Friday, December 31, 2010

2011 Poker Goals

While I've given up making goals related to all the great things I could be doing with this blog, I do like to take stock every year of my poker play and try to set some reasonable goals that I believe will help drive me to improve my game in the year to come. This New Years, the poker goals actually have come pretty easy to me given that my tournament performance in 2010 left a lot to be desired with me, especially in terms of my overall results, but even in my play itself as I allowed a lot of the bad things that I could not control on the virtual felt to affect the things I could control. So with that in mind, here are a few general poker goals I have for 2011, some of which are a little different from corresponding goals I have had in past years.

1. Play more online mtt's. This is the first time in years I think that I'm not resolving to play less online poker, but with good reason: as I wrote about the other day, I played sufficiently little mtts this year that my game clearly lost its edge. I'm not necessarily looking to play more online poker in general, but I do want to get back to my roots and to my bread and butter in terms of my skills and my style, and that clearly lies in mtt's. In doing so, I am planning to play a lot less of the high buyin, high variance sitngos that toasted me so badly this year, and in particular to avoid the super turbo sitngos. To be a little more specific, my record in 6-man turbo sitngos is actually pretty great, but it's the heads-up sngs and especially the super turbos where my performance suffered badly in 2010, and it's no coincidence that these are the games where the variance is by definition the highest. I mean, I'm not saying anything original here by a long shot, but whenever you're a skill guy and yet are dumb enough to play super turbo poker, you're just asking for it.

2. Play more live. This is a repeat goal from last year, but frankly I did a decent job logging a lot more hours playing tournaments and cash games in casinos in 2010, but I had such great results in live play this year, in by far the most I've played in live events, so I really want to try to continue to make this a focus in 2011. Whether I can really get out to play in more of the big tournament series within striking distance from my house I guess remains to be seen, but making a few extra trips out to Foxwoods or down to AC could only be beneficial to my game and to my poker bankroll. Not only do I clearly get better reads from people when I can look them in the eyes, but as I mentioned earlier I simply have never tilted when playing live despite taking some hideous beats by some horrific players in my day. Live poker has always been best suited to my particular set of skills and my particular approach to the game, and today I think that is more true than ever, so look for me to play even more like tournaments and cash in 2011.

3. Do the stopngo more. This is also a repeat goal from 2010, but it is something I have got to say has really improved my play without a doubt over the past year or two. I have really started waiting later and later in the hands I play before deciding to get my money into the pot in the latter part of 2010 as I have suffered from a very poor run of luck, and this includes pushing allin pre-flop less, and waiting to keep enough of a stack to push on the flop instead. And I have to say, it is one of the things I have observed has really worked well for my game. I will be looking to use the preflop allin even less in 2011, and to find other, more creative and more strategic ways to play without a large stack. I can't tell you how many times I have won a pot over the past year or so by betting large enough on the flop to get a big stack to fold when they missed the flop, even though they surely would have called with a hand like AK, AQ or a medium pair and taken me down on the turn or river. The less I find myself pushing allin preflop, the more I think my game is improving overall, so I will be looking for most spots to do this in the new year.

4. Pre-flop raise less. In another specific poker strategy goal, I have found myself doing another thing in the latter part of this year that is a complete departure from what has been a pretty hard-and-fast rule of mine, really ever since I began playing poker seriously in the first place several years ago. Ever since I first read Super System, I have pretty much always raised 3x the big blind every time I've put in a raise before the flop. More or less without deviation, 3x the big blind has pretty much always been the plan, and I have had a lot of success following this strategy over the years, both in tournaments and in cash games. In fact, as I run deeper in tournaments, I have tended over time to increase my raise beyond 3x to adjust for the additional chips already in the pot as a result of the antes that kick in somewhere around the second hour of play. Well, lately I have finally caved in to what I see a lot of other players around me doing, and I've started raising less than 3x the big blind in most cases, and as of right now I have to say I think I have been really enjoying the results. Ultimately it's not really a huge difference in any individual hand, but over time the extra chips I save can really have a noticeable impact on my stack, especially during a deep run as the blinds and antes really start to escalate. And the real benefit of raising a little less than 3x is that, as an active preflop raiser pretty much at all times in a tournament, I lose a lot less chips over time all those times lateish in tournaments where the shorties take to restealing with allin preflop reraises time and time again. And the bottom line that I have finally seen with my own eyes here in 2010 is that 95% of the effect I am looking for when I put in a 3x raise before the flop, is still attained by using a raise more like 2.5x, and in many cases even less. And the more aggressively I am raising in general -- with the wider the preflop range of those raises -- the more my purposes of raising are accomplished with a smaller raise. For example, if I'm raising preflop with a spec hand like 87s, I'm doing it (1) to provide cover for my other raises with strong starting cards, and (2) because if I hit with this flop against someone else who has a big pair, I'm going to absolutely stack them. Well, raising just 2x the big blind (a min raise, in other words) is perfectly well enough to throw off the scent and keep anybody from putting me on a sooted-connector type of hand. What I've found this year is that I simply don't need to bump it up to 3x every time I raise preflop anymore to accomplish what I am looking to accomplish when I raise before the flop. So, for example, at the 150-300 level, instead of raising to 900 every time I pop it preflop, now I'm raising to something like 780 every time instead. At the 200-400 level, instead of 1200 it'll be something like 1080. At the 1500-3000 level, instead of 9000 chips for every raise before the flop, now I'm looking more at 7200 or so. And so far, it's been working. So you can look for me to be raising less 3x preflop and instead focusing those raises more in the 2 - 2.5x range in most cases.

5. Tilt less. Oh hahah who am I kidding. I goal this every year and I fail epicly miserably at it year in and year out. Yes I'm going to stop smack talking people so hard in the chatbox this year for sure, and I'm going to do what I can to maintain my focus on playing good poker to the bitter end of every single tournament I am in no matter what happens to me in other tournaments at the time. But the same things that make me such a fierce competitor and that drive me to do my best in everything that I do -- in the poker world and otherwise -- are things that just make me reallllly pissed off every time I take a sucker beat. And since I've failed on this one so miserably badly every other year since I've been playing poker seriously, I'm not even going to bother taking this goal seriously in 2011. Tilt less? No way. Play my best poker at all times though? You betcha.

Happy happy new year, everybody. Hope 2011 is even better than 2010 for you all.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 in Review

So it is time once again for my annual end-of-year post, where I look back at the year that was on the poker / blog front, and look ahead to my plans in those arenas for 2011. As I look back on things it's hard to believe that this is now the fifth such post I will be putting up, or in general that I've been doing this whole blogging thang for as long and as consistently as I have. As most of you know, this blog has transformed itself quite a bit over the years. At very first this was really not much more than a bad beat blog, and a place for my inane "online poker is rigged" rants, but quickly I found that the poker blogiverse was pretty well totally devoid of true hand analysis on a regular basis, and this space quickly morphed into my little corner of the internet where I posted actual hands I played -- using my own tactic of screenshots instead of what I generally find to be boring textual hand histories -- and solicited opinions from others on the best way to play the hands. That persisted for a while, but after a couple of years of it, the negativity really got to me and slowly things started to change again. For some time I still wrote regularly about poker, but not so much about specific hands with specific requests for reader feedback. People don't realize or at least don't think about how incredibly much work and effort goes in to my doing posts like those on a regular basis, and the drivelly, weasely bullshit people would say about me, my play, my family, my friends in the comments and in others' blogs I am convinced would eventually make just about anybody tired of the effort. No, I didn't stop blogging entirely like so many (most) of you out there, but slowly but surely the blog became less about soliciting others' opinions largely fueled by negativity and jealousy and greed and hate, and more about just being an outlet for me to write about whatever I am thinking about at the time. And those changes continued, as I spent the better part of late 2008 and early 2009 writing about the financial crisis, the stock market collapse, and what was at the time the thing on everyone's minds. To be honest, as a general statement late 2008 and early 2009 were the most popular this blog has ever been in reviewing my stats, and those days when I was writing about the collapse of Lehman Brothers from the perspective of an insider who had just recently left the company were the most-read and most-resent posts I have ever written here, which still amazes me to this day. After things calmed down later in 2009, I found myself having really enjoyed escaping the bounds I had previously put on myself about focusing mainly on poker here, and so I have spent the better part of the past year, year and a half just writing about whatever I want, be it poker or, in most cases, otherwise.

So yes, I still play poker, though every year for the past three or four it seems I have played less than the year before, and yes I still take screenshots of every meaningful hand I play, and yes I still review them all almost daily to try to find weaknesses and, more importantly, ways to improve my game, plug some holes, and just to think through the decisions I make and am likely to face again in other contexts. My experience with all the negativity here at my blog and just downright poor displays of understanding of the game have left me never really one to get involved in posting hands to poker forums and the like, but I do discuss hands from time to time with a few trusted friends whose poker skills I respect, and as I said I continue to do my own analysis on an ongoing basis of the game and how to make myself better and make better decisions. But I know I haven't written much about poker here over the past couple of years, and for those of you who read here every day hoping for poker analysis like the days of yore, please don't think that I don't hear you. And you're not alone -- literally not a single week goes by that I don't get a few emails, a handful of blog comments, or even chatted to in the chatboxes of some random online mtt I happen to be playing at the time, complaining that I don't ever write about poker anymore, why don't I do any more screenshot posts like I used to, how come I don't summarize my deep tournament runs, etc. To those haters who smile and tell themselves it's because I haven't won any tournaments these past couple of years, I don't mind that people are out there thinking it, but my reasons are those listed above and not any lack of focus on or success in poker tournaments nowadays. I just haven't used the blog as a place to post about my big tournament scores like I once did, and to this day the tinydicks spew their jealous hate in various forums and media whenever I have any success at all to speak of.

So be it. If you can't tell, I still love this blog, even as it seems that a good 90% of the poker bloggers from back in the day when I first got inspired by many of you to start my own blog, have failed to keep things up with their blogs, opting instead for the shorter mediums of twitter or facebook, or giving up posting entirely. And I have no plans of slowing down anytime soon, something I couldn't say two or three years ago when I was really troubled by the ridiculous negativity I ran into here and through my association with the blog on a pretty regular basis. The changes that have taken place here over the past several years have been part of the natural progression for the blog, and without those changes, I would pretty much have stopped posting years ago. But nowadays I am as happy with the blog as I ever was, I enjoy immensely the freedom I have given myself to write about whatever I want to, to focus on things like sports, work, the stock market, movies, tv, whatever it is I am into at the time. I know I still allow this site to be called a "poker blog" in my title, and in my heart that will always be the genesis and the underpinnings of what I do here, but things change, and as I have always maintained, it's my blog and I have to be free to write about whatever I want to write about. So that's what I'm doing, and it's what I will continue to do for the time being. There may be more screenshots and poker posts here during 2011, but I learned a long time ago not to promise anything about my blog, because let's just say I have a very poor track record on actually following through with making those changes.

OK with all that out of the way, let's look back on my 2010, poker-wise. My online poker performance this year has been, in a word, disappointing. Although I had some nice tournament wins of more than 5k early in the year, my lack of playing mtt's with any regularity really had a negative impact on my game this year, and it showed bigtime in my results. Until yesterday's nice score on pokerstars -- the site where I have played the least by far this year -- my entire year's performance there was utterly dismal. I had a few smallish wins on full tilt this year but nothing great to speak of, while also playing far fewer mtts than I have in the past, and once again it showed in my results. On UB I had another very solid year in mtts, but even there most of my success came earlier in the year. I won three tournaments since the summertime on UB, but all smallish tournaments with total prizes of under 4k, as compared to a few nice 6k+ prizes I won there earlier in the year in the bigger tournaments.

In general, this is probably true for everyone but my game is one that is heavily dependent on routine, repeated practice. Unlike most other players I know, I play about 95% based on instinct, and generally fly by the seat of my pants in pretty much every hand of every tournament I play. What I mean by that is, for example, if I get dealt K7o in late-middle position, I don't just click the auto-fold and wait for the next hand. Instead, if 3 guys limp in front of me, I might limp as well or even decide to raise if the blinds are small relative to my stack if I sense weakness or feel like making a play. Similarly, if I see a flop with that K7o and whiff entirely and I check a couple of times and one or two opponents check it back to me, if I get the sense that they are on a weak piece of the flop or also missed it, I might decide at the last minute based on my instincts about the hand to put in a big bet or even a raise if I believe I can take it down. It's just the way I play the game, and it's not something I would want to change as I think it is not only the most enjoyable way for me to challenge myself, but I have done fairly well over time approaching poker tournaments in this way. That said, playing more or less totally by my instincts takes a huge amount of effort in studying and reviewing my decisions and what led up to my making mistakes, and as I've said here many times, the best (and only, really) way to hone this kind of skill is to play regularly. Back four or five years ago when I had by far the most individual mtt scores online of my online poker career, it's no coincidence that I was playing by far the most online mtts I have ever played. As I have played fewer and fewer mtts each year over the years, my number of scores has concurrently dropped -- not only because you need more attempts in order to be able to beat variance to the degree you need to in order to win any mtt, but because my instincts are just not nearly as honed when I play 10 mtts a week as compared to back in the day when I used to run maybe 30 or 40of 'em. It's not close. And I can literally feel the effects of it right while I play -- I will be sitting here thinking, I wonder if I can win this pot, this guy just checked the turn and the river to me after leading out on the Ace-high flop after he raised preflop. Is he scared of that Ace? Does he have a middle pocket pair? And then I'll talk myself into it, I'll bet out big after he checks the river, and then boom there he comes in with a check-raise for all his chips and I know I just got duped. That happens more to me these days then it ever used to four or five years ago, or even one or two years ago, and I know it's because I am simply out of practice. A more by-the-book kind of player -- a style which can do perfectly well in tournaments if applied by someone who understands the level of aggression necessitated by most nlh tournament structures today, in particular on-line tournament structures -- would by definition need less practice and honing of his or her instincts, and I suppose on some level it probably makes sense for me to try to play at least a little bit more that way as I continue to play fewer and fewer mtts, but as I've said many times, for now that is not something I am willing or looking to do. I am fine owning that decision, but there is no doubt that my instincts fared me far, far worse this year than in any other year of my online poker play.

The other thing that has had a significant contribution to my poor performance this year has been luck. I absolutely love when people refer to luck as "variance", kind of like when people refer to "three-betting" and "four-betting" instead of raising and reraising in no-limit games, or when people refer to an individual blog post as a "blog" (like, "Today I wrote a blog about this great movie I saw last night." Gold!), but over this year as a whole, there is no doubt that I've never run as bad over an annual period as I did in 2010. And I've had some bad runs before, but nothing like I dealt with this year in my online poker play. Frankly, I am quite sure that some of this is again attributable to my lack of mtt play as compared to past years, as more repetitions will clearly lead to more opportunity for bad (and good) luck to balance itself out over the year, but in the case of 2010, I ran about as bad across the board as I could ever expect to have happen over a full year period, and my results once again were greatly impacted by this. I am pretty sure that, in percentage terms, I amassed big stacks in the mtts I did play this year with at least as much regularity as I ever have in any other year, but what happened to me innumerable times to lose those big stacks, in many cases without even cashing at all, are the stuff of legends. I have zero interest in boring anyone with bad beat stories, but I do always love to point out that if any of you reading this out there -- and yes, I do mean pretty much anyone reading this, save for maybe one or two of you whom I believe actually have endured similar sort of results in real dollar terms -- ever had to endure the beats, the suckouts and the setup hands, in the big spots in which I have endured them, you would never play poker again.

When you play cash, it is kind of easy in its own way to quantify how bad you have run over a given session. There is this amazing software out there now that among other things will tell you your "All-In Expected Value" and how far you deviated from that. This is awesome because every poker player alive wants nothing more than something quantifiable to point to that will actually prove to others just how poorly they have run, and people will use this however they can in the exact ways they can to make themselves look like they play awesome but just run horribly, but there is no corresponding program available out there today that can provide a similar number for mtt players. When you have a monster stack with 31 players left in a 1500-person mtt that pays $140 to 30th place and $8000 to first place, there is just no way of consistently measuring how much actual dollars it costs you when you run your AA into another top-5 stack who has 88 allin pre and an 8 flops, or when you run KK into AA on an AKx flop (that one has happened to me three times this year, including just this very week on full tilt) and you end up busting out a few hands later and winning your $143.81. Obviously you can't just say "Hey, that bad beat just cost me $7900 cash money, because with my big stack I was obviously going to win the 8k first prize in this tournament instead of 30th prize", but at the same time if you are a strong late-stage tournament player, that kind of a beat probably does on average cost you somewhere around a grand or more of expected tournament value. And when it happens to bust you in 15th place for $240 instead of in 30th place for $140, that beat probably cost me closer to two grand of real, hard dollars on average. And when I make a final table on pokerstars and then lose the biggest pot of the entire tournament thus far with AK to AQ allin pre with 6 players left and win $1400 while first prize goes on to claim 12k, that one probably costs about 5 or 6 grand of cold hard cash in tournament EV. But there's just no way to measure it, and I experienced all of those things more times than I could count this year. I've run as bad as anybody I've ever known for long periods of time -- most of them detailed all too well here on my blog over the years -- but when I say that my luck in 2010 in online poker was as bad as it's ever been, I mean it.

And the place I got hit the worst of all with the bad luck stick throughout this year was far and away in sitngos. Turbo sitngos worse than regular, and the super turbos by far the worst of all. I've spent a good deal of time reviewing my results on a daily or at least weekly basis, and as I reviewed all of my sng performances week after week in 2010, there wasn't a single week that went by that didn't see me losing out on multiple $500-1k or more payouts in sitngos where I was allin ahead as at least a 60-40 favorite and lost far more than 40% of the time, or saw me racing for a stack that would all but assure me of cashing for a nice payout and lost far more than 50% of the time, etc. To the extent that I could figure it out, I would estimate I probably finished a good 5 grand behind my "all-in tournament expected value" just in super turbos this year if one could ever calculate such a thing. A lot of this is my own fault for playing super turbos in the first place, which by definition minimize the contribution of skill and maximize that of luck to the eventual outcome, which is something I will definitely need to work on in the coming year. The sitngos in general -- which I played more of this year than in years past as I strived to find less time-consuming ways to get my poker fix on -- absolutely crushed me, and they make up a significant portion of my overall losses on the year in online poker.

Further complicating the lack of practice and the general run-bad that I dealt with in 2010, those two things combined to make me as tilty as I have ever been at the tables this year, which without a doubt led to a lot of bad decisions by me as a direct result, which also made my results suffer badly. The worst aspect of this was the disturbing and really incredible amount of trash talking I did in the chatboxes all throughout the year, far more than I have ever done in the past. It was apparent very early on in the year that I was suffering far more than my fair share of stupidity in the cards, and I quickly degenerated into going absolutely apeshit on people in the chatbox, over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again as these things kept happening to me and I let it get in my head. I haven't talked this dirty to people in a long time, and here I was all through 2010 doing it repeatedly to goddam monkeys who haven't got a fucking clue in the world how to play tournament poker but who somehow continually would suck out on me at the river, flop the set after calling a preflop reraise with their pocket 3s vs. my pocket Aces for half their stack, instacall me allin with their AK unimproved on the flop and then promptly turn the King to best my pocket Jacks, I could go on and on and on. And I let them have it. I don't talk about this much, but I had my chat banned probably four separate times across the sites I play at during this past year, something that hasn't happened to me in literally years since I really believed online poker was rigged, and I can't even deny that I deserved it and then some. I have spent so much time in my mtt's spewing hateful drivel at people who were literally stealing money out of my pocket, it's hard to even fathom. Even here as I write this, just earlier this week I let loose a couple of verbal assaults on people in the chat that they won't forget for some time. The problem is that I make a lot of good poker plays, I get in ahead a lot and behind not all that often, and the biggest issue of all is that I am just so damn good at fucking people up in the chatbox. You've all seen what I do to the monkeys who leave poo-flinging comments in my own blog. I can tear a stupid person down as good as anyone I've ever met, and as my bad luck mounted and prolonged and mounted and prolonged throughout 2010, I just got worse and worse and worse, and there is not a doubt in the world that the focus on hate-mongering and feeling sorry for myself had a demonstrably negative drag on my game and on my results. There is no way that I can play anything close to optimal poker -- in particular the type of unscripted, rely-on-my-instincts way that I like to play -- when I am devoting so much time and energy into shredding monkeyfucking assloving thieving shitknocking pooflingers in the chat, and just into generally hating them instead of playing good, quality poker. I can't count how many times I ubertilted out of two other mtt's -- even a decent way through the field -- within seconds of taking a recockulous beat from a total asshat deep in another mtt I was playing at the time. If I put the amount of effort and energy into refocusing my tournament game in 2011 and into maintaining my composure and my focus on playing proper poker in the face of bad beats that I did into attacking people who played bad and got fuck-lucky on me in 2010, I'll be in for some very good results. And to those of you who got to watch me unleash a tirade or thirty on people in the chatboxes while you watched me play this year, at least you got treated to a good show. I've definitely never seen anyone do it quite like I do, that is for sure.

One very bright spot for me in 2010 was my live poker play, which was one of my big poker goals for 2010 back at the beginning of the year. I played around 15 live poker tournaments during the year, and I outright won five of them which is an unbelievable performance by any standards. Given, most of these were small sng-type of events as opposed to gargantuan 1000-person fields -- the three large tournaments I played this year (the WSOP, and a big tournament series at Foxwoods and one at Borgata), I failed to cash in unfortunately -- but my live tournament play was literally as good as I could ever imagine it getting, considering that just a few years ago I thought I would never, ever be able to cash let alone actually run deep in any casino poker tournament. I killed at the tournament tables out in Las Vegas this past summer, even despite dropping $1500 in lasting only around 7 hours in the WSOP on my first morning in the desert, including winning a tournament at Aria for over 4 grand in my only time ever to step foot in what is I think an awesome new poker room in the city. I took down the daily tournament at Foxwoods on three separate occasions throughout the year for an average score of around 2k each time, and I also won the daily Caesar's tournament in Atlantic City not too long ago for around a grand over just maybe four hours of play. I final tabled and cashed another 2 or 3 times out of those 15 attempts at live poker tournaments, making this year almost unbeatable in terms of my overall level of performance in live play. And in two of my three "big" live events I played, I was ousted by incredible suckouts that were almost impossible to believe, or who knows how far I could have run in those as well. I also won more money playing live cash poker in 2010 than ever before as well, including logging multiple awesome sessions at both Bellagio and the MGM while out in Vegas, in addition to several winning sessions at Foxwoods, and at Borgata and Caesar's in AC. My overall live poker winnings for the year well exceeded five figures and did a fair amount to defray my online poker losses for the year, as well as to keep in check my belief that my actual poker skills are still as good as ever when I put my mind to it. It's not lost on me either that I have almost no inclination whatsoever to tilt in live poker play, and that obviously has contributed greatly to me making consistently good decisions and playing my best poker when I am playing it live as compared to the countless tiltoffs I produced in various mtt's at pokerstars, full tilt or UB over the past season.

To be perfectly honest -- and this is a hard thing for someone like me to say -- it's been a long time since I looked at my yearly performance in poker and knew that I had some serious leaks to fill. No, I can't do anything about the bad luck I experienced in 2010, but I can most certainly make dramatic improvements in the way I deal with that bad luck and the bad play of those around me. I can focus on maintaining my head in the game and in focusing my energies on recovering my lost stack rather than on (admittedly entertainingly) ripping down the person who unfairly ass-lucked into my chips, especially when I know doing so detracts directly and significantly from my ability to play my best poker. I know that by trying to play with a little bit more regularity, I can get back to honing my instincts to the level they will need to be at in order for me to return to winning ways online in 2011. Although I really don't focus on it specifically hardly ever on the blog anymore, I did have a number of nice tournament scores during the past year, and I expect those to occur with a greater frequency and, hopefully, a greater magnitude heading into 2011.

One of the best things about a new year is that it provides this natural breaking point, a pre-designated opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start anew, even if you like me are not the type to normally think of things in terms of "turning over a new leaf" or "totally changing my approach to the game starting today". I view my nice hit on pokerstars this week -- a tournament in which I got fucked hard a couple of times by monkeydicks but kept my cool and played awesome poker from start to finish -- as the first step in making these changes in 2011 to improve not just my mindset but my poker results. Many people would probably be leery looking ahead to 2011 after performing poorly in poker in 2010, but that's not my style at all. To be honest, while of course I wish I had played better poker and gotten better results this year, I relish the challenge of proving to myself that I can be a better player next year. I've done it before, and I'll do it again. The new year cannot start soon enough as far as I'm concerned on the poker front.

I'll make some more posts over the next week or so about other things from 2010 as a whole, and hopefully a first-time set of broader predictions for 2011, both blog- and poker-related and otherwise.

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I Can't Believe It!

It's not exactly a huge score, but after the 8 1/2 hours I went through to get there, I'll take it. And believe me, given the performance I have put up in limited tournaments on pokerstars this year, I still can't believe I actually won anything of significance on this site at any point during 2010. There may be a post coming on this score, but frankly the fact that I did not win really weighs against me profiling this one like I used to in the olden days. Suffice it to say that I quickly turned a 2:1 chip deficit into a 2:1 chip lead in heads-up play in this event, but then my opponent got TT vs my A9, and then his JJ on the very next hand vs. my J9 on a Jack-high flop to close me out. I guess after he was dealt pocket Aces three times at the final table and at least five times in the final three hours of this thing, TT and JJ in back to back hands when heads-up should not surprise me. But I'm not really complaining, believe me after a year that for me has been pretty scant in the online tournament score department -- again, in particular on pokerstars -- I'll take whatever I can get, and in my heads-up opponent's defense, I don't think I saw him get in behind in a bad spot even one time over maybe four hours of playing together, which -- again especially for pokerstars -- is something I can't believe I'm able to say.

This was probably the single best I have played an online mtt in a long time, and I did not get it in bad at any point during the 8 1/2 hours of play to get there. I played cool, calm and collected all through the home stretch rush to the final table through 1324 of the 1325 players to nab a nice score of roughly 150 buyins on this badboy, far and away the best performance I've ever had in maybe 40 or 50 times running this nightly $27.50 buyin, 30k guaranteed tournament at 8pm ET on pokerstars. As I said, I may have some more to say about this tournament later in the week, but for now I will just chalk this one up to a nice late holiday present for me from the site that has otherwise pretty much been the bane of my online poker existence in 2010.

Go Eagles tonight at home vs. the Vikings!

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Friday, December 24, 2010

NFL -- Week 16 Picks

After going 2-0 on the Eagles and the Jets in Week 15, my season record is now up to 25-18-2 as I continue to pull away from the .500 mark as the season wears on. It's funny how much this season's picks are the opposite of last season's, as last year I was utterly dominatory in the first half of the season only to become equally and utterly worthless in the second half to the point of going with straight-up opposite picks by the postseason, and winning amazingly well in doing so. This year has been pretty much the total opposite. I was mired within a game either way of .500 all through the first half of the season, but since then now it has been six straight weeks of winning picks, including a 3-0 week and now last week's 2-0 performance baked in there for good measure. With just two weeks to go in the 2010 NFL regular season, I am definitely looking to keep the momentum up heading into the postseason, where for whatever reason I have always had extremely good luck with my picks. And after putting up two road winners last week, the two games I like in Week 16 are both home teams, keeping with my theme of picking all kinds of winners week to week throughout this NFL season. With that in mind, here are the Week 16 picks, in no particular order as always:

1. St. Louis Rams -3 vs San Francisco 49ers. I'm going to the well one more time this season with that blazing idiot Mike Singletary, as his team is 1-6 on the road this year with only a win against lowly Arizona to their credit away from their home stadium. Yes the Niners have looked somewhat better after an 0-5 start, but last week's 34-7 shellacking by the Chargers shows that this 49ers team really still does suck. What's more, on the road this year, the Niners have lost by 27 to San Diego, 18 to Green Bay, by 3 to the Panthers of all teams, by 21 to the Chiefs and by 25 to the Seahawks, so there' just no reason to expect them not to lose by at least a field goal here. The Rams are in my opinion the best team in the terribad NFC West, and having already lost in overtime to the 49ers earlier in the year, I see the Rams getting their revenge this week in front of the hometown crowd in a play to nab their first division crown since the days of the Greatest Show on Turf.

2. Kansas City Chiefs -5 vs Tennessee Titans. The Chiefs' offense rematerialized with the return of Matt Cassel last week, and the team is 6-0 at home so far this year, including wins over solid teams like the Chargers and the Jaguars, both of whom are fighting it out for their divisions even at this late point in the season. With head coach Todd Haley poised to make a serious run at coach of the year honors after a truly amazing performance here in 2010, I expect the Chiefs to continue their run at home perfection by beating the overmatched Titans who had lost six straight efforts before beating the Texans at home in Week 15. Jamaal Charles should be able to keep the ball out of the Titans' hands behind the NFL's best rushing attack and against the 17th rated rush defense, and once the Chiefs score, the Titans' 29th-rated pass offense in the league is going to have a very tough time keeping pace.

Merry Christmas to all the Christ worshippers out there. And happy Chinese Food Day to the MOTs.

Go J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS this weekend!!!

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WSOP 2011

With the WPBT winter gathering now come and gone, it's time for me to start focusing on my own annual poker trip out to the desert, to play in the WSOP and to live it up in sin city for a few days. After recording my biggest ever poker tournament score of just a hair over 50 grand back in 2009, and then following that up with a win of around 8 or 9 grand in 2010 on a mixture of poker tournaments, cash games, sports betting and even some horses thrown in for good measure, it seems like a return to the sands of Las Vegas in the summer of 2011 is all but assured. The WSOP claims to have released the schedule for the 2011 WSOP this week, but in reality they have only so far announced the start date (May 31, 2011) and stop date (the WSOP Main Event will run from July 7 through July 19 when the final table will be determined), and the location, which will be slightly off-strip at the Rio for the seventh consecutive year despite rumblings that Harrah's might be readying for a move back onto the strip to one of its other Harrah's / Caesar's properties. The full list of the actual WSOP events for 2011 is slated for release some time in January.

Once again I have no plans to play in the Main Event itself, due to constraints of timing but also the buyin, as I've played more than enough poker tournaments in my day to know that I don't want to plunk down 10 grand on something as fickle and luck-based as any poker tournament. Probably someday I will take a crack at the Main Event, but frankly it's just not something I have any desire to do these days, and I'm not sure I ever have really. But I definitely would like to make my annual appearance in the Amazon room at the Rio and sit down for one of the preliminary events, most likely no-limit holdem but there are always options on that front. I feel competent enough to play most of the games spread at the WSOP, be it no-limit holdem, pot-limit Omaha or pot-limit O8, any of the shootouts, or heads-up tournaments. Just about the only games I would not really consider playing in the World Series are limit holdem -- I was once a pretty solid limit tournament play but I long since decided that no-limit was more the game for a guy of my temperament and skill set -- as well as 2-7 lowball (no real experience playing this), Razz (I'm not an effing clown with a rainbow wig and a squishy red nose) and any limit Omaha game (again, not a clown). But this leaves most of the preliminary events as options, and although in general I tend to prefer the lower-buyin $1500 events where possible, I am fortunate to have the financial freedom to be flexible with the buyin, easily willing to play a 2k or $2500 buyin tournament if that is what works best, schedule-wise.

So, I'll know more once the official WSOP schedule is released next month (next year!), but suffice it to say that I do plan to make my annual trek again next summer, and I do not expect much resistance from Hammer Wife as I have not had for the past few years. I live in a beautiful new home that was purchased more or less with poker winnings, my wife drives a beautiful new car which is paid for monthly out of poker winnings, and things like that tend to go a long way towards easing the tension about me taking a week off in the sun to party like a rock star and try to win some money while I'm at it. Ultimately, my annual trip to Vegas isn't even about the money though -- it's really about me having a hobby that I love to do but never really get to do in a live setting other than at most three or four nights a year in Atlantic Shitty. So taking my week in the desert each summer has become kind of an anthem for me, my chance to do what I love to do in far and away the best setting in the world to do it, to get a break from a job that I work at probably harder, longer and with more dedication than anybody I know, and most of all, my chance to remember and delight in my (dwindling) youth for a few short days on a somewhat regular basis.

I can already taste that hot, arid air as I emerge from the baggage claim area and into the taxi line at McCarron airport. Is it summer yet?

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Giant Excuses

#1 is the best obv.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

A Tale of Two Bozos

It's always great when your team manages to pull out one of those games where it just seems like neither team's coach wants to win. Such was the case with the crucial Eagles-Giants game this past Sunday afternoon in New York Jersey, with both coaches just making ridiculous gaffe after ridiculous gaffe, each embarrassing themselves unforgettably in front of their fans over and over again until, finally, one guy effed up the worst of all and directly cost his team the loss and significantly hurt his team's playoff positioning, if not playoff chances at all.

It all started in the first quarter of the game at the new Meadowlands early on Sunday afternoon, when on a key 3rd-and-12 for the Giants early in the game, Eli Manning made one of his 50 billion 3rd down conversions in the first half, this one a 15-yard or so "completion" to a diving Hakeem Nicks for yet another first down and putting his team into field goal range in addition to extending the drive to what would eventually turn into the Giants' second of many touchdowns on the day. Sure, Nicks made an athletic play to even make this look like a catch, but just like the game a couple of weeks back where the Buccaneers were raped of the ball when the Falcons' cornerback clearly rolled on top of the ball in what was even ruled a catch after the slow-motion replay clearly showed it could not possibly have been a completion on replay, in this case there was basically that exact same camera angle that showed clear as a bell that this was not a catch. Now I know this was the first quarter and all, but the game was already 7-3 at this point, and when the replay shows it this obviously not to be a catch, it is inconceivable that Eagles coach Andy Reid could just sit there and not even finger the red "replay" flag in his pocket, but rather sit idly by while the Giants hustled to the line to quickly hike the next play to erase any possibility of a replay. Because they were all too aware how crucial taking a commanding 14-3 lead early in this game would be, and they all saw the same replay. It wasn't close to a catch, and I'm all for saving your replay flags for the most opportune times in these games, but it's a shame we have such a poor game-day coach as Andy Reid to not realize just how much this was a crucial spot. I would never advocate him taking a real chance at wasting one of his two replay requests where he might lose a timeout and not even get the call overturned -- and don't get me wrong, this is the NFL so the odds were probably only 50-50 at best that the call would have been overturned and ruled incomplete, since it was so painfully obvious that the ball sat on the ground while Nicks rolled over on top of it -- but when it is that obvious that the call was wrong, and your team is about to go down 14-3 as a result of your sitting on your fat ass and doing anything instead of throwing that red flag, you're gonna read about it here over your Monday morning coffee cuz I'm not letting you off the hook for that.

The idiocy was only made worse by Andy Reid in the fourth quarter, though, when, with still both of those challenge requests sitting in Andy Reid's pocket and with his team still down 24-10 but driving into Giants territory to possibly come within one score of their hated division rivals with another touchdown, Eagles quick-footed wideout DeSean Jackson caught a ball on a slant route and then promptly fumbled the ball as he was tackled from behind, a fumble which the Giants scooped up and which a few seconds later turned into yet another touchdown and a seemingly insurmountable 31-10 deficit. Only, on the replay, once again, DeSean Jackson was clearly down by contact long before the ball came loose, and once again Andy Reid just stood there on the sidelines and never made the refs replay the play. Where you might have been able to buy him not throwing that flag on the first play in the first quarter -- if you don't really understand how football works -- there's nobody in America who could argue that allowing his team to drop back down 21 points with about 10 minutes left in the game and thwarting the beginnings of a second-half comeback in far and away the most critical game of the regular season for the Eagles, was not significant enough to throw the flag. And again, this one was obvious on the replay, so again you figure it's maybe as much as a 50% chance that the refs would overturn it -- far be it from any NFL referee to actually have made the correct call in the first place when it went against a New York team of course, that's just blasphemy -- but again, Andy Reid this time at least stroked the red flag in his pocket on the sidelines, but never pulled it out let alone tossed it onto the field. Once again, Eli Manning had his troops no-huddle and rush up to line up -- making it even more obvious that this was a blown call to everybody in the entire stadium -- but somehow Andy Reid never got the message, and he failed to throw that flag and allowed his team to drop down 31-10 with 10 minutes to go, instead of what probably should have been 17-10 if he had just thrown those two flags in situations where it literally could not have been more clear on the replay that his team was having the game unfairly ripped right out of their hands (literally and figuratively).

Thankfully, Andy Reid's hideous gameday coaching was outdone on the day by Giants' head coach Tom Coughlin, who made not one, not two but three horrible errors on the day, two of them worse than simply being too fat and lazy to throw the replay flag in a key spot where his team had clearly been wronged, and all of Coughlin's gaffes occurred in the second half where the consequences of his effups were magnified several times over. For starters, for Coughlin's team to be so totally and unbelievably unprepared for an onsides kicks after the Eagles scored their touchdown to bring the score to 31-17 with 7 1/2 minutes to go in the game, is just mind-boggling. Those players up front defending the kick were not just moving backwards as the kickoff was made by David Akers, but they had turned their backs to the play for the most part. I mean, how often do you see an onsides kick work where there isn't a player from the other team within 10 yards of the kicking team's guy who catches the onsides kick? It never happens, and there's a good reason for that. When you're down 14 points in a key game with barely enough time for 1 drive left for each team, you have to be ready at least for the possibility of an onsides kick. Coughlin's team was just woefully ill-prepared in that spot, and like I said what ensued was the easiest, most simple onsides kick recovery in the history of the sport. Ball goes ten yards, no Giants are even in the camera shot, and the Eagles catch the ball and drop to the ground. Tom Coughlin has to take the blame for this, and he looked as befuddled as anyone on the sidelines right after it happened. Getting out-maneuvered like that by a guy like Andy Reid on game day speaks volumes about Coughlin and his level of preparedness as well for his team in a huge spot.

The second thing Coughlin effed up badly in the fourth quarter is not something you'll hear talked about much with all of his other screwups in this game, but just before the 2-minute warning as the Eagles were driving for the score that would eventually tie the game at 31, Mike Vick ran for a key first down and more, picking up around 20 yards before Vick slid headfirst to avoid another hard hit, he fumbled the ball. Now, unlike the other plays I mentioned above that were totally obvious on the replay, this one would have been close, but the fact remains that there is no way Tom Coughlin can possibly justify missing his chance to throw his own red flag -- of which he still had two remaining as well, plus there were just 5 seconds left until the 2-minute warning at which point his replay flags were worth precisely squat anyways -- in an absolutely crucial play where Vick, it seems to me, was not touched prior to hitting the ground and losing control of the ball, which was quickly picked up by a Giants player before the refs whistled the play dead and Vick down by contact. He throws that flag, especially being that his is the New York team, there was probably an 80% chance of the call being overturned and ruled a fumble, and his Giants don't go on to one of the most ignominious losses in NFL history, but instead they win the game, win the NFC East and who knows how far they ride that in the playoffs this season. Not painfully obvious like the two plays Andy Reid blew as I discussed above, but probably an 80% chance of the crooked refs combined with what I myself think was very close to being a fumble fair and square to a simple grasp in his pocket and toss of the arm towards the field, from completely avoiding what was otherwise a total debacle for his franchise and for the city of New York on the sports field on Sunday.

And then of course, was the final play of the day, where the Giants' punter inconceivably kicked the ball right into the hands of DeSean Jackson, easily the scariest guy on the field for either team, with 14 seconds remaining after the Eagles had just scored three touchdowns in the final seven minutes to tie this game up. How that ball is not kicked out of bounds is simply beyond me, and the fact of the matter is that a mistake like that falls squarely on the head coach, whether he likes it or not. And Coughlin said as much in his postgame press conference, taking full responsibility for the play, but then throwing his young punter under the bus in the process by claiming to have instructed him clearly just to kick the ball out of bounds. And yet, as Coughlin sat there screaming at the punter right after the play happened, you could see him mouth the words "there is no fucking way you punt that ball in bounds". But what he never said was "I just told you" or "Your instructions were" or something similar to indicate that they had truly drummed it into this guy's head not to let the Eagles return that kick. Now, it's such an obvious situation that I can only assume Coughlin or at least someone on his staff had said as much to the kicker before he let it rip there for the last play of regulation -- I mean, did anyone out there not think this punt would sail right out of bounds? -- but it is just inexcusable beyond all words that such a horrible decision could be made in a spot that obviously completely changed the outcome of the game, and of the division, and ultimately of the Giants' season as a whole. And as I said, ultimately that falls squarely on the head coach, who simply did not have his team prepared for the decisions they needed to make on the spur of the moment all through the second half of this game. Somehow, Andy Reid managed to find a guy who he could completely out-maneuver and flatout out-coach in the second half of the game, something which Philly fans the world around are still trying to wrap our arms around here on Monday morning even, and out-coach he did. Sure, Reid tried hard to lose the game, even there in the fourth quarter by straight-up allowing his team to drop down 31-10 in the 4th instead of 24-17, but Tom Coughlin's lack of preparation of his team, and straight-up lack of clear instruction and guidance, while one of the great comebacks in recent memory was happening to them, leaves this NFL fan absolutely speechless.

In a battle on Sunday between two bozos who couldn't coach their way out of a paper bag on game day, Andy Reid was an embarrassment, but Tom Coughlin took the word "travesty" to a whole new level. I'm not sure how those players can even look him in the eye anymore -- and I'm not sure they will. If Bill Cowher ends up coaching big blue come the 2011 NFL regular season, the moment that kick left the punter's foot will be the moment that decision was effectively made.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

NFL -- Week 15 Picks

Make that five straight weeks of winning picks after I went 2-1 once again in Week 14 to raise the season record to 23-18-2, again a fresh high for the season. Not many people I'm seeing out there are much over .500 at all, so it's been a very positive season so far for my picks by any measure, and yet the margin above even is small enough that any one bad week will basically take me right back down to the flat-line. That risk is very acute heading into this weekend too as we are looking at one of the best weeks of NFL matchups in recent memory, with several high-profile teams battling it out for divisional supremacy and/or playoff positioning. In fact I would argue that this is the most difficult week to pick the games yet in the 2010 regular season, and frankly with two of the games still not posted with lines here on Friday (Packers @ Patriots and Bears @ Vikings) this only increases the difficulty of finding games that look attractive to play.

With that in mind, there are only two games that jump out at me as good value plays this week, although I suspect that I might like to jump on the Vikings if they ever post a line there, as I think this Bears team is ripe for another beatdown after last week's humblement by the 2010 Superbowl Champion Patriots, especially at the hands of a pass rush-happy Minnesota squad out in the cold. So here are this week's two picks, which I will update over the weekend if they post a good line on Bears - Vikings at some point:

1. Philadelphia Eagles +3 at New York Giants. This will be my first time picking my hometown Eagles all season long, but on a slate full of very, very tough games, this one stands out as smelling like a bit of value here. The Giants have not looked all that great, even in winning their last few games, and they're not going to rush for 250 yards on the ground against the Philly defense like they did last week in destroying a broken down Vikings squad playing without their starting quarterback for the first time in his two years with the team. What's more, this week they had to put top wideout Steve Smith on injured reserve, further decreasing Eli Manning's weapons which he should need in spades in this key divisional matchup. Despite what you hear all over the media in New York City these days, this Giants team actually looks kind of down to me compared to the past few seasons, and while I think there is every chance that they find a way to squeak out a victory at home after already losing to the Eagles earlier this year in Philadelphia, it is hard to turn down the better team, getting three points, playing at a place where they've had some decent success over the past couple of years in what is almost always a crucial game for both teams. The winner here pretty much takes the NFC East -- in particular if it's Philly who will be a virtual lock with a victory -- while the loser could be in big trouble in terms of even making the 2010 NFL postseason. I'll hold my nose and take my boys and the points on the road.

2. New York Jets +6 at Pittsburgh Steelers. I don't know what it is with me and road dogs lately -- I guess I just enjoy killing the oddsmakers week in and week out or something -- but something about this game makes me think the Jets are going to make a real show of it. It's hard to predict an outright victory here for the Jets, especially with the way Sanchise has played the past couple of weeks, but if there's one thing I've seen out of Mark Sanchez in his short career, he tends to bounce back nicely after bad showings. Now I know that was not the case for him last week, but I'm expecting a decent performance out of Sanchise this weekend in Pittsburgh, in particular with word that defensive player of every year Troy Polamalu will sit this game out with a leg injury, a key piece of the puzzle in taking the Jets and the points here. The Steelers haven't exactly been lighting it up on offense these past several weeks, scoring just 16 and 13 points respectively in regualtion in Buffalo and Baltimore, followed up last week by 23 points in Cleveland but zero offensive touchdowns to get there. One thing I know for sure is that Rex Ryan will have his team all riled up to pile it on in particular on defense, and without Polamalu there to create offense from his defense, I predict the Steelers should have a hard time scoring enough to win this game by a full touchdown. I wouldn't want to take the Jets straight up, but with 6 points to boot I think this is clear value on the NYJ side.

Best of luck to those of you playing the games. Wish I hadn't talked myself into avoiding the fluffy 9-point line in Thursday night's Chargers - 49ers game -- Mike Singletary somehow still has a job despite three NFL coaches being fired this year in mid-season -- but there are so many huge games this weekend that almost anybody with a rooting interest is likely to be on the edge of their seat come 1pm ET on Sunday.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How Can Yankees Fans Live With Themselves?

Well, I'm still here basking in the glory that is Cliff Lee returning to the Phillies, now more than 24 hours after the news shocked the baseball world and sent Phillies Phans around the globe into an absolute tizzy. I've read just about every story on every major media outlet, every blog post from a Philly blogger, everything I could devour since Tuesday's big announcement, and it looks like I'll be taking at least one more day before focusing on what is still missing from this Phillies team before we can pencil in another World Series championship for the Fightin Phils.

Today, my focus is on exactly how all this happened. I mean, ultimately, Cliff Lee had an awesome time in Philadelphia in 2009, he loved the team, the players, the coaches, the stadium, and he loved the area in general, including the home he bought in New Jersey when he was traded to the Phils a couple of years ago, which he never sold even after leaving the team for Seattle, Washington, and then Arlington Texas in the middle of the 2010 season.

But, having lived in New York City all through the past baseball season, I can't help but think that the Yankees fans themselves literally played a big part in why Cliff Lee walked away from 34 million more guaranteed dollars offered by the Yanks to sign a shorter-term deal to return to the city of brotherly shove. For those of you who don't live in the area and/or don't follow post-season baseball like I do:

According to a report in the USA Today on October 26, 2010, while the American League Championship Series was being played in Yankee Stadium, the wife of Texas Rangers ace Cliff Lee was reportedly not happy with how the Yankees fans treated her while she was sitting in the visiting family section at the Yankees' new stadium in the Bronx.

Kristen Lee said there were ugly taunts. Obscenities. Cups of beer thrown. Even fans spitting from the section above.

“The fans did not do good things in my heart,” Kristen says.

“When people are staring at you, and saying horrible things, it’s hard not to take it personal.”

Well there you have it. The comment about the fans "not doing good things in my heart" really sticks out to me for some reason. Does that sound like a woman who would want her husband to turn down $24 million a year to play in the city they both loved, in favor of committing to two more years at around $23 million a year in the city whose fans "did bad things in her heart"?

Is it truly possible that Yankees fans are such fucking pigs that they literally chased away the only chance they had of Cliff Lee coming to play for them?

What must Yankees fans be thinking about themselves right about now?

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Coming Home

Brian Cashman: You're fired!

Cliff Lee is coming back to the Phillies. Seriously!! I know it's not really "home" at all, but it sure feels that way for the Philly fans, who never for one second wanted to see Lee leave after the 2009 season. And apparently, Cliff Lee never really wanted to leave either, or maybe he just didn't realize it yet. The word is that Lee is signing a 5-year, $120 million contract with the Phils, who have surprised everyone by besting the Yankees and the Rangers who were believed to be the only players in a two-team race for Lee's services. There is so much to be said about this and I'm sure I'll have plenty more -- over the next half a decade in fact now -- but my initial thought is more or less like all the other long-suffering Phillies fans out there:


I mean, the most amazing part of all this isn't even about Cliff Lee specifically, to me anyways. I've written a little about this before, but the most incredible aspect to all of this is that over the past five or six years, Philadelphia has actually become a place where free agents in baseball actually want to go play. All growing up in Philly, the total opposite was true. I'm not sure I can remember a single big signing that any of the major sports franchises in Philadelphia made. Well, I guess there was Moses Malone in the early '80s. But really, that's about it. It was always New York, or LA, or Chicago, or somewhere else. If anything, Philly was known for making young players into big stars and then being the place where they left from to go chase the big money that the Philly teams either couldn't or wouldn't pay them, typically in one of those cities mentioned above. It was horribly frustrating as a kid, believe me, watching these guys turn into your heroes, the guys you wanted to be like, and then eventually always knowing they were going to leave for the big money grab. Having to watch them usually just travel 90 miles up Route 95 to the Big Apple made it even worse, but in general, you always knew around the corner that these guys were on their way out, and it was simply never a question of the team coughing up the big bucks to keep them, or to sign some other big name player to take their place. Philadelphia simply never used to be that place that anybody ever went "to take their talents", to use LeBron's phraseology. It just never happened, and the Phillies were perhaps the biggest example of all of this phenomenon. What big-name pitcher or hitter ever signed with the Phillies in the '80s or '90s? Why would you? They didn't pony up the big cash, and even though the city has easily the greatest, purest sports fans on the earth bar none, the team was also the losingest franchise in all of sports, and the Phils had more last-place finishes during my childhood than any other team. They were the Pirates before the Pirates were the Pirates, believe me. Nobody great ever wanted to play baseball here, and with good reason.

But all that has changed now, a combination of new ownership, brilliant general managers, an incredible farm system, the best new ballpark in all of baseball, and a whole lot of success that big names actually want to be a part of. Just think about the last few years. When Brad Lidge was on the market after being run out of Houston following the infamous Albert Pujols post-season home run, out of nowhere the Phillies were there to scoop him up, and a year later the guy was putting the cap on a perfect season by striking out the Rays' Scott Eyre to bring the city its first World Series in 28 years. That year as well, the Phils went out and signed then 28-year-old Jayson Werth, who contributed greatly both at bat and in the field to the past few years' success in the city. When Cliff Lee was being shopped by the hapless Indians the following summer, you had your usual rumors out of New York and Boston offering ridiculous money, but then out of nowhere comes the Phillies to pick the guy up, and boom, fast forward three months and there is Cliff Lee completely befuddling the perennial all-star Yankees lineup twice in front of the world in the World Series, the first back-to-back pennants in the Phillies' gillion-year history as a franchise.

After that season, new Phillies GM Ruben Amaro approached Lee about resigning him, and got the word from Lee's agent that Lee was definitely looking for a long-term megadeal a la CC Sabathia's $168 million beast of a deal with the Yanks that past offseason. Amaro let the Lee camp know he was looking more for a 4- or 5-year deal, and when the Lee camp balked, Amaro sadly traded away Lee to the Seattle Mariners for prospects, taking those savings instead and signing AL pitching powerhouse Roy Halladay, who happily came to the team after making it very well known for weeks that Philly was where he really wanted to play more than anywhere else. Yes, more than the Yankees, more than the Red Sox, both of whom were, again, offering up more guaranteed money in terms of more years on the deal. But, amazingly to Phillies fans, Halladay wanted to come to Philadelphia, and was willing to accept a 5-year extension at a hefty $20 million a year, an amount that fit into the Phillies' burgeoning budget after having sold out every game for four year straight in their new stadium. I mean, can you imagine? A huge star like Roy Halladay, and he actually wanted to play in Philly, even to the point of accepting less guaranteed dough than he could have gotten elsewhere? Have you ever??? It was just unheard of to us old-school Philadelphians, believe me. Add in a trade for outfielder Raul Ibanez as a new power bat in the Phils' scary lineup, and Phillies fans around the world were just in awe.

Enter the 2010 season, with Halladay on his way to another brilliant season that would lead eventually to the second perfect game in major league postseason history. And as the trading deadline approached, it looked like the Phils' rotation was still one man short of total dominance. So as last year's trading deadline approached, when longtime Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt was announced by the team to be on the market, once again it was the Yankees and the Red Sox at the forefront of the rumors, with some Angels and Cubs sprinkled in for good measure as per usual, but then wake up one morning and the word is that it was once again Ruben Amaro and the Phillies who had made the huge coup, nabbing Oswalt from under the Yanks' and Sox's noses, and somehow getting the Astros to agree to pay close to half of Oswalt's salary on the remaining two years of his contract. Again, Oswalt was publicly thrilled to be coming to a team like the Phillies (can you imagine??), and his performance here last year showed it, as he was perhaps the best pitcher on the team in the second half of the season, nearly unhittable in most of his starts and winning over the city's fans quickly and completely.

When the Cliff Lee saga really heated up at the end of 2010 with his Texas Rangers making the World Series and losing out to the incredible pitching staff assembled by the San Francisco Giants, who had bested the Phillies and our amazing pitching staff fair and square for the NL pennant, everyone knew this would be all about the Yankees. Yes, the Angels were rumored, the Red Sox had made an early offer in the process, and of course the incumbent Rangers were doing all that they could without deliberately mimicking their mistake from the A-Rod contract that that team had finally just gotten completely out from under. But the Phils weren't really even mentioned, and, I mean, how could they? With a payroll last season of just over $140 million, would the team really ever be willing to kick in that much more money for this guy? Of course not, and could you blame them, after all the huge signings of the past few seasons for this team that was historically a place nobody ever wanted to come, and a place that never wanted to pay anyone who was willing to play here? No way. So you didn't hear a single Phillies fan in the world bitching about us not taking part in the Lee sweepstakes, and ultimately, with what has happened so far in this offseason, with the Red Sox signing two big hitters and the Yankees being basically shut out of the big free agent market (no, Derek Jeter does not count) for what seems like the first time in ages, it was obvious that Lee would simply be able to name his price, to pick any number out of a hat, and the Yanks would have to agree to it, and agree to it they would. Word was that the Rangers had offered Lee a six-year deal somewhere around $120 million, and that the Yankees had recently upped their offer to add a seventh year, coming in at a total of approximately $154 million. No other offer was even close to that amount of guaranteed cash, the Rangers were not willing to go there, and on Monday afternoon word out of Yankees' GM Brian Cashman was that the Yankees were officially not going to up their offer any further, not something you usually hear from this Yankees management over the past several years. It was a bit of a bold move by Yanks' GM Brian Cashman, taking a tough stance on a guy that the team absolutely, positively had to have, at any and all costs, period.

And suddenly, this morning. I woke up and immediately in the car heard the news on one of the local sports radio stations. Baseball fans around the country were dismayed, and New Yorkers were appalled -- both Yankees and Mets fans, believe me. Cliff Lee was coming back to the Philadelphia Phillies! And the most amazing part of it? He had signed for just five years, one less than the Rangers' offer and two years less than the rumored offer from the Yankees. The guy actually left $34 million of guaranteed money on the table in New York to come instead back to Philadelphia, to pitch in the best stadium in the country and in front of the best fans in the world. Brian Cashman's last-minute hard-line ploy had failed, and failed in a big, huge way, and Lee had turned him down in favor of less money from a big rival in a nearby city who had had some big success against his team already over the past couple of seasons.

And make no mistake guys -- the reception this guy will get in Philadelphia, the good will he will experience here, will be totally unparalleled by anything Lee could have ever even have hoped to experience in New York. Believe me, I have lived in this city for a long time now, I've had Yankees season tickets, I've been to the Mets' dump stadium several times, and I can tell you without hesitation, New York fans are spoiled, and they're not even close to real sports fans in other cities that have to try a whole lot harder and wait a whole lot longer for success. In particular in the Bronx, these fans of course like to win, but a guy like Lee would never be loved even for one second -- not even if he were to pitch the final out of a no-hitter in Game 7 of the World Series -- like he will be adored for every moment he will be in Philadelphia. Especially after Lee's performance back in 2009, to be returning to the city of brotherly shove will make these Phillies fans absolutely apoplectic for the guy, period. We love him in Philly, every one of us Phillies fans love the guy and could not believe we had to let him go. And Phils' GM Ruben Amaro has come through again in a huge way, using the Nationals' recent signing away of Jayson Werth, freeing up $14 million a year from our payroll just like that, to help afford the new $24 mil a year for five years for Cliff Lee, while at the same time getting basically exactly the deal he would have offered Lee back in 2009 to stay here to begin with, but which back then Lee had rejected in the hopes of signing an even larger deal. One which, if he had wanted to, he still could have signed with Brian Cashman and the Yankees, like, yesterday. Literally.

The bottom line? Cliff Lee wants to play in Philadelphia, far more than he wants to be in New York. 34 million times more to be exact. With Lee, the Yankees would probably have as good a chance as anyone of bringing Lee the first World Series title of his career, and even re-signing with the Texas Rangers seems a similar outcome -- how do you argue that after his Rangers just made the World Series with him this past season? And yet Lee opted to take millions and millions of dollars less in guaranteed money -- albeit a mil or two more per season than his other offers, as is obviously going to be the case in a shorter deal -- to return "home" to Philadelphia, to the greatest ballpark in the game today, and to without a doubt the most ferociously devoted, caring fans anywhere on earth. The Phillies ownership knows it. All of us fans know it. And, apparently, Cliff Lee knows it too. How Brian Cashman justifies his total strikeout in this offseason is way beyond me, but he is definitely gonna have a lot of 'splainin to do to somebody in that organization, and suffice it to say these are not happy times in the Cashman household in Darien, Connecticut.

Roy Halladay. Cliff Lee. Roy Oswalt. Cole Hamels. It just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?

Move over Yankees, and move over Red Sox. There's a new team at the free agent party in major league baseball these days. And they're coming for you in a big way in 2011.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

NFL -- Week 14 Picks

Another week of the NFL, another 2-1 performance from me here in the second half, and my season record against the spread sits at its high for the year of 21-17-2. It's still nothing all that impressive, but from my perspective, to be up above .500 at all in this league where (1) the oddsmakers know all the nooks and crannies of setting these spreads better than anyone, and better than they do in any other sport in the world (2) the referees basically decide who wins most of the games, either by purposeful decisions or just by missing obvious blown calls and then turning a blind eye to their mistakes on replay, and (3) most of all, where parity reigns supreme unlike anything else in professional sports today, I'll take 4 games over .500 through three-quarters of the season. Hopefully I can retain that record, and even improve it a bit here with four weeks left in the regular season.

Although only four games over .500 at this point in the season, one thing I've done exceedingly well this year has been to avoid the games where something in my head tells me the line doesn't like quite right. This Thursday night's Colts - Titans game is a perfect example. I considered posting yesterday and picking the Colts, after two straight weeks of picking against the Titans and winning, but when I looked at the line, something about needing to give four points from a .500 team on a downswing and on the road in the Colts just seemed wrong. The Titans are generally a tough opponent, and while I fully expected the Colts to win, given that the team was 1-4 in the last five games and that Peyton had thrown 11 picks in his last three games, it just didn't smell right that they would have to give more than a field goal, going on the road to play a tough divisional matchup, even against a hapless Titans squad that has more or less given up on the season. And lo and behold, Bo Scaife punches one in as time expires in the game to bring the final score to 30-28, and more importantly, to cover on the day. I'm sure people all around America were cussing in disgust at around 11:40pm ET on Thursday night as the Titans scored the meaningless touchdown game-wise in the final seconds and yet totally blew what was an easy win against the spread for the Colts otherwise, but not me. I can't tell you how many times I've written down six or seven games that looked good to me, and when I've culled it down to my three picks, those three ended up going 2-1 on the week while my other three options went 1-2 or 0-3. So I've been doing a great job this year so far of avoiding the bad spreads, and I'll try to continue that this week heading into Week 14, as the league moves into the home stretch where every game counts, and where the good teams shift from trying to get into the playoffs to instead jockeying for playoff position and trying to nab one of the two choice spots atop the division and the corresponding bye weeks for the Wildcard round.

Here are this week's picks, in no particular order as always:

1. Seattle Seahawks +6 at San Francisco 49ers. Obviously Seattle is not much to get excited about this year, but to be getting 6 points to play at one of the NFL's worst teams -- with its single worst head coach, in particular now that Josh McDaniels is gone -- is just too much to pass up. Mike Singletary's latest brilliant idea is to choose a new (shitty) starting quarterback every week, with this week seeing a switch back from Troy Smith to Alex Smith, but I just can't see how the value is not on Seattle here plus almost a touchdown against a truly bad 49ers squad with a horribad coach, laughable quarterback and their top runningback recently put in IR for the season.

2. San Diego Chargers -7 vs Kansas City Chiefs. This game would have been a lot more interesting if Matt Cassel -- quietly one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL this season -- did not have his appendix removed on Wednesday night, but although Cassel won't rule himself out yet, I just don't see how he is going to play an NFL game just four days after being under the knife like that. In his place is likely to be Chiefs' backup qb Brodie Croyle, who is 0-9 in his career as a starter, but who took most of the snaps in midweek practices this week for KC, and with that this is just not looking like a good matchup for the Chiefs to me. Not only is San Diego far better at home than on the road, but this a crucial game for the team as they look to keep their hopes of winning the AFC West alive and must have a win here in order to do that. What's more, the Chiefs' weakest link is their pass defense (21st in the NFL), while they will face Phillip Rivers and the #2 passing offense in the league this Sunday afternoon. Another apsect of the matchup that cuts against the Chiefs is that their greatest strength by far is their running game, which already was #1 in the NFL before this coming weekend and which will take on added importance due to Cassel's injury, but the Chargers will bring in the league's #2 rush defense into this key divisional game. I don't love the thought of any Norv Turner-coached team having to give a touchdown to anybody, but this is not the same Chiefs team with Brodie Croyle at the helm, and a double-digit win is I think likely for the Bolts this weekend.

3. Atlanta Falcons -8 at Carolina Panthers. This one may be a bit of a stretch, but the Panthers are right up there with the worst teams in the NFL this season, and at home they have been utterly abysmal whenever they've faced off against a team heading for the playoffs here in 2010. They lost by 13 to the Buccaneers at home in Week 2, and then by 17 at home to the Bears three weeks later. In Week 9 they lost by 31 points at home to the Saints, and then the Ravens beat down on them by 24 points in Week 11, rounding out the Panthers' 4-for-4 stretch of losing by well into double digits against playoff teams at home so far this season. Given that, and how well the Falcons, Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez have been playing, I'll take the NFC's leading team and lay the points, and assume this one will cover some time in the second half as the Panthers players are already looking towards the offseason.

Best of luck to everyone playing the games this weekend. Keep an eye on the Packers, Eagles, Giants and Buccaneers who all go on the road this weekend in crucial matchups against teams that are supposed to be inferior but who will all be looking to play the role of spoiler in what continues to be a very bunched-up NFC playoff picture here with just a quarter of the season left to play.

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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Brilliant Poker Semi-Fiction

Not sure what made me click over to Morning Thunder's blog today -- where I read from time to time but generally not every day -- but when I did I was treated to one of the most laugh-out-loud funniest posts I've read in some time. Go and enjoy it for yourself, as I imagine that behind the flowery images and wonderfully descriptive prose is a story that each one of us has considered at some point over the last several years of our lives.

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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Da Jets

Wow, did the Jets shit the bed or what on Monday night up at Gillette Stadium against the Cheatriots? I've been highly critical of course of the Cheatriots ever since they and their coach Bill Belichick got busted taping other teams' practices and walkthroughs -- including in at least one of their superbowl wins, that against the vastly superior Philadelphia Eagles back when TO was still trying and was still relevant to the NFL. But, I mean, wow what a game plan against the Jets last night. You just can't say enough about how great Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and that entire Cheatriots team are, with a special focus on Tom Brady, who after last night's nearly perfect and highly efficient performance now has 27 touchdowns and an amazing 4 interceptions on the season. That guy is just so fucking cool, there are almost no words.

Anyways, how bad are the Jets? Seriously now, this has got to be the single worst 9-3 team in the history of the NFL. Somehow the team that made the AFC Conference Championship in 2009 was gifted with the easiest 2010 schedule I've ever seen, and the Jets have responded in kind, going 8-0 against Miami (6-6), Buffalo (2-10), Minnesota (5-7), Denver (3-9), Detroit (2-10), Cleveland (5-7), Houston (5-7) and Cincinnati (2-10), opponents with a combined record of an unbelievably bad 30-66. Meanwhile, versus teams that are going to be in the playoffs this year, the Jets are 1-3, with an early-season victory over the Cheatriots the only bright spot. And what's more, while they've gone 8-0 against those bad teams this year, anyone who's watched the games like I have knows all too well how poorly they have played in mostly all of them, even in eventually squeaking by with wins. They beat the Dolphins late in the 4th quarter after playing some uninspired football against a key divisional opponent, they squeaked one out in the final minutes against a horrible Broncos team that just fired their head coach after less than two seasons in charge, and then they somehow scored 10 points in the final 3 minutes to tie Detroit and then poked one in in overtime to salvage a win against the most embarrassing franchise in the league. Still not learning their lesson about playing down to the level of their competition, they then allowed the 5-win Browns to come back on them and tie a game they should have had put away, and then failed to score in a few drives in overtime, only managing to run a pass play into the end zone in literally the final 6 seconds of the overtime period to avoid a damaging in-conference tie as well against a team they are supposed to be clearly better than. The next week they once again squeaked by a weak Texans team by a field goal in the 4th quarter. Anyone who's watched the Jets this season knows they could easily be 5-7 or 6-6 at this point in the season, even given the way they've played in their eight wins against subpar teams so far on their schedule.

The Jets have had some major problems on offense when they face strong opponents so far in 2010. While the team has averaged a lofty 28.3 points per game in their 9 wins against all those horribad teams this year (plus the Cheatriots), the Jets have basically had no offense whatsoever to speak of in their three losses against the only three playoff-bound teams they have faced, which is one of the most concerning things for Jets fans today. In Week 1, the Jets lost 10-9 to the Ravens, but that score might as well have been 100-9 because Mark Sanchez has perhaps his least efficient game of his entire football career, be it the pros, at USC or even in his kiddie touch football league, amassing just 74 yards passing despite playing the entire game and averaging just 3.5 yards per attempt, for a qb rating of 56 and change. In Week 8, in getting shut out 9-0 by the playoff-bound Green Bay Packers, Sanchez threw for 256 yards, but it took him 38 attempts to do so, and he threw two costly interceptions to put up a final qb rating of 43.3, which is getting right down there into JaMarcus-Russell-himself territory. And then in this week's 45-3 shellacking by the Cheats, Sanchise firmly planted himself in JaMarcus Land by amassing a quarterback rating of just 27.8 in throwing for just 164 yards, once again no touchdowns, and three interceptions. This team just does not have an offense when it plays good teams.

Almost equally concerning is the defense of the Jets, which is still strong but which is not even close to the league force that it was back in 2009. After easily coming in as the top defense of 2009, the Jets' defensive squad is currently ranked 8th in the NFL in total yards allowed, behind Miami in their own division, and San Diego, Pittsburgh and Baltimore in their conference, all potential playoff opponents, and likely on the road at that now that the Jets have lost the inside track to the AFC East crown. While the Jets remain 3rd in the league in rushing yards allowed, they have allowed nearly 50% more yards on the ground than Pittsburgh in their own conference, and the most concerning stat from my perspective is the pass offense, which has really slipped dramatically from a year ago and all the talk of "Revis Island", etc. So far through 12 games of the 2010 NFL season, the Jets are allowing over 218 passing yards per game, good for just 14th out of the 32 NFL teams, after finishing well out in front in first in this statistic back in 2009 with under 154 pass yards allowed per game. And, after also ending 2009 in first in points allowed at just 14.8 points per game, so far in 2010, the Jets have slipped to 6th and are allowing their opponents to score nearly 20 points each week. The problems on defense are still not as pronounced as those on offense, but this is simply not the team on the defensive side of the ball that it was in 2009, not even close really when it comes right down to it.

As I mentioned, the loss to the Cheatriots now puts the Jets one game behind the Cheats with four games left to play in the division, and clearly leaves the Cheats with the inside track to win the AFC East. New England's remaining schedule includes road games against Buffalo and Chicago -- both presumably wins for the NFL's best team -- and home games against Miami and the Packers, which I also assume the Pats will win based on what I've seen over the season so far as a whole. Meanwhile, the Jets still have road games left at playoff teams Pittsburgh and Chicago, which I think it is fair to assume will both be losses given the way this team has fared against teams with actual talent and skill in 2010, plus home games against Miami and Buffalo within the division that I would not call gimmes either given how poorly the team has played even in its eight wins against the dregs of the NFL. This does not sound to me like a good recipe for the Jets to catch the Cheatriots in the division after this Monday night's loss, meaning that the Jets are at this point likely playing for a 5 seed at best in the AFC postseason race. And with the Ravens already owning the tiebreaker over the Jets due to their Week 1 victory head-to-head, and with the Ravens set up to play Houston, New Orleans, Cleveland and Cincinnati in their final four games, even the 5-seed is not at all set in stone for the Jets at this point with four games remaining in the season.

Given the Jets' performance so far in 2010 against playoff-bound teams almost across the board, it's hard to imagine this team going far when they're set to start off the postseason in the wildcard round by travelling to a team like Jacksonville/Indy or Kansas City (they might take the Jags, but I would expect them to be a solid dog to either of the other two teams if they go on to win their respective divisions), and then even if they win those games on the road, the next stop will be a trip to Pittsburgh or another stop in New England. Unless something changes dramatically with Rex Ryan's squad here in the last four weeks of the regular season, one can only assume we're looking at an early exit for Sanchise et al in the 2010 playoffs.

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Monday, December 06, 2010

Like a Broken Record

Woe is the NFL officiating. I know this has been a repeated focus here on the blog over this past season or two in what is still (for now) the world's greatest sport, but the downslide has continued pretty much from the first game to right now this year, and the truly unbelievable problems with the refereeing in this league simply cannot go away for even one week of the entire season. In a year that began with the refs taking away a clear victory from the hapless Detroit Lions on an obvious touchdown that was wrongfully taken away in the literal final seconds, the refs have more and more exerted their influence and control over the games, including right into this week when fully two of just the three games I was able to watch were clearly straight-up decided by the referees.

First, we have the Ravens-Steelers game on Sunday night, which hopefully some of you sat and watched on national tv -- with the sound down if you're lucky, since Chris Collinsworthless was on the mike -- because then you know exactly what I'm talking about. Now, kudos to Troy Polamalu -- still the best individual player on defense in the entire league -- for the incredible play he made to cause Ravens' quarterback Joe Flacco to fumble in the final two minutes of a game that was otherwise pretty much over. It was an amazing play, and frankly it's the kind of thing Mr. Hair has been doing for years, it was pure athleticism, and you can't say anything but amazing things about him or about that play that allowed his team to snatch a victory away from what was othewise a certain 4-point defeat at the hands of the Ravens. That said, the Steelers should never, ever have been in that position, and they wouldn't have been if the referees had not decided earlier in the 4th quarter to simply require that the Steelers get back into a game where they could not do shizzsquat whatsoever on offense throughout. Over two plays in the middle of the 4th quarter on a crucial drive for the Steelers that even with the refs' blatant help they could still only score a field goal on, the refs made two calls that -- although Chris Collfuckworth of course wouldn't say a word about it on the telecast -- were just plain indefensible and were quite obviously done with the intent of allowing Pittsburgh back into the game. First, on the first fourth down the Steelers' faced on the drive, when they hastily decided to go no-huddle and go for it on 4th and 2 around the 50-yard line, Ben Roethlisberger clearly started moving backward before the hike, causing the Ravens' defenders to begin their rush, and of course the call came in as an offsides penalty, which just happened to give the Steelers a much-needed first down, one that everybody in the stadium knew they would have never gotten without the refs' help. Listening to the fuckheads calling the game on NBC's "coverage" (as if they actually cover anything real on that shitshow), you wouldn't even have thought there was any possible disagreement about the call at all. But thank god I'm here to set you straight, because I have these two holes in my skull with some juicy rods and cones in there -- I call them eyes -- and I can use my objective brain to call 'em as I see 'em, and on that one, Ben Roth illegally drew the defense offsides by starting to move before hiking the ball. I guess the refs just missed it?

But that wasn't even the worst part. Later on the same drive, after the refs had already once taken the ball out of the Steelers' inept offense's hands and forced a first down on 4th and 1 once, the refs then turned around on a second 4th and 1 in the same drive -- notice that the Steelers simply could not do shit on offense, which is why they kept needing 5 downs and some help from the refs just to get themselves 10 freaking yards against the Ravens' stingy defense -- and the refs called a silly holding penalty when the Steelers once again failed to get the required yards to keep the drive (and thus the game) alive. Give the Ravens the ball like they earned on that play, and this game was over. The Ravens would only have needed 20 or 30 yards of offense to get another field goal and put the game out of reach for good with little time left. So the refs knew they could not allow the play to stand, so they threw a flag for a tiny, insignificant hold of a player's jersey, the very definition of a flag that could be thrown on every single play of every single NFL game. Don't get me wrong -- the "hold" was there, and could clearly be seen on replay. It was just unbelievably insignificant, and for a stone cold fact far less meaningful to the play than you can see on Every Single Play by every single team of the NFL season. But make no mistake, if you watched this game, then you know that the referees were looking very hard for just that sort of thing to hang their hat on and further extend the game -- which again would have been ova if they had just done the right thing and called this play fairly -- because the refs knew just like everyone in the viewing audience that the Steelers obviously just didn't have the offensive prowess on Sunday night to do it on their own. So the refs barely watched the play where the Ravens essentially closed out the game for the second time in a few minutes, and instead simply stared hard at the line, waiting for the first instance of the kind of jersey gripping that happens in every game, on every play, and could not fall over themselves fast enough to throw that flag and take over control of the game. In the end, laughably, the Steelers still couldn't punch it in the end zone to give the refs the tie game they were really looking for on that drive, but rest assured if there was anything the officials could have done to get the Steelers 7 points, short of literally running up and pushing the runningback somewhere near the goal line so they could then "review" the play on replay and adjudge that he had crossed the plane, they would have. But their whole plan worked, they managed to keep the Steelers in the game just long enough for their best player to step up in a huge spot and make the game look like it was decided by the Steelers' amazing defense instead of by them. But again, thank god you have me so you know who really took care of things on Sunday night. The Steelers have been the beneficiary of four or five absolute gift wins just over the past two seasons, pretty much each one dumber and more unbelievable than the last. Somebody in organized crime out there must looooooove to bet the Steelers, I'll tell you what.

But that game wasn't even the worst example of the officials deciding all by themselves who won a crucial game on Sunday. In the Falcons - Buccaneers game, the Falcons had just come back from a 10-point deficit to take a 4-point lead with a few minutes to go, and the Bucs were driving back down the field, with Josh Freeman looking to lead his team on his 6th 4th quarter comeback of his short career. They were pretty much moving the ball at will on the Falcons' semiporous defense, whether the Falcons played for the run or the pass, whether they blitzed on defense or they hung back in the prevent. It just didn't matter, and if you were watching the game like I was then you had the same feeling as I did that the Bucs were going to win. They got all the way up to the Falcons' 30 yard line or so, and there were a full 2 minutes left, so timing wasn't an issue in the slightest. They did need a touchdown though, so running a few running plays to get 10 more yards and then brining in the kicker wasn't an option either. They needed to keep throwing the ball, which is exactly what Freeman did on the first play back from the 2-minute warning, tossing a nice out-route to the sidelines which Atlanta cornerback Brent Grimes made an awesome play on to cut in front of the receiver and make the diving interception. It was really a great, athletic play, with only one problem: on the replay, which was automatically reviewed because it was just into the final two minutes of the game, it was clear that Grimes did not actually catch the ball. And when I say it was clear, I mean it was clear -- like, the guy made the great, athletic dive, caught the ball, hit the ground and rolled over, where he clearly, irrefutably does not have control of the ball after all, and then as he continues rolling from his diving interception attempt, he eventually rolls over onto his stomach, and the replay shows without a shadow of a doubt that the ball is on the ground, with Grimes on top of it. He then completes the roll-over, regains control of the ball as he is lying on top of it -- in plain view of the instant replay cameras, mind you -- and gets up and starts to run it back as if he had actually intercepted the ball.

Now, everyone knows that the NFL has no interest in this no-name Buccaneers team making the playoffs, and with this Bucs' win in hostile territory, the Falcons' hold on the NFC South would be very much in doubt, but as I'm watching this one I'm thinking as I often do in these replay situations that the shitcock referees simply can't possibly find a way to take the ball out of the Buccaneers' hands in this one. I mean -- and I tried hard to find a replay of this phantom interception, to embed here, but so far nobody in bed with the NFL (ESPN,, etc.) is man enough to even post this replay because it was that obviously another blown call -- there is a clear replay shot of the defender rolling over while bobbling the ball, and then rolling right on top of the ball as it is clearly sitting on the ground. But the refs come back from under the little hooded camera -- where I'm convinced there is some kind of a nude girl peep show or something since it's obvious these fuckclowns are not actually watching actual game replays under there -- and whaddya know, the call is upheld, the refs once again take the ball out of the hands of the team trying to drive to win it, and the Falcons take a couple of knees and the game is over, courtesy of some assclown in zebra stripes instead of the players on the fucking field.

It's gotten to the point where the game of picking the NFL matchups against the spread every week is more about which team is likely to get helped by the refs than about which team is more skilled or has any other intangibles. I knew the refs would be on the Steelers' side in that game, but I picked the Ravens -- my only loss of the week once again -- because I correctly determined that the Steelers would be worthless on offense given Ben Roethlisberger's injured foot (which looked pretty good Sunday in the end anyways). But how can you predict the referees giving the Steelers five downs twice in their second-to-last drive of the game, both in pretty ridiculous calls to do it? Anybody who picks against the Steelers ever again in the foreseeable future simply does so at their own risk, because you know you're not just picking against their opponents and the situation, but against the entire might and muscle of the NFL and despotic, whimsical, arbitrary totalitarian leader Roger Gooddell, who allows the officials to do whatever they can conceivably get away with to enforce what they believe his will to be.

When will these referees stop taking control of the games and deciding matchups themselves instead of letting the players on the field use their actual football skill to make actual football plays to decide these games? How much longer will Roger "Hypocrite Shitbag" Gooddell turns a blind eye to what his referees are doing to the games and to his sport? The pride cometh before the fall, you fucking asshole.

PS: Once again, I should mention that I am no kind of Ravens fan, I actually like the Steelers and have (correctly) predicted them to win the superbowl in the past couple of years, and of course I couldn't give less of a shit about the Buccaneers or the Falcons personally. This post has zero to do with a personal bias, of which you won't ever see me show any here, and everything to do with the integrity of the game, and with not wanting to invest three hours of my time and interest in a football game, only to see it outright decided by a bunch of fuckers with whistles in their mouths who spend their entire time on the field trying to stay away from the ball and the play at hand.

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