Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Long time, no see. I realized the other day I haven't posted since before I left for Vegas. The truth is I've taken a hiatus from poker playing, and haven't done much of any poker writing in the last few months. These are the things that usually spur me to update this blog and help explain my prolonged absence.

I had a rare losing stretch in Vegas. For whatever reason I tend to fare well when I visit Sin City, but it wasn't to be on this trip. I didn't get crushed by any means -- I was only there a week -- but I just couldn't seem to win at tournaments or cash games. The main reason I traveled there was for research on a new website project that has yet to come to fruition and seems to have stalled to my frustration. That big news I promised before is not yet official, but we will see.

I actually did pretty good on FTP the latter half of July, between teaching a summer journalism course at a local middle school and working on articles for the fall issue of my Alabama football magazine. After that I hit a rough stretch in August and have played very little poker in the last six weeks. While I am still well ahead for the year, my streak of multiple $10,000 or more poker wins in a calendar year is in danger of ending in 2010.

Considering I have taken close to three months off from poker so far this year that really shouldn't be that much of a surprise, and maybe it's a good thing to take extended breaks as I often feel I can make more money per hour doing other things. Plus, breaks can make me feel renewed and rejuvenated when I come back full force. When I gave up poker for Lent (or at least part of it!) in the spring I bounced back from the break by winning about $3,000 in two weeks.

Here in Tuscaloosa the heat finally broke and we are no longer dealing with highs in the 90s everyday. The Tide pulled out a heart-attack inducing game at Arkansas this past weekend and has a big rematch against Florida this Saturday. As usual, I've been doing stats work for networks and will be working for CBS up in the press box at Bryant-Denny this weekend. I'll also be selling copies of Crimson magazine outside the stadium for most of the rest of the day. Busy times, but good and profitable times.

To conclude this much-delayed post let me share my ups and downs in Vegas this summer:


Aria -- The casino between Bellagio and Monte Carlo (and also owned by MGM Mirage) opened last December to rave reviews. Now I know why. This place is a great addition to the Strip. The poker room is instantly one of my favorites and offers a great game selection. Poker room manager Adam Altweis is trying to attract some of the high-roller crowd with the one-table Ivey room. I believe a $100-$200 PLO game was taking place one of the times I was in there. I interviewed Adam for my website project and he was very generous with the comps for myself and the friends with whom I was traveling. Aria hosted a summer tournament series concurrent with the WSOP, but the numbers were low. The convention area at which the events took place were spacious and inviting. I played one of their nightly tournaments and the structure was great. In about a 90-player field I played for seven hours and finished 9th.

WSOP -- Criticize the WSOP brass all you want, but they try to make improvements every year. I was impressed that they managed to secure all of the Rio convention space for the WSOP, which allowed for all of the tournament, cash game, satellite action you could stand. I thought the addition of a $200 daily deep-stack tournament in the afternoons was a smart move to steal back some of the poker traffic headed for The Venetian, but I heard the structure was a bit too good and I didn't enter one of these because I didn't want to play until 4 a.m. just to make the final table.


Binion's -- My old stomping grounds continues to go downhill. As you probably know already, the hotel is closed and my beloved coffee shop was also shut down. Cash games have almost dried up and the Binion's Poker Open events attracted smaller fields than ever before. CK and I played a O8 tourney down there that drew less than 100 players. My Oregon pal Ted had to move over to the Four Queens this year for his usual extended WSOP stay. I managed to visit with him just before I left so it was good to catch up. You could say that poker on Fremont Street in general is a down. There's just not a lot of action here anymore.

Harrah's greed -- While the WSOP has seen improvements in service, it grows ever stronger as a money pit for poker players. Prices at the Poker Kitchen continue to rise. Rake was taken in cash games without a flop. Etc., etc., etc.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Viva Las Vegas!

Can you believe it? Here I come:

For the third consecutive year I said I wasn't going to make it, yet my airline reservation says leaving Birmingham on June 30 and returning from Las Vegas on July 7. I promise to stop saying "this is the summer I don't make it to the WSOP." While I still can't divluge too much about my new project it will have me hitting the ground running when I touch down at McCarran. We should have a site up and running in the next week and then I will kindly ask you to help me promote the heck out of it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

John Harper's "Half" B'day, Plus Big News on the Horizon

John Harper waves to the camera as he celebrates another day of wonderful life. Man, I love having a son. It was hard to adjust to this big change in our lives at first, but I think we've hit a groove -- and John Harper just hit six months, at already nearly 18 lbs. and 27 inches. The kid's going to be a linebacker!

Life is good on the homefront, and things are also improving professionally. I had been considering contacting a certain book publisher on the casino industry for more than a year and finally stopped procrastinating last week. Quickly, the ball has started rolling not on any book deals, but on some poker blogging for a major website. Perhaps not just a blog, but an entire new poker section wholly created by me. I have a conference call about this endeavor Tuesday morning and should have some big news soon.

Friday, June 04, 2010

WSOP From Afar

Since I will not be making my annual trek to poker la-la-land this summer I am admiring the WSOP from afar. I've been playing the Full Tilt Poker Fantasy Poker game for the first time this year and am in the Poker from the Rail group. I thought I had some good picks to start, but so far my team(s) have sucked as I'm only 12th in the group and 4,000 something overall on FTP. I can't believe that many people actually take the time to pick a team. I always thought much of the poker coverage, with excited talk and hype about particular players, was pointless. (Of particular amusement is the pick the finishers of the WPT final table segment on PokerRoad Radio.) Personally, I couldn't care less about individual tournament players. For me, it's always about the game. It seems there are plenty of poker fans out there who DO care about the players and follow them as if they would Kobe, Tiger or Manning.

My pal Brian is headed out to Vegas on Monday for four days and plans to hit the poker scene. We were talking the other day about how he should plan his attack with $1,000 in his pocket. That sparked inspriation for an article I wrote on what to do in Vegas if your poker bankroll is $1,000, $5,000 or $20,000...I sent it to Al for Poker from the Rail so hopefully he runs it. I've sent him several items in the past few weeks, including the timely "Best Players Never to Have Won a Bracelet" article, which featured Michael Mizrachi, who won the $50K the next day.

Even if I can't experience the WSOP first hand this year I can make a little coin in writing about it from the comfort of my Tuscaloosa, Alabama, office. I'm still settling in from the Nicaragua trip and trying to get caught up on things. My office (and house) is so disorganized and cluttered I don't know how I ever get anything done here. I should post some photos on here and you can SEE what I am talking about.

I've been thinking about next year and I've set a goal. Obviously, I would like to return to Vegas in 2011 when John Harper is a year older and perhaps I can get away for a few days. Those month long trips are a thing of the past, but short stays may be feasible. I'm going to start putting money made from ads on this blog toward poker trips such as the WSOP. Hopefully, if I am able to block out some time next summer I will either win money for the trip in BBT6 (fingers crossed that it returns, but I suspect it will) or raise enough on here to fund the getaway.

Until then I'll keep picking fantasy players...

Friday, May 28, 2010

Packing up the BBT

Congrats to the BBT winners last night. I recall seeing jjok and NYRambler (who I have marked in red on my FTP program, meaning I think he's a tough player) as two of the main event winners. Don't know if they plan to actually play the WSOP, but very good luck to them and the other winners (sorry, forgot the rest).

I pretty much packed it in after Sunday. I just returned from Nicaragua and took my shot at the last Sunday freeroll and almost earned my TOC seat. I made only my second final table of the series and busted in sixth when all in with JJ against AK and KQ. I was good to triple until a king smacked the table on the river. After that I decided I didn't want to stay up late on Monday or Wednesday after coming home exhausted from the mission trip. Plus, I needed to spend some quality time with the family after being gone for more than a week.

In years past I was obviously actively involved in the BBT, posting frequently about it on the blog and having better than expected success. This year, I only played about half the events of these poker tournaments. Funny how life changes such as babies being born and mission trips alter your world. It's not that I don't love the BBT and want to participate; it's just that there are other priorities that prevent full attention to this.

I'll try to actually write a trip report of some kind this year. Our church was able to raise enough money to build FOUR houses in the Chacasecra community of Nicaragua this year instead of the lone house we paid for in years past. Our team worked on one house together (oddly located between a bar and a cockfighting ring!) while visiting the other building sites a couple of times.

This week I've been trying to catch up with work after being out a week, shipping some WSOP preview articles to Al for Poker from the Rail, doing some of my online writing work and playing poker online.

Here's a pic from in front of Lake Managua:

That's me in the big hat.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Stinkin' Up the BBT

Two weeks of BBT5 have come and gone and the best I have to show for my efforts is one 15th place finish. I've either caught no cards, played bad by bluffing off my stack, or took bad beats in each event. But that's tournament poker, isn't it? At least the middle item can be prevented by not playing like a donk.

It's going to be a crapshoot to get into the TOC for any of us due to limited amount of tournaments available. I am glad to see that more people are getting into the Sunday invitational that want in it. When I saw that the field was initially limited to 50 and excluded many regular BBT players I figured there would be a big fuss. I didn't see the fuss, but I see that the field size has more than doubled. Good call by Al and the FTP folks. Of course, that 1 in 25 shot at getting to the TOC from the Sunday event has disappeared now, but the move was just.

When BBT5 started I figured I had about a 50-60 percent shot of qualifying for the TOC. Now, I'd say it's more like 10-20 percent. Field sizes have grown, my tournament game is apparently rusty and I will miss a week while gone to Nicaragua. Hard to believe I leave in less than two weeks.

While I am sure that many are glad the old BBT system is gone, I miss the three months and point system league because I think it suits me better. As was evidenced by my results, my saving grace was consistency. In the six months of BBT3 and BBT4 I finished 1st, 16th, 1st, 12th, 1st and 3rd during the six months of competition. I believe the point system made me play more disciplined. My first goal was to try to make the top 25 percent to earn points and then go for the win. The method seemed to work well for me. Thinking back to casino poker tournaments I've won I can hardly recall one I led wire to wire. I think any I won or chopped I just hung around and then caught fire when the blinds rose and it got to shove in time. The same seems to be true ot BBT tournies.

I think I am also hurt by the lack of "skillz" in this BBT. The mixed games in the Skillz tournament suited me. I may not even have an edge against the average field in BBT in NLHE events, but I believe my edge in the rarely played other poker games was quite strong. I won five events in BBT3 and BBT4 and I believe three of them were in non-NLHE games.

So it appears barring some miracle win I will, as expected, not head to Vegas this summer. I'll live vicariously through other bloggers and poker writers. No biggie. A guy needs a break from the madness every once in a while, and I would miss the dickens out of my little one if I was in Nevada. Going to Nicaragua and leaving my family behind will be hard enough. I'll probably be back for WSOP 2011 though.

To be honest, I'm ready for some football. Bama just had its spring scrimmage known as A-Day and my mag Crimson just came out with the spring issue. I might have to look for some NCAA football tickets too and hit up some Bama road games this year.

Friday, April 16, 2010

More BBT thoughts

Al pointed this out in an email, and it's a good point, is if you can get into the TOC of BBT5 there will be a MAXIMUM of 24 players in the final since there are only three tournaments a week for six weeks with a total of four qualifiers from these weekly events. If we have a repeat winner (or top two finisher in the invitational) that will reduce the total number in the TOC by one each time it occurs.

Assuming 24 players in the TOC and all things being equal, a player will have a 1 in 8 chance at a main event seat and a better than 1 in 5 chance of winning one of the prizes. With $34,000 in prizes up for grabs in the TOC each player's equity in this tournament will be $1,416.66...and this is on a freeroll! That's quite a bit better than in the past two BBTs in which the final contained two main event seats and a couple of bracelet race packages. With about 45 players in the final the average equity was around $500.

As a guy who enjoys competition, but has little athletic ability, I live for the BBT. I'll miss the point system and the monthly races because it was a great yardstick and challenge, but the trade off is well worth it for the increased TOC equity, more prizes and many fewer mathematical headaches for Al!

At the very least the return of the BBT should get us all blogging more often, as I see I am far from the only one who has been lax on his posts in the past year...

The deets of BBT5

If you haven't read it on Poker from the Rail yet, here is the scoop on BBT5.

Leave it to the amazing Allen Rash to hook us up with lots of free goodies -- $50,000 in all, including three main event seats, three $2,000 bracelet race packages and $14,000 in freeroll money. For the rest of you fortunate enough to receive invitations to the Sunday tourneys I will see you there!

Friday, April 09, 2010

Four months with John Harper, Amir Vahedi interview

Well, he and we survived four months. Little guy turned four months old yesterday and celebrated with congestion and diarrhea. He hasn't felt well this week.

Amy fed him rice cereal from a spoon Thursday -- the first semi-solid food for him. He liked it when the spoon was in his mouth, and cried when it wasn't. Surely, it's not as satisfying as the constant flow from a nipple.

Meant to post this when I sent it to Al at Poker From the Rail, but here is the link finally. I had the opportunity to do a phone interview with Amir Vahedi only a couple of months before his passing. It shows how out of touch with poker I was that I did not learn of his death until weeks after it occurred. The interview was for an issue or Rounder that never published. I thought Al might like it as a tribute to the gregarious Vahedi and he ran it here.

I just heard that Al posted via Twitter that there's a BBT5 in the works with $40,000 in free stuff. This comes as a pleasant surprise, and I can't wait to hear the details. I'm really curious what the prizes will be, as I have to assume they will not be WSOP related since the thing would probably not start before May. FTOPS or WPT entries perhaps? I was looking back at BBT4 and I believe the total prizes were about $30,000 (two main event entries, four $2K packages and about $2,000-$2,500 to the overall leadrboard plus jerseys) so this looks to be the biggest BBT yet!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Why wasn't I playing live?

This happened a few weeks ago on FTP as I played one of those Pot-Limit Omaha Rush Poker games. This is the first hand I have ever been involved in that would have qualified for a bad beat jackpot in a casino with such a promotion. Of course, this had to happen in an online game instead...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Interview with "Boston" Rob from Survivor

The following is a Q & A I did for Rounder at the Beau Rivage in 2008. I caught "Boston" Rob Mariano walking out of the casino after busting out of the main event of the Gulf Coast Poker Championship and he granted me a short interview. This was to be for the Celebrity Q & A we did each issue, but it never made it in.

Since he's back on Survivor this season for the "All-Star" game of "Heroes vs. Villains" I figured I would take this one out of the vault.

Rob Mariano Q & A

In 2002, “Boston Rob” Mariano first made his mark on television as a contestant on “Survivor: Marquesas”, where his scheming ways made him a target for the other competitors. Mariano’s popularity convinced producers to bring him back for “Survivor: All-Stars” where he finished runner-up to Amber Brkich, with whom he fell in love on the show and asked to marry him on that season’s reunion show. Since then Mariano has appeared on a number of reality shows, including two seasons of “The Amazing Race” with Brkich. The married couple now lives in Pensacola, Fla., and the 33-year-old Mariano is often found on the poker tournament circuit. We caught up with him after he busted out of Day 2 of the main event of the Southern Poker Championship at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi.

Tell us how you first got into poker.

I’ve been playing poker for about five years when the whole Moneymaker thing got me interested in watching the World Series, and I was fortunate enough to be invited to go out and play in a charity event down in Hawaii for Bodog. It was after I played the main event of the World Series for the first time after I was on “Survivor.” I met Josh Arieh and Daniel Negreanu, became friends with them, and subsequently Erick Lindgren and Gavin Smith, and they really got me into it more.

You’ve played tournaments here at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi before. What brings you to Biloxi for poker?

I’m living in Florida now so I’m playing a lot more on the Gulf Coast and in New Orleans. We also have a home game. We play about three days a week, and then I have a sister who lives in Vegas so I go to Vegas about six or seven times a year and play out there. I try to play the big tournaments when they come to town. I was fortunate I won a last-minute 1K satellite to get into the main event, and I did pretty good yesterday, but I had a bunch of bad beats today. I ran two kings into ace-deuce offsuit and he hit an ace on the river. I flopped top two and a guy went runner runner for a straight. I’ve been playing solid, but I took a bunch of beats along the way. The last hand I just went out on I had two eights in first position. My chips were really low. I popped it to 4,300 with the blinds at 800-1,600 and Barry Greenstein came over the top, which he is going to come over the top a lot with a wide range of hands because I had been playing so tight and don’t have a lot of chips. Unfortunately for me he woke up with two kings in the big blind and that was it for me.

What tournaments do you usually play in Las Vegas?

I play the World Series every year, not necessarily the main event, but I play some of the smaller ones. I play at the Bellagio a lot. I like to play cash too. I play low-limit cash games like $2-$5, sometimes $5-$10.

Does Amber play poker?

No, not too much. She won a charity event one time, though, and at the L.A. Poker Classic a couple of years ago she made it to Day 2 with me so she plays a little bit, but not seriously.

What do you think of the recent seasons of “Survivor”? Do you think it is still interesting?

Yeah, we still watch all the time. We watched this last one that the guy with the bow tie won [Bob Crowley]. I think it has gotten a little bit predictable. They need to re-invent the game a little bit. I can’t believe they’re still doing and falling for the same stuff over and over and over again. It’s like you can get raised so many times from the button before you have to look them up, but they seem to be complacent.

What else have you been up to these days?

I just finished hosting a reality blackjack show at the Windstar Casino out in Oklahoma. I just did that last fall, and took a little time off for myself around the holidays.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Babies, Poker, Alabama Football and the $10,000 Man

I am trying to get back into the swing of things as it comes to regular blogging, but other activities keep pulling me aside...such as raising a child. Little John Harper is almost two months old now and growing at a rapid pace. As such, he needs frequent feedings and diaper changes and certainly lets us know about it with his healthy set of lungs.

Obviously it's high times (and high Tide) here in Tuscaloosa with Bama's victory over Texas for the BCS National Championship. It's definitely a good time to be in the Alabama football magazine business, and I am doing all I can to promote our publication and make some good cheese for myself. I've traveled much of the state trying to get stores to carry our mag, and have found a few potential advertisers for commission sake. We put out a special issue after the championship.

We're working on another project, too, relating to Alabama football that is keeping me busy that we hope to unveil in the next month or two.

Despite this I have found some time for poker. You may recall in one of my few posts from the fall that I was running hot in October. In the end I won about $4,500 playing mostly 1-2 NLHE on World Poker Exchange. You can only cash out $3,000 at a time so I did that and then managed to lose $1,500 back the rest of the year. Nonetheless, with that hot month I managed to (by the skin of my teeth) eclipse the five figure mark in poker winnings for the sixth consecutive year. The final tally was +$10,030. There were a few months during the year in which I played hardly any poker at all so I would call it an average of a $1,000 win a month.

Since I don't keep the best records I cannot say how much my win is per hour, but I do believe that most of my time is better spent on other endeavors. I treat poker these days as more of a side income than the main source of income it once was. Trust me, that stance of mine is a great stress reducer. Poker as a living is a hard road.

I was very fortunate to hit the five-figure mark yet again. For the second straight year I wouldn't have come close without the Battle of the Bloggers series, which is no more -- making a seven-peat even harder. If I had not swapped 10 percent with Drizz and CK in a 08 tourney at Binion's last summer I wouldn't have gotten there. (Thanks guys for both making the final table!)

Despite my reduced playing time I am up about $1,200 this month so who knows? Maybe I get there again. With the little guy in tow and Rounder magazine perhaps gone for good I definitely will not be making many casino trips in 2010. It's highly likely I will not make it to Vegas for the WSOP for the first time since my first WSOP in 2004 as I am committed to the church's Nicaragua trip again, and I don't want to be gone too much during the summer. So if I can retain my $10,000 man title it will be with online poker and Tuscaloosa underground games.