Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Into the great wide open

Yes, I know. I've gotten lazy. No report in two weeks. No final BARGE report. (I'll correct that soon, out of order unfortunately.) I'm still floating around like the feather in Forrest Gump, with nary a care in the world. Why such ease? I'll get to that in a second.

First, let me tell you a little about the past two weeks. As soon as I got back from Birmingham, Brian picked me up at the airport and we rode to Myrtle Beach, S.C. to work on the TV production for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans vs. Kinston Indians Class A game that night. It rained on us for three straight days, including game day. Brian's job, as I mentioned before, is to prepare the graphics for each game. All those graphics that show the player's name and statistics? That's Brian's work. I was hired as font coordinator, which equated to glorified statistician this night. I watched the TV monitor in front of me in the truck and kept score of the game, feeding info to Brian so he could update batting average and such.

A final deluge in the second inning caused the ump to call the game and we got to leave early, though still getting paid in full. On my first trip to Myrtle Beach, I noticed how a few things compare to the city I had just left. The Hard Rock Cafe is in a pyramid, with a light beacon shining above it, much like the Luxor. The neon sign for Broadway at the Beach looks a lot like the Sahara sign from a distance. There's even one of those celebrity impersonator shows, American Superstars I think, just like in Vegas.

We headed back that Tuesday and stopped in Atlanta for the Braves game that night. I'm a huge Braves fan, nearly as big as I am an Alabama football fan (near sacrilege in "Bear" country, believe me), but I put a hex on the team. Their record during my attendance? 1-4, and the only win was after I left the game and they won in 14 innings. Brian scored great seats about 100-150 feet behind home plate thanks to the announcer for the Pelicans game (a Braves affiliate.) The rain held off and the Braves defeated the Giants for my first in-attendance victory.

Can you tell I'm enjoying life?

I drove to West Point, Miss., last week to take out an old flame and heard a whistle blow on the radio station, followed by the Loverboy standard, "Working for the Weekend." Then I realized it was 5 p.m. Friday. Days of the week have lost a lot of meaning for me now. My motto: I've got time!

The obvious question now is: Aren't you worried about your finances? No, right now I'm not only surviving, but thriving.

I've studied, played, studied, played and studied some more the intracacies of the shorthanded limit hold'em game. I play on one small site in the 6-max 10-20 limit game. I've found that the smaller sites give you two advantages: you see the bad players more often and learn their tendencies and there seems to be a higher ratio of bad to good players on these sites.

The end result is this -- I'm up $12,000 since I got back from my WSOP trip, a span of not quite six weeks. Since I left my job in mid-June I'm up close to $14,000 overall. It provides a cushion of comfort.

Everyone jokes about it being "tax free"money, but I will be reporting it. I'm not trying to be the scum of society here. I plan to pay my taxes like every other honest American.

Can I keep this up and what will it mean for my future? That's the unanswerable question right now. I'd like to think I can just sit around and make $100,000 in the next twelve months, but that's probably not realistic. I want to build up a nest egg so I can have options.

I wouldn't mind going to grad school next fall here at UA. It'd be nice maybe to be able to run my own business of some sort. As Brian and I discussed during our trip, as he thumbed through a book on real estate investing, to really make it in life you can't work for the man, you've got to BE the man.

I know I don't want to ever work in a cubicle in an office again if I can help it. It's nice to have the option to go back to the newspaper in a year, it's like I'm "on a freeroll" as my friend Joe calls it, but the idea was always to create a situation where I wouldn't have to go back to the 9 to 6.

As for my book idea, it's been nixed by two publishing houses and my agent Sheree is no longer representing it. So I will have to start anew on that. But Sheree is trying to get me a job writing that college poker craze book I mentioned. She told me the other day that I'm one of two candidates for putting it together. I'm playing a dorm room game tonight on the UA campus so I can put together a sample piece for the editor, Richard.

Joe and I rode over to Philadelphia, Miss., two hours away, to Silverstar for its Monday NLHE tournament. I met Richie, a UA senior, at the tournament and got myself an invitation to tonight's game. I finished 6th, which got me about a $230 profit. Richie was still in when I busted.

Brian got me the job as font coordinator for a couple of big college football games coming up. On Labor Day, we're working together at the Miami-Florida State game in Tallahassee and two weeks later we're at the Tennessee-Florida game in Gainesville. When you're watching those games on ABC and CBS respectively, think of us when you see the graphics.

Brian and I plan to drive from Gainesville to Atlantic City for the U.S. Poker Championship at the Taj Mahal. Brian's staying a few days and then flying out, while I will probably stay for 10-14 days.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

BARGE final tournaments

The Tournament of Champions event at BARGE was held Thursday morning. This format, which Mike Sexton helped to create, features rotating games of Omaha Hi-Lo, Stud and Limit Hold’em, with the final table being played as No Limit Hold’em. There were about 160 participants and, as with all poker tournament at BARGE, players received hearty applause when they are eliminated. The first knockout stood on his chair to a rousing ovation. Greg Raymer was also among the first few to get put out.

I started out fairly well, building my 3,000 starting chip count to about 4,500 at one point, but I went cold about four hours in and was busted.

The BARGE “symposium” was held at 4 p.m. When I signed up for it online I assumed we were to listen to someone teach us how to play better poker. In fact, it’s a sneaky way of holding a Calcutta. Players bid on pairs of other players, with all of the auction money going into a pool that is paid to whoever owns a piece of the money finishers. If you own Greg Raymer and he takes first place, you get 25 percent of the Calcutta pool.

Jim Anderson said he shared my similar confusion as we walked over to the Las Vegas Club, where the Calcutta was being held in one of the ballrooms. I sat beside Jim Bullard of Plano, Texas, and he told me that the best players can fetch $100 or more while the unknowns will often go for about $25. He said these wild cards are the best value.

“I’ll take two unknowns for $50 anytime,” he said.

I just hoped I wouldn’t be the cheapest purchase.

BARGE organizer Peter Secor served as the auctioneer, going down the list as eager players upped the bidding. Several of the players pool their money into “syndicates” and buy shares of several players. I was taken for $60, along with Peter Canning, by one of these groups. Many pairs went for the same price, and a handful went for less, so I wasn’t ashamed. As a first time BARGEr I couldn’t expect much as an unknown. Among some of the notables, Andy Bloch and Ming Lee went for $200, Barry Tannenbaum and Sandra Terauds went for $120, Lou Krieger and Jen Creason went for $110, Lee Jones and Allan Jaffrey went for $120, Nolan Dalla and Bryan Juliano went for $100 and Raymer and Wil Wheaton went for $200.

“Next, we have Wil Wheaton and some other guy,” Peter said as he opened the bidding for pair 96.

Aaron “Gamble AB” Bartley and Rick “DaVoice” Charles went for only $70 because GambleAB hasn’t showed for any of the events he registered for, so far.

I purchased 25 percent of myself for $15 as is BARGE Calcutta tradition and I also bid and won on Dave “Raider Fan” Roberson and Claude “cockykuzy” Carlson. I wanted a piece of the action and Raider Fan is a frequent RGP poster so I bid on that pair for $70.

Before heading to bed Thursday night I played a few hours of CHOLE, a game featuring Crazy Pineapple, Hold’em, Omaha Hi-Lo, Lowball and Stud Eight or Better. Despite never having played pineapple or lowball before, I managed to win $180.

Unfortunately, perhaps due to the influence of being around people who gamble at all sorts of games, I’ve played as much blackjack, craps and the like on this trip as I have poker, so I’m down a few hundred dollars overall.

I was ready to show my stuff Friday morning and prove my worth in the final event. The winner gets about $5,000 and a trophy, but perhaps more importantly, the adoration of all of his fellow BARGErs.

In the first eight hands, I was dealt AA, AA, AK and AJ and managed to lose a quarter of my 2,000 starting stack. It was that kind of day. I hung around for a few hours but got busted with KK when the BB re-raised me all in with A4 and caught an ace on the river. One of my horses, Raider Fan, was still hanging on when I left, but just barely.

Tonight is the banquet, where Wil Wheaton will speak about who knows what, but I’ll take dictation and write a final trip report in a few days, after I get back to Tuscaloosa.

In the meantime, I may be up to co-write a book on the college poker craze with Lou Krieger, so cross your fingers for me!

Friday, August 05, 2005


My first full day of BARGE I played in a couple of events, neither of them poker. At 10 a.m. was the blackjack tournament and at 3 p.m. video poker.

I watched BARGE participants hug or shake hands as many of them reunited for the first time in years. For a first timer, I felt like an outsider looking into an exclusive club as I watched the reunions. But most have welcomed me in with open arms. It’s a friendly, and crazy, group.

I played the beginning of the BJ tourney conservatively, which turned out to be a mistake. The dealer was as cold as my freezer, busting consistently. So I fell behind early and could not make it out of the hole, eventually betting furiously toward the last of the 30 hands until I busted out.

When someone heard that Andy Bloch was playing in the tournament they jokingly cried “Foul!” It can be hard to keep up with a former professional card counter, after all.

I had never played a video poker tournament so I didn’t know what to expect. There were five machines set up beside the poker room, with six flights for a total of 30 players. We were each given 10 minutes to play the machines as fast and furiously as possible, dealing the cards and making decisions quickly to get in the most hands and earn the most points. I watched some people play and was surprised at the number of mistakes they made, surprised until I took my seat in the fifth flight.

Knowing that you have to be as quick as you can does make it difficult to play your best. You just hold a couple of cards and run with it. I was slow at first, but was able to speed up as I got into the flow of play. First was already out of the question, barring miraculous luck, since someone from an earlier flight had already hit a royal flush for 4,000 points. Second was 1,285 and my goal was to beat that. I hit a four of a kind early, but then went cold through the middle stage of my 10 minutes. Things looked hopeless until I hit four queens with about 20 seconds to go. I knew I was close, but scarcely had time to look down at my score. I furiously played the last few hands. My final score? 1,290. I got paid around $300 and get some special BARGE chip for that finish.

I hit the Binion’s tourney again on Wednesday, but busted out early.

Yesterday I rode the bus down to Mirage to play some 10-20, dropping $300. The Mirage hasn’t been kind to me my last two sessions. The last time I was there in July I lost $600.

The BARGErs play all sorts of interesting games during their festival, from Chinese Poke to HORSE to Bingo-La-Ha (sp?) The last one is particularly nuts. It’s played 1-2 NL and it’s not determined if the game will be played as Omaha Hi-Lo or Hi only until after the flop is dealt and bets are made, when a die is cast to determine the format. I think they ought to invent another game like this, except the die determines between Stud and Razz.

I sat down for my first live game of HORSE on Wednesday and was able to win $70. I did well at Hold’em and Omaha Hi-Lo, but not so well at Razz, Stud or Stud Hi-Lo.

John Harkness, a film reviewer for a weekly in Toronto and a poker consultant for “Tilt,” told me that a number of tournaments have been played at BARGE over the years, including one called the History of Poker that features Five-Card Stud, Five-Card Draw and Lowball. Now only Lowball remains among the three and pot-limit Omaha was added this year.

John was bitching about the speaker of the banquet Saturday night when I inquired who it was going to be. In past years, it had been noted poker authorities like Howard Lederer, David Sklansky and Mike Caro. This year? Will Wheaton, former Trekkie geek and now poker aficionado. The key is cost.

“We can’t get Howard Lederer for free anymore,” John told me. “We can’t get Phil Hellmuth for dinner anymore.”

I talked with Dave McCay again last night, after he had a struggle with a video poker machine, and asked him why so few of the people at BARGE are involved with RGP anymore. He said there’s too much noise, from the spammers to the idiots. Now RGP is left to the young hotshots, some of whom may go the way of RGPers Greg Raymer, Andy Bloch and Chris Ferguson but most of whom are the “idiots.”

“The folks on there could learn from us, not that they think that,” Dave told me.

As the Stud Shootout began last night, people spread little plastic fish all over the tables. Players began tossing them around the room at each other. Clueless to the notion, I asked Dave what the fish meant.

“It’s BARGE,” he said. “What don’t you understand?”

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Aaron Kanter's buddies. At left is Jonathan Singer. Posted by Picasa

Hlton Givens, programmer of Poker Probot, Phil Laak and Jennifer Tilly. Posted by Picasa

Phil Laak takes on the robot at Binion's. Posted by Picasa

BARGE begins

I had a sense of déjà vu as I stepped off the plane yesterday. Hadn’t I just been here? In fact, it had only been 17 days since I left. A Vegas Virgin sat to my right on the flight and I explained to her all the ins and outs of the city. I’m a regular know-it-all now when it comes to useful and useless Vegas information.

I checked into the Plaza at about 5:30 p.m., impressed with the size of the room. It’s much more spacious than my quarters at the Four Queens and is only costing me $25 a night through BARGE. I walked down to the poker room to look for BARGE goers, meeting Jim Anderson, aka thejim2020, one of my heads-up league participants. I tried to enter the pot limit Omaha tournament late, since I had nothing else to do on my first night back in town, but was told they had exactly 50 players and weren’t accepting any more.

I spotted Andy Bloch in the room so I walked over and congratulated him on his win in this very building. He took first in the $10,000 main event of the Ultimate Poker Challenge a couple of weeks ago, but I don’t recall how much he got paid. I believe the always good natured Andy quipped that he won his buy ins back on all of the World Series of Poker tournaments he entered and did not cash in.

With nothing better to do, I rushed over to Binion’s to play the 8 p.m. NLHE tournament. The antique had returned to its usual empty state, with three games running and about 50 players in the tournament, quite a contrast to the traffic that plied through the casino during the last day of the WSOP.

Like when I won the thing last month, I hung around and caught enough hands to make the final table, but there was no happy ending this time. I was severely short stacked when we made the final and only the top seven got paid. One guy tried to do a save for the eighth through tenth finishers, but one greedy asshole wouldn’t have it. One hundred bucks isn’t going to affect my life, but it isn’t going to affect his either. So of course, I went out ninth.

I walked back over to the Plaza to see what was going on. A fellow named Dave McVay walked up to me and said hello.

“This your first BARGE?” he asked with genuine excitement to welcome me to the club.

He told me upon my inquisition that this was his ninth, confirming his old hat status I had presumed when he walked up. I asked Dave which big shots were around. He said Greg Raymer was there (I had spotted him earlier, as well), as was Lee Jones and Barry Tannenbaum, who writes for Card Player. Chris Ferguson usually comes, but is not on the guess list, Dave informed me with regret.

I saw Raymer and Jones shooting craps so I walked over and joined in.

“Greg is teaching me how to play the dark side,” Jones told me and some other RGPers gathered around.

The two were betting the Don’t Pass line – against the dice, in other words – much to my dismay since I was betting with the dice and losing.

They left and I lost a C note, but then I walked over and played some blackjack and won it back. I headed up at 2 a.m. for some shuteye.

Today, I’m playing in the BARGE blackjack tournament and video poker tournament. Mostly, it’s just for fun since I’m not very experienced at either, in a tournament format at least. Andy told me Tom Sims was probably coming for the VP so hopefully I can buy him a lunch I owe him.