After a lovely weekend in Ithaca & Finger Lakes region, I am now back to work. In this instance, work means spending a full week at the Turning Stone Casino for the Empire State Hold ‘Em Championships.
First, my weekend. It was a good one. Janeen and I spent some time at some of my old college haunts (although we didn’t hit THE Haunt–Ithaca joke!), went wine tasting, and got a lot of relaxation in. And, as an added bonus, I had my first near-NASCAR experience! There was some kind of big race in Watkins Glen, so I unilaterally decided that we needed to check it out.
Watkins Glen is very close to Ithaca, maybe only 20 minutes away, but I never traveled there during my four years at Cornell. And this past weekend I figured out why: like Ithaca, it is a pretty lakeside town, but it lacks Ithaca’s college campuses, sophistication and general hippy-dippiness. What it does have is a big car racetrack, and this past weekend there was some kind of big race. I’ve always been captivated from afar by car racing culture. Not captivated by the car racing itself mind you, but captivated (again, from afar) by the people who care about it. Specifically, I cannot wrap my head around the appeal of this sport, so I’m really curious about the people who love it.
I must report that my little tour of Watkins Glen only reinforced my preconceived notions of the car racing scene and did not reveal anything surprising. There were a lot of the following: mobile homes, shirtless men, fat women, big trucks and alcohol. Oh… and people selling firewood. All of which were expected, except for the firewood.
Onto Turning Stone. I’m back at this place for the second time as a poker pro. In past blog entries, I’ve covered what makes this place different than all the other pit stops on my tour, so I won’t belabor those points. In short, there is nothing glamorous about this place, there is no booze on the premises, and it’s filled with poker players who are under the age of 21.
I played a $300 event earlier today and found myself seated at the same table as the kid who the poker cognescenti have annointed the biggest tournament prodigy in the world, i.e., the next big thing. I am not going give his name, because I am about to be somewhat critical of him. Of course, I saw nothing in his play that would lead me to believe that everyone is wrong about him. He controlled the table throughout, and last I checked, he was still in tournament with only three tables (out of 31) remaining.
It’s his mannerisms at the table. They’re disturbing. He is a very respectful, deliberate player, which are both fine in and of themselves. When the action is passed to him and he intends to fold his hand, he looks at his cards, pauses, and then tosses them in. No problem there. It’s when he plays a hand that things get peculiar. If the action is folded to this kid and he intends to play his hand, he goes through the following routine: he looks at his cards, pauses, cocks his head back slightly, pauses again, then fixes his face with a blank, open-mouthed expression. He then maintains the same disquieting facial expression, which can best be described as Schiavo-esque, as he very slowly riffles his chips, selects the amount he wishes to bet, and very, very slowly places them in the pot. This routine is repeated on every betting round, and it is unnerving. People might not feel comfortable admitting it, but I’m going to come out and say it. No one likes having to stare at a mentally disabled person. As a child, everyone is taught not to stare at them, and you follow this rule for the rest of your life. Playing poker with this kid forces you to break this rule and entails several hours of staring at a tard. Not natural, and not fun.
This kid’s routine likely derives from watching Phil Ivey play. Everyone knows that Ivey makes that expressionless mouth-breather face all the time, thereby giving off no tells and taking everyone’s money. And since Ivey is an amazing poker player, imitating him is something to be expected and can hardly be critisized. But this kid’s routine is no mere imitation. He’s taken it to another level. During his mouth-breather moments, Ivey actually looks around and continues to play relatively fast. This kid, on the other hand, has managed to master a completely braindead countenance and plays slower than almost any opponent I’ve ever seen. And the kid is a great player and who is going to be playing the same tournaments as me for a long time. Please God, I implore you, make him stop doing that goddamn face!
Another prodigal player was in today’s tournament, and he is even harder to miss. I’m once again not naming names. Here’s a dead giveaway: there is no poker player in this scene who is more maligned about his appearance. Unfortunately, this kid just doesn’t get it; basic fashion sense evades him. Here is an ironclad rule from a guy with limited fashion sense: when people are constantly ripping you for the way you look, do not show up for a big tournament wearing jean shorts. NO JEAN SHORTS. This player happened to be sitting on the biggest stack in the room with three tables remaining, by the way.
Here’s my bustout hand, for those of you who might be curious. With half the field gone and my stack at 7200 at the 100-200 blind level, a crazy donk is moved from another table to my immediate right. He has like 12,000 chips, then increases his stack to around 20,000 chips by openlimping QJ under the gun, calling a 500-chip raise from a player in middle position and cracking KK on a K-10-9 flop. He now has every other player at the table easily covered and proceeds to play half the hands in the next orbit with crappy holdings and mixed results. Then it’s my big blind and his small blind. The action is folded to the button, a standard TAG player with about 3500 chips. TAG openraises to 600. The crazy donk looks at his holecards and without hesitation announces that he is all in (yes, all in for 20,000). I am holding AK, and the more I think about it, the more I realize that AA and KK are out of this guy’s range, and that AQ and AJ are included in that same range, which obviously also includes many pocket pairs. I decide to call, the button folds, and I lose a race to the crazy donk’s 99. A lot of people would fold in that spot, but I will not, and I’m not second guessing myself. My edge over the field isn’t so strong that I’m going to pass on a +EV situation.
Anyway, I whiffed that tournament but won a satellite into a $1000 event later in the week, so I’m technically ahead on this trip so far. I will probably do some more random musing later in the week.