Parenthood has clipped my wings when it comes to enjoying some my preferred leisure activities, one of which is updating my blog. It’s been weeks since I’ve found a chunk of time fit for anything other than poker, child care or sleeping. It’s a shame because there’s actually a lot going on that I’d like to share. I shall try to quickly cover it all.
Ivy is awesome. I’m so in love with her, and although I am living in a constant state of sleep deprivation, looking after her is a pleasure. I am very proud of my ability to elicit a smile (sometimes accompanied by a cute little giggle) from her almost every time I try. Funny faces come naturally to me.
Beyond the obvious (hooray for shipping two tourneys), some Commerce commentary:
The place is kind of a dump. It’s definitely a poker mecca of sorts, but when you’re used to playing in nothing but casino hotels, Commerce takes you a bit by surprise. Commerce is what it is: three gigantic, drab, unadorned cash game rooms. That’s it. Three huge rooms, thousands of people playing poker. No glitz whatsoever. In a way, that’s a pretty cool thing—it’s a poker player’s poker place—but the untrained eye sees only a huge dump.
It’s possible that the regulars at Commerce are influenced by the grim atmosphere. I have never played with a more surly, nasty, all-around douchey collection of people in my life. Many players at the Commerce came across as generally vengeful and some seemed to thrive on one-upsmanship, flinging cards off the table in disgust, slowrolling each other and treating the dealers like internment camp refugees. I had to travel to laid back sunny Southern California to find the most miserable poker players in the world.
The tournament fields at Commerce had tons of cash game players in them, and as a result the style of play was a little unusual. And by that I mean that folding preflop was never happening, except to the occasional all-in. When the tactic of randomly three-betting pots like an action-starved monkey doesn’t make anyone fold, it’s rendered ineffective. I had to shelve this strategy out there. Also, the LAPC events were run by tournament director extraordinaire Matt Savage, renown for offering short starting stacks offset by longish levels that increase gradually. The combination of flop-craving opponents and a having so few chips at my disposal forced me to screw down tight from the beginning in the tournaments out there. I played unimaginative A-B-C poker for hours on end in LA, with surprisingly good returns. I’ve recently been more conservative in the early levels (at all venues) as a result.
After LAPC came Hammond. The entirety of Hammond, Indiana is on the wrong side of the tracks. Being from a hardscrabble place like Hammond is supposed to give you street cred, but Hammond’s such a gross little nondescript town that it can’t possibly be cool to tell people you grew up there. The Hammond Horseshoe is a sad, sad casino that would naturally serve as Exhibit A if anyone cared to formulate an argument against the idea that new casinos stimulate the local economy. Also, if you’re the kind of person who thinks that anti-smoking laws are an infringement on basic civil liberties, a brisk end-to-end walk through the Hammond Horseshoe will quickly disabuse you of that fanciful notion. My clothes still reek from the overwhelming amount of smoke floating through the air in this place.
To its credit, what the Hammond Horseshoe did offer were well-run poker tournaments with massive fields. I was impressed with the place for that reason and will definitely be returning. Apparently the Midwest is filled with eager inexperienced tournament players, and they flock to this joint. I returned from my 2-for-2 LA trip, entered a Chicago Poker Classic event the next day and proceeded to build a huge stack. At that point I determined that poker was an easy game. I promptly dusted that stack and have since recanted.
Call me Znish:
My biggest revelation since I last posted anything to my blog is that I am the tournament circuit’s version of this guy:
In the real world, I’m the biggest gamblero that any of my friends have ever met, an off-the-charts risk taker who walks around looking for propositions to wager on. When I disagree with someone on an important (invariably sports-related) issue, I’m the guy who always poses a bet to settle it. I love running not-for-profit sports gambling pools. I always have hundred dollar bills in my pocket—a source of amusement to many people. Upon receiving the bill at a group dinner amongst friends, I once suggested that we square it with a game of credit card roulette. This offer drew zero interest and a slew of befuddled stares. Oh, and I gamble for a living.
And then there’s the poker world. There’s a huge gulf separating my reputation in the real world from my status in poker. The difference is drastic. I’m the gamblingest guy many people know, but in poker I’m nothin’ but a big fat nit.
My entire poker career is founded on the premise that I will not go broke. The more I think about it, the more I believe that I’m primarily motivated by my fear of failing. Because of this, I am a mega-nit.
I refuse to buy into any live tournament that costs over $3,500 unless I’ve won a satellite. Online, my buy-in limit is $200 (I’ve never played a $100 rebuy). I’ve made money every year but I’m still playing the same buy-ins today that I was playing in 2006, and a large percentage of my career earnings have come from events with buy-ins under $1000 (I often find myself following tournaments with large buy-ins and noticing players in the field who used to grind smaller buy-ins alongside me). I have no gambling-related leaks; I shoot craps (at a $5 table) maybe six times per year, my last hand of blackjack was probably over ten years ago, and I don’t bet sports except in spots where I feel I have an edge. I’ve never had a poker debt because of a backing deal or any other arrangement. My risk of ruin in poker is very close to zero.
If any of that sounds standard to you, believe me that it’s not. I know only a handful of other players who can make even half of those claims. Poker is filled with real gamblers, guys who entire bankroll is always in play. There are scores of tournament pros with impressive resumes who are flat broke, including many guys who are regarded as the most accomplished players in the world. The number of people who are earning a real living playing tournaments is probably magnitudes smaller than the casual observer would guess, and that is because so many of us are simply degenerates. I know this to be true; I’ve learned this through personal experience and through my gradual (now complete) immersion in the live tournament community.
I don’t have that kind of gamble in me—and some in this profession might derisively say I don’t have much heart. I’m not particularly proud of my nittiness, and it’s possible that it has prevented me from becoming rich and/or famous playing poker. But it isn’t going to change. I’m too scared of failing—or of disappointing my family—to change my Knishy ways.
I’m bringing this up now for a reason: The last several times I’ve gotten to final tables and been confronted with offers to chop tournaments I have accepted. This includes several instances where I’ve had an objective edge on less experienced opponents. Historically, when given the opportunity, I have closed tournaments well. I have even dominated in heads-up play on a few occasions. Still, when faced with a chip chop proposal, I have a habit of leaving EV on the table and locking up the money.
I’m currently trudging my way through the difficult but brilliant book Descarte’s Error by Antonio Damasio, which is the most illuminating work on how the human mind functions that I’ve ever come across. Because of this, I’m disposed to describe my preference for chopping tournaments in the terms Damasio employs.
I approach the decision to chop at a final table by picturing the worst-case scenario, which is being the next to be eliminated and cashing for a relatively paltry percentage of the prize pool. I conjure the negative emotions associated with that situation and prefer avoiding them. I am a realist (conservationist?) financially. I take into account how many mortgage payments or tanks of gasoline or boxes of diapers the money represents, and I’m so turned off by the doomsday scenario that I’d rather not pursue the goal of winning every last cent. Some would say I lack confidence or that I’m missing a killer instinct, but I see it as avoiding disappointment—both my own and of those who rely on me.
Twilight Zone bustout:
After returning to the east coast I decided to play some of the Ceasar’s AC WSOP Circuit events, where I bricked a couple of tournaments before entering the $1500 Main Event. It drew an impressive 442 runners, building a substantial prize pool with a $140,000 first place prize. The first day of the tournament (which my friend Adam “Lippy” Lippert was on my right for the entirety of) ended up going well. I cruised into Day 2 with a top ten stack with about 80 players remaining. Unfortunately, I caught a bad break when a very aggressive young player got all in preflop with AQ against my AK and won the hand. My stack situation gravely altered, I was forced to play conservatively from that point forward. I scratched my way into the money and was sitting with 15 big blinds and looking for a spot to double up when something bizarre happened.
We had recently redrawn for new seats with 27 players left. The seat three players to my left was occupied by an older man who I’d never seen before. He had me well covered. I passed for an orbit or two, and with 25 players remaining I picked up KJo in the cutoff. It was folded over to me and I moved all in. The button folded and so did the small blind. I didn’t get through the big blind, however, as the old guy checked his hole cards and instantly announced a call.
I knew this meant that the best I could hope for was a coin flip, so I was very pleased when his cards were tabled and I saw neither an ace nor any paint. Upon closer inspection, I then realized he also had no pair. I did a double-take. He had 96 offsuit. What the fuck?!
This was a pretty big tournament. It had whittled itself down from 50 tables to three. Each player was sitting on tens of thousands of dollars in equity, and first place was over double our country’s mean average income. Not the biggest spot I’d faced in recent memory, but still—winning a WSOP Circuit Main Event is a pretty big deal. And somehow deep into the money I’d encountered a gentleman who snap-called me with 9 high.
With everyone staring at him in disbelief, we found out was up:
“Oh jeez, I thought I had pocket nines!”
He had misread his hole cards. He thought the 6 was an upside-down 9. “Amateur” doesn’t begin to describe this faux pas. I had an urge to thank him for his pea-brained generosity, but all I could do was cock my head sideways and squint hopefully at the spot on the table where the flop was about to materialize.
It came 4-7-8, and I had a sinking feeling I was done for before the turn came a 5. Good game everyone.
It was something that hadn’t happened to me before. I was in dissociated zombie mode as I collected my money, went up to my hotel room, packed my things and left. On the ride home I emerged from my daze to briefly curse the wretchedness of the situation and then laugh at how ridiculous the whole thing was.
I later found out I had been victimized by this guy, who’s now trying his hand at live tournaments it seems:[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3S81O_WJw0%5D [youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NL0yt7Tf8c8%5D
I’m not sure if that’s supposed to make me feel better or worse.
I’d like to close this blog post with a shout-out to my beautiful wife Janeen. Her maternity leave ends tomorrow and she’s sad about leaving Ivy, who she’s obviously grown very attached to, at home. Janeen’s a trooper. She’s also tolerant—I am continuing my 20+ year tradition of watching every 1st round game of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament tomorrow and Friday (this requires going to a sports bar for 12 hours each day) with her blessing. Love you J!