Monday, January 23, 2006

Dark days and a clutch performance

Sometimes I wonder if all of us poker players are mad.

Here's the thing. When I'm back in Tuscaloosa, jobless and shiftless, playing poker and writing (or rather, trying to write) I feel a wee bit worthless to society. But put me on the tournament trail and suddenly I feel normal because I'm surrounded by people who are bigger poker degenerates than I could ever imagine being. I'm sure many of my friends think I eat, drink and sleep poker. They think of me as a poker degenerate, but they haven't met a true poker junkie, the kind that plays poker for two days straight, their hygiene and self worth slowly melting away. Or the guy who plays four tables at once online for 10 hours straight. Or the..... Or the.... Perhaps you see my point. There are many people out there whose lives revolve around poker and little else, the kind who read and post on RGP or 2 + 2 24 hours a day.

Sometimes I feel like Luke Skywalker in The Return of the Jedi when he looks at his right hand and sees his father Darth Vader's glove as he is about to kill him. He is slowly turning to the dark side. Am I turning to the dark side during this year away from my job? To the masses, poker is a trivial diversion, someting to be amused at on television as they flip channels. It's a sub-sport. At least with many sports, there is some benefit, like city or regional pride that provides a good feeling when your team wins, or the exercise you get from participating.

But poker is much more than a trivial diversion to a small percentage of the population, the kind that travels to Tunica in January when the cold winds whip off the Mississippi. And when we're playing poker we hope the only one who benefits is ourselves.

For the longest time on this excursion I wasn't benefiting a lick, and to make matters worse I developed a pretty serious cold Friday that gave me a nasty fever and a good set of shivers under the covers. I could barely crawl out of bed on Saturday, so I stayed there most of the day, watching SEC basketball games.

My poker buddy Lane from Tuscaloosa drove up that morning to play and he came up to the room to watch Bama lose to LSU. Watching the game, I recalled how Michael Jordan overcame his flu to light up the nets during an NBA Finals game. If he can do that, surely I could get out of bed and go win a poker tournament and salvage my trip.

So I staggered out of my room with a mission. Lane and I grabbed a buffet I could barely eat and entered the $200 second chance tournament at the Grand. I had played it twice before during the trip without cashing, but this time was different. After buying in, I was down to the last $120 in my wallet. This would be my last chance in Tunica, and playing the tournament in a cold medicine induced stupor, I could play without fear or concern. I was in another world.

Writing for you now, I can't recall all of the key hands. I made the right plays at the right times with moderate hands. I finally picked up aces and kings right when I needed them to double up. I didn't win the tournament and the $10K first prize, but I did make the final table and came in 6th, which was good for $1,535. I was still a loser on the trip, but I felt a lot better about my poker game and my luck.

Even while I'm not so sure about the poker itself.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Fun at the john

Eskimo Clark and his friends had left the cyber area and I was sitting alone last night when Josh Arieh walked by into the john with his laptop in his hands. A cursory glance at the screen showed that he was playing Ultimate Bet. Meanwhile, I was sitting in the Josh Arieh room playing $3-$6 blinds NLHE. Coincidence?

Arieh later came back by and sat in the floor.

“Josh, there’s a seat open over here if you want it,” I called out.

“That’s ok, just a couple more hands,” he replied.

I told him I was playing in his room on Bodog and he begins a long-winded explanation about the new software the site is about to implement.

I later was paid a visit by Rick “Big Rick” Guillroy, a native of Lake Charles, La., and a friend of Clark’s. He had been in a car accident earlier in the week (he hit a deer) and was trying to see if I could help him email is insurance adjustor. Since he didn’t know how to spell the man’s name, the search was fruitless before it began.

Guillroy told me he lives here after losing his house to Katrina and lamented about the Eskimo’s exit from the WPO main event.

“He’s got pocket aces in a goddamn tournament when he can win a million dollars and he lets goddamn deuces see the flop for $6,000 goddamn dollars.”

Any guesses which card hit the flop?

Meanwhile, I’m trying to play my game on Bodog as Big Rick explains another hand to me.

“You listening to me?” he asked, while glaring. “You’re learning from the master here.”

Not much excitement so far today. Didn’t even leave the room until 3 in the afternoon. Erik Seidel was entering the elevator as I exited, a fact that doesn’t bode well for his tournament success.

Layne Flack just walked into the john with a cigar in his mouth while two women had their picture taken with Scotty Nguyen. Here comes Bob Stupak with a straw golf hat on into the john as well. That’s what happens when you sit by the bathroom, you get to see all the action.

T.J. Cloutier just walked into the tournament area with his Bay 101 jacket on, while Ted informed me he busted out of the $500 tournament today. Time to go eat.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Don't mess with grandma

If there’s one thing I’ve learned today, it’s this – don’t mess with 74-year-old Mamie Parker.

I was sitting in a 4-8 game at the Grand and she joined the game. The fellow to my right said she reminded him of her mother.

“I wished I had a picture to show you,” he said.

“Must be a beautiful woman,” Mamie quipped without missing a beat.

A few hands following the comment, the same player bet on the turn on an A-K-6-J board and was promptly check raised by Mamie, who had made Broadway on fourth street.

“You know the old adage about check raising your grandmother,” I told him. “Well, sometimes your grandmother check raises you.”

I ran into Andy Bloch over there and said hello. He was playing in the $2,000 NLHE and is one of at least a few name players (Chris Ferguson and Paul Phillips are a couple of other ones) who are boycotting World Poker Tour events because of concerns over the use of their likeness. I don’t know all the details and concerns, but I’m sure you’ll find some info if you are curious at

Ted and I both continue to struggle. He tried both of the super satellites for the World Poker Open and blanked. Ted has played many big tournaments against a good number of top pros. He recalled the following story as we rode over to the Grand today.

In a 2004 WSOP event, Ted kept re-raising this aggressive young player from Los Angeles that he called the “L.A. Kid” and finally busted him.

After the “L.A. Kid” left, Ted asked a fellow player, “That kid sure played crazy didn’t he. Who is he?”

“That’s John Juanda,” the man replied.

“Who is that?” Ted asked.

So Ted wasn’t quite up to date on his poker pro knowledge back then, but Men “The Master” Nguyen certainly remembers him as Ted bested Nguyen and the rest of his final table to win an Ultimate Poker Challenge event at the Plaza a couple of months ago.

Ted saw Nguyen eating breakfast at the buffet after the WPO had started today and asked him how he was doing. “I take bad beat with A-K vs. A-5 so I take a break,” Nguyen told him.

Ted and I both played in the second chance tournament at the Grand tonight and blanked. Brad “Otis” Willis was still humming along after we departed. Mr. Poker Stars just got into town and I’m sure I’ll join him and Tom for plenty o’beers over the weekend.

Finally…finally…ran into Hoyt Corkins this evening near the Gold Strike hotel elevators as I was leaving my room and he was going up to his. The Alabama Cowboy was as friendly as expected. Patrick Walker, a regular player in some of our Tuscaloosa games, is the son of Hoyt’s doctor. Small world I suppose.

A dealer, Curtis from Memphis, stopped me on the way to the cyber center. He saw my laptop and Full Tilt Poker shirt and thought I was with the poker media. Not really, I told him, I just write a newspaper column and am mostly hanging around incognito.

Curtis just started dealing after getting a creative writing degree from some school in Florida. I asked him about the pressure of dealing a major tournament as a rookie.

“The first ten days I was doing fine, but then I sat at a table with Todd Brunson and Barry Greenstein and I riffled the cards all over the table,” he said.

It’s funny how many people have stopped and asked me to go to for chip counts while I typed this post. Paul “Eskimo” Clark just sat down at the table nearby and asked if I had seen Joe Cassidy. I told him no, but the truth is I couldn’t pick Joe Cassidy out of a police lineup. Is that the “L.A. Kid?”

I’m about to fire up a little no limit on Bodog. Maybe I should ask Eskimo for tips.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Beat down like Rodney King

Across the hall, Sammy Farha and other high rollers are playing billion-gazillion blinds Omaha, hold’em, name your game, while I’m sitting in the small tournament room with my laptop plugged into the wall playing 2-4 and 3-6 blinds no limit hold’em on Bodog.

When I started out, I had hoped for a little better than this.

Now while I didn’t expect to be trading bluffs with Sammy Farha, I had wished for more success at the tables.

I feel like I’ve taken an anal probe with a horse brush today.

Where should I begin? Since winning $900 in that crazy 10-20 limit game at the Grand Sunday night, I didn’t win anything for two days…and I mean ANYTHING. The capper was today. I try not to post too many bad beat stories, but here are four back-to-back-to-back-to-back ones that are too juicy not to share.

I was playing in a $130 satellite at the Gold Strike in which two winners receive a 500 lammer and $70 cash each. Early in the thing I get Ac-Kc under the gun and raise. Two people call. Flop is Jc-Qc-2c. I bet 200, get raised to 500 and get a check raise all-in from the player in the big blind, a dealer at Silverstar casino in Philadelphia (Mississippi, that is.) I insta-call and he turns over J-Q. You can guess between two possible river cards. You know it’s one or the other. I manage to quintuple up with A-K when I go all-in and river broadway on the next hand. We got down to three handed and my dealer buddy, clad in MSU cap and goofy dogs playing poker shirt (OK, I admit I have one myself. An ex-girlfriend gave it to me for my b’day.) raised from the button. I push with 8-8. He calls with 5-5. Guess the river card. This time he has me covered.

Next satellite a man to my left is practically wiggling in his seat waiting to play a $1,060 to try and win his way into the World Poker Open main event. On the first hand he eliminates one guy by bluffing all in and rivering a straight with 6-9. On the second hand he eliminates me after I raise with A-K and he calls. Flop is A-3-3. I bet, he raises and I push all-in. He turns over T-3. I assume this is not his normal mode of play in the thousand sixties.

Time for a break? Hell no. I mosey over to the poker room and, how lucky for me there is one seat available in a 1-2 NL game. I buy in for $200 and promptly get pocket aces on the second hand. I make it $6 and a fellow in the big blind raises to $25. I make it $60. He puts me all in. My second easy insta-call in less than an hour. He turns over K-K. You know the rest.

Worst one-hour stretch of luck I have ever seen.

Tidbits from Tunica

Just some quick gems from the last few days:

It’s interesting to see how the “Yankees” (for this instance we will call anyone not from the South a “yankee”, especially since Iggy always calls me a “cracker”) like to joke about our pattern of speech around here. When the brush at the Gold Strike said they were “fixin’ to open up a new Omaha table,” the guy beside me said, “What’s he fixin’ to do?” “We’re always fixin’ something down here,” I told him.
Ran into Stuart Satterfield last night. He dealt to me at a 10-20 game (another loser for me.) Blog readers may recall that he and his brother had the “bad beat table” at the WSOP that provided great entertainment for unfortunate poker players (see the July postings.) Stuart was in between jobs at the time; he now works here. His brother got a job in Oklahoma.

I’ve run into other familiar faces lately. Dick from Maryland, the guy who kept harassing Ann at Foxwoods, played in a 15-30 game with me. No word yet on whether he’s been chasing Delaney around.

Played in the best $10-$20 limit game ever at the Grand two nights ago. I won $900 in two hours, beating up on a couple of Auburn graduates in the process. It would have been worse except for this hand. Me: Q-Q. Auburn grad: 8-7. Board: 8-2-8-Q-8.

Played the $500 NLHE shootout at the Grand yesterday. Started out strong. Doubled off a guy with buck teeth, jug ears and “Amanda” tattooed on his neck when he called a big raise with Jd-7d and the subsequent post flop flush draw. Then doubled again when an aces limper (mwa ha ha) lost to my flopped set of fours. But my chips got salted away and Eddie, a former dealer from Biloxi (now out of a job), ran away with our table. He was a nice guy and I was glad if I couldn’t win it that he did. I don’t know how he ultimately fared, but he had a 1 in 22 shot at $29,000 and a $10,000 main event seat after winning the table. Wisdom from Eddie: “A tournament is a mine field. You’ve got to get lucky and dodge all the mines.”

As we played the shootout, an arrogant player from Colorado let loose with an F-bomb and got a 10-minute penalty. After busting out while trying to bluff Eddie he said, “Fuck this tournament.” Later, a guy who had busted out at another table walked by and asked the dealer, “Is the F-bomb rule in effect after you bust out?” When hearing a reply in the negative, he let loose as he walked away, “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck….”

Played a satellite with a dealer whose Atlanta game was robbed of $30,000 by "bulging eyed crackheads," as he called them. Understatement of the year: "It's definitely not a good thing when someone's got a gun at your head, that's for sure."

Talked to Minh Nguyen briefly as he smoked yesterday. Don't think he remembered our previous conversation. He said he wasn't running well. "All I get is king-eight."

There's a lot of online poker playing going on around here. Everyday you see several people with laptops in the cyber center going at it. Bunch of degenerates....I believe Bodog is calling me...

There is some VIP party for Men Nguyen tonight in a suite here that seems to be mainly for the reason of plugging a new online poker site, Poker 4 Ever. I’ll have to sneak up there for free food and a report on the action.

So far, so bad for me. Down about $1,500 or so. Got to cash in a tournament!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Iggy, Maudie and Tuscaloosa Slick

Sitting here at the “cyber cafĂ©” outside the tournament area in the Gold Strike while a group of men that includes Minh Nguyen (also known at the “other” M. Nguyen) is talking loudly in Vietnamese. Trying to overcome a slight hangover from Saturday night and the humility of losing to Iggy in Roshambo.

Dependence on the rock can kill your game, believe me.

I’ve been hanging out with Iggy, a.k.a. Tom, a.k.a. Ignatious J. Riley, a.k.a. Travis Tritt and Maudie (whose blog I have not read, a fact I am ashamed of) most of the weekend.

(Note: This “cyber spot” is in the smoker’s area and damn if David Pham and Andrew Black didn’t just walk up and pollute my space. Get your damn smoke away from me.)

Anyway, Tom and Maudie, what cool folks. Tom actually is not at all what I thought he would look or be like. Despite his online persona, I expected a guy not quite as extroverted and straighter laced in person. After all, you find that a lot of writers are introverted and use writing as a means to express themselves in a way they can’t in public.

I actually had to wake up early yesterday and drive to Oxford for a basketball game. (Got to pay the bills somehow when the cards aren’t running well.) I hooked up with those two when I came back and we hopped in a $65 satellite. Tom and I ended up heads up after I laid the hammer on a guy to steal his big blind (I had him dominated. He had 5-2) and then put him out a couple of hands later.

Tom put the moves on my blind a few times when I had nothing and then I started stealing with junk since I wasn’t getting anything and pulled even. We finally went all in with hands I don’t recall. I do remember I had an ace and paired it. He still got $200 from a save we did.

We joined Maudie in a 4-8 game and pretty much ran everyone off with out goofiness. Tom was playing hands in the dark (and beating me), while I was raising with 6-2, otherwise known as the “Tuscaloosa” Johnny slick. Tom managed to crack both my A-A and K-K and killed any chance of profit I had in the game.

Best out of context Iggy line of the night: “I’d put on a skirt and walk around.”

With the action spread between the Gold Strike and the Horseshoe, the tournaments don’t have the same feel this year. All of the action at the Gold Strike is NLHE and the tournaments are only drawing 200 or less each day. Most of the good cash games are over here and it is hard to get a seat as usual. Action at the Grand has slowed up considerably since the World Poker Open started at the Gold Strike.

(Aside: Smokers have it bad. They have to leave their table every few minutes to come out here and take a few drags and POLLUTE MY SPACE. Fuckers. I’ve smoked a few cigarettes myself, for shits and giggles. I don’t see what the big deal is.)

Still not a lot of big names around. I mentioned half of those here already in this post. I’ll try to chat with a few in the next couple of weeks – if they can stop smoking long enough.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

More Tunica

I’ve returned to Tuscaloosa for a few days for a break, but I am heading back to good ol’ Tunica tomorrow. Let’s recap the events since my last post. (Unfortunately like some of my other stops, Internet access isn’t readily available to me so posts will be more infrequent.

After busting out of the tournament on Thursday I went over to the Horseshoe to play some $10-$20 limit when I spotted Dutch Boyd playing the same game at another table. I tried to get a table change to head over there, but he left before a seat became available.

On Friday night I watched Ted play in the $500 mega satellite at the Grand (1 in 20 wins a $10,000 buy in seat.) Ted seems to do well in these type tournaments as he won a seat in the WSOP main event this summer through one and had a good chance in this one. Five seats were available and Ted made the final table. Chris Grigorian, the Armenian Express (it says so on his cap), was there goading his competition.

“Y’all don’t forget to get grits for breakfast.”

“Y’all going to raise now y’all?”

“Y’all can’t call my bet y’all.”

The short-stacked Ted busted out 8th, squarely on the cash bubble (two guys received cash in addition to the five seats given away), but worked out a deal where the other seven gave him $100 each. Grigorian even gave him a hug.

“I like this guy,” he said.

I spent much of Saturday night playing this new table game Ultimate Texas Hold’em. Its rules are fairly complicated to try to explain to you here, but it seems like a game with reasonable odds if you know what you’re doing. The key in the game is to figure out which hands are better than 50 percent to win against a random hand and bet the max before the flop. There’s really not much strategy otherwise. I won $300 the first time I played it, but lost $200 the next after getting up $200. I’m sure it’s not beatable in the long run, but it is a lot of fun to play.

The other half of Saturday was spent in another $10-$20 game at the Grand. I fared much better in this one, winning $555. To my right for much of my duration of the table was a nice older lady named Diane. Her husband Walt was deep in that day’s pot limit Omaha event. Diane isn’t a very good player, but her husband apparently is. Clad in his ubiquitous Augusta National visor, I’ve seen him at several poker venues. The two, who are from Augusta, Ga., travel to many of the major tournaments.

Diane eventually left the game to go watch her husband. I saw the two later walk by while the tournament was still ongoing. Walt apparently finished on the bubble.

I played the Sunday LHE and there wasn’t excitement for me. I got AK thrice and never made a pair and busted out two hours into the event with QQ when a king flopped and I was too short stacked to go away.

The excitement at the event occurred two hours into the affair when an older gentleman suffered a heart attack. Players were told to leave their seats and vacate the tournament area while the man was attended to. You may recall that there was a heart attack victim at Foxwoods in what I recall was also the $500 LHE event. Dr. Will, the doctor I had met in Atlantic City, helped care for that fellow. There was no Dr. Will in Tunica, but paramedics resuscitated the man and Johnny Grooms informed the crowd later that he had survived. (And in case you’re wondering, his buy in was refunded.)

As a fellow satellite player recalled to me later, “He tilted this way, and then that way and then he just collapsed.”

I planned to play some satellites at the Gold Strike that night since the World Poker Open was finally cranking up, but I stayed at that damn hold’em table game all morning. I woke up, found Ted playing a satellite and invited him to a buffet.

We decided we might as well room together and save the money. With all the free food you can get and affordable rooms (less than $30 a night when two people split one) you can stay in Tunica and play poker on the cheap, but I like to go as cheap as I can.

More reports to come soon.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Among the cotton and soybeans

Greetings from lovely Tunica, Miss. The more I travel on these poker adventures, the more these things feel like reunions. The dealer Connie from Arkansas, the “father figure” Ted from Oregon. Local Al Williams. Birmingham resident Hunter, a money finisher in the WSOP main event. Those are just a few of the familiar faces I’ve encountered since I drove over on Wednesday. There’s even the poker babe that has all the young turks swooning a la Ann of Foxwoods – Delaney from Jackson, Miss. – a brunette and professional online player for two years. She’s agreed to let me interview her, so more to come on her undoubtedly interesting story.

Most of the action is at the Grand Casino now, until the World Poker Open begins at the Gold Strike next week. Since Harrah’s purchased Caesars Entertainment, whose properties included all of the Grand casinos in Mississippi, they have started a World Series of Poker circuit event here and it has proven to be a big hit. There were 940 entrants in the first $550+$50 NLHE event Thursday, including me, thanks to a satellite win the previous day. I was never a factor, falling behind early on an ill-timed bluff and finally hanging myself later after betting the rest of my paltry stack into a 3-5-3 board after raising pre-flop with K-J. I was called by A-Q and dispatched from the affair.

I haven’t seen many big shots about yet, nor did I expect to. The big money tournaments don’t begin until next week. Chris Grigorian, the Armenian Express (it says so on his jacket) is here, as is Men Nguyen. Tournament director Johnny Grooms introduced “The Master” to the crowd not once, but twice, on both Wednesday and Thursday, as the Card Player Player of the Year. Nguyen took the microphone and spoke before the start of Thursday’s tournament, playing to the crowd and drawing hearty cheers when he talked about making his life in this country after fleeing Vietnam many years ago.

“America has been very good to me,” he said. “God bless America.”

Before the tournament began, Grooms said a new rule had been instituted.

“There will be no bluffing allowed today,” he joked.

I should have heeded his words.