or three others spread around Las Vegas Boulevard, all seem to me to pale in comparison to the first. It's like they are all just thinned-out versions of Mystere, showing some but not all of the great acrobatics and feats of strength and balance that Cirque de Soleil is famous for, and I must admit I am no kind of an Elvis fan which did not help matter either. Still, it was a nice period to relax a bit after a stress-filled afternoon at the Aria poker room and then a massive dinner at Prime.

After the show we headed back to our home base in the MGM Skylofts, and from there it was downstairs for my now-patented stay-up-all-night move until my early morning flight back to the real world. And other than a brief trip for the ladies in our party to get some ice cream around 3am, I hung out in the MGM poker room for the following 4 hours or so, managing to win yet another $800 at 2-5 in the process. This one mostly came in one big hand, when I held AK and raised preflop from late position, got reraised by the button (and I just called), and then he led out on a K88 flop after I checked the action to him. I debated raising right here, but #1 these paired flops are far less scary than three-card flops since there is no straight or flush possibility and since there were basically only two cards (the two remaining 8s) I had to fear my opponent possibly having in this spot, which I was not ultimately remotely concerned about since he had reraised me preflop. And #2, raising him here would just put him on notice that I could have AK, which is a message I did not want to send just yet since I knew this guy probably put me on air with my late position steal-raise preflop. So I made like I was unhappy but like I felt compelled to make the crying call here. When the turn brought a harmless Ten, I pretended to think a bit before checking, a move I love to do in live play because, if executed perfectly, it gives the impression that I am trying to deter my opponent from betting out a second time, and he took the bait by betting out again, this time about 90% of the pot and giving the impression to me that he really did not want me to call. I opted to just call, leaving only about $150 behind in my stack into a pot with probably around $750 in it after my turn call, but I was hoping he might check the river in which case I could check it down as well and save myself from putting everything in with just top pair top kicker. Instead, my opponent instabet the last of his chips, more or less enough to cover me, after a raggy river, and I knew as soon as he shot his chips out there lightning quick that he was suddenly afraid he was losing this pot. I called at the end, and I waited for him to show his cards, which he tried to claim he did not have to do even though he was wrong, I called him down at the river and he had to show. I didn't have to show if I had the losing hand -- this guy would later claim that I would have been required to show my hand anyways even if I mucked it, which was also idiotic since they don't ever make you show the losing hand unless there is collusion or some other similar reason for the house to enforce such a requirement. In any event, he showed pocket Queens and I scooped about $500 on that one hand. Otherwise, I barely lost any big pots in my final session of poker in Las Vegas for 2010, and I managed to win a couple of nice pots on the flop with raises, and one allin preflop with my AQs vs 88 where I won a nice race for good measure as well.

I left the table shortly before 4:30am to head up to pack my things in advance of my 7am flight, and that was the first time on the trip that I really had the chance to take stock of my total winnings. On Wednesday I lost $1500 in the WSOP, and probably another $400 or so at the cash tables throughout the afternoon and evening hours at both the Rio and the MGM. On Thursday I lost $340 in the Venetian DSE, and another $400 or so donking around at poker for a few hours late in the day when I really was too pokered-out to be playing a solid game after two straight days of high-pressure mtt play. On Friday, however, I busted out with an $880 win at 2-5 no-limit at the Bellagio, followed by winning another $880 in the Flyers Game 4 win in the Stanley Cup Finals, and ending the night with yet another winning session at 2-5 nl, this time at the Rio while the WSOP was going on all around me, plus booking a $350 profit over a couple hours of Jacks-or-Better double bonus vide poker. This $2500+ win on Friday basically made up for all of my losses from Wednesday and Thursday and then some, and set me up just slightly ahead as we headed into my final day in the desert on Saturday, which saw me win $1300 net on the Belmont Stakes, plus a whopping $4200 score in winning the daily afternoon tournament in the new Aria poker room. I then rounded out the trip by cashing out with another $800 profit at 2-5 cash as I waited for my plane to leave, meaning that I managed to win well over 6 grand on Saturday alone after winning nothing in my first couple of days and managing just to scratch myself back to near break-even on Friday. That Saturday, with its broad wins in both horse racing, tournament poker and 2-5 no-limit cash, will go down as one of the most fun and most exciting days of gambling I have ever experienced. In the end, as I packed up my bags to head to McCarron and close the books on another fun and successful poker trip to Las Vegas, I stashed away 70 hundred-dollar bills deep in my carry-on, easily more cash than I have ever won in one place before, and probably ever even seen before in one place. I mean, last year when I chopped for 51 grand in the Venetian DSE tournament, they offered me cash but I was insistent on a check, so I've seen that amount of money before but just not in cash, right in front of me. All those hundies really would not even fit into the money envelope I had brought my first WSOP buyin out to Vegas in, so I had to find an overflow spot for the rest of my cash that would not fit where I wanted it to go, all along well aware that this is a great problem for me or anyone else to have.

I had little trouble getting to the airport, and although getting through security was its usual painful endeavor on a Sunday morning in Vegas, I got to my gate in plenty of time to enjoy some breakfast and try to reflect on the past few days' events. As usual I was asleep in my seat even before takeoff, and I slept most of the way home after depriving myself of sleep pretty much non-stop for the preceding several days in the desert. Unusually, we arrived more than half an hour early at JFK, and I got to surprise my daughters by showing up way earlier than expected and getting back to see the family that is the whole reason I exist these days.

I will be back tomorrow with some closing thoughts on this trip to Vegas, where it fits in with the best poker trips I have taken, and other notions that occurred to me during my time in the desert last week. For now it's already fading to just a happy memory, although my sense is that I will have that pile of hundies in my hamper to remind me of my success this week for a long, long time to come.

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Monday, June 07, 2010

Fun Friday in Vegas

Friday. The official midpoint of my four-day sojourn to the desert, and as yet I had basically lost money on everything I had touched over two days in Las Vegas. The WSOP on Wednesday was a total downer as I mentioned earlier, and that buyin barely bought me enough fun to feel like I had even taken a real shot at a bracelet. On Thursday it was the Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza, and although I played really, really well in that, in the end my lack of playable cards eventually caught up to me as it always does when you've never got anything every single time you ever make a move, and although I got really close to the cash in the end that buyin also did me nothing. I also managed to drop a little bit in those first couple of days at the cash tables in the MGM poker room, and even a touch here and there in the sports book. In all the entire trip had been nothing but a drain on my bankroll for the first couple of days, which had definitely not been in the plans when I drew up how I was hoping the week would go down.

And then came Friday. The Day When the Dam Finally Burst. We had stayed out wayyyy late on Thursday night, and when I woke up on Friday morning I had a big decision to make, as I wrote about here in my last post. Another WSOP $1500 donkament at noon, or another $340 Venetian DSE tournament at the same time? Without exactly realizing it at the time, I ended up choosing option (c) -- head to the Bellagio to do some shopping I had been looking to take care of while in the desert. I took my brother and friends to the Bellagio breakfast buffet -- the MGM's just does not compare, although it's much better than Mandalay Bay's which I ate at on my first morning in town -- and then after some shopping, when they went off to gamble I found myself strangely drawn towards the poker room at Bellagio, the site of my best winning cash session from two years ago the last time I visited this particular casino. It was a little after 10:30am at the time, and I remember thinking I would just sit down and see if I could make something happen in an hour or so, and then I could jump in a quick cab to either Rio or Venetian and play the tournament of my choosing. I got on the 2-5 list and since it was so early, I was able to avoid the one big problem with the Bellagio poker room -- the crowds. I was seated at a new 2-5 cash nl table almost immediately.

Fast forward just 45 minutes, and I was up over $550 just like that. I had the great fortune of being sat at a new cash table that was full of five Scandi friends all of whom bought in for full stacks, and all of whom never saw a preflop raise or a cbet or any kind of a draw whatsoever that they did not love. It was one of the best, most fun, and most importantly, most profitable tables I have ever sat at. No one was taking the game too seriously, and like I said their playing styles were all very overt and thus easy to adjust for. Unlike my earlier two forays into tournament poker at Rio and Venetian this week, it felt like I was dealt a premium hand every 20 or 25 hands or so, and I was able to make pretty much all of them pay off. Within 15 minutes of taking my seat, I was dealt pocket Kings in early position. I raised strongly (4x), knowing I was getting a bunch of callers regardless (three guys and the big blind stayed in), and when the flop came a semi-scary QT4 with two diamonds, I bet out for $75 into the $82 pot based on already having determined that these guys weren't folding any reasonable pair or draw. I got not one but two callers, something as I mentioned that would scare me a little on this board at a normal table. But not at this one. The turn was an offsuit 5, and I led out again, more or less sure that I was ahead, this time for $160 into what was around a $300 pot. I bet a little less than I could have, but again here these guys had already shown themselves to be major chasers and I did not want to lose them with just one card to come and very little chance of surpassing my overpair. Just the late position player called again, swelling the pot to over $600. The river filled with flush with an 8 of diamonds, a card I most decidedly did not love given my view of the player in the hand with me. I hollywooded for a while to try to act strong and discourage a river bluff that I knew I would not want to fold to before I finally lightly tapped the table, and he checked behind. I showed my Kings and he folded. I put him on second pair or a straight draw, and I was up more than $300 just like that.

Maybe 15 minutes later I had my second big hand of the day when I called a preflop raise to $20 from late position into a 5-way pot with 86 of clubs, and the flop came down A75 (again with two diamonds). The original limper bet out $40 into a pot that looked to have more than $100 in it, and when two players called that bet ahead of me, my only decision was whether to raise it up or just to call and hope for the straight. In the end, the flush draw out there is what stopped me from raising, knowing that I only had 6 reliable outs to my straight here instead of the usual 8, so I went for the limp as well. With $260 in the pot, my straight miraculously filled on the turn with an offsuit 9, a hand I knew none of these guys would ever put me on given the action in the hand. The EP guy checked it this time, but then one of the other players in front of me led out for a small $125. Again, normally, in particular in online play, a bet of less than half the pot would be a sign of a strong hand, but in live play when it's very difficult to count exactly how much is in the pot, I see this more regularly and in general against most non-tricky opponents a small bet is more indicative of weakness than strength. In any event I had the nuts, but I thought his bet indicated weakness so I just called behind and prayed for no diamond on the river. We saw the river heads-up with $510 in the pot, and when it brought an offsuit Jack -- making a higher straight possible but not something I viewed as a possibility given the play of this hand -- and when my opponent led out again for a paltry $125 at the river, that was my cue that he in fact had nothing he really liked. I bumped him up to $385 in the hopes he might have made two pairs with a JackAce or something, but after not all that long he laid his hand down, and I was up over a full buyin in my first half an hour at this new 2-5 no-limit table. And, I was having a great time doing it, with all the players at this table kind of laughing it up and just generally not taking things too seriously. And chasing. Oh, the chasedonkery of it all.

Shortly after this hand, I grabbed the cell phone and noticed that it was 11:45am. Time to shit or get off the pot as far as the WSOP and Venetian DSE go. I mulled it over for a few minutes, and eventually I decided I had to do what felt the most right at the time -- I stayed at the Bellagio cash table, in fact right in that very same seat. For over five hours. I won another $380 or so over that time, busting a couple of shorties when I called allins with pocket 9s (was up against 77) and with AQo (was up against 77 again). I lost a few chips when I bet aggressively with some draws, but I also managed to get paid a bit when I bet (once) and even raised the flop (once) on just a draw and got my opponent to fold into a decent pot. I only made one mistake in the session, when shortly before I left in time for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals (more on that later), I called a preflop raise from the blinds with pocket 6s, and then I opted to donk-bet into a guy I had observed to be a fonkey and led out for $45 into a $60 pot on a raggy flop of J54 that I figured he was unlikely to have hit. He smooth called my bet, and I went and talked myself into leading out again on the turn, even though I did not see him calling me on the flop with only overcards. I thought I could get him off whatever hand he was holding, but instead he raised me on the turn and I ended up having to fold in the biggest pot I lost on the session.

Around 4pm local time I cashed in for $1380 or so at the cage and hopped in a cab back to the MGM, where my brother and his wife were staying. Now, I should take some time to describe the levels to which my brother's degeneracy has risen, in terms of what the MGM is willing to offer him. This time around, our sort-of home base for the trip would be my brother's "room" in the very exclusive Skylofts on the top floor of the MGM Grand. And I use the term "room" very loosely, because, when you opened up the door to Skyloft #58 where he and my sister in law were staying, you realized what you were really looking at was not a room in a hotel at all but rather a luxury, ultra-modern 8-room condo-feeling apartment spread over two floors and featuring 30-foot ceilings with floor-to-ceiling windows. There was a full kitchen, a separate dining room area, and a super-modern living room featuring a custom 66-inch flat screen HD tv with an integrated surround sound system, all fully configurable in 500 different ways by the huge master remote on the coffee table that also controls all the lighting in the entire apartment, the automatic blinds on the big windows, and various other amazing features this place had to offer. Upstairs was a separate dressing room, a large bedroom with a low king-sized bed, and an incredible master bathroom with a stand-up steam shower, a tub, and a separate room for the commode. The unit also includes an office, which comes fit with a printer and a laptop with free wifi internet access for your use during your stay.

Oh, and did I mention the butlers? Each Skyloft comes with its own set of personal butlers, who are their to wait on your every beck and call on a moment's notice for the duration of your stay. So, for example, when my brother's allergies were acting up due to something he had come into contact with earlier in the day, he simply picked up the phone and asked for the medicine he wanted, and it was brought right to his door within maybe 10 minutes or so. When one of the many phones in the unit was not working properly, one phone call and within 30 minutes they had an engineer in there to look things over and fix the problem. When my sister in law wanted a strawberry milkshake at 4 in the morning, all we had to do was ask, and within minutes it appeared. Staying in the MGM Skylofts was literally like nothing I have ever experienced before, and it came with a ton of perks that are just hard to beat if you're looking to travel and stay in Las Vegas in style. For example, I know I have mentioned that during past Vegas trips with my brother, we have simply taken limos everywhere, bypassing the main resorts' taxi lines over and over again which can get pretty long during the busy times and on weekend nights, etc. Well, this trip we took that a step further. For the Skyloft residents, not even the regular limousines are enough, so we ended up taking 5 or 6 different trips over the week in a Mercedes Maybach 62, a car I had never even heard of before touching down at McCarron last week. Think of it like a limousine on steroids. It is not as useful as a limo in big groups, but for two or three travelers there is basically no greater luxury on the roads than sitting in your own seat, configurable by you to recline, foot up a footrest, any one of like 35 different options to control your seating arrangement in the vehicle. And there is more room in the back seat than any car you've ever been in in your life, and more features and creature comforts than you could probably imagine. The sunroof opens and closes, and it also can, at the push of a button, convert to either a clear window for the moon roof, or cover over dark entirely, or it can turn itself instantly opaque, staying a shade of white while blocking out the brightest of the sun's rays. There were coolers and heaters for the cup holders, heaters and personal fans for the seats, and satellite tv and radio for each passenger in the car. Oh and by the way, this was not just for rides from the MGM. As a Skyloft resident, we had a card with the Skyloft travel department's phone number on it, and anytime we wanted a ride -- to anywhere, and from anywhere in Las Vegas within a 20-mile or so radius of the Strip -- we just had to call, and there they would show up within 5 or 10 minutes later to take us to our next destination, be it the MGM or otherwise. Tooling around town all weekend in the Maybach was just one of those things that made this week in Las Vegas so special this time around.

OK, so back to Friday afternoon at the Skyloft. I think I mentioned the massive flat-screen HD television in the living room of my brother's apartment. Well, Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals was on, and once I decided to bag on playing another tournament at noon on Friday, the plan was hatched instead to cheer on our hometown Flyers to victory in a game that everyone from our group felt very confident the Flyers would win to tie up the series at 2 games apiece. Although obviously the sports book is another solid option to watch a big game at, ultimately we decided that we preferred the privacy of our own room -- in particular when I mention our dinner plans below in a minute -- but there was one big hitch: my brother's tv did not get Versus HD, who was showing the game nationally. As most of you know if you have ever stayed at one of the big resorts in Las Vegas, these places don't get you to come all the way out there and then put lots of great stuff on tv to keep you holed up in your room all day. No, they want you out in their casino, dropping your hard-earned dollars on all the myriad games they offer that are mathematically designed to beat you over time. That's the whole game plan with these resorts, so they don't offer a huge package of satellite tv stations to their people like many of us have in our own personal homes. And the Skyloft residents are no exception -- frankly, it's probably most important with the higher rollers to get them out on the floor and playing their craps or their blackjack or Baccarat, whatever their game of choice is.

So that is where the butlers come in. My brother had called over to them early on Friday morning and asked if there was any way we could get Versus HD on our room's tv. I laughed at him when he asked that, as obviously the feed would not be available on his one individual tv if it was not already included in the package, but he insisted we should ask and try to see what we can find. At first they just reviewed the list of channels available on the standard room package and told us no, unfortunately we would have to visit the sports book to see the game live. But my brother persisted, and eventually got his butler to agree to kick the request up to the head person who administers the Skyloft program for its residents. We went out for breakfast to the Bellagio, where I stayed playing poker for the next several hours, and wouldn't you know it they they called my brother a couple of hours later to inform him that the MGM was able to change the feed his tv receives from the satellite so that we would be able to view Versus HD way up on channel 738. This, mind you, from a tv that wouldn't even allow access to any channels above 36 that very same morning when we had left. So the plan was for us to meet up at 5pm local time in the Skyloft to watch the game in 66 inches of high-def glory, and that meant I had to leave the Bellagio at 4pm in time to place some bets on the Flyers in the MGM sports book downstairs. After a quick review of the options, I wasn't fool enough to take the Flyers to win by two or more goals in a series that had seen every game decided by just one goal to that point. But otherwise I ended up placing $220 to win $200 on the Flyers to score the first goal -- something I figured went part and parcel with them winning the game at home -- and I did not love the 1.5-goal line so instead I bet $360 to win $300 on the Flyers to win the game outright on the money line.

All this timing around the Flyers game worked out very well with our dinner plans for the evening, which was honestly one of the craziest, most luxurious experiences of my life. One of the things that my brother's host had offered early on when discussing him staying in the Skyloft on this trip is that they can offer us any of the food for in-room delivery from any of the restaurants located on the MGM's grounds. Of course this is not part of the hotel's standard room-service fare, but it's a service they apparently offer to those in the Skylofts as one of the many amenities for their high rollers. And I don't just mean, they'll get us the porterhouse from Craft Steak House because it's my brother's favorite dish. No, I mean instead, that morning, the butlers left for us in the Skyloft every menu from every single restaurant in the MGM. Every last one. It was Pearl and Shibuya for Asian food, Diego for Spanish food, Wolfgang Puck and Fiamma for Italian, Nob Hill Tavern for new modern fare, Sea Blue for seafood, Craft Steak for steakhouse fare and Joel Roubuchon if your like fine, French cuisine.

And so the six of us picked what we wanted to eat out of all those menus, left a message from the Bellagio with the Skyloft concierge with exactly what each one of us wanted to eat and drink, and then they brought it to our Skyloft for us to eat during the second intermission of the Flyers game. And I don't just mean that we each got to pick one place to order our whole meal from, or that there were minimums for individual restaurants, or anything of the sort. Nope, instead our total order ended up including food from eight different restaurants, and we each just ordered a la carte whatever wanted to eat from each place. So, for example, my Friday night dinner ended up being some oysters from Sea Blue, a duck fried rice dish as an appetizer from Shibuya, and the crispy chicken milanese from Wolfgang Puck. My brother, for another example, had onion soup from Nob Hill Tavern, lobster fried rice from Pearl, and a rack of lamb that wasn't even on Craft Steak's menu but which we asked the butler to please request if they could make for one of the hotel's Skyloft guests. Throw in some wine from Nob Hill, and a couple pieces of Tiramisu from Wolfgang Puck and something called "monkey bread" from Craft for dessert, and that rounded out what was without a doubt one of the strangest experiences of my life. So, we sat in the lap of luxury watching the Flyers crush the Blackhawks in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, on a 66-inch badboy flat screen tv that wasn't even supposed to get the channel that was showing the game. During the second period, the butlers came in and set the dining room table in an incredibly fancy spread, and then brought in all of our entrees right on time as the second period was ending, and we sat down to eat a meal that was not even normally available for room service, brought from eight different restaurants on a few hours notice. As I mentioned earlier with riding the Maybach all around town for a few days, it's little touches like this that make staying in Las Vegas with my brother such a special treat that you just really can't expect to find anywhere else.

We loved our dinner, and shortly after we were done, the butlers returned to clear the dining room while we watched the Flyers complete a total ass-whomping of the favored Hawks to tie up the Stanley Cup at two games to two. After the game we headed downstairs and cashed in our checks at the sports book, me with another fresh $880 in my pocket on top of the almost exact same amount I had won earlier in the day at the Bellagio poker room. My brother and our friends had been asking me quite a bit about the World Series of poker, so I offered to take them over to the Rio that night, where they could either gamble in the casino for a while or come with me to the convention area and I could show them the real center of the poker universe for the next six weeks. We headed over to the Rio, and after showing my crowd all around, I saw down to play some more 2-5 cash in the Pavillion while one of our friends joined me a different table, and the rest of our group went to go play some blackjack and roulette in the main casino near the lobby of the Rio.

I played 2-5 cash for probably 2, 2 1/2 hours at the Rio on Friday night, and in that period of time I managed to flop a set and a straight, getting paid nicely on both of them as I let my opponent catch up just a little bit but not enough to put my chances of winning the hands in any serious jeopardy. The flopped set came with a King on the board against a guy who paid me off with KQ on my bets on both the flop and the river, although he did not take the bait and bet out on the turn after I bet and got called on the flop and then I checked the action to him on the turn. Likewise, my flopped straight came with Q8s on a very scary 9TJ board in a 4-way pot that I had to play somewhat slowly for fear of KQ being out there to have me dominated. Still, I bet out and got called for smallish bets on both the flop and the turn, and when the river put an Ace out there I opted to check, fearing the KQ slow-play after four players saw this pot for a raise preflop, and figuring I would call mostly any bet in the hopes that the Ace on the river made somebody two pairs. After about 2 1/2 hours of 2-5 nl cash at the Rio, the clock had already struck midnight and I left along with my friends to head back to the MGM, up another full buyin for more than a $500 profit on the session.

In all, Friday was really the turning point for me on this trip, as mostly everything I touched on Wednesday and Thursday I could not win with, but then on Friday it seemed like I simply could not lose. I had won nearly $1400 at 2-5 no-limit cash -- easily my most profitable day of live casino cash poker ever -- over the span of around 9 hours of play spread across two different casinos, and plus I had won another $560 on the Flyers' thrashing of the Blackhawks in Game 4. So I was up nearly 2 grand overall on the day, more than making up for the $1500 I had so cavalierly plunked down to play the World Series of Poker on my first day in town on Wednesday, as well as the buyin to the Venetian DSE tournament I had played on Thursday. That felt good in and of itself, as did the fact that I had crushed it on the cash tables in a way that I can honestly say I've never done before. I know a lot of it was picking up good cards in good situations, and running just well enough when drawing to straights and flushes, etc., but to tell the truth, it was like I was in the zone or something. When I was drawing, I knew my card was going to come on the turn, and I bet these big hands and draws I was dealt exactly the same as each other so people were constantly pushing in hands where they thought they knew more or less exactly what I had, but then we would get it all in and they were constantly being surprised by what I was holding. It's fun as hell running good and playing great in cash poker, and in this case like I said in a day of fun times playing the game for cash money, to walk away up nearly $1500 or basically three buyins at a level I have not had tremendous success at in the past, it just felt great, and, I felt like it was setting me up nicely to get back into the proper frame of mind for lots more poker action to come on Saturday.

My next post will cover Saturday, my last day in Vegas this time around. Although there would be more sports bets, more travelling to different casinos, and even a visit to a popular Las Vegas store made famous by recent exposure on television, the highlight of the day would once again be poker, where I would not only return to the cash tables to try to keep the winning streak and the confidence alive, but also where I would make another appearance on the poker tournament front.

And little did I know, the winning for this trip was not even halfway done yet.

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