Okay, so I’m back from Las Vegas. The trip was a bad one overall, and I’ve been doing some heavy meditation about things since I returned.
When you take repeated trips to the same city you (should?) end up making some choices about how to shape your life while you’re there. Vegas is a town with two separate and distinct economies: tourist and local. If you add up all the time I’ve logged in Vegas I’m practically a local, and I’ve now reached the same conclusions that they have. Namely, one should eat, drink and sleep in places that offer some semblance of value and/or sanity and one should avoid the strip at all costs. I do this by renting a car (my sole contribution to the tourist economy), then staying away from the so-called action, either at a “locals-friendly” hotel or at my friend’s house in Summerlin. For someone who lives 3,000 miles away I’m now fairly expert at navigating my way around Las Vegas; if someone tells me that a restaurant is located on Spring Mountain and Rainbow, I know exactly which way to point my Ford Focus. I also know where I like to eat breakfast, buy toiletries, gas up my car, go for a jog, find decent iced coffee, and I know where I like to go when I invariably get sick of being around other people. I guess this means that I’ve reluctantly adopted Vegas as a second home town.
On this trip I purposely stayed in two distinct modes: poker and non-poker, with nothing in between. I therefore experienced a few things I’d never considered before, such as taking in a movie, excursions like Hoover Dam and Red Rocks, and I also went bowling. I go bowling once every couple of years and each time it reminds me of how much I love it. I grew up making frequent trips to my local bowling alley, and I turned out to be pretty a pretty decent bowler. I ended up doing three years of competitive high school bowling, a college bowling course and two years in a pretty tough NYC league after that. At times my average has crept into the 180’s, which is pretty serious biz. Compared to what I’m used to, the bowling alleys in Las Vegas are amazing—massive, immaculate and very cheap. When I velcro’d my red and white rental shoes at The Orleans I was transported to a very happy place.
Alas, for the serious bowler, there are problems with bowling far from home—it’s a sport where personalized equipment is vitally important. I’ve already bored you with a lot of bowling chatter, so I won’t go into the details of why serious bowling is impossible without your own stuff, particularly your own ball. Suffice to say that it becomes an entirely different game. In the end, because I find bowling to be such a pleasant diversion, and because traveling with a sixteen pound sphere stuffed into your luggage is a major drag, I have resolved to visit a pro shop during the WSOP and buy myself a serious Vegas-only bowling ball that I will store in my friend’s closet and use frequently. I will then have my own nerdy special escape from poker when I’m out there. Dropping $150 on a Vegas-only bowling ball may strike you (pun intended) as strange, but I will quickly earn that money back in the form of tilt and boredom reduction. Woot.
Now let’s talk about poker. First how about some good news.
Pokerstars’ NAPT is an obvious smash hit and a boon to tournament poker. 872 players showed up to play the 5k event at Venetian last week, which is a very big turnout for a $5,000 buy-in event during any time other than the WSOP. Consider that last year’s non-NAPT February Venetian Deep Stack main event was a $2,500 buy in and drew only 263 players. The direct-online entry aspect of the event was an obvious shot in the arm, as was the excitement generated by the new NAPT brand. Plenty of big names turned out to play and the field was remarkably tough for its size. I had the opportunity to play against a host of big names. At my tables alone, the draw included David Benyamine, Jon Turner, Vanessa Rousso, Paul Wasicka, Andrew Robl, Burt Boutin and “PhilDo” Collins.
Now for the bad news. I achieved nothing for the entire trip. I had zero (0) positive sessions. No MTT mincashes, no second place finishes in sit ‘n go’s, no $80 wins at 2-5 NLHE. Zero positive sessions. I went to bed a loser every single night. Some days my stack withered away and died. Some days I got drilled with a two-outer. Some days I committed hari-kari running elaborate bluffs. On one day I even suffered the cruel injustice of finishing on the exact bubble of a live tournament (a $500 event), a catastrophic feat I had never before accomplished. The effect on my psyche of this ultramagnetic critical beatdown was predictable. On a couple of mornings I arose in my hotel room and found that I was truly disappointed to be awake.
My main event went like this. I got off to a nice start on Day 1 but then stumbled, paying off a river check-shove from the kid who eventually finished second. A rivered full house over flush. It was a stupid call. I spent the rest of the day regulating with a small stack, painstakingly regrouping, waiting for a spot to get my money in good. One never materialized and I went into Day 2 with a short stack. On Day 2 I doubled up on the second hand, AK > A9. This left me with a still below average stack, but I was able to turn up the heat at that point. This included a well-conceived cold 4 bet jam with K-10 against Robl’s button 3-bet. This gave me some gamblin’ chips, and I was able to play more aggressively from there, and I was just below the chip average with 300 players left when my bustout hand occurred.
I suffered the indignity of busting out against a player who is well known to many casual poker fans, owing to his appearance on a televised WPT final table back when people watched the WPT, in the show’s first or second season. His name is Paul Magriel. For 20 years he held the title of the greatest backgammon player in the world, and he has authored several books on that topic. He is also credited with conceiving of the concept of “M” (named for him), which famously appears in his buddy Dan Harrington’s seminal books on tournament poker.
All of this is really beside my main point, which is that Paul Magriel is an absolute loon. Extremely unkempt with a tumor-looking fleshy little friend connected to the side his left nostril, he suffers from some sort of neurological disorder that makes his movements choppy, abrupt and sometimes scary. This includes the constant flopping of his tongue, which meanders back and forth and doesn’t confine itself to its home in Paul’s hygienically-challenged mouth. The best I can do in describing Magriel’s overall look is “nutty professor on a meth binge.” Magriel also slows the game down to a crawl by painfully agonizing his way through every decision posed to him at the table. When it’s his turn to act he exhales sharply, pulls at his hair, mutters things to himself, stares into space and flops his tongue around. Only then does he actually fold his cards. Probably my favorite part of the act is that he only bets in multiples of 22, owing to his backgammon-world nickname “X-22.” Now, a deuce in poker is sometimes referred to as a duck and a duck quacks, so 22 becomes “quack-quack” in Magriel’s world. When he bets “quack-quack” it means 2200, “double quack-quack” means 4400, and “triple quack-quack” means 6600, etc. etc.
My initial double up on Day 2 (AK>A9) was actually at Magriel’s expense, and when the flop rolled out 6-6-2, he began begging the dealer for “quack” (another deuce, for a chopped pot) as I protested by chanting “no quack, no quack!” Back to my bustout hand. Burt Boutin raised under the gun to 4500 at 800-1600 (200 ante), and I held two black kings. I elected to flat UTG+3 because I had determined that while Burt is a good player, he has a slight bet sizing issue and I probably would be able to get my entire stack in against him on a favorable board. It folded over to Magriel in the cutoff, who also covered me, and he sized Burt and I up for a few moments before announcing “double BIG quack quack,” which of course meant a massive bomb of a reraise to 44,000. I did my best to hide the erection rapidly forming in my pant leg as Boutin mulled the bet over. When he eventually folded I announced that I was all in and Magriel concluded that he had to call. I dumped my kings onto the table and he looked at me sideways and said “oh well, I need an ace.” As he turned over big slick I replied “yes sir, you do.” When the flop came J-9-4 I began chanting “quack quack quack” but I was quickly silenced by an ace on the turn. Oh no. Standard. Except for Magriel.
I suppose I’m now officially in a rut. This drought doesn’t approach the magnitude of the No Haircut drought of 2007, but a drought it is. The really bad news is not the drought but my reaction to it. Past ruts have made me hungry and determined; this one leaves me pondering my future. I continue to be visited by bouts of boredom, even in the midst of my poker battles. I’m pretty tired of the scene and of poker in general. I’m tired of the same conversations about tournament structures, who the hottest players on the circuit are, and whether I should sometimes be checkraising top pair to balance my range. I’m tired of telling bad beat stories, of hearing bad beat stories, of the same fifty faces popping up in the same eight venues over and over again. I’m actively considering making some changes. Also, the answer isn’t to simply start winning. History suggests that I will eventually pull through and end this drought, but winning isn’t a cure-all this time. Even as I was making deep runs in the two January Borgata tournaments I (sort of) final tabled, I found myself half-jokingly asking friends if they’d like to play my stack and wondering when those tournaments would be over already. I’ve lost a bit of my mojo.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking to go back to a square job. I’m not that deluded. I know that I would suffer from a deep and desperate despair on the very first day that an “honest day’s work” was asked of me. I just want to diversify—not just financially but also mentally. In the end, grinding tournaments gets boring just like anything else, and truthfully it’s not where the big—the really big—money is. I’ve made plenty of money at poker tournaments and I’ve got a bunch of it in the bank. I’m not going to commit the stupid error I’ve watched so many of my colleagues commit by reinvesting poker money in poker. The top of poker’s economic pyramid is a long, long way from guys on my level. Trying to get there is a great way to go broke (and look stupid to boot). What I’m looking for is something new to hold my interest, and if it’s something I can make money at, that would be nice too.
Some people have told me that I’ve got a great book in me. I like the idea but I’m not convinced. I see myself as a decent writer, not a gifted one. If I was truly gifted this blog would not only come effortlessly but would have reached critical mass by now. Sitting down to write a book about my experiences in poker would require a greater leap of faith than the one I made in 2006 when I started all of this. I don’t think I’m ready for that. Instead I will probably invest a chunk of my savings in some sort of side business(es) and see where it goes. Right now I only have vague ideas about it, but I’m serious about doing it. I’d like to make some moves soon. Open new doors, find new challenges.
It’s all gambling in the end.