Jeffrey Vanchiro (1976 – 2014)


In January 2009, I spent a week playing poker tournaments at the Beau Rivage Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. There was a conspicuous character dominating the events.  A tall dude rocking colorful tracksuit tops with shiny sneakers and fitted ball caps—the guy had on fresh matching colorful gear every day.  He was strutting around during the breaks.  He contrasted so sharply with the opposition that it felt like he was foreground and the Gulf Coast locals were out of focus in the background.

In addition to some other deep runs, this dude made the final table of a $1,000 event that week.  When the final table participants were introduced over the PA system, on his turn, the tournament director said “from Queens, New York, this gentleman is a world famous graffiti vandal.”  LOL, wat?  I observed some of the final table, and the guy played cards with a distinctive flair—his chips were flipped into the center of the table with a joie de vivre, as if each bet gave him a special opportunity to announce his presence.  I liked this guy.  It was Jeffrey Vanchiro.

Fortuitously, Jeffrey and I had friends in common on the tournament circuit.  Maybe a month or two later, he was present during a group dinner and I drove him back to our hotel.  I can’t recall if we were in Atlantic City, Connecticut or Las Vegas.  I do recall the conversation vividly.  This was a passionate person.  A very passionate, very New York person.  We were kin that way.  His manner of speaking was wholly engaging.  I felt myself consuming his energy, engrossed, connected.  I was smitten.

This was early 2009.  I had been traveling the circuit alone, by choice, for three years.  The poker circuit gave me freedom but I also found it to be a lonely and alienating environment.  My conversation with Jeffrey was an unexpected breath of fresh air.  I needed a companion. . . I needed more of this guy!  We talked about our shared love of poker; how we got into the game.  Jeff said he came up dealing in a NYC card room, and before that he was at Riker’s Island after being convicted on graffiti charges (!!!)

Having worked as a criminal defense attorney in New York City, I knew that Jeffrey had probably just told a lie.    You have to be a very persistent, notorious graffiti writer to end up serving a sentence.  I’d never heard of such a thing.  I went up to my hotel room and did obsessive amounts of internet research on my new mancrush.  I discovered that Jeffrey Vanchiro was KORN, a legendary New York graffiti writer.  My due diligence turned up tons of pictures of his artwork, fawning testimonials and a video in which Jeffrey trolled Fox 5 News with a blue plastic plate covering his face (I was duped too).   Jeffrey was not bullshitting.  He was not quite the Babe Ruth of NYC graffiti, but maybe the Stan Musial—if baseball was illegal and Stan The Man gave no fucks about risking life and limb to play ball.  The full extent of the KORN legend was revealed to me months later, when Jeffrey and I were in a Duane Reade.  Jeffrey was on line to buy a drink.   A random teenager he’d never met cold stopped him and started raving and genuflecting.  Jeffrey gave him a dap and a fatherly talking-to about things utterly foreign to me.  I’m talking out of school when it comes to Jeffrey as KORN.  There are already so many memorials completed, with more to come—it’s a testament to his impact on a large urban subculture.

Jeffrey and I grew up fifteen miles but worlds apart, the Queens/Nassau County border dividing us culturally.  We still had a lot in common (both my parents are born and bred in Queens), and it turned out that Jeffrey liked me.  My desired bromance became a reality.  Jeffrey was my roommate and constant companion on poker tour for three years.

He was a true friend.  We shared a mutual respect and admiration.  He respected my opinions and I did his.  We sought out and took advice from one another.  We had actual conversations every day—we didn’t just sit there rehashing poker hands.  We were true confidantes.  We told each other things about each other that no one else knew.  I am not ashamed to admit that I felt a sense of pride when Jeffrey would say something complimentary about me.

Rooming with him was the best.  I came to love his idiosyncrasies.  Jeffrey was more than fashion conscious, his clothing was an absolute point of emphasis.  This was a man who wore OUTFITS—thoughtfully devised OUTFITS—every day.  I enjoyed the fastidious arrangement of his beloved sneakers and fitted ball caps around the room, his consumption of (literally) gallons of water each day, his one-legged bunny hop to the bathroom when he had to take a leak in the middle of the night.  Social outings were much better with him than without.  He had a marvelous sense of the moment, a lyrical way of talking, and brought a true embodiment of the carpe diem mentality to my world.  He often saw things differently than me, but he invited me to join him on his perch.  Jeffrey wasn’t just offbeat.  This man was a snare rip in an otherwise vacant stanza.  Anyone who spent time with Jeffrey has Jeffrey stories.  I have stories on stories on stories.  I remember new ones every day.

Jeffrey could have been practically anything he wanted to be.  He was not just a brilliant artist; he was straight-up brilliant.  He DID things all the way, never halfway.  When he set out to overcome his disability, he overcame it to such an extent that no one had any idea he was working with 1.5 legs.  When he decided to become a NYC graffiti writer, he became one of the greats of the game.  When he decided to learn poker, he became one of the better players in New York City.  When he decided to get into better shape, he went so hard that his body was practically transformed.  And when he decided to become a Brooklyn Nets season ticket holder, he ended up becoming the face of the franchise.  I’m convinced that he was on his way to mainstream celebrity.  I am also proud to say that his “Nets Neon Guy” persona would probably never have happened had we never met. . .  I unwittingly lit the fuse that exploded into that entire thing.  Believe it or not, Jeffrey did not like to dance when we met.  Another one of my Jeffrey Vanchiro stories.

The memorials and tributes to his Nets persona also are flowing in as I write this; most of the mainstream media articles have been thoughtful and warm.  I cannot provide better accounts.  I can say this:  Jeffrey LOVED the NBA.  He would obsess over certain individual players.  When we first met it was Brandon Jennings.  Then he had his “Ricky Rubio is the truth” phase.  I’ll never forget the time he insisted that we watch an entire Timberwolves game in our hotel room.  I don’t recall the opponent.  Rubio was quite bad that night; he shot about 2 for 12 from the field with a handful of turnovers.  Jeffrey was undeterred.  “Z, you see how he handles it?  He has flair, but he’s efficient.  It’s efficient flair, bro. . . Ooooh, who makes a skip pass there?  Who does that?  Ricky Rubio, that’s who!”

Jeffrey and I quit the poker tour around the same time, in 2012.  I retreated to the comfort and stability of my old job.  Jeffrey, of course, was onto his next new thing.  In the fall of that year, the brand new Brooklyn Nets invited their committed season ticket holders to their brand new arena.  No game was scheduled, the attendees had the mere privilege of a first look at Barclays Center.  I was part of the group Jeffrey invited along with him.  He strutted into the building and immediately began glad-handing the ticket-takers, ushers, the security people, concessionaires, other fans. . . everyone—like he was Borough President or something.  “Hi, I’m Jeffrey Gamblero!” he said with each dap/handshake/high five.  I was mildly embarrassed and asked him, politely, what in the hell he was doing.  “Z, I’m going to run this place.  This is gonna be Gamblero’s house.”  Like I said, Jeffrey did things.

He’s gone now.  Just like that.  The shock is only now wearing off.  Now it’s a prolonged devastation, gutting.  I attended and enjoyed the Nets memorial, but something about it felt really somber for me.  People should realize that “Jeffrey Gamblero” was a kind of performance art.  Jeffrey Vanchiro, the son, the devoted fiancé, the adoring big brother and father, the fantastic friend—that person is also gone.  I just wanted to write something in recognition of that Jeffrey:  a kind, sensitive, loving soul.

I can’t believe that I won’t bear witness to what comes next.  There’s no doubt that it would have been awesome to behold.  R.I.P. Jeffrey Vanchiro.  I will miss you, brother.

Staying Up.

For decades, this pile of mysterious reel-to-reel tapes sat gathering dust in my parents’ basement.  A couple of months ago my mother took them to a guy.  The guy transferred the contents onto a DVD.  The DVD is a collection of videos taken in the years 1973 through 1976.  They depict the time period from my birth until, roughly, my third birthday.

There is no audio component and the video is of Zapruder-esque quality, but the footage is marvelous.  My mother and father are youthful new parents.    The infant-toddler version of me is fawned and gushed over, repeatedly tossed from one person’s arms to another’s.  The now-elderly are shown in the primes of their lives.  All of my grandparents, aunts and uncles, many of whom are long deceased, are vibrant.  The video, despite the lack of sound, is a vivid reminder of the personalities of these departed loved ones.  I was deeply moved the day I watched the DVD.

Only a few days later I had the occasion to consider the purpose of this blog.  I’ve decided that it is not unlike the 40-year old video footage.  This is a repository of facts and feelings that tell the story of my career in poker.  It is recorded history that already carries the scent of nostalgia, and that effect should only increase with the passage of time.  This blog is not a diary, it was written for an audience.  It was never designed to be private, none of it.

Janeen and I attended her best friend’s wedding last Saturday.  I began conversing with the couple seated next to me.  The topic of poker somehow came up.  The guy plays semi-seriously.  He asked me my name; I told it to him.  His response was “I like your blog.”  This website was offline at the time.  I put it back up the next day.

That poker is not a big part of my life anymore had no bearing on this decision.  Moving forward doesn’t preclude looking back.  My present involvement with poker is limited to (1) helping my friend Sam learn to beat NLHE (so far so good!) and (2) bearing witness to Mukul Pahuja’s current destruction of the tournament circuit.  He’s on a tear the likes of which is rarely seen.  It’s the best run a friend of mine has ever had, and that is an accurate statement, not “recency bias” blather.  I’m very happy for Muk, I think our outlooks on life are similar which makes it feel natural to root for him.

I’ve also been working on a case involving a lawsuit between a tournament backer and a player.  It will go to trial soon.  I find the case quite interesting, and I think, regardless of the outcome, others will too.  My next new material on this website will probably retell the story of that litigation from my perspective.  Even if I never get around to doing that, this website’s archives are a thing I did.

VERY Belated WSOP Recap.

My yearly World Series of Poker writeup was a tradition I took pride in.  The voluminous and impassioned retelling of my 2005 Main Event was in fact the very first material to appear on this blog.  My recaps for WSOP years 2006 through 2010 are also lengthy and detailed.  Unfortunately, what was once a labor of love is now just labor.  This year’s version follows nonetheless, and it will allow me the catharsis of sharing how terribly I played a hand of poker:

I doubt that anyone who knows me well would describe me as especially motivated, so my life as presently configured might be difficult for some to recognize. I’m slowly evolving from just a lawyer to a lawyer and business owner, and two toddlers live in my apartment.  My career and my family are both objects of my devotion at the moment.  The things that keep me in action on the tournament circuit are my waning determination to hang around and my wife’s leniency.  The fire isn’t entirely out, but poker is now simmering on my back burner.  The sea change was complete when I stopped thinking about poker in my spare time.  I don’t do that anymore.

I split my WSOP into two trips this year:  a week in the beginning of the series and a week at the end.  The first trip went quite well–I cashed in the first event I played, a $1k NL bracelet event, and then again in the second, when I finished 38th of 6,300+ in the $1500 “Millionaire Maker.”  I was very happy with how I played, particularly in the Millionaire Maker.  I felt creative, sharp and decisive throughout.  The deep run also afforded me the opportunity to play with a lot of great players, and I learned quite a bit about some newer approaches during the tournament.  The cash was good for $26,000 and change which (with my limited schedule of mid-range events) locked up a profitable summer for me. I then returned home to real life; the second leg of the trip came almost a month later.

I wasn’t able to spend much time packing for the second trip, and when I got to the airport, I was met with an unpleasant surprise.  I had been working my way through a dense two-volume biography of Charles Darwin and at that time had finished volume one and was halfway through volume two.  At the airport, I got through security, walked to my gate, sat down, dug into my bag and rummaged around for my 600-page companion for the next six hours, the only book I had packed . . . and pulled out Darwin. . . volume one.  Ugh.  These sorts of minor mishaps sometimes set me off more than they should, and this was one of those instances (no, the book could not be purchased online).  I walked over to Hudson News, bought a Sports Illustrated, read one article, and dumped it in the trash.  I wish I could say the trip got better from there, but it didn’t.

I opened with the final $1500 bracelet event and busted that.  I then tried a mega satellite and busted that.  Then, naturally, I resorted to some trusty old friends:  sit ‘n go’s.  To my surprise, I fared terribly—bust, bust, bust, bust—cashing in only one out of eight of them.  This wasn’t exactly a good lead-up to the Main Event, but, as they say, it was what it was.  “That’s poker!”

I pressed onward and registered for my ninth WSOP Main Event. Main Event fields, as every poker fan knows, run the gamut.  My starting table was an exemplary cross-section.  There was a two time bracelet winner, a young but very accomplished online pro, two Russians, some older recreational types, and me.  I didn’t recognize the young pro’s face, but he was wearing a patch that made his identity easy to figure.  Armed with my iPhone, I am sharp enough to figure out who almost anyone of remote poker fame is quite quickly, usually through only a few snippets of conversation.  In this instance, a poker company patch made my job very easy.  Before a hand was dealt, I knew who this pro was.  By the time we had played an orbit, I had reviewed his lifetime results (very impressive) and visited his twitter feed (very busy).  This player exuded the casual confidence that comes with the success and renown he’s achieved.  My sense, however it was acquired (attire?  demeanor? who knows), was that he was a bit soft and a bit snooty, the product of a privileged upbringing.  I could not picture this person worrying about anything, I had the sense that he hadn’t dealt with much adversity in his life.  I countered his casual confidence with casual disdain, and only after he busted me (see below) did I come to realize that there was a healthy dose of jealousy mixed into my disdain.  My game plan for the day was easy to figure:  let this kid do his thing, attack the weak spots.  And yes, there were weak spots.  I failed spectacularly at executing this game plan.

On the first break I had worked the 30k starting stack to something like 31,500.  The game plan was being executed.  The young pro’s popular twitter account reported that his table, other than the two-time bracelet winner, was very soft. By the time the second break came around, the weakest spots at the table were doing their best to bust, and two of them had already succeeded.  For my part, I had by now executed a 5 bet preflop bluff against the Russian man on my right, and despite holding no premium starting hands thus far, my stack was now 37k and change.  The blinds were going to 150-300 (no ante).

As the cards were dealt for the first hand following the break, several players had yet to return to my table and we were only five or six handed.  I was second to act and looked down at the king of clubs and king of spades.  My first big hand of the tournament.  I opened to 700. It folded to the young pro in the cutoff and he three bet to 1850.  It folded back to me.  I thought about flatting but figured—in light of the absent players and this player’s general profile—that a four bet might induce a light five bet.  I made it 4200 to go.  The young pro called and the flop came 9 8 4 with two diamonds.  I now chose to take a passive line in an effort to control the pot size, and so I check-called the young pro’s bet of 3600.  Probably a mistake, I dunno.

The turn came jack of clubs, and I checked again.  This time the young pro fired out a big bet of 8000-ish.  I recognized that this line, from this player, against a perceived random, was a value line.  He was almost certainly taking me to value town.  What to do?  Well, folding was an option.  Probably the best one in the WSOP Main Event.  But I didn’t fold.  Instead, I considered the young pro’s range, and came up with “a lot of AA, some JJJ, some 999, some 888, maybe some 444, perhaps random bluffs and semibluffs?” and said to myself, something like this:

Fuck this kid’s AA.  Fuck this kid’s set of eights.  He cannot call a shove with those hands in the WSOP Main.  He will cannot. He has no idea who I am, but he’s going to soon.

And having thought something approximating the above-quoted material, I proceeded to do something completely contrary to my plan for the day—contrary to any rational plan for the WSOP Main Event, really—I turned an overpair into a crazy bluff and announced all in.  His call came so quickly that it could only mean one thing.  Before the cards were even tabled, my heart sank and I was already thinking of arranging a flight home.  He had the Q-10 of spades, I was drawing stone dead. He covered me by a couple of thousand chips.  Young pro’s resultant and triumphant tweet was mildly disparaging of the random idiot who he’d just busted.

My initial thoughts on the hand were that my opponent’s flop bet was odd, because all he had was queen high, and I don’t have a 4-bet/check/give up on the flop range, so it’s not a bluff that will work.  But I was just a random face to this kid, and the bet could have achieved a fold against a random.  The bet further succeeded in building a pot in the event that his gin card fell on the turn, which it of course did, and in possibly setting up a big multi-street bluff if a brick fell on the turn.  So perhaps I simply got owned.  One of the sadder aspects of the hand it that it was not apparent to anyone that I was bluffing, it looked more like “kings! yayyy… oops.”

In retrospect, I recognize that my emotions played a role in this disastrous hand.  It’s impossible to say what would have happened in this hand against a different opponent, but it’s safe to conclude that I almost definitely would not have busted.

An old prizefighter gets into the ring with a great young boxer.  The old prizefighter knows what he’s doing.  He’s encountered his share of great young boxers, and on his good days he’s handled them, left them flailing away while he pounded jabs and crosses into their mugs.  He knows how to stay out of these kids’ way until the right opportunity presents itself.  He also knows some really effective counterattacks.   But the old prizefighter is a prideful creature, one that doesn’t take kindly to being singled out and zeroed in on like an easy mark.  The old prizefighter is capable of losing his patience, losing his mind, and walking straight into a haymaker.  All because, well. . . don’t be starting shit with me, youngblood.

“That’s poker.”

Happy New Year out there!

Ring Me.

Last week I celebrated my 40th birthday.  As is customary at such landmarks, I stopped to take stock of my life.  And I saw that it was good.  I got some awesome gifts, including a cooking class from Janeen and WHITE CASTLE SCENTED CANDLES from my kids.  Yes, WHITE CASTLE SCENTED CANDLES, THEY SMELL LIKE WHITE CASTE, OMG.  I also got to eat a great meal, surrounded by my family, at Peter Luger’s.  Mmmmm…

My transition from pro grinder to daddy/shyster is more or less complete.  I’m comfortable at my job and with fatherhood.  I’m actually intermittently enjoying the lawyering, and of course I’m endlessly amused and intrigued by my children.

Ivy is now quite the miniature human.  She has shed much of her shyness and has entered the “randomly pepper all in my vicinity with batteries of questions” phase of her existence.  Strangers seem to find her genuinely endearing.  As for Max, I wanna get inside his head badly.  He storms around in what appears to be a quixotic adventure and has a surprising vocabulary, always delivered in triumphant one-word blasts.

I still play plenty of poker (hooray for private practice).  I pick my spots, showing up at the tournaments with the juiciest prize pools, or simply on random days where my work schedule is light.  I make it to maybe three or four tournaments a month.  This is drastically fewer than I played as a pro, but I still manage to elicit the same “you sure play a lot for a retired guy” comments on each trip I make.  I suppose that’s good; I’m still plugged in.

The day after my birthday happened to be an easy day to get away, so I drove down the New Jersey Turnpike to the racino in Chester, Pennsylvania to try my luck in a WSOP Circuit Event.  To say that this particular casino is a depressing place is probably redundant–when you read “racino in Chester, Pennsylvania” in the last sentence, you probably had already conjured the appropriate imagery.

Anyway, I sat down to play at noon and busted the $365 six-max event by 2:00 p.m.  Bummer.  I was vaguely aware that a second event was scheduled for 5:00 p.m–a semi-turbo which was also a ring event. “Ring event,” in this context, means two things:  (a) that the official WSOPC winner’s merchandise, which includes a ring, would be presented to the winner; and (b) that the results would be tabulated as part of the WSOP’s points system for determining who would be entitled to play in their yearly $10,000 freeroll.  This points system is a rather ingenious marketing tool and is probably the primary reason that over 200 people showed up to play poker in Chester, Pennsylvania last Wednesday.

Since I wanted to spend more time playing poker than driving that day, I decided to stay for the aforementioned 5:00 p.m. semi-turbo ring event.  I passed the time by sitting in a 1-2 NL game, running hot and departing the cash game room with an extra $500 in my pocket.  I ran hotter yet in the tournament, a one-day $365 buy in that drew 160 players.  By midnight we were in the money.  Some time later, we were at the final table, and I was nicely positioned in the middle of the pack.  The run good continued further, and as the field thinned down to four, I held a big chip lead.

At that point I began to give serious consideration to actually winning the tournament.  It occurred to me that I really wanted a WSOP Circuit ring–certainly more than I wanted the paltry $13k first place cash prize.

Yep, I sure coveted that ring.  Not because I wanted to wear it (it’s hideous).  Not for the uniqueness of the accomplishment (there are easily over a thousand in circulation).  And not so I could pawn it (I’m appraising it at $29.99).

I wanted the ring because having it would fill a hole in my poker resume.  Most of my closest pro poker cohorts have at least one WSOPC ring; it’s not really a big deal to win one.  Traveling the pro tournament trail for six years and not winning a WSOPC ring is something like working at McDonald’s for six years and never being named employee of the month.  My lack of a WSOPC ring was actually noteworthy to me, and potentially others, on some level.  I had some near misses, but had never closed the deal on a ring.  Now I had my chance.

I cruised into heads-up with a two to one chip lead.  Things went south from there, and at one point I was outchipped six to one, a desperate-withering-(overused poker term alert!)-shoving-every-hand-kind-of-character.  As luck would have it, I scratched my way back and ended up winning a flip on the final hand, QJ > 1010.  Jack of justice, right in the window.  I got my ring.

As I said earlier, the ring is unwearable by normal humans.  However, It does make a nice tail accessory for Ruthie (she’s the talk of the neighborhood!) and Elmo’s been rocking it on his left forearm.  Gives him some tough-guy appeal.


For those of you keeping score at home (you totally know that you are), I have a week in Vegas booked for the start of the WSOP.  Then back to business, then back out West for the WSOP Main.

Oh hi.

Yes, this blog still works.

I don’t expect any sympathy on this, especially from people with tougher lives than mine, from people who work two jobs to feed their families… but full time lawyering + parenting + poker = a lot.  Things like “food shopping” and “haircut” languish on my to do list for weeks at a time.  “Update blog” isn’t even on my radar.  It sucks, because I do enjoy writing.  I loved coming up with ideas for this space then spending a few leisurely hours getting them typed up.  Now?  Impossible.  I fall asleep whenever I’m left unattended for two minutes.  Writing’s a luxury I can no longer afford.  Gonna give it a quick try, though.

I’m most interested in discussing my children, but there’s nothing especially compelling about kid stories on (what used to be?) a poker blog.  I could run through all of Ivy’s adorable malaprops and mispronunciations, which are now sadly disappearing as she becomes more and more conversant, but two of the best: “fooda” means stroller and a perfectly yiddish gutteral sound, “uchhhh” means milk.  I could share her obsession with the children’s television show Yo Gabba Gabba.  Or I could describe Max’s indomitable happiness (seriously, a vaccination suppresses his perma-grin him for maybe three seconds), his insatiable love of music and his moutaineering (he scrambles to the highest point in the room when left to his own devices).  But there are parenting message boards for that.  I’d know, Janeen subscribes.  I guess I’ll just talk about how poker fits into my life.

I do not play poker on weekends (case in point, no Harrah’s AC Main Event for me tomorrow).  It’s not fair to Janeen.  The best days for me are weekdays, when daycare is taken care of.  That of course means that playing poker requires holidays from work.  I don’t usually have much trouble getting days off, and for that I owe gratitude to my boss/father, who appreciates my love of poker.  I used to bemoan the difficult times when I would drive a car for several hours and play a tournament on the same day (rather than arriving the night before).  Those days are now the norm.  I’m pretty lucky to be playing at all, and I know it.

When I do take a day trip and play, I don’t feel out of touch with the scene.  Quite the opposite.  During my cameos on the tournament trail I hang out with the same old friends, see the same old opponents, engage in the same old conversations about bad beats, big bluffs and whichever player is currently the hottest commodity on tour (and whether this person is a transcendent talent or is merely running well).  The brand of poker I play also continues to mirror that of the full-time pros, and I feel perfectly comfortable battling them at the table.  I haven’t missed a beat.  Poker is like riding a bicycle.  My training wheels came off in 2006.

I am happy with my decision to retire from full-time poker and believe I left at precisely the right time.  I’m not trying to give myself any credit for this—my retirement was borne of my personal circumstances, it’s not like I read the poker tea leaves, but I believe the game is harder than it’s ever been right now.  Rakes continue to increase, re-entry tournaments are becoming the norm, recreational players are losing interest, and the skill level of the average tournament player is on the rise.  I can only produce anecdotal evidence in support of this theory, but I believe that the magical line of demarcation that separates the profitable players from the net losers—the breakeven line—has shifted from somewhere in the range of “good amateur” to the domain of “average pro.”  Yes, I’m saying that in the current climate, there are professional poker players who are break-even.  At best.

Most of the tournaments I’ve played recently have been trench warfare from the start.  Minraising—once the exclusive province of the online freaks—is now the norm.  The same older gentlemen who once passively sat there bleeding chips, clinging to their tournament lives, now employ the preflop 3- 4- 5-bet game the cool kids figured out years back.  It’s kind of funny; if you check a poker-themed twitter feed any time a serious live tournament is winding down, you’ll find the same comments about how many “heros” “sickos” and “beasts” are left in the field, accompanied by comments like “the cream rises to the top.”  The narrative of the good players systematically destroying fish is a popular one, and one that is often propagated amongst pros, possibly because a united sense of purpose can be derived from it.  Unfortunately, I think it’s misguided.  Good players are not destroying fish, they’re destroying each other—there aren’t many fish left in the pond.  The ratio of sharp money to recreational money has never been higher, and when you factor in the current trend towards allowing re-entries, this effect is amplified.  The cream isn’t rising to the top; poker tournaments are a pretty creamy beverage to begin with nowadays.

Despite all of that, I still love playing.  And although I’ve now been working a 9-to-5 for almost a year, I continue to feel most comfortable when I’m in the poker world.  I’m re-learning lawyering on the fly and poker tournaments are still “my element.”  In the poker world, I am generally well-respected.  My contributions to conversations there hold value.   I feel completely at ease.  When I make a play at the poker table, I can articulate the exact rationale for it.  I approach every situation in a poker tournament with a cold calculation that can only be enabled through years of repetition.  Perhaps oddly, I feel secure in the domain of a game of chance.  In my new work life?  Not so much.  I have good days and bad days.  Sometimes I’m quite lost.

The worst days for me are invariably the ones immediately following a poker excursion.  On the morning after a tournament, I have trouble getting out of bed.  I mumble profanities as I put on my suit.  I feel nervous before court appearances and I find that I have a shorter fuse when talking with clients.  I feel like Ray Liotta in that final cutaway in Goodfellas, just a regular schmuck picking the newspaper up off his front porch.

The lifestyle it affords is of course professional gambling’s greatest perk, and the real job I’ve chosen sits somewhere on the opposite end of the spectrum.  It’s no wonder that I feel mildly depressed on days after.  The contrast between the two worlds I’m attempting to straddle is extreme.

In fact, if I had to pick a single day on the 2012 calendar that made me truly miss professional poker, It’d probably be a day when I did not play poker at all.  It was in early October:  Day 1b of Event 1 of the WSOP Circuit stop in Hammond, Indiana.  I had played Day 1a of the tournament and made it through, leaving me with a day off before I was scheduled to participate on Day 2.  Janeen and the children were in Brooklyn and I was in Chicago.  I slept in.  I researched football statistics.  I watched two innings of a baseball game on TV.  I took a cab to one of my favorite restaurant/bars, where I ate a burger and drank some beers.  I left and went home and went to sleep.  That was my day, and I spent it completely alone, without speaking more than 20 words.  I loved it, and it made me miss playing poker terribly.  Poker is a pretty antisocial endeavor; it can actually make for a lonely profession.  But the way my life is currently configured, one day of peaceful solitude is pure nirvana.  What a day that was.

I don’t expect I’ll post much else here for awhile.  After I came back from Council Bluffs, I wanted to write about how foreign and interesting the city of Omaha, Nebraska felt.  Couldn’t find the time.  After the WSOP Main Event, I planned to post about a couple of really interesting hands that I played and the disappointment of flaming out on a bad beat.  Within a few days I couldn’t remember the important hands in much detail.  After Hammond, I wanted to wax poetic about that day off and recap my second consecutive deep run through Event 1’s massive field. Never happened.  Alas, I’m decidedly no longer a poker pro, and I’m definitely not a poker blogger.

That doesn’t mean you should try running a hopeless bluff against me.  I’ll still snap it off in your ass.

Mincashing Every Day.

So the 2012 World Series of Poker has commenced and I’m far removed from the action.  Today I’d normally be packing 90% of my belongings into my giant blue suitcase, withdrawing a large sum of cash from the bank and steeling myself for a summer in the desert.

[edit:  I started writing this thing last week.  Because it takes me so long to compose and post blog entries these days, I am in fact packing and going to Las Vegas tomorrow.]

Instead, I’m doing what gainfully employed recreational poker players do:  devising plans to play a small number of WSOP events and otherwise going about my usual business.  I’m playing a couple of prelims next [this] week, coming back home then resurfacing again a few days before the Main Event.

I’m not especially upset about this, at least not in the traditional sense.  I am not envious of the people I know who are spending the next six weeks in Vegas.  I am not feeling any remorse about my decision to retire from full time play.  I haven’t really bothered to reflect on that choice just yet; my inevitable period of nostalgic rumination about my time as a poker pro has not begun.

Through the years I’ve been open about having mixed feelings about the WSOP.  There’s a lot to dislike about the WSOP, ranging from constant mild physical discomfort (outside’s way too hot, inside’s too cold) to severe homesickness (which acquires a strong new dimension when you have children) to the continuous presence of Clark Grizwald bozos, Southern California dillweeds and hookers in your field of vision.

For the first time since moving to Carroll Gardens, I will be spending the summer of 2012 here in Brooklyn, and I’m excited for it.  This is where my family lives.  This is where the best pizza  and chicken parm is.  Where I can walk my dog and chill on my stoop.  Where vibrant weekend daytime parties pop off on rooftops, in parks, in vacant lots, on boats—not in contrived megaclubs overrun with noobs and fake boobs.  I love summer in New York.  When half the neighborhood retreats to the Hamptons or the Berkshires or Point Pleasant or wherever and leaves the rest of us to handle things (and park our cars wherever we want)… those are the days I really love.  As long as it’s not 95 degrees.

Still, there’s also a lot to love about the WSOP.  It’s a truly singular event in its scale.  If you took a snapshot of the Amazon Room at the start of a NLHE tournament, photoshopped the cards and chips out of the frame then asked a randomly selected stranger to guess what was depicted, what would they say?  Hundreds of tables, each with nine people gathered around one guy in a uniform… probably “third world governmental processing center”—perhaps a Chinese inoculation clinic or the Department of Motor Vehicles in Mumbai?  That’s how enormous and orderly everything is.   During the meet there is a staggering amount of money being wagered under one roof at all times. Each and every day a handful of people will win a life-changing portion of that money.  That’s intoxicating to those disposed to gambling.  The WSOP is heaven for big gamblers.

Scaling my involvement down a few notches is an easy decision for me.  My priority now is my family, and to miss time with them would make me sad.  Ivy’s 17 months old and in a stage of hyper-development.  I’m witnessing daily changes as her brain soaks everything up and she turns from one of the world’s silent witnesses into a real conversationalist.  She surprises Janeen and I with new words every day.  Meanwhile, Maxwell is now four months old and has decided to make his presence felt.  He’s exiting the beanbag with eyes stage and entering the terrestrial human stage.  He smiles and laughs at practically everything.  Looking at a table leg fascinates little Max.  Must be nice!

I’m feeling extremely sentimental about this time in my life, even as it unfolds.  I know that Janeen and I will never again have two children of Ivy and Max’s formative ages.  During the times that I’m not consumed with some child-care related chore, I am dismayed with each passing minute that this time in our life will never return.  How am I supposed to fade a 2,800 player field under these circumstances?  And why would I want to?

But wait… things are not perfect:  I am experiencing a mixture of good days and bad days.  I am learning on the job in my new (old) position, which brings both daily stress and occasional satisfaction.  I’m earning a solid living, unfazed by the lack of variation each day.  Getting up early does not bother me at all.  Nor does wearing a suit (although I enjoy being treated as an oddity when I appear in a NYC card club after work—my friends view me with curious affection, as if a suit and tie were assless chaps and a ten gallon hat).  The rhythm of my current world is agreeable.  Still, there are lots of days where I feel “blah” for no apparent reason.  Why?

I’ve considered this quite a bit, and I’ve concluded that my problem is what inveterate gamblers might call a lack of “juice” in my daily existence.  I’m not talking about freshly squeezed OJ here.  Saying there’s “no juice” in my life is a euphemistic way of saying that I’m experiencing withdrawal.  And withdrawal is of course a physiological ailment.

In an effort to self-diagnose my inner feelings of juicelessness, I did what I usually do:  read stuff.  I’m a sporadic but voracious reader; in this instance I read a bunch of medical journals about the neurological effects of gambling.  These types of documents typically devote more space to footnotes than actual text and are crammed full of terms I’ve never heard and have no hope of ever understanding.  Laypeople don’t bother to read this stuff.  Yet I somehow find these articles riveting.

Anyway, as usual I am short on time.  One day I am going to write a full blog entry about the things I’ve learned about the neurological side of gambling.  I am fascinated by this info and feel that it may have useful applications in gambling games that involve predicting the actions of other humans—like poker, sports betting and the stock market.  So instead of a full treatment, here is my spin on a few of the things I’ve learned about the neurological side of gambling.  In bullet points.

-Dopamine (the same chemical that is released when we have sex, eat a good meal, etc.) flow is responsive to gambling.  Our brains come equipped with complex risk/reward machinery, rewards produce dopamine.  When an agent that randomizes rewards is introduced, our brains continue to seek the dopamine release associated with the rewards.

-The randomizing of the reward in gambling games is a key element.  The part of our brain that is designed to detect patterns, solve problems and achieve things goes a little bit haywire due to the non-predictability of rewards in gambling games.  Because the reward (“winning”) happens so haphazardly, the anticipation of the reward becomes stimulating.   Not only does anticipating a reward become stimulating (and dopamine spew-inducing), simply thinking about gambling or sitting there observing the game becomes stimulating.  At least for some of us.

-The human drive to achieve in skill-based pursuits is hijacked by gambling games.  This is why normal, intelligent people gamble in -EV situations; the games mimic skill-based problem solving situations.  “Near miss” results are especially potent.  While near misses portend improvement in skill-based games, they are destructive (and dangerous) in gambling games.  Examples of near misses in skill games would be shooting just one stroke over par for the first time in golf, coming just short of the high score in a video game and losing to your older sister by just one point in Scrabble.  These results motivate people to continue playing and even to try harder.

-In gambling games, “near misses” correlate with absolutely nothing but nevertheless motivate people to continue playing and “try harder,”  just as they do in skill-based games.  The gambling game hijacks your drive to succeed and overrides your logical side that way. Examples would be a guy betting a $25 ‘yo’ and watching the dice land on twelve on the next roll, someone betting on a number on roulette and watching the ball land in the very next slot, and the most insidious of all: having the first two reels of a slot machine produce jackpots and watching the last reel brick out.  The first two are completely random events that ought to be viewed independently from your wager–the twelve is no different from a seven for the purpose of your ‘yo’ bet, but your brain is telling you that you came close.  As for the slot machine, it is actually programmed to produce near misses with enough frequency to keep the dopamine flowing so that the customers act illogically (irresponsibly?).  Near misses great the illusion of control in games of chance, and drive gamblers crazy.  Or drive them to gamble more.  They fry the circuitry.  And you wonder why so many people will not shut their goddamn pieholes about all bad beats they’ve suffered?  That’s the dopamine talkin’.  Junkies.

-Poker is gambling too, and it does the same thing to your brain.  The hilarious fallacy that poker is not gambling is torn to shreds by the neurological evidence.  You can lionize poker all you want, talk about maximizing expectation and couch the game’s strategies in whatever esoteric terms that you like best.  It doesn’t change the fact that when you checkraise the turn with an open ended straight flush draw, get flatted and are left sitting there waiting for the river card to turn, your brain is furiously pumping out the same chemicals that those blue-haired old ladies sitting at the Blazing Sevens slot machines are on.  So light up a Virgina Slim and enjoy yourself, you wizard.

What was my point?  Oh yeah, that I’ve been going through gambling withdrawal.

Vegas tomorrow.  That might help.

Brooklyn Lawyer Places Second In Big Tournament.

peripheral, but happy.

peripheral but happy.

A couple of weeks ago I came upon this thread on the 2+2 forums, in which it is revealed that Erick Lindgren, one of modern poker’s biggest all time winners, is also a colossal loser at life.   It sparked in me a desire to write a blog post.  I planned on putting something together that revealed how things in poker are seldom what they seem.  I planned on telling you that a great number of supposed tournament heroes are in fact destitute, in hopeless debt and playing poker on borrowed money.  I planned on revealing that most of the guys who became poker celebrities in the initial post-Moneymaker wave were frauds who are now broke and/or disgraced.  I planned on mentioning that many of these same people ran a multi-million dollar online business like it was a weekly card game hosted in some guy’s basement.  I was going to tell you about all the expert wizards who exert so much energy mastering poker, win big at it, then squander every last dime in their bankrolls on games they cannot beat.  I was going to bring to light the fact that many professional poker players—including some who enjoy celebrity status—are just your standard gambling addicts, desperate losers who lack integrity when their pockets are bare.   And I planned on mentioning how it was all so dispiriting.  But then last week I had my biggest score since 2009, so I think I will write something about that instead.

Since I last wrote anything here I have enacted my plan of returning to lawyerdom.  Initially I went through a training regimen which had me following my Dad around from court appearance to court appearance, and now I’m back on the suit & tie hustle myself.  The practice has been busy since my return, and last week I had the opportunity to watch an interesting trial.  I won’t get into the details of the case (I doubt anyone cares, and I also have an ethical obligation not to run my mouth) but the stakes were pretty high.  Our client rejected all plea deals and was facing the possibility of a felony conviction for a crime he swore he did not commit.  As the trial unfolded I became more and more emotionally invested in the outcome.  Crucial and highly contradictory testimony was presented by both sides, and as my father cross examined the State’s key witness, I felt my phone vibrating.  Sitting in the front row of the courtroom, I slid it from my pocket, cupped it in my hand and stole a furtive glance.  It was from a professional poker player friend of mine:

ran KK into AA again.  What else is new.  Busto Caesars 550.

Theater of the absurd.  I pictured my friend, his brow furrowed and his face red with fury, storming back to his hotel room, where he would now spend the rest of his day doing something important like prepping for a fantasy baseball draft or masturbating.  Then I looked at our client sitting there at the defendant’s table praying that my Dad would discredit the man on the witness stand so that he could avoid a felony conviction and jail time.  I did everything I could to suppress my desire to laugh, but I couldn’t—I chortled a bit.

Poker exists in a world unto itself.  An isolated fairyland world.

My current situation at home is asphyxiating.  Ivy is now an impossibly cute, funny and inquisitive toddler.  While she still only uses a few English words (“hi,” “this,” “that,” and most recently, “no”), she now is ambulatory and also very clever.  She understands everything we say and she does lots of silly things.  Yesterday she put her Elmo doll into Max’s mechanical swing, stuck her bottle in Elmo’s lap, placed a blanket over Elmo and rocked him to sleep.  And when you say “rock star!” to her, she grins, raises her hand in the air and does some fistpumping.  Also residing here is Ruthie, who at three years old is somehow still in puppy mode.  Both Ivy and Ruthie require plenty of attention.

And then there is Max.  He’s a difficult little fellow.  He craves affection desperately and cries whenever he is not being held.  He also doesn’t seem to understand that daytime is for wakefulness and nighttime is for sleeping.  With this confused little attention-starved booger added to the mix, keeping everyone happy is almost impossible.  Janeen and I are trying our best, dividing duties, making due.  We live day-to-day and minute-to-minute, diffusing one bomb after another.  Sleep is hard to come by, especially for Janeen, who has been kind enough to shoulder the burden during the graveyard hours so that I can be coherent in court in the morning.  Our life is a series of chores, one ending and then another beginning.  A long string of meals, baths, diaper changes, baby hushing, dog walking… repeated ad nauseum.  When we watch an hour of uninterrupted television together it’s considered a big treat. This phase of our lives is about survival.  Presumably Max will soon begin to act more like a tiny person and less like a cranky little lump of crabmeat.  A couple of days ago he started to smile and coo.  There is hope.

Into this mess I am trying to fit some poker.  The Borgata series in January was my final meet as a pro.  When it ended I decided that my game plan going forward would be to play only the tournaments with especially soft, large fields or the possibility of life changing money.  No more $500 events with $75,000 prize pools.  Only big fields and big buyins.  For the Caesar’s Atlantic City WSOP Circuit meet, that meant playing only Events 1 and 2 ($345 buy ins that typically draw big crowds) and the Main Event (a $1,600 reentry).

Because my mother-in-law was staying with us at the time, no special arrangements were necessary for me to get down to AC for the early events.  In Event 1, I got fairly deep but didn’t cash.  In Event 2, I blew up my stack in short order.  Faced with the decision of hanging around for 20 hours and re-entering the next day or going home, I chose the latter and got the hell out of Dodge.  I felt a bit wistful skipping all the prelims that were my former bread and butter, but diapers awaited.

By the time the Main Event came around, I had logged another work week and my mother-in-law was gone.  Playing the tournament thus required a lot of legwork on the front end.  After testimony concluded for the day in the aforementioned trial two Fridays ago, I arranged for my parents to take both Ivy and Ruthie for the weekend.  This left Janeen with only Max to contend with, and I departed for Caesar’s early on Saturday morning.  Having no interest in dumping $3,200, I was prepared to fire a single $1,600 bullet—a solid strategy for a recreational player.

My Day 1 table had two very aggressive players at it, both seated to my right.  One was the dangerous Ari Engel (playing poker on Shabbos, no less) and the other was a less crafty but equally crazy button masher whose poker claim to fame is winning a women’s event at Borgata a few years ago (he is not a woman).  I was lucky to be seated on the left side of these two players, and I was sure I’d end up in a big confrontation with one of them at some point, and that’s exactly what happened.

I’d worked my 20k starting stack up to about 27k at the 100-200/25a level.  One player limped under the gun, another overlimped, and the Ladies Champ iso-raised to 1,200.  It folded to Ari (who covered me) in the hijack, and he three-bet to 2,450.  I was on the button with KcJc, and feeling that Ari’s range was very wide, I chose to 4-bet to 4,400 for leverage (dicking around with these small raises is en vogue, I’m happy to join in).  The limpers and the Ladies’ Champ quickly got out of the way, but Ari proceeded to 5-bet to 8,100.  I wasn’t liking the idea of cramming and getting snapped off, but I also was in no mood to fold, so after some deliberation I chose to put in the chips to call.  Almost one-third of my stack was in the pot, and I was now prepared to get my money in if I flopped any piece, draw, gutshot, whatever.  It all became elementary when the dealer rolled out a 10 high flop with two clubs.  My stack was going in.  Ari led for 2,200 (yes, he bet 2,200 into ~18,000) and I moved in.  He tanked for a few minutes, had the clock called on him by a player who was never involved in the hand and eventually folded.

Now armed with a big stack, I was off to the races and I ended up bagging a big stack at the end of the session. When I reported this to Janeen she was openly and unapologetically disappointed.  She was exhausted and frustrated and had been rooting for me to bust so that I would come home and help her care for Max.

Putting Janeen’s torment at home on the back burner, I ended up battling my way through a treacherous and draining fourteen-hour Day 2.  One of the few hands I recall playing took place toward the end of the night.  I opened the Ks5s and got called by both blinds.  I triple barreled a 9-8-5-10-A board, shoving all in on the river, and my opponent folded (thank you, sir).  It was one of those “screw it, I don’t give a shit” kind of hands that I may have played differently if I were still relying on poker tournaments as an income producer.  When we bagged chips at the end of the night, only 23 players remained and I was in the middle of the pack.  Now guaranteed about $8,000 and utterly exhausted, I texted Janeen and again discovered that she was still miserable and had again been rooting for me to fail.  What a railbird!

I had packed exactly enough clothes for three days.  On the morning of Day 3 I was down to clean undergarments and my Jim Brown jersey.  That suited me just fine, because with $191,000 “up top” in the tournament, I was gonna need to run like #32 to get all the money.  I had been in this exact spot many times over the past few years with not much to show for it.  That late tournament rungood had been evading me for some time.  Complicating matters was the remaining field, which featured a murderer’s row of East Coast grinders; I personally knew about half the players remaining, and of the ones I didn’t know, the majority were internet geniuses in expensive baseball caps with stiff brims.  Not an easy assignment.  As play started up I learned that my father had won a not guilty verdict in the trial.  No matter what I did during Day 3, our client’s day was guaranteed to be better than mine.  A good omen?

I ran well right out of the gate.  During Day 3 I repeatedly beat AK with pocket pairs in crucial all in preflop spots, I believe a total of six consecutive times.  While I never got my money in bad and won as an underdog in the entire tournament, winning six or seven big coin flips definitely qualifies as running way above expectation.  My stack swung wildly throughout the day, but when the field was trimmed to the final nine, I was still there with a good amount of chips.  Maybe this was happening.

Also at the final table were two friends of mine:  Eugene Fouksman, my new poker role model:  a guy with a full time real world job who is nonetheless as tough as they come at the poker table, and to my direct right sat one of my best friends in poker, Ryan Eriquezzo.

Since much of my readership is comprised of poker outsiders, I always thought it would be interesting to write profiles on some of my long time colleagues.  I have consorted with a lot of real characters in the past six years; it would make for good blogging.   I’ve never done it, though.  I can’t seem to summon the energy to write something that would do these guys justice.  Also, my blog isn’t supposed to be about blowing up people’s spots—I have no idea whether my friends would even be amenable to having pieces written about them by a hack like me.  But in this instance, because so much of what I experienced at Caesar’s has to do with my relationship with Ryan, I’m going to write a little something about him.

In many ways, Ryan Eriquezzo is the poster child for the wild world of live professional tournament poker.  His story is both a cautionary tale and (hopefully) a triumphant one—a tribute to perseverance and determination.   I first met Ryan maybe four or five years ago at Foxwoods.  He presents as a very intelligent and excitable guy.  It turns out that both of these attributes are accurate:  Ryan seems to have an aptitude for learning and excelling at whatever he sets his mind to.  He also has a penchant for becoming wild and erratic.

Ryan is a classic example of a weird Catch-22 that I’ve observed a lot in poker:  in my opinion, the same personality traits that have given Ryan problems in the real world also contribute to his success as a poker player.  He is stubborn and willful, with the guts of a burglar.  He is capable of acting like a petulant child.  And, to be frank, he also might be a little bit crazy.  When you combine his creativity and intelligence with his tendency to be wild, unpredictable and careless, the end result is a guy who is a holy terror at the poker table and self destructive everywhere else.  To illustrate:  Ryan would make anyone’s list of the best players to ever visit the poker rooms at the two casinos in his home state of Connecticut, but Ryan is currently banned from both places.  To further illustrate:  he executed a seven-bet (not a typo, seven-bet) all in preflop bluff against a very accomplished player deep in the money of the WSOP Main Event.  Then he flashed the ten of diamonds.  It takes a special kind of crazy bastard to do that.  It also takes a special kind of wackjob to develop the number of so-called “life leaks” that Ryan has dealt with during his whirlwind career.  Enumerating them here would be time consuming and pointless.  He does seem to have them under control right now, by the way.

While some casino floorpeople and many of his opponents do not care for him, despite his flaws Ryan is beloved by many of his colleagues, including myself.  He wears his heart on his sleeve and is honest and forthright about his struggles and desires.  Most importantly, he is a good person.

His talent at poker was immediately apparent  to me after sitting with him for only a few hours.  I have been very open about my admiration for his game through the years.  Whenever anyone asks me who the best player I know is, Ryan’s is one of the first names out of my mouth.  I have told him and others on several occasions that he was the one player in my inner circle who was most likely to win a major event.  I even mentioned this fact in a January interview that I gave to the guys who blog the Borgata Events (the interview apparently ended up on the cutting room floor).  Ryan is also the only poker player I have ever staked on a semi-regular basis.  He is an absolute threat to win any tournament he enters.  That makes for a good investment.  His biggest poker leak is inextricably tied to the characteristics that make him so difficult to play against:  it’s his inability to gear down, stop trying to own everyone’s soul and simply pass on a spot or two.

At the close of the Borgata Winter Open, Ryan was broke, without a backer and unsure if he could stay in action.  He confided this to me, and I offered to stake him in some cash games.  I did this not because I enjoy being involved in staking—I really don’t—but because I wanted to see him get back on his feet (and maybe so I’d have a little something to sweat as I departed the full time poker scene).  I drove up to Connecticut, took him to lunch, and dropped off his stake.  Unfortunately, the arrangement got off to a bad start and Ryan tore through my money in short order.  He was now broke, out of action and in makeup to me.  When he told me that he didn’t think he would make it down to Caesar’s for the circuit events, I again helped him out, promising to put him into Events 1 and 2.  From there, assuming he didn’t do anything in those tournaments, he would be on his own.  He busted both tourneys short of the money, burning through another dime in DZ dollars.  As I suspected, Ryan was nevertheless able to sell a staking package for the rest of the series, and while I was in court, he was grinding prelims.  He made a small score in one of them, coming up just short of the final table.  Which brings us back to the final table of the main event, where Ryan and I were seated side by side.

We were eight-handed for something like three hours, with short stacks winning a ridiculous nine consecutive all-ins (including me once), and then the carnage commenced.  Ryan was playing well and was also in full Godmode, and by the time the table was five handed, he had a pretty commanding chip lead.  I, meanwhile, was hanging in there, happy to be cruising along despite losing two huge pots that would have catapulted me into chip lead contention.  Playing the final table wasn’t rocket science, it seldom is.  These final tables truthfully don’t differ too much from the $55 sit ‘n go’s I used to grind on Pokerstars in the middle of the last decade.  There are important ICM considerations involved with each hand, and two of my best decisions of the entire tournament involved hands I passed on when the tournament was five and three-handed.

During five-handed play I made one of the biggest blunders of my poker career.  I was under the gun and found aces.  Eugene, who was now on my direct left, openshoved out of turn.  Dumbfounded, I looked at the dealer and then the floorman, and neither gave any real indication about what all this meant.  I honestly had no idea that Gene’s all-in would be ruled binding if I limped my aces and was not told as much.  It’s a pretty basic, simple rule, but with my limited experience in cash games, I just had no idea.  In the end it was my fault for not inquiring specifically.  After a protracted pause, I made my standard open and Gene folded, very happy that I had changed the action.  I picked up only the blinds and antes.  As it turned out, he had one of the hands with the highest equity against my aces:  J-10.  It ended up working out fine, but I was briefly embarrassed.

Amusingly, my two biggest fuckups in late-tourney play occurred during two of my biggest scores.  I’ve never told anyone this, but back in 2007 I mucked the winning hand in a big pot with two tables left in a $1500 Foxwoods event.  I was livid with myself, but I recovered and ended up taking second.  Screwing up in this instance didn’t fluster me at all.  In fact, I felt completely calm and collected at all times at the final table, so I guess I can still handle myself like a pro.  That’s nice to know.

In a hand that was worth an absurd amount of equity, Ryan busted two guys at once, JJ > I think two A-x hands, and just like that we were three handed.  Only a short time later, I took out the third place finisher, AQ > A3, and much to the delight of Ryan, myself and our big group of mutual friends on the rail, I was now guaranteed $118,000 (my largest score since the summer of 2009) and was somehow heads up with one of my best friends in poker.

Getting heads up in a big tournament happens very infrequently, even for the best of players.  Being heads up with a good friend is rarer still, and I will likely always fondly remember this experience.  At stake was over $70,000, a WSOPC ring and a seat in some big freeroll tournament in July.  I was at a 2-1 chip disadvantage.  We took a short break, and when we returned I posed the idea of an equity chop or saver to Ryan, who immediately shot it down.

Playing my good friend for $70,000 is really not in my repertoire.  When I think of $70,000, I envision things like two fully loaded SUV’s, a couple of years’ worth of mortgage payments or over a full year of day care.  The idea of a heads up match for that much money honestly just does not appeal to me, I’m not wired to gamble for that much money in one sitting.  I guess that might make me less of a true poker player; it also makes me less likely to ever go broke.  The circumstances under which I would choose to play someone (much less a friend) heads up for $70,000 are:  (a) I feel that I have a big advantage in the match; and/or (b) the amount at stake isn’t significant to me.  Neither factor was present for me here, so I was looking to lock up 15 or 20 dimes.

After the fact, Ryan gave me a somewhat convoluted explanation for his unwillingness to deal that had something to do with “needing it for his career.”  Well, it is plain to anyone with any common sense that what Ryan’s career needed most was an infusion of money (I sound pissed but I assure you that I am not, by the way).  He ended up getting just that, as he defeated me after a nice hour-plus battle.  It was important to me that I gave Ryan a good match, and I think I did.  I immediately lost about half my stack but came back strong, and by the time the final hand took place, I felt like I was wresting control from him.  Someone put the final hand on youtube, so here it is.  Holy rail pandemonium.


Note that Ryan’s live rail was about 20 people strong.  My live rail consisted of just my friend Rob, who actually deserted me during heads up play (there were also a few neutral parties present, I believe).  I had almost no virtual rail watching the grainy live stream (reveal yourselves if you exist!), as both Janeen and my Dad were sound asleep by the time the tournament finished.  I was definitely the road team in this matchup.

I am very happy with the result, both for me and for Ryan.  I have long predicted a big score like this for Ryan, so even though I lost the heads up match, I get to feel prescient about it.  There is literally only one pro poker friend of mine who could make me proud with a big win like this, and it is Ryan.  There are several guys I’d be happy for, but there’s just one I can honestly say I’m proud of, and it’s the guy who won this tournament.  I sincerely hope this win becomes his springboard to poker stardom.

For those of you keeping score, Janeen claims she finally began to root for me to win around the time I made the final table.  After the tourney concluded, I collected a cashier’s check from the Caesar’s Corporation, had a couple of drinks at Borgata with three friends, and went to bed.  I woke up early the next day and drove home.  I arrived to no fanfare.  I took a shower and lifted Max out of Janeen’s arms, giving her a much needed break.  A couple of hours later I quietly deposited a check for $118,000 in my local bank.  Last weekend I bought a new car.  Not a luxury car, a Honda.

Nothing has changed.  I’m typing this from my desk at work and am happier than ever with my decision to quit grinding full time.  Apparently my 2nd place finish did vault me up the WSOP Freeroll Thing points standings so that I’m close to qualifying, so I am going to take a crack at the circuit event in someplace called Council Bluffs in two weeks.  I’m going to be in Chicago for Passover anyway, so it’s fairly convenient.  Council Bluffs is eight miles from Omaha, Nebraska, so I guess I will stay there and go eat steak at an authentic “LOL I’m in Omaha!” steakhouse.  Should be fun.

The best part about this nice score is that it proves to my satisfaction that I’m still capable of hanging with the big boys when the cards fall my way.  Not too shabby for a suit.

Maxwell’s House!

On Thursday afternoon last week, February 2nd—Groundhog Day 2012—Janeen gave birth to our second child, a boy!  His name is Maxwell Ryan Zeitlin.

We waffled on what to name him throughout the pregnancy and finally settled on Max, a name befitting a young jewboy.  His full name’s Maxwell, but he will probably go by just “Max.”  I do think it’s cool that his official name is a two syllable version that he can opt for if he ends up wanting that sort of flourish.  And while the middle names Klecko, Deuce and Punxsutawney all seemed apropos in varying degrees, we chose Ryan in memory of Janeen’s paternal grandmother Rose.

Max is healthy and very alert for a tiny newborn.  Unlike Ivy, who had a beautiful and pristine but generic look about her at one week of age, Max’s baby face has a lot of character.  While he obviously has no control of his extremities (or even his neck), he does like to look around and give everyone little sideways glances.  He looks like a sly old man.  He’s Mr. Magoo.

Lil Max!

Lil Max!

Whenever I hold Max it occurs to me how tiny and helpless he is.  I’m accustomed to handling Ivy, who at 14 months is the size, shape and weight of a sack of flour and likes being tossed around like one.  Max is such a tiny little noob and that makes him a completely different and less durable sort of person.  I mean, they’re both human babies but it’s amazing how little Ivy and Max have in common physically.

Sitting in my living room, which is littered with toys and babycare contraptions, it also has been occurring to me that in the last four years I have traversed a lot of space on my life-arc and also overseen a drastic change in its trajectory.  There are certain things a middle aged man can do that portend big changes.  I’ve now done a bunch of them in rapid succession.  These sorts of changes are supposed to handled individually, part of the slow process of settling into old age.  It feels like I’ve done everything almost all at once.  It seems like only yesterday that dressing myself was my biggest daily challenge.  Now, out of nowhere, I’ve got a wife, two kids and a dog, and we’re all living together in a nice apartment in White People Brooklyn.  I’m wearing a suit and doing research on Subarus and Ford Flexes, and there is a baby on my lap right now.  It’s a long way from the beginning of 2008, when I’d spend a lot of waking hours contemplating whether opening the Pokerstars client on my computer was a better or worse idea than meeting friends for drinks.  Only four or five years ago, I thought that I might be too self absorbed to handle a committed relationship, and now here I sit with much more than that to contend with.

The sick part is that there’s actually nothing contentious about it.  My new life is less stressful than I thought it’d be and I’ve never been happier.  Helping Ivy progress through her first year has been one of the greatest experiences of my life (and she isn’t walking or talking yet!).  I am overjoyed that I will experience that again with Maxwell, and the duty of shepherding both of my kids through their lives—an assignment that will occupy my time for the remainder of my life—feels like a gift, not a burden.  If you told 2007 David that he’d be typing these words only a few years into the future, he’d have punched you in the face.  And 2012 David cannot believe that the concept of having children once seemed so dreadful.

By the way, Max is a boy!  I mean, I know this is blatantly obvious, but I wish to make a confession:  his gender matters to me.  It is practically taboo for a well-educated intellectual American man (I purport to be all of these things) to admit that  he wants a son, but I am super psyched that Max is a baby boy.  His maleness doesn’t appeal to me in the primal “now I’ll be well fed in my decrepit older years” way that probably dates back to our days as hunter-gatherers, and his maleness doesn’t appeal to me in the tribal patriarchal “hooray, more Zeitlins to roam the earth!” way either.

The reason I have always wanted a boy is so I can replicate the formative relationships I’ve had with my grandfather and my father.  He’s been dead for over 10 years now, but my grandfather and I were very close, and we spent a great deal of time together while he was still around.  Anyone who knows me well knows how sentimental this relationship is to me.  My Pop-Pop imparted so much integral wisdom, and he also patiently and lovingly taught me all the “guy stuff” he knew:  baseball and football history, fascinating pieces of old New York City lore, various chapters from his colorful past, and lots and lots more, including my initial poker lessons.  From Pop-Pop I formed a template on how to conduct myself as a man and that template has guided me since childhood.  As for my father:  my Dad has been my best friend for as long as I can remember.  He is my sounding board, confidant and adviser.  Thanks to these two relationships, my persona is an amalgam of those two men.  It may be sexist to say this, but I don’t believe the bonds I formed with these two men would have been possible if I were female.  I’m sure I still would have bonded with them in equally important but different ways, but those differences matter to me.  And so I wanted a son.

It is probably both unrealistic and unhealthy to think that I will become Pop-Pop and Dad to Max.  I know that.  And I will absolutely support him even if his interests and values diverge with mine.  I’ll be there in whatever capacity, even if that means giving him feedback on his next speech before his school’s ornithology club or helping him buy new ballet slippers.  Still, I can’t wait to do guy stuff with my little guy.

As for my personal goals in the days to come, they are pretty modest:

-To have a relatively easy and happy transformation from “former lawyer, poker player” to “lawyer who’s good at poker.”  My desire to play poker isn’t going to fade away any time soon.  I actually followed the results of the Borgata Winter Open Main Event from home.  I would never have bothered to do this had I participated in the event; being removed from the scene actually enhanced my interest.

I think that my poker mindset and overall game is going to improve in the days ahead.  Poker is an emotional game, and the fear of failure (in running an unsuccessful bluff, in trying an unconventional or new style, in trying a new game, in moving up in stakes, etc.) is a powerful force in poker.  When a person is playing poker at its highest level, he is taking advantage of all the opportunities presented to him.  When a person is playing suboptimally, he is not pulling the trigger on some plays because he is afraid they will not work.  This is part of the reason why success seems to beget success in poker, and why players seem to get into difficult ruts.I have noticed that at certain times in my poker career I have made conservative choices that were directly motivated by my fear of failure. To put it bluntly, the emotional wreckage that results from getting caught with your pants down can make a poker player keep his pants cinched up far too tight. By reducing poker to a recreational activity rather than my livelihood, I suspect that I will worry a lot less about making mistakes and may thereby be able to drastically reduce my fear of failing.  I actually felt this happening in the recent Borgata tournaments, where I was playing a loose, free (and effective) form of poker.  I really didn’t give a shit if I screwed up, and that made me a better player.

-To indulge my budding gastronomic snobbery.  I have developed a deep an abiding love for my neighborhood, in no small part because it has to be one of the top 10 places in the United States to experience artisinal food, artisinal beer, artisinal coffee, etc. etc., for reasonable prices.  I’m slightly ashamed to admit it, but because of how limited my opportunities to go out (in the traditional “woot get wasted!” sense) are and the presence of so many amazing and delicious restaurants around here, I’ve turned into a bit of a foodie.  Brooklyn has this farmhouse/locally sourced ingredients/hot-shit chef in exile thing going on right now, and I’m all about it.  Within walking distance from my apartment are places that do things like cure and smoke bacon in-house, brine their own pickles, serve brunch with pour over coffee from freshly-ground direct trade beans, and on and on.  My neighborhood seems to be a breeding ground for chefs and restauranteurs who want to take chances, and the result is a wide array of awesome places to try.  These places are smaller, cheaper, less staid and of vastly higher quality than most regular neighborhood places in Manhattan.

-To get in better physical shape (or at least try to do something to counteract the effects of preceding paragraph).  I feel kinda meh about what I see in the mirror these days.   For my entire life I’ve had trouble motivating to exercise and I’m not sure what will change my outlook on this, but I’m going to make another concerted effort.  Janeen wants to start exercising again, so maybe having a partner will help.

That’s all for now.  Got poopy diapers to change.

On Commuting. And Ivy.

My last blog entry was well received.  It was forwarded along in the poker community and shared and re-shared in social media outlets.  It ended up being the most widely read piece I’ve ever written.  A couple of days ago I was contacted by Lance Gordon, who co-hosts an internet poker radio show called Three Streets of Value.  I was interviewed on the show to discuss my retirement.  A link to the podcast can be found here:,%202012.mp3

I started “working” this week.  I’m using quotes there because what I’m really doing is training, reacquainting myself with the daily hustle and with courtroom procedure.  Six years is a pretty long layoff.

Monday was Day One.  The biggest surprises actually had nothing to do with my workplace.  One was the commute. After half a decade of lazy mornings, I’d forgotten about the universality of the morning commute.  At 8:00 a.m. on a weekday, New York City is popping off.  Everyone is going wherever they need to go to do whatever they need to do.  People everywhere.  I had honestly forgotten what that looks and feels like.  I know, welcome to reality.

It didn’t feel so bad, really.  Today I got on the F Train at Carroll Street along with a couple of hundred other humans, and I kind of enjoyed it.  Towards the end of my prior stint working a normal job I was one wretched, miserable bastard in the morning.  At the time, my NYC workdays were only a sideshow; a barely-tolerable prelude to the things I was getting into at night—usually the city’s best poker clubs and its dirtiest, loudest nightclubs.  After six hours of bluffing investment bankers at the Ace Point Club, four hours of blowing my brains out at Filter 14 and perhaps a little sleep in whatever time remained, crowded morning subway rides were not my cup of tea.  I usually couldn’t think straight in the morning.  Not that I wanted to.  I had my new nightcrawling friends and I was getting better and better at poker, and those were the things that mattered to me.  Standing there on the subway I’d sometimes have the urge to rip off my suit jacket and tie, swing them around my head like a cowboy out on the range and scream at all the other suits at the top of my lungs: I AM NOT ONE OF YOU! I never did rope any dogies on the subway, but I did escape the rat race and make a new career for myself in poker.  Now I’m back.

Another thing I’d forgotten:  being part of the working world is a social exercise.  When they’re part of our routine, it’s easy to call the insignificant exchanges we repeatedly have over the course of a normal day tedious, but it’s actually nice to connect with people.  I’m talking about saying “thank you” to guy who sells you the morning paper, “hey, what’s up?” to the guy from the 5th floor when you share an elevator ride, “excuse me” to the lady standing in your way as you push through a subway door.  These little cordial exchanges have a cumulative effect as we share close quarters with others during our workdays.  There’s a reason our species does this.  We are social animals.  It feels good.

I’m mentioning this because socially speaking, professional poker is solitary confinement.  In poker, one can go weeks without exchanging pleasantries with someone.  Poker deprives us socially both because of its odd hours and because basic strategy requires the withholding of information.  Even conversations with friends in poker are often colored in a subtle way by the fact that the person you’re talking to is also one of your competitors.  There’s a weird, guarded undercurrent in a lot of conversations between poker players.  It kind of sucks.

Maybe the most unexpected consequence of getting out into the working world this week is that it made me want to look good.  For whatever reason, being back out there on Monday made me want to present a polished image to the complete strangers around me.  For the first time in forever, I found that I cared about my appearance.  On Tuesday I wore a scarf.  Then on Wednesday I went and got a $50 haircut.  Crazy stuff.

It goes without saying that very few poker players dress to impress.  Quite the opposite.  One of the oft-cited benefits to playing poker is that there is no dress code.  In fact, within the poker community this concept is stretched to its logical extreme, to the point that poker has basically become a giant fashion shitshow.  If an observer didn’t know any better, he’d look around a poker room and presume that there was an ongoing contest to see who could present themselves in the most disgraceful way possible.

This is a weird time for Janeen and I.  Janeen is now due in about three weeks, so we’re just kind of waiting for the arrival of our second child.  The beginning of his life is gonna be like Vietnam.  It’s going to be a fucking madhouse in here with a newborn, a 13 month old baby and a 60-pound nutjob dog.  Bombs exploding everywhere.

The apartment has undergone a complete overhaul.  My “office” (read:  online poker man cave) has been transformed into a nursery.  Sometimes I gaze wistfully at the changing table that occupies the space where my prized Ms. Pac Man machine once stood and emit a loud exaggerated sigh.  Mostly I’m fine with everything.

As detailed above, the early returns on my new life are pretty good, but I’m having my moments.  I’m maybe a little susceptible to emotional interludes right now.  It’s probably because there’s such drastic change afoot. Yesterday I was walking through some old familiar territory in Midtown Manhattan, wearing standard NYC work garb.  Suddenly I was hit with a wave of nostalgia that brought me back to the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when I was working my first job out of law school.  I guess it wasn’t really notalgia per se because the world nostalgia connotes positive things.  I vividly recalled a time when I was bored, unfulfilled and unsure of myself in my professional life and relentlessly courting danger in my personal life.  Solid combination.  I was profoundly sad for myself and for my past for a little while.  I’m over it now.

I’m still playing a little poker in a cash game in the city.  It’s funny… having a regular job has completely removed my old feelings of poker entitlement.  Other poker players can probably imagine how liberating this feels, ’cause like Snoop said to Michael, “deserve got nothin’ to do with it.”  Words for poker players to live by, because deserve really doesn’t have shit to do poker.  In my last session, my friend Sahu did me dirty:  I had pockets aces and he cracked them with 7-2 off in a $1400 pot.  The money went in on a J-x-2 board, postflop.  He turned two pair.  And you know what?  I laughed.

I don’t expect I’ll be updating this blog too much in the days leading up to and following Vietnam, so I’m going to fire off a bunch of little observations about Ivy for posterity.  Yeah, I’m turning into one of those guys.

I am in love with Ivy, and she adores me too, probably more than she adores any other person.  It takes a great deal of self restraint to keep from becoming one of those people who posts a different photo of their child on Facebook every day, each barely distinguishable from the last.

Ivy loves life.  She greets each day like the Super Bowl is about to kick off.  She wakes up, pulls herself to her feet and starts shaking the slats on her crib with this shit eating grin on her face.  Same thing every day.

Ivy can walk but chooses not to.  She chooses not to walk because she’s such an expert, high velocity crawler, so why walk?  When she notices that the laundry room door is open, she looks just like a little baby halfback running a sprint draw.  She sees the door’s open, pauses for a beat, then off she goes, scampering to daylight.  She can crease even the most disciplined defense with this play.  Picks up yards after contact, too.

Ivy’s first—and so far, only—English word is “hi.”  She will sit there saying “hi” with various intonations all day long if you let her.  “Hi, hi, hiiii.  Hi.  Hi!”  She also speaks two other languages fluently, but I am not sure which ones yet.

Ivy knows all the parts of her face.  You ask her where each part is and she points to it or grabs it.  Her coordination needs a little work on  “nose.”  She ends up poking a randomly selected place on the front of her head.

Last week Ivy and I spent over 24 straight hours together by ourselves while the apartment was being overhauled.  When we returned, the Texans/Bengals Wild Card game was about to kick off, but the work was not yet done.  So Ivy and I adjourned to a local bar to watch the game together.  Once there, she ate an entire order of fries with great gusto and also proceeded to charm the socks off of a group of barflies, who dubbed her “Little Turbo.”  I think that name is gonna stick.  It’s a good name.

Ivy likes doing things herself.  She’s a year old now, after all.  She’s no charity case.  She don’t need things done for her.  She’s one determined, willful little sucker.  Give her a sippy cup full of milk and she’ll disdainfully backhand that shit across the room.  Then when she’s good and ready—usually a few seconds later—she’ll go grab it, pretend like she just happened to find it lying there and chug it all.

Ivy would change her own diaper if she could.  She finds being changed by adults wholly objectionable.  It’s like a pro wrestling match and she is virtually unpinnable.  I keep expecting her to shake her head no-no-no and wag her finger at me like a little shit-diapered Hulk Hogan.

Ivy can dance!  When she hears a killer tune like “Pop Goes the Weasel” she does these deranged deep knee bends and screams her head off.  She got that from me.

Ivy loves being upside down.  If you turn her upside down she claps and laughs.  Every time.  She may have a future in the circus, my little Ivy Walenda.

That’s all for now!