Pokerstars staying, Neteller leaving (soon).

About a week ago, online poker players got some very good news. Pokerstars, which in my opinion is the highest quality online poker site, announced that they would continue to service US-based customers. In their announcement, Pokerstars stated that poker is a game of skill rather than chance and thus outside the reach of the legislation.

But today, some bad news came across: Neteller, the largest, most reliable offshore intermediary, announced that they would voluntarily comply with the new anti-gaming law once the law’s regulations are established.

For now, it is business as usual for Neteller and the players. But sometime in the coming months, Neteller will close its doors to us, and that is a big deal.

What will happen? Likely, some other smaller entities that are more comfortable with the risks involved will step into the breach. But will players like me feel comfortable using these alternate intermediaries? And will it scare off a high percentage of the US players and dry up the action? I guess we’ll see. But this news is ugly.

Firepay Flames Out.

Yesterday brought bad news for online poker players. Firepay, which after Neteller is the second most popular foreign banking intermediary, announced that they will voluntarily comply with the new legislation once it is signed by President Bush. In other words, online poker players who currently use Firepay will need to look for another way to fund their poker accounts.

This leaves Neteller as a crucial entity in the future of online poker. If they stay the course (as they announced they would on October 1st), I’m still convinced that things will remain relatively unchanged. If they follow Firepay’s lead, it will be a crushing blow as thousands of poker players, including myself, will no longer be able to move money into or out of their poker accounts.

Should Neteller cave, I’m sure some small daring international companies will fill the void, but will these companies be trustworthy? And more importantly, will it simply kill all the action before these companies can pick up the slack?

Prognosis: ominous.

After the Panic: Pretending I’m Broke.

After I found out about the new anti-poker legislation a week ago today, I joined many of my brethren by withdrawing nearly all my money from my poker site accounts.

The dust has now settled a bit, and the prevailing sentiment is good. General consensus is that online poker will continue to exist, with the only big change being that funding online poker accounts without the use of a mediary will cease in nine months. This is definitely good news.

As for me, after making my withdrawal, I was left with a meager $200 in my Pokerstars account. Rather than make a new deposit to replentish the account, I decided to run a little experiment: Try to run the $200 up to $1500 or more as quickly as possible. So far, I’ve been multitabling $25 sit ‘n gos and I’m up to around $750.

This is probably a huge waste of time (I have no chance of making a sizeable score), but I figured that grinding it out would be sorta fun in its own way. Also, my experiment might give me a valuable refresher in basic sit ‘n go strategy.


Black Monday.

I was away in Chicago all weekend, then at the Jets game yesterday, and I watched football last night before going to bed. So the panic that has beset my “industry” since Friday afternoon is just now taking hold with me.

I learned an hour or two ago that the Online Gambling Bill got snuck through the Senate (attached to some other Bill regarding port security). Bush will sign this bill in about two weeks, and this is catastrophic news.

Party Poker has already announced that they will no longer service US-based clients once the bill becomes law, and Pokerstars is still evaluating. I have been frantically removing my money from all the online gambling sites I have accounts with. When the dust settles, I’ll re-evaluate and then might have some important decisions to make. For now, I’m effectively unemployed.

Good fucking yuntuv.


Rewind: January 2006

I have a particular way of describing my mental state when I’m on my game in a poker tournament: I call it being “in the moment,” which means that I’m acutely aware of what the players around me are doing and seeking to accomplish. When I’m “in the moment” I seem to rely less on rational thought processes and more on something that can best be described as “intuition” or “feel.” When I’m in the moment close decisions become easy, and I always seem to get my money in as a favorite.

Well, it seems that blogging really needs to take place “in the moment” as well. I am having a difficult time figuring out a way to write about events that took place several months ago. So I guess I’m just gonna go with quick off the cuff monthly summaries and we’ll see where it goes.

January 2006:

I spent most of January splitting time between lawyering and playing poker. After my signoff date at my father’s office, a few cases lingered which only I could take care of. Dad is completely at home in the courtroom, or screaming at opposing counsel over the phone, but when it comes to drafting briefs, he’s lost. So I was stuck with a few research/writing projects which would not go away. I spent most of the month playing a few hours a day on the internet and I managed to build a small bankroll playing sit ‘n go’s (one table tournaments). My biggest score actually came in a live charity tournament that my good friend Craig Sklar managed to get me invited to. I finished second in a field of 65 drunk nitwits, winning four front row seats to a Yankees game. Thanks Craig.

In the meantime, Paris Las Vegas sent me a promotional mailer offering me three free nights at the end of the month if I’d come play in an invitational poker tournament. It didn’t take long for me to RSVP “yes.”

The trip to Vegas accomplished two things: 1) it gave me a much needed respite from the horrible divorce appeal I was drafting, and 2) it gave me my first opportunity to see what I was all about as a poker pro.

The Paris tournament was a joke. It was simply a promotion for the hotel’s customers who spend a lot of money on slots and non-poker table games. Half the field had never played before, and the tournament was structured in a way that it would be over with as soon as possible. In other words, the luck factor was magnified. I was still able to weave my way pretty deep into the tournament, taking advantage of blackjack players who didn’t realize folding was an option. Then a nice asian lady woke up with pocket aces when I had KQ, and I was out.

So I sat down in a 2-5 NL cash game at Paris. Immediately I began to win. I flopped sets, I turned straights, I rivered flushes. Things were just falling my way. Plus, I was better than everyone else at the table, many of whom had just discovered hold ’em in the tournament. I was up about a grand before long. After chipping away a little while longer and working my stack up even farther, the following hand took place.

The under the gun player (who happened to be Bill Frieder, former basketball coach at University of Michigan) brought it in for a raise. He was sitting on a monster stack. A player in middle position, also with a huge stack, called, and I called as well with the 10-7 of spades. The flop came 8-8-5 with one spade, and Mr. Frieder led out with a pot-sized bet. The middle position player called and I decided to call as well. Yes, I called with nothing, intending to outplay both of them on the turn and/or river. The turn brought the 9 of spades, giving me an open-ended straight flush draw. Frieder checked, and the middle position player made a big bet. I quickly called, but when the action got to Frieder, he checkraised!. The middle position player called and there was now a huge pot developing. If I hit a straight or a flush, would it even be any good? I figured I might be up against a made full house, but the fact that Frieder had raised under the gun convinced me otherwise. The middle position player chose to call, and so did I.

The river brought my gin card: the jack of spades, giving me the nuts–a straight flush. Frieder now made a massive bet, and the middle position player called again. I pretended to mull this situation over before finally announcing I was all-in. After a long time Frider folded and MP went into the tank and eventually called. I said “sorry, bud” as I tabled the 10-7, and the dealer shipped me the biggest pot of my young career. Frieder said he folded a full house, but I think he was full of shit. When I cashed out of the game the dealer said he thought it was the biggest win in the history of the Paris’ very new poker room. I remained very calm as I took rack after rack of red chips to the cage (required two separate trips), converted them to cash, then strode slowly to the hotel elevators and watched the doors close. Then, riding up to my room, in the privacy of the elevator, I executed several fist pumps. Hello bankroll.

The next day I went to the old Mecca of poker: Binion’s Horseshoe in downtown Vegas. The story of Binion’s has been covered many, many times (most effectively by A. Alvarez in “The Biggest Game in Town”), so I’m not gonna rehash it now. The bottom line is that in its heyday it was very low on glitz and very high on action: a gambler’s place to gamble, a place where more legendary risk-it-all gambling stories took place than the rest of sin city combined. Today, it is simply a dump. Even the “Poker Wall of Fame,” situated in the corner of the room where Doyle, Puggy, Slim and the boys did battle for the better part of three decades, and always prominently featured on all those ESPN telecasts, is vaguely disappointing in person. The carpet is stained and the whole place smells like a stale Winston.

Sold to Harrah’s after coming very close to bankruptcy, Binion’s now appears to make a meager profit cashing in on its legacy as the longstanding home of both the WSOP and the biggest cash games in poker history. Binion’s today sports a huge, drab poker room and promotes its cheap daily tournaments, one of which I entered on January 26. The buy in was small and the competition was weak, and I worked my way to the final table, having outlasted 70 players. But this was no ordinary final table. At Binion’s, once the last 10 players are established, play moves to a special elevated table with brightly lit borders and space on the sides for a crowd to gather and gawk. And gather and gawk they did. A rather scary collection of trashy downtown tourists appeared and hovered around the goofed-up table, making comments (“the fella with the toothpick just busted Jimmy, he’s a tough-‘un”) all the while.

Before I knew it I was heads up with a modern-day Binion’s regular. Not exactly Johnny Moss, he was sporting sunglasses, a visor and a mustache, all likely purchased/cultivated in the 1980’s. He needed some dental work, and he wasn’t very good. I dispatched him and won a decent sum. But who cares about the cash when you also get THIS:

After dumping off a bunch of money in tournaments at Wynn and Bellagio, I wound up my January by notching another very good cash game session at Mandalay Bay.

I flew home from Vegas positively giddy about my performance, ready to put the lingering legal work behind me and really open fire on the poker world.

David in Blogland.

It was bound to happen sooner or later. I’ve officially joined the legion of idiots spewing nonsense into cyperspace. Welcome to my blog.

About me:

I spent my entire childhood and most of my adulthood sidestepping the question of what I wanted to do with my life. As an undergrad, I fancied myself a writer, and was told that becoming a lawyer was a nice way to parlay my supposed skill into a lucrative career.

So I went to a fancy law school. I graduated. I landed a job at a big law firm. And after a few years, I got fired.

None of it resonated. Not the austere law school or its reputable curriculum. Not the diploma with the Latin words on it. Not the pompous law firm or the oversized egos populating it. Not even the experience of being rejected from that culture. I felt nothing. I was nowhere.

I still fancied myself a writer, so for awhile I pretended I’d make a living doing that. It didn’t take long to discover that I lacked the talent and determination to make it happen.

Still directionless, I latched onto my father’s criminal defense practice. As it turns out, I did not inherit my father’s drive or his love for courtroom wrangling. What I did inherit from Dad is his taste for games of chance.

As a child, I can remember working out the odds for blackjack and craps with a paper and pencil. I can also remember possessing an uncanny knack for handicapping professional football games (I trait I think I still possess). And I can remember my time as a childhood bookie, running football pools at an age when most kids could not do long division. And, most importantly, I can remember my late maternal grandfather teaching me the basics of poker, and I can remember using that knowledge to separate my Junior High School friends from their lunch money on a regular basis. I enjoyed that a lot.

My love of poker lied dormant through high school, college, and law school. It was not until sometime in 2001 that it was rekindled. I began to participate in a home game in my neighborhood, and found poker on television (a Travel Channel special airing a luxury cruise line’s tournament won by Kathy Liebert hooked me). I soon found myself buying instructional manuals and thinking strategically about hands I had played in my home game. I also discovered online poker and internet poker newsgroups. Before long, I was a bit of a budding poker know-it-all. Something funny was happening: I felt most alive when I was challenging myself at the poker table. I began to play in much of my spare time: at new home games, in New York’s poker clubs, and online.

Sometime in 2003, I became a consistent winner. Sometime in 2004, I became a prodigious winner relative to the low stakes I was then playing. And in 2005, I qualified for the World Series of Poker’s Main Event online and proceeded to cash in that tournament. At that time, another strange thing happened–I began to consider playing poker professionally. This was not strange because playing poker for a living is so unusual, but because I was taking charge of my life for the first time. I felt energized. In October of 2005, I gave my father notice that I’d be setting off on my own.

I’ve been playing poker for a living since January 2006, and as of the date of this first blog entry (May 16, 2006), it’s been a success. Also, I’m as happy as I can ever remember being.

This website is unlikely to break any new ground, but I feel like I have a lot to share. I hope to use this space to track my progress as a pro, to discuss interesting hands I’ve played, and to arbitrarily discharge my pearls of wisdom and sure-to-be-amusing anecdotes.

I guess I still fancy myself a writer. So hello everyone.

-David Zeitlin