Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Highly impressed

Just sat through W crushing a 199 field to finish 2nd in a, get this, Limit HORSE tourney. Turned $24+$2 into ~$870.

W. In a LIMIT HORSE tourney. Just goes to show what hours and hours of practice will do for ya.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mississippi blues traveling

Unlike past trips, I didn't have it in me to blog about every night of my trip, so I'll just post a few brief recollections of my recent poker trip to Mississippi.

Tunica is pretty cool, as far as poker goes, but there's not much else to do apart from the casinos. There's a biggish strip mall (like an outlet mall) that I passed but didn't visit. Tunica itself is broken up into three distinct areas, separated by about 1-2 miles in between. The poker rooms are Harrah's, The Gold Strike, The Horseshoe, Hollywood Casino and Sam's Town. The best were definitely the Gold Strike and the Horseshoe, which were situated next to each other in the center section of town. The Gold Strike and Harrah's were very nice casinos, as far as these things go, and the good poker rooms had as many as a dozen or more tables in them. Not a HUGE amount of action here, but you could find any hold'em game you wanted up to 2-5 NL. Players were generally pretty bad, too. I did well at Tunica, making money at the cash games and then giving it back on tournament buyins. My favorite tourney was the Friday HO-HO-HO tourney at the Horseshoe. For $125, you got 8000 in chips, with 40 minute blinds and levels starting at 25/50! The game was HO, half NLHE, half PLO. Sick. I made the final table, but busted out two from the bubble with 55 participants. Grrrr.... My last hand, which would have probably put me into the money, was my QQ vs. 66 with a 6 spiking on the turn.

I went to two other poker rooms during the trip, one called Harlow's Casino in Greenville (nothing special to report, just a locals casino) and one in Choctaw called the Golden Moon Casino. The Golden Moon is a super nice building with a really cool globe restaurant on the top which has a super high tech looking poker room. No big action in it, just really cool looking. As far as pure aesthetics are concerned, it's one of the nicest looking I've ever seen. Unfortunately, it's in the middle of Mississippi. The manager used to work at the Taj in AC for 13 years. She told me, and I quote, that the "worst poker players in AC are the 5-10 Omaha Hi-Lo players". Just nice to have corroboration. I ground out about $200 playing 4-8 LHE in that room against some pretty bad players. The room attracts players from Alabama, because of it's proximity, and the players are just what you'd expect. Lots of Southern Drawl.

That's all the poker action to report. Other memories of the trip:
  1. Walking in a raw cotton field in Mississippi.
  2. Walking the train tracks of Helena, Arkansas.
  3. Eating BBQ Brisket at the Paula Dean buffet (with Paula Dean actually in attendance!) in Tunica.
  4. Watching Robert "Wolfman" Belfour, on the very bad side of the tracks, play old country blues to a crowd of 7 in a dive bar in Clarksdale.
  5. Having a beer in Morgan Freeman's Ground Zero Blues Club.
  6. Watching the steam rise up from the bayou and spill over onto the roadway like a mass of white cotton candy.
  7. Feeling the warm breeze of Central Mississippi blow through my hair as I stood on the gravesite of Robert Johnson.
A short trip, but worth every second.

Brief life update

I haven't been in much of a mood to blog lately. A combination of being extremely busy and fighting off a late Christmas season stomach flu. Since I spent Christmas over at Ali's place in Connecticut, they were gracious enough to allow me to recover on the couch for as long as I needed. I needed today to recover in addition to Monday so my day has more or less been spent in a bathrobe, watching TV and playing some online poker.

I funded my account with $100 a few days back in an effort to practice some bankroll management. Chris Ferguson's now famous $0 to $10,000 challenge had the following rules attached to it, which I am going to experiment with. Here are the rules:
  1. Never buy into a cash game or SnG with more than 5% of your bankroll.
  2. Never buy into a MTT with more than 2% of your bankroll.
  3. If at any time in a no-limit or pot-limit game the money on the table represents more than 10% of your bankroll, leave the game when the blinds come to you.
The last week or so, I've been playing micro-limit Omaha/8 and doing fairly well, building up my $100 in about $130. But in the past 24 hours, I tore up two tourneys. In the first, a $5.50 buyin O/8 limit tourney, I placed 8th out of 197 for a $29 payout. The amount of the payout isn't as important as the percentage of my bankroll. I played that particular tourney very very well, being very patient and not getting mixed up with sub-par starting hands.

The only reason I busted out in 8th was that I got distracted and accidentally called a raise and a re-raise with something like A3KT, with the Ace suited. Then, I got pot-committed when the flush draw flopped and I whiffed the river. Bad play on my part and very representative of how a 4 hour tourney can get ruined by a 3 second lapse of concentration.

The second tourney, played today, I chopped for 1st out of 87 participants. It was a $3.30 buyin Stud High tourney and I cashed for $65. I was close to going out near the bubble when I managed to get rolled up 5's paid off to the river. The very next hand, I got rolled up 10's, but everyone folded by 5th street. Still, the cushion put me into the money and then I was able to capitalize on position over a fewer shorter stacks. I accepted the chop offer of my heads up opponent, Gwar666, who was basically even with me at the time.

So now my balance is just over $200. I'll feel very accomplished if I can grind it to $1000.

In the meantime, it's been hard playing poker at the Wall Street club because it's been hard to get participants. I'm hoping it's strictly because of the holidays, though I know that part of the reason is a serious loss of bodies in the past few months. It seems as if the entire Crackhouse crew has gone incognito. Slayer is more or less engaged in Jersey City, Darko is kinda whipped, Tae and Sean have given up on downtown, F-Train and CK have gone to the dark side, Abbie's found love (Weeeee!) and W has turned pro and can't be quite bothered with "bowling time" (though to be fair, she's still active). Yes, most of the old crew has gone their separate ways, but that doesn't necessarily mean the end of Wall Street Poker as we know it.

Perhaps it was ambitious to set up two tables. I still have the option, but in the meantime, I think I'm going to stick with a single table and only open up the second if I feel the overflow warrants it. In addition, after this season, I'm going to abandon the rankings system and stick with freelance tourneys and cash games as the whim dictates. This will allow me to be more cavalier in my scheduling which, let's face it, is needed as my relationship with Ali grows. I can't do this forever you know....

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sucks to be someone else

I got my bonus numbers on Friday and I was NOT happy. 60% down from last year (that's my bonus number, not my total comp). And yet, I'm serenely at peace at the same time. I still have a job, something a lot of other people in the industry can't say. Plus, I got actually got some sort of bonus, small as it was, while many others in my own company got the big donut.

But no matter how bad I feel about my situation, NOTHING is as insulting as what happened to the guys at Credit Suisse. Instead of cash bonuses (you know, something you can actually spend), they got CDO's. That would be Collateralized Debt Obligations. These would be shares of pools of bad mortgages that were the very reason that Credit Suisse and the other banks went down to begin with!!!! This is the equivalent of a Chinese toy factory giving it's workers lead-paint tainted toys for their kids. Or a restaurant shutting down because of tainted food and then giving their employees a picnic with the same food! It's deviously brilliant too beause it gets the bad debt off the company books while also giving a possibly valuable (in the far future) security as a bonus.

But damn if it isn't insulting to everyone involved. How fucked up do you have to be to come up with that?!?

Christmas Wrapping

"Bah humbug, but that's too strong, 'cause it is my favorite holiday."

I just finished wrapping all the gifts I got for Ali and her family members for my first ever bonafide Christmas celebration. I'm super psyched to spend Christmas with her and her family and I'm overwhelmed by reception I'm told I'll receive. Let's just say this; I have my own stocking over their fireplace.


So while it's 3:45AM and I have to be up for work in less than 5 hours, it's completely worth it.

The season is upon me.

And if you didn't get a gift from me this year, it's not because I don't love you. It's because I don't have any money left!!!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Major Douche Alert

I wrote a post a little while back about my old camp friend, Roger Madoff, who died a few years ago.

Turns out, his father uncle might be the biggest douchebag in the world right now.

What a sad legacy to leave for your children family.

Monday, December 8, 2008


I had some posts saved up that I was waiting to finish, so don't be shy about reading them all. I have 5 large new posts up!

You’re damned right I got the blues

No, not really. Actually, things are pretty peachy in Jamie-land these days. I still have a job (bonus!), I’ve got the best girlfriend I could ever have hoped for and I still have time to play poker more nights a week than is probably normal or good for me. Also, I started practicing with the band again, and the juices are starting to flow. Seriously, if you had asked me three years ago if I would be this healthy again, I would have said not a chance, Lance. But something funny happened along the way. I got over my blues and life moved on. Through some incredibly lucky happenstance and a few missteps along the way, I met Ali and things have just been better all around since. So why title this blog entry like this? Because I’m going to Mississippi again this coming Thursday on a long awaited Blues/Poker trip and I wanted to get down, on virtual paper, what my obsession is with Blues music.

I suppose it has to do with authenticity. I mean that’s what it boils down to. There’s not too many ways that a Jewish boy from Long Island, educated and brought up in an upper middle class neighborhood, can connect body and soul with Delta Blues. That music, born of sons of former slaves and sharecroppers in the harsh land of cotton, is very specific to a culture and a time. It speaks of experiences that were real and true to that land and time period (generally 1880 – 1950, approx.). My background doesn’t lend itself to that in any way, shape or form (save for the tenuous Jewish cultural connection of slavery in Egypt). So why spend so much time on it and why the fascination? It starts with my older brother Eric, who picked up a guitar, like so many before him, after growing up in the early 70’s on the music of Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton and other English musicians who decided to meld rock and country blues into what we now know as “Classic Rock”. Eric’s record collection (Vinyl, cassettes, 8-track and Reel-to-Reel) formed all of my early musical influences and I found myself on many a summer afternoon playing tracks on his super cool stereo set and versing myself in the strange sounds. It was a far cry from the pop tunes of the time I “should” have been listening to. It was the late 70’s and Billy Joel, The BeeGees, Donna Summer and The Police were big attractions. Being from Long Island, Billy Joel was inescapable, but I was adamantly against those other acts, though I had never heard them. I was just “for” whatever my brother listened to and I developed a lifelong fascination with classic rock and their mainstays. It limited my critical abilities for years because I avoided all other kinds of music, until I started to consciously expand myself in the last ten years.

As a result of my classic rock schooling, I developed an appreciation for blues and roots music even though I didn’t know it! So many of the songs I heard from The Stones, Zeppelin, The Who, Clapton, etc… were actually covers of old blues songs and I became familiar with the originals only many years later when my adult curiosity (and enhanced income) afforded me the opportunity to get to the root of the history of this music I loved. In addition, I took up the guitar myself at 19 and naturally tried to emulate the guitar heroes I’d grown up with. That meant that I learned chords and lick phrasings that had actually been invented decades earlier not by Jimmy Page or Eric Clapton but musicians like Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Charley Patton.

Back to authenticity. As a result of my research, I discovered that most of the white English musicians who had revived the Blues in the mid 60’s were products of lower middle class working people of post war England. They had lived through, or their parents had lived through, horrific conditions as a result of World War II; food rationing, shortages, bombed out villages, unemployment, etc…. The blues that the English were playing weren’t born of their own troubles, but they could sing about them in a true enough way. The interpretation seemed to be true to their nature. Which made it even more shocking to me when I heard the first strains of the Robert Johnson boxed set, “The Complete Recordings”, when I bought it on CD in 1990. I had heard of Robert Johnson through old interviews with Keith Richards and Eric Clapton, both of whom covered his songs and spoke of Johnson as a huge influence. I had chosen well in my introuctory foray into the roots of American Blues. Johnson was indeed a prodigy, of songwriting and performing, and his haunting strained voice mixed with his perfect blues mythology lyrics, were a real eye opener to me. Here was a man who was born on an honest-to-goodness Mississippi plantation and traveled around to various cities in the south being chased by his own demons and wanderlust. His music is pure and authentic in every sense and it hit me like a ton of bricks. All good art is a pure expression of the artists’ experience and the closer you get to the root, the better the art becomes. This was the source. The fountain. The English musicians were interpreting this music through their own experiences, but this was even more authentic and true. Compared to this, contemporary groups of the time seemed like so much fluff and commercial crap. I was hooked. I suppose it was escapism for me to latch onto this music. I was comfortable in my suburban lifestyle but even then I had the inkling that it wasn’t quite ‘real’. That there was more to life than the school play and the corner pizza joint. That there was more to the world than the idyllic white picket movie I was living in. That there was real pain and loss in the world and it touched me somewhere primitive and spiritual.

As I delved deeper into back catalogs of blues, I developed a sense of the timeline that this music took. Deep country blues of the 30’s and 40’s influenced guitarists and pianists of the south into the 50’s. Guys like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Ike Turner and, yes, even Elvis Presley, took these 12-bar blues from their childhood and gave them a backbeat. From there, the music split into rock and roll as we know it today, and Soul Music, as exemplified by Aretha Franklin and the artists at Stax Records. Traditional and electrified Chicago blues was still recorded (the new movie Cadillac Records will illuminate this part), but it never again was quite as relevant to contemporary music. Rock split again into it’s various modern sub-genres and Soul morphed into modern R&B and rap/hip hop.

All through today, the question of authenticity drives what I listen to and what the tastemakers of the present elevate as good examples of a genre. It really doesn’t matter what the music is either. Whether it’s blues, rock, metal or disco, the authentic artist is one who immerses themselves (or is born into) a particular style and lives it so thoroughly that it seeps out into what they create. You can’t help but be overwhelmed by the truth of their experiences. Guns and Roses is authentic L.A. rock/metal, born of the party scene of Sunset Boulevard. Donna Summer is authentic disco, born of the coke fueled excess of New York City in the mid to late 70’s. Charley Patton is authentic blues, born of the racism of Jim Crow and the backbreaking work of the fields.

This is what I’m looking for in Mississippi. This is what I’m looking for in my life.
And a few hands of poker....

The perils of being the house AND the dealer

Last week, I had my first official open invite Wall Street Poker cash session. It went really really well, with 11 players playing strong through 12:30a and lots of loose action. With the stakes at $1/$2 NLHE, there were at least 6 pots over $400 including a $900 monster which featured a unique ending, to say the least.

Two players (who shall remain nameless but I will refer to as P#1 and P#2) were involved. Both players had tangled earlier, with P#2 taking a $350 pot after sucking out a higher two pair on the river, so P#1 was itching, vocally, for revenge. In this pot, P#2 had raised PF to about $16 and got two callers, including P#1. The flop was something like 8c-3s-2s. P#1 checks, the middle player checks and P#2 bets about $75 into the pot. P#1 raises about $125 on top. The middle player gets out of the way and P#2 calls. Turn is something like 9d (9d-8c-3s-2s on board). The board itself is not terribly important to the story other than to show there was a spade flush draw and a relatively uncoordinated board. P#1 bets out another $125 and P#2 calls. (Also, the bets are not exact but that’s not the point of the story other than to show there was a lot of money splashing around). The river is Kh. P#1 thinks for a bit and goes all in for $325. The pot is the biggest of the night and it’s up to P#2.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Remember that I’m playing the role of dedicated dealer AND the house. P#2 goes into the tank and starts to talk out loud about what P#1 could possibly have. P#2 then opens his cards in front of himself, showing Ad-As. This was CLEARLY meant to draw a reaction from P#1 and was DEFINITELY not a fold as it was most certainly behind P#2’s chips and there was no forward motion towards the muck. Before anyone could say anything, P#1 said, “Good hand” and mucked his cards, throwing them face down towards the muck, though they didn’t actually touch the muck yet.

Here’s my interpretation of these events:
P#1 wasn’t aware that P#2 had opened his cards trying to get information. He thought P#2 had called the all-in, and therefore folded to the obviously superior hand. Since no one had asked the dealer about the action, the fold constituted a fold out of turn and therefore P#2 didn’t technically HAVE to call to win the pot. Either way, if P#1 had realized his mistake and taken his cards back and continued with the hand, there is NO way P#2 doesn’t now make the call since P#1 had, in all earnestness, folded. So I decided to say nothing about it and award the pot to P#2. My feeling is that bringing up the uniqueness of the situation over the table would have caused P#1 unnecessary torment. In any case, I believe I handled this correctly. Do you think otherwise? Tell me about how you would have done it.

Plantations and Po-boys (Trip report, part 6-Final)

After a great night’s sleep, Ali and I awoke early for a trip out to a real southern plantation. Or rather, a former plantation. Oak Alley Plantation is about 45 minutes outside of the city on tranquil grounds a few hundred yards from the Mississippi river. The house, featured in Interview With A Vampire, and countless photo spreads and real estate magazines, is probably the best surviving example of an anti-bellum (Pre-Civil War) plantation house in the country.

Ok, you got me. I have nearly no basis of comparison. But I can’t imagine other houses being any better than this. A perfectly wrought example of Greek Revivalism, the house features a second floor veranda which wraps 360 degrees around the home, huge columns and most spectacularly, 30 separate oak trees, 300 years old, perfectly spaced to form a romantic canopy leading from the front door of the house to the river. The oaks, for which the plantation derives its name, were actually in place before the plantation was built, planted by the former land owner. The property was purchased by a wealthy man from New Orleans after seeing the trees and the house was built to showcase the beauty of the land. Sugar cane fields lie to one side of the house and beautiful park-like grounds are on another side. Ali and I drove up to this magnificent plantation, took a tour and then relaxed on the grounds sipping Mint Juleps, which were made for us just outside. The strong bourbon, mint and simple syrup concoction, coupled with the unusual 80 degree heat we were experiencing, made me feel very much like a plantation owner. You know, without the slaves and stuff. Incidentally, this plantation was a slave owning plantation, though the slave’s quarters had long since been destroyed by time, weather and floods. There was a large placard on the grounds which detailed the inventory of slaves that had gone through this plantation, along with the prices paid for each slave and their particular uses/skills. Not surprisingly, skilled tradesmen, like blacksmiths and carpenters, fetched the highest price if they were young and in good health. Also prized were young mothers of child bearing age and their young children. One family, consisting of a mother, aged 26 and 3 children, went for $1300. This would have been around 1850 or so, and it was a considerable sum. A modest middle class house could be had for that amount! On the low end of the totem pole were older unskilled workers, old ladies who cooked and disabled men. Joseph, a man of 69 who was listed as having one arm and having the skills of a laborer, was purchased for $25.

After window shopping the prices of slaves and taking a walk along the Mississippi (where we saw an authentic riverboat dropping off tourists), we made our way back into the city. It was time for lunch and we were very very hungry. We made our way up to Bourbon street and walked a few blocks east to Felix’s. My brother Darren had turned me on to this the last time I was in New Orleans. Felix’s is a smallish shop which makes excellent po-boys out of fresh shucked shellfish that they open right in front of you. It has a great bar counter where Ali and I sat and ate. I had a Shrimp and Oyster po-boy while Ali opted just for the shrimp. We also had a plate of fresh onion rings and two beers and the whole meal was outstanding. Just what the doctor ordered.

We spent the rest of the afternoon roaming through the French Quarter. Ali, who’d never been to New Orleans, was endlessly fascinated by the unique architecture of the quarter, with it’s ramshackle shabbiness and ornate wrought iron balconies. We took lots of pictures and we even ended up walking through the French Market and past Jackson Square and Café du Monde. We didn’t have time for any beignets though since we had a 7:00pm dinner reservation at Nola’s, Emeril Lagasse’s restaurant in the Quarter.

We hurried back to the hotel, changed into better outfits, and hightailed it back to Nola’s, arriving precisely on time. Our table was ready for us and we were seated on the second floor. The restaurant itself is perfect for the town. Nestled in a converted warehouse, the restaurant features a glass elevator right in the center to ferry customers to the three exposed floors where seating is arranged tastefully. The noise is at a deafening pitch as the conversations of the patrons bounce around on wooden floors and exposed brick walls. The kitchen, on the first floor, is fully exposed and the high flames and whirling activity can’t hide the wonderful aromas that penetrate the space. We were seated on the second floor, overlooking the balcony, and feasted our eyes on the menu. We opted for the stuffed chicken wing appetizers (WAY better than it sounds), a bowl of Reggiano-Parmesean soup and two separate entrees. I had the barbecued shrimp and grits and Ali had the filet mignon. Both were insanely good and the meal was heavenly. Desert was a slice of the absolute best pecan pie I’ve EVER had.

Sated and stuffed (like those amazing chicken wings), we stumbled from the Nola’s like two satisfied foxes who’d been let loose for an evening in the henhouse. The night was young and we still had a ways to go before retiring. Ali wanted to hear some authentic jazz and I was about to take her walking to a club I knew about when it hit me. Preservation Hall. For those of you not in the know, Preservation Hall is a small little club in the quarter that is literally dedicated to preserving the music and musical culture of old New Orleans. The ‘club’ is nothing more than a single room, maybe 20 feet by 15 feet, with a few old benches in it and few chairs for the performers. You come into an alleyway after buying your ticket and sit (if you can get a seat) just a few feet away. There is no stage and no microphones. The performers come shuffling in, a rotating cast of local New Orleans professional musicians and the show is underway. On the night we went, there were five old guys sitting in on drums, trombone, saxophone, piano and upright bass. The lead vocalist and trumpeter was a younger guy whose father had been a famous local musician. After the introductions, the group went into their first number, a jumpy jazz tune and I looked over at Ali. She had a smile ten feet wide on her face and I was very happy. I wasn’t sure if the authentic jazz stuff would be her style but she loved every minute of it. Halfway through the third number, a somber saxophone version of “Somewhere over the Rainbow”, Ali leaned over and kissed me. It was the best kiss of my life. Full of good food and wine and surrounded by incredible music in one of the most romantic cities in America, I was as happy as I’ve ever been.

After the show, we called Matty Ebs, who was in town visiting college friends to see if he’s want to go out for a drink. We ended up hooking up with him and two of his friends and driving out to a bar that the locals go to, about 15 minutes away. It was a somewhat hectic scene, with an outdoor fountain featuring about 45 beer taps flowing with water, but the beer was good and the company was better. We stayed, getting our drink on, until nearly 2AM when we broke it up and went home.

The next day, we got up early again to hit a cemetery tour I had booked. But we were a little late getting out the door and we ended up missing the tour by a few minutes. As luck would have it, though, another tour was starting in a few minutes which worked out even better for us. It was a Garden District/Cemetery tour and combined the two things I wanted to see that day. The tickets were transferable and we were on our way shortly. The tour featured a two hour walk through the Garden District, which is a 30-40 block neighborhood of the most ridiculously awesome mansions you’ve ever seen. The tour guide had thoughtfully brought price listings of quite a few of the homes and I wasn’t shocked to hear they homes listed for anywhere between 2 and 6 million dollars each. A bunch of the houses had famous residents as well, like Nicholas Cage, Trent Reznor, Anne Rice (though she sold hers), and Archie Manning (father to Peyton and Eli). The tour also featured a walk through the Garden district cemetery, which is directly adjacent to the famous Commander’s Palace restaurant. The cemetery was fascinating and the tour guide did a good job explaining the whys and wherefores of New Orleans famous above-ground burial system. It turns out, there were two equally valid reasons for burying citizens above ground in crypts, both of which remain in effect today. The first was cultural. The French Creole citizens were used to this burial system, though I never understood why. The second is New Orleans high water table, which precludes most below ground burials, unless you like the thought of your loved ones’ arm popping up occasionally. For religions that require in-ground burial, like Judaism, they simply build a mound on the ground, surround it with concrete, and bury the person in the mound!

After the tour, we took a trolley car back to the Quarter and walked around a bit more. We ate beignets at Café Du Monde (a must), drank chicory coffee, and did a longer walk of the rest of the French Quarter. I bought Ali a beautiful red dress for her birthday that she had seen in a shop window the day before and we also purchased a few yards of pretty knitting cloth for her mother for Christmas. After returning to the hotel, we met up again wit Matty and his friends for dinner at Port of Call, a bar and restaurant on the east end of the Quarter on Esplanade Avenue.

Port of Call is not your average bar/restaurant. For one thing, there’s a wait of nearly TWO HOURS for a table. I asked what they could possibly serve to justify this wait and I was told, “Burgers and Baked Potatoes”. What? Are you shitting me? WTF?!?! “Seriously, you will *not* be disappointed”. I figured all those people can’t be wrong and after a very long and crowded wait, we ordered our burgers and baked potatoes. Ali decided on a drink which was the equivalent of New Orleans famed ‘Hurricane’. I forget the name but I saw the bartender take a big plastic cup out (so you can walk outside with it, if you choose), take three bottles of hard liquor and turn them over, for like 15 seconds. Then two seconds of some various fruit juices and voila! A drink is born. A scary drink, though. Ali was all like, “I can’t taste the alcohol at all!”. I’ve been down this road though and I warned her of the potency but she ignored me, taking hits on her straw like that cup had *the* medicine. To make a long story short, she was completely wasted before the burgers were finished. Oh yeah, about those burgers. They came and they were monstrously good. Perfectly medium rare and insanely delicious. But honestly, the baked potatoes are the real draw. It was like eating carb candy. After an hour of gorging on this goodness, we stumbled outside like wayward children, fat and happy and drunk.

We wandered outside a bit, heading over to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, a bar nearby which was Jean Lafitte’s actual blacksmith shop way back in the late 1700’s and converted into a bar, with the original blacksmith furnace still intact. Matty, Ali and I had a few quiet drinks before calling it a night. Ali and I stumbled home and passed out.

We got up Sunday morning, sad that our trip was nearing an end. But before we left, we had one more delicious meal to ingest; a Jazz Brunch at Mr. B’s Bistro. We arrived for our noon reservation at the very stately Mr. B’s and were treated to brunch drinks (Bloody Mary for me) and a really really good brunch meal, New Orleans style. That meant eggs benedict served over fried eggplant rounds with an Oyster sauce for me. Insanely decadent. Ali had never had a Bloody Mary before and she took to it quickly. A nip of the dog, I say, heals morning blues. We munched on our eggy goodness and listened to the fabulous Jazz quartet playing in the restaurant as we took in our last hours in the Big Easy.

The flight home was easy as pie and we went home with a fabulous weekend in the books. {Sigh}. I wish I was still there.

Bring on the beads (Trip Report, part 5)

After my adventures in Biloxi, I was eager to get cracking in New Orleans for the remainder of my vacation. Ali was flying down that night to meet me for the long weekend and I had two more poker rooms to visit in the Big Easy. I left relatively early Thursday morning and hit the road for the hour and fifteen minute drive to the city. After a boring drive, stuck behind a tractor trailer who just wouldn’t give way, I spotted the skyline of the Business District and the Skydome to the right of the French Quarter. It’s a respectable skyline for a city that doesn’t really pride itself on the height of it’s office buildings. Not like Charlotte, NC, with its building (singular). Instead of heading into the city, I took a roundabout interstate to head south to the Boomtown casino, located about 10 minutes south of the city.

True to my theory that all western themed casinos suck, the Boomtown was a strictly locals casino that was smoky and dirty. The poker room was pretty hard to find, upstairs in a small area that was completely cut off from the casino floor, though it was overlooking it all the same. This gave it very much a ‘skybox’ feel to it with it’s small 5 tables. Only one table of action was going at the time, but they were full so rather than waiting, I collected my chip and left. Nothing much going on here and I was anxious to check into my hotel.

The Country Suites and Inn (or something like that) at 315 Magazine street, was very conveniently located two blocks from the French Quarter in the no-man’s land between the Quarter and the Warehouse district. The building was a converted warehouse with a lot of exposed brick and original wooden beams on the ceiling and the effect was very airy. As a consequence of being a converted warehouse and a few other buildings joined in, in true haphazard New Orleans style, the rooms were laid out on differing levels that required a map to find. I checked in, dropped my bags off, and immediately walked to the New Orleans Harrahs casino, three blocks away.

The New Orleans Harrah’s is the best poker room I visited on my trip, even if it’s also one of the loudest. One of the key qualities of a good poker room is the action you can get (translated as the number of players who are playing at any one time), combined with the ratio of tourists to locals. Too many locals doesn’t make for a good game because locals tend to play very tight and give little action. Conversely, a small number of players at a room limits the number of games that are running which can make getting a game excruciating, or worse make the game you want unavailable. Harrah’s, being the only real poker room in the immediate area, not only enjoys a monopoly but also the advantage of being smack in the middle of one of the biggest tourist destinations in America. This makes for a steady flow of good traffic, both locals and tourists alike. You will ALWAYS get your game here (provided it’s hold’em). Consequently, the comps kind of suck but that’s not a big issue if you’re playing and you’re happy.

I spent a few hours playing 1-2 NLHE in the very loud Mardi-Gras themed casino and was having a blast. Ali called right in the middle with a good story about how she was chatting it up with Ali and Dina Lohan in JFK airport. To her this was fascinating. To me, not so much, but I dutifully listened and was happy for her that she was happy. I asked if Lindsay was there, because I was only really interested if hot crack whores are involved. But alas, Lindsay was off somewhere else.

The excitement of the celebrity encounter having passed, I played some more until the sun went down and I walked through the Quarter to get dinner. I found a great new restaurant on Royal street called, appropriately, Royal House, and was treated to a very very good Oyster Po-Boy along with a half dozen fresh shucked Oysters. I discovered the joys of Crystal hot sauce, a locally made delicacy, which has a much milder vinegar content than Tobasco, and delivers the hotness and sweetness without overpowering the Oyster. I was a believer. Thanks to Mike, the Oyster shucker at the bar, for turning me on to that. I walked back towards the hotel to pick up my car to pick up Ali from the airport when I got sidetracked by the Jets/Pats game blaring from a local Irish bar. I watch the last few minutes of the 4th quarter, just long enough to see Randy Moss make one of the best catches I’ve ever seen to tie the game with one second left. I cursed the Jets ability to give their games away and scurried off to the airport. Happily, while I wasn’t watching, the Jets won the coinflip for first possession in overtime and won the game on their first drive.

Suck it Pats!

Ali and I got back to the hotel room and promptly fell asleep, tired from poker and travel and the long weekend ahead of us.

Biloxi Blues (Trip report, part 4)

After I left the Belle of Baton Rouge, it was one last long drive left for me on the trip. This time to Biloxi, Mississippi. I hopped in my car early in the morning, after taking a few minutes to take a few pics of the Baton Rouge water line from the casino, and painted Hermes towards Biloxi. When I pulled up the map, I was happy to see that Hermes was taking me on a Southerly route along the water rather than the inland route north of New Orleans. It took nearly an hour to get to the water via some rather boring landscape, but the water drive along the Gulf was eye opening. It turns out that the Gulf shores of Louisiana and Mississippi are *really* nice. The views are long and pretty and there is only a hundred feet or so between the water and the road, which makes for a nice drive. My first casino stop was en route, the Silver Slipper in Bay St. Louis, MS.

I pulled down an access road amidst some very rural bay-type homes and was saddened to see some of the damage that the recent hurricanes had wrought. Some homes had been stripped down to nothing more than a few beams and a stairwell. Trees had been stripped bare of all branches. Perhaps most depressingly of all, a single home on stilts (most of the homes in the area are on stilts) with the words “DO NOT TEAR DOWN” spray painted on the front. This is an area that’s been hit hard by hurricane damage and it’s impossible not to feel for the locals.

I pulled into the driveway of the Silver Slipper, which sits directly on the water in the middle of nowhere. Next to the casino is a marina with some honest to goodness shrimping boats, straight out of Forrest Gump. I took a few pictures, taking care not to attract the attention of the salty looking workers who were on the boats in the lazy sunny morning. Inside the casino, which was exceedingly clean and friendly, was a small 5 table poker room with very nice people who were playing 1-4-8 spread limit Hold’em. I played for an hour, jawing with the crowd and getting a nice feel of the place before hitting the road again.

Just down the road from the Silver Slipper is the Hollywood Casino. Not quite as nice as the Silver Slipper with another small 5 table toom, this one stuck in a corner. I played 30 minutes of more spread limit poker (hey it’s on a weekday in the afternoon) and got out of there.

An hour later, I was in Gulfport, Mississippi and at the Isle View casino. The Isle View is a large-ish and nice place with a 9 table room in a spacious area with high ceilings. I would have played longer there had I had the time. As is, once again, I was stuck playing Limit poker. I could have waited for a No Limit table but there was only one going and it was full. I had a fun time at this table and I heard one of the funniest lines of the trip. When I showed down a hand for the win, I said, “Third Nuts”. My opponent said, “Bird Nuts?”. It was good for a laugh.

The drive from Gulfport to Biloxi, about an hour, was especially memorable along the water. This area, known as the ‘Redneck Riviera’ in some circles, had especially beautiful antebellum mansions built all along the coast and viewable from the road. These large old southern homes, gazing out on the water with unobstructed views, were simply magnificent. One of them, as I found out when I took a closer look, was known as the “Southern White House”, as it was a popular getaway for the Trumans when they took vacation on the Gulf.

I finally made it to Biloxi and pulled up to the garage of the Imperial Palace, where I would be staying for the next 3 days. The IP bears absolutely NO resemblance to the IP in Vegas. The Vegas IP, while centrally located, is an old and smoky dump of a place (no matter how many mixed games they play in the poker room!). The IP in Biloxi, on the other hand, is new and magnificent and clean and beautiful and chic. Kind of like the Borgata, except smaller and multiple levels. The restaurants were chic, including an asian place that had a unique entrance-way. There was a constant shroud of fog being blown down like a curtain and a laser would etch the name of the restaurant on the fog surface like a floating sign. You would walk *through* the fog to get inside, which made it seem very mysterious and cool. The food, unfortunately, didn’t match the décor. While it was perfectly fine, the prices made it seem like it would be much better. But when you’re deep in Mississippi, Pad Thai passes for REALLY exotic cuisine. The joys of New York, I suppose.

I checked into my room and immediately found an issue when there was a big ozone machine going full blast. Turns out my room had been smoked in and the ozone was how they got rid of the smell. A quick trip down to the front desk and I was put into another fine room with a great view of the city of Biloxi.

Biloxi is set up like a grid, with the IP standing tall on the north end, by the inland bay, and the Beau Rivage standing on the Gulf Coast on the south end, maybe a mile away. Along the edges of the bay and the gulf were a few other casinos, but the Beau Rivage and the IP are definitely the two brothers of the city. The Beau is actually more like the glamorous older brother and the IP is kind of like the scrappy younger brother. In between, in the city, is absolutely nothing but residences for a whole square mile. I mean there is NOTHING to do in Biloxi other than the casinos. Not recommended for a long trip, for sure.

I high-tailed it to the poker room where I found a nice setup of about a dozen tables with a few of them in action. They spread the general 1-2NL and 4-8 LHE with an Omaha table going twice a week (more on that later). I played a little NL and then my curiosity got the better of me. It was time to go looking at the other poker rooms.

I managed to see all the poker rooms in the city in about 3 hours. Sams Town, which has a western theme, was the worst one. 5 tables and smoking allowed. Blech. This continues to support my theory that western themed casinos are by far the worst kind. The Isle of Capri had 9 tables and a nice local vibe though there wasn’t much action going. In any city I’ve been to, incidentally, I’ve always like the Isle of Capri casino chain. They run a good operation. The Hard Rock, next to the Beau Rivage, was like all Hard Rocks. Smallish, loud and catering the the youngun’s. From what I heard, the small 5 table poker room has some of the biggest action in town but it’s one of the worst locations I’ve ever seen for a poker room. There’s a long-ish corridor leading to the entrance of the casino and when you get to the entrance, a wave of noise hits you like a slap in the face. That’s where the poker room is, almost at the end of a funnel of noise. And very small on top of it. I hear the Hard Rock room in Vegas sucks too, continuing a trend. It’s odd too, that the best Hard Rock poker room I’ve seen is in Hollywood, FL, where they don’t even play real No Limit!

By far, the best poker room, and hotel, in Biloxi is the Beau Rivage. This is certainly the Grande Dame of Biloxi hotels and it was modeled on the Bellagio in Vegas (same owners). The room is about 18 tables and has plenty of action, day or night. Everyone was nice, from the players to the dealers to the waitresses, and the chairs were the absolute best I’ve ever sat in after 120 poker rooms. They were similar to Aeron chairs, if they were padded, and they had pneumatic action on them for a comfortable shock absorbtion. Outstanding.

A word about the comps in Mississippi: Fantastic. For the three days I stayed in Biloxi, I didn’t pay for any food in the poker room. Twice, I had $15 meals that were comped after I had only been playing for about an hour. They didn’t even check my card. They just took my order and when I asked how much they said, “don’t worry, it’s comped”. Crazy. The food was pretty good too. For one of my meals, at the Beau, I had a really decent Pastrami on Rye with a chocolate covered strawberry (huge and delish) for desert. All gratis. Also, at the IP, if you played 4-8 O/8 for two hours, you got $25 in cash! Wow. Considering a starting stack in that game is $125, that’s a serious profit motivator. Not to be outdone, the IP had a thing where if you played any regular raked poker game prior to a tournament, you would get an additional 250 in chips for every hour you played up to 1000 in chips. This for a tourney with a starting stack of 2500. Sweet advantage. Not to be outdone, the Beau had a free $500 drawing promotion where you’d get a free ticket every hour you played. You just had to be there for the drawings, which happened every few hours. These are insanely good comps compared to the measly $1 an hour you get in Atlantic City.

As far as poker went, I did pretty well in Biloxi. It’s a small town and there are a lot of locals, so I got to see most of the same people over the next three nights. My highlights were a $250 win at 1-2 NLHE (a set of 3’s doubled me up) and chopping for first in a 40 player tourney. It was actually a 5 way chop for first, but I wasn’t complaining. After being first in chips most of the way through, I doubled up two opponents on bad beats (my QQ vs. JT and my AK vs. KQ). At that point, everyone was about even so we decided to chop it. I made about $300 in profit on that one.

Biloxi was a fine place to visit, and I really liked the Beau Rivage, but I doubt I’d go back. Just not enough to do between poker sessions.

My next and final stop on my southern tour was New Orleans, which featured two poker rooms and a visit from Ali who would spend the rest of the weekend with me in the grand city.