Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Poker Cruise Blog (long)

First day: Boarding the ship, believe it or not, was as painless as getting 2000+ people on a ship can be. What with security restrictions, passports, immigration issues, etc… the people at Carnival did a pretty good job. Scott and I got to the port at 55th street at 1:30PM and we were on board the ship by 2:15PM. Having said that, I didn’t get my last bag of clothes into my room until 5:30 and the ship didn’t get under way until just about that time. Scott and I spent the time overlooking the ship. There is a casino on board, a few pools, a few restaurants and all the accoutrements you would expect from a cruise ship. The best part, is that when we arrived in our room, there was a balcony even though we had only paid for an oceanview with no balcony. It makes all the difference in the world to be able to step out and look at the ocean with the wind sweeping across your face (and to know it’s free!).

The unexpected room upgrade is the first free thing we’re going to be getting, evidently. We’ve had to pay for water, soda, and all sorts of other extras. Yes, food is free, but there are a thousand different little things we’ve had to pay for so far. We’ve avoided the obvious pitfalls, but alcohol is a must and we are paying for every drop. The good news is that bottles of alcohol, even the good stuff, are relatively cheap. We finally got underway and the casino opened quickly afterwards. Some old women were waiting at their slot machines, literally waiting for the instant the machines were turned on. For the first night only, limits at the gaming tables (Blackjack, etc…, not poker) were $3.00, so Scott and I spent a pleasant hour playing cheap Blackjack, Let It Ride and Caribbean Stud. After dropping $50 or so, we hit the welcome party for the Cardplayer Cruise players. The Cardplayer editor, Linda Johnson, went through all the ins and outs we could expect from the trip and then the whole group hit the dinner tables. Except for Scott and I who had booked ourselves into the late seating and not the early sitting. We played in the casino until OUR dinner time and had a pleasant time eating with Jerry and Stella, two 55+ sisters on a trip for Jerry’s birthday. After dinner, we went directly to the card room. Scott was pretty tired but he was game to play a bit. The room only has 9 tables so it gets pretty full and the 1-2NL table was indeed full, but we were able to get seats at the 4-8 Limit game. I did pretty well, buying in for $100 and cashing out 2 hours later with $165. I had a few big pots, including a big one I took off of Scott when I busted his flopped set of two’s when my 34 suited rivered a straight. There had been another caller in with us so I kept calling for my flopped OESD. Scott was pretty beat so he took off soon afterwards but then I switched to another table and took a good pot with Quad Queens (two in my hand) and a flopped set of 10’s that turned into a full house. The card room is EXTREMELY well run (even up to MY standards!) and just what you’d expect from CardPlayer magazine. The players are of more marginal quality than I’d expect, believe it or not. There are some excellent players, to be sure, but there are more older granny types than I would have imagined. The older players are more apt to chase impossible draws and, as such, make excellent table mates! I’m going to sleep now but I’m registered in the morning for a $230 buy-in No Limit tourney at 9:30AM.

Second Day: Scott and I got up this morning at 7:30 AM after a somewhat fitful night’s sleep. The beds and rooms are very comfortable, but the ship was rocking a bit more than I thought and the vibrations from the engines can be felt, even if it’s slight. I don’t have an issue with that, normally, but I’m just not used to it. There was a storm last night in New York so I understand that makes the waves worse and we should be better as we sail further south. After showering and having breakfast (with another poker player who just WOULDN’T shut up while we were eating), it was off to the poker room for the first tournament of the cruise. The tourney was an excellent format, with 2000 starting chips for $230 and an extra 500 chips for an additional $5.00 (duh!). Blinds started at 25/25 for 20 minutes and the first three blind levels were also 20 minutes. After the third blind level, the levels were 30 minutes, which made for a nice and comfortable pace. Scott and I were about even through the first hour with neither of us too much up or down. Then I got mixed up in a hand with Scott where I gave him 2/5 of my chips on an up and down straight draw that never came through. It wounded me and put me well below the starting 2500 chips with blinds at 100/200. We had a break at the end of the 5th blind level and we were happy that we had at least survived that long. There were 58 people at the start of the tourney and blinds were about to go to 200/400 with 50 antes. With about 35 people left, folks like myself who had about 2200 chips were going to have to make moves, and quickly. I doubled up once with my AQ vs. an AT to keep me going and I went all in a few times to steal blinds. I even, shame on me, bluffed Scott off the big blind with my Qh5h vs. his JJ. But eventually, bad luck found me out. I was about to double up again when I called a short stack’s all in with my AhQh. He had KhQs but a King came on the turn to crush my dominating hand. I had done fairly well in the tourney, getting knocked out around 25th place and if I had doubled up there I would have given myself a decent shot of making the money. Scott, on the other hand, was a monster. He kept accumulating chips and giving them back, over and over. Meanwhile, people were getting knocked out all around him. It wasn’t until there were about 16 people left that I realized that Scott stood a pretty good chance of making the money (the top 9 finishers in this case). I was off losing money at the 4-8 Limit table but out of the corner of my eye, I could see people getting bumped off one by one. As they did, I gave a shout out to Scott to keep the faith and he eventually got to the top 10. It was now bubble boy time and Scott had about the 9th stack in the tourney. I saw there were 2 people in even more dire straits than him and I reasoned with him that he might be able to fold his way into the money. He took my advice and folded some playable hands. Finally, I heard a swell of applause as the bubble boy stood up after getting knocked out, and it wasn’t Scott! He had survived and moved to the final table, now the 7th stack. Play continued as Scott pushed as hard as he could with his small stack. Fortune struck and a big stacked player got knocked out, moving Scott up in the rankings. Then another. Then Scott doubled up! And two more stacks got knocked out. Finally, in last place with 5 players left, Scott raced his QJ against a small 66 and lost to be knocked out to thunderous applause by my table, whom I had converted to Scott Levy fans. Scott cashed out of this tourney with $815 and a listing in an upcoming issue of CardPlayer magazine! Good job Scott!!!

Third Day: Day 3 was a more casual day, with Scott and I taking part in some of the sun-related activities. We sat up on the Sun deck for a bit after getting a long and luxurious sleep and had a casual lunch. Then we attended a seminar on art collecting which, like every other activity on this damned ship, is geared towards separating you from your money. It was interesting, but not uber-exciting. Afterwards, I went to play cards and sat down at the 2-4 “granny game”. I only played an hour, but was able to pick up $69 by catching a few flops and getting paid off on it. The card room closes at 5:15 for dinner and re-opens at 7:00, but Scott and I had reservations at the supper club at 7:00 so we couldn’t get back to play for awhile. The supper club, by the way, was outstanding. I had a rare porterhouse that was done absolutely perfectly and started the meal with a cup of Lobster Bisque that was one of the best bisques I’ve ever tasted. The meal was a looong 2 ½ hours and we were completely stuffed and happy afterwards. After the meal, we headed over to the show lounge to play a quick game of Bingo ($600 jackpot!), which we didn’t come close to winning before the show started. It was a hypnosis/comedy show and Scott actually volunteered to be on the stage! Along with 12 others, Scott was subjected to a whole bunch of humiliation (Funny!) and he was a good sport about it. The show ended around 11:30 and I went off to play in a 3-6 game that had formed near the casino. Scott was pretty beat and he went to bed while I racked up another loss at the table. I didn’t drag a pot for the first two hours, finally winning one with KK that stood up against 3 players after much aggressive betting on my part. My bad luck streak broken, I went on to win a few others but still couldn’t get overcome the opening salvo of losses. The casino shut the table down at 3:15 and I was down $98 for the night.

4th day: After getting up at a leisurely time again (hey, we’re on vacation!), we had a quick breakfast and then went to the Internet lounge to check our email. I wasn’t going to hit the lounge during the trip as I have a thing about checking email on vacation, but Scott was waiting for an important message for his business, so I went along with him. While we were there, we met a woman in the lounge named Lisa Tenner who is a producer/promoter. She was writing interview questions for a VH1 show that is going to be filmed in November. It’s a poker game of rock stars that is going to have an interview segment of some sort. She was asking her husband about some poker terms when Scott and I broke into the conversation to help her out. That led to her asking us to supply some questions for the show, which we happily did. It turns out that she is going to give us writing credits for the show (!) so look for our names sometime in late January/early February when they air the show on VH1!!! We’ve landed in San Juan, Puerto Rico just now, at 1:45 PM, so I’m on my way out to enjoy the sites. I’ll be back in a bit.

Okay, I’m back. Two things though. It has been raining all day which greatly reduces our enjoyment, AND I have a head cold which started out last night and has gotten worse today. The rain didn’t help, I’m betting. As a result, I was in bed all of tonight and sadly couldn’t go out with Scott to dinner to the nice restaurant he was going to take us to. L Tomorrow we are going to do Ocean Racing in Saint Thomas, so I’m going to sleep relatively early in order to see if I will be well enough to attend.

5th day: Scott and I got up at about 9:00 AM after an awful night’s sleep on both our parts. I slept poorly because I didn’t have Nyquil with me and I had to rely on Tylenol PM, which just isn’t the same. For Scott’s part, he slept poorly because, evidently, I snore when I can’t breathe through my nose. Sorry buddy! The good news is that after a shower and a quick breakfast, I was still weak, but well enough to ride out in the ocean on the sailboats. It was a great three hours as we raced another group throughout the St. Thomas bay (we won handily) and spent some nice time out on the water. Afterwards, we were going to go wander around and find an authentic restaurant for lunch, but, alas, it was Sunday and everything closes at 1PM. So we found a pub we could eat at (surprisingly good for pub food) and watched a few quarters of the football games. Then we walked around the port area buying a few hats and gifts. Afterwards, we headed back to the boat and took a well deserved nap. When we got up, at around 6:30, I headed to find some dinner because I wanted to hit the poker room at 7:00 when it opened up. Scott wanted to hit dinner later, so he went to the casino. My session at the poker room was the best one I’ve had on the trip so far. I played a little over 3 hours at the 4-8 table and cashed out $105 up. My play was great and I was able to make some good reads, great laydowns and perfect raises in the right position. I got a few lucky flops but nothing monstrous. Mostly, I was showing down winning hands and running over the table for the rest of it. It felt good to win after the last few losing sessions. Tomorrow is scuba diving in Tortola, so I bought some Nyquil and am now waiting for it to take effect. Ah, here it comes….

6th Day: I woke up in a better situation than I have been in the last two days, but still not perfect. But today is scuba day so I had to suck it up and go with the flow. We had a 7:30AM wake up call and a room service breakfast so as not to lose too much time since we had to be out by the pier for an 8:30AM pickup. Well, we ate and showered and went down onto the pier at 8:15 exactly. When we got down there, Scott remembered that the tickets for the scuba trip were still in the room! So I waited downstairs while he went back onto the ship and got them. The clock was ticking but Scott made it back in time by 8:25 and we ran over to where the taxis were congregating. All of the excursions leaving at 8:30 had signs up, except ours. We ran around trying to find our excursion but we couldn’t find it! Were we too late? Did they leave without us? We were a little peeved since we had shown up on time until we saw from the ticket that the time was actually 8:15AM!! Ouch! It seemed like the part of the trip we had both been looking forward to most had been ruined until a nice taxi driver saw our plight and took us over to the dive shop where the group was diving from. It was only 5 minutes away, luckily, and since we weren’t too late, they were still handing out equipment. We tipped the taxi driver handily for saving our trip and headed onto the boat with plenty of equipment in hand. There was a 30 minute boat ride out to the dive site, which turned out to be an old ship called the H.M.S. Rhone. The ship was sunk in a famous hurricane in 1860 (approx.) in which the ship lost nearly all of their crew while going across the bay. They had no idea it was a hurricane since the season was nearly over and they mistook the storm for winter swells. The local residents on Salt Island, where the wreck is located, went out into their own boats to try to save the ship and ended up being able to only pick up the few survivors. In gratitude for their bravery, the Queen of England lowered the island’s taxes to 1 bag of salt a year, which the island dutifully pays to this day.

The first dive went well, but with a little bit of difficulty. I hadn’t been in the water for 3 years and I was a little nervous when I first got in. But when we started to submerge, I felt calmer. But because of my recent head cold, I was having trouble equalizing the pressure in my ears. This is very very important since the water pressure on your body doubles every 33 feet you descend. I got down to about 30 feet and had problems, causing me to breath a lot more heavily and waste more air than is strictly necessary. But I eventually fought through these issues, albeit painfully, and the dive was fantastic. There was lots of marine life, including a huge barracuda and a very large lobster. We saw coral of all colors, an enormous school of fish, and a nearly intact front half of the shipwreck. We were down about 75 feet for about 35 minutes. When we came back up, the pressure in my head rapidly decreased, causing my sinuses to, ahem, evacuate. My mask was full of blood and mucus (yum), which is common for divers who go down with a head cold. But that was better than another diver who got onto the boat, stripped off his gear, and proceeded to puke his guts out into the water. Whoops. To make matters worse, one of our boats engines had blown out while we were making our way to the dive site, so the mechanic had come on another boat. What this meant for our poor sick diver, was that he wasn’t getting back to land for a while.

Because of my equalization issues, I decided it would be safer if I didn’t go down for the second dive. Scott did, though, and saw some original English tiles, a silver serving spoon from the ship and the ship’s propeller. It was pretty awesome all around. I stayed topside with Mr. Puke-My-Guts-Out and Scott got to see some great stuff.

Oh yeah, I played some poker too. When we got back to the ship, we grabbed some lunch and showered and then got back to the card room. We ended up at a short-handed 1-2 No Limit game which eventually swelled to 8 players. Scott and I both ended the session after an hour and half with a profit. Scott was up about $35 and I ended up $48. I had been up $55 early on but lost a bunch when I got squeezed out of an AK that didn’t pair up. I then went down about $20 but won a whole bunch when I felted a guy with a Th9h. I was in the small blind when the 5th seat made it $7 to go. Two people called in front of me so I did too and the big blind did as well. The flop was Ts9d3d. Hello top two pair! I checked, fully intending to bang anyone who bet it when the big blind bet $30, putting a big smile on my face (on the inside). He only had $35 left so I moved all in after everyone folded and he was pot-committed to call, if he had anything decent. But he called so quickly I thought he might had hit a set. Fortunately, he had 9s3s for bottom two pair and he was dead to a 3 or running spades. Neither happened and I dragged a very big pot. The table broke up soon afterwards for dinner and Scott and I, who are at the later seating, went to play some table games in the casino. Luck hit me there too and I was up $75 after a nice run. A great day all around so far.

I was going to play some more tonight, but I was convinced to go out to the club with some girls we met. We had some drinks together, but nothing else. Oh well. I was digging pretty deep in the well anyway, if you know what I mean.

7th and last day:

I woke up pretty early to play in the Limit tournament, where I got my butt handed to me. I lasted about an hour and 15 minutes due to some pretty bad luck. I won the first couple of hands and built up a decent chip lead early on, but I got my stack decimated when I flopped top pair with top kicker twice and lost to higher pocker pairs. After that, the blinds started going up and I couldn’t get anything going. I wasn’t the first one out, thankfully, but I was relatively down on the list. After that, I played some 2-4 limit in order to chill out and was able to drag a $33 profit. The worst hand for me was when I raised under the gun with AcKc and got re-raised by the number 7 seat. I capped it to 8 dollars and the flop was T72. I bet and he re-raised and I called. At this point, I put him on a high pocket pair but was very happy to see an Ace come on the turn. I bet and he only called this time. A 6 came on the river and I bet and he reraised! Was he slowplaying a set for another bet from me? I called and he showed 67 offsuit for two pair!!?!? I couldn’t understand the re-raise pre-flop but he got lucky by making his two pair after the Ace came. It was a big pot, but I made it back and then some with two straights and a flush. I’m going down now to play some 4-8.

I made a couple of bucks at the 4-8 game, but nothing spectacular. I had made a $75 profit early on, but just like the rest of this trip, I got whittled down by some ridiculous beats. It seems like I can’t hit anything and I’m getting outdrawn when I do have something. It’s quite demoralizing. I left the card room to see what was going on in the casino when I happened upon the boat’s 3-6 game. There were no card players from our group at the table and there was a wonderfully inviting seat open, just beckoning me to come and sit down, which I did dutifully. The table was a dream. I was getting calls to my reraises with bottom pair and, mercifully, no one was sucking out on me. I was up $90 in 15 minutes. I had visions of making all my money back on the last day when the inevitable happened and my bad luck started to come back. This hand says it all:

I had 89 in late position when I limp into the pot. The big blind raises to 6 dollars and all the players call, so I call. There are now 6 players in the pot and the flop is 356. I have an inside straight draw and two overcards. Everyone checks the board and a 9 comes on the turn. The original raiser bets 6 and gets one caller. I raise to 12 and the original raiser makes it 18! The other caller folds and I call what I think is a bluff. The river is a 5. He bets 6 and I call, smelling a straight. He shows J5. I had him read perfectly and he made his 5 outer on the river! This happened to me over and over and over again on this trip and I’m in a really bad rut right now.

As much fun as I had on the trip, this run of back cards has made me skittish. I don’t know how I’m going to get out of this other that continuing on with my head down like I’m running into a linebacker.

On another note, I’m really note sure if I would do a cruise again. The food was mediocre at best and the excursions all feel very “forced”. I much prefer a self directed agenda, which the boats don’t allow, and I like the idea of meeting a higher class of people. If I wanted to spend a week with white trash, I’d have gone to Arkansas.

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