Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Former colleague kicking ass!

So one of the guys I used to work with at JPMorgan, Andrew Frankenberger, recently won the WPT 2010 Legends of Poker tournament to the tune of $750,000! Wow.

When I knew him, he was not a particularly great player, though he wasn't terrible. He's also played a few times in my home game, way back when. Now he's taking down major tournaments!

Coincidence? I think not!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Florida Heat

Gaming opportunities are few and far between these days. My own poker game has dried up, Atlantic City is too far away for anything other than a weekend (which I can’t spare) and my job in midtown, coupled with the intense summer heat, has precluded me from playing competitive Backgammon with the usual crew. So what’s a gamer to do when the itch comes?

For me, I try to take the time to enjoy my wonderful relationship with my fiancé and spend the bulk of my remaining free time planning our wedding and honeymoon. The wedding date is November 6th, in Aruba, and even though the hotel takes care of a lot of details, there’s still so much more to plan. Finalizing the guest list, the music choices, the flowers, the cocktail hour details, etc… is pretty close to a full time job. A pleasurable one, but a job none the less. On top of all that, Alison is busy spending her time looking for work. It’s a miserable job market for newly minted law school graduates, which is only driving her to work twice as hard to find a position.

Incidentally, if anyone out there knows of a job for a Dartmouth undergrad, a Fordham law grad, and a super hard and organized person (all Alison, natch), please give me a buzz!

In the midst of all of this craziness, my father has been bending my ear for months to come see him down in Florida. He’s been alone since my mom passed in November, but there hasn’t been enough time to fly down for a trip, until now. Ali and I took a JetBlue flight from JFK to Fort Lauderdale this past Thursday night, returning the next Monday night. My dad was in great spirits and we had a good time together. My parent’s condo is on the beach in Hollywood, and beach going would normally be a priority, but the temperatures were in the mid 90’s and the humidity was oppressive. Ali and I managed a few hours here and there to go in the ocean (bath water temperature) but it was in the late afternoon, when the sun was low on the horizon and the beach was shaded by the 30 story buildings lining the beachfront. We ate Golden garlic crabs at the Rustic Inn in Dania (a huge favorite and highly recommended), really good Cuban food at Little Havana in North Miami and had some kick ass breakfasts at the local bagelry.

But one thing was missing from my usual Florida frolics: Poker. I had already warned Ali in advance that since Florida has recently approved No-Limit Poker, there would be ZERO chance that I wouldn’t sample it for at least one session. I saw my chance Saturday night when we came back from our Cuban dinner. Ali was sated with food and it was about 9:30p. I announced my intention to go play cards and got surprisingly little resistance, only an admonishment from my father not to ‘stay out all night’. My legendary (in my parent’s mind) all night session of 10 years ago (where I came back at noon of the following day) had still not been forgotten. I promised I would try my best, but I never made any guarantees and I headed out.

I debated going to the Hollywood Hard Rock hotel for my one and only poker session of this short trip, but discounted it for two reasons. One, it was a 30 minute drive to get there, which meant I’d be shaving off a precious hour of playing time. By comparison, there were three other poker rooms within an 8 minute drive, allowing for much more time on the felt. The other reason was that the Hollywood Hard Rock is, by far, the most popular poker room in South Florida and likely to be the most crowded. I envisioned a long waiting time for a table, and I would have been pissed if that occurred. I opted instead for the Mardi Gras racetrack and casino, a greyhound pari-mutuel facility which had recently, according to news reports, moved its poker room downstairs and expanded it. I wanted to check it out anyway so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone.

I was inside the poker room within ten minutes of leaving my father and Ali and I have to say the room is impressive. It’s about 35 tables with nice tables, auto shufflers and plush chairs. The room is on the dark side, but the tables themselves are lit up quite nicely and the dealers were way above average in skill and friendliness. The opponents were also nice people and, more importantly, not particularly good players (more on this later).

Even though it was Saturday night, the room was not as busy as usual according to the local players. I can only imagine the Jewish holidays had something to do with that. Even so there were still 16 tables going with 1-2NL, 2-5NL, 2-2 Limit, 1-2 Limit and 2-5 O/8 spread limit games going. After a short wait, a seat opened for me at a 1-2 NL table and I took my seat in seat 2. The man who was in the seat got up and moved to seat 7, a glum look on his face. I knew the look. "The seat is that bad?," I asked. He just grunted. "You’ll see. Of course, now that I moved, you’ll probably win every hand!"

His prediction wasn’t far off. My second hand, I was dealt ATo in early position. I was new to the table and wary of the other players, so I wasn’t about to get cute and raise with a middle Ace. I limped and a few people limped as well. The button raised to $6 and everyone who limped called. Pot builder. The flop was TT6, as good as it gets. I checked and it checked around. Turn was 8, putting a club flush on board. I bet out $20 and got a call from the button raiser. Curious. Club draw? I couldn’t tell. The river was a harmless 2. I bet out $40 for value and he squirmed but finally made the call showing pocket Queens. I tabled my trips and he grimaced. Congratulations on your marriage to Queens pal, now ship the candy.

The hand after that, I got 23 and limped with it but folded after a mid table raise to $15. One of the risks of limping in early position with speculative hands is that you will lose a lot of limps having to fold to raises which will almost be in position on you. But I’ll do it early in a table because I assume most 1-2NL tables are limpy. Until I’m proven otherwise, I stick with the game plan of limping with suited connectors and hoping to flop big. The flop was 33A! As it turns out, I would have cracked a guy with AK. The next hand, I got 66 in the BB and saw a flop of 633. This time, I fired out and got no takers. I had hoped somebody would have a three, but no go.

So my first few hands were definitely successful but then it quieted down. I was up about $80 on my $140 buy-in about 2 hours in when a very pretty Cuban girl sat down to my left. My standard playbook on pretty girls is that they can’t play poker very well, but this girl proved that first impression wrong. She was active pre-flop, made plenty of c-bets and was taking down pots with alarming frequency. We got to talking and it turns out she was here with her boyfriend, who was at another table. They had met about a year ago at a Miami poker room and were only here in Hollywood because of some friends they were visiting in the area. She was nice enough to tell me about some great authentic Cuban restaurants in the Miami area and I was trying to be friendly. I was also looking to move seats to get position on her. I don’t mind putting up a friendly façade with a strong player, but I’m still looking for an advantage. And it worked because we got involved in a bunch of big pots during the session. I had lost half of my profit on the session at this point trying different things on the table and not getting any traction. Finally, I’m dealt JJ in the hijack seat (button minus 2). It limped to me and I raised to 8 and Cuban Girl re-raised me to 15! This was the first pre-flop three bet that I had seen at this table so far so I immediately put her on a big hand. I was absolutely ready to give up the hand except that three other players cold called and the pot odds were quite heavily in my favor to set-mine. The flop was a very beautiful J63. I would have slow played if the flush draw wasn’t on board, so when it checked to me, I fired out $25. When Cuban Girl smooth called, I immediately put her on an over pair. Which one, I didn’t know, so I was praying quite heavily for small cards on the turn and river. Unfortunately, the turn was a King. Ouch. It was on me and I froze for a moment. My brain snapped me out of it quickly and I fired out $35. She called again. I was hoping she hadn’t noticed my hesitation on the King peeling off on the turn and luckily she didn’t. A better player would have shoved on me and I almost definitely would have laid down my set considering the situation. But she wasn’t world class, merely a good player. The river was a blank and I was feeling better about my situation. I had to figure out what she’d call and I saw her stack at about $135. I put out $45, probably too small as it turns out, but she called quickly and showed me QQ. I scooped another nice pot and she re-bought for another $100.

A little later on, her boyfriend sat down at the table next to her. They were a nice chatty couple and he seemed to be a slightly better player than her, but they weren’t too dangerous in my eyes anymore. I was on the button when the UTG straddled to $4 (yes, straddles are allowed in Florida now!). One weak player limped and it folded to me. Perfect time to steal, right? I had KJo, which is a reasonable hand and could even be best at this point. I raised to $20. Cuban Girl, whose stack had been knocked down to $93, smooth called. So did the straddle and the limper! I wasn’t expecting this at all. Then my mind got the better of my instincts. I was less worried about the straddle and the limper and more worried about the SB Cuban Girl, who probably wouldn’t call a $20 PF raise without a real hand. The flop was A84, rainbow. It checked to me and I decided to represent the Ace on an otherwise non-threatening board. I bet out $55 and the SB immediately re-raised to $73 all in. The other two players folded and it was $18 for me to call. $18 into a pot of $210. A clearer call I’ve never seen, but I STILL contemplated folding, knowing I was trapped perfectly. But I decided to make the call and try to talk up my attempted bluff. Cuban Girl was surprised to see my total bluff and happily showed AA for top set. It happens sometimes. Soon afterwards, I was able to move into position on Cuban Girl and her boyfriend and plotted getting my chips back.

I was back to even at my initial buyin of $140. Three hours down the drain. {Sigh}.

My stock oscillated for the next hour. I was down $85 at one point and I picked up J8 in the cutoff. Cuban girl raised to $6 after a few limps and I decided to see a flop. 7 players saw a flop of AK6. Cuban girl bets $10 and I’m the only one to call, in position on her now. Turn is 9. She checks to me and I bet $15. Her boyfriend laughs and says, "Oh no, no checking here!". I was kind of pissed because he obviously put me on the flush and seemed to be gently communicating that to her. To my surprise, though, she check-raised me to 30! Given her pre-flop raise, I couldn’t put her on a Queen flush since the Ace and King were already on the board and I held the Jack. Would she raise PF with QT?!??! It didn’t seem like a possibility given what I’d seen of her play. So I put her on a set or two pair (AK) and opted to call, hoping the board wouldn’t pair. I was in position, after all, and could possibly lay it down if the board did pair and she shoved. I had $47 behind. The river is 7, a harmless card in my eyes. She checks to me! At this point, I’m legitimately confused and I said so. I muttered out loud about how weird her play was. She check raised me on the third spade but opted to check the river when I called her min-raise. After about 30 seconds of this, I gently put the rest of my chips in and she quick called, showing A9 for a turned two pair. Her boyfriend yelled at her when I showed the second nuts. I guess my Hollywood had convinced her that I couldn’t beat two pair, or I was bluffing with a busted draw, but her boyfriend knew better early on. The two pair which gave me the flush kept her in and she didn’t want to believe me when the river bricked for her. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; most of the profit in this game comes from your opponent’s mistakes, not your own skillful play (although one sometimes begets the other).

After my double up and a few more smallish pots, I was back to about $220, or +$80 on the session. I picked up AKo UTG. I raise to $6 to pot build and immediately curse myself for not making it $11. A loose older foreign man, rocking an awesome white ‘stache, called from UTG+1 and that drew in three more callers. The flop, though, was a very pretty A86, rainbow. I bet out $25, intending to take it down right there given the diamond draw but the ‘Stache called me. $25 was considered a pretty big bet on this table, so I was concerned he had flopped something big. A set, maybe, or two pair. I didn’t know if he would cold call on a diamond draw, but it was a possibility. There are plenty of 1-2 NL players who will call on a flush draw heads up even though common sense says they probably won’t get paid off if the draw hits, putting the pot odds against them. Good players will call in position knowing they can bluff successfully if a diamond hits, but this guy wasn’t good. I had already seen him crack JJ with 84o when he called a raise PF and flopped two pair. So I knew he wasn’t beyond playing trash for a raise. The turn was 4. Now there were TWO flush draws out there. I figured I’d better lead out again for a substantial amount and maybe he won’t want to draw again. I bet out $45 and he instantly called "all-in" for $190 more! He had me covered and now *I* was the one squirming! I started to talk it out loud, "two pair? Set? 5-7?" In my mind, all I was beating was a pure bluff and I just didn’t see this guy bluffing. It took me a full minute to come to the conclusion to fold but I finally remembered Doyle Brunson’s maxim of ‘Don’t go broke with just top pair’ and I kicked in my cards. He tabled his 5-7 for the nut straight and said, with a heavy greek accent, "I show you, so you no feel bad". He gave me a fist bump and then asked what I had. I told the truth, hung my head and slogged on. I was back to my starting stack of $140.

It was now 2:45a and I was thinking about just picking up and leaving, calling this an even session. But the play was so crackable and I hadn’t played poker in so long that I couldn’t bring myself to leave! I started to chip back up, finally getting back to ~$220 again. I ground it out and it was a small profit, but two hours later I was finally ready to leave. I decided I’d play until UTG for a straddle and then leave after that hand. At this point, the table was down to 5 players (Cuban girl and boyfriend left) and it was definitely late. People were starting to make small errors due to fatigue and I was trying to take advantage. It got to me UTG and I made the straddle, which every player called. I looked down at A3o and checked my option. The flop is a pretty nice AK4. It checks to me and I decide to check because a weak Ace might be best here, but almost any other Ace beats me. I wanted to see what the table would do. Fortunately, it checked around. The turn was the 3. Beautiful. I now had top and bottom pair, and probably the best hand. George, a strange looking local with a crazy bad case of lazy eye, bet out $20. He was called by a youngish kid in the BB who had $45 in his stack, leaving him with $25. I figured him on a spade draw. I decided that with one card to go, I would isolate the spade draw. There was all this dead money in the pot, so if I bet huge, I should knock out everyone in the pot except the kid on a draw and I’d get my bet back minus $45. So I put out a silo of $100. A 30’ish loose guy, who had taken ‘Stache’s seat an hour ago, surprised the heck out of me by shoving for $179! Wow. George, who had been counting out his chips to call me (!) folded. The kid I put on a draw, naturally, called for the remainder of his small stack. It was now up to me for $79. If I folded, I’d be nearly even on the session. Calling and losing would leave me with a big loss relative to my starting stack. On the other hand, I was getting 4:1 to make the call. Still, I couldn’t figure what the guy had. I looked at the board and it hit me like a ton of bricks: Darko. The Darko, named for everyone’s favorite former Wall Street Poker player, Johnny Darko, is 2-5. The Darko would have given this guy a turned wheel. And he *did* get to see the turn for free after all. It totally made sense to me. He calls my straddle because, what the heck, it’s late and this might be our last hand. He flops a gutshot and fills it in when the flop is checked. Every instinct told me to fold the loser. But then I started to debate it in my head. Literally, I got up and started pacing the floor. If he had the wheel, I still had outs. Plus, he might only have an inferior hand of some sort. But I couldn’t figure out what that hand would be. I tried to fish for information verbally ("You got a wheel?") but the floor person told me to be quiet since there were other people still in the hand, even if they were all-in. Finally, after two or three minutes, probably out of sheer frustration but certainly egged on by my 4:1 odds call, I pushed my chips over the line. He asked, "You have a set?" Hmmmm, that’s nice to hear. "No," I said, "just two pair". "Me too," he said. He showed a 4 at first, and I fully expected him to turn over an Ace with it, but no! He had K4 for a slow played two pair that turned into disaster! I turned over my better two pair. The kid whom I thought had a draw actually had A9o. George told me after the hand was over that he, wisely, folded K3 for yet another inferior two pair! He told me, also, that he would have called me if the other guy had folded, which means the pot would have been for nearly all my chips no matter what. I had to dodge a 4, 9 or King to scoop the entire pot and I was elated to see the T peel off on the river! What a last hand!

The table broke up immediately, after having busted two players, and I racked up. After my tip, I had $460, for a $320 profit on the session! W00t!!!!

Finally, at 5am, I got into the car and drove back home, visions of my next session already dancing in my head. I love a good win.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Backgammon hustle story

After a wonderful week at the Cape with Ali and her family, I am finally back in New York and finally able to watch my stored up WSOP broadcasts. Unfortunately, I can't post this story that came up in the first Day 1 broadcast of the Main Event, but it's awesome!

Erik Seidel recalls a story about how his mother was hustled at Scrabble to the tune of $160. Seidel got so pissed at the guy that he goaded him to play him at Backgammon and Erik emptied the guy's pockets. Finally, the unfortunate hustler had nothing left to play for except his boots, so he puts them up for grabs and Seidel wins them too! It's snowing and cold outside and the guy isn't going to give up his boots, but a crowd forms and chants "Boots! Boots! Boots!" until the guy takes them off, hands them to Seidel and walks home in the snow, in his socks. That's epic.

Say what you want about poker, but the best hustle stories come from games other than card games. Pool, Chess, Backgammon, Monopoly, Scrabble, Candyland (!). The only hustle stories I hear about in poker involve outright cheating. Anybody got a good poker hustle story for me?

The real action

What do poker players do during the World Series when they're not playing in a tournament? Well, sometimes they play in the juicy cash games that spring up. And sometimes, they play high stakes Backgammon. Here's a clip of Phil Laak playing for $240 a point in a side game during the 2010 WSOP.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Man sentenced to play poker

Samuel McMaster Jr., a former insurance agent who lists his occupation as 'professional poker player', has been convicted of fraud to the tune of $500,000. As part of his sentence, a judge in New Mexico has ordered him to go out and use his mad poker skillz to win back the money he stole!

Interesting. The article mentions that since the IRS recognizes professional poker playing as a legitimate profession, then winning the money in poker tournaments is, likewise, a legitimate sentence.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

I am the law, bitches! I am a lawyer! (Part II)

Seeing how Helpful Local (HL) was playing so LAG (Loose and Aggressive), I really wanted to get a seat change in position on him. But the table wasn't moving anytime soon. The only seats that opened up were the guy to my right, who for some reason felt this table was too passive (!). And Convention Guys 1 + 2 (CG 1+2), were directly on the right of HL and not seats that I wanted to take. Incidentally, it hurt a LOT that CG1 + 2 left at the same time, with big profits for both of them. If they didn't have to go to a 'meeting', their mobneys would eventually find their way back into my stack. As I'v said before in many previous posts, one of the downsides to playing poker in new casinos is the limited amount of time I have to give myself. Usually it's because there's another casino I have to get to in order to maximize my visits per trip to the end of accomplishing my goal of visiting every legal American Poker Room. This time, it was because I had to pick up Ali from the Jersey Bar exam. I gave myself until 2:15p, which would give me 90 minutes to traverse the normal 60 minute trip, allowing myself time for traffic and such. To be late to pck her up was NOT an option. Have you ever seen a woman just after having taken an 8 hour exam?!? Yeah, that's what I thought.

So it took me about another hour of dicking around before I was able to get a seat change in position on HL, and sure enough it was helpful to my chip stack. I was down to $110 in my 3rd buyin, which put me at -$490 for the session, the lowest point I would reach.

I was in the BB when I looked down at AA, the most beautiful thing you can see in a cash game. I *love*, like totally heart, being in the BB with rockets. It allows me to gather all the possible information pre-flop before making my move. In this case, there was a few limps and then a Young Gun (YG), who had taken my old seat, raised to $15. It folded to me. I decided right then and there that I wanted to play for a big pot. Instead of re-popping, I called and saw most of the limpers fold except for Friendly Black Guy (FBG) who called as well. We took the flop 3 handed and the flop came out K-6-6. This was a very good flop for me. I'm almost certain I'm good here and I'm even more certain that the King paired somebody. I lead out with $20, FBG calls and YG, who only has $65 behind, pushes! YG raised pre-flop, so it's hard to put him on a 6, but even if he did have the 6, FBG outchipped both of us. So I did something clever. Rather than re-raise for isolation, I smooth called the raise, thinking that my call might induce FBG to call as well. If YG has a 6, I could still break even by winning a sidepot with FBG. FBG obliged by making the call and it was heads up into the turn. I had about $50 left. The turn was an 8 and I threw in my last $50. FBG called and I turned over my Aces. YG flipped up KQ and said, "Wow, you're sweet here". FBG kept his cards to himself. River was a harmless 4 and FBG mucked! The dealer pushed me my nearly triple up pot and I was back in business!

About 30 minutes later, I tangle with HL in a big pot. I have QT on the button. It limps around and the flop is A K J. W00t! I flop the nuts and I feel great. What's more, there's a great possibility that someone hit that flop hard. It checks to HL who bets out $20. I Hollywood for a bit before calling. One guy at the end of the table calls too. Turn is the 8. I'm not invincible here, except for a higher flush draw, of which there's only one out there (the King). But the odds of that are long against so I don't feel badly. It checks to HL who bets out $45. I do more Hollywooding (And the oscar goes too....) before calling. The other guy folds. The river is the 3, which is a bad card for me because I want the board to be a rainbow. He checks to me and I have to figure out how much to extract from him. The pot is at about $160 and after a breif delay of thinking, I put out $65. He snap calls and I curse myself for putting out the wrong number (too low). I flip up the flush and he has to look at it a few seconds before he realizes the runner-runner flush didn't mean anything to me. "Oh, you flopped it," he says. Yep, sometimes I get lucky.

Now I'm sitting at around $450 and I'm feeling better about myself. HL leaves and is replaced by Lesbian Golf Pro (LGP). LGP is actually a married older woman, but if you met her, believe me, you'd think she was a Lesbian Golf Pro (Not that there's anything wrong with that AT ALL). LGP is a pretty solid player but I get the best of her when my JT bests her KQ on a board of Q97K4. I flopped the OESD, she didn't bet enough to put me out and I turned the nuts to her top two pair. I raised her on the river and she called to the tune of a $110 profit hand. I was now only $60 down for the session and it was 1:30p. I had around 45 minutes left, which I spent diddling around. By the time I left, I was at $512. An 88 dollar loss on the session, but a far cry from the $500 I was down a few hours before. I'm convinced that if I had had more time, I could have turned a profit on the table. If only...

I cashed out at the cage and turned the $5 slot credit I got for free for signing up for their players card into $10. I cashed out at the ultra-slow cage and walked away with my head feeling high.

Here's my final recommendation for the poker room at the Sands Bethlehem casino: It's not time yet.

Everything good takes time to ripen and the 'just plucked off the vine' feeling of the Sands poker room leaves more of a grape juice taste in your mouth than a fine wine. It's got plenty of potential, it just needs time to age. They need more tables, for starters. With just the 12 tables there is going to be a HUGE line to play $1-$2 if you go on a weekend before around 9am. And who wants to arrive at 9am on a weekend? Weekends are for sleeping in. But not for waiting 3 hours or more to get a seat. Also, the dealers and floor, while more competent than a starting poker room ought to be, still have a few kinks to iron out. The most RETARDED rule that I've ever heard in any poker room came at the Sands. This is not a floor RULING, by the way, but a bona fide rule of the room. Not just some floor person's odd opinion.

The story went like this. There was a guy in the 7 seat who made a raise to $15. The guy in the 8 seat hadn't done anything yet and the guy in the 9 seat, who by all accounts hadn't realized seat 8 hadn't acted, announced a re-raise. Before he could call out a number, seat 8 spoke up and said he hadn't acted yet. Seat 8 then announced a re-raise to $45 at which point seat 9 tried to fold. The dealer stopped him and told him that HE WAS OBLIGATED TO HIS VERBAL OUT OF TURN RAISE! Now, in every other poker room in the country that I've ever been in, the only time seat 9 would be obligated to raise would be if seat 8 had folded or called. When seat 8 re-raises, it changes the material action that seat 9 was basing HIS raise on, and therefore a new action has commenced and seat 9 can take a different course. The floor was quickly called and confirmed that verbal actions at the Sands Casino are binding, EVEN IF THEY ARE OUT OF TURN AND THE ACTION HAS CHANGED IN BETWEEN! Therefore, if seat 8 had called all-in, seat 9 would be OBLIGATED to raise on top of that amount. Clearly, that's madness. So if you are at the Sands Bethlehem casino playing poker, make DAMNED sure you know where the action is at all times. You were warned.

So there you have it. I heard a rumor that the Philadelphis Parx casino will be getting a 100 table poker room soon (which would make it the largest poker room on the east coast) and that the Mount Airy and PA Bethlehem casinos would be expanding soon. When that happenes, I will wholeheartedly recommend it. But, for no, the Borgata is still the King for New York Players. Most bang for the buck, poker-wise, even if it is a slightly longer commute to get there.

My trip back to Somerset, NJ to pick up Ali from the bar exam was entirely uneventful. The rain from earlier in the day had cleared up and the traffic was flowing smoothly. I arrived at 3:20p and discovered that the test had not only started late, but they were going to let all the students out all at the same time so they could count the exams returned as some sort of anti-cheating measure. I laid on the grass and read from Ali's Kindle in the meantime, a bucolic experience that I hardly get to do in the concrete jungles of Manhattan. It wasn't until 4:20p that Ali finally walked out, exhausted yet glowing from the knowledge that she was finally and completely done with her law school experience. I am as proud of her as I have ever been of anyone or anything. She worked really really hard in the last two months to prepare for these exams, and I'm confident she did well. I wish the job market could be kind to her, but that's something we'll take as it comes. We drove back to Jersey City, NJ, where I had rented the car from to drive her out. I had gotten the car at Dollar Rent-A-Car, next to the Newport Mall, because it was less than half the price of a Zip Car. We dropped off the car and had burgers, fries and beer at a P.J. Clarke's ripoff that was in the mall. The beer was good though. And we took the PATH train back to the World Trade Center. The 15 minute walk back to the apartment was the longest walk of my life. Both of us were pretty wiped out and every step amongst the throngs of tourists felt like agony. But boy, there was no better feeling in the world than cranking up the air conditioning in the bedroom, stripping off our sweaty clothes and flopping into bed for a well deserved rest.

A huge chapter in Ali's life has been closed and a new and exciting one can begin now. But first, August. There will be nothing in August for her except greatly deserved rest and relaxation. We're taking a week off in mid August to stay with her parents and siblings at a rented house on Cape Cod in Falmouth, MA. They've been doing it every year for twenty years and it's a very nice tradition. A full week of lobster dinners, clams, oysters, sand, sun and ocean. I'll go on a whale watching excursion, rent a bike for a day on Martha's Vineyard and do some local antiquing. I have a hankering to buy a nice painting of a ship at sea, if I can find one that isn't a hack job made for tourists. Then September and October will be busy with job hunting and wedding duties. Plenty going on, but for now...peace.

Friday, July 30, 2010

I am the law, bitches! I am a lawyer!

5:30 in the morning. Is there a more ungodly time of the day? It was at this hour that the alarm rang and Ali did something I’ve never seen before and will probably never see again. She bolted upright, at 5:30am mind you, and got out of bed instantly. Without any prompting on my part. You see, it was Thursday, July 29th, 2010 and today was the last day of her official academic career. Today, New Jersey held their bar exam and, after taking the Multi-State exam and the NY Bar exam the previous two days, Ali would be finished with taking tests, studying and stressing out. She probably didn’t sleep a wink.

I, on the other hand, was resting peacefully when the alarm woke me abruptly. I struggled to consciousness and waited for my turn in the shower. We were out the door at 6:15a. I had taken the day off to drive Ali to the exam site in Somerset, NJ. We didn’t want to risk the possibility that public transportation would be flaky at that hour. Plus, the site of the test, the Garden State Exhibit Center, was not within walking distance of the Somerset train station. I didn’t know if there were going to be any cabs available going back and forth, so I bit the bullet and rented a car for the occasion. There wasn’t a lot of traffic going there and it took us a little over an hour to get there. I dropped Ali off to go register and went forth on my day trip. I had most of the day to kill before I had to come pick her up at 3:45p, and I had a car. Hmmmmm…. There will be poker. Oh yes, there will be poker.

Atlantic City was too far. It was still nearly two hours back and forth which wouldn’t leave much time for poker playing. So I decided to hit up the new game in town, otherwise known as the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, PA. A mere 55 minutes from Somerset, the casino had just opened up a new poker room 11 days before and I was itching to see it. I made the drive out with little traffic and pulled up to the site.

Upon arriving from the direction I was coming, the first thing you notice as you close in on the casino is the enormous shell of a factory that is next to the main building. Actually, the casino building is dwarfed by the old abandoned hulk that lay next to it. This is Steel Country out in Lehigh Valley, and the Sands Casino is built on the site of the old Bethlehem Steel plant. At once, it is a sad reminder of the greatness that this country once had in manufacturing, and also serves as a notice that the old can be born again anew. I drove into the large parking structure and easily made my way onto the casino main floor.

The casino floor itself is quite large. It’s laid out in a single large rectangle, perhaps 300 feet wide and maybe 1500 feet long. The ceiling is very high, maybe 8 stories or so, and the steel beams of the structure are exposed, reminding you that this once the site of major steel construction. In the front half of the casino, the ceiling has hundreds of artfully placed red and orange cylinders hanging from overhead. The shimmering colors and the staggered heights of the light displays strongly evoke the look of molten steel pouring out of some long forgotten cauldron, forging the destinies of the thousands of families who used to work here. Now they forge quite a different destiny altogether. I’m a big fan of historical sites and I love when casinos, or any other operation, takes over a spot yet builds the history into their building’s character. The Sands Corporation (of The Venetian fame) deserves a lot of credit for keeping the character of the building intact, or at least as much as can be done within the confines of casino construction.
There is no hotel on site as of yet, but a May 2011 expected opening will see 300 rooms. There is also a 40 store shopping mall being built as well. One would expect, with 4700 parking spaces already allotted to the property, that 300 rooms will not be NEARLY enough to accommodate demand for such an impressive property (The Borgata, by comparison, has 2,800 rooms). However, given the location only 90 minutes from Manhattan and the proximity to many area motels, I would think it will be easy to stay close by if necessary. I recently found out that Zip Car has upped their mileage per day to 180 from a previous 100 or so. This make the prospect of renting a Zip Car for a weekend jaunt a real possibility. Sharing the cost of the rental (gas is included!) with 3 other visitors could be very cost effective for everyone involved. At this moment, the only bus service I’m aware of from Manhattan is from Transbridge Lines. Unfortunately, with no hotel room on site, it would very inconvenient to stay at a local motel for a weekend excursion. There are other issues with this as well, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

So I get onto the casino floor and immediately scope out the poker room. The ‘room’ is a gated off area with nothing more than a waist high rail keeping out the spectators. It is located on the left side of the casino about halfway into the room. The location is advantageous for several reasons. First, the bathrooms are close by. Not right on top of the poker area, like at the Borgata, but they’re not on the other side of the casino either. Second, the room is directly in front of the food court area. This makes meals convenient, obviously. The other thing making meals convenient is that there is food service at the tables! This was an unexpected treat to hear and I saw many a player ordering lunch delivered right to them as they were playing. Drinks were free, including beer although they served the beer in cups and not in bottles. The cups were plastic and large, a full 12 ounces. I don’t know if alcohol was free, but I’d suspect so. I arrived at the poker room at 9:20a on that Thursday morning, fully expecting the room to be dead as so many local casinos are on weekday mornings.


There were two 1-2 NLHE tables going and there was a list quickly building for a new table. I put my name on it and by the time I walked to the cage to get my chips (also located adjacent to the poker area), the table had been called. One of the major disadvantages of the poker room at the moment is that if you are not RIGHT IN the poker ‘room’, you will not hear your name being called for a new table. The brush desk, really just a small one person affair right at the entrance when you come in the poker area, has a microphone but it’s not hooked up to the casino’s main PA system. So if you wander off to play Pai-Gow (like I almost did), or even are tardy getting chips at the cage, you might miss your turn. Luckily, I was called and my table was underway with 6 players at 9:30a. It took another 15 minutes to fill the table.

My session did not start well at all. I bought in for $200 (max buyin was $300) and tried to get the feel of the table. The table was a mix between locals who normally played Atlantic City and newcomers who didn’t play poker well, or at all. I was in the 9 seat. Two guys sat in the one and two seats with $200 each and I could see immediately that they would be the fresh meat at the table. The Convention Guys (they were here on a business trip) didn’t know how much to bet, when they could bet or what the ‘blinds’ meant. A helpful local was helping them out with the rules while simultaneously trying not to drool. How bad were these guys? Convention Guy 2 (CG2), who looked EXACTLY like Milton from Office Space, after limping into a pot 5 ways, tried to bet $1 when it got to be his turn. A single dollar. He hadn’t made a mistake or anything. He wanted to bet a dollar. But he got the hang of the betting patterns real quickly. I was never directly involved in a pot with him, but CG1 and CG2 donked it up something fierce and ended up doubling their money by sucking out in the most awful ways that only a rank beginner can. How bad were these guys? Well, in one hand I can remember, CG2 raised pre-flop to $10 and got calls from a few people including Helpful Local (HL) and Friendly Black Guy (FBG). The flop was A23, rainbow. CG2 makes a continuation bet of $25. HL calls. FBG goes all in for $150 total. CG2 instantly calls for the $150. HL thinks for a few seconds but also calls for slightly less. I’m expecting to see at least one wheel, one two pair and a set. Right? That’s the only thing that could engender such betting madness. But no. FBG shows AQo. CG2 shows 55!! Really? You couldn’t put someone on an Ace there? HL, who just saw a big bet, an all-in and a call behind him, tables A4o. Holy Fuck! He’s got the worst possible Ace and CG2 has two of his outs! The 4 isn’t an out because it would make CG2 the straight. Right away, on the turn, a 5 pops! The river bricks out and FBG shakes his head in disgust. He played it perfectly and got cracked anyway. HL, meanwhile, shouts out “The Nuts!”. I decline to tell him the 46 is actually the nuts here. CG2, meanwhile, pays off the other guys like it’s all in a day’s work. He seems a little confused.
I, on the other hand, can’t get a damned thing going. HL and FBG are the two best players at the table! And one just called off his stack with top pair/weakest kicker and a gutshot draw! Into two players! How am I not rich?!?! But no. I got a succession of weak hands. The few strong hands I got, mostly AK and AQ paid off exactly zero times. My entire first hour was this:
ME: AK Yay! I raise in early position.
Table: We call.
Flop: Junk-Junk-Junk, no hearts.
Table: We bet. And raise. And bet some more.
ME: I fold. ~Waaaaaaah~

I ran through my first buy in that way and rebought for another two. The line at the cage can be daunting simply because the cage employees are completely clueless and obviously newly trained. Luckily, I was able to take advantage of another nice feature of this poker room, chip runners. When available, a runner will bring you new chips. Unfortunately, due to Pennsylvania state law, the dealers are NOT allowed to sell chips to players from their racks, so don’t ask. One of the dealers told me that the Mount Airy Casino, 45 minutes north of the Sands, got fined $25,000 a few days ago when one of the poker dealers was caught doing just that. Yes, it holds up the game when dealers can’t sell but you’ll just have to wait like everyone else. For the record, when you give the chip runner your money, you will NOT be dealt a hand. You can’t play ‘behind’ at all. Play commences when you have chips in front of you. I’m curious to what that means, though, if the blinds pass you. I assume you will owe the blinds just as if you’d gone to the bathroom. I don’t know about that one.

On my second buyin, I tried playing a little more loosely to see if I could win a big pot, I played suited gapers for limps and got frisky with a few marginal holdings. It didn’t work. I lost $70 by playing A8 with HL. He had raised PF to $10 and I called him. Flop was K83. He bet out $20 on the flop and I called. I had seen HL lose $200 in the last hour calling down with middle pair so I didn’t necessarily put him on a King. The turn was a blank (I think a 4). HL bet out $65. I got to thinking about it. I almost raised him, thinking it might be a raise or fold kind of situation. But my instincts were off and I didn’t believe him. I called. The river was another brick. This time he checked! I really thought he’d call anything I put in so I checked to and he showed KQ for the win. I was down to $130 of my second $200 buyin when I got into a pot with T7. I was on the button and HL raised to $10. HL had been very aggressive, raising with nearly any two cards in any situation. This time, he got a smooth call from Older Local Man (OLM), FBG, me and CG1. Flop was QT7. Bottom two pair is good, but the possibility of QT worried me. HL bet out $20, OLM calls, FBG folds and I pop to $65. To my astonishment, CG1 calls! This is a big bet for this table and is shaping up to be a big pot. HL calls! OLM calls! WTF?!?!?! Turn is a J. Oh crappies. I have only $50 left. HL bets out $30. The damned Jack made straight and flush draws, but there’s so much money in the pot that I feel almost obligated to call. OLM calls, I call and CG1 calls. I have $20 left and it’s going in no matter what the river is. My mind does the dance of Ten, 7, Ten, 7. River….3. HL bets$55, OLM calls all in for less as do I. CG1 calls. HL calls out ‘Jacks Up’ and flips over only a Jack. I guess it must be QJ or JT, which means I was good at the flop. I ask him to flip the over card and the dealer reaches over and throws up a… King. AngleShooterSaysWHAT? He had flopped an OESD which ended up being a pair of Jacks on the river. OLM turns over AA for the worst played pair of Aces I’ve ever seen in my life. And what did CG1 win with (you knew I lost this, right?)? What did he have that he called a bet and a raise with on the flop and then cold called the turn and the river with a flush and straight showing? 89. 89 offsuit mind you. He had flopped an OESD, turned the worst straight card in the deck for him and held on for dear life. Meanwhile, a $500 pot got pushed his way and I couldn’t understand again how I was losing to these idiots.


Part II to come later featuring – a nice comeback, an exhausted Alison, a long drive home, a dinner in Jersey City and last, but not least, my Sands PA casino resort recommendation.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Skipping out of town - Part II

A funny anecdote about my sleepless Friday night. I was staying in W's room and as far as I understood, it was just me and her. I took the bed farthest from the window when I went to sleep. W was nowhere to be found, given her propensity to play until 5 or 6 in the morning. I went to sleep and was woken, groggily by the sound of what I assumed was W entering the room and getting into her bed. It was about 2:30a, which was about right. I promptly fell back asleep. About 4:30a, the door opened again. It woke me up once more (I wasn't sleeping well at all) and I was more than surprised to see W walking through the door! It was 4:30a. I got out of bed and wiped the sleepiness out of my eyes. Was I imagining things? I looked over at W's bed, and it was hard to make out in the half light, but I could swear I saw the blankets wrapped around someone's body. But if W was just coming in, who the hell was in the bed?!?! Turns out it was just DJ, who didn't have a place to stay that night. W had offered our room without telling me and I got a bit of a shock. Luckily, I've met DJ before (even if he didn't remember me) so I wasn't creeped out too badly. This contrasts with an event that happened a few years ago when W invited a complete stranger she had met at the table three hours earlier to share our room! I was NOT happy and slept with my wallet under my pillow. That hasn't happened since but I thought I might have been seeing a repeat! Fortunately not.

Ok, on with the story. I woke up at around 11:30a, refreshed and ready for a new day. Chris, Viv, Paul and Abbie were on there way down and had just hit the city, according to some texts I had received when I was still sleeping. W and DJ were still out cold. I showered and dressed and the two of them woke up and we all recounted last night's victories and defeats. I went down to the poker room to sweat Chris and Viv, who were already playing. Paulie and Abbie had gone to the Showboat to play cash and then the 2PM tourney. I wasn't playing at the moment because I had plans to see an old friend, Erin, who I had recently re-connected with on Facebook. Erin lived in my dorm at Hofstra and we had really great times together way back when. She grew up in Atlantic City and moved back there after college, so when I knew I was going to be there, I called her to have lunch with me and catch up after 18 years (old, so old). She arrived at 3:00p and we had a great time, eating lunch at Bread and Butter (awesome grilled cheese w/bacon!) and then walking around just shooting the breeze. It was 5:30p when I walked her back to her car and I felt really good about meeting up with her. She's very different than how I remember her, more mature I suppose. Still a lot of fun, but 10 years of marriage and a 5 year old daughter is enough to make anyone grow up.

At this point, half the day had passed by and I still hadn't been dealt a hand of poker! W was of the opinion that the entire group was going to go the Showboat to play the 7pm tourney, but Viv and Chris looked at me like I was nuts when I floated the suggestion. Leave their precious 2-5nl tables?!?! Hells to the no. I went to the Showboat myself to enter the tourney and ended up getting there about an hour early. I played cash in the meantime. The table I got was friskier than the usual Showboat table I normally play at. The players were raising and re-raising PF quite a bit and the action leaned towards heavy. I had bought in for $160 and chipped up to $180 or so when I blew my stack in one shot on a real cooler. I'm dealt AJ on the button. It limps to seat 8 who raises to $12. He gets a caller and I call as well. I think there might have been another caller too. Flop is AJ5. Top two, huzzah! It checks to seat 8 who bets out $30. I put him on AK and pop it to $65. It folds back to him and he flats. Turn is a brick. He checks to me and I bet $65 (about half my remaining stack). He shoves on me! I call and he shows 55 for the bottom set. Ouch. The river doesn't save me and I call for another buyin. I have to leave before I can get my chips back and I head into the tournament thrown for a bit of a loop. The cards are conspiring against me.

So it was W, Abbie, Paulie and I in the 7pm tourney. 52 entrants yielded a mere 5 payouts but it's still a fun structure. I had even worse cards than I did in the previous tournament and tried to bully again. It didn't work as well as last time. All 4 of us made it down to the last two tables when we started busting. Paulie was first, in about 18th place. I busted in 15th place. W and Abbie, meanwhile, were somehow sitting on the biggest stacks in the tournament! Or at least in the top 5. Rather than go back to the Borgata, I decided to rail them and provide as much info as I could about players I had had experience with. Due to a combination of aggression (Abbie is monstrously aggressive!) and lucky cards (W busted two big stacks with QQ>JJ and JJ>99), both of them made the final table with ease and were the 1 and 2 stacks coming into it. By the time they were down to 6 players, they each took out $20 for a bubble prize, which the short stack promptly collected by busting out with a marginal hand. Then they played for a while and W had a nearly 2-1 chip advantage over the next player. They discussed a chop at the break and agreed to ship W $1500 with everyone else taking $650. Everyone was happy about the outcome, especially the short stack who had about 2 BB's in his stack! I was amazed that they didn't wait until he busted to make a deal considering they were already in the money! If the short stack had busted in 5th place, he would have received $250 and the same deal could have been made with W taking $1500 and the other players taking nearly $900 each! Quite a difference. But I wasn't involved and I would have felt guilty about suggesting anything considering my deal FAIL at the tournament the night before. All of us, Paulie, Abbie, W and I, each had a 10% profit sharing arrangment, meaning we'd split 10% of anyone's profits should they cash (after entry fee and tips). Which meant I got about $60 back of a $100 tournament entry. Not too bad and I was really happy for my friends who crushed the tournament like it was nothing. Seeing W in her comfort zone with a big stack is something to behold. It doesn't hurt that she was getting hit by the deck when it helped, but she was playing very well. Abbie too. I'm very happy and proud of them.

W, predictably, hadn't eaten anything in a while and wanted to hit the noodle bar at the Borgata for a late night dinner with her friends Alan and Patty. I obliged, even though I wasn't that hungry. I just wanted to chat and break down the tournament in conversation. We had a great discussion about aggression and three betting, but you have to take everything with a grain of salt. Alan, for instance, seems to be a pretty competent player when you talk to him. He and his wife Patty are very nice people and Alan paid for the late dinner with black card comp points. So I really like the guy. But when someone tells you, with a straight face, that they have a 'system' for Blackjack and they're employing a card counting technique, you have to look at them with some suspicion. At least I do. I'm going to make this clear for my readers and anyone else who might be interested. There is no 'system' for any casino game. Not Blackjack, Roulette, Let It Ride, slots, video poker, or any other game the casino spreads (with the obvious exception of live poker). There have, in the past, been ways to game the system. Roulette, for instance, still uses a physical ball and wheel to choose numbers. There are documented instances of people having used the laser from a PDA (Palm Pilot or some such) to surreptiously read the rotation of the wheel and discover that a physical abonormality might slightly favor a particular number. Such small changes in the standard deviation could wipe out the house edge and throw it in the player's favor by anywhere from 2% to 5%.

Blackjack, years ago, had a similar exploit that was detailed in the movie '21'. By keeping track of the high value cards left in a deck, a player could exploit the advantage to the player towards the end of a shoe of cards. But this doesn't work anymore for the same reason you can't get away with the Roulette exploit anymore. The casino knows about it. Period. End of story. They won't let you anywhere near a Roulette wheel with anything that looks like a Star Trek Tricorder, and they won't let a big better onto a blackjack table in the middle of a shoe either. Lest we forget how the blackjack counting scheme works, a 'counter' counts out the deck and then silently signals the 'big bettor' to put down the real money when the shoe is in his favor. yeah, they won't let you do that anymore. Also, they don't go down to the end of the shoe anymore. The cut card is specifically left so that there could be as many as 100 cards left in the 450+ card shoe when they re-shuffle. This throws in enough variation so that the player edge from counting is wiped out.

So to all the gamers out there thinking they're getting an advantage off of some 'system' they bought off the internet or saw in a movie; You're being suckered. All of the true exploits are things we haven't yet thought of and it's going to take work and money to develop them.

Back to my story. I had dinner with these nice folks and was too tired to play poker as it was now almost 1am and I was still mentally beaten from not having made any money on anything so far this weekend. The noodle bar convieniently sits near the Pai-Gow tables at the Borgata. Pai-Gow is my one table game weakness as a poker player. I'm probably net up a bit playing the game over my lifetime, but mostly I just play to de-stress. There's not a lot of thinking involved, pots are usually split so I can be up in free drink money, and my routine of rubbing the table to get good cards and shouting 'MONKEY' at the dealer is relaxing. The tables that night had gone up to their usual Saturday night $40 minimum, which is more than I wanted to spend. I was about to walk away when I decided, "Fuck it". I'll put down $400 for 10 bets and see what I can do. To soften the variance a bit, I decided to play two hands at a time, which was a good strategy since I will usually not lose both unless the dealer has a monster (boat over Aces or some such nonsense). I did well initally, going up $100 in short order. I decided that +$200 profit would be goal before quitting and then an evil woman dealer came in. She beat the table mercilessly, with the worst hand being that my King Flush over QQ chopped, barely, (to an Ace flush and JJ). On that particular hand, my other hand lost, so a chop turned into a push and a loss. I went down $240 at the table before deciding to switch to another table. My luck would change considerably and I went on a run that was so nice that I decided to up my bet to $60 each hand. It was when I was up around $60 that I started playing the Dragon Bonus for $5 each. Normally, I know a sucker bet when I see it, but the bonus bet ended up being a good way to alleviate some of my losses. More often than not, I got three of a kinds or straights that paid me off. I was up around $80 when my big hand occurred. I got quad Aces on one of my hands and the dragon bet paid $125 on my $5 bet. In addition, the dealer made a Queen high Pai-gow and I won both of my hands. I counted it up and I was +$240 on my original $400! Enough was enough. I collected my money, got colored up (woo-hoo $500 chip!) and left.

I went to the poker room to say goodnight to everyone who was still awake at 3:00a (most everyone) and went back to the room and fell asleep. In the morning it was back to the poker tables. I played $1-2 NL and finally did well. I bought in for $200 in my first session right after lunch and played at a really tight table. It was boringly tight until a maniac took an open seat and started playing every hand for a raise. I sat tight and managed to flop a set of Ten's vs. his KK and doubled through him. Woohoo! I worked up to around $450 before the maniac busted and we were back to our boring ways. I racked up and cashed out, catching a late 1:30p brunch with W, Dj, Viv and Chris at the Borgata buffet.

When we were done with Brunch, we all went back and I sat at a super crazy 1-2NL table. Initially, there was just a single crazy maniac playing a lot of hands and successfully betting everyone off on innocuous flops by simply grabbing a handful of random chips in his stack and splashing the table. Then another maniac sat to his right and started playing back at him. It was the battle of the crazies and the action was intense. I successfully moved seats so I could be in position on them and the fireworks started. I bought in for $200 and was down to $60 at one point when I managed to triple up when Maniacs 1+2 and I all moved all in preflop. I had QQ. Maniac 1 had Ad6d. Maniac 2 had JTo. I faded everything to take it down and I was back in position again. Maniac one ran his $250 starting stack to $1400 at one point. Maniac 2 ran his $100 starting stack to $900 (!) by calling all-ins with bottom pair and catching up on the river. It was a luckbox extravaganza. I was able to double my stack to $500 with AA vs. Maniac 1's AJ on a Jack high flop. At this point, Maniac 1's girlfriend had sat behind him to sweat him and he managed to lose his ENTIRE stack in about 90 minutes. It's what happens to all maniacs eventually. Maniac 2, also, had dropped from $900 to about $200 when I doubled him by overplaying QQ. The action went like this. I was in middle position and I opened for $12. Maniac 2, re-raised to $25 from the SB and I called. My game plan, in my head, was to drop the hand if an Ace or King came on the flop. The flop was A95. Maniac 2 bet out $45 and I flat called. The turn was 3. He bet out $100 and I called again. I just didn't believe he had an Ace. I put him on JJ or TT. I got away from my game plan and I paid for it. The river bricked and he went all in for his remaining $65. I called and he showed AKo. He gave me a back handed compliment by telling me 'that was a good play. Normally I have shit there.' I didn't take it like a compliment and he racked up and left with $500 before I could get my chips back. By the time I had to leave, I was sitting on about +$100 profit for this little session and I eventually had to pick up and leave.

I drove all the way back to New York in Chris' car, with viv, Abbie, Chris and Paul in tow. Even though the trip took just over 3 hours, it was fun to have them on the ride and even better to spend time with them. My weekend ended up being about +$160 after expenses, which is never a bad thing when you come back from AC with more than you left with! Still can't get last QQ out of my mind though. Serenity now, insanity later.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Florida: All grown up

My life has been a bit hectic lately, but while I wasn't looking, Florida dropped it's $100 max buyin limit on poker! Evidently, the state has signed a compact with the Seminole Tribe (FINALLY!!!!) and now full on gambling is legal at the reservation casinos.

List of games and limits at the Hollywood Hard Rock. I can't WAIT to visit my dad for a long weekend.

Jersey to take over Atlantic City

Not a joke.

The state of New Jersey, under a proposal by Governor Chris Christie, is planning to take over the administration of Atlantic City (the gaming district only). The state will take over municipal functions like policing and garbage disposal and also plans to expand non-gaming facilities to compete with the new Pennsylvania and Delaware options. Gaming regulations might get re-written to make the action a bit looser (Razz on the way, anyone?). Basically, they are planning a complete overhaul in order to bring in more families and gamblers.

Bravo, I say. Governments motivated by money can accomplish miracles, although they can also destroy industries. Who knows which way this is going to go? Time will tell...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Article on Backgammon Hustling

Shocked, Shocked I am!

Skipping out of town

This past weekend, with the blessing of my far better half in order to give her room for her last push towards the NY/NJ bar exams in 8 days from hence, I made the trip down to Atlantic City with a larger than usual crowd of the usual misfits. Joining me in newly procured poker rate rooms at the Borgata were Viv, W, Chris (sporting a beautifully pregnant belly), Paulie and Abbie. Also meeting us down there to share in the festivities were DJ, and W’s friends Alan and Patty. I made the trip early on Friday, taking a 2:30p Academy bus from the Port Authority and plunging headlong in traffic that was unbearable. It took 3 hours to reach the city of the air conditioning and when we were in sight we were informed by the bus driver that we would be arriving at Bally’s instead of Caesars because Caesars wasn’t taking passengers. Why not you ask? It turns out that some sort of water main break had knocked out the air conditioning to Caesars, the Pier behind Caesars AND Trump Plaza. This unfortunate turn of events would ripple through the whole weekend by simultaneously filling up the Borgata hotel and depleting the city of gamblers. How? Well, Caesars and Trump Plaza promptly placed their hotel guests who were staying Friday and/or Saturday into new hotel rooms across the city. However, new guests who were arriving at those casinos Friday and Saturday nights as new guests cancelled their weekend reservations. It was the talk of the town this weekend.

The only person down there already when I arrived at 5:30p was W, who texted me that she was playing the 6:00p tourney at Borgata. After waiting a few minutes for a Jitney outside of Bally’s and seeing two full Jitney’s pass me by, I flagged down a cab and proceeded to the Borgata posthaste. After dropping my bag off at the bell captain’s desk, I caught W walking into the poker room and we both registered for the tourney together. I had no idea what I was registering for, I just knew that I wanted to play a tourney to get my feet wet for the weekend. As I found out when I was in line, it was a $150+$30 survivor tournament. The top 10% of the field get paid equally. 62 people ended up registering and the top 6 would get paid $1500 each. The 7th place finisher would get a whopping $21 (the remaining amount of the prize pool after the mandatory dealer tokes were taken out). On a side note, the next time you enter a tournament, do make sure you find out in advance how much of the prize pool gets reduced for dealer tokes. It’s usually anywhere from %3 to %5. And the poker rooms don’t advertise this very well to encourage people to tip on top of that. Personally, I usually give about %5 of my prize to the dealers, so if the room takes %3, I’ll tip 2% and call it even.

On with the story. We started the tourney and I started up. My second hand, I get AK. Blinds are 25/50 with a $10,000 starting stack and I raise it up to $200. I get a caller on the button, a Swede looking guy with a long scarf that reminded me of Dario Minieri, natch. The flop came down a very dangerous looking KQJ. Yes, I had top/top but I thought of all the holdings he could have that he would have called a pre-flop raise on the button with. KQ, KJ, QJ, AT, T9. Those are all reasonable flat calls on the button and I’m behind all of them. What’s worse, if he has any of those hands, I’m going to lose a good portion of my stack. Oh, and I’m out of position. And it’s the second hand of the tournament and I know *nothing* about this guy. So I check and he bets out $350. I call. Turn is an 8c. I check, he bets out $650 and I muck. I’ve already lost $550 and I don’t feel like hitting a card which is going to stack me, like a King. After the tournament, I caught up with him (he cashed) and asked him what he had. He said AJ. I don’t blame him for betting and, frankly, he’s in a much better spot with that hand then I am. The Swede, incidentally, was a fantastic player. As I saw later, he doubled his stack early on by catching a stone cold bluff with bottom pair. Bottom pair! The other guy was just a loud young gun who was trying to run over the table and the Swede called him down with A4 after flopping a 4. True, the young gun had given himself away a little by checking the flop and firing on an innocuous turn and river, but still. If the Swede had lost, he would have basically knocked himself out of the tourney. You have to have a big set of balls to risk your tournament life with a pair of fours. Just saying.

As the table images start solidifying, I start to accumulate chips using the only method I can; bluffing. My hands are crap, so I start raising in position and c-betting on scare boards (all low cards, Ace high on the flop, etc…). I chip up very slowly and at the first break, I’m sitting at $12,500. Not a stack to speak of, but I’m ready to storm the next levels. Unfortunately, I still don’t get any great hands I can use to stack anybody. I have exactly one hand in the next hour that I can use to bust a small stack. It’s JJ vs. his 89s. But by the end of the next break, I’m only at about $20,000, just below the chip average. Blinds are 400/800 with a $75 ante and I never really got above 20 BB’s anywhere in the tournament. The structure is just too fast for me to pick good spots. I go back into bluffing mode which serves me well when I have 89 in position. A Monster Dick (meaning he’s a huge dick, not that he possesses a big phallus, because I’m positive his phallus is like a grain of rice), whom we’ll call MD, limps in early position and I raise to $2700 on the button. It folds to MD who makes the call and the flop comes down 776. MD leads out for $4000 and I instantly shove my stack. He thinks for a few seconds but then folds and I get a little healthier. This is the largest my stack will be until much later.

I’m sitting to the right of a huge luckbox who reminds me a lot of Darvin Moon because he’s making enormous donkey calls and sucking out on people. I get KK in the cutoff and when it limps to me I pop it to $2500 (blinds still 400/800). Luckbox calls and one other player calls. Flop is AT8. It checks to me and I C-bet 4,000, reasoning that I have to represent AK here or I’ll be vulnerable to a big bet bluff by someone else representing it. Luckbox, who is the tournament chip leader with about 55,000 says, “All in”. It folds to me and, frustrated that an Ace came on the flop, muck face up hoping luckbox will do the same. He does, and flips up T8 off! I wouldn’t have been upset if he had turned over just about any Ace, but calling my PF raise with T8 off just makes me mad. I know this guy is gonna spew his chips to someone eventually; I just hope it’s me.

Later on in the level, with my stack down to a dangerous 10BB and the blinds at 1000/2000 with a $100 ante, I double up when I shove A6 in the cutoff. Darvin Moon Luckbox on my left quick calls with…A2. Ummm…wow. I flop a six and manage to eek my way into the final table. Unfortunately, I still can’t quite build a stack and I come in as the uber-shortie with something like 7 big blinds. Back when we were down to 13 players, I had started discussing a chop but there were too many players for anyone to seriously consider it. But now, at the final table, I thought I could get some traction. But I got a little friction from one person. Can you guess who it was? Yes, it was Monster Dick. MD was the second chip stack at the table, and he wasn’t hearing anything about a chop of any sort. Even when Darvin Luckbox decided to run his JJ into QQ and bust and then another short stack busted. Even when I tripled up to $45,000. All I had asked was for my money back, just $180. With 8 players left, if they had all reached in to give me $20 or $25, I would have been content. Instead, MD, upon hearing my proposition said, “Are you kidding me? You’re the short stack and I’ll call you with 7-3 off”. Like I said, a Monster Dick. Instead, with $45,000 and an actual shot at winning, but still the second shortest stack, I looked down at AQo. I was UTG+2 and the blinds were 4000/8000 with a $400 ante. So, with about a third of my stack size already in the pot, I open shoved and got a reshove from the guy to my immediate left (not MD) who isolated with KK. Bye Bye.

To add insult to injury, the instant I busted, the table started talking about a chop and ended up giving the 7th place finisher $650, with the rest taking home around $1350. I was livid and W had to walk me away from the table, consoling me as best she could. I had played 5 hours and was the true bubble of the tournament. It was one hand that brought me from the brink of starting off my weekend with a huge profit to starting it off instead with anger and resentment. Fortunately, I was self-aware enough to realize that I was in no mental condition to play cash, so I went up to the room instead and called it a night. It was 11:30p and I was tired, but my mind was so wound up from the awful turn of events that I only got a fitful 2 hours of sleep before I woke up and couldn’t fall asleep again until 6:30a! I watched the entirety of Capitalism: A Love Story on my iPhone (not Moore’s best effort by any stretch) and the distraction helped immensely. I woke in the morning, still seething about my bad luck but at least now able to deal with it.

Part II of the trip to come – Highlights will include, W and Abbie crushing a tourney and me experiencing some more down times before wiping the slate clean and then some.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Life can be time consuming

I haven't made a post in forever. And the worst part is, I've been playing some poker and backgammon! A few weeks ago, I went to Mohegan Sun with Chris and hubby Matt, Paulie, Liezl, Viet and little Luna. And it was a blast. We even got Darko and his new fiance to come up and officially break their big news. So with all this activity, why no blog post?

Because I'm tired. Or maybe bored. Too bored to write a post. I just haven't been feeling a lot of motivation lately to keep up with my blogging activities. Most of it has to do with the stress I've been feeling at home. Ali is neck deep in studying for the New York and New Jersey bar exams which are coming up the last week of this month and things at home have been a little dicey. Ali's been working like a fiend putting her heart and soul into her studies, but it's impossible to ask someone to wake up early and go to bed late every day for two weeks while doing nothing but going over 3 years of law school notes in between! At a certain point, a person's brain cracks and when that happens watch out! I've been as understanding as I can, trying to provide a good environment in which she can thrive. That means that I'm doing all the cleaning up after meals, not making a sound after I come home from work and generally absorbing any vitriol thrown at me without fighting back. A few days ago, I snapped because I had reached my limit and I fought back. After a few minutes, I was apologizing cravenly and shut my mouth again, like I should be doing. Basically, it's a struggle for both of us (her more than me) and we'll be really happy once it's all done.

There are other thoughts taking up my mental energy usually reserved for blogging. I'm nervous about whether Ali can get a job in this awful market for new lawyers. And I'm consequently nervous (terrified really) about what that will mean for us. Her student loans are coming due in a few months and her parental support will stop and it'll all be on me. The combination of the increased rent responsibility once her parent's stop paying her share and the gargantuan student loans might force us to move to Brooklyn if we can't figure out a way to make it work. And I don't want to move to Brooklyn.

Oh, and there's work. That's kind of important too.

So poker and backgammon blogging hasn't been my first priority. But I have a few free minutes now and I'm taking a rare weekend trip to AC (to leave Ali alone for 48 hours of solid studying), so here I am.

Back to that Mohegan Sun trip. The long and short of it is that I broke even on the trip. Maybe up a few dollars or so. I was up about +$400 at one point in the evening when I got dealt KK in the BB. A new kid, who had just sat down with $200 a few hands earlier, raised to $12. Even though he hadn't been playing long, I could tell this kid was relatively new to the game. He was with a college buddy and their teenage looking girlfriends were sweating them. He looked a little dorky. I've seen the type and they haven't been in the live games long enough to know how to read table situations. 4 people cold called the $12 and when it got to me I re-raised to $100 straight. The new kid shoves for $200! I had little doubt I was beating him but if he had rockets then more power to him. There's already $350+ in the pot so calling the extra hundred is a no brainer for me. But before it gets to me, it folds to a good player who's been at the table for a few hours with me. He tanks! I can't figure out what he might have that he's thinking so long for. He debates internally for about 30 seconds and then says, "All in!". WTF?!?!?! He has $400 to my $680. Now I'm floored. It folds to me and I say out loud, "If I folded this, this would be the biggest lay down of my career." I try to calm down and work it out in my mind and I reason that if the re-shover had AA, he either wouldn't have smooth called the initial $12 raise, or he wouldn't have tanked so hard on the $200 shove. Granted, he could've been acting, but if he was he deserved the academy award for poker acting. He looked really pained about the $200 shove over my $100 re-raise. Normally, 4 bets to you in a 3 way pot indicates AA. But I figured that with the clues at my disposal, my friend with the $400 probably had KK. I made the call and Mr. $400 indeed flashed me two black Kings to my two red Kings. Mr. $200 re-shover showed QQ. Mr. $400 gave me a little fist bump as we both breathed a sigh of relief that nobody had shown Aces. But then the flop was dealt and there was a Queen in the door. A third heart came on the turn, giving me a chance to scoop, but the river bricked and a $650 pot shipped to Mr. I-Overplay-Queens and Mr. $400 and I chopped the side pot. I had only lost $200 on the pot but it was the start of a downslide which would see me lose my remaining $200 profit. The hours of work I had done being patient and building up my stack had gone to naught.

Hopefully, this weekend will show better results.

On the Backgammon front, I actually haven't been playing much except for two sessions with Mr. Hustle down at the 60 Wall Street atrium. My first session I was up 9 points in the first 5 games and I was feeling great. But then the dice turned, and hard. I gave up 29 points in the next hour for a crushing 20 point loss. In one game, I had given the cube back at 4 when I was slightly ahead. A few good rolls saw me up by about 25 pips and I was cruising to the win. Just before bear-off started, he rolls double 6's with four checkers in the outfield to clear them all into his home. Now he's caught up in pips but I'm still up by a checker and I'm on the roll. The next roll, he rolls double 6's again! now he's up two checkers and after my next roll, he re-cubes me and I have to drop. Aaargh! I would have gone from -14 points to negative -10 points instead of to -18 points. An 8 point swing which was important. I stopped at -20 points and left, head held in shame.

But the next day I revisited him and tried again. After a short 35 minute session, I left with a +11 point profit and cut into my losses from the previous day. This time, I was just playing well and getting Mr. Hustle frustrated. When he's frustrated, he takes bad cubes and that's the only way I can beat him. He's much better than me at checker play, so it's harder to beat him that way. But if I can get into a situation where he has to roll his way out with miracle numbers and I give him the cube, he will inevitably take it. It's probably to his advantage too, because he knows he has a much better skill level on his side and he can quickly capitalize on my many mistakes. Just like poker, in backgammon, you profit more on your opponent's mistakes than your own skillful plays.

Hopefully, I'll have a lot of good stories to tell after this weekend!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

I've got Costner on the phone

British Petroleum - Handling spills every day

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Not something you see everyday, unfortunately

Wall Street, the street in New York, not this wonderful blog, was invaded by a swarm of bees today. Let me repeat that:


The apocalypse has arrived. Head for cover.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Justice is (slowly) served

Remember that poker room shooting 2.5 years ago (what? 2.5 years?!?!) that basically put the nail in the underground poker scene? Well, right under our noses there was a trial and two men were convicted of murder. Two more men have already pleaded guilty and are serving time.

I haven't been following the details of the case, so the big surprise to me was that there was an inside man on the job. One of the bouncers/security guys was in on the robbery.

It's a dangerous business being underground. It would be nice if New York got their heads out of their asses and legalized poker, wouldn't it? I have a great place to put the new poker tables too. OTB parlors. OTB is losing money and they could use a new revenue stream. Make OTB the legal poker operators in the state and you've got a built in location that's already known for gambling. This would quiet the argument that new poker parlors would 'ruin the neighborhood' with unsavory types. Have you seen OTB parlors? Unsavory types already live there!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Monday, May 10, 2010

Quote to live by (Backgammon or Poker)

"In the short run, there are no guarantees. You may become an excellent player and still lose a 100-point session to a clod, or get knocked out in the first round of six consecutive tournaments, or reach the final of the biggest tournament of your life and lose 0-25. Those are the breaks. If you can't handle that much uncertainty, tough. Go play chess." - Bill Robertie, winner of the Monte Carlo World Backgammon Championship.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Adage of the day

"When you're telling a story to someone, make sure that both parties are speaking the same language" - ME

I dealt a charity poker tournament two nights ago for a school in Harlem called the Children's Storefront, an excellent institution which offers completely free education to needy kids. It's a wonderful institution which serves a great need in the community and I'm proud to be able to help out in any way I can.

It's also a lot of fun. The organizer of the charity tournament, with whom I've worked for 4 years now, goes all out (or all-in?) for this event and we had 260 players at the Hudson Terrace event space. A bunch of sports and poker celebrities were in attendance, including Justin Tuck, Jeff Nelson, Robert and Olga Varkonyi and Roy Winston. The tournament has an awful structure, as most charity tournaments do, but the money goes directly to the school so there isn't a lot of complaining (except from one incredible asshole who makes it deep every year and constantly bitches about how badly the tournament is run). Prizes are donated and can be substantial. First prize this year was a 7 night stay at a high end Aspen, CO hotel and 100,000 American Express points to use for airfare. 2nd place was a weekend in an East Hampton's mansion on the beach. And the other 7 prizes were equally worthy of inclusion.

As a poker player, I abhor charity tournaments. It's fine to play in one with the understanding that you're basically making a donation to the charity. But if you go into it thinking you have an edge on the clueless players in attendance (some of whom have never played before), then you're asking for disappointment. Charity tournaments, and this one was no exception, suffer from a multitude of major problems; strictly speaking from a poker perspective.

1. They're poorly organized - Though the tournament I dealt went off somewhat smoothly, compared to previous incarnations, there were a couple of organizational issues. First, the dealers were not informed ahead of time as to how the buy-ins worked. Each players, when they bought into the tournament, received a green plastic chip as proof of their buy-in. I was told, at various times, that chip was supposed to be surrendered so I could give them their starting stack OR the chip represented an extra $500 in tournament chips OR the chip was a full rebuy. In addition, I was presented with a lavender chip from a player and was informed that it was a rebuy chip and it was worth either $3,000, $3,500 or $4,000 in chips. Confusion was rampant. Also, rebuy rules were not explicitly defined. Someone told me that we wouldn't be allowing rebuys unless the player was under their starting stack. But what was the starting stack, since add-ons were allowed from the start. With nothing to go on, I allowed all players at my table to rebuy at any level, rationalizing that this was for charity after all and the add-ons were important to the school's functioning. But from a poker perspective, that sucks. Oh, the dealers also weren't given extra chips for players, so when they rebought in the middle of the round, they were often sitting with no chips in front of them! I had to make change from other players constantly.

2. The blind structure is a toss-up - At the start of the tournament, starting stacks averaged around $5,000 (given add-ons) and blinds were $100-$200. Blinds were supposed to go up every 20 minutes and rebuys were supposed to be allowed for the first hour. But by the end of the 3rd level, the tournament organizer decided that not enough people had rebought. So he extended the 3rd level for 30 minutes to allow for more re-buys! It was comical. I understand why he did it, but from a poker player's point of view, taking liberties with the tournament structure in the middle of the tournament is taboo. How could a poker player plan his strategy if he doesn't know what the blinds will be from one hand to another? Also, as happens every year, there are too many players left at the end of the night. With 30 minutes left until we had to vacate the premises, there were still 3 full tables left and the average stack had an M of around 6. That wouldn't do. Out of nowhere, blinds started being raised around every 3 minutes until the average M dropped to 2 and it was a complete luck-fest. This, not coincidentally, is when Mr. Asshole started bitching the loudest. He was sucked out on before the final table, thank the lord.

So charity tournaments aren't a good proposition from a profit point of view, even given the incredibly poor play and low skill level of the average attendant. Case in point, Roy Winston was at my table and decided to shove his stack on a flush draw. A woman called with a pair of 2's (!) and won the pot, eliminating the 2007 Borgata Main Event winner. I saw a lot of skilled players swing through my table and attempt complicated plays and bluffs against players and get called every time. Which brings me back to my maxim at the top of the post. If you're telling a story in a hand of poker, make sure the person you're telling it to speaks the same language you do!

I see this a lot in Atlantic City, Vegas and anywhere poker is being played. Person A, an obviously skilled participant is the best player at his/her table. However, A's chipstack is swinging wildly up and down. Usually the culprit is A's tendency to try and run over the table. What a lot of poker player's forget, however, is that bluffing only works when the person you're running the bluff against is good enough to understand the hand you're trying to represent! This is why beginners don't fold to bluffs very often; they're playing their own hand and haven't formed the first opinion on what you have. What person A is missing, and what all poker players need to work on, is to categorize your opponent's first. Learn who is good enough to fold a good hand and who's going to stay in if they have any piece of the board. Who's going to play back at you and who's going to pick a better spot. In short, who's speaking your language.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sunday Backgammon tournament

The 60 Wall backgammon organizer, an exceedingly nice gentleman, has introduced me to many folks in the backgammon community. One of those people is "Wheels" (not her real name), a very nice lady who runs a monthly backgammon tournament in a roving location around the city. Wheels is a high ranking member of the New York Backgammon community and has placed highly in many tournaments over the years. As a result, she has a long list of backgammon contacts she calls on to form these tournaments.

After having gotten her emails for a few months about the monthly tournaments, I finally found the time to go ahead and attend one. When I got there, Wheels was busy dividing the participants (about 20 people showed up) into different categories. She had a Beginner, Intermediate and Open category. Beginner was $10 entry fee, Intermediate was $50 and Open was $100. When I arrived, my backgammon board set in tow, she had already placed my name in the Intermediate category. I asked her how she knew where to put me and she replied, "it's my job to know". Fair enough. Unfortunately, only 3 people were on the Intermediate list and only 2 had shown up! So it was decided that me and my opponent, rather than playing a bracket of one game each, would play the best two out of three to 9 points a match.

I was doing very well in the first match and the score was 4-2, in my favor, when I took a very bad 4 cube which turned into a gammon and the match was over just like that. Just as the match was ending, Wheels came over and said that the 3rd participant had arrived! She said that we could now revert to the original format but I protested that it wasn't fair. If we went back to the one match format, I would be out of the tournament. If I had known that, I might not have taken the cube that ended my first match! So it was agreed that we would simply do a round robin format with each player playing the other and best 2 out of 3 winning the contest.

I won my second match handily and was tied with my opponent 1-1. After taking that bad cube that cost me the first match, my concentration went into laser focus and I was playing great. It didn't help that I was rolling well too. In the 3rd match, I was cruising into the win at 7-2 (mostly because my opponent took an awful double that turned into a gammon win for me) and I just had to hold on for the win. Then I did a dumb, awful and stupid rookie tournament mistake. I was ahead in my game, with the score of 7-2 (remember we were playing to 9 points each match) and I cubed her. Whoops. In my head, I though that she would just drop the cube and move on to the next game. I was well ahead in position. But she took the cube at 2 and then turned around on her next roll and cubed me back! From her point of view, it makes total sense. If she take the 2 cube and loses, the match is over, so she might as well make it 4 to give her better position if she happens to win. And if she gammons? Then she wins the game AND the match. Which is exactly what happened. Even though I had an advanced anchor and had two of her runners back behind a 5 prime, she happened to roll a magic 66 which not only got her runners out, but also hit one of my blots. She then picked up another blot I had out on her next roll after I failed to come back onto the board and just like that I had two on the bar, two on her inside board and she was quickly filling up a prime. Before I could get both my checkers back into play, she had gotten a few checkers off and she rolled doubles twice more, clearing even more checkers and never leaving me a single shot. She gammoned me without breaking a sweat and I felt foolish. It's a mistake I won't be making again anytime soon.

My opponent ended up winning her second match against the late-comer, but their match took so long that rather than play for 2nd place prize money, I simply chopped it with him and got half my buyin back. I did better than that actually, because while I was waiting for them to finish their match, I played a small cash game with one of the beginner players, winning 16 points at $1 a point. It was a very nice guy and his wife who I chatted up and befriended. Hopefully, I'll be able to see them again soon at one of the weekly backgammon meetups that get held in the city.

For those interested in backgammon tournaments, give me a shout and I'll put you in touch with Wheels (if you don't already know who I'm talking about). It was a really fun experience and I'm looking forward to next month!

Backgammon update and a mea culpa

In my previous blog post, I outed a backgammon player (Pigeon from my previous posts), who had done a dick thing by running up a large debt and then skipping out. I exposed his name and a bit about his background because I thought by shaming him publicly, he might feel badly about himself and make good by paying up. Well, it turns out that I have had to redact my story at the request of the game organizer and I have to relay that I may not have had all the information available to make my charge.

The blogger's dilemma.

Here's what happened from my point of view. I have been playing Backgammon on and off at 60 Wall Street from some time now and I've gotten to know the players pretty well. They all know me as a small time player who will normally play $2 or $3 a point, and sometimes venture as high as $5, but never beyond that. The experienced players are always begging me to play them, knowing their skill level far outstrips mine, but I almost always decline and play Mr. Hustle, mostly because he is amenable to playing me for my $2 or $3 a point stakes. Also, Mr. Hustle is more than happy to instruct me on how to play properly and we have spent many hours debating the benefits of various moves on particular dice rolls and board situations. This is the cost of my education; my tuition, so to speak.

But a few months ago, Pigeon came to roost at 60 Wall and Mr. Hustle stopped playing me and started playing him. The stakes started at $5 a point and Pigeon was losing badly. 10, 15, 20, 30 points a session! Pigeon was very polite and would pay promptly when he lost, always coming back for more in a day or two. I knew Mr. Hustle depended on his Backgammon winnings for his livelihood, so when a particularly bad player like Pigeon was willing to play him for stakes that might result in a real payday, I didn't object when my game with him dried up. For his part, Pigeon refused to believe that he was as bad as people thought. He kept upping the stakes. First, from $5 to $10 a point. He continued to lose. Again, he would be down $200-$300 a session and would pay promptly when he lost. Then, he upped the stakes again. This time to $25 a point. When I witnessed this happening, I was astounded. Isn't it the definition of insanity when you do the same thing over and over and keep expecting a different result? But then again, perhaps Pigeon had this in mind after all. Maybe he was the biggest hustler out there and wanted to lose 100 points at low stakes so he could get it all back with interest at higher stakes.

Mr. Hustle, who gambles for a living, knew that $25 was above his bankroll, even if it seemed like easy money. He stuck to $10 a point and got another player to back the other $15 a point. During that first session, Pigeon broke even. Then $25 became the defacto betting amount for him. For each session, Mr. Hustle would put up his own money for $10 a point and then find someone to put up the other $15. He had no shortage of customers. Based on Pigeon's previous drubbings, it seemed like easy money. I did a few sessions with him myself, at $15 a point, and came away with a solid $250 profit after paying the house rake. But I noticed a disturbing trend around this time. Pigeon started getting frustrated with his losses and he would leave, almost without notice, and wave goodbye saying, "See you tomorrow". Mr. Hustle was understandably upset when Pigeon would leave without settling up, as is customary in any game played for money. But Pigeon would always return a day or two later, settle from the previous session, and continue on.

I warned Mr. Hustle to be wary of this behavior. I told him he should have Pigeon put 20 points worth of money in escrow with the game organizer, a trusted party, and then settle against the escrow amount after each session. But Mr. Hustle ignored my advice. Perhaps he thought that ruffling Pigeon's feathers would piss him off enough to drive him away. Or perhaps he just wasn't interested in confrontation. Either way, Pigeon kept playing his games and upping the stakes. Towards the end, he was playing for $50 a point, with more than one person taking a piece on the other side. After a particularly egregious loss, he left and never returned.

This is where the story gets murky. I came to 60 Wall one day to play and Mr. Hustle said Pigeon had left without paying and he wasn't coming back. He told me that Pigeon had called the game organizer, said he was in over his head and wasn't going to return, nor pay. It was a few days after that information that I made my blog post outing him.

But one day after I posted, the game organizer called me on my cell and asked me to take down the blog post with Pigeon's personal information. He said that Pigeon had always intended to pay and that the payment was supposed to come in a few weeks time. I asked if that had been the situation all along and he said it was. So I felt like an idiot. I had publicly outed this guy based on false information that I had. Don't get me wrong, he still did a dick thing by not paying his debts immediately, but I didn't know that he was negotiating with the participants after the fact. Mostly because I was told a different story from Mr. Hustle!

So I did a good thing for the community and tried to get a welsher to pay, but in reality I probably should have kept my nose out of it. After telling the story to Ali, she asked why I would even bother in the first place. It's not like Pigeon owed *me* money, after all. I replied that I felt that anybody who plays a cash game without the intention of paying, ends up degrading the gambling experience for everyone else. I was doing an altruistic thing by forcing this guy into the light and making the community I was a part of a little bit clearer and cleaner. But I wasn't totally in the right here, given the bad information I received. And for that, I apologize. I don't feel sorry for outing Pigeon, but for acting without the consent of the people whose main business this whole affair was. I should have gotten the permission of Mr. Hustle before I splashed his dealings out in public in this way.

Blogging is a hard thing to do.

The upside is that a day after my blog post and my redaction, Pigeon made good on his obligation. I saw him a day after that, playing Backgammon in Bryant Park (something I'd recommend for everyone on a nice afternoon). We exchanged knowing glances but no words as we each played different opponents. My previously amicable relationship with him is probably broken (not the first time I've burned a bridge to be sure) but I'm much much happier about it knowing that Mr. Hustle is getting his due.