My Farewell Tour.

I haven’t felt much like writing or talking about it until today, but about five or six weeks ago I decided that effective early in 2012 I will stop playing poker as my primary source of income.

My chosen profession already poses serious challenges for both Janeen and I.  I’m away from home between one-third and half of the days of the year and Janeen works full time.  We can’t afford (and do not prefer) the kind of child care that will allow Janeen to relax when she gets home from work while I’m away.  When baby number two graces our lives in February, a full poker schedule will become both unfeasible and undesirable.  I expect that having two very small children will completely remove what remains of my desire to travel and “grind,” and I’m okay with that.

The best part about professional poker is the lifestyle. Playing poker for a living means no alarm clocks, no scheduled meetings, random vacation days and no one ever telling you where to be.  Setting my own schedule has been the defining perk of this adventure that began about ten years ago in a home game on the Upper East Side.  But now the script’s been flipped.  As I’m sure you’re aware, a human child’s internal clock is not especially pliant.  A baby’s timetable does not conform to the preferences of the adults raising him/her and children are not nocturnal creatures.  They go to bed early in the evening and they arise with the sun, and I will soon be living with two such creatures.  It turns out that many of parenthood’s finest moments take place early in the morning—it is not a coincidence that Barney and Sesame Street air on PBS at 6:30 and 7:00 a.m. respectively (and yes, I’m intimately familiar with these programs). A parent that sleeps through the daylight hours is a parent who is sacrificing time shared with his/her child. I don’t wish to be that kind of parent.

Still, I’m aware that there are millions of people who effectively balance demanding and/or nighttime occupations (including poker) with parenthood. All it takes is the requisite motivation.  Which brings me to my next and most important issue:  it has long been apparent that poker no longer motivates me.

When I discuss professional poker playing with outsiders, there are a lot of recurring questions that get asked. One of the least frequent but most insightful is “don’t you ever get bored?” For years, on the occasions that this query popped up, I was dismissive of of it—the answer was a legitimate “of course not.” However, in recent years I’ve realized that this question is a poignant one, and the current answer for me is “yes.” My passion for poker has dissipated substantially, and it’s been this way for a long time.

Five-plus years is a long time to travel the live tournament circuit, and I’ve officially had it.  Most of my poker pro friends can probably tell how much I detest casino living:  I’m usually in my car within five minutes of busting any tournament contested within three hours of my Brooklyn home.  I’ve lost my tolerance for the repeated trips I once happily subjected myself to. The thrill of witnessing high stakes gambling is long gone. Sitting in the same spot at the same table for hours waiting for a great spot to materialize—this is practically the definition of efficient poker, by the way—now feels like a missed opportunity to do something else.  And constantly having to walk through a casino floor to get wherever I’m going—this practice has gradually progressed from exciting to mundane to just plain deplorable.  Starting sometime in 2009 I began to view the tournament circuit’s crusty old regulars less as interesting characters and more as sad case studies.  I’d prefer not to end up becoming one of them.

The concept behind working the tournament circuit as a pro is to magnify your marginal edge over the field (and minimize variance) by playing a lot. The way this is accomplished is by carpet bombing the tournament schedule, turning up at almost every tourney stop and participating in as many tournaments as humanly possible.  The monetary outlay is large and so is the amount of time invested.  There are hundreds of fruitless days with a handful of glorious ones sprinkled in.  When I was still enjoying poker, long dry runs were frustrating but tolerable.  Although the droughts were annoying, I knew they were merely a natural byproduct of the game I had chosen.  There was even a strange sort of dignity in defeat.  In the pursuit of conquering variance, enduring cashless months was just part of the experience.  But now I’m over it.  Today, I cannot tolerate a game where I’m expected to bat .150.  My time is too precious.  With a growing family at home, the idea of spending a week busting tournament after tournament now seems pretty wasteful.  I’m not trying to say that my time is any more valuable than anyone else’s, but in some respects poker has now become more stifling than liberating for me.

Thanks to the poker circuit I have adopted a truly sedentary lifestyle. I sit in my car for hours, then I sit at a felt-covered table for hours, and then I report to my hotel room.  Eating lonely meals at fast food restaurants off the Garden State Parkway, chain-chugging Dunkin Donuts coffee from behind the wheel, chewing up highway miles whilst listening to countless hours of sports talk radio… these things once took on an almost romantic quality in my mind—I saw it as the life of a dedicated professional gambler.  Today, sadly, this routine feels kind of ridiculous.  I’m missing my family, I’m woefully out of shape, and I’m losing out on opportunities to do some of the things I really enjoy.  At the tournament stops, social outings are usually meals of overrated quality with colleagues, punctuated by a game of credit card roulette.  My life away from home can be summed up as follows:  poker, a little suitcase crammed full of jeans and sweatshirts and a lot of time spent in a hotel bed staring at my laptop.

I’ve met some great people through poker, but I’m increasingly feeling like an outsider when it comes to the culture surrounding my profession.  Most of the frequent topics discussed do not register with me at all:  I honestly don’t give a shit who won the last EPT Event, I don’t wanna hear about the amazing laydown that someone made in the 10-25 game, and no, I’m not up on the latest drama from the 2+2 forums.  I’m older and less obsessed than everyone around me.  When I want to seek out my colleagues’ company, I have to report to whichever hotel room they’re smoking weed in and sit there listening to conversations about poker.  These conversations bore me to tears.  The best way to improve at poker is definitely to talk about it, and my indifference towards these conversations certainly hinders me, but I just don’t enjoy them.  The next time I hear someone tell me that some upcoming tournament is “sick value,” I may kick them in the junk.  I’ve been around long enough to know that there’s plenty more “sick value” just around the corner in some other venue next week.

Dedicated poker pros will read the miserable paragraphs above and completely misdiagnose the problem.  That’s okay.  Most of the poker playing world wears blinders.  For what it’s worth, I’m not busto.  Ours is a two-income household, my bad years are never that bad, I have lots of money in the bank and I’m far more resourceful than most of the other regs realize.  My issue also isn’t that I’m simply sick of losing, although it’s certainly a factor—five years playing tournaments results in an astounding number of losing days.  The primary issue is that my priorities have changed.   Poker has become -LifeEV for me.  Bouncing from casino to casino playing high stakes tournaments is a dream life for many guys, and it once was mine, but that time in my life has passed.

The fact is I’m not a poker lifer and I’m not a true grinder. I’ve been searching, to no avail, for my inner grinder for many years.  He does not seem to exist.  Since 2007 or so I’ve been making the same tired old resolutions: to learn a game besides no-limit, to put in X hours per week online, to play cash games after busting tournaments, to force myself to play cash games here in NYC.  I always say that I will do these things because they’re precisely what the real grinders are doing.  For me, they never happen because I’m only pretending.   I’m simply not interested in doing them.

My approach to poker is quite expert both in terms of strategy and bankroll management, but my dedication to the game is lacking. My effort level is that of a recreational player, and I suppose that’s what I really am:  a highly proficient recreational player.  As a matter of fact, I personally know several guys who hold down full time jobs and still play more hours of poker per week than me.  I have earned the same distinction in poker that I once held in the law:  last in my department in billable hours.

To her everlasting credit and despite suffering so much hardship from my frequent travel, Janeen has never once suggested that I change career paths, and for this I will always be grateful.  Janeen has always treated my profession with the utmost respect and been my biggest supporter.  She understands that earning my living at the poker tables was first my dream and later my raison d’etre.  Today it is neither of those things.  The time for a change has come.

My recent trip to Chicago/Hammond crystallized the situation. The first WSOP Hammond Event was scheduled to be a three-day event with two starting days. It was a $350 buy in that drew a shitload of players, and first place was something along the lines of $150,000. I finished Day 1a—a Thursday—with a lot of chips and returned for Day 2—Saturday—two days later. It soon became apparent that the tournament would not be completed until Sunday, which of course I planned to spend watching football. Day 2 initially went very well but as the night wore on, it turned into the standard touch-and-go 10-20 big blind ordeal. As the field thinned to six, then five, then four tables, and the prospect of winning tens of thousands of dollars became realistic, here’s what I was thinking:

  1. Holy crap, I’m so tired that I can barely think straight. When can I go to sleep?
  2. I will murder someone if I have to come back tomorrow with a short stack and miss the football games.

At around 2:30 a.m. CST, I miscounted my stack and overshoved suited connectors in what I thought was a standard spot but was really a borderline spot and busted 31st.

Later in the series they ran a $200 Event that drew almost 900 players.  It normally would be an iffy play for me, but the tournament served the dual purpose of allowing me to work and to introduce my father-in-law to the tournament circuit.  I really enjoyed doing this, and he took the opportunity to play his first serious tournament that day.  The structure of the tournament was what you’d expect for the buy-in, and I hung around in the event until the inevitable point where two-thirds of the field was gone and everyone had less than 20 big blinds.

At that time they moved my buddy Lippy to my table.  This was a fun development because the silly banter between Lippy and I would alleviate the boredom of the event.  As it happened, a larger tournament was also going to begin shortly, and our mutual friend Vinny was hanging around killing time before it began.  During tournaments Vinny and Lippy are in the general habit of taking turns lurking over each other’s shoulders sweating each other’s hands, and thus Vinny was a spectator at our table.

I had about 15 big blinds UTG+2.  Lippy covered me and was in the small blind.  I had pockets eights and openshoved.  With Vinny looking on, Lippy snapcalled with AQs, the board ran out four blanks and then a queen on the river, and I busted.  In the heat of the moment I asked Lippy how he could snap call there (operative word “snap,” it’s a fine call), then wished him good luck and departed, ready to get on with the rest of my day.

Except the story didn’t end there.  A very long series of text messages between Lippy and myself ensued, during which he apologized profusely for busting me, defended his decision to call and shared the impassioned opinions on the matter (of which there were no shortage) of both Vinny and a fourth party.  Lippy stated that my range included a hand or two that he was dominating, and that he was flipping with the majority of my range.  Vinny opined that Lippy ought to simply retire if he was going to fold there (Vinny’s texts were helpfully forwarded along by Lippy as added credible evidence).  I agreed completely with these statements, but we nevertheless texted back and forth for probably a full hour, with Lippy giving me a long overwrought analysis of this very simple hand from every conceivable angle (including the impact of our 5% swap thereon and the impact of Vinny’s presence thereon), with me repeatedly reassuring him that it was no big deal.  Which it wasn’t.  On multiple levels.

While I appreciated Lippy’s genuine distress over busting his friend from the tournament, I felt the entire exercise was a ridiculous waste of time and bandwith.  After the general annoyance of fielding and responding to the text messages faded, I thought about the whole thing and found it was emblematic of my current situation.  It was I who busted the tournament on the hand at issue, I who should have been pondering the proper strategy for the hand and I who should have most acutely felt the sting of defeat.  However, of the three people in my circle who had witnessed the hand, I was a very distant third on the give-a-shit-o-meter.  I was perfectly happy to bust; it allowed me to leave the casino with my father-in-law at a reasonable hour.  The hand itself was over as far as I was concerned, and the less it was discussed the happier I was.  I have no interest in discussing poker strategy these days, and that creates a gulf that separates me from the real grinders (it could also be part of the reason why my results have been fairly stagnant in recent times).  In retrospect my Lippy bustout hand didn’t arouse my interest whatsoever.  Nothing registered except that I was now free to leave the awul Horseshoe Hammond.  I obviously do not have a grinder’s mentality right now.

Although my decision had already been made before I departed for Chicago, upon returning to New York I decided (for the fiftieth time) to become more active in the local cash games.  My friend Jeffrey has been insisting that I’m leaving money on the table by not sitting in these games, and now that I’ve spent some time playing in them, I’ve determined that he’s right.  The games are soft.

The problem is that the games also bore me to death and occasionally drive me crazy.  These cash games are populated by a handful of thinking players (most of whom are personal friends) and a cadre of really bad, loose players.  Inevitably there will be a guy sitting there with only a couple of hundred dollars in front of him.  He’s usually steaming from having lost a recent hand and he’s indiscriminately shoving all in preflop out of frustration.  This is standard operating procedure in this cash game.   The optimal strategy is thus very easy to figure out:  you sit around waiting for one of the poor players to dump his stack to you.  Sometimes such an opportunity arises many times over the course of a single hour, sometimes an entire night will pass without one.  When one of the resident idiots tries dumping his money in your lap, you either stack the dummy or he sucks out/coolers you and stacks you.  And that’s the game.  When I leave the room, I’m either pissed off (because a dumbass stacked me) or bored (the game is not stimulating).  It’s an easy way to earn money, but there’s no indication that I am going to start enjoying it any time soon.  I could always go and play elsewhere for higher stakes against better players, but I don’t have the stomach for that either.

I’m aware that I may be confusing cause and effect when it comes to my current state of mind.  Am I sick of poker and therefore changing careers?  Or am I changing careers and therefore sick of poker?  Quite the chicken/egg conundrum, huh?  I think it probably cuts both ways.  In the end, the reason why I’m ready to pursue something new isn’t too important, what counts is the fact that these feelings are real and that I’m making a genuine choice, of my own free will.  The biggest challenge for me as I move forward is not to think of myself as a failure.  On some level poker has been a failed venture for me:  had I become one of the truly great players, the game would be too lucrative to quit. I almost certainly would not be shutting things down now, I’d have so much money that I’d just grant myself a six month paternity leave.  I admittedly do not have that luxury.  Still, surviving for almost six years on the tournament circuit—and really thriving for the majority of that span—is an accomplishment to be proud of, and I’ll need to keep that in mind.

What’s my next move?  Well, like a folding sports franchise , I’m going to play out the string.  There is an ongoing series at Borgata right now, then a December series at Harrah’s AC, and after that Borgata again in January.  I’m going to do everything in my power to actually enjoy tournament poker during this stretch run—I’ve kind of lost the plot and don’t have much fun playing anymore.  That’s gotta change.  After that baby number two will be ready to pop out.  And from that point forward, I am going to… work a regular job!  For starters, I have an easy out.  I have a father who runs a successful legal practice that I can jump straight into without having to explain the five year gap on my resume to anyone.  I’m incredibly lucky to have this option; talk about running good.  My father has always been supportive of my poker career, and if I give sufficient notice I’m pretty sure that he will permit me to play some tournaments here and there.  Ultimately, I expect that spending time away will change my outlook and revive my interest in poker, and I’ll end up playing a lot of the tourneys on the east coast.

I’m cognizant of the fact that I’m returning to the same job that drove me to poker in the first place, but times have changed.  I’m responsible for the happiness of people beside myself now.  Helping to keep those people happy may become a satisfying endeavor.  I’m choosing to view lawyering as a stepping stone to whatever comes next.  Without having so much of my mental energy tied up with poker, new ideas and new ventures may materialize.  Who knows.  Ideally I will end up with some sort of mixed income situation, with poker becoming a fun and profitable diversion.  My poker game might even improve with the burden of playing for a living lifted from my conscience.  I may even return to playing full time if the right things happen.  Some of the conceivable “right things” would be the return of online poker, my children advancing to school age and rediscovering my love of the game.

Before closing this blog post, I want to issue a quick apology.  In the past several years I have been guilty of being very dismissive of people who work regular jobs.  I’ve been a little militant on this topic.  Poker players like to wear their self-reliance like a badge of honor, I have been no exception.  Since Ivy’s birth I’ve come to appreciate the appeal in steady employment with a predictable schedule.  I’ve even felt some pangs of jealousy watching the suits hustling around midtown lately.  I know I’ve offended some people here and there by making my personal journey sound like the only kind of life worth aspiring to.  To those people I’d like to say that I’ve changed my viewpoint and I’m sorry if I’ve ever ruffled your feathers.  🙂

I’m off to submit my Attorney Secure Pass application.  This will renew my long-expired card that once allowed me to enter our fine state’s courthouses without having to go through a metal detector or wait in line with the riff-raff.  I’m sure that I will throw up in my mouth the first time I use it, but I am convinced the time has come for a change.

When You Walk Through The Garden…

I currently don’t have much to say about poker.  I had a dry run in a limited number of events at Borgata.  I’ve been spending a good deal of time on other things, and have felt kind of disinterested and emotionally removed from the poker scene.  I’m playing most of the WSOP Hammond Events a couple of weeks and I hope that’ll go well.

Ivy is awesome and Janeen’s second pregnancy is going fine.  This one’s a boy!  His in utero name is D’Brickashaw.  The Jets All Pro left tackle is a fixture in my world and it’s been years since I gave any consideration to his ornate first name.  However, I recently watched a Jets preseason game with Janeen, and she finds the idea of a human being named D’Brickashaw hilarious, so that’s what we’ve been calling our unborn son.  And now I’m gonna post something about a television show.

Janeen likes for she and I to have “a show.” “A show” means a television program we watch together. I grew up doing this, but until I met Janeen, I had almost completely stopped watching any television shows with regularity. She and I have different taste in primetime TV: she’s easier to please and watches probably ten or twelve shows religiously (the memory space on our DVR is perpetually over 50% full).  I am a massive skeptic when it comes to television in general.  Left to my own devices, I basically pretend that primetime shows don’t even exist.  I’m not entirely opposed to watching TV shows, but there have been very few that I truthfully enjoy. Still, having “a show” has long been a part of my relationship with Janeen. We’ve cycled through a bunch of them. Some were good, some were just okay, and some were really dreadful.  I survived the awful ones by focusing on the satisfaction it gave Janeen to have a partner to watch them with.  There was one show—which sadly we’ve now seen every episode of—that was much better than the rest.  It was the best television show I’ve ever seen.

Last year, a few different people suggested that Janeen and I adopt The Wire—an HBO program that lasted five seasons before being canceled in 2008—as our new show.  We did so, and I’m very grateful for it.

The Wire is a show about cops, the drug trade and politicians set in Baltimore, Maryland.  It is initially challenging. The first few episodes are confounding and not easy to decipher.  At the outset, the viewer is left to his own devices, forced to familiarize himself with what is going on with minimal hand holding from the show’s creator, David Simon.  The show panders to no one and makes no apologies for an 80% black cast speaking a language few viewers are familiar with.  Because The Wire refused to package itself in a way that is easy to initially digest, it’s not surprising to me that it never achieved widespread viewership.  The show breaks a lot of rules. When the only character on your show with a real moral compass is an openly gay stick up artist, you know you’re watching something a little different.

Once you settle in and get the hang of The Wire, it is nothing short of awesome.  What is slowly revealed is an incredibly ambitious and enthralling narrative.  The show is a revelation on many levels.  Sometimes morbidly depressing and other times uproariously funny, the show has a  lyrical quality and delivers one great one-liner after another, but at the same time it is magnificent storytelling; the end of certain episodes evokes the same feeling achieved when finishing a crucial chapter in an epic book.  The Wire really stays with you after you turn it off, and that might be the highest compliment that can be paid to a television program.  The characters—almost without exception and including the peripheral ones—are complex and richly drawn.  Simon and his cast of writers and directors coax brilliant performances from various bit players, some of whom are not even professional actors.

Although The Wire boasts a cadre of uniquely memorable characters, perhaps its greatest triumph is that we never lose sight of the real star of the show:  the City of Baltimore.  The show bounces effortlessly around the gritty urban world it covers, from the street to the police to the suits ostensibly in charge of it all.  There is sharp social commentary woven into the episodes in a way that somehow never feels contrived.  The Wire is a fascinating expose of urban America, it lays bare much of what is hopelessly wrong with our cities.  And if that was all there was to the show it would still be a triumph, but The Wire digs much deeper and does so successfully.  Innumerable and sometimes surprising political issues are touched upon, and through it all, The Wire manages to stay authentic.  The show is just… real.  The Wire is so good that it ranks as both the top detective show and top urban drama I’ve ever seen.  It is everything that both of these otherwise tired genres wish they were.  Once you’re exposed to The Wire, so much of everything else they’re doing on TV feels like straight wankery.

Janeen and I recently finished the fifth and final season of The Wire.  I initially refused to begin Season 5—we waited over a month between the last episode of Season 4 and the first episode of Season 5—because I didn’t want the damn thing to end.  There’s an empty space in my life now.  The show is that freakin’ good.  Best show ever.


In The Market For A Minivan…

Since I’m no longer in denial of this fact, I’d like to announce that Janeen and I are expecting our second child!

This took us both by complete surprise.  Without getting into the gory details, let’s just say that I was unaware that having another kid this quickly was even biologically possible.  Oops?  I recently learned (from more than one person) that the term of art for this situation is “Irish Twins,” but in Brooklyn we call producing babies at this pace Hasidic.

We are not Hasids.

We always wanted two (and only two), so in the end this will be just fine.  In the meantime I imagine everything’s gonna be little hectic.  That Janeen was convinced that one or both of us was infertile while we were trying to get her knocked up the first time adds a touch of irony to the situation.  I guess all of our reproductive parts are working just fine. Perhaps a little too fine.

Number Two is due in February of 2012, which means that a full babyless calendar year will separate Ivy and the noob.  So there’s that.  The due date is February 5th, which happens to be Super Bowl Sunday.  And yes, the first thing that sprung to mind was that I’d be faced with quite a conundrum if the Jets got there.

A second baby could force us from our already-cramped apartment and could portend a partial career change for me, but I’m choosing not to worry about those things just yet.  Overall, Janeen and I are very happy with the hand life has dealt us (we have suited broadway cards) and are looking forward to the arrival of The Deuce!

And now here’s a video of Ivy laughing at a tiny stuffed dog!


Post WSOP Post.

This blog is in a state of disrepair.  It sucks, but I don’t think there’s much I can do about it.  My home life is a form of culture shock after so much time at the World Series.  Vegas has left me unaccustomed to the demands of fatherhood (not that I’m unwilling in any way!).  Since I’ve returned, I’ve been so overwhelmed by the miniature hurricane called Ivy and crave sleep so badly that finding a free hour or two to write something worthwhile here is difficult.

Then there’s the problem of social media, which is probably destroying thousands of blogs just like this one. Facebook and Twitter are easy.  Sitting down to write things here is hard.  It’s lamentable on many levels, but Twitter is the natural place for my tournament updates.  As recently as two years ago I’d compose a few paragraphs here after a long exciting day of poker.  Sometimes they were much more interesting than anything I’ve ever tweeted.  Instead, I now intermittently blast off several instantaneous but sterile updates of fewer than 140 keystrokes apiece each day.  It’s a shame, because blogs (good ones, anyway) are so much more compelling than tweets and Facebook status updates.  Social media is best designed for sales—for “maintaining a presence”—(this should be a marketing term if it already isn’t) rather than any sort of meaningful entertainment.  Annoying people are naturals at Facebook and Twitter.  People using the interface come to accept and even enjoy the inane ubiquity these morons achieve.  They’re like that old Nabisco jingle. It’s there and you’re going to hear from it a few times a day so you may as well learn to like it.  My blog is withering away because I’m becoming one of those annoying morons.  It sucks.

So my summer at the WSOP can be split into two sections:  the first leg, where I found mostly frustration, and then the second leg, which was basically the Main Event.  It was the usual roller coaster ride but was relatively satisfying.

I can honestly say that I never dedicated more time and effort to poker than I did during this WSOP.  Maybe it was because I’d been having a second consecutive “meh” year and was resolved to reverse course.  Maybe it was because I could sense that my new home life and the poker lifestyle might soon become too difficult to reconcile.  Maybe I just love poker and felt like going berserk with it.  But when I reached Vegas just after Memorial Day, I resolved to do nothing short of eat, sleep, breathe and shit poker for over a month.

I achieved this goal.  I played a big tournament most days.  When I busted the tournament I played a sit n’ go.  When I busted the sit n’ go I played another sit n’ go.  When I busted that sit ‘n go, I played another sit ‘n go.  I went to bed when I was too tired to play.  The next day would be the same.  It was after July 4th when I finally came up for air and began to enjoy Vegas a little bit.  Never had I been more consumed; entire weeks passed where I played over 12 hours daily and I’ve got a huge pile of tournament receipts to prove it.  I watched no television and paid outside interests no mind whatsoever during this time.  I hear that Derek Jeter had his 3,000th career hit, and I hear that some white trash broad from Florida who killed her daughter got acquitted.  I have zero firsthand knowledge of these things, I know everything I’ve learned about them from Facebook.  Naturally.

My summer went okay.  I stayed afloat by doing well in the sit ‘n go’s and through the random consequence of staking a friend in the Rio daily event and waking up the next day to discover that he’d won it.  Mostly I met with failure.  This is standard at the WSOP.

The WSOP can be a harrowing affair.  Guys put everything they have into it, both figuratively and literally (every summer a couple of guys I know quit playing professionally at its conclusion).  Summer in Vegas is a cauldron of psychological challenges, the stakes are high and so is the pressure.  Everyone wants the same thing, and that is simply to make a deep run in at least one event.

Deep runs down to the final few tables in WSOP events are nothing short of intoxicating.  It’s the highest you can possibly gamble.  With a couple of tables left in a WSOP event, the remaining players are orbiting the earth in a faraway degenerate stratosphere where it is perfectly normal to flip coins for tens of thousands of dollars. Pretty cool place.  All serious tournament poker players aspire to get to that place.  Those who have been there aspire to get back.  We all wake up in the morning hoping that the next tournament will be the vehicle that takes us there.

The problem is that most of guys at the WSOP—even the top pros—will not make any deep runs all summer. This is a straight-up immutable fact, but very few are willing to accept it.  Amusingly, many of the guys who cannot accept this fact have been around the block, understand tournament variance and have lived the tournament lifestyle for many years.  I would know, I’m friends with about twenty of them.  On any given day at the WSOP, at least five of my best poker friends will contemplate suicide.  Many of this blog’s devotees know that my poker psyche and self-confidence can sometimes use work, but I often act as the voice of reason in my group of poker friends—even when I’m on a bad run myself.  Poker fans envision the The World Series of Poker as some sort of poker nirvana, but it’s really the biggest mope convention in the world.

As the first leg of my summer drew to a close, I was left to contemplate the state of “my game,” as we pros like to call the totality of our experience and ability as it relates to the current tendencies and abilities of our opponents.  As that convoluted definition probably intimates, self-evaluating in an honest and meaningful way is one of the most difficult tasks in poker:  you have to separate signal from noise.  Most are not equipped to do it.  It requires both emotional distance and a real understanding of all the trappings of the mathematics of probability such as sample size and the difference between correlation and causation.  In short, it is very easy for a poker player who has been losing to conjure up a narrative that explains things perfectly yet is completely and hopelessly wrong.  “I’m just running bad” and “I’m just not good enough” are the typical culprits (although there are many more).  It’s easy to shape a set of circumstances so that they seem to logically lead to either of these common conclusions and still have no fucking idea what you’re talking about.

I personally noticed two things when thinking about my summer of poker.  The first was that I hadn’t hit a card the whole time I was in Vegas.  When you play a lot of tournaments, you inevitably will get your money in bad sometimes, and on some of those occasions you will nevertheless win.  During my time in Vegas, I never won when I put my money in bad.  Actually, that is a lie.  I hit a $2500 card in a sit ‘n go (three handed, there was a three way all in where I held 99 vs. QQ and AJ, the flop came A high and the river was a 9), but other than that instance, I never had a big suckout.  I didn’t once get coolered and bink a set.  I didn’t once get caught with my pants down and watch two glorious running flush cards bail me out.  I ran below expectation in big all-ins where I was behind.

The other thing I’ve noticed is a bit more troubling.  This is a fair bit of speculation, and I could be wrong about this, but I’ve found that as time wears on, what my game has gained in precision it has lost in daring.  As I’ve become more and more proficient at understanding my opponents’ strategies, I’ve become more predictable myself.  Now that I can articulately explain most everything that I experience at the table, I’ve ceased making plays that defy description.  I’m not sure if this makes sense.  Perhaps the best way to explain this is to say that in spots where I used to play by feel, I now use pre-defined guidelines to make my decisions, and my decisions have invariably trended towards the conservative.  I used to checkraise four-way dry flops with 7 high.  I used to float flops out of position with ace high and check-jam turns unimproved.  I used to triple barrel with air, because, well, “how can he call?”  I don’t do any of those things anymore because I’m preoccupied with knowing exactly which hands I can and might get called by.  Sure, I punted a lot of stacks, but my ignorance was an asset.  My ability to elucidate every hand I play is in some ways a curse.  I may have been better off doing what I used to do:  throwing haymakers in the dark.  And that’s where my mind was at as I sat down to play the 2011 Main Event.

I don’t have the time or the inclination to write the epic Main Event recaps I once produced.  Instead here’s a quick rundown where I’ll discuss two or three hands.

with this little broad in my fan club, how could I not cash?

with this little broad in my fan club, how could I not cash?

I made a big laydown on Day 1.  This was a big deal for me, even though the decision became elementary after serious consideration.  I hate folding.  I had chipped up from 30,000 to around 45,000 at dinner.  The player to my immediate left was Portuguese and was playing and running well all day, he probably had 80,000 or more at the start of this hand.

It was the very first hand after dinner, only seven players were seated and the big blind was absent.  I had pocket fours in the two hole at 150-300/25 and I made it 725 to go.  I was flatted by the Portuguese guy right behind me and by one other player in the cutoff.  After a slow grind upwards all day, I envisioned winning a huge pot when the flop rolled off J-10-4 rainbow.  I bet 1300.  The Portuguese guy called and the other player folded.  The turn came the 6 of diamonds, putting two diamonds on board.  I bombed in 3200 and the Portuguese guy thought for a bit before raising to 7150.  I thought that I might be behind, but I had a set and was happy to call and let him continue doing whatever the hell he was doing on the river.

The river was a non-diamond jack, making the final board J-J-10-6-4 and giving me a full house.  I checked and the Portuguese guy made a huge bet, a bet that I absolutely hated:  20,800.  I went deep into the tank and after sweating and agonizing my way through a complete recap of the hand, I folded my hand face up.  The factors that saved me were the river card and my opponent’s bet sizing.  That the river was a jack was really important.  I knew that my opponent was too good to raise with just a jack on the turn, this would have been a pointless exercise because I’d have called with all better hands and folded all worse.  When a second jack fell on the river, my potential calling range was effectively expanded as some of my possible holdings (AJ, KJ, QJ) had just improved to trips.  Knowing this and seemingly unconcerned by it, my opponent chose a BIG bet on the river.  This was telling, because good players bet big on the river for value in spots like the one I was facing.  Fours full was a pretty hand but was nothing more than a bluffcatcher in this situation, the Portuguese guy’s range was {bigger full houses and quads} + {bluffs}.  The only bluffs I could think of were KQ of diamonds, AQ of diamonds and hands like 88 and 99 that he decided to get crazy with on the turn, i.e., not many hands at all.

My fold was correct.  The Portuguese guy was not only a very good player but a nice guy.  In the ensuing moments, he recognized my agony (not that it was hard to decipher, I was practically vomiting on the table) and let me off the hook by revealing that he held pocket 10’s.  He also commended me on a great laydown and asked me how much he could have bet on the river to get me to call (anything less than 15k, probably?).  I came back strong after that hand and closed out Day 1 with 68,000 chips.

I had a very good Day 2 during which I ran well and also played well.  Eventual November Niner Sam Holden was on my right for much of the day, I had no trouble with him and won a few substantial pots from him.  At the close of proceedings I was able to put “CL” (table chip leader) on my bag, into which I stuffed 224,000 chips.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of table draws in the WSOP Main Event.  The field runs the gamut from the very best to the very worst players seen all year, and the relative difficulty of the tables therefore varies wildly.  The first time I became truly excited about my prospects in the 2011 Main Event was when I took my seat on Day 3 and played a few hands.  It was then that I discovered that I had an incredibly soft table.  Four of us had a plenty of chips.  Tony Hachem was a few seats to my left with over 200k, and he would proceed to play solid and straightforward.  Shawn Keller was to my direct right, also with 200k, he was competent at NLHE but really a limit player.  And two seats to Keller’s right was a grey-haired guy from somewhere in the deep South calling himself the Silver Fox.  I knew he was The Silver Fox because it was embroidered on the front pocket of his golf shirt.  It would be convenient to make fun of him for this, but then there’s the fact that I own shirts that have my nickname embroidered across them.  Yeah.  The Silver Fox had 190k and The Silver Fox was bad.

My Day 3 had gone swimmingly for the first half hour or so.  I picked up easy reads on most of the table and was chipping up nicely.  Twice I had double barreled hands I had opened and seen it work (I employ this strategy more often in the WSOP Main than any other tournament, no one likes playing big pots in the WSOP Main).  I was in the groove and had visions of a long day of domination, and then… who knows what?  Maybe a trip to the Degenosphere in the biggest tournament of them all?  My daydream was over before it began.  My tournament turned when I lost the following hand.

I had a bet sizing tell on Mr. Silver Fox.  He opened to 4x or 5x when he had a big hand (presumably to avoid multi-way action) and he opened small with his medium and marginal hands.  On this hand it folded to him in the cutoff and he made it 3200 to go at 800-1600/200.  I held the KJ of hearts in the small blind.  I considered a fold and considered a three-bet, but I ultimately decided to call because we both had well over 200,000 in our stacks and I was happy to speculate—even out of position—against a player of his caliber.  The big blind came in, so we went three ways to a flop of Ax-7h-2h, giving me a king high flush draw.  I felt the best course of action was to lead at the pot because it would so often result in two folds right then.  If not, I could continue barreling if a heart turned.  I bet 6300.

The big blind folded but The Silver Fox thought only for a second or two before raising to 20,000.  Against another player I might have folded, but I strongly suspected this guy would dump almost all of his chips to me if a heart peeled, so I decided to call his huge raise.  The turn was very nice, the six of hearts, giving me the second nuts.  I was eyeing our stacks and contemplating my next play when The Silver Fox interrupted things by doing something dumb, making a massive bet out of turn:  he pushed out 40,000 chips.  The dealer responded by informing him that I had not yet acted.

I knew well that this bet would be ruled binding if I checked, and I didn’t want to arouse any suspicion by calling the floor or trying to put on any airs.  I just chuckled and said “okay, I check,” and The Silver Fox said “I still bet forty thousand.”  A huge pot was developing.  There was absolutely no point in checkraising for a few reasons.  First, I held two of the broadway hearts, meaning that most of the combinations that were now flushes that this guy would have minraised preflop were now actually beating me.  Still, a flush was very unlikely.  Nobody bets 40,000 into 50,000 on the turn with the stone nuts, not even this guy.  The Silver Fox had one of the following holdings:  a) total trash that he’d taken this line with because he didn’t like my flop lead; b) two pair or a set; c) just an ace (one pair) that he was completely spazzing out with for reasons unkown; or d) an ace high flush.  There was no reason to raise against any of these hands.  In fact, I felt that a) and d) made up enough of his range that the best line was to check/call the river.

The river came the queen of hearts, putting four hearts on board.  Not a good card.  I was now losing to some of the aforementioned b) and c) hands.  I knew that with so much on the line that my opponent would only value bet the nuts on this river, he’d check back with everything else.  I checked and The Silver Fox couldn’t announce “all in!” fast enough.  To recap:  20,000 on the flop, 40,000 on the turn, and all in for 130,000 more on the river.  Massive berserko bets.  I held the second nuts and it was dog shit.  I angrily fired my cards into the muck against what was very obviously a poorly played AhXx that got lucky on the river.

I spent the rest of the day recovering and treading water.  I grew increasingly frustrated as the day wore on about not being able to find a good spot against SF or any of the other soft spots at the table.  I felt like I was a cut above my Day 3 table, but that guarantees nothing, and nothing is exactly what happened for most of the day.  I picked and prodded my way through the night (one nit folded AKo face up to one of my three-bets, I held K-3 of spades. I also cold four-bet once in a good spot and got two folds), but I never got rolling after losing that pot to The Silver Fox.

I went into Day 4 with a below average stack.  I didn’t have a hard time steering it into the money, all the spots I picked to open were good, so I had virtually the same stack I started the day with when the bubble burst.  After the bubble, my stack bled down to around fifteen big blinds at its low point.  I hung around and got a lucky double on the first occasion in the entire tournament that I was all in with AJ against JJ.  I then began to pick up chips and things seemed to be swinging in my direction.  I had 260k with the blinds at 3000-6000/1000 when I found pocket jacks on the button.  A competent aggressive Latino player who covered me opened the cutoff to 16,000.  I three-bet to 40,000 and beat him into the pot when he 4-bet jammed.  He had AKo, the flop came A-K-x, and that was all she wrote.

In the end, I notched my seventh consecutive winning summer.  It was by no means anything special, but I’m now one of only roughly 30 people in the world who has cashed in the WSOP Main Event four times.  I’m proud of that.  I have reason to believe that bright days back here on the East Coast lie ahead.

Two Weeks in Vegas.

I’m now in my third Vegas phase.  I’m way past being excited about anything on the Strip, but I’ve also gotten past my disdain for all the lunacy around me.  I’m more or less a resident of the city at this point, and I’ve learned how to navigate my way around the place.  I know driving shortcuts, I know where the cheap quality food is and I know how not to spend $150 to have my clothes washed and folded.  I come out here to work, and I approach every day that way, commuting back and forth to wherever I’m playing poker that day.

As I write this, I am stuck a small amount for the trip.  I have two very small cashes in WSOP Events and am doing well in the single table satellites at the Rio.  Counterbalance that with all the washouts I’ve had, and you have a small net loss.  This is my seventh time coming to Vegas in the summer to play poker and I’ve yet to have a losing year.  On the years when I haven’t put together a big score, I’ve always figured out a way to bail myself out, whether it be through satellites or a last second cash in the Main Event.  We’ll see if I can do it again.  There’s plenty of time left.

I believe I am playing well overall.  I played poorly in two tournaments—one was a $2500 event at Venetian in which I was intimidated by the prowess of the players around me, and the other was a $1500 WSOP event the next day during which I tried an unnecessarily fancy play during level one (cold four-betting a small suited ace against what I perceived to be a weak isolation play, my opponent in fact had the goods).  In all other instances I have played my version of good poker.  I’ve made some strong “outside the box” plays (e.g., five-bet bluffing with 7 high, reshipping 93 offsuit, raising with just top pair in a thee-bet pot to induce a shove with air, etc.) that would be impossible if I weren’t locked in.  Having  only so-so results despite playing well is nothing unusual and nothing to get discouraged about.

I have noticed that the number of people who play tournament no limit hold ’em at a high level is exponentially larger than it was as recently as two or three years ago.  There’s great players everywhere out here.  Case in point:  When I busted that $1500 WSOP event in the first level, I drove over to Venetian to play the $350 event they were running on the same day.  I was expecting a field full of fish, but what I found was more of a mixed bag.  There were players opening pots to 2.1 times the big blind and players who persistently three-bet preflop, both telltale signs of advanced and aggressive play.  There’s nowhere to hide from the sharks out here.  The softest spot in town for me are the single table satellites at the WSOP.  This is pretty strange since sit ‘n go’s are probably the easiest form of poker to master.

My bustout hands from the two WSOP events I’ve cashed are both fairly interesting, so here’s a short discussion of them.

In the $1500 Triple Chance I took a good stack into Day Two.  I lost about one-third of my chips messing around on the money bubble, then recovered and had roughly 45k left when my final hand was played.  Carlos Mortensen was on my direct right and covered me, and the blinds were 500-1000/100.  He opened to 2500 and I flatted on the button with the Jh10h.  Both blinds folded and the flop came K-10-10 with two diamonds.

When you flop big like this in the money of a WSOP tournament it is obviously a beautiful thing, and all I was initially thinking was how I could get my entire stack in.  Mortensen led 4,000 and I felt that he would perceive a raise from me as a weaker line than a call, so I made it 9,300.  He thought for awhile and then did something pretty unusual, he “clicked it back” (i.e., made the minimum re-raise) to 14,600.  This is typically indicative of extreme strength and at this point Mortensen (who probably perceived me as a complete random) was likely hoping that I’d commit the rest of my chips right then, although there was a very small chance he was dicking around with air.  I was certain he didn’t have a draw big draw like the AdQd because with a hand like that, he’d want to put the last bet in, maintaining fold equity for himself.

In any event, I was now not entirely certain I had the best hand but I was never folding trips at this stage of the tournament.  At this point I probably should have just jammed all in or four-bet small.  Either of these would likely be perceived as indicative of a drawing hand by Mortensen in the event that he held only a king.  Instead I ended up flat calling the min three-bet.  One third of my stack was now in the pot and my plan was to call a shove on any turn card.

The turn was an offsuit 9 and now Mortensen made another unusual play:  he bet only 7500 even though the pot was now a bloated 30k+ and even though I had less than a pot-sized bet left in my stack.  This bet was worrisome; after clicking it back and now making this tiny bet on the turn, Mortensen was obviously trying to induce a shove from me.  I sat and thought for a good minute or two and determined that a) there were hands I was beating that he’d bet for value this way; b) there was still a slight chance that he was dicking around with this convoluted line he was taking; and c) whatever, I had trips and had already committed a third of my stack.  I moved all in.  Mortensen showed me the 10-9 of spades for a turned full house, and the river was an ace.  I was out the door.

In the most recent 1k WSOP Event, I took an average stack into Day 2 and drew one of the tougher tables in the room, with Jason Somerville two seats to my right and Scott Montgomery two seats to my left, each with roughly the same number of chips as me.  As I expected, Somerville had no fear of the approaching money bubble and no fear of anyone at the table and immediately took the initiative.  He opened about half the pots in the first orbit as I folded a variety of crap hands behind him.  This went on for awhile and he chipped up effortlessly.  Just a few players off the bubble, he then opened a pot under the gun in a very obvious steal spot and I chose to three-bet him with 74 offsuit, which was effective as everyone else folded back to him and he quickly mucked as well.

After that, the money bubble burst and I fell into a long period of card-dead inactivity, folding for three or four full orbits as Somerville ran roughshod over the table.  Whenever the action folded to him  in late position he minraised, and he showed down 10-5 offsuit on one such occasion.  It was clear that he was opening any two cards in these spots and would continue to do so until someone took a stand against him.  This dynamic was obvious to any observant player, and presumably to everyone else at the table.

Finally, on my big blind, I found a spot that I felt was perfect for a big longball bluff.  The blinds were 600-1200/200, I had 29k, the small blind had 30k, and Somerville easily covered us both.  The action was folded to Somerville, who minraised to 2400.  The small blind was a young scruffy guy who had been moved to the table roughly 15 or 20 minutes prior but had witnessed Somerville play virtually every hand since then.  He reraised to 6800.  I knew Somerville’s open meant absolutely nothing and I strongly suspected the reraise from the small blind was also light.  I quickly studied the stack sizes and it occurred to me that I was sitting in the perfect spot to cold four bet ship all in.  This is a play that indicates extreme strength, especially from an unknown player who had just folded for about an hour straight.  My cards were irrelevant but they happened to be the Jc2c.

This is a play that I have employed in live events maybe five or six times before, including once in the WSOP event that I made a deep run in last year.  A spot that’s perfect for a play like this comes around now and again—it’s like a full moon.  The circumstances have to be exactly right for it, from the table dynamics on down to my image to the stack sizes to the tournament payout structure.  The fact that I had a 100% success rate with this play prior to this instance is either a testament to my skill at recognizing the appropriate spot for it or pure luck, but either way I’d never been caught with this one.

I have never had a problem making ballsy plays in big spots (I busted from my 2nd WSOP Main Event squeezing with 9 high), and this one was too good to pass up.  I jammed all in for 29k.  Somerville instantly folded, but the small blind tanked for only a small while before committing with exactly the kind of hand I had put him on:  A-8 of clubs.  As we tabled our hands (my hand elicited a “whoa!” from Montgomery) I commended him on making a great read, but it turned out to more of a give-up than a soul read.  “I had seventy thousand chips just an hour ago, I’m pretty annoyed and just ready to go,” he explained.  In the end it was a bad read on my part.  I diagnosed the table dynamics properly, but I had no idea that the player in the small blind was not in the mood to fold.  The flop came 8 high and I didn’t turn or river a jack.

Getting caught with your pants down is never fun, but I didn’t lose a minute of sleep over this play and would do it again, and I undoubtedly will.

I miss my family desperately but I’ve got another week or so to make something happen out here, if not there’s always the Main Event.


Abandoned blogs are sad. Every so often I stumble across one during an aimless foray through cyberspace. Finding an abandoned blog raises inevitable questions about the author—what happened to make this person cease communicating?

I don’t want this place to became the online equivalent of a boarded up building. My latest silence is attributable partially to a lack of interesting poker stories to share and partially to my lack of motivation to write anything.

I’m spending a lot of time chasing sleep. Ivy is now an adorable, super-grabby, insatiably curious 5-month old. It’s amazing to watch her grow and develop. She also happens to be incapable of sleeping for more than about six consecutive hours and has demonstrated an unusual distaste for napping. I am therefore walking around in a constant state of sleep deprivation, looking to pick up whatever bits and pieces of sleep I can find. It’s difficult to reconcile the poker lifestyle with a constant desire to doze off. This is no joke!


Daddy and Ivy!

Back in undergrad at Cornell, the most popular elective class the university offered was Psych 101. Enrollment in this course was massive. The lectures consisted mostly of interesting videos and were administered in a gigantic concert hall that seated probably two or three thousand, and almost every seat was taken. The professor was a guy named Maas, and his specialization was the study of the effect of sleep deprivation on the human brain. My friends and I used to have a good time laughing at all the videos of the crazy maladies that befell the world’s insomniacs. Perhaps I’m now experiencing retribution for finding the antics of narcoleptics hilarious when I was 18 years old. I can barely think straight half the time.

In other news, I recently discovered that my love of poker has not waned. The way I came to this conclusion was atypical. It was not by winning a tournament and not through some kind of revelation at the table. I wasn’t even playing poker when it happened. I had a reawakening because I accepted a couple of coaching gigs. I was initially reluctant to mentor others because I was unsure if I’d be able to organize my thoughts in a way that would be easy to digest, but it has gone quite well. The feedback I’ve received has been encouraging and teaching poker for a few hours made me appreciate how much I work I’ve put into the game. I was surprised at how easily and naturally I was able to communicate as a poker coach, and the experience has me energized (good timing with the WSOP around the corner).  Oh, and if anyone is interested in private poker lessons feel free to contact me, lol.

In other news, the feds handed down two new indictments yesterday, effectively shutting down a few more poker sites and payment processors. If it wasn’t obvious back in April, it should now be abundantly clear: the party’s over for online poker, at least for now. Play online at your own peril—even if you win you may never see the money.  I’m less sanguine about online poker’s long-term prospects than I was when I last posted something.  I still believe we’re headed towards federal regulation, but it could be a long while.

I leave for the WSOP a week from today. I intend to stay for about three weeks, cramming as much poker as humanly possible into that time (there are 18 tournaments on my calendar, along with sit n’ gos and possibly cash games between bustouts) then return for the Main Event in July. I am not looking forward to leaving Janeen and Ivy for such a long period of time, and poor Janeen is going to have her hands full, but the WSOP is the WSOP.  Gotta be in it to win it.  I believe I’m playing quite well right now despite the minor downswing I’m in. I’m cautiously optimistic about drilling something big in the desert this year.  I’m also cautiously optimistic about updating this blog more often than once per month going forward.

The (temporary?) death of online poker.

I was in the middle of playing the $560 Borgata Spring Open Event when word began to filter through the room about the Department of Justice’s unsealed indictment against the owners of Full Tilt, Pokerstars and Absolute Poker. Most were initially skeptical about any impact, but I read the indictment from beginning to end between hands on my blackberry. The gravity of the situation quickly became clear. Things done changed.

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 is a disgusting piece of legislation brought to us by the supposed small government party. It is both indicative of the problems inherent in the way dealmaking is done in Congress (it was a last minute attachment to an anti-terrorism bill) and wildly hypocritical (explicit carve outs for wagering on things like horse racing and state lotteries).

Friday’s indictment is the Feds’ first big effort towards enforcing this legislation, and based on the allegations in the indictment—which go beyond running a gambling operation and include things like money laundering and bribery—I forsee complete success. The Southern District of New York does not lose these types of cases. If the defendants stand trial, they will lose. If they settle, an outright ban will be part of the agreement. If they simply hide, their companies will wither and die. The bell has tolled for online poker as we know it. I seriously doubt that Pokerstars, Full Tilt or Absolute will ever do business with US customers again.

The reaction of the poker community in the last 48 hours has been frustrating to witness. “Fuck the government!” would be an apt three-word summary. The anger is understandable but misplaced. Everyone’s late to the party. The problem lies with the UIGEA, which has existed for nearly five years. The only new part is that the FBI is finally, inevitably getting around to enforcing it. What cinches the case is that the charges are not just related to gaming—protecting our right to expect complete transparency in dealings involving our financial institutions is something that most American citizens would objectively support. Placing blame with our government for enforcing its laws is sheer stupidity. The UIGEA is a poisonous fruit; change needs to come at the legislative level.

Friday’s news leaves millions of dollars in limbo. There is a great deal of speculation about whether the funds in the player accounts will ever be returned. I think the answer is yes, although there’s no way to be sure. Playing poker online does not place us (the players) in violation of the UIGEA. Under a strained interpretation, sending or accepting bank wires/checks to or from the online entities may conceivably place us at risk. Even if that were the DOJ’s position and our accounts were accordingly seized, I believe they might still return the funds. It’s ultimately a political decision, and it’s not the players they are seeking to punish here.

The long term outlook for online poker is actually good in my opinion, and this development does nothing to diminish it. In the days before this news broke, incremental progress towards legalized domestic online poker was being made, including the District of Columbia’s decision to legalize, Nevada’s pending decision to do the same and Harry Reid’s failed lame duck bill that would have legalized online poker at the federal level. Unless this indictment leaves a bitter taste in lawmakers’ mouths with respect to poker, the case against Stars, Tilt and Absolute may actually accelerate things. This will flush the dominant offshore companies from the domestic market while brick and mortar casino companies wait in the wings. Conspiracy theorists could have a field day with this. There is an open market and a great deal of money to be made.

I believe online poker at (or or, etc. etc.) is coming, it’s just question of whether it will take six months or six years. With other offshore entities ready to gobble up the Stars/Tilt/Absolute market share, I’d say six months is more likely.

On a personal level, the news brings to an end my long-running charade of trying to engineer a partial transition to the online game. I have never been able to summon the motivation to do this, and for now I will not have to. My local poker, if any, will now be played in NYC clubs.

On a more superficial level, I will no longer feel even the slightest sense of guilt for my traditional boycott of online Sunday MTTs during football season. I will also have no misgivings when I fail to fire up Sunday MTTs on nice summer days, or on days when family activities are planned. I am also free from the small pangs of regret I admittedly experience when a colleague of mine binks something huge online while I am off enjoying my life.

For Janeen, I imagine this is a mixed blessing. She will now have my (almost) undivided attention when I am home, but I will likely be away even more often.

Poker isn’t going anywhere, demand for poker is not declining as far as I can tell. This latest development will have little impact on live poker. I intend to continue earning a living at it.


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.

Hammond notes:

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:

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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!

Pillaging in La La Land.

In a fortuitous turn of events, I final tabled both of the LAPC Events I played, a $300 NLHE event and a $500 shootout.  The first was chopped four ways and the other was an outright win that came after a four-way saver was agreed to.  These scores came in at a little over 20k each, making this quick jaunt to California wildly profitable.  My lifetime ROI in LAPC Events sits at roughly a gazillion.

oooh, a watch.  ohh, a horse!

oooh, a watch. ohh, a horse!

It’s very satisfying to go back-to-back in two tournaments, and even more satisfying to engineer a sort of surgical strike where I show up for three days, grab $40,000 and split town.  I ran really good in these tourneys, especially the shootout.  I got it in bad for all the chips twice and got there both times.  Easy game.

I have some thoughts I want to share regarding making deals late in tournaments (mostly relating to my inability to refuse them), but I’m way too tired right now.  I’m at the airport waiting to board a flight back to Chitown.  Next stop, Hammond!


Bye-bye La La Land!  Thanks for the moneys.

Goin’ Up The Country.

Ivy update:

Our daughter just got back from her two month weigh-in.  It confirmed what we suspected:  she’s fat.  She’s in the 50th percentile for height and the 97th percentile for weight.  My favorite names for her are Chubb Rock and ChubNugget (Janeen prefers ChunkyMonkey).  She is the youngest human in recorded history with a muffin top.  I ought to call Guinness.

She’s also quite adorable.  It’s been a great pleasure to witness the development of the earliest stages of cognition.  Ivy now recognizes Mommy and Daddy, as evidenced by the various grunts, coos and smiles she emits when we look (and make funny faces) at her.

this is how we blog!

this is how we blog!

Online Poker update:

Now that football season has sadly concluded, the ongoing saga of Sugar D vs. Online Poker is back in full swing.  On Sunday, I forced myself to play a full schedule (relative term, read:  “full for me”) of online tournaments.  At 2:00 EST I registered for everything that was going on at that time.  This included a $10 event on Pokerstars with a $40,000 guarantee.  Over 12,300 players ended up participating, creating a $120,000 prize pool with over $13,000 being awarded to the first place finisher.  Somehow, eight hours later I was the chip leader with eleven players remaining.  My ten opponents were all much worse at tournament poker than me, in varying degrees.

I’m still second-guessing myself over the following hand:

Eleven players remained.  I held the chip lead by a narrow margin with two other players trailing me very closely.  I was at a five-handed table and had been opening almost every time the action was folded to me.  The player to my direct left was timebomb crazy, seemed totally unafraid of bubbling the final table and was, in general terms, ready to rock.  He/she had 20 big blinds and I had something like 35 big blinds.

On my small blind I picked up AJhh and the action folded to me.  This left me with two choices:  jam all in, a play that would fold out many worse hands but safely allow me to chip up without showdown most of the time, OR raise small to induce a shove from my opponent—a shove I’d call with what is likely to be the best hand.

It was a close enough decision that I actually used some of my time bank deciding.  In a higher-stakes tournament with players of higher caliber, this would not be a difficult decision:  I would raise to induce a shove 100% of the time.  In this tournament, my edge over the field and the ICM-here-come-the-pay-jumps considerations dictated that I should give some thought to making the lower-variance play, which would allow me to cruise to the final table without needlessly risking over 50% of my stack.

In the end (play to win!) I raised smallish.  As expected the timebomb jammed.  I snapped, he had K8o, and of course I lost the pot.  I went to the final table in 7th place out of 9 remaining, picked up AK on the button and found myself all in against KK, and that was that.  I was out 9th for something like $850.00.  Yippee.

I have an iron jaw when it comes to live beats.  I take them like a man.  Online though… online’s another story.  For some reason, I am far less adept at handling online bullshit.  There’s something about the sequential blip, blip blip of an unfortunate electronic  flop, turn and river that I find very disagreeable.  To be honest, it makes me want to cut someone.  As my precious $10, twelve-gazillion player tournament washed itself down the drain, I groaned and reeled back in my chair.  I then arose, possessed with rage.  I briefly considered throwing my monitor out my window and was about to let loose a blood-curdling scream when I realized my pudgy little Ivy was sleeping in the next room.  So I gathered up my coat, threw on my shoes, stumbled down the stairs and paced in circles around Carroll Gardens for the next half hour, mumbling profanities to no one.

I’m Goin Up The Country:

Among the weirdest (and worst) songs to get regular airplay on the now-defunct “classic rock” radio format!


Janeen and I are traveling to Chicago so that Ivy can meet her Midwest family.  I am using this as an opportunity to play tournaments in a couple of new venues.  First, I am going to fly to Los Angeles and play a few LA Poker Classic prelims, and after that I am going to play a couple of tournaments in Hammond, Indiana which are part of the Chicago Poker Classic.

It may seem remarkable that I’ve never played a single tournament in California during my now-lengthy pro career.  The reason for this is simple:  I’ve been there many times and I don’t like LA very much.  Some people call Los Angeles a city, I see a collection of discreet neighborhoods that people in the Northeast would call suburbs, connected by freeway.  Everything’s far away from everything else, which might be nice if you live out there, but that’s kind of inconvenient for me.  The neighborhood that has all the poker (Bell Gardens) is completely uninteresting.  LA has a soul, but you need a good tour guide to locate it.  You won’t find it driving around aimlessly from one antiseptic area to the next—in fact that would probably rank as one of the worst imaginable ways to spend a day of one’s life.  I know I’m going to feel trapped at Commerce, but it’s a shorter flight from Chicago, I’ve arranged for a rental car, I’ll know where the nearest In-N-Out is, and I’m only going for four days.

The fact that I’m busting my Hammond cherry is less newsworthy.  You’ve gotta be pretty diehard to travel from the East Coast to Hammond for poker alone.  You’ve gotta have something else lined up in Chicago.  And I do:  all of my in-laws!