Monday, November 27, 2006

A hand out

Our handsome and modern office building sits apart from downtown in a neighborhood where renovation means covering first-floor windows with iron bars. One of the more successful ventures in the neighborhood is a large homeless shelter. The office, located along the main flyway to and from the shelter, provides a front-row seat for viewing the humanity passing back and forth.

One character stands out. He's an older guy, maybe in his 50s. He travels with a large number of plastic bags which, from what I can see, contain many more plastic bags. There are so many bundles of plastic bags, in fact, that he cannot carry them all at one time. His back slightly bent, he takes some of the bags, moves them ahead 100 feet or so along the sidewalk, and returns to the pile for the next load. It takes him three or four trips to traverse from Point A to Point B.

While these bags are clearly important to him, their intrinsic value remains unknown to this middle-class observer of the human condition. I've not yet worked up the courage to ask why he chooses to burden himself with so much baggage. Perhaps he's some kind of plasticine penitent looking for redeeming grace in the undiscovered beauty of a Giant Eagle bag?

Make mine paper, please.

But the sisyphean work this man does does seem emblematic of my path of Poker Progress. Instead of upwardly arcing curves, I have craggy peaks and valleys. I'm higher than I when I started, but did it have to be so freakin' hard getting here? Slow learner, me.

A hand review from Friday's Group tournament that is noteworthy primarily for its freakish nature.

We're 7-handed, waiting to combine to two tables. I get aces UTG. We're at the 5th level (150/300) and I've been pretty active to this point. I make it 900T and get three callers. Jason, in the BB, ponders. I casually mention that it looks like he wants to take a stab at the pot. He raises to 4,000T. I push my remaining 14K to get everyone else out of the hand. They all fold, including Jason, who could not help but put me on aces or kings. Fine with me. I'd won a nice-sized pot at that point.

Here's the Ripley's Believe It Or Not portion of the program. The other hands were, in this order, pocket 10s, pocket jacks, pocket 6s and pocket queens. It shouldn't take much guessing to figure out which pair would have won had the hand played out to the river.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving appetizer

My efforts to move up in The Group's POY race have meant skipping the beloved Mookie tournament the last two months as I play our regular Wednesday event. But with Thanksgiving looming, family staying over and prep work to be done for the big feast, it was a night to stay in and join the bloggery crowd on Tilt for some tomfoolery.

I managed to finish fourth. Perhaps the tide has turned for me, as evidenced by the fact that I got very lucky just after the first break with A-Q vs. pocket kings. I can't recall the last time I got my chips in that far behind and won.

A loose call from a big-stacked Waffles (my A-Q vs. his A-10) and selective aggression got me to the final table in decent shape. Four-handed and on the short stack, I shoved my last 5,800T with pocket 4s against the chip leader and tonight's winner, SoxLover, who was sitting on aces. I got my 4 on the river. Too bad he got his ace on the flop. Good times, good times. Sitting at a table with Waffles for an extended period was worth the price of admission.

And with that I say: Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Turkey tale (aka --- one of my first posts that no one has likely read)

One of the joys of growing up in a small, hick town was my willingness to leave it in a hurry and and never look back. There was no longing, no saccharine sentimentality, no yearning for halcyon days forever lost. Nine days after someone -- I have no recollection who -- handed me my diploma on the scruffy turf of the high school football field, I eagerly flew to Fort Knox, Kentucky, to begin basic training and life as I know it today.

The Army served its purpose well, exposing me to places, people and things non-existant in that close-minded Middle American backwater of my childhood. As undisciplined as my life at that point had been, military life suited me surprisingly well. I adapted and thrived, not as some kind of super soldier -- no one would ever have stuck my face on a recruiting poster -- but because the rules I followed were imposed by choice. The fact that it was my decision to join the Army made the less appetizing aspects of military life seem palatable.

It helped that my job was not a grunt who toted guns and lived in tents, but as a finance and accounting specialist who worked in offices and usually had weekends off. My ability to do the work and to manipulate a system ripe for exploitation made life even easier. Fort Hood, Texas, and its miles of desolate scrub brush became my first duty station. Deborah, a second lieutenant whom a 19-year-old enlisted man literally had no legal right to date, became my first love. Her return to California after leaving the Army became my first, but hardly last, heartbreak.

One of the goals of my four-year enlistment was to travel overseas. While in Texas, I made regular calls to the branch in Washington that handled such matters asking to be sent to South Korea. Friends had regaled me with stories of the good life there for young, dumb Americans who cared not a whit that several hundred thousand angry North Koreans stood poised to cross the 38th parallel, ready to spill good ol' red-white-and-blue American blood.

The woman in Washington who handled such matters, impatience in her voice, told me for the umpteenth time there was no spot for me in Korea but asked if I'd be interested in another posting -- to Turkey. I pondered this possibility for at least two seconds before telling her, "Sure," barely aware of Turkey's location on the globe, much less what life there might entail.

My sponsor, the guy I was replacing, sent information about the myriad cultural do's and don'ts, but in the weeks before my departure, a virtual travelogue was released in the theaters -- "Midnight Express." Stoned on seedy Mexican weed, a couple of buddies and I went to see it. Afterward, they looked at me as if I had lost my mind for having accepted the assignment. With the typical insouciance of youth, I shrugged off their concerns.

So in March of 1979, I left Texas and headed to New York for a few days before flying to Izmir, a city of about a half-million people on the Aegean Sea. New York City did not disappoint. I went to my first strip club after attending my first Broadway show and got ripped off by a scantily clad cocktail waitress who sat and talked with me while selling me splits of extravagantly priced champagne. But this woman, barely 21 years old, took pity on me and showed me around Manhattan for several days before I gypsy cabbed to JFK for my flight across the Atlantic.

I arrived in Turkey on my birthday, a stranger in a strange land. My job in Izmir would be the lone caretaker of several hundred soldiers' pay, from the three-star general at the NATO headquarters to the soldiers huddled on mountain tops, intercepting Soviet communications. Our offices took up one floor of an office building and I shared a comfortable apartment with a couple of co-workers in a stylish neighborhood.

The Turkish government devalued the lira weeks after I arrived, essentially tripling the buying power of my $1,000 monthly salary. Despite the cautionary tale told in "Midnight Express," hashish was plentiful and cheap -- Charlie, the toothless office shoeshine man and errands runner, would deliver it to surreptitiously to our desks in exchange for cartons of Marlboro 100s, which cost us only $2 at the PX. We paid our maids with bottles of Johnny Walker Red, sold old Penthouses at five times the cover price and black marketed Levis mailed from home for $50 a pair. Turkey proved profitable to a poor enlisted man.

My job required me to take periodic trips to Germany. On one of those flights home, I sat next to Semra, an attractive woman from Istanbul who had been studying accounting in Germany. We struck up a conversation that led to meetings in Izmir and Istanbul and, not long after, romance. We spent time exploring the wonders of Istanbul and soaking up sun at charming seaside resort towns along the Aegean coast. Discussions of marriage ensued -- her wealthy parents not altogether approving -- but even shallow soul-searching made me realize it was neither the time nor the place.

Turkey proved a study in contrasts. Kemal Ataturk, the George Washington of modern-day Turkey, demanded through his iron will that the country Westernize during the early part of the 20th Century. He changed the written word from Arabic to the Roman alphabet, banned the wearing of the fez and reached out to the West, despite an abiding mistrust of its motives. Thus, Turkey was a mix of cosmopolitan Western dress and tastes and the old Turkish customs and fashions. The gap between rich and poor ran deep. The hills surrounding Izmir were dotted with small, ill-heated and furnished but remarkably clean homes.

It was -- and still is, although for largely different reasons -- a country in search of an identity. Factions of the extreme political right and left battled each other and the government during my 15 months there, committing terrorist acts, including killing American military personnel, and forcing the generals to once again declare martial law and take control in a bloodless coup.

That government lacked the resources and probably the will to take care of its most wretched cases. Ragged beggars, some lame, some blind, some clutching bedraggled and sad-eyed children, were common fixtures on the streets of Izmir. Islamic culture expects its adherents to care for the unfortunate, but it defies the imagination how the paltry alms these mendicants gathered could sustain them.

My most lasting memory of my time in Izmir was a warm and cloudless Saturday morning. I had walked from my apartment to a section of the city where most of the military facilities were located. As I approached the post office, I was taken aback by the site of something that appeared barely human. A man, maybe in his late teens, maybe a little older, stood in the middle of the street. His clothes were torn and soiled; blackened toes peeked from his shoes; his hair matted and filthy. Drooling and smelling of shit, his eyes black and vacant, Bedlam could not have produced a more desperate case.

Any sense of pity toward this God-forsaken soul was overwhelmed by revulsion at the sight of him standing there pulling on his flaccid penis through the opening in his pants. Then, in a moment that remains as deeply etched in my conscience as nearly any event in my life, this disgusting cretin tipped his head back, opened his mouth and began to sing. Not some foreign-sounding gibberish, but deep, mournful American blues in a voice hauntingly beautiful and expressive. It seemed impossible. How could the most foul human being ever to take breath produce such wondrous sounds?

I have no idea what he sang, but those notes -- rich, clear and sonorous -- soared over the still streetscape for maybe half a minute in heart-rendering splendor before fading to silence. Finished, he turned and ambled down the street. His audience followed suit, unsure of what to make of the performance they had just observed.

I had already lost much of the religion pounded into me during my youth. That tableau did not help. What kind of cruel joke had God played on this man? To give him a brain of mush and a voice of the angels? Years later, I still struggle to understand. Years later, I wonder what happened to that voice.

Monday, November 20, 2006

About freakin' time

I can only hope my national nightmare is finally over. After weeks of failing to even cash in an MTT, I managed to bust out 75th in tonight's $35K Guaranteed on Tilt (1,906 runners). Pushed my last 20K with queens and a 9K raise in front of me. He called with A-K. You can only guess how that one turned out.

Throughout this horrific streak of junk-stomping beats, I've continued to believe that not only am I capable of cashing in every tournament I play, there's no reason why I can't -- why I shouldn't -- go deep. Yeah, I got holes in my game. Post-flop play remains a challenge. But sweet jebus, I'm due for something good to happen online. The small payout from tonight's efforts isn't exactly what I've been looking for, but perhaps it's a start.

In the meantime, I'll continue reciting my new mantra: Just win, baby.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Might of Iakaris

Sensational and inspirational. Way to freakin' go, homes.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Did Marburger play poker?

The search continues for a cure for poker's version of hemorrhagic fever, a disease transmitted during certain times of the year by the normally innocuous donkey fly. I'm desperately hoping to survive this scourge without resorting to a painful transfusion.

My course of treatment has been to continue playing -- mostly SNGs and MTTs -- while rededicating myself to the game that has made the online world a cash producer for the last 2 1/2 years. I almost find comfort in knowing that no one can run this badly for much longer. It's probably self-deception to think this, but I figure false confidence is better than none at all.

Live-game play has treated me far better in recent weeks. I won a 41-person tournament ($20 buy-in) on Wednesday, chopped for first two weeks ago and have had some decent scores in the .25/.50 NL games that break out during and after these twice-a-week affairs. (We have an extremely active Poker Meetup Group here in Cleveland. There is a POY race attached to two of the weekly tournaments and there are other tournaments/cash games virtually every day of the week.)

Played like crap in last night's tournament and then lost a couple of buy-ins in the cash game, thanks to a loss on the river to a 10-1 shot and then a far more reasonable 6-1 shot. I'm praying that those frickin' donkey flies haven't been blown into the world of live poker by some evil trade wind.

E-mail me and I'll send all six of you who read this blog $3 each for having been subjected to this continuing bad-beat saga. I hope your computers have updated virus protection. I wouldn't wish this shit on anybody.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Oy vey

Pssst. Here's a sure-fire guarantee to win money, tokens and other valuable poker prizes. Get your chips in the middle with the worst of it against me. The number of examples I can point to over the past week represents an embarrassment of riches, but I will cite the most recent because it raises questions about peep token strategy for which I'd appreciate feedback.

I'm sitting on just over 4000T with 7 remaining in an $8.70 2-table Turbo on Tilt. A reasonable player with a stack of about 3500T pushes from MP. Blinds are at 800/1600. I find pocket kings on the button. Do you fold here, knowing you're virtually guaranteed to get the $14 6th-place money and stand a pretty good chance of winning a token?

Aggro-donk that I am, I call all-in and find myself up against A-K. He spikes an ace on the river and I'm blinded out the next hand with 6-5. I folded jacks to a raise from a mega-stack several hands earlier, which I believed to have been the right play. But whadyagonna do with kings in that spot?

Lastly, props to Fuel for his mad skillz at the table and his considerable sense of humor. Dealt presto on two tables in a matter of about 45 seconds and desperate for blogging material, I put it to malevolent use. But it does prove, as Fuel likes to say, that Presto is Gold (Part 10,412).

Friday, November 03, 2006

Fuel for the fire

By Poker Jones

This is a textbook example of how guile, boundless intellect and superior penmanship rule the day.

Full Tilt $8.70 Tier One Turbo 16 remain

*** PREFLOP ***
hacker59 limps with [5h 5d] (normally I push with this hand from any position, but for the purposes of great deception, I decide to limp from the cutoff.)
Donkey BB checks

*** FLOP ***[2s 6c 7c]
Donkey BB checks (This shows me he's a weak-kneed troglodyte who did not get enough time at his mother's breast. I'm about to slowplay this monster and punish him unmercifully for his failure to thrive, but decide to mix it up and bet out.)
hacker59 bets 60
Donkey BB folds
hacker59 collected 120 from the pot

That will teach the donktard to fuck with me again.

No hand of poker any time, anywhere has ever been played better.

Full Tilt $.25/.50NL 6-handed

*** PREFLOP ***
Haplessasswipe1 raises $1.50
Haplessasswipe2 calls $1.50
hacker59 [5d 5c] calls $1 (I can't believe the first cretin had the nerve to raise my big blind. What blew me away is that someone else called his bet. Anyone who attempts such moves in the future should be summarily executed.)

*** FLOP ***[Qc 5h Jh] (This is where justice prevails. What is about to happen is predestined. It is my birthright.)
hacker59 checks (I had to scratch my balls at that particular moment and forgot to bet.)
Haplessasswipe1 checks
Haplessasswipe2 bets $4.75
hacker59 raises to $9.50 (I considered folding to show how merciful we Gods of Poker can be, but at the last moment decided to punish him for his mere presence on my Earth.)
Haplessasswipe1 folds
Haplessasswipe2 raises $44.25 all-in
hacker59 calls $16.25 all-in.
Uncalled bet of $22.75 returned to Haplessasswipe2

*** TURN ***[Qc 5h Jh] [7c]
*** RIVER ***[Qc 5h Jh] [7c] [Qd]
*** SHOWDOWN ***
hacker59 shows [5d 5s] (fives full of queens)
Haplessasswipe2 [Ad Qs] (three of a kind queens)
hacker59 collected $53.45 from the pot

Damn I'm good.
No. I'm the best. Ever.