Monday, August 08, 2005

Poker-heavy weekend

Which makes it a pretty good weekend, I think.

Saturday I finally got out to see Star Wars Episode 3. Yes, yes, I know it has been out for months and months in most parts of the world other than Japan, but it only opened here about a month ago. And my girlfriend had not seen any of the SW films, much to my shock. So I had to get her caught up on them first.

She really liked Ep 3. I thought it was pretty good for the first hour or hour and a half. But then it hit the point where I pretty much knew everything else that was going to happen in the film, and I just had to sit there and watch it. It was well done, but still... at least in Ep 2 there were some surprises.

My GF really liked it, and it got her in the mood to re-watch eps 4-6. Which was perfect, since it allowed me to skip out and head to the Japan Poker Player's Association in the evening for some cards! This was the second time I have been out there, and I was looking forward to getting some live poker in, even if it was just for chips, not for real money.

The JPPA has recently begun the JSOP, the Japan Series of Poker. For the next couple months, they'll be playing a series of tournaments every Saturday. Winners of each tournament earn points for their position, and at the end of the series they'll crown a winner and award the trophy, a JSOP champion silver bracelet! (Damn, I forgot to ask to see it and get a photo of it!) I have no hope of winning it, but I thought it would be fun to get into at least one of the tournament games and see how it was.

My previous visit was on a Friday night, and only about 6 people attended. I was expecting more this time, and I got it - a total of 46 people signed up for the NL Holdem tournament on Saturday! The JPPA card room is long and narrow, with a tiny bathroom and kitchen area in the back. It must be an old Japanese-style office for a small company that they refitted. But they fit five card tables in there, as well as a small drink bar, tv with playstation (mostly playing Japanese subtitled travel shows about the attractions of Las Vegas, taped off of the Discovery channel on Japanese cable), and a cash register area. Yeah, it's not free - you have to pay a fee to play in the tournaments, and many of them have rebuys for additional amounts of real yen. Saturday's tourney was a whopping 3500yen, although I got 2000yen knocked off by cashing in my winning vouchers from the last time I played there.

Wait, you may be saying, you're paying $35 of real money to play in a holdem tournament with play money and no prizes, except a bracelet for the winner a couple months down the road? Isn't that, like, stupid?

Okay, well, fair enough, but when you live in a country where the only legal way to play poker for money is... let's see... leave it and fly somewhere else, well, if you have a hankering to play something other than online poker, this is about your only opportunity. (Or start up a home game. I'm thinking about that.)

And there is a real appeal to playing live. I like playing online, but live play is just so much more... sensual is the only word that comes to mind. Holding real chips, shuffling them, stacking them, tossing them in, raking that pot in. Shielding your cards to take that peek at them, then either flicking them into the muck or planting that chip on them to guard them until you need them. And of course, seeing your opponent and trying to figure out what he is thinking.

I suck at that, by the way. And I don't think it is because of the "inscrutable Japanese" idea, either. But I'm not going to get any better at it online.

I heard my first Japanese nickname for two cards this time, too! As one of the guys flipped over his K-Q at showdown, he commented "Keihin Kyuukou!" (I think he won the pot with it, but I don't recall.) The Keihin Kyuukou is a train line, specifically the express (kyuukou) on the Keihin Touhoku line. It is very often abbreviated in spoken Japanese to "Kei-kyuu", which pretty much anyone who lives in the greater Tokyo area will recognize. Kei-kyuu... pronounced like "kay cue"... i.e. K-Q.

It's not going to win any awards for wit, but I broke into a big grin on hearing it. A real Tokyo touch on poker. I'm hoping to hear more as we go along, and as (hopefully) poker gets more popular here.

As for my play in the tournament, let's just say that I won't be depriving any deserving Japanese players out of that coveted silver JSOP bracelet this year. I tried to play tight, but I did play more passively than I should have, feeling fairly out of place in a big tournament where everyone seemed to know each other except... hey, what's that white guy doing here? I probably made some of the others uneasy as well, since I wasn't as familiar with live play as they were, and they didn't know how much Japanese I could handle, so they were pretty quiet to me. (My Japanese is good for a somewhat normal conversational level, but frequently breaks down when you get into more specialized topics.)

The first few rounds were played as Limit holdem, so no all-ins or big bets. I don't think anyone was knocked out during these rounds, but I'm guessing it did wear down some of the weaker players and put better players in a good spot once the no-limit rounds started.

I played as best I could, but things did not go so well for me. Shortly into NL play, I got dealt QQ in early position and raised to 4BB, 500 in chips. Two callers, and the flop came A-4-K with me first to act. I figured I was probably beat, but better bet to see where I stood, so I bet another 500. The other two called again. Turn was another K. I checked, the next player bet out 2000, and we folded to him.

A bit later I find KK in middle position, with one limper before me. I toss in a 500 chip, intending to raise, but the dealer notes quietly that as he explained at the beginning, placing a single chip into the pot without stating that it is a raise will be interpreted as a call. I even understood that when he explained it, yet made the mistake! Me: "Ah! Right! Ah... well." One other late position caller, which was "Ungar", who I played in my previous visit. I don't even remember what the flop was, but it was all low cards. I bet out another 500 and Ungar and the other player quickly folded. "You had to have kings or aces," Ungar noted, smirking. Well... yeah.

My stack dwindled and the blinds increased, as they always do. We hit the first rounds where they added an ante as well as the blinds, and I knew my time was short. I found pocket 4s in fairly early position, limped in, and a later player raised 2000 more. One player called behind him. Looking back, this should have been a big honking clue, but I figured this was my only shot anyhow. I only had about 2200 left, so I went all-in. Both players called the slight raise. Details get hazy at that point, but the board came out miscellaneously with nothing looking particularly scary. The other two players just checked through it, I believe. At the showdown, my 4s stomped by the raiser's KK. Even the other caller's 88 had me beat. The board had hit none of us, so the Kings took and I was out in 38th place of 46. Not my finest hour.

Once we hit about 10 players out (it only took another 15 minutes or so, as the eliminations were starting in earnest), they started up a Second Chance tournament for an additional 1200y. I bought in - what the hell, should I go home and play online instead? Not likely. Results were much the same - I was worn down and bled my chips away and was knocked out with something not impressive enough even for me to remember in 6th or 7th place of the 10. I console myself that one of the guys at our table was wearing the 2005 WSOP jersey... was it Hiroshi Shimamura, the head of the JPPA and who placed 6th of 224 players in the $5000 Omaha Hi-Lo event?

Let's say that yes, it must have been him. Let me cling to my little illusions to comfort me against the cold fearful truths of the universe.

As more players were knocked out of the main event, they started up Third Chance and Fourth Chance tournaments for the now-freed players, but I felt like I had had enough of tournament play for a bit. They had a "Live Game" table starting, which was basically a ring game with fixed limits, so I figured that for 500yen I would give that a try as well. As I sat down and received my stack they explained that they usually rotated the games they played at the Live table - holdem, omaha, 7-stud, with hi-lo and without. "Oh... I only know holdem..."

"Ah, that's all right. We'll just stick to holdem, then."

Nobody seemed to mind, but it did make me feel like, man, I should at least learn the basics of the other games so I can play them, even poorly. Next time I will be ready.

I played the live game for about an hour and finished up with exactly a full rack, what I started with. For me, for that day, I count it as victory. Especially considering that the dealer was even removing chips from the pot as a simulated rake! I'm not quite sure what that's about, but I guess it does a good job of preparing folks for playing in a game in Vegas.

As several of the live game players decided to call it quits at around 11pm and go get some ramen noodles, I figured that was enough poker for me that day. From 6pm to 11pm - not too bad. I felt like I had made the most of my trip and could go home satisfied. They pointed out that I could stick around for the Midnight Tournament they would be starting soon, but man... Adding in the cost of a cab ride home after missing the last train and I'd be up to spending a fair-sized sum on my play-money poker experience.

So I came home with a smile on my face. I had not done well as a player, but I had really missed the live poker experience and I got my fill of it on Saturday.

Sunday I ended up playing a lot of low-limit holdem on Party Poker as I found out about the August reload bonus. I dumped my $350 standby money in to get a $70 bonus to clear with 490 hands. I three-tabled for a few hours to knock out about half of those, and finished the rest off today after work. The GF is off at a drinking outing for work until late, so I could do my poker thing all evening with no guilt!

All that work, though, and I still lose $35 to make a $70 bonus. No way this math works out. Didn't I swear off this bonus stuff? I mean it this time!

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