Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tilt and the Poker Media

With the news today that full tilt has been shut down globally after losing its license to run its online gaming operations, I find myself thinking, as I have often as I've read the increasing number of anti full-tilt posts out in the blogiverse over the past month or so, about the free pass that a great many bloggers and other members of the poker media gave full tilt for the first several weeks following the U.S. online poker ban, and even in many cases that is still happening today. As the full tilt saga continues to take affirmative steps that seem headed for the site collapsing under its own weight and not ever being able to find sufficient funds to pay back the full deposits of at least its American players, I can't help but think how funny it is that basically everyone we know in the poker media, among our blogger crew and everybody else in between out there is now taking credit for having been right all along in their predictions regarding full tilt poker ever since the events shortly after April 15. When meanwhile, in actual reality, six weeks ago, it was just me, one or two other bloggers, and a small handful of posters on 2+2 decrying full tilt (they deserved it), stating that the site had commingled funds and did not have sufficient money on hand to pay out their players (they did not), and predicting that things would get a lot worse for our chances of ever seeing our money before they get better (they most certainly have).

Go check it out. Over the past few weeks, I have read no fewer than five poker writers, bloggers or other posters trying to take credit for having been right all along and seeing this coming with the full tilt situation, when in reality you can very easily look and verify that they were there back in late April, swimming right along with the masses of fish all proclaiming that hey, this is full tilt, owned by the poker pros themselves, they won't screw everyone over, especially not with the WSOP coming up. What a joke. Even when the shit is right there to be proven false, linked right there on these people's own blogs, just inches of screen space away from their lies, they all still want to take credit now for having seen this avalanche coming. Right.

Everybody has to claim to be an insider, in the poker media more than anywhere else. Where six weeks ago it was "I know the full tilt guys, full tilt will come through, full tilt would never commingle our funds with their own, of course full tilt has the money", now with the very same people it's all "I always knew something was up, I could smell a rat from the beginning." Nice try, but no. I smelled a rat right from the beginning. You blindly backed your "friends" in the industry, while day by day, chess move by chess move, your rosy expectations and over-trusting naivete showed themselves more and more clearly for just that. You put your faith in a collection of some of the least trustworthy, most shady people out there, and boy did you ever get burned.

It's one thing to be getting screwed by full tilt here. We're all getting screwed, every minute of every day while we do not get our funds back. I wrote here in black and white a good eight weeks ago now that we all already had been screwed, from the moment it became clear to the unbiased and open-eyed among us that full tilt had in fact commingled our poker funds with their own, to such an extent that they could not now come up with enough money to pay all the U.S. players back our own money. So it's one thing to recognize and admit that you've gotten screwed. But to try to take credit for being out in front of this whole full tilt mess now that your "friends" involved with the company have shown their true colors -- when it was so painfully few of us who actually got it early on -- really adds insult to injury. Just own the fact that you got duped like 99% of the country, and maybe try to learn to be a little more open-minded and objective next time.

It was tough for a while back in May, being one of the only people I could find out there suggesting that full tilt might never pay us back our poker funds from their coffers. That our funds might not even exist. People have a lot of money tied up on full tilt, and many make their very livelihood from the availability of full tilt, so I took quite a lot of shit a couple of months back from the bitterest among the blogging community. Many said I was being needlessly pessimistic. A few attacked my lack of knowledge, or my lack of written substantiation for any concerns I was voicing (as if anyone supporting full tilt back then had any such "evidence", obviously). And many simply insulted and attacked me, without any real reason, for having a view that did not jibe with what they desperately wanted to be the truth, even though their view of the truth never sat well with me or seemed all that likely to happen.

For what it's worth, I don't only chuckle at all those people now who should have seen the truth coming like I did a couple of months ago but whose own world view could not allow them to see the forest for the trees so they are now vainly trying to take credit for having seen this all along when in fact they were major contributors to the lack of seeing this problem for what it really was. I actually think the poker media, bloggers, etc. contributed in a small way to the current state of full tilt's business. Most of the major poker media sites, the bigger poker bloggers and other poker outlets on the Internets basically gave full tilt a pass for the entire first month or more after April 15 of this year, and that I think gave the powers that be at tilt the idea that they could maybe actually get away with screwing everyone and live to tell the tale. When you've got some of the biggest and most widely-read writers about poker, many of whom have written or otherwise worked for full tilt or their largest competitors over the past few years, either remaining more or less silent while one of the biggest heists in online poker history was playing out its first act, or outright coming out in blind support of full tilt with obviously no actual reason to do so, it sent a terrible message to the founders of the site, one that I think has stuck with those people right up to now, as we near the seeming bitter end for what was once everyone's favorite site to play at. Of course nobody out there will own up to having done that now, but that's exactly what mostly everyone out there in the poker media in fact did, and I'm telling you, that collective pass and the rush to trust for everything full tilt was doing for 4-6 weeks after Black Friday contributed to where we're at today.

Just imagine if all the same people who have, say, devoted countless hours, day and weeks of their lives to investigating, reporting on, and just generally telling the world the truth about the UltimateBet / Absolute scandal, had spent the first three or four weeks after Black Friday working just as hard to look into the financial situation at full tilt and to make the truth known to the world, with the same fervor and devotion that they accorded to the UB cheating matter. Or, remember when a couple chips went missing during the WSOP Main Event a few years back? We had two or three professional poker bloggers and writers out there covering almost nothing but that story for days and days on end. And you know what? The shit works! If enough people jump on an issue or a story early enough, if they dig deep enough, and if they stay at it long enough, we've seen cold, hard proof that they can really make a difference. Not just in uncovering the truth when they do, but in actually helping to frame the issues and ultimately contributing in some way to the eventual resolution of the problem.

With full tilt, the poker media in general dropped the ball in my view. Not to blame the media in any way for what ultimately is 100% full tilt's own doing here, but the poker media has done a better job in the past on other issues, and should have followed the lead of the very few such as myself who publicly never thought full tilt's story smelled exactly kosher, and done a similar job here right from the getgo in digging to the bottom of the issues and starting to suggest ways to influence full tilt management to do the right thing. Instead, while all your favorite bloggers publicly came to full tilt's defense and told you over and over again for several weeks that of course full tilt will return everyone's funds, attacking all the while those few voices out there suggesting that maybe all was not roses for the former second-largest U.S. online poker site, management at full tilt saw an opportunity to do things clearly against the U.S. players' interests like turning down Phil Ivey's "White Knight" deal and a few other deals that were offered that would have secured the return of player funds in exchange for giving up control of the full tilt asset, and they jumped on that opportunity with the understanding that the poker media was simply not out for bear from them like they clearly have been for AP/UB, the WSOP and others when other similar controversies have arisen in the past. And I can't help but notice the correlation between that unbelievable (to me) level of trust right off the bat for full tilt, and the fact that now it appears more and more almost daily that full tilt could have gotten us back our own money, but now they probably cannot.

This is one story where I can honestly say, it hurts to have been right all along.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

More Thoughts on Foxwoods and My Live MTT Performances

Jordan left me an interesting comment to my post yesterday expressing my disappointment about my performance at Foxwoods this past weekend, or to be more specific, about my performance in large live mtt's in general. Here is the text of Jordan's comment from that post:

"Hoy, if you played 7 MTTs in a night and didn't cash in any of them, would it disturb you as much as playing 7 big tournaments over several years without a cash?

I only mention this because I, too, was unable to succeed at the Turning Stone tournament this weekend (for some reason, my site is down, so no post yet). It sucked, but I had to remind myself of the fact that it is one tournament and my sample size of large buy-in tournaments is relatively small. I thought I'd pass the thought on to you. Being 0 for 7 sucks, but its only out of 7, after all."

All fair enough. But here's the thing: I know I should be performing better in these tournaments. I'm there, and I see how the others play, and I know how I play, and it is very obvious that I should be doing better. But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

First, a few clarifications. For starters, I'm only referring to the largest, multi-day live mtt's I've played in, because in one-day live events I am perfectly happy with my performance and my profitability. And also, I'm not talking about cashing in these large live mtts -- rather, I'm just talking about making it to Day Two. As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I think I have played in seven multi-day live mtt's in my poker career -- three WSOP tournaments, one WSOP circuit event at Caesar's in AC, one large-buyin tournament series event at Foxwoods last year, and the Venetian Deep Stack event where I recorded my biggest ever live score, plus this past weekend's near-bubblage. In about half of these events, making Day Two and cashing were pretty close to the same thing -- even in the Venetian DSE back in 2009, we made the money around midnight on Day One, played another two or three hours to get down to 48 players, and then reconvened the next day to determine the winners. But in the other half -- namely, the 3 WSOP tournaments as well as the WSOP Circuit tournament I played in -- those were three-day events, so making it to Day Two would not at all have even necessarily meant cashing in the tournament. So I could easily have several more Day Two's under my belt without having some obscene cashing percentage in the largest live mtt's I have played in. And yet I have just the one Day Two at the Venetian, and that pisses the shit out of me.

Looking directly at Jordan's comment, to answer his question, yeah, I think I would be a little bit surprised (though I'm sure it's happened before) if I played 7 online mtt's each at full attention in say a week and failed to get through maybe 60% of the field in any one of them. If I played seven live mtt's and could not even last far enough to the equivalent of Day Two in a WSOP tournament in any of them, hells to the yeah that would disturb me. Shouldn't it? Day Two in the preliminary WSOP events is what, roughly two-thirds of the field gone? That sure as hell would strike me as unacceptably poor performance for me, if I failed to outlast two-thirds of the field in all seven out of seven live mtt's I played in. It would. If that makes me pompous in someone's mind, I can live with that. I am a self-proclaimed "hammer-playin pompous ass" right here on the blog, so yeah, call me pompous if that's your read. But yeah, to answer the question asked, if I don't even last through two-thirds of the field in seven out of seven live mtt's -- in particular live, where I am playing just one mtt and there are zero other distractions to take my attention away from the game -- then yes, that seems more than bad enough to be worthy of my noticing, and my lamenting my poor performance.

And don't get me wrong -- I understand Jordan's point perfectly, and it is perfectly valid to a point. A sample size of seven is pretty much not even worth mentioning, statistically speaking, when it comes to drawing conclusions about the totality of my poker tournament prowess. Of course. Which is why I'm not using my lifetime 1-for-7 in making Day Two's at all to argue that it comprises a representative sample from which to draw conclusions regarding my poker tournament skill in general. Yesterday's was not a post of me saying "I guess I'm just not that good at poker tournaments after all!" or anything similar, which I agree totally with Jordan is not a conclusion one can draw from this relatively tiny sample size of seven live nlh tournaments spread over five full years of play. Much the opposite -- my point in barching about my results in the largest live mtt's I've played in is that I clearly am a good tournament player, and yet my results simply do not jibe with that conclusion. It is precisely because I know this 7-tournament sample of tournament results is not representative of my actual skills, that I am here writing these posts lamenting my lack of performance in those events.

I should be doing better in these tournaments. I don't just mean that in the abstract, either. I'm better than most of the people who enter these larger-buyin tournaments in casinos these days. Period. That wasn't true when I first started playing tournaments in casinos -- much the opposite, I've written here about how I could not imagine ever winning a casino tournament way back when I first started getting seriously into this game several years ago -- but in today's day and age, it's very clear that I am closer to the top of the skill levels of the players in the tournaments in which I play. Anyone can choose to believe or not believe this as they see fit, and of course I am more than fine with that, but the bottom line is, one of my favorite things about the whole experience of playing a large-field, solid-buyin live casino mtt, is going through the motions of quickly figuring out who is playing too tight to win, who is playing too loose to hold on to their stacks, who the calling stations are, who are going to be the chasefonkeys at the table, etc.

Let me say this a slightly different way. For the past three or four years or so, when I sit down to a live mtt of almost any reasonable size, things quickly shake out at the table in a way that is only known to a few of the players at the table. I'm sure this will sound familiar to a few of you out there as well. There are usually one or two other guys there that are more or less like me at a random table -- guys who play smart, tight-aggressive poker, guys who you quickly realize you don't really want to mix it up with in a pot in the earlygoing unless you have to. These are often the guys who are out there firing barrel after barrel and taking down a lot of pots uncontested, or they're the guys who always seem to be showing down big cards in the biggest pots, etc. It doesn't usually take more than an hour or so for it to be clear -- at least to those two or three of us at the table -- who the other Players are seated with us. And everyone else has already by that point made it very obvious, again at least to the two or three of us, what their specific weaknesses are. Within an hour or two of sitting down -- who am I kidding, I start doing this almost immediately once I figure out specifically how someone is bad at tournament poker -- the two or three Players have not only correctly applied labels like "chasefonkey", "calling station", etc. to each of the bad players at the table, but we actually start isolating against them. So when dickhead calling station open-raises from early position, and I find a hand like KQ or AJ that I would fold against many raisers for whom I have more respect, I won't just call with that hand against the calling station -- I'll raise. Because even if you told me he had AT vs. my KQ, I would want to be in there against him heads-up in a heartbeat. All the Players do this, it is as natural to us as the day is long. And I can see the other couple of Players at every table I am at early in these things doing the exact same thing. We generally try to avoid playing each other, but boy do we take our whacks at the poker fools around us. That's almost the sole focus of our games for the first several hours at any live mtt -- taking the money of the non-Players at the table.

Anyways, this isn't supposed to be a description of every little trick of the trade that I employ in poker tournaments. It is, however, a simple statement of fact that I am one of those guys -- at every single live poker tournament I ever enter nowadays, all the way up to the $2500 WSOP buyin events that I have played -- that is very aware of the badness of those at my tables, and who follows the same strategy of attacking those bad players just like every other good player there. We all do the same thing, and it's very overt in its own way if you know it is going on. And I'm one of those guys, noting carefully how these two players call every single raise preflop ("I can't wait to pick up a hand against either of those monkeys!"), these two guys limp in with every single hand ("They'll bleed those chips away or get caught holding second-best if I don't get their chips first."), and how the guy to my right as well as two to my left have only played two hands in two hours ("Either they'll pick up pocket Aces, or they'll blind themselves to death like Broomcorn's uncle.") When I am so clearly above most of my opponents at every live tournament table I play at these days in terms of skill, in terms of knowledge of the game, in terms of feel, and -- thanks to the wonders of online poker while that was allowed -- in terms of mtt experience as well, it is difficult for me to be satisfied with 1 Day Two out of seven tries.

All of this would be much easier if I could just chalk my poor large live tournament results to bad play. Or to not paying attention. Or to a lack of study or care about the game and how to get better. But that is simply not the case with me. Every time I sit down to a poker tournament table, I know very quickly what most of the other players' weaknesses are, and I immediately join with the other skilled player or two at the table in a concerted plan to exploit those specific weaknesses. I'm sure I have spent more time reading about and studying the game than 99% of people out there, and I never let a hand go by at the table without carefully noting any salient details and tucking them away for future use against the participants. I know just from sitting there that I'm better than the majority of the players I've been up against in the large live mtt's I've played in, and that contributes quite a bit to my feeling of total dissatisfaction with only making it to Day Two one time in seven tries. The way I have outplayed people and the bad beats I've taken in a number of these events are more a testament to this fact -- and to Jordan's correct point about the sample size being very small in relative terms.

Somehow, the world's most successful poker players don't seem to get eliminated on Day One nearly as much as I do, suckouts or not. And I wish I had a good handle on why that is.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, June 27, 2011

Foxwoods Recap

Well, I'm back, and I didn't win the $41 grand first prize in Event #1 of the Foxwoods Mega Madness, although I might have played the best out of the 360 entrants in the tournament while I was around. In fact, I didn't even cash. Although I am very pleased with the way I played, this one definitely goes down as just another failed attempt in a long string of mostly failed attempts in large, multi-day mtt's. Maybe it's something about my style of play that causes me to take on too many risks or something, I don't know. All I do know is that this is probably what, six or even seven events now that run more than one day, and I have lasted to Day Two exactly one time in my life. It's pathetic, really.

Anyways, enough wallowing (for now). Suffice it to say I am not happy with the outcome on Saturday. But as I mentioned, I am pretty darn pleased with the way I played overall. First and foremost, I followed my fucking rules that I set out last Thursday and Friday here very well:

1. Play tight early. I managed not to lose 20% of my stack early on this time around, which was all goodness. In fact, I won the first pot I put chips into in the first round with just 5 players at my table, and I won the second as well. I do recall briefly dropping back below the massive 25k starting stacks (500 big blinds if you're keeping score) maybe an hour or so into the tournament around noontime, but even that sojourn below 25k was only a brief one, as for the first time in a little while I got off to a positive start instead of tossing chips in chasing haphazard, poorly thought-out risks.

2. Loosen up preflop late Although I didn't get to play too too late that I could really start stealing and restealing almost purely by feel as often happens when the blinds really escalate once you're into the money and really whittling things down, I am proud to say that I attempted two pure resteals with air in this tournament, both when I really needed them, and I was not the least bit cowed to pull the trigger. It was good getting back to some practice over the past couple of weeks, and I think this was one area where the practice directly and clearly benefited me. I maybe could have restolen even more, but too much restealing without the cards to back it up before the flop often leads to a violation of rule #3 from last week below.

3. Protect my chips from needless, thoughtless risks. Again I have to give myself credit here, as I mentioned I did not slough off a bunch of chips early chasing inside straight draws in three-way pots and the like, so I did a good job of preserving my big stack to make sure I still had plenty of chip utility as the blinds quickly doubled and then doubled again over the first two hours of play, cutting that starting stack from 500 big blinds (M of 333 if you're counting) to just 125 big blinds (M of 83) in four 30-minute levels. Ultimately, I was very patient through a run of very little to play with in terms of starting cards. I remember being dealt AKo in the first round of play, I raised it up with just four opponents and they all folded. Otherwise, I never saw pocket Aces, pocket Kings, pocket Queens or pocket Jacks all day, nor did I ever get dealt AQ or AT (I was dealt the sooted JackAce in hearts once, which I won preflop as I recall late in the afternoon / early evening). I got one other AK as well, this one also sooted, and I played that one for an allin reraise in the evening when I was short and needed to push my good hands just to survive. But I just didn't get dealt the good starting cards. So, as any good poker player does, I had to improvise. I played a bunch of connectors in this thing for cheap pots early, with these super-deep stacks I just could not resist, but I didn't let myself call a lot of raises with them. Just limp along behind a previous limper (there are always tons of limpers early in these big events), or open-raise maybe to disguise my hand and give my c-bet a better chance of taking the pot down, but I didn't just throw in four and five big blinds every time just to chase spec cards indiscriminately as I think I was doing over the past week or two. Since I don't tolerate well just sitting around and watching my stack and my M dwindle while I wait for premium starting cards, I figured I'm going to have to really open up my standards early to see cheap flops if I want to maintain a roughly 10-15% flops seen percentage, is as (at least) my usual in my successful poker tournaments. As a result, after several rounds of just folding everything I began open-raising or overlimping every sooted connector I saw above 43s, every sooted one-gapper above 42s, and even pretty much every sooted two-gapper above 63s, in addition to every pocket pair I received (there weren't many, which included me folding the best starting hand I saw all day in TT to a raise and reraise preflop from a tighty who would go on to show pocket Queens). Oh, and when the internet pro kid in the sunglasses and the hoodie two seats to my right reraised preflop and then c-bet, won and showed the hammer on the flop against a guy across the table, I congratulated him and eventually ended up raising, winning and showing two hammers myself as well. I mean, I had to play something like I had a hand I could take to a flop, and sometimes if the poker gods aren't going to give that hand to you, and you have some fold equity left, you just have to act like the poker gods gave it to you anyways. This got me involved in a lot of pots with weak cards hot and cold, but they were tricky and powerful cards at the same time. Once in a while I would hit em a little bit, or I would smell weakness from my opponent, and I was basically able to hold my own and stay a little above the starting stack for a good five or six hours just playing like that. I did not play any big, big pots, and I preserved what I had and didn't allow myself to get a big portion of my stack into a situation without a big hand to back it up. The biggest pots I won between the 11am starting time (25k starting stack) and the 6:50pm dinner break (66k chips) were:

I flopped two pairs with 96s on a K96 board three or four rounds in, against a guy who called a large check-raise by me on the turn when another raggy four fell, and then checked down with me when I got scared of the river Ace (he showed KQo).

Two or three hours in, a guy bet into me on the KQ7 flop, I called with KJ because this clown had bet at every single flop all night long, and then he proceeded to bet into me again on the turn, and again on the river where I was so sure he was feigning strength with the way he threw his chips into the middle -- again I had seen him do this once or twice before already on the day -- that I considered raising him, but didn't want to be the dickhead losing half his stack raising the river with top pair against a guy who'd bet into him on all three streets. He showed QT for middle pair, middle kicker. No way he could stop betting that one, even on the river, right? This pot literally added about 60% to my stack at the time, and was a much-needed boost over 35k for the first time as I kind of struggled all day to stay even with average even though I did manage to slowly grow my chip stack throughout the day.

In the late afternoon, I limped into a three-way pot from the button with T9o (this is the kind of hand I had to expand my range to as I continued not to receive the premium starting cards that everyone knows to play), and the flop came down J86 with two of a suit. The first player checked this flop that isn't going to help most preflop raisers unless they had a big pocket pair, and I checked as well in the hopes of seeing a free card with my open-ender, and then the huge stack across the table from me slid out a way-too-large bet, probably one-and-one-third times the size of the current pot. He was this old guy who'd been at my table for a good few hours at this point, and he had been caught totally bluffing with multiple barrels on at least three different occasions, but he bet so often and so aggressively that he had won a ton of pots doing that same thing as well, and he got paid bigtime on his few big hands because of that Gus Hansen-like style. But the only other time I had seen him bet so many chips relative the size of the pot over several rounds of play, he had done it with the exact same mannerism he had used this time -- really throwing the chips way out in front of him, almost like he was angry at them or something -- and that time, he had been called down and would not even show his cards, he auto-mucked them without even seeing what his opponent had. He had also recently lost a large-ish pot and I think might have been steaming a little as it was, but something about the way he shoved made me not believe him for a second. If anything, it seemed like an angry shove by someone who had missed the flop and had really expected to nail it. His bet was for around 8000 chips into a pot with I think 6900 in it, and at the time I had around 45k in chips in my own stack. I debated pushing allin right there, but frankly, I didn't want to throw em all in there in case he might actually be willing to make it obvious to me that he really is strong here with another raise or lead-out on the turn, and I thought in the end that an allin didn't look as strong or as scary anyways as just a raise. I kicked it up to 21k, carefully selected to leave myself enough still for a very credible bet on the turn if necessary, and I had made sure my stack was perfectly flush and visible to him so that he could figure that fact out on his own as he considered my raise. He hemmed and he hawed, but he eventually folded and I climbed up just over 60k shortly before the dinner break.

I headed to Fifth Street, the newly-redone cafe in the back of the poker room downstairs at Foxwoods, and got a nice down-home sausage and egg sandwich freshly made on a bagel for me at 7pm. That went down well and left a nice feeling in my stomach as I headed back in to try to make a run. We were down to 100 runners left out of the 360 who started at 11am on Saturday morning, and the average stack was 90k, leaving me at about two-thirds of average with 66k and change. Blinds would be starting at 2500-5000 after the break, giving me a little over 13 big blinds and basically precious little room to do anything other than push preflop other than maybe limp from the small blind. Fortunately for me, I quickly picked up pocket 9s in the cutoff, and when the guy to my right with a slightly shorter stack than me open-pushed when the action folded around to him, I called, hoping to win the race but overjoyed to see 66, and when my 9s held, I vaulted up to just over 100k in chips, the first time I had been above the average chip stack since the first few minutes of the tournament some nine hours-plus ago.

I was resolved to hold on to my above-average stack, that I had worked so hard and been so patient to get. This is so how many of my deep runs go -- I sit around, holding on through the early levels, not much to work with -- and then suddenly it all bursts and late in the pre-money stage, suddenly I pick up a hand or two and I go on a run. It's annoying as hell surviving long enough to get there, but when you finally do, you want to cherish it all the more because of all the work you had to do in winning all your pots with T8 and 96 and with reraise-bluffs, etc. Late in the second hour after dinner break, with blinds at 3k-6k and a 600 ante, and my stack still sitting comfortably just above average at around 115k in chips, I called a preflop reraise to 16k with my 98s in spades when I was in the small blind and there were already two others in to see the pot. The flop came down a beautiful T76 rainbow, giving me not only the flopped straight, but one with no flush draw on the flop, and it was even the top part of a flopped inside straight that is going to be extremely hard for anyone to pick up a higher straight than mine on. So I check the action from the cutoff, and the guy across the way with maybe 80k in chips leads out for a normal-sized bet of 22k into what had to be a 60k pot already. The next guy folds, so it's just me and the bettor heads-up. I do my best hollywood, looking up in the air as if I have something to think about, taking a good 45 seconds or more to ponder my next move as if I wasn't sitting on the stone cold nizzuts. I recall even taking the time to cut out the 22k from my stack and look at the rest of it, as if I wanted to see what might happen if I called but then had to fold the hand on the turn. Eventually, not wanting to spoil that hollywood and spook my opponent with a raise, I cut off enough chips for a call and slid them slowly out to the middle.

The turn came another 6, making the board now T766. Not the literal best card I could hope for by a long shot, but all things considered, certainly not a bad card to me. If anything, I can use it to my advantage, as I quickly pushed in the rest of my stack as if I maybe had a 6, all the while hoping that he was the one who maybe held a 6 in his hand and would give me another near-double up to jump me up near the top of the remaining 75 or so players' stacks. The guy absolutely amazes me by calling, and his face quickly turns very red as he flips up...QTo. Now, granted, this was a limped pot, but this guy is calling my allin bet on a T766 board for a lot of chips with QT. As I stood up, I said out loud, "I flopped the straight, but since he called I'm sure he's going to be drawing at me", but then when he flipped up just top pair, I literally had just said in amazement "Or, no, he's actually drawing dead" when the dealer peeled off another six on the river. Immediately I saw my mistake, that my opponent was actually drawing to four outs on the river -- the two other tens and the two other sixes -- and he had just nailed one of them on a miracle 91%-to-9% underdog shot with one card to come. The people at my table nearly fell over, first from sheer amazement when they saw what my opponent called me with, and then from grimacing an groaning as the river was turned and I started stacking my chips next to his to pay this guy off.

I mean, I'm aware that this is ultimately just the standard bad beat story that the Internets are much better off without since April 15 of this year, but come on! You bust ass all night to fight and claw and pick your way down to the final quintile or so of players left, you never see a premium starting hand, you wait all night long to finally flop your first big flop of the entire tournament, you dupe a guy into sheer embarrassment for his entire stack, waiting until after the turn to do so, and a guy hits for a better than ten-to-one longshot on the river to cripple you. I was beside myself. I felt like that fat kid at the WSOP last year, losing that huge pot to get eliminated short of the final table thanks to that huge spike on the river. I had to get up and take a walk for a couple of hands just to keep myself calm enough to finish out the tournament, but this was a blow that I would never recover from. It was around 9:45pm when I lost this huge hand -- closing in on 11 hours in to one of the longest days of poker of my life -- and I still had around 30k in chips left, although with the blinds set to increase momentarily to 4k-8k with an 800 chip ante, 30k in chips ain't much to play with.

Amazingly, I managed to last another hour and a half even with each round of poker costing 20k just to see ten flops (we had recently consolidated again to ten-person tables with 60 players remaining out of the 360 who had started -- slated to pay the top 35 finishers, btw). Here I folded mostly every hand I saw for 90 minutes, with the exception of one nice resteal from another shorty who wanted to stay alive to make the minimum cash of $1188, and two others. One was an allin push from me with A9s from middle position, which got called by the huge stack on the button with 77 and my Ace hit to prolong my agony a bit further, at that time bringing me back up to around 40k in chips. And the other was at around 11:15pm, when I was back down to around 32k in chips, and I look down to finally see AKo, just my second AK of the night (the first since the very first round twelve hours earlier), and believe me when I say it was just what I needed at that point in time. I pushed allin preflop once again from middle position, and once again the button with the ginormous stack gave me the once-over, before announcing out loud, "Eh...I've got the chips, I'll pay you off." He flips up KJo, a joyous sight for my big slick, that is until the Jack-high flop ended my night in a very annoying, and yet extremely a propos fashion.

So that's the story. I got very little to play with, but I made my own action for twelve hours on Saturday at Foxwoods, and in the end some shithead called my flopped straight down with top pair Queen kicker and hit a 9% shot on the river to take most of my chips. I survived another couple of hours as a mini stack, only to run AK into KJ preflop and not be able to fade a Jack on the flop. All that hard work, wasted. All that money so close to in my grasp, gone (first prize in this was 41k, with 9k going to the first elimination from the final table in 9th place). And, maybe it's a function of just having been away from the game for a while, but it is still bothering me greatly here some 36 hours post detonation.

Poker is a brutal game, and tournament poker all the moreso. In case anyone was wondering, I notice that the Department of Justice hasn't done shit to change that aspect of poker at all over the past few months. I'll tell you one thing though -- I am sure glad that was't a $2000 buyin that got monkeysucked by a window-licking momo without a brain in his head out close to the money at the WSOP. I literally would have put my hand through the computer screen entire fucking Amazon room.

Labels: , ,

Friday, June 24, 2011

Foxwoods Keys to Success

Just one more day of workin for the man and I will be off to Foxwoods for Event #1 of the Spring Into Summer Mega Madness tournament series. As I have mentioned here over the past week or two, this is a $600 buyin no-limit holdem tournament with a $125k guaranteed prize pool. Based on what I've seen and heard, I would guess this event will end up pulling in a good 300, 350 runners on a weekend (hopefully more, of course) and that 125k guarantee will be easily exceeded, but I guess I won't know until a couple hours after Saturday's 11am ET start time. It would be so great to finally make just the second Day Two of my poker playing career, but in order to do that, I'm going to have to play a heck of a lot better poker than I played in my two recent practice tournaments I detailed in yesterday's post. I wanted to take today's post to write down and cram into my brain once again the lessons I learned from playing this week that I had grown quite rusty about over my three-month poker hiatus.

First and foremost, I have to do better at not betting too aggressively and/or play too loose right off the bat in the hopes of hitting that miracle flop. This is simply not advice I have ever needed to focus on before -- I think playing 100 mtt's a month thanks to the wonder of online poker helps from making any one tournament seem too important or too boring to sit on the sidelines for -- but it is clear from my recent tournament experiences that it's where I am at now. I resolve on Saturday not to drop more than 10% below my starting stack during the first two rounds of play unless I pick up a big hand and am forced to make a major laydown. In general, making laydowns has never been and continued not to be my problem over the past week -- I laid TT and AQs preflop, I folded a slow-played TPTK to a big river raise from a guy who made too many deliberate faces at me while I was pondering my move on the river to have anything other than a big, strong hand, and I even laid down two pairs twice on the river to big action, one of which was still a multi-way pot. But unless something like happens, I flop a set and then the river four-flushes or something and I face a huge bet, I will not play too aggro early on, I will not call preflop raises or reraises with garbage, and I will absolutely not allow my desire to mix it up with the clear fish at the table to back me into a corner where I am in against a strong player with a weak hand late into a pot.

Secondly, assuming I last through the first, say, three or four hours of this tournament, I resolve to resteal more. Shit, I resolve to resteal at all, given my timidness in several a propos situations over the past 9 or 10 hours of tournament play I put in this week. I have simply got to take advantage of stealing from the stealers, because each time you do it, it is worth a good couple of orbits of sitting out and just ceaselessly contributing your blinds and antes. And the big problem is, everyone steals nowadays. The blind steal has become such a part of the nlh tournament game nowadays -- in particular among the young types that will likely predominate the scene at Foxwoods this weekend -- that if you do not take advantage of the stealers from time to time, not only do your own blinds get eaten up when you are in the first two seats left of the dealer, but your ability to steal any pots diminishes over time since someone else is always in there ahead of you opening the action. I have to tell myself over and over again: there is no way these guys are that strong, all the time. This was always something that I used to take for granted as it came naturally to me to play with this type of attitude over the years, but as I mentioned yesterday, if there's one thing I take away from my tournament play this week, my lack of balls when it comes to restealing from the preflop stealers is That Thing. Of course, restealing with total air will eventually run me into a monster and end my tournament run prematurely, but all I can say is, I've honestly never had a deep, deep tournament run where I never restole from someone who I thought was trying to pick up the blinds and antes with a weakish hand preflop. Never. Some of that of course is the cards I get, some of it is situational of course, but the bottom line is, if someone is on a medium stack and we're getting down near the money, a well-time allin against a guy giving off a weak vibe pays dividends, not only directly in terms of the amount of chips in my stack, but also in the meta game, as you keep everyone thinking every time they consider putting in a raise before the flop with less than a premium holding.

My game has always relied as a major cornerstone on preflop aggression. Even when I can feel the bubble near, as I could twice over the past week, I need to keep up the pressure against the people I believe can fold and who have demonstrated a willingness to mix it up with beatable hands.

The last thing I want to make sure I remember -- and this, too, is something that needn't even be said back when I was playing with regular consistency -- is to preserve my chips. In that first tournament this week, I know why I pushed allin on the flop on a stone bluff with 9-high in the hand where I got eliminated. I know what went into the decision, and taking everything into account, I still think there was a good chance when I made that move that I was right in that spot and could have chipped up nicely in that hand. But did I need to make that move just then? I was 5th in chips with less than two full tables remaining, and the top 8 slated to receive payouts. Was there a good reason for me to risk my entire stack on a guess -- and that's all it was, an educated guess -- that the biggest stack left in the tournament was weak, when I couldn't even beat a bluff and had barely any outs to draw to even if I got called? No, of course, there was not. So I probably shouldn't have been doing it. Or at the least, I should have thought about my play in the exact terms that I just described it before making the decision to push everything allin and risk elimination just short of the money by one of the few stacks left in the tournament that could wipe me out in one hand. And I can tell you, I did not think about it at all like that at the time. At the time it was just like "Well, there's no way that clown has a hand again. If he leads out on the flop, I'm pushing no matter what." I didn't look at his stack, my stack, the other stacks at the table, and I did not consider that I had literally just managed to climb my stack out of the doldrums for several hours back up well above average as we were fixing for a run to the final table. To go and throw away all of that patience, all of that hard work, all of that deserving success, running a stone bluff with 9-high against a guy with a monster stack who'd been hitting hands all day and who raised me preflop and led out on the flop? Not smart.

Play tight early. Loosen up preflop late, especially against the middle stacks who already have an inclination towards folding. And protect my chips from needless, thoughtless risks. These are the keys to my having a successful tournament at Foxwoods on Saturday. I will try to update here how I am doing, in particular if I last a little while and might be making a run. Have a great weekend everybody and wish me luck at the indian reservation in Connecticut.

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Two Live Tournaments

I am such a dork. I mean, here I am, a couple of days away from heading out to Foxwoods for my first live casino poker tournament in several months, and I find myself spending time preparing myself mentally for the game, walking through the steps, basically all the stuff I would probably be doing if I were sitting in Las Vegas right now about to head down to the Amazon room at the Rio. Which is one thing if you're about to sit down to the World Series of Poker in world-famous Las Vegas, but it's a whole other thing to be making any kind of a big deal about a regular tournament series event at a big casino on the other side of the country from Sin City. But it's a $600 buyin event -- this will make it I believe the highest-buyin poker tournament I have ever played in any live play, other than the three WSOPs in which I have partaken over the past four years -- and with a $125k guaranteed prize pool, there is a lot to play for, even if it isn't a gold bracelet.

So, in advance of Foxwoods on Saturday, I attended a live poker tournament this week (two, actually) run by a friend of mine in New York City, each tournament sporting around 60-70 entrants, in the hopes of reconnecting with those nlh tournament skills I had honed so finely over five or six years of near-daily practice, or at the least of figuring out just how off my game is likely to be after three months of absolute cold turkey with online poker. In each tournament, I managed to run pretty deep, but in both of them I ended up never really amassing the big stack I needed to really make a run at the final table. And, more than that, I think I can tell you pretty easily just why that is.

In the first tournament I played, I went down right off the bat and was not really able to recover. Six levels in, I had been bumping along at less than half the tournament average for the past couple of hours, and suddenly I found pocket Kings -- in the big blind no less -- and long story short, two guys got allin against me and I more than tripled up. This gave me new life, and within the next hour or so, I took A♣K♣ for a reraise preflop against a short-stacked player who made a blatant mistake in calling my preflop reraise when it was for half of his remaining stack. The flop came all rags, but with two clubs -- giving me a good 15 outs if not the lead already, and seeing that my opponent had around 50% of his chips in the pot already, I knew I wanted to get the rest. I had the feeling he had called with a spec hand -- not a big pocket pair, helped of course by the fact that I held one Ace and one King in my own hand -- and a nagging part of me thought he might fold and try to push a different hand preflop if I really put him to the test here. So instead, I stared for a couple of seconds at the raggy flop and put on my best "I missed" face, followed by a very slow and weak-looking check with my right hand barely touching the table. My opponent instantly took the bait, insta-pushing allin for the rest of his stack, which I obviously called, and the look on this guy's face when he saw my cards was just priceless, as he flipped up J9s in the wrong suit, for a big fat nothing. A total bagel. A couple of "nice check"s from the other players around the table to me, and I had doubled up again, sitting on a pile about twice the tournament average, as we got down to the final 2 tables with me in 5th place out of 18 or 19 runners remaining.

Unfortunately, my stint at the final two tables would be fairly short-lived, as the chipleader was this uberdonkey to my right who had made so many bad plays with bad cards over the preceding couple of hours at my table that nobody observant could possibly ever put him on a hand early in a pot. Well, he open-raises with his ginormous stack from the button -- my read of which is that he literally has any two cards -- and I look down in the small blind to find 9♠7♠, one of my favorite hands to play. I thought about reraising, but did not want to take my 5th-place stack against the 1st place stack with just two tables remaining, so I just called. When the flop came down a thoroughly un-scary J53 rainbow, the chip leader did what he had done about 50,000 other times since amassing his big stack, leading out for nearly the full size of the pot with a c-bet. I figured I didn't have him on a hand to begin with, and I certainly wasn't putting him on a hand that nailed a J53 rainbow flop, so I looked at his 12k bet into the 14k pot, and I looked at the roughly 45 or 50k in chips I had remaining in my stack (as compared to about 300k for him), and I pushed all-in, confident that he would not call with two garbage cards. He thought briefly, and then announced "I call" before flipping up pocket Kings. I looked and felt like the real donkey as I was essentially drawing dead right from the getgo, and I pushed him my chips and got out of dodge. Thus ended practice tourmament #1.

Practice tournament #2 took place a day later, and this time I once again went down early with a combination of c-bets gone wrong and a couple of loose calls preflop given that we started with 200 big blinds in our 10k starting stacks. From there, just as in the first tournament a couple of days earlier, I struggled along, playing tighter than I would like to help preserve my stack, and hoping to find a great spot or a big pair to chip up in a hurry. Eventually, after again getting down below half the average chipstack, I did manage to double up, once again when I picked up pocket Kings and got called allin preflop by a monster stack a couple of seats to my right who got in there with A9s. Finally with some chip utility working in my favor to enable me to play some poker, I was able to slowly chip up over the next couple of hours, once again making it down to the final two tables with me just under average but in fine position to make a run. I was unable to get over average, however, because I simply wasn't getting any playable cards and the rest of the table was being very aggressive, and whenever a resteal situation presented itself, something just didn't feel right about it to me so I opted to wait for a better spot that never really came.

Eventually, down to 16 players remaining and with me dwindling once again to about 2/3 of the average stack with around 40k in chips, I forced myself to open-raise preflop from middle position to 7000 chips with K7s in diamonds, and got one caller in late position from across the table, which told me pretty much nothing specific about his hand other than that he wanted to play with me and had the chips to see something cheap and see what happens. The flop came down K84, with the 8 and the 4 of diamonds, giving me top pair plus a King-high flush draw. I led out into the roughly 15k pot for 11k, wanting this to look like a regular c-bet where I would leave myself room to fold if I were in fact bluffing, and after just a few seconds, my fairly aggressive opponent announced that he was allin. I thought it over for a couple of seconds, figured this guy was probably on a higher King since I didn't think he'd played his hand like pocket Aces but I didn't really think he would be trying to bluff me either with how little I had been playing at the table. Still, as I computed the pot odds, I saw that there was about 50k effective in the pot, and I needed to call my last 22k or so to get there. Not even being sure this guy had top pair in the first placem, and with 9 redraw outs to a flush even if he did, there was basically no way I could fold this hand in this spot, even though it didn't exactly feel great as I made the crying call. My opponent flipped up pocket 4s for the flopped set, I did not improve to my flush, and IGH in 16th place.

So, it was two tournaments, two nice runs, but two finishes just short of the money. And what can I make of all this? What conclusions can I draw about the effect of a three-month layoff on my nlh tournament play?

Well, for starters, I played too aggressively early in both tournaments, causing me to lose precious chips early on on both days and seriously hampering my ability to chip up early, or even play good, wide-open poker early due to the loss of chip utility from my short stack. One of the killers on this point was that I knew I had dropped too early too fast in the first tournament, I had specifically noted this to myself as I reviewed the play in my mind, and I told myself -- ordered myself, really -- not to do that again in the second tournament, and then I went right out and did it again. It's not that I was playing totally recklessly, but even though I know this is totally wrong, for super cheap I called that preflop reraise with my sooted King-rag because I knew three other players had already entered the pot for that reraise. I called a preflop raise into a multiway pot with T9o. I even c-bet at a pot with four players after a late-position open-raise that I'm sure screamed to everyone that I was weak. Both days I did this stuff, and both days saw my 10k starting stack shrunk down to 6k or so within the first hour of play. That is no way to succeed in any poker tournament, and I know this. But on Saturday at Foxwoods, I will need to get myself psyched into the right frame of mind to protect my chips early if I expect to last to Day Two out at the Mashantucket Pequot indian reservation. And I don't just mean to say that I'll protect my chips like I did before my second practice tournament this week -- I mean to actually protect the goddam chips.

Another thing I have to say -- and this is not the least bit of a surprise -- but my reads were not as accurate as they usually are. Not by a longshot. Essentially, in both tournaments I busted by betting out into a better hand, so I missed those reads entirely. In the first tournament, I decided before the flop that the big stack must have no hand just because I knew he was a blind-stealing donkey. Of the highest order. As if uberdonkeys don't get dealt pocket Kings just as often as the rest of us, even in the blinds. Then when he led out on the flop, to be honest with myself I never even considered that he might actually have a hand. I knew I had nothing but two rags in the hole, so I knew I had to bet big to have a chance at winning the hand, and I basically fell into the beginning poker player's trap of not being willing to reconsider my read after locking on to something before seeing any of the cards or the action on the flop. That was just a horrible play, and not an hour after duping some other unsuspecting sap into bluffing off his entire stack into me, I was the shithead with the dumb grin on his face, picking up his stuff and leaving the room as I had just done exactly the same thing.

My elimination story in the second tournament is a little different. Now, if I had correctly read my opponent for extreme strength on the flop, no way I would have called allin there with just the top pair and flush draw combination. With a higher King and the flush draw, you could maybe see doing that. But at the time I figured I was behind and felt from the math that I simply had to call anyways. And any one of the hundred or so poker books I've read can tell you (and has told me) that you should always think through your bets to make sure you know before you bet what you're going to go if you get raised. I think it was Sklansky's no-limit book that explained it best, that basically if you bet or raise and get raised or reraised, and you are at a loss about what to do, then you probably made a bad bet or raise to begin with. In other words, if I had led out smaller on the flop, then I might have had an easier fold when my opponent raised me big with his flopset. Or if I had pushed allin, then once again I would not have left myself with the agonizing decision that I forced myself to make as to whether or not to call my opponent's allin. Those of you who have played live poker tournaments know how frustrating and how bad-ending it is to have to call off your remaining chips when you know you're behind. Even if the pot odds dictate your calling, as was the case in my second tournament elimination this week, to have to call off your stack in a tournament and need to catch something less than 50% likely is never, ever a good thing. Could I have avoided this if I had played the hand better, or if I was more in tune with the game than I am at this point? Maybe. Probably, even.

The last thing I should mention is that -- and this is a real shock for me to say of all people -- but I was an absolute pussy when it came to restealing from people. I mean, I basically invented the resteal. I've written numerous posts about it, and I have wielded the resteal from loose, mid- and big-stacked preflop stealers as a weapon about as often and as effectively as anyone out there. I've restolen and shown you all the hammer more times than anyone can count out there. And yet, here I was, sitting at a poker table and repeatedly not pulling the trigger even when I felt strongly that a raising opponent was weak and just trying to steal the blinds. I can't tell you how many excuses I made to myself in both practice tournaments for why now wasn't the right time: "My opponent looked too obviously weak on his face when he raised", "I don't have enough chips to resteal",, "My cards aren't good enough" (as if that ever stopped me before), and my favorite that kept occurring to me over and over again this week when I knew I should be restealing but didn't: "What if I lose? I'll be crippled. My whole tournament run is over."

I still can't believe that was me thinking all those things, but it was. Three months away from the poker tournament fray, and I have straight-up lost my edge for restealing. And I got news for you -- I dare anyone who's ever run truly deep in a live nlh tournament to tell me you didn't resteal quite a bit from the aggrodonks. You have to. You just can't avoid it. The blinds increase so fast at the upper levels, and the aggressive players are increasingly likely to be the only ones left as an nlh tournament wears down near the money, that there is just no way to survive and thrive without a few well-timed resteals. All I know is, I played deep into two different nlh tournaments this week -- probably a good 9 or 10 hours of play overall -- and I did not even attempt a resteal. Not once.

Pathetic, isn't it? I know. Well, that's what I'm up against as I prepare to head to Foxwoods for Event #1 of the Spring Into Summer Mega Madness series. Three months of no poker whatsoever, and the result is a guy who almost jumps out of his pants playing too many hands too strongly up front, who can't rely on his reads, and who ultimately is too chicken to pull of a resteal move that he knows he'll need to survive and that he used to be the undisputed king of. In a sad way, my performance this week kind of validates my skipping the trip out to Vegas this summer, because to be perfectly honest with myself, I played just about as bad as I expected to play. I still had my moments, and I don't think I'll ever lose the ability to determine just the action that will dupe an opponent into thinking I'm weak and pushing allin on me right when I want him to, but in the end, I played more or less just like I thought. Worse, even.

Here's hoping I get the chance to pull some re-steals at Foxwoods on Saturday afternoon. Otherwise, little return to live poker tournaments this week is likely to come to an early and arbupt ending somewhere in southeastern Connecticut.

Labels: , ,

Monday, June 20, 2011

Gettin' My Live Poker On

Yes, that's right...I'm actually going to be playing some poker this weekend!

No, it won't be in Las Vegas. As most of you have probably surmised following my earlier post and then lack of mention of a trip to the desert this summer, I have decided not to head out to Las Vegas. It's a decision that pains me greatly on the one hand, but then on the other hand it's also one about which I have zero doubt about being the right answer, even less so today than a couple of weeks ago. Without rehashing all the reasons here, suffice it to say that playing nlh poker tournaments -- especially ones for a reasonably high buyin and against people who generally have at least some modicum of experience playing as well -- is just such a game of "feel" for me, and there are just so many nuances, in particular in late-stage play, of when to push, when to go for the stop-and-go, when you can raise the limpers and blast everyone out of a big pot or when you need to just lay 'em down and wait for a better spot. And I just know I am nowhere near my best on any of those areas anymore. Period. End of discussion. While I think most truly good tournament poker players could probably still walk into a room like the Amazon room and perform at a level better than 50-75% of the participants in that day's tournament, 25th to 50th percentile is just not sufficient for me, in particular in a game like no-limit holdem where any one mistake can, and -- again, in particular in late-stage tournament play -- probably will be the undoing of your entire tournament. The odds of me being able to play well enough over a few days at the WSOP this year after not sniffing a single hand of poker in any form with anyone older than seven years old for a good three full months preceding the tournament, is just naive and silly. So, after much consternation and a good deal of effort trying to drum up a way that I think makes sense for me to play in the Series this year, it's going to be no Las Vegas for me this summer.

All that said, that does not mean that I won't be able to play any poker tournaments this summer. Quite the contrary -- Hammer Wife is down with me taking the time I would have spent in Las Vegas this summer and instead trying my hand at a couple of smaller tournaments -- yet hopefully still big enough to be worth my while and get my juices flowing a little bit. This week is not likely to work for me to make it down for the Borgata Summer Poker Open which is still going for another few days this week down in Atlantic City, but then, enter Foxwoods and their "Spring Into Summer Mega Madness" series running from June 25 through July 4. Even though I recently moved a lot further away from Foxwoods than I lived for the past couple of years, I am willing to make the trek out to the middle of nowheresville to play in Event #1 of the summer Mega Madness series at Foxwoods, which is this Saturday, June 25 at 11am ET. It is a $600 buyin no-limit holdem tournament, with "mega stacks" whatever exactly that means, and the other thing I love about this event is that it carries a $125k guaranteed prize pool. This makes Event #1 the largest event of the entire tournament series at Foxwoods other than the Main Event, which for only 25k more guaranteed in the prize pool, costs twice as much at $1200 to enter, so I like Event #1 a heck of a lot more than that.

So that'll be me, heading down to Foxwoods very early on Saturday morning for Event #1 of the Spring Into Summer Mega Madness tournament series. If anyone is in the area and wants to check me out, let me know and I can get you my cell phone number. Otherwise, it should be interesting to see how exactly the layoff affects me -- I know for certain that my play will be off and worse than my best, but I am specifically curious as to exactly how my lack of recent play affects my game. Will I play too tight or too lose with starting hands to compensate? Will I fail to c-bet the flop as much as usual? Or will I flame out a nice stack with an ill-timed bluff against a guy I should have read for more strength than I do based on the complete lack of recent practice to draw upon? Only time will tell.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What a Catch

I am probably way late on this one, but if this chica hasn't stumbled upon the best possible way to snag a man online, then I don't know what is:

And she didn't even leave a name or number to reach her at!

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Brides Maids -- Review

With the new babysitter working out well so far, Hammer Wife decided to push our luck this past weekend and pull of the first "two movies in two weekends" of the entire time we have had kids, and head out to see "Brides Maids" at the ultramodern new theater off the highway a couple of towns over. This was a movie I had pegged as wanting to see from the very first preview -- after starting off kinda iffy about her, I have really grown to love Kristen Wiig, and I think she is pretty much the best character actor they have had on SNL at this point in several years. She's got a great sense of humor, and even though most of the SNL movies end up proving to be ridiculous, immature and unenjoyable for me (are you listening, MacGruber?), I just had a feeling from the first time I heard about this one that it was going to be a good choice for my wife and I to go and see together.

Boy was I right. This movie was so much funnier than last weekend's "The Hangover Part Two" that they're not even in the same league. Honest to god, there were no fewer than thirty or forty times during this film's very fast-feeling two hours where both my wife and I were laughing out loud, along with everyone else in the theater with us. Literally, cackling like children, doubled over with real-life, uproarious laughter. I'm not sure if it is the characters themselves, or the writing -- probably I imagine a good deal of both -- but something about this movie just spoke to me, and to Hammer Wife as well.

Ultimately, the story for "Brides Maids" is pretty similar to one we've all heard and seen several times before: Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph (also of SNL fame) are two single, lifelong best friends, but then wen Rudolph suddenly gets engaged, Wiig's feelings about the whole thing slide quickly from elation to indifference, and eventually pretty much to disgust. It sounds cliche, and ultimately I suppose parts of it are, but I have to say, "Brides Maids" went about this admittedly cliche plot setting in a different way than I think I've ever seen before. The levels to which Wiig sinks before hitting her own personal rock bottom are some of the funniest, and almost downright hard to watch scenes of the film out of sheer embarrassment for her character. And even though Wiig tries her best to pull through for her friend in the end, the resolution is not nearly as cliche as it might otherwise have been in a different movie. And along the way, the writers weave in a convincing romance involving Wiig and a local policeman who pulls her over one day for not having her taillights fixed.

As I mentioned above, the story itself was good, but really nothing extraordinary as far as movies go. It is the characters, and the writing for those characters, that really make this movie so enjoyable. "Brides Maids" features a number of funny lines between Wiig and a long-running "boyfriend" (John Hamm) she sees from time to time who makes her feel horrible about herself, and some of the stuff Wiig does in connection with her friend's wedding is downright shocking to the viewer, in a very funny way. But the supporting cast of characters at the wedding really add more to this film than almost any movie in recent memory that I've seen on the big screen. The groom's sister -- played by Melissa McCarthy, the chick who plays Molly on tv's "Mike and Molly" -- is highlarious as a man-eating, quasi-lesbian-looking spark plug who is much too high on self-confidence for her own good, busting out with laugh-out-loud lines at the engagement party, on the plane on the way to the bachelorette party, and pretty much everywhere else she turns up in the flick. Even though it is obvious that two of the other bridesmaids in the wedding were originally intended to have bigger roles that were then just dropped (edited out, I am sure) in the final version, Wendi McLendon-Covey has me rolling in the aisles with the sharp writing and acute edge to her lines, and Rose Byrne also does a great job filling the role of Kristen Wiig's "enemy" among her best friend's roster of bridesmaids.

For a movie starring two current SNL comediennes in lead roles, "Brides Maids" was a major upside surprise. As I mentioned, this movie blows away "The Hangover Part Two" in terms of hilarity and just general enjoyability, and it probably would put up a good fight to be as funny as the first Hangover flick as well. In all, thanks to some great characters and truly inspired comedic writing that is delivered in a top-notch fashion by a cast very well suited to play the roles the actors and actresses are playing, I would have to give "Brides Maids" a pretty solid 7.5 overall on the Hoy Movie Scale(TM). And since this scale is ordered like the Richter scale, yes that does mean that "Brides Maids" is approximately 10 to the 16th power times better of a movie than 2010's "Inception". If you're looking for a funny comedy that will have you laughing out loud right alongside of your significant other, this is definitely the movie for you.

Labels: , ,

Monday, June 06, 2011

Too Big to Fail

Those of you who subscribe to HBO will have undoubtedly seen "Too Big to Fail" by now if you ever channel surf like I do. I watched it last week on the main HBO -- not HBO2, HBO3, HBO Comedy, HBO Thriller, or HBO Financial Meltdown Documentaries. The movie was done with most of the style and flair that HBO has become so well known for by now over the years -- excellent writing, good character development, a very strong cast, and of course the best pre-written plot money could buy -- and the end result was really quite an enjoyable watch for me. I ended up staying up past midnight watching -- kind of shades from back in the day when I used to be permitted to stay up all night playing online no-limit holdem mtt's -- and believe me, nowadays for me to be up past midnight is almost unheard-of, post April 15.

But the thing that struck me the most about my watching of Too Big to Fail last night is how much it still moves me. It's going on roughly three years since I left Lehman Brothers out of fear for the company's future and for my job, and yet I still could not peel my eyes away from the tv screen. As I sat and watched a pretty true to life portrayal of brash former Lehman CEO Dick Fuld by James Woods, John Heard's Joe Gregory and even a small portrayal of Lehman CFO Erin Callahan, the emotions of it all just came pouring back. They really did. The hatred I felt for Fuld there at the end. The despair showing in his eyes as he begged first his competitor investment banks, then other larger commercial banks, and eventually even the Japanese and the Koreans for a lifeline to keep his company afloat, and especially the anger and disappointment while Fuld watched Paulson, Bernanke and co. bail out AIG for over $150 billion just days later. Watching Woods' portrayal of Fuld screw up the investment deals that would have saved the company at the last minute as is commonly told really happened by those on the inside back in 2008 just makes my jaw drop, true today just as much as it was three years ago. It really was an amazing, incredible time in this country's history, and in a lot of ways -- strange as this is to say -- it was almost a privilege in some ways for me to be able to be a direct part of it as much as I was.

The other thing that I think a lot of people will take away from Too Big to Fail is the portrayal of Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson in the movie. While I think most of us will always think of a bulldog, ramming idea after idea down the throat of Congress and the American people, and the guy who presented the bill for a $750 billion bailout of Wall Street without any controls whatsoever on how Paulson could dole the money out, to whom and for what purposes, this film portrays a different side to the man who spearheaded the movement to avoid the second Great Depression in the United States. While Too Big to Fail seems to me to paint a picture of Tim Geithner as a desperate, gym-addicted, almost whimsical inputter into the country's handling of the financial crisis, the movie tells the story of a hopeful, incredibly solid, formal and almost compassionate Hank Paulson, worrying almost singularly about how to protect the country and solve the worst financial crisis in several generations. While Paulson always seemed calculated and cold-hearted to me in real life while the whole mess was hitting the fan a few years back-- perhaps that is my green Lehman blood still flowing -- HBO portrays him as a deeply concerned and caring man, literally unable to sleep at night due to the constant worry about how to fix things for his country. One of the most moving scenes of the film to me is almost a throwaway, when Tim Geithner calls after another session at the gym and tells Paulson that the financial bailout bill looks like it's not going to pass Congress, and Paulson gets this look on his face like he is literally sick, puts the phone down, and then runs into the bathroom and retches. That's just not the image I ever had of the former head of Goldman Sachs, and I think the distinction between what most of us likely think of Paulson and what the makers of Too Big to Fail obviously want you to think may be one of the highlights as well for any of you out there who choose to watch.

Yeah, it's been well over two and a half years since the events of September 2008 changed Wall Street, and America, overall forever, but to me for very personal reasons the events still feel like they were just yesterday. Watching Too Big to Fail on HBO this past week was like a blast from the past, and even though reliving much of what I lived through that year is not exactly what I would call enjoyable in the strict sense, I have to say that, with a little bit of time under the bridge at this point, I thoroughly enjoyed HBO's take on things. If you find yourself with a couple of hours to kill and you are anyone with an interest in such things, I bet you'll be glad you took the time to watch.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Woe Woe Woe is Full Tilt

For anyone who hasn't heard yet, Phil Ivey released a statement via facebook yesterday that is now right on his homepage for all to read, about the current situation going on at full tilt, a company in which Ivey is an investor. Without bothering to summarize everything (you can read the whole thing it at the link above, it is pretty short), suffice it to say that Ivey is disappointed and embarrassed that -- due to the "inactivity and indecision of others" -- full tilt has not yet paid out its U.S. players, which Ivey calls unacceptable and something for which he has filed suit against tiltware, the maker of the full tilt software, and that Ivey is not going to play the WSOP this year when others cannot due to failure of full tilt to return their funds. The most interesting part of the release to me is the last paragraph, where Ivey says, "I sincerely hope this statement will ignite those capable of resolving the problems into immediate action and would like to clarify that until a solution is reached that cements the security of all players, both US and International, I will, as I have for the last six weeks, dedicate the entirety of my time and efforts to finding a solution for those who have been wronged by the painfully slow process of repayment. It certainly sounds to me like Ivey is of the opinion that it is somehow someone's decision who is involved with the management of full tilt not to pay out the players. While I doubt that that is expressly true just as I wrote it there, something tells me that Ivey -- a clear insider with mostly everyone involved with full tilt management among the professional players' circuit -- knows a lot more than he is leading on here, and that he is directly and deliberately trying to send a strong message to one or more of his poker "friends" via this public announcement, since his private urgings do not seem to be working.

But the thing that has me much more pissed is the stone cold confirmation -- unfortunate though it is -- of literally every single thing I've said here about full tilt over the past month or so since it became obvious that player cashouts were not forthcoming from the U.S.'s formerly second-largest online poker site, coming out of ftpdoug on the 2+2 boards. For those who don't know (and I am no kind of 2+2 hound, but I've spent enough time there to know doug from various full tilt issues in the past, he is confirmed legit), ftpdoug works for full tilt and has appeared countless times in the forums -- and I think even here at my blog way back in the day after I ranted about full tilt intentionally pulling the plug on the servers on a night when they were going to have to pay out massive overlay across the board in their nighttime mtts -- to explain full tilt's position, give updates on status of corrections and problems, and just to generally disseminate information from full tilt to the masses.

Well, ftpdoug posted the following the other day on the 2+2 forums, and I'll just repost the whole thing here for those who have not yet seen it:

To our customers:

We acknowledge that our lack of communication reflects poorly on us, and rightfully so. We have been too optimistic in estimating how long it would take to sort through the issues we have faced since Black Friday. And as frustrating as the delays have been for us, we recognize that it cannot compare to the frustration you have been feeling.

We further recognize that our lack of communication has led to much speculation and many unsubstantiated rumors, which have often been contradictory. With this message, we hope to clear up as much confusion as we can, while at the same time keeping in mind the constraints imposed on us as a result of the cases brought in the Southern District of New York.

The most pressing questions:

1. When will the US players be paid?

We still do not have a specific timeframe for this. There has been, and remains, no bigger priority than getting US players paid as soon as possible, and we have been working around the clock to get this done.

2. Is FTP bankrupt?

No. FTP's worldwide business is healthy and, although we've had some short-term challenges, it is operating as normal.


"The AGCC’s investigation into the affairs of it licensee Vantage Limited, trading as Full, is ongoing; initial investigations indicate no reason to believe that player fund transactions are fundamentally threatened by any consequence of the US authorities' actions. Delays caused by these actions are in the process of resolution, with normal service now being restored for non-US players. We understand that progress in respect of US player fund repatriation is anticipated and will be the subject of a separate statement from Full Tilt in due course. The Commission will remain engaged in this process."

3. What is the company doing to speed up payouts to the US players?

We are raising capital to ensure that the US players are paid out in full as quickly as possible.

It is important to remember that Full Tilt Poker has always paid out our players, even in the face of previous legal obstacles or factors not in our control, such as payment processor defaults and prior actions by the US government which resulted in US player funds being seized.

In all of these previous instances, Full Tilt Poker has covered these losses and
intends to do the same again.

4. Why are the Full Tilt Pros remaining silent?

It is not their choice. But they are constrained by the pending legal actions.

As a final note, we understand -- and have always understood -- the effect that our brief statements have had not only on our customers, but also on our reputation. It has not been easy to stay silent and watch the damage being done to our company brand and personal reputations, but we need to be mindful of the complicated and serious legal issues raised in the pending cases.

The emphasis in blue is mine, not ftpdoug's, but it is those two highlighted portions which just smack me in the face most. So, for starters, for anyone who actually doubted that full tilt did not have the cash on hand to pay out the U.S. players, ftpdoug has now confirmed it. They have to raise capital in order to pay out the U.S. players. That's it, plain and simple. If you don't know, "raise capital" is a fancy way for saying "get money from someone". Period. They don't have sufficient funds on hand to pay out their U.S. fan base. I've said it for weeks, people have commented that I am overreacting, etc. Well, now you can't say that anymore.

And by the way, let's be clear about one thing. "We're raising capital" is exactly what Lehman Brothers CEO Dick Fuld said over and over and over for the month or two immediately prior to Lehman's declaration of bankruptcy. "We're raising capital" unfortunately means the same thing in this case as "We're hoping to raise capital", because full tilt does not yet have a deal in place, and again it is obvious at this point that they will not have the funds to pay out the U.S. players unless they do in fact raise that capital, by some accounts (admittedly this is pure rumor I believe) estimated to be as much as $150 million. Dick Fuld just needed 4 or 5 billion invested and said for weeks that he had several options to choose from. But then his U.S. competitors turned him down. Then Citi and Bank of America said no thanks. Eventually it was down to the Korean Investment Bank, who was apparently very close to agreeing to a deal but walked away at the 11th hour over issues over who would have control over the company after the investment. It's amazing, really, how quickly "We're raising capital" can become "We couldn't raise the necessary capital", especially when your underlying business model may be suspect to a lot of potential investors out there.

Will someone invest $150 million in full tilt, to give them enough money to pay their U.S. players, on the hopes that they can survive and provide a good return on that $150 million investment with the site's flagging presence outside the United States, and dim prospects of ever re-entering the lucrative U.S. market? Would you invest $150 million in that business? Maybe. They do have Rush Poker as others have pointed out, they do seem to have the majority of the biggest worldwide poker pros as sponsors (for now), and they have those multi-entry tournaments that no one else seems to have yet. So there is probably some intellectual property assets there worth a pretty penny. But if you think I think that them "raising capital" sufficient enough to pay out their U.S. players is a done deal, then you crazy.

And moreover, the way I see it, full tilt doesn't really think it's a done deal either, despite a lot of the rhetoric you see from the company to the contrary. I can't help but think that ftpdoug's use of the word "intend" where I highlighted it above instead of saying instead something like "and full tilt will do so in this case as well" I think says it all. Even in writing his comments, ftpdoug in my mind has some inside knowledge that the capital-raising talks are far from any actual commitments of funds, and to me his use of the word "intend" there stands out like a sore thumb. And I should mention as well that the company's recent response to Ivey -- essentially positioning Ivey as the reason why full tilt may be unable to secure new financing -- sounds exactly like what the beginning of the end would sound like to me, if that proves to be what this is.

I'm taking a stand here guys: I have officially flipped from the side of believing we would eventually get paid out by full tilt -- where I've been ever since the moment I read about the indictments and arrests of Black Friday -- and now I think it is probably slightly more likely than not that we do not get full payouts from the company. I referred to this a couple of weeks back, but something about a bunch of professional poker players being in charge of the company ultimately does not at all give me the sense that my best financial interests will be in the forefront at all times. Sure, Lederer's house may be for sale for $30 million right now, but like I said last week here, I guarantee you he wont' go through with it if (1) it's not enough to pay the U.S. players and save the company anyways, and (2) he's the only poker pro putting up his own money like that. And I'm not hearing anything else out of anyone affiliated with the site, or any poker pro for that matter, or now ftpdoug or the full tilt press releases, that lead me to believe they are any closer than I am right now to raising $150 million of fresh cash for their business.

Labels: , , , , , ,