Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas

I wanted to share this story with you. This column, written by one of my former college professors, was published in The Tuscaloosa News last week. Enjoy:

Where I grew up in Texas, it snowed about as rarely as it does here in Alabama. The first snow I remember fell at Christmastime when I was 9 years old. It happened to be on the same day that my 12-year-old brother and I had planned to go out and find a Christmas tree and cut it down. We didn’t know it would be one of the worst days of our lives.

Our father didn’t like the idea. He didn’t even like to decorate at Christmas. “The simpler the better" was his motto. He particularly didn’t like big trees.

As soon as my brother and I had eaten breakfast, we were ready to set off. Daddy cautioned us, “Don’t go too far, and if it starts to snow, come home immediately. And, no matter what you do, don’t get a big tree. Get a small one that you can carry. NO BIG TREES!"

My brother and I had a different idea. We wanted the biggest tree we could find. There were acres and acres -- miles and miles -- of trees just across the pasture behind our house. We knew we could find the perfect tree. In our minds, that meant not only a tree shaped just right but a huge one.

There was no such tree at the edge of the woods. So we plunged in. We looked at one tree after another -- but one would be too small, another not shaped like a perfect cone, another not covered thickly enough with needles. But we were convinced that within the next hundred yards or so we would discover the exact tree we were hunting.

Around 3 in the afternoon, it began to snow -- slowly at first, and my brother and I barely noticed. By 4, though, the snowflakes were huge -- the size of quarters -- and the tree branches and dead winter grass and fallen leaves were hidden under a white blanket.

It was at about that time that we suddenly saw the tree we had been looking for. It must have been 12 feet tall. We were so impressed that it didn’t even dawn on us that the tree was much too big to fit into our house.

We got out our hatchets and began hacking away. It was a hard job and by the time we had finally got the tree cut down, the sun, hidden behind the snowy clouds, had almost set.

My brother and I grabbed hold of the tree trunk -- and suddenly realized that, with our minds so focused on finding a tree, we had paid no attention to where we were going in search of it.

We set off in what we thought was the most likely direction home. But as the woods got darker, we realized we were lost. We went on for several hours, hoping we soon would figure out where we were. With each step, we were more exhausted and, we feared, more lost.

For the first two or three hours, we continued to drag that big tree behind us. With each step we took, it seemed to get bigger. It certainly got heavier. But the last thing we wanted to do was give it up. It was like a treasure, as valuable to us as a chest of gold and jewels to pirates. We had searched for it so long, and it was the last thing we could think of losing.

Finally -- barely able to carry it any farther and becoming more and more afraid that we could never find our way home and would freeze to death that night in the woods -- my brother and I conferred. We decided to drop the tree. It was a hard decision, but the choice seemed to be between leaving the tree or freezing.

That was around 9 o’clock. By then we were hungry (we hadn’t eaten since early morning), tired and shivering. We continued to walk, probably in circles, hoping that soon we would catch a glimpse of our home in the distance.

In the meantime, around 4:30, when the snowflakes were getting thick, our worried father had begun anxiously watching for us. As the sun was starting to set and light was fading from the gray sky, he decided to set out to find us. Our mother had started praying.

Daddy walked for what must have been miles, but he returned to the house around midnight and told Mother he had seen no sign of us.

It was a short time after that that my brother and I, utterly lost and by now losing hope of ever getting home, suddenly saw a dim, small light flash on in the distance. It must have been at least a mile from us. It could be a barnyard light, we thought, or even, we wished, a light at our home. But if it came from our home, what could it be? The light was too high up to be shining from a window, and our house didn’t have an outdoor light.

Whatever it was, though, it was a light of hope.

We began walking through the deep snow as quickly as we could. We forgot how exhausted we were. We must have walked for an hour, but suddenly we found ourselves at the edge of our pasture. We crawled under the barbed-wire fence. There was the familiar barn in the distance. We began running: past the barn, past the garden -- and then home!

Our father and mother saw us as soon as we ran into the yard. Mother grabbed us and quoted from her favorite song, “I once was lost, but now I’m found," excitedly.

And then we saw what had made the strange light we had seen in the distance, high in the air. Daddy had attached a 150-watt light bulb to the end of a long extension cord, climbed to the top of the big tree in our front yard, tied the bulb to the tip of the highest limb he could reach, 80 feet up, and turned on the light. Mother, in her joy at having my brother and me home, exclaimed that it “was like the light that lighted the world!"

The next day, Daddy went out and bought 100 strings of Christmas lights and wrapped them all around that tree. People who lived in the area said for years afterward that it was the biggest Christmas tree they ever saw.

David Sloan is a professor of journalism at The University of Alabama. Reach him by e-mail at

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Midseason Report

To some it’s crass to write about winnings, but as I set out on this one-year (and possibly more) adventure away from the working world, I vowed to be honest about what it’s like to give it a try and that means complete honesty on my financial success or failure. So here is a month-by-month rundown of my totals so far, compared to where I might be (based on the past couple of years experiences) if I had continued to work at the paper and played poker on the side.

Poker /Job + poker

July $4,985 $4,000
August $9,518 $4,000
September -$145 $4,000
October $3,660 $4,000
November $1,845 $4,000
December $2,995 $4,000

Total $22,858 $24,000

I probably won’t play much poker the rest of this month so the December figure is pretty much set. If you look at the six-month period, four of the months are below what I could expect from continuing on my previous path and only two are above it. Fortunately for me, August was a rocking month or else things would be much worse.

Now let’s luck at a few categories of poker games:

Win/loss traveling:-$895
Win/loss playing in town: +$4,409
Win/loss playing online: +$19,344

Now you can see how skewed the numbers are, and this figure doesn’t even include travel expenses, so overall I’m quite a loser traveling the tournament circuit. But that can’t be uncommon, not when you have hundreds or thousands of people traveling around and putting up $500 or $1,000 a tournament in which only 10 percent or less will cash. Most people will lose a little or a lot and a lucky few will win big. It’s the nature of the beast. So far, I’m in the lose a little category. We’ll see how Tunica goes next month.

I think, overall, this shows that it’s tough to get rich quick at this game unless you get lucky. I’ve felt I’ve played well and thought I was doing really well financially, but when I add up the numbers it’s not any more than I would have made otherwise (but I do get a lot more sleep.) And I’ve avoided that dreaded get-my-ass-kicked month as I’ve been able to stay pretty much even or better at all junctures.

But here’s the thing, I’ve had a ton of fun doing it. I have the freedom to go where I want when I want. I’ve traveled to Vegas (twice, once for almost a solid month), Atlantic City and Foxwoods and those sizeable expenses will result in good deductions when it comes tax time. In non-poker destinations, I’ve gone to Orlando, the Smoky Mountains, Philadelphia, Cooperstown and New York City. I got to work the Tennessee-Florida and Miami-Florida State football games, not to mention five games of my beloved Crimson Tide, and I got to go to Myrtle Beach to do a baseball game. I was able to do all these things in the last six months only because I can keep my head above water at poker. Now, if I can just get a book contract.

Deal or No Deal

Interesting game show coming on NBC this week where a contestant picks a briefcase and by opening other briefcases, eliminates certain dollar amounts from the possible amount in his or her briefcase. The amounts range from a penny to a million dollars. After every few briefcases are opened, a "banker" upstairs offers to buy the briefcase from the contestant for an amount less than the average prize remaining on the board. For example, the average briefcase value might be $120,000 ($600,000 in remaining prizes with five left to be opened), but he only offers $110,000 for the briefcase.

There is nothing particularly interesting about this game show other than the psychology involved and how it resembles some decisions made in poker tournaments. As more briefcases are opened, the average prize remaining often goes up because there are so many low dollar amounts in the cases. As the possible stakes get higher, contestants begin to get the urge to make a decision that is unwise based purely on odds, but which will still provide them with a lot of money. Really, it's like making a deal in a poker tournament. You're the chip leader with only a handful of players remaining and you give up a little bit to split the prize pool. You don't win as much as you could have, but you still come away with a hefty prize.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

On Writing

I admit it. I hate to write. I think of all manner of clever and witty sayings when I'm in my car or in a store, but put me in front of a keyboard and let that cursor blink at me and my brain freezes. (April, I know you know all about it too. Writing leads for newspaper stories is a bitch.)

Now I always found it reasonably easy to write a newspaper story, in general. Most of the information is already there on your reporter's notebook or legal pad, just missing a few creative touches. But when you're writing from scratch, suddenly the art of the word becomes a lot more taxing. Human word processors like Stephen King or Sue Grafton amaze me. How do they write so much in a short amount of time? It's as if their brains are wired differently.

I find it easier to bring reports to you from my travels because I'm writing from my notes. It's like being back in the newsroom. But when I'm sitting here in my chair typing on the laptop, I'm writing from scratch and it becomes much more difficult. So that's one reason I don't write as much from home.

I'm such a procrastinator that I was late with one of my columns recently. It also involved a girl, an illegal substance and a dead car battery, but mostly it was me being lazy and not writing my column several days in advance, as I should do. The column has recently taken on new life, as two of the NY Times regional newspaper group's Louisiana papers picked it up. It now runs in four papers weekly. I suppose I could post my columns on here, but it'd essentially be preaching to the choir. Most involve basic strategy, concepts I'm sure most of the readers here (all four of you) mastered a long, long time ago. Eh, maybe I'll do it anyway, you know, for shits and giggles.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Of struggles, Bama football and Xbox 360 mania

I've achieved one of those long spells of laziness again, where the last thing I want to do is put fingers to keyboard. It's just my excuse for the drought between posts. I threw a few pictures your way the other day, dear blog reader. Perhaps that will provide some forgivenss for me.

It's also more enjoyable to share stories of big wins and exciting events, and unfortunately I've had neither in the past month. It's really making me realize what a grind this poker life can be. Sure, there was the $1,200 haul one night in our local game, but that win was an anamoly. My online money printing factory has ceased production as it seems the cards have gone on strike.

That 10-20 shorthanded game in which I was raking in the dough has turned against me. You may recall I was keeping $3,000 in there and cashing out either A) when I got up to $5,000, B) whatever surplus I had at the end of the month or C) whenever I felt like it to boost my confidence but always keeping at least $3K in reserve. Earlier this month, the account was at $3,500 after having cashed out $1,000 and I sat down to play heads up with a guy who had $400 in front of him. You haven't seen ugly until you saw that game. He hit every draw he had, he hit every kicker lower than mine to double pair. I missed EVERY draw, I NEVER paired my kicker. I finally quit when my account got down to $1,900. He was a friendly guy, even apologizing for the win. Surprisingly, I didn't blow up. I think I was too numb.

But it got worse. I started playing 5-10 because of the drop in my online bankroll and still I could not win. Two weeks later, I've got $400+ in that account. So I stopped playing that site for awhile and I've played more live games in Tuscaloosa, often staying at the 5-10 at the car lot from its starting time of 5 p.m. until it ends in the wee hours of the morning. I will write more about that game soon as it's something I should have done a long time. We've even got a mascot, a stray cat named "Slick."

I spent all Saturday over the past month working the Bama games for CBS. I don't know if I wrote about this before, but what I do is stand up in the press box, behind the stats monitors, and relay information to the guys in the truck who build the graphics with the stats on them. So if you saw that Brodie Croyle was 10 for 20 with 150 yards and an interception on your screen, I contributed to that. Pay is decent at $150 a game. The main reason I do it is it gets me a great view of the game for free. I worked home games against Florida, Tennessee and LSU and road games at Starkville (where every time a cowbell rings a redneck gets his wings) and Auburn (where every time a cow moos a redneck gets his milk.) That Auburn game was tough, with that terrible start for Bama, them falling behind 21-0 in the first quarter. The Auburn stats folks were gloating in the press box. I wanted to slug them.

So Bama's dreams of a national title and SEC title game were dashed, but they were never really that good. They mostly got by on will. I don't know how you can barely beat Ole Miss and Arkansas and expect to compete with USC, or even LSU. Nonetheless, the Cotton Bowl party's at my house folks.

Lastly, you may have seen the Xbox 360 craze that descended upon stores in this country on Tuesday. The same was certainly true in Tuscaloosa. If you weren't lined up at either of the local Wal-Marts by 5:30 p.m. Monday, you were out of luck. I called the stores and formed a plan with my brother to try to get as many as possible for an eBay offensive. I'm nothing if not creative at making money, and this seemed like an easy opportunity. I just stayed out all night playing poker and then hit the stores when the car lot game broke up. The problem was, as I went to each one there were already more people lined up than Xbox 360s available at each store. A woman at Toys R Us, lined up for one of only four available there, told me to try Sam's Club. I did and I got one, 18th in line for 20 systems. Knowing that the peak interest would be Tuesday and figuring I could get two the next day, I listed two of the systems on eBay on Monday. Unfortunately, I only had one to sell, but the $400 system brought $1,325 on eBay. What can you say, people are nuts.

Monday, November 21, 2005

It's me, working hard(ly) Posted by Picasa

View from the press box Posted by Picasa

Roll Tide Roll Posted by Picasa

Love for our former coach... Posted by Picasa

The only time Lee Corso looks good on camera is when he is far, far in the distance. Posted by Picasa

Your typical Tiger fan Posted by Picasa

Scenes from Gameday at the Bama/LSU game... Posted by Picasa
Scenes from Gameday at the Bama/LSU game... Posted by Picasa

Friday, November 04, 2005


Short post here for now. I drove to Cooperstown, N.Y. yesterday to visit the holy grail for baseball fans, the National Baseball Hall of Fame. It was about what I expected, though the town wasn't. It's a small, little burg on the edge of an enormous lake -- absolutely breathtakingly beautiful this time of year. But don't take my word for it, visit yourself. After all, who would trust the opinion of a fool who would muck pocket kings?

I fly home this evening and then go to Starkville to work the Bama-MSU game for CBS so there won't be much time for posting until Sunday. But you have the gist of it -- country boy visits NY, meets pretty girl but takes no action and loses money at poker. See, a summary in less than 20 words.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

What a town

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Your better than average Manhattan apartment, oh my

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It's finger looking good

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As there are no deer in the streets of NYC, New Yawkers resort to video game hunting

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Gilbert's form is fine, but his shot sucks

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View from the underground

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The years have been unkind to Darth Vader

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Early ice skaters

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View from Central Park

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Limit and NL hold'em tournies

I came back to Tony's and crashed Monday. The kids woke me up and I played games out in the yard with them. I even tricked Mickey into doing yard work by telling him the sticks we were piling up were guns we were collecting for our "battle." After Sunday's 15 hour session, it was time for a break.

I rose early Tuesday to head over to Foxwoods. I'm not a fan of the 10 a.m. start time for the World Poker Finals events. Please let us sleep in. I wasn't going to sleep in anyway, not with a 4 and 7 year old in this house. So Julia woke me at about 7:30 to go play cards with her. Tony has been teaching her a little Texas hold'em and she managed to beat both of us the other day when we all played. She came within one card of beating me a second time, but I sucked out on her. I am such a fish like that. Perhaps it didn't bode well for my tournament future that I could barely beat a 7 year old.

I got to Foxwoods with 15 minutes to spare and grabbed my seat surrounded by three guys with sunglasses for this LIMIT tournament. Sunglasses in limit, I just don't get it. There weren't many interesting hands for me other than the one I mucked. I picked up pocket kings in the small blind and four bet preflop. An ace flopped and I was called in two places. I checked the turn and folded the river to a bet. Yes, rather than call a guy for 200 with a nearly 2,000 pot at stake I folded and didn't look him up. I agonized over that one for awhile, wondering what he had.

The most amusing aspect of the day was being moved to a new table with the guy who busted me out on the bubble last year, Dave from Virginia. He rivered trips to put me out 42 when they paid the top 40 (see last year for more details on that.) I also spotted Spiro, a restauranteur from Massachusetts that I played most of last year's LHE with and talked with him. Great guy. Dave did not recognize me initially, but finally recalled our entanglement from the year before. He nearly busted me out again, leaving me short stacked and letting the other wolves finish me off. The guy who bet when I had the kings put me out and shared his secret. He merely had JJ on the hand I folded. Great, what a fish I am. If I make that call I probably sit at 2,500 at that point in the tournament, but instead I'm walking up to the poker room to find a cash game.

I spot Ann as I walk to the queing area. She smiles and says hello, but it doesn't seem like the smile of one who is enamored with another. I'm just one of the crowd it seems. I sit in a 20-40 game because the line is much shorter. Twenty minutes later I wonder if I really did just lose $500. It was like a repeat of last year, except the money disappeared more quickly this time. If you lose to pair over pair and kicker over kicker, it doesn't take long for major stack erosion in 20-40. I cower to a 10-20 seat that has finally opened up and see some familiar faces from the days before. The conversation inevitably turns to the "blonde with the green hat" who every guy in the poker room seems to be talking about.

"She's cute, sweet and a poker degenerate," one man says. "What's not to like?"

After I'm moved to another table, another guy, Dick, walks over to talk to Ann after hearing all the talk about her.

"I've got to see what she looks like," he says.

He comes back with a report, "I told her these guys were saying nice things about her and she asked if it was Donnie." Oh great, that's me, Donnie...

Dick, quite the fun goofball, goes over to talk with her several times, trying to invite her over. Ann finally comes to chat with us and says she's going to join our game, but never does. Meanwhile, there was actually poker played at our table and I actually managed to win, $570 in all.

I wanted to use those funds to buy into the $565 NLHE on Wednesday, but I faced a problem -- it's now 1:30 a.m., the tournament registation was closed and there should be mammoth lines in the morning after registration reopens at 7 a.m. And, oh yeah, my gas tank is sitting on empty and I don't know where the nearest 24 hour gas station is. So I get my car from the valet, pull it into a self parking lot and lean the seat back. I've never slept in a car before and I intend not to again if I can help it. I tried the driver's seat, the shotgun seat, the back seat. None of it was working too well in the cramped Dodge Neon. I finally managed to doze off for 20-minute segments, waking up stiff and sore. This continued for about four hours before the dawn broke.

I drove the car off to gas it up and came back to get in line to sign up. There were already a few dozen in line at 6:40 a.m. Back in the poker room, Ann was still going at it in the 10-20 game. I joked with her that she must never sleep.

There were a couple of interesting hands in the tournament. I've posted some info on RGP and will add to this post later. The end result was that I busted out in the third level. It was not my day, or my week for that matter. The winner will get $160,000 and change. Not bad for a $565 investment. All it takes is that one time and I'll be set, but considering how I played this week (especially in the LHE event) I don't deserve to win.

I saw Ann playing 10-20 still before I left the poker room, her back turned to me. I thought I might walk over and say goodbye, but I pictured two dozen other guys doing the same thing. So I didn't for fear of seeming like the blubbering idiot. I quietly walked out of the room for the final time during this trip. I had earlier given her a business card with this blog on it so if you're reading this Ann, feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email at Either way, it was nice to meet you. It was the most fun I've ever had playing poker. I may be a blubbering idiot, but at least I'm a sincere blubbering idiot.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Queen of hearts?

I pulled a 15 hour session last night and this morning, my longest ever. I know some of you sickos out there have played for three days straight, but it's not my cup of tea. I'm a man who appreciates his sleep. I didn't play so long because the game was so good (though it was) or because I necessarily needed to raise $500 for my tournament entry Tuesday (though I did.) No, a cute girl kept me at the table. We poker degenerates aren't used to sexy twentysomethings in our midst. Most of the women are of the blue haired variety, and I don't mean the punk chicks. So when Ann from Colorado, a slender blonde with the mesmerizing eyes and perfect smile sat to my left there was no getting up for a very, very, very long time. Now every young guy in the place was chatting her up or had previously during the night, but I'd like to think I made a stronger impression. We flirted like there was no tomorrow, but tomorrow always comes. The sun appeared over the horizon and the curtains were raised on the poker room, proving however sadly that the new day had dawned and it was way past time to go to bed. I got up and went to pay my tournament entry for the limit hold'em tournament Tuesday, but not before a glance goodbye. But the question remains, was the flirting earnest or was she just playing me?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Goodbye New York

I wasn't able to get any help in finding a poker game in NYC, so I gave up on it for this trip. So on Saturday morning I set out just to visit some more sites and head on my merry little way back to Waterbury. I took the subway to Battery Park to buy ferry tickets to Liberty and Ellis islands. The lines were enormous, nearly as long as the wait at the Empire State Building, and the wind child made the conditions bitter. But it was all worth it when I got my first closeup at Lady Liberty and viewed the halls where millions of immigrants entered this country.

By the time I got back to Manhattan, most of the afternoon was shot, so I walked up to the World Trade Center site and then caught the subway back to Grand Central. I rode the train back to Bridgeport, but had to wait four hours for the train back to Waterbury. You see all sorts of interesting folks at a train station, let me tell you, from the Jamacian prophet to the wheelchair bound bag lady who kept muttering about her cats. I finally got back to my car and drove back to Bristol around midnight and I must say I kind of missed New York already.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

New York, New York

Flew into Hartford Thursday morning. Same crappy airport, same great fall foilage. That feeling of returning to Robert Frost territory returned when I saw my first rock wall, but it's too bad my memory of how to get to Foxwoods did not return. I thought the signs leading onto Highway 2 from Hartford had Norwich on them, but they don't and I passed the turnoff not once but twice.

After an hour's drive east, the behemoth appeared before me. Good old Foxwoods, a casino that is bigger than it has any right to be. A Pequot stronghold in the middle of the woods, becking 25 million people within a three hours' drive to gamble, gamble, gamble. But I wanted to start off slow, so I sat in a 5-10 game with a kill as I waited for Tony to get off work at ESPN and drive over. I won a few chips in three hours before Tony arrived and we went down to the tournament area after grabbing dinner. He had already registered for the $200+$40 shootout that was taking place at 7 p.m. -- one of five intervals during the day -- but they were sold out when I tried to buy in.

I went upstairs to play some 1-2 NL (weird game with a $100 MAX buy in here) while Tony played the shootout. The way this one worked was 200 players per round, with 10 at each table. The winner of the table comes back the next day to play a regular tournament with the other 99 survivors. The table winner gets $500 immediately, with a shot at some $60,000 the next day. Not bad odds once you make it through.

My luck was not good in the NL game. I ended up all in in a race with AK vs. QQ. The flop brought a set for him and a heart flush draw for me. The river was a heart that paired the board. Later, I flopped top two with KQ and check raised a guy all in who had AJ. The river T gave him Broadway. So I dropped nearly $200 and decided to walk down to see how Tony was doing. Since I hadn't seen him yet, I assumed he was still in. Not only was he in, he was heads up with a mountain of chips in front of him. He finished the guy off in short order, his AT holding up against A2.

I followed Tony home where his living situation is much different now. Last year, he had an apartment (a crappy one, let's face it) with limited furniture. (Tony said I made fun of my bed last year. Sorry about that, but I couldn't sleep on the thing.) Now he's got a great house and his family has moved up here. The last time I saw his kids, Julia and Mickey, they were beating me over the head at Tony's house in the Tuscaloosa area during halftime of Super Bowl XXXVIII, causing me to miss Janet Jackson's ta-tas. Great kids though, I plan to spend some time with them while I'm up here. I promised Mickey I'd toss a football around with him Sunday.

I'm happy to report Tony's got a larger air mattress now that is muy, muy comfortable. I slept like a baby Thursday night.

On Friday I headed south, to the Big Apple. I discovered that it was much easier to take the train, rather than driving down and trying to park my car (and that would have cost much more, my roundtrip ticket was only $25.) The trip sparked thoughts of men in bowlers riding cross country to see their nieces in Kansas. I always had a romantic view of train travel as a kid and I can't really explain my fascination. My paternal grandfather worked for L & N railroad in Birmingham, but he worked at the office, not as a conductor. Even though the trip through the Connecticut countryside was not as romantic as I had hoped, I still enjoyed my first trip on a train.

We passed through Harlem, which looks like a war zone, it's old, decaying housing projects standing out in the landscape. The train passed through a tunnell and we arrived at our destination, Grand Central Terminal. I walked up the steps and into the main concourse to see the magnificent open expanse. I could hardly keep a smile off my face. I was in THE New York. Sure, I've been to big cities before, but there is no city in this country remotely like this one. It's almost too much for a poor old country boy from Alabama!

I took the subway to Times Square, and was awestruck once again as I stepped out onto the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway. So many people, so much action. I walked ten blocks down to the Entertainment Weekly offices, where my friend Gilbert is a book reviewer, and he oriented me on some of the sites I could walk to until he got off work three hours later. So I headed to Central Park, Rockefeller Plaza, the NY Public Library and the Empire State Building. The last has a wait of more than an hour to get to the 86th floor observatory, which was good because it had turned dark by the time to provide more spectacular views of the landscape.

Gilbert seemed a bit amused at my excitement when I met him for dinner. Being a native New Yorker, I think he takes it all for granted. I dropped my bag off at the apartment we were staying in Village East where he is catsitting for a few weeks. The rent in this apartment with maybe 700 square feet? Probably $1,500 to $2,000 a month. In Tuscaloosa, I have a $1,000 a month mortgage payment on a 2,200 square foot home on a one-acre lot. Chew on that one.

Gilbert took me out to a number of bars in the neighborhood, including Doc Holliday's, a "Southern" themed bar where the vision of Dixie is women in skimpy tops and guys sitting around drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon. I had to call it a night around midnight, because my hip was hurting from all the walking I'd done that day. I crashed on the couch by the window and listened to the traffic in the streets below. Gilbert asked if I wanted the window closed. No way. I wanted to soak it all in.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Next trip forthcoming

It said installation took minutes ...but assembling took ten hours. It was the (gasps please) entertainment center FROM HELL! MWA HA HA

I've been too busy with home remodeling to post much lately. Painted a little more, supervised the carpet installation, moved all my furniture around, spent a day and a half putting together the "Urban Loft Entertainment Wall." It was a bitch, but boy does it look sweet.

I've played less poker lately, and what I have played has been mediocre. Just breaking even since my big splurge on week one of October.

I've also worked a couple of football games lately, the most notable of which was the Bama-Big Ugly Orange game on Saturday, an instant classic in my book. I was what they call the official stats guy, standing behing the stats monitor and calling info out to the guys in the truck. I did the same thing at the Florida game. It pays $150 and gets me in the game for free (with one of the best seats in the house) so I happily do it every time.

This being a blog, I guess I should also note the Bloggers tournament on PS yesterday. I managed to come in 17th, which was one spot short of the X-Box 360, but did score me an iPod Nano. Since I already have an iPod, I suppose it would make a nice Xmas present for my brother, who has been salivating over one. Kudos to PokerStars for the nice gesture. It's funny how tightly people played on the bubble in this thing, more tightly than they would in a cash tournament.

I got crippled when the cutoff raised the 8K BB to 25K and I pushed my 90K stack with AT on the button, thinking the cutoff was on the steal or had few hands he could call me with if he wasn't. Too bad for me that Ribs in the SB had pocket rockets. Ribs used my chips to get third, so good for him.

And lastly, I fly to Hartford on Thursday for an eight-day trip to Connecticut and New York. I have free beds in both Bristol and NYC and I will gladly take advantage of them. I plan to play the $500 LHE and NLHE events on Nov. 1 and 2, and hopefully more if my luck runs well. More to come later in the week. Until then, may all your cards be live and your pots be monsters.

Saturday, October 08, 2005


Variance, the aspect of poker that drives you nuts. When you hit the inevitable losing spells you think you've forgotten how to play. When you can't lose, you're ready to take on the world. Watch out Ivey, here I come!

I've actually been more focused on painting my walls than playing poker lately. I'm getting new carpet, something I've intended to do ever since I bought this house three years ago, and I figure I might as well do some painting before the new rugs come in.

But it's a funny thing how poker ebbs and flows. After my monstrous August profit I essentially broke even in September. With my nice little nest egg I wasn't too worried, so I took my roller and brush and went to work. In between painting sessions, I stopped for poker for an hour here and there. And I couldn't lose. I really haven't played gonzo hours this week, maybe 20-30, but I won $4,000 at the 10-20 short handed tables.

I think the key to success at poker is not to worry about it. I've just played this week when I wasn't working and winning seemed to come easily. So if you are reading this and struggling, chill out and go paint a room. It will do wonders for your poker game.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Goodbye Atlantic City

When I made it over to the Taj just before 10 Friday morning, the line to enter the no-limit hold’em tournament stretched all the way around the outside of the poker room. I guess that should have come as no surprise given that this was the first NLHE event of the U.S. Poker Championships and was but a $300 buy in, plenty affordable for most players.

I snaked my way slowly to the signup desk and chatted with a young guy from Atlanta who was up to visit a buddy in Baltimore. He was shocked to find out that levels are 40 minute long as he’s used to the 20 minute levels in most weekly casino poker tournaments. Just wait until he plays in the World Series and gets a whole hour before the blinds increase.

After 45 minutes I’m in and turn back to see an even longer line behind me. As I grabbed my seat I lamented to a neighbor at another table the fact that the folks at the Taj don’t take signups until two hours before the tournament starts. They, in fact, would eventually cut the line off this day and a couple of hundreds players didn’t get to enter until after the tournament had already started.

After a few minutes I realized my neighbor was Arnold Spee, who won last year’s Reno Poker Challenge on the World Poker Tour. What’s he doing in this chicken shit $300 tournament then?

As my table filled, it didn’t appear to be the toughest table, but you know how looks can be deceiving. The guy to my right wore a Borgata bracelet around his wrist. He explained to us that he won a limit tournament there in 2003. I want one of those.

You frequent readers of this blog know I don’t post many hand histories. Personally, I think they’re boring. The up-to-the-minute reports on things like the WPT final table I attended on Thursday are only for the true poker geeks. I’m more interested in the characters.

But here’s one hand you can decide for yourself if I played correctly. A woman who was short stacked, and who kept pushing all in, raised the 50-100 blinds to 1,050 and put herself all in again. I held JJ and decided to just call with about 2,000 left behind me. I wasn’t happy when I got two callers behind me.

The flop came Q-7-7 and the action was on me. I pondered for a few seconds and decided to push all in. My reasoning was that the two guys behind me probably either had A-K or a pocket pair and I didn’t want them to see the turn or river. The only hand I was really worried about one of them having was A-Q, but I didn’t really expect that after she had gone all in and I flat called. I would expect a hand like that to go into the muck.

They folded and the woman turned over pocket fives. My jacks held up and I built my stack up early. We started with 3,000 in tournament chips and I eventually got my stack up to 12,000, but they eventually began to melt away. I was done in by K-9 suited (yes, I realize this is not a good hand.) I twice tried to steal blinds in the cutoff with this hand after all had folded to me. The first time I was re-raised all in by the big blind, mucked and was shown pocket rockets. The second time was my final hand. I was called by the small blind and I flopped a flush draw when two diamonds hit the board. He bet 2,500 into me and I added another 1,200 to put myself all in. He showed A-Q and had no pair, giving me 15 outs. But those outs stayed hidden in the deck and I was busted around 165th out of 723 entrants. Another top 25 percent finish for me (but the pay sucks.)

I walked out onto the boardwalk and found a path down to the beach. As I let my feet sink into the sand and listened to the roll of the surf and the call of seagulls, I could care less that I had just busted out of a poker tournament. I was just happy to be here and not sitting behind a desk typing a newspaper story.

I decided to leave the next day. I’d had enough of Atlantic City for now. I called my old boss Greg, now the managing editor at the Spartanburg, S.C., paper and arranged to stay with him and his family. As we chatted about life Saturday night, I said I didn’t want to do this forever. He asked why. Because sitting behind a computer winning money at online poker doesn’t provide much of a sense of accomplishment, I told him. I may have gotten tired of the newspaper gig after six years, but it provided a strong feeling of accomplishment at times.

I finished my drive Sunday, arriving at my parents’ house in Cullman that afternoon. I’ve spent the last few days up here to recharge and visit with the family. Yesterday, I was picking up sticks knocked down from the weekend’s rain and wind in the shadow of my old tree house, near where our old dog Chubby used to roam. After 13 years in our lives, he was killed by cancer a few years ago. As I picked up the sticks, I recalled all of the good times I’d had playing in this yard and noticed how much the trees had grown and the wood in the tree house had rotted.

Time moves on, ready or not, and it will escape your grasp if you let it. Before you know it, you’ve grown up, your parents are getting old and you’re still not sure what you want to do with the rest of your life. I’m nearly 30 and I still have no clue. But that’s still okay. I’m healthy, not quite wealthy and sort of wise. I’m a dreamer. I envision all sorts of things for my future. It’s healthy to dream, isn’t it?

Friday, September 23, 2005

The WPT finals at Borgata

I was surprised to find only a handful of people in line for the WPT final when I arrived at the Borgata ballroom at 2:15 p.m. Wednesday. Seating was to begin at 3 -- at least that’s what the ads said. The line began to grow as the minutes ticked away. Hometown favorite John D’Agostino walked by.

“Go get’em John,” one man said.

“I’ll do what I can,” John replied as he walked by.

“Try not to blow it like the USPC,” another man said, laughing.

I carried on a pleasant conversation with a woman behind me from Edison. She told me she loves poker, but is scared to play it in a card room, so she sticks to video poker.

The man behind her said he came by on Monday to see the “stars.”

“I can’t afford to play one of these yet so I’m just a groupie,” he said.

We were let into the vendor area outside of the main ballroom at 3, but they didn’t seat us until 4:30. So we all milled around awhile after we were given T-shirts (for the first 100) and a special WPT Borgata chip (to the first 500) with a number on it to designate our seating order.

I watched a guy play the WPT video game that will soon be released. I just can’t get into a poker video game when the real thing is there to be played just as easily. Mike Sexton is brought over by a WPT staff member and takes over the controls at one of the stations, playing at a table against Vince Van Patten, Lyle Berman, Michael Mizrachi, Phil Laak and….himself.

“Is this your first video game?” another guy asks.

“Yeah,” Sexton replies before walking off and pressing the flesh with more of the crowd.

Kathy Leibert and Al Ardebili walk in, but can’t get into the ballroom because of the horded masses.

“Good luck today,” she says to Ardebili.

“Good luck to you,” he replied.

“How do we get in?” Leibert asks, puzzled.

The recording of the 2004 Borgata Poker Finals is being projected on the wall above the ballroom entrance, so the crowd watches and waits. We are finally allowed into the stage area after friends and families of the players are seated.

I take my chip with a 24 on it and enter the room, walking around the black curtains and catching my first glimpse of a WPT set. It looks just like you see on television, except that it appears smaller. Maybe some camera tricks make the sets look larger on the boob tube. The room was filled with 50 or so poker tables on Monday when Brian and I walked in to check out the action. Now it’s dominated by the set and three bleachers surrounding it. On the fourth side are the seats for Sexton and Van Patten.

I grab a seat in the fifth row, behind some folks rooting for Leibert and Ardebili, another Jersey guy. Players and producers are milling around the table, emptying baggies of chips and making sure the counts are accurate. D’Agostino’s Full Tilt Poker shirt is covered by tape on the back by a wardrobe person because it has .com on the end of it, rather than .net.

Makeup artists touch up the faces of the players, as well as the dealer. The lights above the stage are being tested, the lights and designs twirling in all directions and giving some of us in the crowd headaches.

An old man named Frank takes the seat to my right and immediately begins talking up D’Agostino.

“He took so many bad beats last year,” Frank says of the main event of the U.S. Poker Championship at the Taj Mahal, a tournament in which Dags (as he is often called) took seventh. “Best player out there too.”

As if on cue, Dags walks below us.

“That’s the kid right there, D’Agostino,” Frank tells me. “He played skillful cards, but what are you going to do about fucking bad beats?”

Frank rips off a reserved card from a chair in the row in front of us, pulls the tape off and not so much asks for my pen as takes it as he goes to the floor to get Dags autograph.

Minutes later, the guy to Frank’s right borrows my pen to get Leibert’s autograph. Don’t these people carry any writing utensils?

Meanwhile, Frank continues to chat me up…

“That guy that dresses up, Jesus, Ferguson, whatever the hell his name was, was he here?”

“That guy that’s the chip leader looks like a fucking bum.”

“Watch Kathy Leibert, she’s afraid to play with the big boys.”

I try to tune Frank out as Linda Johnson comes out to train us audience members to cheer properly.

“First place is $1.5 million so they need some encouragement,” Johnson says.

She announces that today is Sexton’s birthday, so the crowd breaks out in an impromptu rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Sexton smiles sheepishly and waves to the fans.

Johnson has the audience cheer loudly, lean in as if trying to get a look at the cards, cheer politely and groan as if their favorite player has taken a bad beat.

“I need a couple of more beers for this shit,” Frank says.

After deeming us properly tested, Johnson explains that “these things that look like Dolly Parton” are actually new cameras installed on the WPT table. Two black domes are placed on either end of the felt and look awkward up there. We’ll see after season four premieres how the cameras will be used.

She begins a questions and answer session. Tom, the man to my left, asks what’s the worst beat she’s seen. Johnson quips that good looking audio guys usually attach her mike.

“One day a woman did it,” she says. “That was a bad beat to me.”

Johnson said this episode will air sometime in March. The shortest taping was three hours and 20 minutes; the longest was more than 10 hours in Paris. Only a third of Mike and Vince’s audio comes from the things they say during the taping. Since they can’t see the cards, like the audience, they have to dub most of the audio in later.

Finally, it’s time to bring in the players. The tournament director, Tad, announces them and they walk in and take places at the table one by one. Due to various flubs, some have to walk in twice.

After the players are all seated, they are told to get up and walk away. Security and ushers are also told to step aside and the empty set is filmed. It was never clear to me why they do this.

“I didn’t know they had to go through all of this preparation bullshit,” Frank said as he looked at his watch, the time nearing 5:30.

The players are brought back and one of the cameramen trains his camera on Johnson.

“Welcome to the Borgata Open,” she says.

“Welcome to the Poker Open,” she says.

“Loser,” Johnson calls herself while holding her fingers in the shape of an L on her forehead.

On the third try she gets it. “Welcome to the Borgata Poker Open. Now shuffle up and deal.”

The anticipating crowd erupts in cheers at a sign that action is finally about to begin.

“I love you Kathy,” one man catcalls from my right.

“I love you John,” another man says to my left, eliciting plenty of laughter.

It quickly becomes evident to an audience member of a WPT taping that ain’t your home version. You have no clue what anyone has until an all in is called, you can barely see the action and the final table takes longer than a football game to finish.

I found watching the action surrounding the table more interesting – Courtney Friel (the new Shana) taping here segments at the top of the bleachers to my left, people reacting to the action, the lights moving and the colors changing on the WPT columns flanking the table as if a small child were operating the controls.

Friel is standing with her back to us and I have yet to see her face.

“She has to be beautiful,” Tom says. “And I’m sure she has a rack on her too.”

I spot Hoyt Corkins walk in and take a seat to my right. I also spotted him going down the escalator during the dinner break on Monday while Brian and I were going up it. I never saw him again on Monday. And the next time I looked over to the right on Thursday, Corkins was gone. I’m beginning to wonder if the Alabama Cowboy is merely an enigma, a ghost I think I see, but never get to meet.

I do chat with Andy Bloch during the break. He’s with his fiancĂ© in the media area above me. I busted Andy in a RGP tournament on Full Tilt a few weeks ago and joked about the “I Busted Andy Bloch” T-shirt I got.

“These six players played until 5 a.m. this morning,” Johnson tells the crowd before the action begins again. “Then they had to come back for hair, makeup and interviews. It isn’t easy.”

“Playing poker isn’t easy?” Tom says to me. “They should try climbing on a roof.”

Ricardo Festejo becomes involved in a big hand with David Singer. He bets $100,000 on a flop of J-T-3 and is raised $150,000 more by David Singer.

Festejo’s legs are shaking as he ponders his next move.

“Look at his feet under the table,” Tom says. “I bet he’s got trips.”

“You don’t know if he’s got trips,” Frank replies, a little too loudly. “You don’t know what he’s got.”

Festejo calls the bet and checks when a 9 hits the turn. Singer goes all in and Festejo calls. Singer has the set of tens, but Festejo hits a straight on the river with his J-Q when an 8 falls.

Festejo, another New Jersey native, receives large cheers from the crowd as he survives.

We’re more than two hours in and no one has been eliminated. The excitement level diminishes as boredom sets in. Only the occasional all in gets us on our feet.

Suddenly, there are a number of bets and raises.

“I think these guys just found out the steakhouse closes at 11,” Tom quips.

Bob Hwang, known as “Action Bob” is booed by some in the crowd after he folds following two all in bets by him on previous hands.

Finally, Singer is eliminated nearly three hours in and the others begin to fall, Hwang in fifth and D’Agostino in fourth. Leibert takes third for the highest woman’s finish ever.

The action is paused as officials prepare for the Borgata Babes to bring in the money and Festejo and Ardebili are given a breather.

“As is the tradition when we get heads up on the World Poker Tour we have a unique money presentation, so show us the money,” Johnson says to the camera.

Young, attractive girls in slinky black dresses prance on stage, gyrating and tossing money at the finalists.

“Isn’t it supposed to work the other way around?” I say to Tom.

Ardebili grabs fistfuls of the fake $100 bills and tosses them into the crowd below us, drawing laughter and cheers from the rest of the crowd and a money grab in our set of bleachers. They may not be real, but the bills make a cool souvenir.

Festejo walks over and chats with his friends and family to our left.

“He’s over at his corner getting a rub down,” Tom cracks.

“They brought the bucket out,” Frank follows.

It doesn’t take long for the action to end. On the third hand, with Festejo holding about a $1 million lead, both players see a flop of K-7-2. Ardebili checks and check raises all in after Festejo bets $600,000. Festejo calls and the crowd is amazed at the hands – 2-3 for Ardebili and A-2 for Festejo. A 3 on the run kills Festejo after his amazing call and Ardebili eliminates him two hands later to take the crown.

After five hours our sore butts are ready to leave. But first the finalists and the WPT crew line up for the awards and beer presentation. Sexton begins the festivities, but the cameras aren’t ready to roll and he has to stop.

Cat callers rag him.

Sexton turns his head and says, “It wasn’t my fault.”

“You look better on TV,” says another from the crowd. Sexton is a man who apparently gets a hard time.

He takes it all in stride. After the toast to the winner, Sexton turns and toasts the crowd.

“Thank you for being such a wonderful audience,” he says.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Atlantic City Part 1

After a goodly amount of time spent searching for the hotel, Brian and I stepped out of the car and breathed in the air.

“Smells like New Jersey,” I said.

But I digress. I figured I’d hear “fuck you” as much as “thank you,” but people here are generally nice and so is the scenery. I have received a few honks as I wandered the roads, trying to figure out my way around. Once I blocked traffic momentarily at a toll booth as I fruitlessly tried to toss pennies, nickels, dimes and any change I could find into the toll basket. I may have tossed $2 in change to pay a 50 cent toll.

Our arrival in New Jersey was several days into a trip that saw us go south to Florida before hitting I-95 up the eastern seaboard. Our first stop was Orlando, where an old college friend works at Walt Disney World. She gave us free passes so we took advantage, hitting the Disney parks for two days.

I was delighted to play the new Who Wants to be a Millionaire game that was recently added to Disney-MGM Studios. I’ve always been a game show junkie. During college I watched the Game Show Network religiously, going to bed to Match Game and waking up to Card Sharks. When Millionaire aired on ABC I tried in vain to get on the show, qualifying at least 60 times through the call in number, but never receiving a call back.

So this seemed to be the second best thing. No money is given away at this game, but participants can win a Disney cruise if they climb to the top. The stage is built to closely resemble the real thing and about five hundred people can fit into it.

Each game lasts about 20 to 25 minutes and only two people will usually reach the hot seat. A keypad rests on the back of each chair so everyone can participate. Brian and I tested ours to make sure they were working and prepared for the fastest finger. It proved to be an easy question – put these four states in order from west to east – so it was a matter of speed. The big screens above our head showed the seat numbers and times from 10th to first. Brian popped up in ninth and I showed up in….second. Oh well, may as well have been last for all that got me.

The second hot seat participant is selected by high scores as the first person plays. You have to get all the questions right to have a chance and you also have to be the quickest. Since the first five questions are usually very easy, it’s a crapshoot to see who will be in the top 10. Neither Brian nor I succeeded in getting to the hot seat the first game.

But we came back. The second time was not the charm, but the third was. We both missed the fastest finger question, but after the girl in the hot seat hit the 1,000 point mark, the updated scores showed Brian in first. I whispered to him that I would help ensure he stayed that way. But Brian knew the answers to the next two questions and the girl missed the 4,000 one (she thought a slumping stock market was called a black market, go figure.) Brian had retained his lead and got in the seat.

He breezed through the first five questions, but got stumped on where a cornice was in a house, having to ask the audience to discover it was above a window. His undoing was the 16,000 question, which asked which of four countries was not a member of Great Britain.

If you like Millionaire on television, you’ll love playing this in Orlando. Don’t miss the Tower of Terror or the Rock ‘n Roller coaster either.

On Saturday, we went to Gainesville for the Florida-Tennessee game, teams that as Bama fans we both hate, but that’s not going to stop us from working the TV production and collecting a paycheck. I was able to catch brief moments of Bama’s dismantling of Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks, a delightful way to start the afternoon. Florida has a really nice press box, for those who are ever in such places.

Traffic was a bitch, and we didn’t get to Jacksonville until 3 a.m. Sunday morning. After five hours of shut eye we headed up I-95. It was a 13+ hour drive from Jacksonville to Atlantic City through hellacious traffic in D.C. and Baltimore. I don’t know why people want to live in a place where it can take an hour to go five miles in peak times. But hey, we Southerners are the dumb ones.

We drove to the Taj Mahal on Monday morning and I registered for the $300 + $40 limit hold’em tournament. They only had 344 players so first was only about $35,000. To the left of me initially was a friendly senior who called himself “Dr. Will.” He told me he was a retired surgeon who is often called upon to assist during any medical emergencies in the poker room. Apparently, he plays here a lot. Dr. Will said he contacted various agencies after Hurricane Katrina hit to offer his services, but was virtually ignored. I shook my head at the story, as I did again an hour later when he told me the exact same story. Two things were quickly obvious about Dr. Will – he likes to brag about his good deeds and he is extremely forgetful.

I was moved to another table where a guy in the center had a mountain of chips while I was just hanging on. He wore a cap that said “International Society of Poker Players” so I inquired what precisely that was. The man, Charlie Brahmi, told me it’s a fairly exclusive club for only winners of WPT and WSOP events. He won a bracelet in limit hold’em in 1999. Great, and now he’s at my table.

Once I got Charlie started he couldn’t stop, sharing his victories with all at the table. He said he’s made seven WSOP final tables, which is certainly nothing to sneeze at. He recently played what he called a “billionaire” in a big tournament in A.C. and offered the guy the tournament bracelets in order to earn more money for himself.

“You only care about the money when you’ve got a mortgage and kids in college,” he told me.

I made the final 12 tables of the tournament before finally busting out. As I was explaining to Fell Knight online the other night, I’m becoming very good at finishing in the top third to one quarter of the field, which ain’t exactly profitable.

Brian and I went to Harrah’s on Tuesday to play their noon tournament. It has a super slow progressing structure, giving participants lots of play. The thing lasted about six hours and Brian came in fourth. It seems whenever he and I play a tournament together he always outlasts me. I took a chance with AK suited against pocket jacks and lost.

I really like Harrah’s poker room. It’s the classiest in town.

On Wednesday I drove Brian to the airport in Philadelphia. A one-way ticket was $200 cheaper there than flying out of AC. Unbelievable. But I didn’t mind the drive, and I stopped to visit Independence Hall and see the Liberty Bell while I was there (and as the pictures can attest.)

Today I’m going over to the Borgata to see the finals of the Borgata Poker Open so you’ll get an inside look on what it’s like to see a WPT final in person.

Independence Hall. I tried to climb up on the roof to look for a new pair of crazy color tinted sunglasses, but security kept pulling me down. Posted by Picasa

The liberty bell now sits in its own visitors' center. Posted by Picasa

Those are some mighty cheap sunglasses, and yes, I need a razor. Posted by Picasa

Lost on the streets of Philadelphia. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The famous boardwalk at night. Posted by Picasa