Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Dukes of Vegas

I hadn't been out to Duke for their poker games for quite a while, so when I noticed on their forum page that they were planning a nomikai (drinking gathering), I decided to go show my face. It also helped that they were planning to do it at Chinese Cafe 8 in Roppongi Hills, which I've been to several times before. They have excellent Peking duck that will feed 3-4 people alone for less than $10 a person, which is a hell of a deal for Tokyo.

So about ten of us showed up for Peking Duck and lots of other chinese food and drinks. Cafe Eight is good fun -- very amusing decor as well. Someone had fun decorating the place, as the rafters are all lined with casts of tits and asses, all painted the same color as the walls so you may not notice them immediately. Once you clue in on that and start looking around, you notice the huge buddhist bell hanging in the center of the room. Most giant bells at the monasteries have a large log suspended on ropes hanging next to them, which can be pulled back and then rammed into the bell to ring it. But at Cafe Eight you clue in pretty quickly that the ringer is an eight-foot phallus wrapped in Christmas lights, and the elaborate designs cast into the bell just happen to form a three-foot high vagina on the surface to be struck by the ringer.

I've never seen anyone get rowdy enough to stand up and start whacking away at the bell with the giant dildo ringer, but it must be quite a sight.

Service at the cafe is at a reasonably Chinese level. They ignore you, speak Japanese poorly, and give you that exasperated "what do you want?!" look when you manage to flag one down to order something. It's wonderful when a restaurant makes that little extra effort to provide that final touch of authenticity.

We didn't even talk that much about poker most of the evening, enjoying the food, drinks, and atmosphere. Most of the group headed to Vegas the following week was there - Kuroda-san, Bushi, Mari, and Saeko. J.O. was going as well, plus one other who I can't remember. So there was a lot of talk about their plans for Vegas and the casinos and shows, and it got me really jealous that they'd be in Vegas the next week and I have to wait until December. Mari was trying to get people to go to "Ka", the new Cirque Du Soleil show.

Me: "You're going next week and you haven't bought tickets yet? Oh man, you're never going to get in! When I bought tickets for 'O' I bought them a month in advance and there were already only a few seats left! You're screwed."

Mari just looked slightly thoughtful and nodded. Two days later I found on the forum that she'd scored six very good tickets in the front left section with no problems. She used a Japanese ticket reservation system and had no problems -- apparently they set aside a good block of tickets for Japanese visitors that aren't available to us white boy slobs. Shows how much I know.

At one point I got into a contest with the sexy Saeko, who had seen some tv show recently that got her wondering how many states in the U.S. and had looked them up to memorize them for later. That's a pretty tall order, considering that I'm quite sure I'd come nowhere near being able to name them all and I was frigging born there, so the challenge became if I could name more Japanese prefectures than she could name American states. We both managed about 20 each, but I think I came out slightly ahead - we were all drinking and not paying the closest of attention. We should have put a bet on it. If I had actually tried to memorize the prefectures at any point in my life I would have done much better, I am sure.

Anyhow, their group of six hit Vegas for about four days last week, gambling hard, entering poker tournaments, going to see "Ka" before me (bastards!) and generally having a good old Vegas time. I really wish I had been there for that. They're a fun crowd and it would have been a blast to be there to hang out with them. Ah well. Their next trip is scheduled for July - maybe I can plan for that one.

Chinese Poker

It seems like there is a growing interest in Chinese Poker among some of the more advanced Japanese players in the JPPA. Bluejay has been commenting regularly on his blog about his Chinese Poker play in Vegas - he's in town now for the games at the Bellagio, it sounds like, but he's also playing a fair amount of Chinese Poker from the sounds of it. He seems to be in with a number of poker pros and known players, so maybe he picked it up from them?

Jumbo was also practicing dealing Chinese Poker to several of us at the JPPA who were curious about the game. He seemed pretty familiar with the rules and bonuses, so I assume he is also a regular player. I tried it out and it was kinda fun, reminding me a lot of pai gow poker. I also found that has a beta version of Chinese Poker you can play for free money versus other human players, which was a pretty amusing way to pass 30 or 40 minutes. Still, if there's some deep appeal to this game for long-time poker players, I am having difficulty seeing it.

Back to Limit

I've drifted back to limit holdem recently, despite most of my occasional poker profits coming from no-limit. I started on limit and never really got ahead in it - PokerTracker shows me a couple hundred bucks in the red for my limit games before I discovered no-limit games on Party and how you can sometimes clean up when you hold the stone cold nuts and some idiot (or idiots) makes a play that leaves you scratching your head and checking your cards again to make sure that your ace-high flush really is the best possible hand, so why is this guy pushing all-in with what turns out to be a pair of nines?

But I'll be back in Vegas again soon and probably playing limit, so figured I should try to come to grips with it and figure out what I'm doing wrong. I reread Winning Low Limit Holdem, and have started playing again trying to follow its starting hands religiously and as much of Lee Jones' other advice as best I can remember it. I've also reviewed the Poker Tracker Guide and started reviewing my play after recent sessions, trying to see where I am making my mistakes. I've found flaws and bad plays all over the place - I'm really in pretty awful shape. But I'm working on it and much more aware of the problems than before, so I should be in better shape after a couple more weeks of practice, review, and self-appraisal. My last several limit sessions have each ended with a small but reasonable profit, which is encouraging. But it is still far too early to declare that I have beaten the game.

I was going to start rereading Small Stakes Holdem again, too, but decided I had better stick with the simpler WLLH for now until I feel totally comfortable with it and showing some gains that are more than just normal variance. SSH really aims at showing you how to push every little advantage to squeeze out extra profits, but I think right now it will just confuse me and work against me. I'll come back to it later once I feel that I have shown that I have grasped WLLH.

In the small blind with A2o, UTG limps and the others in front all fold -- is it reasonable to call the half-bet to try to see a flop? PokerTracker says I did that once last night, but I don't remember it happening. I guess I figured it was worth a half-bet to try for a wheel draw or A-2 two pair, but looking at it afterwards it seems like a bad play. With only two other players, I'm not likely to get odds to pursue a straight draw, and UTG may well have an Ace with a higher kicker. Oh well, at least I am actually bothering to check my logs for plays like this and try to think them out later.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

No iPod yet

I've been waiting patiently for the iPod nano I won in the Everest Poker Cup game at the JPPA a while back. I want that thing. My friend Jean Paul has one in black, and I can't get over how goddamn tiny the thing is. Lots of people use "sexy" as a complimentary term for something cool, but I've never gone that far - until now. This thing inspires desire. I want one. I can feel it.

I've been adding album art for all the music in my library, looking forward to the iPod nano with its color screen. I have a feeling I'll be using it mostly for podcasts, though. Lord Admiral Radio, Joe Average Poker, Five Hundy By Midnight, and Rounders entertain me during my morning walks to work. Add in a few NPR news and story shows, and I have about all the audio I have time to listen to.

Still not here yet, though. I guess it may take some time for Everest Poker to buy the thing and ship it to me, but I sure hope they hurry it up. Considering that I won it in a freeroll tournament, I don't have too much reason to complain though.

Long Time No Blog

It's been quite a while since my last update - sorry about that.

I'm pretty much through my poker burnout phase. It was good to get away from it for a while. There are probably people who can keep a sustained, deep interest in something for long periods of time, but I am not one of those people. It works better for me to get deeply interested in something for a while, then tire of it and drift away, then come back to it later. The time away from it helps me remember what it was about it that interested me in the first place, and I can experience some of that again.

Have my poker skills suffered for taking a two week break? Maybe a little bit, but in the long run it works in my favor by keeping my interest up and keeping poker from being a grind, from being work, from being something I don't enjoy but keep on doing because "everyone says" you should be constantly working on your game, thinking about poker, improving your poker.

That's fine if you can keep it up indefinitely, but if you can't it works out in your favor to take a break, maybe lose a bit of progress but keep at it in the long run, rather than burning out and giving up completely. Like being on a diet.

(I'm on a diet now, too - trying to slim down at least a bit before heading back to the States for my Vegas trip and then back to Colorado to see my family. I can keep at it for another three weeks knowing that the restaurants and buffets of Vegas are waiting for me. Ah, that's going to taste SO good.)

I started playing poker more than six months ago - honestly, I thought I would play for a while and get tired of it and drop it after a while. But I'm still at it, still interested, still reading and hopefully improving. It may three steps forward and one step back, but this is something I can stick with. I never hoped to be one of those guys who picks up poker and after six months playing and learning intensely on the internet wins a seat to the WSOP and makes a good showing. But let's see what the next couple of years brings.

The Times

A while back I had a young Japanese lady in her early twenties staying at my place for a while. We didn't see eye to eye on many things, including musical tastes. She used to be a fan of Britney Spears, for one thing.

The first season of CSI (Las Vegas) had come out for rental in the video shops recently, so I had rented some of it and was really getting into it. She seemed to like it as well, or at least didn't mind watching it. The opening credits were rolling, and I was smiling at the theme song. "Who are you?" goes well with the theme of the show, I always thought.

Her: "What kind of stupid song is this?"

My thoughts come to a crashing halt like a bad shopping cart catching its front wheel on a wood chip.

Me: "Uh... this is a classic rock song, by a band called The Who."

Her: "... Never heard of them."

Me: "........"

I thought of trying to explain, but just how do you explain The Who to someone who grew up on Britney Spears?

Monday, November 14, 2005

Not Really

That bit about Phil Gordon in Japan?

Total horseshit.

Just an odd idea that popped into my head, bored at work, wondering if anyone really reads this blog anyhow. My apologies.

The English Edge

It occurs to me that a great advantage I have to being a poker player in Japan is that I can read English fluently. This opens up a huge amount of poker knowledge to me that is not so easily available to Japanese-speaking players. Look at the huge number of poker books, web sites, blogs, and podcasts out there! I can go through this stuff quite easily and learn from it as best I can. Japanese players either won't be able to read the material at all, or at least will have an additional burden of trying to unravel meaning from a foreign language first, and then to try to comprehend the poker strategy points being presented.

If poker really takes off in Japan, somebody had better be in a position to translate some of the big English-language poker resources and resell to the Japanese market. That person or company could make a lot of money.

My recent tournament play in the JPPA games prompted this realization. I had just read Harrington on Holdem Volume 1, and it really had an impact on my head, and how I looked at the game and responded to it while playing. I noticed that my continuation bets seemed to be getting a lot more respect than I would have thought - a lot of JPPA games have long, long stretches of bet-fold, or bet-raise-fold. Many of the players seem trained to respect a bet or raise, so if they aren't familiar with the idea of a continuation bet, then they're going to subconsciously fear my bets more than they should.

Damn, I wish my Japanese skills were a lot better than they are. This could be a nice business to get into.

Phil Gordon

Oh yeah, I finally found out who the "Secret Guest" was at the Everest Poker night a few weeks ago. As I mentioned in the Nov 2 post, the only clue I had was that there was a suspicious name listed in the tourney results for that night. "Philip". There are too many poker players out there named Philip that it certainly kept me in suspense.

I finally broke down and sent a private message to the JPPA guys to find out who it was. Phil Gordon. Apparently he came into town for discussions about a Japanese Celebrity Poker Showdown - a one-shot at first but maybe a series later if it catches on. They'll be taking selections of the various "Talent" actors on Japanese tv variety shows and running a full-on Celebrity Poker Showdown episode. It is unclear if Dave Foley will be involved, but apparently Beat Takeshi will be there with Phil to provide comic commentary and surprisingly bad translations.

Dunno who will be guests on the show yet, but first choice would probably be Tamao Satoh, the WSOP veteran who looks good on tv.

Phil was apparently checking with the JPPA to find out who can train the actors to play poker and maybe handle the dealing duties if it is filmed in Japan. I think they might film it in a casino in the Philipines though, so they can get a real casino feel and professional dealers.

They didn't really say too much about his visit to the JPPA card room (of all the days for me to miss going) other than that he banged his head on the top of the doorframe in the stairwell, which is at a normal Japanese height. And that they took him to Roppongi to chase Japanese women afterwards. MAN, did I choose the wrong day to not bother with the poker game!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Too Much Poker

I've been quiet this week because I overdosed on poker last Saturday, and haven't felt like playing or talking poker for a while. It'll wear off in another few days, I'm sure.

Saturday my girlfriend's sister and brother-in-law had been planning to come over and visit and see the new apartment, bringing along their two very cute but dangerously destructive kids. Apprehension, oh yes, I had it. I mean, I just signed myself into debt for the next 35 years to buy a nice apartment in a new, fancy building, and here come three year old and a seven year old very physical japanese boys with permissive parents to come check the place out. Would you be worried?

I got a reprieve when they called up the night before to raincheck because of the older son's soccer game. Whew. My apartment can survive in its largely pristine state for another week! Suddenly my afternoon was free, though. I had already been planning to go hit the JPPA card room in the evening for the last Tony G game, while my GF and her family went out for dinner, so I go clearance from the girl to head over there early and catch the 2pm limit holdem tourney as well.

I haven't played much limit holdem lately, since reading Harrington on Holdem, Vol 1 - predictably, I've been playing no limit tourneys and SNGs for the last several weeks, and was mostly on no limit side games even before that. "Limit holdem... limit holdem... lessee... how did that go?" were my thoughts on the train ride up to Ueno. Ah screw it, I decided. We'll just see how it goes.

It went well enough. I couldn't use a lot of the concepts in HoH, but it wasn't hard to play tight, wait for good hands, raise and check-raise when I got them. A couple times I tried a "continuation bet" after a flop that hadn't hit me and still got some laydowns from other players. That worked a lot better than I was expecting, since I could only make a single bet. Guess it was just the attitude displayed by firing off a bet in early position after raising pre-flop as well that scared folks off. Good results from such a cheap bet. I think I finished around 10th of 21 people.

The TV in the poker room was on for most of the time, which had me wondering - usually the TV is set to show a copy of the PC display that they run the tournament timer software on. Later on in the afternoon I found out why - they had a weekend special of the "Kin no A-Sama" show that had sent Satoh Tomao to the WSOP, and eventually she showed up and they had a brief recap of her trip and results. I was hoping they would replay this segment on the regular show on Thursday night, but no such luck. I'll see if I can get a copy of the show from the JPPA and make it available on BitTorrent for the benefit of her new fans in North America.

Players started packing into the room as evening approached, getting ready for the 6pm No Limit game with Tony G. There are one or two other native english speakers who come to the JPPA games sometimes - one of them, Steve, had apparently busted out Tony G in the Friday night game, so was hoping for another shot at him in the Saturday game so he could win that free trip to Vegas in December. Saturday evening games are usually pretty well attended, so we had another full house - 50 players, all five tables in use, and a couple of spectators as well. Luckily it is late in the year - I don't think the air conditioning could handle that many people if it were summer.

Tony and the folks from PokerNews showed up right at 6pm, the starting time, and we sat down and got right into it. Again the 5s on each table was reserved for Tony, who would rotate between the tables every level or two, or PokerNews players who would fill the Tony-seat at the other tables. I drew Table 3 again, which had been a player-killer on Thursday but was less volatile on Saturday. We heard raised voices and cries from Table 1 every now and there, where Tony had started, and when he made it to Table 2 we could see a big and growing stack of chips. "This is just a normal amount for a good player," he cheerfully responded whenever someone commented on it.

And then he was moved to our Table 3. I don't remember much of the action, but we all survived and even took a chunk of Tony's stack. Tony seemed a bit surprised when players were aggressive with their raises and reraises - maybe the first two tables had been more passive. Tony was two spots to my right so I followed his action most hands. The only hand I even slightly got into with him he raised a small amount, then I reraised a large amount and he folded. It was easy, I had cowboys. Shortly after he rotated out to Table 4, with me still wondering if I had overbet and if he would remember it if we ended up on the same table again later.

I did actually end up at the table with him again. I did pretty well for the next hour, taking down pots, getting the occasional good hand, and making the occasional bluff to steal a pot. When 50 people got down to about 20, they compressed us down to two tables, and they placed me right to Tony's left. He had a pretty decent stack, but so had I. We went through an orbit or two, with me mostly folding, as was Tony. He seemed frustrated at not having more chips, and not getting any cards, which I filed away for future use. A few hands later, he checked his hole cards and announced, "Twenty-five thousand, all-in!" and nudged them towards the center.

I looked down and found A-T of clubs.

I thought about it for five or ten seconds, then called. Tony flipped over Ace of hearts, Jack of clubs. Oops. He hit a Jack on the flop and though it looked for a second I might make my club draw, it didn't pan out.

It turned out I had him covered, but just barely, so I became the super short stack and hung in there for another two orbits or so and then faded away.

At the time, I thought it was going to be a closer race, Ac-Tc versus Ah-Jc. Getting home, I checked a couple of the online odds calculators and found I was about 25% to win, and 10% to chop. Ouch.

I still don't feel too badly about my call - I had the feeling that Tony was getting frustrated and would have pushed with Ace and a lower kicker, or maybe KQ-KJ, to pick up the blinds and antes and show some force at the table. But then again, maybe his show of frustration was supposed to make me think that. Ah well.

Anyhow, I retired to the side game as they finished up. Tony got busted in 5th place or so, and still had his special option of rebuying to get in there again, but considering that the original buyin was 5000 in chips, and the blinds at the time were 4000-8000, he declined to have another go at it.

I don't know if anyone got to bust him twice and win the Vegas trip. Steve had his shot, but musta got mixed up about who was supposed to bust who and got knocked out early.

I stumbled home at 10:30pm, having played poker for nine hours straight. Man, even my overnight sessions in Vegas were only 6-7 hours. That's a lot of goddamn poker for a guy like me. Even a week later I am not feeling the urge, but let's see what happens over the weekend, shall we?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Nice Guy Tony

The PokerNews Cup at the JPPA last night was good fun. We had a full house, since fifty people had signed up for the tourney and the room has five tables, so several folks wanted to sign up and had to be put in as キャンセル待ち, Waiting For A Cancellation, like they were trying to get a flight to Seoul on a Friday night.

Tony showed up shortly, dressed smartly in a grey suit with a blue dress shirt, to applause from a packed poker room. He began with a short talk about his poker playing and thoughts, and then answered questions from the crowd, with Bluejay handling the translation to and from Japanese.

It caught me by surprise - "gracious" is the first word that comes to mind, and Tony was friendly and very approachable to everyone. Tony spoke a little bit about his play in the Aviation Club WPT episode that was on the tv as he arrived, and assured everyone with a grin that he does in fact know about figuring odds and which hands are good and which are garbage. But he suggested that at times in a tournament, particularly when it gets down to heads up, the odds aren't so important and it comes down to a coin flip anyhow, so your attitude and your willingness to get in there and mix it up without being sure you have the best hand becomes a lot more important. He noted that for most tournaments he would start out tightly, like most players, but would continue to loosen up as he got further in. "If you sit and play tight, you will not make it to the final table! You can't win a tournament playing that way."

He signed photos and posed for pictures for a while, chatting with everyone and answering more questions. I was impressed - I had been preparing myself for a obnoxious, egotistical, overbearing player, but Tony knew his business. He was there to spread goodwill and enthusiasm about poker, and he did the job excellently. But maybe things would change when the games started?

Not that I saw. I was actually knocked out fairly early (me with KK against 88, who called my reraise, hit trips, and sucked me in for the rest of my chips), so I didn't get a chance to play with Tony. With five tables, they assigned the five seat at each to one of the crew, and would rotate them through the tables so that hopefully everyone would get a chance to face off with Tony G. Tony was also allowed one rebuy, so if he got busted out he could continue on and give the other players a shot at him and the bounty. It seemed to work pretty well - when I got knocked out on table 3, he was still playing on table 1 and had a decent stack of chips in front of him. I checked in later and his stack had taken a few hits and he got knocked out making an all-in call of another player. First bounty!

He bought in again and moved to table 3, my former table. Table 3 had been a rough table until that point, knocking out around 3 of the first 10 players, then bringing in players from full tables for balance, and continuing to cull the herd. When Tony got there, stacks were high and I think around 6 of the 10 or so players who had busted out had met their end at Table 3. The JPPA has a lot of sharp, solid players and Table 3 had some of the strong ones seated - Tony started with a short stack and didn't seem to catch anything good, so when I checked back again later he had been knocked out.

Was this really the guy from TV?

Most people have the capacity in them to become an obnoxious ass. But usually this comes out only in certain situations, when alcohol, stress, rejection, having your "buttons pressed", or the anonymity of the internet put you in that place where you go fuck it! and let your inner shithead out to rampage a while.

Usually you regret it afterwards (except for the internet one, maybe), but if it puts your opponents on tilt, making bad decisions, your inner shithead could end up making you a lot of money. Suddenly, being able to release this at will becomes a profitable skill.

I've heard the stories about Phil Hellmuth actually being a reasonable human being and nice guy away from the poker table - they usually make me roll my eyes and say yeah, right to myself. But now I can see it.

A lot of us don't want to see behavior like this at the poker table. But it seems to be working for these players and there are no apparent repercussions (other than Howard Lederer refusing to shake your hand). As players, we're going to need to learn to deal with it, or come up with some repercussions.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Secret Guest!

Oh god, I totally forgot about the Secret Guest that might have been coming to the October 28 game at the JPPA! I had other plans last Friday night and did not attend. I don't see anything on Bluejay's blog about it - who could it have been?

Checking the results page for the Friday night tournament, I see an unfamiliar name who finished in 17th place. "Philip".

Philip?! Good god, that could be anyone! What have I done?!

I got the game with Tony G tomorrow at the JPPA, so I'll ask if the Secret Guest showed up and who it was. I'm almost afraid of the answer.

Annoying Idea

While we're on the subject of putting your opponents on tilt by annoying behavior...

I was thinking last night that there could be more done on the sunglasses front to avoid unwanted attention by other players. Greg Raymer's hologram glasses are a start, but what about something more... active?

I was actually picturing something like ringed by a circle of LEDs that would revolve in circles of shifting colors. (You'd have to shield them properly so the LEDs wouldn't be visible to the wearer and distract him or her too.) Or maybe a Times-square like marquee scrolling across the top of the glasses at forehead-level? Something like that - either something to actively discourage someone else from looking at the wearer, or distract them so much when they did look that they could not concentrate on the information they were looking for.

This morning I did a quick Google search and found that there are glasses with flashing LEDs on them already - here.

These are not quite what I was picturing, but oh GOD wouldn't these be annoying at the poker table?

I'm hoping that no one ever follows my particular train of thought any further. Will I fire up a downloaded ESPN WSOP episode one day and see some joker wearing a pair of these at the final table? Fuck, I hope not.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Deliberate Donkification

Had a bit of difficulty getting to sleep on Sunday night, so logged on to Everest Poker to screw around a bit. Signed up for a ten-cent SNG. Yes, ten players buy-in for $.10 each, then fight for the $1 prize pool.

I started out all right, but it was late and my interest waned. I couldn't really muster the enthusiasm to fight for that dollar. So I started making some deliberately stupid plays just to maybe get knocked out so I could go and do something else. Calling with King-rag, chasing draws with bad odds, raising 4 times the big blind with crap, etc.

Blinds were still low, so I won some and lost some, my stack size jumping up and down. After several folks got knocked out and my stack was at a high spot, I toned it down some, and knocked a few other players out until it was heads-up. It went back and forth for a while, and it sure felt like the other player had no idea what to expect from me and what I could be playing. Eventually I got tired of it and did a stupid all-in and lost, but if I had stayed the course I could easily have won. (That's right, instead of my measley $.30 for second, I would have got, what, $.60 for first? What a difference!)

It was a somewhat amusing, though stupid, experiment, but I learned something. If your stacks are deep enough and your resolve strong enough to handle some crazy plays and big variance, playing like a fucking donkey can really put the other players on tilt, get them playing badly and seriously wondering about your own sanity and what kind of cards you could possibly be holding. Turn off the idiot act later on, and this might be a serious advantage.

Depending on the table and the other players, of course. If they're used to, nay expecting, donkey play from their opponents, then it probably won't make any difference.