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Thursday, April 29, 2004

My Poker Table Is Finished
I finally finished building my poker table!! Actually, I finished it this past Sunday, but have been waiting to post about it because I wanted to upload some pictures of it, and I had minor technical difficulties with my digital camera. But finally, here's a couple pictures:

What the heck, here's one more:

I had previously detailed the building of this puppy in this post, where I discussed buying he materials from casinosupply.com, and this post, where I discussed my concerns about the "perfect padded rail." On Sunday I ended up going over to a fabric store and buying some maroon vinyl (kinda reminded me of the color scheme at Binion's or the Barbary Coast) to cover up the padded rail that smelled unpleasantly like rubber. Perhaps that was the manufacturer's intention all along, that one would cover up the rubber? It didn't say anything to that effect on the website, and they did call it "perfect padded rail," so I assumed it was all I would need. Oh well.

Anyway, after cutting my spruce plywood into a 4'x6' oval (borrowed a friend's power saw), I did a little stencil-and-spray-paint job on what would become the underside of the table (just quickly spray-painted on an ace of hearts and an ace of clubs), so it would look just a little cooler sitting sideways in the back of our apartment when we're not using it.

The next steps were pretty easy -- I screwed on the folding table legs, along with a few door handles (6 of them) to make it easier to lift the table and turn it over. Then I attached the table foam using spray glue, folded it over the sides and staple-gunned it in underneath. Then I put on the felt, this time just staple-gunning it underneath.

Installing the Padded Rail

The padded rail was the toughest part. This stuff's hard to describe -- here's a picture -- essentially it's a hollow rubber tube with a slit in it, so that a cross-section of it looks like a "C." So first I cut the vinyl into long foot-wide strips and stapled the strips length-wise into the upper-inside of the "C." Then I put the 17' of rubber tubing onto the table, and fastened it using a mix of staple-gunning underneath and hammering a few nails right into the side of the "C" so that it went:

nail --> C --> edge of poker table

being very careful to keep the nails straight so they went into the plywood and not up through my precious felt. This was definitely the hardest part. By the way, the casinosupply.com website says that the padded rail can be attached using 3/4" staples. I didn't see anything bigger than 9/16" at Home Depot, but I didn't actually ask. Finally I took the vinyl and wrapped it around the rubber padding so it was nice and snug, and staple-gunned it to the bottom of the table. (I used almost an entire box of staples on this project.)

After that I just sprayed on some Scotch Guard. I think this caused some very faint discoloration on the felt, although my wife B thinks I'm just seeing things. Consider yourself warned.

Hmmm . . . I'm rereading this and worrying that my description is just detailed enough to be boring but not really detailed enough to be helpful. If you're thinking of working with that padded rail and have a question, feel free to drop me an e-mail.


This Sunday's my birthday, and on Saturday B and I are going to host all-day gaming to break this beauty in. Gonna break out some board games during the afternoon, then switch to poker after dinner. I've got 2 different buddies (and poker regulars) who are moving down to D.C. in the next few weeks, so this poker night will be the last time all the poker regulars of the past two years will be together. And for my 2 buds, my last chance to take their money!

Update, May 3

The railing ended up being a little too lose on the table. I think what happened was that when I stored the table, it rests on the side -- this compressed the rubber on one side and mae it "push out" so that it was quite loose on the two curved areas of that site. It "pushed out" so much that it pushed out the nails that were holding the rail in in those two curved areas.

I have remedied the problem by removing all the staples and nails I used to attach the rail, and then making the rail as tight as I could on the table. I ended up cutting off about 6 more inches, that's how loose it was.

I replaced the nails with with screws (#6 x 1.25" screws, to be exact). Instead of washers on the screws, I used 10 2" mending plates. These are just little 2" pieces of metal with two holes in them (they're kept in the door hinges area at Home Depot). Basically the two screws and the mending plate, all together, act as one big staple for the rail.

I put the mending plates directly onto the rubber rail, then pulled the vinyl back over it and restapled the vinyl to the bottom of the table.

The rail is now very tightly affixed to the table, and hopefully this'll be the last bit of repair that I need to do.

Update, June 6

Here's a couple pictures of a small cross-section of the padded rail, with the vinyl stapled to the inside of the "C":

And here's another picture of that cross-section from the side. You can see the two screws on the inside of the 'C":

The loose vinyl on the "under" side of the "C" gets stapled to the bottom of the table.

Also I received a question about how to deal with the fact that the padded rail was just under 17 feet long, while the vinyl I had was 6 feet long. Answer: I used 3 strips of vinyl. Here is another picture, showing how I folded the vinyl over where two strips met:

Finally, a reader mentioned to me that one might be able to purchase rubber pipe insulation instead of buying the perfect padded rail from casinosupply.com -- for all I know, that may be what casinosupply.com is really selling. My table's done so I'm not going to Home Depot to investigate, but anybody about to build a table may want to look into this less expensive possibility.

Hope this helps!

Possible Poker Comedy
Filmstew.com reports that MGM has paid $1 million for an "untitled poker pitch" from Don Rhymer (writer of Big Momma's House, The Santa Clause 2, and Agent Cody Banks 2):
Dylan Sellers will produce the comedy about three men who scheme a way to play in the World Series of Poker tournament in Las Vegas without their wives finding out. Rhymer will write the script, and quickly, because MGM wants to go into production as soon as possible to ride the current poker wave.
Shade is currently in limited release in a few cities and as far as I know still scheduled for wide release on May 7.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2004

VVP Quote of the Week
Tonight Cheap Thrills introduces a new weekly feature: the Vince Van Patten quote of the week. After the WPT airs yours truly will select one of Vince's many quips that stands out as particularly bizarre, inappropriate, hyperbolic, or even straight-out funny. It'll be like shooting fish in a barrel. And tonight's quote is (drumroll please):
Will he survive this pot or will it be his personal armageddon?
I'm hosting a home game this Saturday and you can be sure my guests will get real sick of hearing me ask that.

As a bonus here's the VVPQotW I selected from last week, but didn't post because I was too busy getting rivered at Party:
He has dug a hole, put the branches and twigs over it, and is waiting for a sucker to fall in.
Very entertaining WPT tonight. About 3/4 of the way through it noticed the weirdest thing: Vinny Vinh was wearing the exact same shirt I was (and still am as I type this). A greyish blue long-sleeve number from Old Navy, purchased at 2 for $20.

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Jackpot Jay at ESPN.com
ESPN has a new poker columnist on the poker section of their website -- Jay Lovinger. He's going to be playing in the 2004 WSOP and chronicling his adventures until the 2005 WSOP. An excerpt:
I'm going to tell you about the metamorphosis poker has undergone, how it's wormed its way from the shadows into the klieg lights of American entertainment, and how the faces of its central characters have changed. How guys named Chan and Nguyen replaced road warriors like Amarillo Slim and Texas Dolly, how the game was wrenched from the hands of high school dropouts and pool hustlers and bootleggers by millionaire marketeers and mathematicians.
Sounds pretty cool.

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Saturday, April 24, 2004

Just the Week's Tidbits
I've put up mostly short posts lately and have been meaning to write some longer ones. I've got several topics I want to cover; I might even have a rant brewing. But I've got a ton of stuff to do today, including finally building my poker table, so I'm just gonna recap some stuff from the past couple days.

Loving the Tourneys

Here are my tourney results for this week:

Wednesday, Absolute, $5 SnG, 3rd place, $3.50 profit
Wednesday, Party, $5 SnG, 6th place, $6 loss
Wednesday, Party, $5 SnG, 1st place, $19 profit
Thursday, Absolute, $5 SnG, 1st place, $17 profit
Friday, Absolute, $10 multi-table with 28 entrants, 3rd place, $33.80 profit

I played the $10 multi-table because of a coupon Absolute sent me -- they reimbursed the $10 buy-in. Also for finishing in the top 9 at a multi-table event I qualified to play in Absolute's weekly $1000 freeroll Sunday night at 6pm. Should be fun.

I guess I'll go ahead and reveal my Absolute screen name in case I run into anybody at Absolute who's read this. It's LanceyH (a nod to Lancey Howard, "The Man" that Steve McQueen can't beat in the movie The Cincinnati Kid.)

So I'm up $75 in tourneys since I started this blog on April 1.

But Where Did My Ring Game Go?

Unfortunately, my ring game has gotten worse as my tourney skills have improved. I lost $50 at Paradise as reported in a previous post. Then Wednesday night I lost $50 of the $70 bonus dollars I had received from Party Poker. This really bugged me because last summer I was beating the Party .50/$1 and $1/$2 games on a regular basis. Some mistakes I made Wednesday night:

1) I played two tables at once. I know many players recommend this but I have yet to post a winning session while playing 2 tables. I really thought I would this time. I played for about 3 hours, and for the first two hours I was basically treading water. Then it all went downhill.
2) I played for 3 hours, which is about 1 hour too long.
3) I bet top pair way too often and it hardly ever held up against all the callers on Party. Looking back, I think I was disciplined enough last summer that I usually laid down top pair, instead waiting for sets and flush draws. Wish I had remembered that Wednesday.
4) All the bluffing and aggressiveness I do in tourneys may be carrying over into ring games. I know the 2 types of games are very different and try to use the appropriate strategy for each, but it does seem that when I'm doing well at tourneys I do poorly at ring games, and vice versa. Something to work on.

I also blew $10 at a .25 blind no limit game on Absolute, but I had 6 Pacificos in me and was more or less screwing around, so although I know it was dumb that loss doesn't sting as much.

Anyway, so I was down to $20 on Party, then I got that back up to $33 via tourneys, but then B took a crack at the Party ring games with my money Thursday night, and it didn't go well. However . . .

B Used the Hammer!

B has started reading many of the poker blogs out there and she thinks the whole "Hammer!" thing is just hilarious. So when she got 72o on the big blind and flopped two pair, she could think of nothing but Grubby's Hammer challenge and sure enough she yelled "Hammer time!" into the chat box as she took down the pot. Upon further review B did not meet Grubby's challenge requirements, as she was at a .50/$1 table and got the hammer on the big blind. But she had fun!

B Finished In-Da-Money for the First Time

B had taken at a shot at the Party tables with money because her ring game is pretty solid (and she's had bad experiences with customer service on Party so doesn't want to buy in again on her own account). But tournament strategy had eluded her in the past, so a few times now she's watched me at the $5 SnGs, and a couple times I've coached her as she played the $2 SnGs on Absolute. But last night was the first time she really got in the zone, and she finished 3rd at a $5 SnG.

She might've finished higher, too. When there were still 5 people left, she had pocket 10s when the flop came 994 and someone bet into her. I thought she should fold but she saw the turn and it was another 4. Another bet, and she laid down the 10s. She would've won. Then when it was down to 3 she flopped two pair and went all-in (again on my advice), only to find out she was up against a set. I stand behind both of my calls, but I also told B she should just follow her instincts in those situations. I also told her, "Grasshopper, you have learned all that I have to teach," so from now on I won't be sitting behind her offering advice. I wish she had gotten to play more hands when it was 3-player and high blinds, though. It took me a while to get a feel for how to survive in that situation and finish better than 3rd.

Party Tourney Chat

I'm going to avoid the Party SnGs, mostly because I'm now broke on that site but also because I don't like the quick blind structure. The players are pretty wild compared to Absolute, but I guess a lot of that is justified given the blind structure. There was a little bit of chat in one of the tourneys I was in that sums up the style of play on Party:

On level 2 or so I have AQs and raise minimum preflop. Flop comes with a rainbow and a King, and a player before me bets more than the minimum, so I fold. Then another player says "Wow, you would raise and then fold on the flop." I don't know if he was being wry and commenting on how rare a play that is on Party, or if he was genuinely surprised to see it happen.

Building My Poker Table: Fun with a Sabre Saw

Yesterday I accomplished what I hope will be the hardest part of my poker table project, which was to cut my 4x8 piece of plywood into a 4x6 oval, using a power saw I borrowed from a friend (I am not much of a woodworker). Today I'm off to the fabric store to get some vinyl to cover the rubber-hosing-padded-rail I bought, then it's on to Home Depot to get spray glue and a few other items.

Al Can't Hang

Just a couple gems from Al Can't Hang's blog, which I added to the links at the right. He's a Philly boy and has excellent insight into the drunk poker player's mind!:
I found a sure fire way to kick that ugly feeling after a fine night of drinking. Win a lot of money.
Don't read Super System after drinking. Apparently it turns a tight/aggressive player (which was my game plan from the start) into a booze-injected crazy raise machine.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2004

My Mom Has Joined the Party
So my bankroll at Party Poker suddenly jumped from 80 cents to $70.80. $20 of it came from a random bonus Party gave me. The other $50 is a bonus for referring my mom.

My conscience keeps insisting I have done a Bad Thing, but I couldn't refuse my mom.

It's not really surprising. She's been hearing me and B talk about poker for over a year now, and many months ago she downloaded the software and started having fun at the play money tables. Interestingly, her favorite game has been Omaha 8 or Better Hi-Lo, a game I haven't really been able to get into. I think she's been winning at the play money tables, although she's been suspciously vague on the details. She's certainly in for a different type of game at the real money tables, even the .50/$1 ones. As I tried to warn her, her play money experience may even be a hindrance, since she probably won bigger pots with her wins than she will at .50/$1. (Then again, this is Party Poker we're talking about.)

Already she's feeling the butterflies in her stomach from the roller coast ride of being down $20, then up $20, then down $30, then even, etc. Will she be able to adapt? Tighten up? Cap it when she's got the nut low? I don't know, but I'm not counting her out. This is, after all, the woman who gave me my my love of games and had a big hand in shaping my competitive nature.

OK, I'm off to clear my $50 before I start feeling too guilty about it . . .

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Full Tilt Poker
I was just browsing around and I saw on Andy Bloch's blog that he is part of a new online poker room called Full Tilt Poker. My first thought is that any poker room name with the word "tilt" in it is probably not the best, regardless of how cool and self-aware it's intended. Poker players are a superstitious lot (even though most of them won't admit it).

Anyway, going to the site, I see that the Full Tilt Poker team consists of Andy Bloch, Chris Ferguson, Howard Lederer, Phil Ivey, Erik Seidel, John Juanda, Erick Lindgren, Phil Gordon, and Clonie Gown. So my second thought is, "Cool." Howard Lederer has been my favorite player to watch since I first saw him play over a year ago, and I've been interested in Andy Bloch since I started reading his blog and the Andy Bloch Project (I printed all 42 pages and am still slogging though it and highlighting interesting hands).

So I've downloaded the software and taken a quick look. The interface seems clean, and you get to pick a cute little cartoon "avatar." I think a safe bet is that the cartoon shark will be most popular. Only play money for now. Haven't played yet myself--I'm supposed to be working right now!! Ok, back to it . . .

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Monday, April 19, 2004

This Week's Highlights
"Quotes to start your post seem like all the rage."
--Icey in the World of Poker
Quick highlights from tonight's catch-up-on-the-blogs session:

Pauly, Felicia Lee, and Chris Halverson each chronicle their trips to Las Vegas.

HDouble gleans poker wisdom from The Big Lebowski. The dude abides. This follows HDouble's previous post comparing Rounders and The Huster.

Mean Gene explores the nature of luck: "We now delve into the realm of the unquantifiable, the mystical, the probably completely stupid."

Grubby has introduced a fun new hand of the week contest. Also through Grubby's blog I noticed this awesome tool -- it converts hand histories from Absolute, Empire, Party, Paradise, Stars, and UB into a more readable format.

Love and Casino war has this link on trivia related to playing cards. Definitely gonna have to revisit this site before I host my next poker night, so I can spout off bizarre facts while other players are trying to think.

Finally, Linda provides a history of poker as she has seen it. She's seen a lot, and her post reads like firsthand testimony that yes, we are living in a golden age for poker.

There's tons more great poker blogging I'm missing, but I have to hit the sack. For more comprehenseive highlights I refer you to Iggy, who continues to delight and inform with his ability to stay on top of all the poker content out there, as well as a new blog I've added to my reading list, Flopped the Nuts. (A topic for a future post is going to have to be "poker blog names I wish I'd thought of.")

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Austin Poker
Games that are not poker, but incorporate elements of poker (such as poker-style betting or traditional poker hands), are generally a poor lot of games. First, they suffer from the obvious comparisons to poker, since they are, like so many games, inferior to true poker. But many poker-themed games tend to be not just worse than poker, but downright bad. Go to boardgamegeek.com and search for the term "poker," and you will find many games that have a rating below 6 (BGG uses a scale of 1-10): Poker Bingo, Star Poker, Piratenpoker, etc.

At the Gathering I was fortunate to play a game called Austin Poker that is one of the best poker-themed games I've seen. Austin Poker was designed by Alan Ernstein and is published by a small company called Hangman Games. I met Alan at the Gathering and he seemed like a very nice guy, and I figure Hangman Games can use all the word-of-mouth it can get, so I'll describe Austin Poker in my blog on the off-chance it piques the interest of my still-in-the single-digits-but-growing audience.

In Austin Poker you start with some fake money, and essentially play 4 hands of 5-Card Stud at once. One twist is that each player has his own deck. You start by drawing 11 cards, and from that 11 choosing your 4 hole cards for the 4 different hands you'll be playing. Then you lay, face-down, what will be your first four up-cards for each hand. Starting with hand #1, players reveal their upcards and have a round of betting. Then they reveal cup cards for hand #2 and bet, and repeat that two more times. Then players draw 1 more card from their deck for each hand they have not folded. So if you didn't fold at all, you're drawing 4 more cards. If you do fold one or more hands, you're drawing fewer cards. Then you pick what your next card will be for each hand, and repeat the whole betting process. Do this until you've completed the betting on all 4 hands, just like in 5-card Stud.

When you win a pot, you not only win more money but also the chance to buy "bonus" cards. The theme of the game is that you're building an Old West town (presumably Austin), and whoever has the best town at the end wins. So the bonus cards have names like "Sheriff," "Bank," and "Saloon." The cards that have names of buildings generally give you money. So at the start of each hand you would get an extra $4 if you had previously purchased the "Saloon" bonus card. The cards that have names like "Sheriff" or "Undertaker" generally allow you to perform some special action during a hand, such as swapping out a poor hole card for a better one. All bonus cards are also worth varying numbers of victory points (VPs). As you collect bonus cards, you accumulate VPs, and the first person to 35 VPs (the number varies based on ther number of players) wins.

Perhaps the most interesting part is that each of the bonus cards corresponds to an actual card from the deck. So the Saloon might be the 10 of diamonds. When you buy the Saloon, you're not only buying the VPs it gives you and its money-making ability, you're also buying the 10 of diamonds, and can thereafter use the 10 of diamonds in one of your 4 hands. Clearly, the bonus cards that correspond to aces are very valuable. Thus, when you're deciding which of the 4 hands you want to try to win, you look at the bonus cards you can buy. Certain bonus cards are associated with certain pots. Specifically, you can only purchase "club" bonus cards if you win hand #1, you can only purchase "diamond" bonus cards if you win hand #2, and so on. The game board marks the areas for the 4 different pots by suit to help you keep track.

So the strategy is interesting. First off, you want to win pots so that you'll have more money to bet with in future rounds. Second, at the beginning of the game you want to win bonus cards that generate extra income for you to supplement what you win in pots. Some of the special powers granted by bonus cards are also powerful. Finally, you would also like to buy bonus cards that correspond to aces and kings. And to ultimately win the game you need bonus cards that are worth VPs. But the bonus cards are balanced: Those that generate high incomes give only 1 VP; those that grant good powers correspond to lousy ranks such as 2 or 3. And so on. Difficult choices = need for strategy.

I played one game at the Gathering with 4 other players, but we only got through 2 rounds (we didn't quit out of boredom, but rather because a game tournament we wanted to play in was starting). It was a little difficult to keep track of the 4 different hands, but we were getting the hang of it. When the game broke off I had nearly gone broke from betting too much and coming in second-best in two hands in the first round. Fortunately, the rules provide a small base income to all players before each hand, even those who've failed to win a pot. Plus, when you go broke you're allowed to go "all-in" on one of your 4 hands (although you must choose which one and fold the others). Another player was in similar straits, while the other 3 players had managed to purchase income-generating cards.

Two of the players I played with do not play poker -- they have played poker, and even enjoy it, but refuse to play for real money -- and they seemed to enjoy Austin Poker quite a bit. I think this is the type of player that Austin Poker is geared at. Players who are completely unfamiliar with poker will have a hard enough time learning the poker hands and the way betting works, and will likely be overwhelmed by playing 4 hands at once and dealing with the bonus cards. On the other hands, players who enjoy playing poker for money may find it frustrating to spend 1-2 hours at a game that is very much like, but is not, their favorite pastime. I fall a little bit into the latter camp -- if you've got 5 players (the ideal number, according to the designer) who enjoy poker, why not just play poker? Nevertheless, I think I will buy Austin Poker and bring it out with family, non-poker-playing friends, or even late in the evening of a poker night when not enough people have shown up and/or too many people have gone broke. Currently not available in stores, you can purchase Austin Poker from the Hangman Games website.

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I'm Back
I'm back from the Gathering! It was one of the funnest vacations B and I have had. I played something like 45 board and card games and a poker tournament in 5 days, and met a ton of great people, including several several game designers and game company reps. We came home with 19 new games, 9 of which were free as prizes and the other 10 I bought from folks selling at huge discounts. Cool.

I played one fun, poker-themed board game called Austin Poker, which I will discuss in a future post. For now, I'll just recap the big poker tournament, which I mentioned in my last post.

The poker tournament was on Wednesday (although I've played so many games since then it seems like a couple weeks ago). This was a completely free event, with 2 prizes, both of which went to the winner. These were 1) a nifty World Poker Tour banner and 2) an early pick at the Gathering's prize table. But most everyone was really competing for the prestige of the win. This was the 15th annual Gathering of Friends, and over the years the poker tournament has become one of the most popular events and one of the toughest to win.

There were just over 300 poeple at this year's Gathering, and more than 80 of them entered the poker tournament. Everyone was given 500 in chips, with 1/2 blinds that generally doubled every 20 minutes. I'd estimate that about a fifth of the players had never played Hold'Em before, while another fifth were regular poker players, and most of those in between played very infrequently. This was primarily a gathering of board gamers, not poker players.

The event started as mass chaos. There were no dedicated dealers, so players were dealing, which is of course difficult at 9 and 10 players tables. There were not enough decks of cards at first, and there were no buttons at most tables (some tables improvised with bottle caps and the like) so there was regular confusion as to whose deal it was. Many players were unfamiliar with the concept of blinds. Most players were not used dealing with all-ins and side pots, and some errors crept into the math. At least one table was initally making new players who got switched to their table pay the big blind out of position, as you would at a ring game.

My first table was spared most of this confusion (although I experienced it once I was moved). There were 2 guys running the event, and 1 of them was sitting at my table. So our table was run well, but our tournament host kept having to get up and deal with disputes and questions at other tables, so we got in fewer hands during the first couple levels than most tables. His co-host was stuck breaking up short-handed tables, coloring up chips, and the like. I've hosted a 2-table, 14-person tourney in my home, and I found it confusing enough that I decided I would never again try to run and play in a tourney at the same time. I can only imagine the headache of managing 8 tables. After about 3 tables were eliminated, however, most players got the hang of things and it started going more smoothly.

OK, onto the play. Although the blinds started at 1/2, the players at my table seemed to think that they had to bet at least $25 pre-flop. My strategy of "see as many flops as you can for cheap during the first few levels" was thus not going to work. After repeatedly trying and failing to limp in, I foolishly started calling some of these pre-flop raises with some of my better cards, and leaked away most of my first $100 in this manner.

Then came one hand that sticks out in my memory. I had pocket 7s. I think we were in level 3 with 5/10 blinds. I raise $25, hoping to fend off an even bigger raise, since now players are deciding they like throwing in the nice black $100 chips pre-flop. Probably not a great idea but at least it does fend opff the bigger raise. I'm called by only 2 players and would've rather it was more. Flop comes and I hit my set. The other 2 cards are 10 or below, but all 3 are clubs. I bet $100. The guy 2 to my left reraises to $200 and the other guy folds.

At this point I make an interesting realization. I know this guy's been playing any 2 cards, showing down with nothing, and he keeps saying "raise" when he means "bet" and he seems confused by the concept of small and big blinds. I don't think his I'm-a-poker-newbie thing is any kind of act. My gut says to re-raise him all-in. But the tournament's been going on less than an hour. I don't want to be eliminated ahead of all these people who've hardly ever played before, damn it! If I go out now, all my friends, who I've been talking poker with for a couple days now, will know it. I rationalize that "This tourney is about prestige and not money, right?" I want to prove that I can get at least close to the final table, and of course I want to play more. Winning is not my primary goal. I'm going to fold, and regret it for the rest of the tourney.

Poor reasoning, and a generally wussy play. The number one rule in poker has got to be "play to win." I fold, and regret it for the rest of the tourney.

Oh well, lesson learned. I eventually go down to $75 and shift into super-tight mode. Then a couple all-ins turned that $75 into $700, which impressed my non-poker-playing friends more than anything else even though I knew it was coin-flip type luck. I eventually went out 18th out of a little over 80. My final all-in was called by 4 people (!) and the winner of that hand ended up winning the tourney. My wife B, it must be noted, finished 13th and received acclaim for being top among the few women who entered.

I was left itching to play some more poker, but it never happened even though there was a ring game going every night. On the one hand, most of the guys I was hanging out with do not play poker, and on the other hand, the poker games generally didn't start til midnight, when my brain was pretty well fried from having played other board and card games the whole day long. I did hear some fun stories of single-table tourneys, and will do my best to start one next year.

I may be heading down to Foxwoods on Wednesday. A friend of mine is moving down to DC and wants to hit the casino one last time. Til then, I've got a ton of catching up to do on all my favorite poker blogs.

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Sunday, April 11, 2004

I'm Off to the Gathering
I won a $5 SnG on Absolute yesterday. At this rate the goal of doubling my buy-in there definitely seems do-able.

Cheap Thrills is going on hiatus this week, as B and I head to Columbus, Ohio, for the 15th annual Gathering of Friends. No, we are not Quakers. The Gathering is a game convention--sort of (more on this below). There will be some poker during the event--at least one NL Hold'Em tourney is scheduled--so I'll report on that when I get back.

To explain the Gathering I must first explain my other main hobby besides poker, which is board games. Actually I just think of myself as a gamer, with poker currently my favorite game. Anyway, the board games I'm into are kind of a niche thing. I'm talking about games like Settlers of Catan, El Grande, Union Pacific, and Puerto Rico. These games are more popular in Germany and the rest of Europe than they are in the United States, so some people who play them call them German board games or European board games (although those terms are problematic because many of the games are designed and published by Americans). But the idea is that, as board games, they are different from what most Americans are used to. They generally have more strategy, more player interaction, and less dice-rolling than the games most of us grew up playing (e.g., Monopoly and Risk). I don't play any poker on Tuesday night because that's the night that my weekly board game group meets. I know it sounds geeky, but these games really are good and through them I've made some really great gamer friends.

I'm very interested in the similarities and differences between poker and other great games, but that's a topic for another post. If you're interested in the kind of games I'm talking about, check out About.com's page on the subject, or Funagain Games, which sells them, or finally Board Game Geek, which is a huge database devoted to them.

Back to the Gathering. The Gathering is hosted by game designer Alan Moon, who won the prestigious Spiel de Jahres--the German award for Game of the Year--in 1998 for his game Elfenland (although his railroad game Union Pacific is more highly regarded by most gamers). He started hosting the Gathering back in 1990. Then it was simply Alan and 22 of his friends getting together for a few days to play games. Over the years it has grown to a week-long event with 200+ attendees, but it still remains an invite-only gathering of Alan's friends, and friends of his friends. Among gamers I know, the event is jokingly referred to as a gathering of "board gaming glitterati."

This will be the first Gathering for B and me (I was suprised and delighted when the friend who hosts my weekly board game group told me he had asked Alan to put us on the invite list). While I've been focusing a lot of poker and poker blogging this week, I've also been getting really excited about playing all the newest European board games and meeting some of the most interesting people within our hobby.

As I said, there is a NL Hold'Em tourney on the Gathering schedule, and I wouldn't be surprised if there's a few side games and spontaneous mini-tourneys as well. I'm certainly not the only gamer to have gotten hooked on poker.

Til next Sunday, this is JD, signing off.

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Saturday, April 10, 2004

A Few Tourneys
My interest in tourneys continues to increase. I really need to order Pot-Limit & No-Limit Poker and Championship No Limit & Pot Limit Hold 'Em, mostly to improve my game but also to help me think and write more intelligibly about the subject. Right now I'm just going by experience and intuition, and don't have a solid handle on which of my plays have been smart and which have been dumb but lucky. I do feel that I'm getting better, though.

I've been playing the $5 SnGs at Absolute. Came in third in one one Thursday night, then finished out-da-money in one last night (having 2 guys on my left who seemed to enjoy reraising my blind steals kinda threw off my usual game plan), then came in second in another. I think I played really solidly in the 2nd place finish, but maybe I just had bad opponents. The heads-up play at the end went on longer than I'm used to, I think because it got down to 2 players when the blinds were still reasonable. I ended up going all in with 9s, and made my set on the flop, but my opponent's Q9 ended up becoming a straight. Oh well.

I also played in the daily $1 (+$111 added) 4pm multi-table tourney at Paradise. For the price, I think those tourneys are a great way to learn. Readers may remember that I lost my buy-in at Paradise, so where did the $1 come from? Well, B has been well doing at the Paradise ring games, and Paradise allows users to give money to other users, so she spotted me a few bucks for my $1 tourney fix. Yes, it was kind of emasculating to accept poker money from my wife after I had lost all my own on that site, thank you very much for asking.

Anyway, I finished 400-something out of 800-something, by far my worst finish yet at that tourney. Interestingly, I got KK on my very first hand and QQ on my third hand. Neither held up and together they cost me half my stack. Who really respects a big raise on the very first hand of a tourney? Nobody, that's who.

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Friday, April 09, 2004

Building My Poker Table: Update
The materials for the poker table I'm building arrived yesterday. The felt is a blue-ish sort of green, which I didn't expect, but I can deal with that. The stainless steel drink holders are very nice.

It's the "perfect padded rail" that I'm a worried about. It basically looks like black rubber hosing. OK, I guess it is rubber hosing. I think it'll look OK once it's properly attached to the table, instead of all coiled up like it is now, but my bigger concern is that it smells like rubber. To the point that your hands smell unpleasantly like rubber after touching it. For now I've uncoiled it and laid it out in the corner of the living room in an attempt to "air out" the smell. I'll also wipe it down with a wet cloth to try and get rid of factory dust or whatever might be on it. After that . . . I don't know. Might end up having to cover it with vinyl or something . . . which would pretty much defeat the purpose of using "perfect padded rail" instead of just stuffing and vinyl as demonstrated on this page. Anyway, for now, take warning. B and I will be out of town next week (I'll post on why tomorrow), so I won't actually start building until the 19th or so.

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In his post today, Iggy mentions the movie Shade. I had learned of this movie several weeks ago though HSX. (HSX is the Hollywood Stock Exchange, basically a big online fake stock market in which you "invest" with play money in movies that are coming out. The values of your "movie stocks" rise and fall according to how well the movie does at the box office. The whole thing is actually a marketing tool: The owners of HSX sell the data on which movie stocks are being bought and sold as a kind of gauge on the buzz surrounding each movie. It's free, and I find it amusing to bet (with fake money) on which movies will do well and which will tank each weekend.)

Shade stars Gabriel Byrne, Thandie Newton, Sylvester Stallone, Melanie Griffith, Stuart Townsend, and Jamie Foxx. Sly plays "The Dean," a big-time Texas Hold'Em player and a gangster, and the plot revolves around some kind of con (presumably cheating at poker) that the other characters pull over on The Dean. The buzz on HSX was (and still is) that this movie is bad, or at least not geared toward a mainstream audience, since it had a lot of trouble finding a distributor and almost went straight to video. When it finally did find a distributor, its release date was changed several times, which is usually a bad sign.

My pet theory on why the movie didn't go straight to video is that some studio exec has noticed the buzz surrounding poker right now. The movie's release date is now May 7--I wonder if they were hoping to release it in conjunction with the WSOP, and all the uncertainty with Binion's closing down screwed that up. But that's just pure speculation on my part. Iggy speculates that Shade might cause poker to "jump the shark." I hadn't considered that, but he could be right. Like I said, the movie is apparently not blockbuster material. But I do have 50,000 shares of Shade on HSX--kind of a fun bet on whether poker's popularity can carry a movie.

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On Keeping Up with All the Blogs Out There
Eight days old, and my blog has reached a couple milestones: Iggy at Guiness and Poker mentioned my blog, and HDouble of The Cards Speak gave Cheap Thrills its first comment. Cool.

Iggy also remarks on the number of poker blogs out there: "It's *almost* to the point where I can't keep up anymore." Wow, glad I'm not the only one who finds the sheer volume of poker content out there a bit daunting. For the past couple weeks I've been going through blog after blog. I initially browsed randomly, but it got the point where I couldn't remember which blogs I'd visited and which I hadn't (reading blogs with beer in me exacerbates that problem; Syndirella alleviates it some degree), and for which ones I'd read through the archives and which I'd just skimmed the latest posts. I finally started a Word file in which I keep notes on that kind of stuff, along with comments on the personality and style of various blogs ("This guy play low low limits like me," "This guy is thinking of going pro," "This guy's funny," etc.). The links section at the right just shows the poker blogs I feel I'm now somewhat familiar with, and I'll add more as I get caught up with them.

I thought I'd read through the archives of The Cards Speak, but I missed HDouble's earliest posts on "why play poker?"
Poker offers an intensity of experience that is absent from most other arenas of my life. Although this romantic view of the game may be a bit overblown, I really feel this way when thinking about my win or loss on the drive home from the casino, and the feeling is what counts. Maybe this feeling will disappear with experience, but I hope that it won't.
Great stuff. I had been debating how much to blog about older posts that I find interesting--fearing that maybe it'd be like coming in late to a discussion and bringing up stuff that's already been covered--but now I'm thinking I'm not the only one who's missed a lot of the earlier gems.

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I Heart Las Vegas
The Sports Guy at ESPN.com has an article about his recent trip to Las Vegas. He doesn't play poker, but he does drink, gamble, and generally soak up the crazy Strip atmosphere. If you're like me and suffer from intense, chronic "Boy I wish I was in Las Vegas right now" syndrome, this will seriously inflame it.

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Thursday, April 08, 2004

Absolute & Zen (sounds like the name of a drink, doesn't it?)
What kind of game is it, the player may wonder, what kind of exquisite torture, that requires a person to be both highly skillfull and lucky on a given day? What torturer of a medieval age dreamed up such a combination as this?
---Larry W. Phillips, Zen and the Art of Poker
I won $2.78 at the Absolute .25/.50 tables last night. While I was grinding out this incredible win, I started reading Zen and the Art of Poker. It's a very easy read so I'm about 2/3 through it now. I'm really liking it. It's very repetitive, but it's all sound advice. I'm glad I wrote my "Why Poker?" post before I started reading Zen, though, or else I might've borrowed too much language from the book in describing the appeal of poker. I called poker an "open-ended game"; Zen calls poker a "continuum." I talked about the appeal of a game in which aggression is normal; Zen talks about the power of "ego-less aggression." (Nah, that's a term I wouldn't have borrowed.)

I wrote that "I feel I've got the math parts of the game down pretty well. I think the major leaks in my game right now are psychological," and talked about the appeal of poker as a game you can always get better at. Zen puts it in so much cooler terms:
It is . . . important to come to the table with the goal of mastering yourself, not just the game. In many ways, this is more important than mastering the game. The reason is simple: For the most part, you already know the game. The mastering of yourself, however, is the work of a lifetime. (p. 63)
Another quote that stood out for me:
Poker expertise (at least emotionally) could be said to exist at the point where caring and not caring intersect. (p. 56)
Overall, a solid book packed with sound advice. It's a book that players should read whenever they're on tilt or think they might be, and I may have to buy it (I borrowed the copy I have now from the library) just for that reason. However, I'd never read it before a tourney. I think the calm, peaceful, patient state that it helps you achieve--Phillips calls it "detaching yourself emotionally"--essentially amounts to very tight play and might be counterproductive in playing the looser, more aggressive manner that tourneys require. But maybe I just haven't fully absorbed the Zen teachings.

[Update: June 27, 2004] Just wanted to follow up on my thoughts about Zen and the Art of Poker. I've since purchased it and now consider it among the Top 5 books in my poker book collection. For me improving as a poker player has been just as much about learning to control tilt and deal with swings in luck as it has been about learning how to play different kinds of flops. Zen and the Art of Poker is just a fantastic book to reread whenever I feel like I'm not playing as well as I should be. If you've ever had problems with tilt (and you're lying if you say you haven't), I can't recommend it strongly enough.

Also, the end of the book does have a short appendix on tournament play. Phillips's advice: "The Zen suggestion on tournament poker is this: Do not become too heavily invested emotionally in the outcome. Luck is a big factor in these events." Spoken like a true ring game player! I also want to add that while Phillips does advocate tight play (not always great for tourneys), he does not advocate passive play. The entire section on "warrior Zen" emphasizes the need to recognize moments when aggression is warranted, and to pounce accordingly. But he tempers that with advice on resepcting your opponents, just as a "Zen warrior" would do. It's really great stuff.

I'm considering picking up The Tao of Poker: 285 Rules to Transform Your Game and Your Life, also by Phillips, even though it looks very much like more of the same. [End update.]

Absolute technical difficulties

I came in 3rd tonight at a $5 + .50 SnG on Absolute. I experienced two crashes during the game. The first happened because whenever I "alt + tab" to another app from Absolute, I need to reboot. Real annoying, but I blame Windows ME more than Absolute (this isn't a problem on our other, newer computer), and it's an avoidable problem. But the second freeze-up happened for no apparant reason. It was down to 5 players, I was the second shortest stack, and I get KK. Betting through the flop and turn just fine, then I go all in on the river, and it tells me I've been disconnected. By the time I got back on there were only 4 players left, and my hand had been folded. Of course, for all I know, the KK disconnect kept me alive in the tourney, but dang was it frustrating. I ended up finishing 3rd--actually going out when my second KK of the tourney went all-in preflop againt an opponent's AA--the same opponent I had been up against when I had my first KK and got booted off. Weird stuff.

Well, I'm off to play another one.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Why Poker?
Today I was at my local public library for a work-related errand, and I stopped by the poker section. There were about a half dozen older poker books, including Scarne's Guide to Modern Poker and Spanier's Total Poker. I should check out both of them some time, but today I borrowed Zen and the Art of Poker. I haven't started reading it, but I've read the reviews on Amazon before and am hoping it will help me with some of my bad habits.

After a year of playing low-limits online, I feel I've got the math parts of the game down pretty well. I think the major leaks in my game right now are psychological--feeling underconfident or overconfident, playing when I'm distracted by other things (as I did this weekend), loosening up too much when I'm winning (this is a big problem for me), letting a maniac put me on tilt, etc.

A lot of these psychological leaks are tied to a somewhat Zen-like question I've been wanting to post about, as I've been pondering it off and on ever since I first got into poker. This question was posed by HDouble on The Cards Speak in a March 13 post titled "Poker: Hobby, Sport, or Profit?" I'd phrase it as "Why play poker?" but HDouble's 3 categories are pretty useful. To very briefly summarize his post, hobbies are about relaxation, sports are about competition and self-improvement, and profit is about, well, making money, and HDouble concludes that the latter 2 are his main reasons for playing. Fair enough.

For me, the appeal of poker definitely has several components. I think the first is fun. I just really enjoy playing. That is a good thing, but I think it's also what gets me into trouble sometimes. It is not alway fun to play poker well. Folding is not fun. Holden has a great couple paragraphs about this in Big Deal:
The consistent winner will play fewer pots than the man who has come for some action. . . However high his stack grows, he will continue to exert the self-discipline to wait, wait, and continue waiting for the right hands, the right odds, the right position, the right situations. . . . Above all, the consistent winner is the man of strong enough character to grant the most relucatant poker truth of them all: that poker can be--at times, perhaps, should be--boring.
Or as the Poker Penguin recently put it, "If it's boring, you're doing it right."

I think self-discipline is the key term here (and that's where I'm hoping Zen and the Art of Poker might be useful). Self-discipline, IMO, is not fun. But poker is. In this respect poker is sort of like rock climbing or flying a plane--it's fun that must be tempered with self-control.

I'm going to be honest and say that one of the reasons I enjoy poker is its gambling element. Some folks deny that poker is gambling, saying that it's a game of skill. I think too many people think of the word "gambling" as a pejorative, associating it only with casino games that are stacked against the player. But I don't want to get into semantics or legal distinctions. Of course there's a huge skill element in poker. But there's also a gambling/chance element. Once AK has gone all-in against a medium pair in a tourney, it's a gambling moment, and that has its appeal. I think one of the main reasons the WPT has become so popular is that it affords many viewers who know little about poker but enjoy gambling many vicarious thrills. By and large the skill in poker is recognizing and pouncing on the right gambles, and again, self-discipline is needed to temper the appeal of trusting in Lady Luck at the poker table.

The main appeal of poker, for me, has always been the competition aspect. I have always enjoyed games of all kinds, whether they be board games or trivia games or party games or whatever. Games in general provide a great way to interact with other people and to amuse oneself (solitaire, computer games, HSX, etc.). There's a degree of competition in any game, which hopefully adds to the fun, and poker is simply one of the most competitive games there is.

Of course, a big part of the reason that poker is so competitive is that it is played for money. However, some people play golf, pool, and backgammon for money, but I don't associate these sports and games with raw competition in the same way that I do poker. One reason is that poker is open-ended*. In most games the loser gets to stop at a pre-determined point and return to fight another day with something like a clean slate. Not poker. A good player can keep on crushing bad players til they go broke. Wins and losses are therefore generally more heartfelt.

*A side note about poker tournaments: They are not open-ended, and this is the main reason they are such a different animal. That's a topic for another post.

Another thing adding to poker's competitve nature is the history and culture surrounding it. The Cincinnnati Kid, Rounders, the WSOP, and the WPT have only added to the romanticized public perception of poker as grim world where bad players (the fish) get eaten alive (by the sharks). Perception has molded reality here, to such a degree that any 10 American guys who've never played poker before, once taught Texas Hold'Em and given some chips, are gonna be much more cutthroat about it than they would be about, say, pool or chess.

I can't easily explain why competition per se appeals to me so much. Big Deal and other poker books get into man's primitive nature and such and end up sounding a little silly. But I bet the guys in Fight Club would've benefited from a weekly poker night. I'm not ultra-competitive when it comes to most things, including other games. To some degree, I think that poker serves as a fairly healthy outlet for aggression in a way that other games do not. Not that I'm a jerk at the table or anything, I just think that playing can be soothing in its own way. If I said to you that I used Scrabble as an outlet for aggression that would be pretty weird, but in poker it seems almost normal.

Okay, recap: So far we've got fun and competition. The third thing I'll add is self-improvement. I like the idea that you can just keep getting better at poker, your whole life long because it's such a deep game and it's about playing your opponents as much as the cards. This is of course related to the competition element--I want to get better so I'll win more. Iggy at Guiness and Poker puts it nicely (although I think I am INTP):
I think primarily poker has fascinated me because I am an ENTP personality type and love to learn. I can't help it, that's just the way I'm wired. Poker fully engages my brain - the more I learn, the more I question. . . . You are never done improving at this game. Someone said once that if you're not getting better, you're getting worse - there's no standing still. Stasis = death. . . . It's so damn challenging. . . . And fun.
And finally there is the profit motive. I honestly don't think money is one of the reasons I play poker. It's just a really nice bonus. Now I know there're many players who say that if you're not playing for the money, you're not playing to win. Again we are in danger of getting into semantics. I am fully aware that money is the way in which you keep score in poker. Therefore being a winning poker player and being a profitable poker player are in large part the same thing. When I say that profit is not one of the reasons I play poker, I mean that the few dollars I win at the low limits is not the reason I play. It's the winning of the few dollars.

Well, this post was a little rambley, but it seems required given the subject of this blog. Also I'm really starting to feel more comfortable just letting the thoughts flow and not constantly editing myself. Hey, this blog thing is working out. Now I'm gonna go catch the last half of the WPT rerun that's on right now, and then maybe play some poker.

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Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Wasn't Feeling It
To play poker or to blog poker. That's gonna be one tough question, but I've at least got an answer for Mondays: blog. I've got pet theory (supported by statistically insignificant numbers from my poker log) that Monday is just not a good day for playing online poker, at least for me anyway. My feeling is that Monday is the worst day of the week and it gets better each day through Sunday, with Saturday evening and not-too-late Sunday evening being the best.

Tonight's blog may be pretty short tho. It's Passover, and we had quite the Seder this evening with friends and family. 4 glasses of wine are mandatory at these things--and I drank more than the minimum--but it's all the cooking and washing dishes that's really pooped me out. Good time tho.

Anyway, I had a lackluster weekend at the tables which I'll just briefly summarize. On Saturday I lost my $50 buy-in at Paradise Poker. Doh! I am actually less upset about the actual loss than I am about the fact that one of my first blog entries will be on a loss. Oh well, I shall try and make this post interesting anyway.

The fact that I lost is not important. I must try to understand, Zen Master-like, why I lost.

First: Cold cards and Old Man Variance. They always get some of the blame.

Second: I've been away from the tables for a while and was not feeling as confident as a I should have been. Not that I was expecting to lose, but I didn't have that I'm gonna own this table kind of confidence (that's the kind you want cause it really is the best).

Finally and I think most importantly, I was unfocused. By this I mean not just that I was checking my e-mail, reading poker blogs, etc., while playing--I was doing those things, but I believe you can get away with that some of the time if you are really focused--but that I just wasn't truly concentrating on beating the game. Since I did read so many poker blogs this weekend, I might as well quote one of them since it captures what I'm talking about pretty well. From The Cards Speak:
The more poker I play, the more I believe that the winning poker player is defined by his ability to see patterns. The "feel" for the game comes from absorbing (on both a conscious and subconscious level) the connection of the board cards and the series of checks, calls, and raises.
The Cards Speak also has a cool quote from Gary Carson's book:
A tight game is a struggle for the antes.
An aggressive game is a game of strategy and deception.
A passive game is a game of money flows from the bad players to the good players.
A loose game is a game of money and odds.
I absolutely agree with the first quote, and second quote strikes me as insightful enough to make want to read Carson's book.

When you're surfing the Web or watching TV or whatever, you're not getting a good feel for the table you're at. Now, I've read other bloggers and RGP posters who say that playing the low limits online is "automatic"--that you can stop caring about what other individual players do and just play the cards. I think this is also kinda true--at the lower limits you can ignore individual opponents and mostly just play the cards. But even at low limits you've got to have a feel for what kind of table you're at. When I was really in "the zone" at Party Poker (basically summer 2003), I didn't need to pay attention to what happened when I didn't have a playable hand. Nope, I'd just "ram and jam" my sets and the flush draws (although I didn't really know the term "ram and jam" then), and not get too attached to flops where I only hit high pair, etc., because most of the tables at Party had a similarly crazy, loose feel. I lost my first $50 buy-in at Party, because I didn't know how to play loose games, but then I won it back and then some.

Paradise Poker was always the opposite. Very tight tables, even at .50/$1. So tight I always fancied that I was getting a taste of what higher limits must be like at other sites. If you just waited for the nuts, you'd lose to the blinds, and players would fold to you when they did bet, cause they were taking notes on your tightness. You had to bet top pair and the like much harder, and bluff more when you had good hole cards and the flop mostly missed you. At Paradise it paid to study and take notes on your opponents, and when you won you felt like you had beaten them and not just played the cards and odds right. So even though Paradise Poker has always been less profitable for me, I enjoy playing there. (I also really like their software, and--Parrothead that I am--their theme.)

But this was back in spring and summer 2003. I haven't played much at Paradise for the last 3 months. When I played (infrequently) during the winter, I really felt like Paradise had loosened up a bit. The .50/$1 tables now have players-seeing-flops percentages in the 40s and even 50s, whereas before it was low-40s, 30s, and even high 20s.

My point? I currently don't have a good feel for what the Paradise .50/$1 games are like. Hence I should have played tighter and paid more attention until I got a good feel for the game. Instead, on Saturday, I woke up early, played badly in the $1 9am multi-table tourney (again, love their software, and I've been enjoying getting cheap NL tourney experience lately), then quit for breakfast. Then around 2pm I sat down to play some ring games, and was faced with the choice between Paradise and Absolute Poker, since those are the only two sites I have money at right now. My not-so-rational fondness for Paradise got the better of me as I not-so-rationalized "Well, Saturday is the best day of the week for me if I want to tackle the ring games at Paradise."

Okay, enough about losing. Saturday night and Sunday I played at Absolute and stuck mostly to .25./.50. Not braving the .50/$1 was somewhat wussy of me, but I knew I was coming off a loss and thus in the Tilt Danger Zone. I initially went up $22 (hey, that's 44 big bets), then gave about half that back. Also played in a $5 + .50 SnG and got second place, bit then lost two in a row. So a slightly positive Sunday but an overall losing weekend.

One final note. The Cards Speak is a great blog, but he's got a completely different take on Monday nights than I do:
I suspect Monday night is the biggest PartyPoker night (43K players tonight) because all of the B&M players get home from work too late to get out, so Party is their best option. If I played for a living, I would make sure to max out my hours on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday nights. Remember that "Monday night is PartyPoker night" and your bankroll will thank you.
I think my next buy-in will be at Party Poker. Also I'll put some money back in Paradise sooner or later because those $1 daily tourneys really are fun. But I'm think gonna try to double the money I have at Absolute first.

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Saturday, April 03, 2004

Anthony Holden's Big Deal
I finished reading Anthony Holden's Big Deal: One Year as a Professional Poker Player yesterday. The quick verdict: What a fantastic read. This is a classic of poker literature, with tons of glowing reviews across the Web, so I'll just throw in my 2 cents: There were few a lulls in the middle, and I started the book with some expectations that weren't quite met, but it starts off great and ends on such a bittersweet, downright moving final note that I'm sure I'll be rereading this one before the year's out.

Big Deal is a really great book. My main disappointment with it comes from its subtitle: "One Year as a Professional Poker Player." I was really hoping for scenes of high stakes poker playing and a glimpse into what it would be like to earn one's daily bread at the tables. But as good as Big Deal is, you never get the feeling that Holden's experiences were anything but those of a writer gathering material for book (and having a fantastic time doing it). He plays mostly tournaments (and mostly loses) and a little $20/$40 Hold'Em. He explains on pages 109-11 that the regular casino games in London are too tight and high stakes for him, so he basically takes a series of poker vacations. He uses his poker winnings to pay for his poker-related expenses (mostly travel), but at no point is he ever really making a good living from poker. If he were really "going pro," I think he'd have to learn to beat the London games--or move to Las Vegas.

Lest I sound too critical, I'll again emphasize that Big Deal is a fantastic book. Holden is a great writer and made the right choice in sticking with writing rather than truly going pro and making poker his profession. But for glimpses into the life of a poker pro, poker blogs such as Richard Brodie's Lion Tales and Paul Phillips's Live Journal offer tales of the tournament scene, and Matt's Poker Chronicles talks in detail about "grinding it out," a part of the poker pro life that Holden basically skips over. (I'm still working through all the other poker blogs out there so I'm sure there's more.)

The last (non-strategy guide) poker book I'd read was Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker, by James McManus. That book came after Big Deal, and is unusual in that it chronicles both the 2000 World Series of Poker and the trial of Sandy Murphy and Rick Tabish for the murder of Ted Binion. There's also a lot of background on McManus's youth and his love of poker. I liked the WSOP stuff, but didn't like the "true crime" element and thought that McManus came off sounding pretty pretentious.

Holden covers the 1988 and 1999 Word Series of Poker. No true crime stuff, and his exploration of his obsession with poker wasn't as self-involved as McManus's. Holden finished 90th in his first WSOP, whereas McManus made it to the final table, but Holden's poker writing was more engrossing. And McManus did too much calling! I was disappointed that there wasn't more "play by play" poker action in both books.

Both discuss the history of poker, the history of Binion's Horseshoe, and Dostoevsky's The Gambler. Much of this stuff was covered in another poker I read over a year ago, the somewhat disappointing Poker Nation, by Andy Bellin. In fairness to Bellin, his book is decent but pales in comparison to its predecessors. In fairness to Holden, the parts of his book that I found somewhat boring were the history-of-poker parts, because I've read some of that history 3 times now. I'll probably end up reading a lot of that stuff again when I get around to reading The Biggest Game in Town and The Hand I Played, both of which preceded Holden's book. But the very next book on my to-read list is Stewart Reuben and Bob Ciaffone's Pot-Limit & No-Limit Poker.

I'm building a poker table
I'm building a poker table. About a month ago I came across a couple how-to sites.

This one is pretty detailed, and shows you how to make a very inexpensive table. However, I don't like the table felt he used. Also, I don't see the point in making a long, rectangular, casino-style table unless you're going to have a dedicated dealer--it's too hard to deal from the ends of a long table, so only the one or two guys in the center of the table are in a good position to deal.

The table at this site is more what I'm going for. It's round, has standard casino felt, and bumpers. I couldn't find a cheap 5' round table (checked eBay, various online office furniture sites, and my local Salvation Army), however, so I'm going to follow the tips from the first site and make a table out of plywood and folding legs.

The first thing I bought was the plywood. B and I had rented a cargo van to transport some furniture, so I figured I might as well pick up the wood while I had the means to transport it. Unfortunately, Home Depot only sells plywood in 4' X 8' sheets. I had hoped to build a 5' diameter round table, but instead I'm going to settle for a 4' x 6' oval. Standard casino tables are about 3' x 8', so mine will be in between ther two extremes of round and lengthy. The helpful Home Depot guys thought it was cool I was building a poker table :) They recommended spruce and that's what I went with.

Then I ordered all the other material from casinosupply.com. Here's what I bought:

Table Foam Padding (72 x 42 x 3/8). 2 sheets at $8.35 each = $16.70
Green Casino Cloth (60 inches wide) 6 feet at $8.50 = $51.00
Black Folding Table Legs (29 inch Tall x 24 inch Wide) 1 pair at $16.95 = $16.95
Perfect Padded Rail 17 feet at $3.35 = $56.95
Stainles Steel Drink Holders (they slide under the padded railing) 6 at $7.45 = $44.70

Total plus shipping = $229.24. The plywood cost about $40, so I'm looking at a $270 table. I could have made it for less but I'm only going to do this once and I didn't want to skimp. Plus the stainless steel drink holders were the real splurge item -- if you don't count them then the table's only about $235, shipping included. The cheapest ones I've seen online are around $400.

I placed my order in the first week of March. The padded rail was on backorder, but I just got an e-mail today saying that my order shipped today. Woo-hoo! B and I are going on a little vacation next week, but I hope to have the table built by the end of the month. My birthday is May 2, a Sunday, so I'm hoping to have the table make its debut the night before. I'll keep you posted.

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The cheap cheap tourneys on Absolute
For the past couple weeks I've been on Absolute Poker. I bought in just to clear a 40% bonus (you deposit $50, they give you $70). Then I referred B, hence more bonus-clearing, and now I think I may just keep some money in the site for their $2 +.20 single-table tourneys, aka Sit'n'Gos. They also have .50+.10 SnGs, but that's too cheap to spend time on even for me, and plus the house vig is worse. Interestingly, Absolute Poker has 9-player tables.

Thursday night I played for over 4 hours. Total profit on the evening: $1.15. Don't feel bad about laughing scornfully; I'm doing the same as I write this. I actually profited over $10 from the SnGs, but lost it at the .50/$1 tables. (I'm going to have to start keeping more detailed notes on what I play and how I do--when I first started I kept a really detailed poker log that I have let languish the past few months.) I was also reading various poker blogs the whole time--that's a new bad habt I'm going to have to deal with.

Anyhoo, winning at tourneys and losing at ring games is the reverse of the pattern I'd established over the past year--normally I would make my money at the the ring game and then lose it on $5+$1 Party's SnGs. The crapshoots that are Party's SnGs, plus my experiences losing $60 at Foxwoods's (now discontinued) Saturday tournaments, really soured me on tourneys for a while. I've read Sklansky's Tournament Poker for Advanced Players, and while I found it interesting, it didn't do jack for my game. Plus I haven't read any books specifically about no limit play--I plan to remedy that this month.

Then about 3 weeks ago I played in a home game up in Massachusetts. 15 guys, $25 buy in, no limit, and I came in second for a prize of $100. For a cheap cheap player such as myself this was quite a windfall. Then last Friday the 26th I came in 17th out of 1,130 players at Paradise's daily 4pm $1 tourney, for a prize of $7.50. That was downright thrilling, and I've been having fun with the tourneys all week.

I'm not ready for the WPT or anything, but I do feel a lot more confident playing the tourneys, whereas before I had always felt kinda clueless. The key has been aggression and blind-stealing. Of course I've known for a long time that aggressive play is fundamental to tourney play, but it's one thing to know the theory and another thing to actually start flinging the chips out there with cards that I wouldn't even play in a ring game. And damn, is it fun! After a year of loose limit ring games, where I've learned to hate 2-suited flops when I have a big pair, It feels so freakin' great to destroy a flush-drawer's pot odds with a big bet.

Thursday night I managed to win my first SnG on Absolute. I've been finishing in the money more than half the time (again, I need to start keeping stats on this), but it had all been 2nds and 3rds. I was feeling like my heads up play stunk, and maybe it does--I need to read up more on heads up play. One thing I did do was use Turbo Texas Hold'Em to run 1 million hands, heads up, no betting no folding. Then I printed two sheets: One ranking the hands in order of which won the most, so I can start memorizing it, and another listing them by card rank, so that during a tourney I can quickly find a specific hand on the list and see its heads up win percentage.

Anyway, Thursday when it got to heads up, our stacks were about even at around $6,500, blinds were 1k/2k. I got A7s, went all in, and won. Turbo Texas Hold'Em says that hand holds up 62.3 percent of the time.

In between SnGs I was playing some .50/$1, strictly playing straightforward, "by the book" poker. Specifically, I recently read Lee Jones's Winning Low Limit Hold'Em and I realized that while I thought I knew his book very well, he's got some good preflop advice that I've neglected for the past year. I was surprised at some of the hands he has you raising with, such as KJs in middle position. I really think I had fallen into a tight-weak syndrome, and that was hurting my ring game and making my tourney game just pathetic.

One funny ring game hand on the night: I have 77, call in middle position. 5 others see the flop -- 4c, 7c, Kd. Early position player bets, I raise, only one player folds. Turn is Jd. I lead betting on the turn and all call. River is 3h, so board is 4c, 7c, Kd, Jd, 3h. I'm happy there's no flush. There's a bet and raise before me, and I reraise which may have been a mistake but I have been trying to be more aggressive. One player folds. Here's the funny part: The 3 other players all show 56o!!!

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My poker background
Highlights of my poker background:

--Always loved nickel-dime games with the guys in college and afterwards. Lots of crazy wild card stuff, lots of beer.

--Watched Rounders in 1998, then went out and bought Ken Warren's Winner's Guide To Texas Hold'em Poker. Lost my B&M virginity at the Flamingo in Las Vegas and won $20 at $4/$8. Lost $100 at Mandalay Bay's $4/$8 game that same weekend. A few weeks later I dropped another $100 at the Viejas Casino in San Diego, then decided to stick to the nickel-dime home games.

--Fast-forward to spring 2003. I stumble upon my first World Poker Tour episode. The Aruba one, sponsored by Ultimate Bet. I tried to download the UB software that night but the site was frozen from all the traffic. A couple weeks later I had read Lee Jones's Winning Low-Limit Hold'Em, opened a Neteller account, and bought into Paradise Poker.

--For the next few months I ground away. Initially I went up $200 from bonus whoring, but only broke even on poker. Made heavy use of the Party Poker/Empire Poker bonus cycle--buy into one, clear bonus, cash out, buy into the other, clear bonus, cash out, repeat. Then I started reading RGP and the Two Plus Two forums, taking notes on everyone's advice on how to deal with the very loose games at Party/Empire. I hit my stride and went up about $150 in pure poker profit, plus all the money from bonuses.

--During this time I headed down to Foxwoods for their Saturday morning Limit Texas Hold'Em tournament (which they discontinued a month or so ago). 200 players, $60 buy-in. I finished 27th the second time and got my buy-in back. Just out of the money the other 3 times. It was a great way to get B&M experience but I definitely did not have a good handle on tournament strategy.

--Cashed out all my online winnings in October 2003 in preparation for a week-long trip to Las Vegas, where I got married. By this time B, my then-fiance/now-wife, had also caught the poker bug. We had custom-made poker chips as favors at the wedding. Sweet. Amidst all the pre- and post-nuptial fun, I managed to play poker twice. A very late-night $3/$6 game at the Flamingo, and a $2-$6 spread game at the Excalibur. Won $10 both times. B showed me up by winning $20 at the Excalibur $1-$3 game.

--Got back to our home in Rhode Island, and tried the $4/$8 game at Foxwoods. Lost $100. Ouch. (The details of that game may make another post.) This was also the beginning of a big losing streak online. Lost almost all my poker profit (though still way up in bonus money) between Thanksgiving and Christmas 2003. I know I didn't play well, but I also think that that's the time of year when casual players (aka fish) are least likely to keep money tied up in online poker. Once I heard about the WPT airing on ABC before the Super Bowl, I vowed to abstain from online play until then, figuring that the WPT on a major network would bring in tons of new players.

--Ended my abstinence after the Super Bowl and quickly went up $50 at Paradise Poker. Then made the huge mistake of buying into Ultimate Bet for a bonus. First, the UB bonus is much more difficult than most to clear at low limits. Second, the players on UB are more aggressive than elsewhere. Even on Party, I can usually find a somewhat passive game. Long story short, I went on tilt worse than ever before and lost my $130 buy-in. Took another month of self-imposed abstinence, until the recent WPT episode with Paul Phillips, Gus Hansen, and Dewey Tomko sparring at the end brought me back. (That was a really great episode!)

And here I am. Currently I'm down $99.27 after almost exactly one year of playing online (home and B&M play not included in this figure). I've also cleared $454.10 in bonuses, for a net of $354.83.

Those bonuses are great, but they are contributing to the major weakness in my game, which is that I often don't take online play seriously enough. Don't get me wrong--I want my poker to be fun--but too often I've played while drinking or shrugged off losing sessions, thinking, hey, it's just bonus money. And of course not taking the game seriously is also one of the dangers of playing such low limits (mostly .50/$1). But I don't want to move up in limits until I've proven to myself that I can beat the cheapest games. So this blog is part of my plan to rededicate myself to improving my game.

OK, enough background. In my next post I'll actually log some online play.

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Thursday, April 01, 2004

The first post!
So I've decided to start a poker blog.

I've been playing online poker since April 2003, but I only just got drawn into the world of blogging a couple weeks ago. I was browsing through my dozens of bookmarked poker sites when I stumbled across this article on poker blogs at www.pokersavvy.com. I started bookmarking the most interesting blogs, such as Guiness and Poker, which lo and behold is the blog of Ignatius J. Reilly, the author of the pokersavvy.com article.

But I didn't truly get hooked until I followed the advice of Jeremy, host of the Love and Casino War blog, on downloading the Syndirella newsreader. Since then I've spent as much time reading poker blogs as I have playing poker, and that's a lot of time. And here I am now starting my own.

So that's the quickie background on how this blog came to be. And as I understand this blog thing, posts are supposed to be short and sweet, so I'll wrap this one up. I work as a freelance writer and book editor, so my tendency is to scrutinize, revise, and generally over-analyze everything I write. I'm going to try and do the opposite with this blog, and just let the poker musings and tales of low-limit thrills flow!

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