Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Giant Pander

I am planning to stay away from poker today until I finish my reading and preparation for giving the limit games another try. So instead, let's do something to try to please the other section of my limited audience.

Tamao Satoh / 佐藤珠緒 (a.k.a. "The Rose Lady")

I did a quick Google search for her name in Japanese, and found some interesting items.

First off, she has a homepage and even a blog, although it is in Japanese and doesn't seem to be updated terribly frequently. Sadly, there is nothing there from her appearance in the WSOP. Another section of the site has a note from her manager that she's going to the WSOP, but there is no followup about how she did. Pity.

It seems that she first got started on tv in a Power Rangers-type show, Chouriki Sentai Oh-Ranger. She was, in fact, Oh-Pink.

She also appeared in an old favorite tv show of mine, MiniSkirt Police. This was a late-night show that flirted with the risque without actually showing much. It had a bunch of leggy Japanese girls in bright blue pleather police woman uniforms with super short skirts who would run around and do silly things. As you can imagine, I was rather fond of this show when I first saw it, but it went away for a while and when it came back, it was heavily sponsored by a pachinko company and had a lot more pachinko action, a lot less titillation, and seemed to be trying to appeal to a more family audience. Naturally, I soon lost interest.

I have no idea if she was on the show during the glory days or not.

She's done a couple of photo collection books, which you can even find on Japan. (Like, here for example.) Also a dvd or two, which I am guessing are more of her doing various poses in bathing suits.

I begin to form a theory, in the back of my mind, that just maybe she might have convinced Tom McEvoy to select her to go to the WSOP by leaving some samples of her work lying around his dressing room before the show.

Eventually, she made the jump to doing more mainstream tv shows as a "talent", but there seem to be a lot of web sites out there that were dedicated to her works as an "idol". this one has a few images and a lot of links to other fan sites, but a lot of the links were giving me 404 errors when I tried them. This page is still active and has a fairly nice image gallery with what I assume are scans from her photo books.

There you go, Stonz. It's, like, Christmas in July, eh.


The day after a typhoon is usually gorgeous. The wind and rains suddenly disappear once the thing is past, but their blowing and battering knock down and push away most of the crap in the Tokyo air. (Which is not too bad to begin with for such a big city. The last time I was in San Jose my heart nearly stopped when I saw what passes for air there. "Jesus, I guess I have to stop giving Los Angeles people crap," was my first thought.)

True to form, today the sun is shining down and the skies are blue and clear. And my girlfriend hates typhoons - what is her problem?

On the other hand, no more limit holdem for me until I get some sort of clue. The Red Line continues to taunt me and will be taunting for long days to come at this rate. I broke out the Lee Jones and am re-reading now.

Working theory is that I have become too used to being able to bet out larger amounts to force out players on unlikely draws, and I have not figured out how to deal with low limit Party tables yet, where that just doesn't seem to happen. Back to the books.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Here it comes...

Typhoon number 7 (a.k.a. "Typhoon Banyan") is barrelling down on the Tokyo area from the south. High winds, huge waves, heavy blowing rains... love it! But Tokyoites tend to freak out when one hits. If you're not careful, you can get stranded when the trains shut down. So many companies sent some or all of their employees home early today, especially if they lived a long ways from the office and so were more vulnerable to train delays and cancellations getting them stuck somewhere.

I, however, am on early shift at my workplace, which is 730am to 430pm, so I stuck around to my normal time and headed home. I only got partially soaked on my walk home from the train station, so the real fun is yet to get here.

I like that the Japanese just number the typhoons each year instead of naming them. I don't really care what the goddamn storm's name is, just whether or not I can make it home and park in front of the tv or computer and wait it out while the rains pelt the windows until the next day. I think it only really matters if they cause huge damages or kill your cousin because they were stupid enough to go down to the pier at the height of the storm to watch the 30 foot waves pelt the docks. Something fucks you up, you want a name on it instead of a number, I guess.

So I got home at my regular time and fired up Empire to try to kill off those nagging red numbers in Poker Tracker next to "$100 NL". That Royale with Cheese yesterday took care of most of it, and maybe typhoons are good luck or something because I cleared another $30 in 14 minutes to push me into the green. I just want a lot of green categories in PT to make me feel like a poker success, is that so much to ask?

So taking a quick blog break before deciding how to proceed. Back to the 6-player tables I prefer? Or take another crack at the limit tables, where I have been struggling? Where's that Iggy uberpost to distract me when I need it so I don't have to make this decision?

Monday, July 25, 2005

Woo hoo!

I spent a quick bit of time looking around Gotanda for likely looking joints, but no underground casinos sprung to view. Then again, it was 5pm on a Monday, so maybe the dudes with signs on their backs don't come out until later.

Got home a bit later than usual because of this, and because of some guy jumping or falling in front of a train in Shinbashi at around the same time and getting killed. Trains were delayed for a while because of it, so I had to wait around an extra 10 minutes or so to get home. It didn't bother me (though I saw many Japanese being annoyed) - I mean, at least I wasn't crushed under a train today. That's something to be thankful for.

Got home and logged in to Empire a bit later than normal. I decided to play a bit of $100 NL (10 players), since it's one of the categories that I still have those annoying red totals for in Poker Tracker - i.e. I have not made money at that category yet. I was about $65 down in this cat, but I managed to make most of it up today in 24 minutes of play. Wow, that's one way to get caught up.

Nicest bit about it was the hand below:

***** Hand History for Game 2420828442 *****
$100 NL Texas Hold'em - Monday, July 25, 05:27:39 EDT 2005
Total number of players : 9
Seat 1: seat1 ( $98.50 )
Seat 2: seat2 ( $122.63 )
Seat 3: seat3 ( $25.70 )
Seat 4: seat4 ( $43.75 )
Seat 6: seat6 ( $97.75 )
Seat 8: Hero ( $100.50 )
Seat 9: seat9 ( $108.80 )
Seat 5: seat5 ( $77.65 )
Seat 10: sadseat10 ( $30.35 )
seat6 posts small blind [$0.50].
Hero posts big blind [$1].
sadseat10 posts big blind [$1].
** Dealing down cards **
Dealt to Hero [ Ah 5c ]
sadseat10 checks.
seat1 folds.
seat2 folds.
seat3 folds.
seat4 folds.
seat5 folds.
seat6 folds.
Hero checks.
** Dealing Flop ** [ Jh, 4s, Th ]
Hero checks.
sadseat10 checks.
** Dealing Turn ** [ Qh ]
Hero bets [$3].
sadseat10 calls [$3].
** Dealing River ** [ Kh ]
Hero bets [$10].
sadseat10 calls [$10].
Hero shows [ Ah, 5c ] Royal Flush.
sadseat10 doesn't show [ As, 8c ] a straight, ten to ace.
Hero wins $27.10 from the main pot with Royal Flush.

My first Royal Flush! That felt pretty good, I have to say.

Musta sucked to be the other guy. Did you notice that he also posted a big blind? He had just sat down at the table. First hand, he draws to an ace-high straight, and gets beaten by a royal flush. Oh well.

So now I am at -$14.70 overall for $100 NL 10-seats. Hopefully I can balance that out tomorrow night, and can then get back to the 6-seat games I prefer. At least for a whlle, anyways - eventually I want to try going back to the limit games I have with overall losses and try to bring them up into the green. Considering I'm not that good at limit and 10-seat games, this may take a while.

A winning poker player

I see on a couple other blogs that some people track their bankroll on their blog and report on their wins and losses. This sounds reasonable - at least you always have a topic to write about (although it might be very similar to the topic you wrote about the day before. Or the day before that.)

I have an Excel sheet to track my bankroll on Empire, but it's a bit rough. I originally bought in a couple times for a total of about $350 of real money. Money from the day job. I've since withdrawn that but it's still handy if I need to pump it back in, which I will do occasionally if there is a bonus I want to go for.

Aside: bonuses, oh god, why do I bother? That last Empire bonus was such a pain in the goddamn ass. I slaved three-tabling .50/$1 limit games for hours at a time for days to finally clear that, and for what? $40? What the hell was I thinking? If I wanted $40 more in my account, I can dump in $40 from the real job without even noticing. (A side effect of living in Tokyo and being used to the cost of living here.) Unfortunately, the obsessive-compulsive in me would have none of this. I separated the money and am playing only on my profits now, right? So, can't dump more money in now! Also, I can't just let that bonus expire now, can I? The completist in me insisted I finish what I started. (I had to watch Star Wars ep 2. I had to watch Alien 4. Hell, I even had to watch Alien Versus Predator.)

Anyhow, I started on limit games, figuring it would limit my losses as a beginning player. I struggled with them for a long time trying to eke out some profits but never had much to show for it. Eventually I decided to give no-limit a try. My bankroll graph makes a fairly sharp upward turn at that point. I'm about $600 in profits at the moment, most earned from NL play.

It's still too early to brag, but it does seem like 6-player NL is my best game so far, thanks mostly to the Bigger Idiot Theory.

One of my housemates in university had a theory to justify whatever weird purchase he made from the classified ads, when he obviously already had enough cars, guns, hang gliders, electronics, etc. "However big an idiot you are to buy something, you can always find a bigger idiot to buy it off you at a profit if you look hard enough." Joel was a very sharp guy, and his theory worked very well for him. I credit him for theoretically inventing eBay that day.

I've found that if I play tightly in NL on Party/Empire, even if I make some idiot mistakes there will almost always be a Bigger Idiot at the table that I can make the money back from. I'm working to get the Bigger Idiots to pay for my new flat-panel hi-def television, but it might be a while longer.

Tokyo underground casinos

I'd love to find an underground casino in Tokyo, but it's not going to be easy.

There was this tantalizing article I found a while back, which gives me hope. But...

The casinos are usually found in the same sorts of buildings that accommodate hostess clubs and massage parlors. Each casino is about as big as a bar or restaurant. Doormen regulate customers by sticking to a strict "members only" policy that usually prohibits foreigners.

Well, I can't say it comes as too much of a surprise.

This article is actually from a couple years ago, so things may have changed. Shinbashi was the big casino area at the time he wrote this aricle, it looks like, but if there's still a casino hotspot I would guess it is someplace else now.

Still, might be fun to look! Will the old men with the signs actually tell me, a white guy, how to get there? Will whoever is guarding the door let me in? And even if I get in, would there be poker? I am guessing a big fat NO to the last one, even if I clear the first two.

Looking closely at the signcard for the joint that the man is holding in the photo, it lists a game called "Lucky Full House". Although I think it's referring to a machine (hard to make out the line above) so it might be video poker.

Hey, I like video poker to kill a bit of time while waiting for the cocktail waitress as much as the next guy. But tracking down one of these Tokyo casinos may be no small task, with a certain risk of having my wallet emptied and my body beaten and dumped in an alley by guys you normally only see in Ken Takakura movies. I'm hoping to find something more substantial at the end of my quest than video poker.

Gotanda is on my commute home, and it has a fair number of hostess bars, soaplands, and the like. I think I'll wander around that area a bit after work and see if anything looks interesting. For gambling possibilities, that is. Of course.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Played for about an hour and a half after work this evening, which is my regular habit at this point.

Poker Tracker has those summary statistics for each type of game you have played - i.e. "$1/$2", "$50 NL (6 players)", etc. I have some red values for the overall win/loss for some of the game types, which kind of annoys me. I started on 10-seat limit games, tried to work my way up in the limits, and eventually switched to NL games. NL worked better for me, being able to choose the size of bets and raises to drive out drawers or make decisions difficult for opponents. Six player tables also worked better for me than ten player tables. I think I just found it easier to keep track of 5 opponents and track their play styles.

I've made my profits largely on 6-player NL tables. My stats for the 10-player limit and NL tables show a good deal of red. So I have been trying to bring up some of the categories into the green before I abandon those games for the games I prefer.

I figured I would start with the ten player NL tables - I show about a $19 loss each on the $50 and $100 NL tables, so I was hoping I could clear those and then go spend some time on the limit tables. Today I spent that 90 minutes on two $50 NL tables, but only got down to a $1.47 overall loss. So I cut my loss by around $18 in 1.5 hours. As an hourly rate, that's about $12/hour - better than McDonalds, I suppose, but way below my day job. I won't be turning poker pro anytime soon, looks like.

I'd really like to bring these two games unto the black and then turn my attention to limit games again. I spent a lot of time recently playing three limit tables at once trying to clear the recent Empire Poker reload bonus. It was a hell of a lot of grinding for an uninspiring bonus - not sure why I busted my ass for it. But I did find that after a month or so playing NL I found it a lot easier to play aggressively on limit tables, when I didn't have to worry about risking all my chips every time I placed a bet. I'm hoping I can continue that trend and bring a strong, aggressive game back to limit, and get rid of that annoying red.

But first I gotta win that $20.47. Blah. Tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

"Don't play like a pussy."

"Wise words from a man who knows how to ski..."

I don't know why this phrase has stuck in my head, but it has. Thinking about the Charlie Tuttle tourney has made me think I have been playing too passively. Limping in to see the flop, and if I raise and them am reraised, being unable to re-re-raise. Even calling in that situation is difficult for me in NL. Limit is easier. It's much less of a dilemma if you don't have to worry about your opponent seeing your weakness and putting you in for all your chips at the next opportunity.

So tonight I came home from work and fired up a couple of $25 NL tabled on Empire to see if I was really playing that passively. (I normally play for about an hour right when I get home from work - since I work early shift I get home about 1.5 hours before my GF, so I can have some poker time without widowing her for my computer room.)

I played all right tonight, I think, but the tendency is still there. I broke about even in an hour of play, despite having several players that Poker Tracker flagged as fish as my tables.

On the one hand that I really recall, I was in the big blind with 5-2o, and about three limp to me. I check to see the flop, which comes 3-5-5 rainbow. I bet $2, and two call. Turn comes a Qs. I bet another $2, and the first caller raises to $6. He was seeing a lot of flops, so I figured it was possible he had the other 5, with a better kicker than me. I couldn't bring myself to reraise or call, so I folded. So did the other player, so I didn't get to see what he was holding.

Could he have had A-5 or K-5, enough to limp in, call to see if I felt I had the best hand, then raise aggressively when I didn't seem to? Or was he doing a slowplay with QQ and then put me on the spot when he got trips? Or could he have had A-K or A-Q and figure his overcards were good?

I don't know and won't know now, but it seems like a pussy play to me.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Not too bad

This morning (for me) was the Charlie Tuttle memorial charity tournament, that you already know about if you read poker blogs. 6pm EDT is 7am Monday here, so normally I would not have been able to play, but the stars aligned and today is a national holiday in Japan, so I was able to participate.

I was figuring I would be knocked out pretty quickly considering that many of the blogger players are pretty damn good (cough cough doubleas) and I am still a beginner and not an especially gifted one.

Actually, I did not too badly - finished in 38th place of 144 players. Not exactly something to write home about, but nothing to hide in the corner about either.

Of course, I had certain advantages. My starting table of nine players had for the first hour or so, 6 to 7 people who were marked as "Sitting Out" and were not playing. I assume they were players who signed up to show their support and make the buyin donation but who could not make it to actually play. There were two players on our table that were being distracted by other commitments and who were also sitting out for long periods of time. So there were 2-3 of us at any given time who were really playing.

In the end we decided to take turns stealing the blinds from the away players to try to knock them quickly and get some real players in. Collusion? Yeah, well, maybe. After an hour or so of this we knocked out most of the Away players and a few live players shifted in and we started the real game. The three or four of us who had been live at the table were each up to about $4000-5000, about the same as the new Live players, so it kept things fairly even.

After that it got harder, of course. I didn't play terribly well against the real players, but I hung in there. Evan the Terrible of the Lord Admiral Card Club scared me out of a reasonable-sized pot and took a good chunk of my stack. Wil Wheaton was on our table for a bit, but I don't think we got into any pots at the same time.

I was playing too passively, though, and my stack was shrinking. I finished up with an all-in with AQo versus AJs, and he caught a J on the flop and I did not improve.

So, not my best game, but it was good fun and for a good cause and I didn't get busted out in the first 20 minutes, so I am not complaining. The game did highlight how good players recognize passive play (that would be me) and then take advantage of it. I haven't got a lot of that on Empire poker. But these guys know what they are going, and it must be second nature for them by now.

I think I may continue to play on Party/Empire to take money from the big fish and earn a bit of bankroll to play with, then take the money over to PokerStars to lose it and hopefully learn something in the process. Ring games on Stars are definitely a step up from Party.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Tokyo Card Room (kinda)

A while back I did a Google search to try to find places to play poker in Tokyo. I didn't come up with much, but I did find some articles on the Card Player web site by Jan Fisher, where she described coming to Japan to play in the Japanese Poker Championship.

From the article it was clear that there were poker players in Japan, although there didn't seem to be a lot of them. And there must be a card room somewhere, right? They had to play this tournament somewhere!

So eventually I found the home page of the Japan Poker Player's Association! They even have a card room in Ueno (which is kind of out of the way in Tokyo). I found on the net that they have games and tournaments, although they can't play for money because of the Japanese anti-gambling laws. Still, it is a chance to play live, which I haven't done since my first and only live poker experience in the Excalibur casino in Vegas earlier this year.

So when I saw that there was a no-limit holdem with rebuys game this Friday night, I registered on the web page and left a note, "Hi, I'd like to participate. I'm a foreigner, but I can handle daily conversation level Japanese, should that be all right?"

I didn't get any response, but I decided to go by for the Friday night game anyhow. It seemed like my one possibility for playing poker in Tokyo, so it was worth a shot.

The building was a small bland looking four-story office type building - the sign by the door showed that the "JPPA" was on the 3rd floor but gave no hint that it had anything to do with cards or poker. I climbed the stairs and poked my head in hesitantly. Three Japanese guys were hanging out talking over english language "Card Player" and "Bluff" magazines spread out over one card table, covered by a cloth. Three more card tables were covered up down the length of the room.

I had barely said Hello when one of the guys hopped up and said, "Ah, you must be James!" So nice to be expected!

I chatted for a while with one of the guys, who gave his handle as "Ungar" on the forum and on the online sites he plays. ("I'm sure you recognize it," he said with a smile. Here, it's practically an inside joke, since so few Japanese know much about poker.) Very friendly and open, he put me at ease while the others readied one of the card tables and chips. There were only 6 players on Friday night, which wasn't a huge turnout, but they said they'd have around 30 people on Saturday afternoon and evening for their stud and holdem game. I had to go into work on Saturday afternoon so I missed it - besides, I know zero about stud.

So we played a six-person NL Holdem with rebuys tournament on Friday night. I tried to play fairly tight, though again my aggression level was not up to where it should be. All the players were good-natured and were there to have a good time. I probably made them a little uneasy as an unknown foreigner suddenly showing up for their game, but they didn't seem to mind that much. I think it bothered them more that they had a new player in their game whose play they had not figured out yet.

I've never played in a rebuy tournament before. My stack was dwindling at one point but I hit a few good hands and brought it back up to the average without any rebuys. One or two of the others were playing more hands and got knocked down to zero several times, and so bought back in. (There was a 2000y charge to get into the game, then 500y for a rebuy. Considering that the chips are worth nothing and there isn't really a prize for winning, you could look at this as a ripoff I guess. But hey, we just want to play poker, and if 500y will keep us in the game, it's not exactly armed robbery.) At the end of the rebuy period I had only made my original buyin, so I looked at the other stacks to figure out what the average was. I made four rebuys, for an additional 2000y, to bring my stack to what looked to be reasonable.

It was great fun, despite not being for real money. I haven't played much live so I was occasionally making stupid mistakes like not putting in the blind, or not raising a proper amount. But they quickly set me straight and we kept going. I got down almost to nothing at one point, then fought my way back with a series of all-in bets that managed to pay off for me. The others were knocked out and it came down to me and one other player, who goes by the handle Otonn. We traded back and forth for a while. The final hand was me on the button, with 7d 8d. I raised a good sized bet, and he went all-in. I thought about it a while, then called. I had about twice his stack at that point, so I would survive, and besides, it was getting late. He turned over the As 5s.

The flop came (if I remember correctly) 5d Jh Qd, so he hit a pair and was ahead of me. But there were two more diamonds out there, so I still had a shot. Turn was a black blank. And the river came a diamond. Holy crap, I won it!

I apologized and thanked everyone, helped clean up and then went home. First place won two tickets that were each good to waive the buyin fee for future games. In effect, a 4000 yen value. Second place was one buyin coupon.

It felt pretty good to win, though it certainly wasn't from my brilliant play. I got a lot of good cards that night and I think they were probably taking it a bit easy on me as well, as a newcomer and unknown. But I didn't play too stupidly (last hand notwithstanding) so I give myself a little credit for that. It was also a hell of a lot of fun to play live again, with real people, face to face, touching real cards and shiffling real chips. I missed that.

So I'll definitely be going back. Maybe not every week, but once or twice a month will keep me happy. It would be great if we could play for cash, but I will take what I can get.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Top of the Hill

I love roller coasters. Tokyo is pretty lacking for them, but there is a very nice amusement park down by Mt. Fuji called Fuji-Q Highland. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for this park because I saw it featured in a Jackie Chan film that I watched over and over before I ever set foot in Japan. When I got to Fuji-Q Highland in person for the first time, I had that sensation you might know, of "wow, this place really exists!" Coupled with a vague unease that bad guys in brightly colored ninja suits would be jumping out of the crowd to attack me at any moment.

Anyhow, Fuji-Q has a great rollercoaster, called Fujiyama. At the time of its construction, it had the tallest hill in the world (just over 80m, as I recall), the longest vertical drop in the world (about 78m) and steepest vertical drop in the world, listed in the Guinness book. It got beat out a year or two later, I think, but it's still a damn impressive coaster. You're on the chain track climbing that first hill... and climbing... and climbing.... and CLIMBING! I mean, the view of nearby Mount Fuji is gorgeous and distracts you for a few minutes, but then you start to realize you're getting pretty goddamn high up and shouldn't the top of that first hill be around here somewhere?

You reach the top of that first hill and the car seems to pause on the edge, then you drop. I remember that first drop. The statistics I had read in the line mentioned the steepest vertical drop record and put it at a 78.9 degree drop or something like that, but as I begin to fall it seemed like it had to be an 89.99 degree plummet. Or steeper. I love rollercoasters, keep in mind, but this was the first time I ever really felt, with that sudden cold icy stab in the gut, that goddamn, I could fucking die here.

Great roller coaster. Love it.

I've lived in Japan coming up on eight years now. When I got here, it was common knowledge that the only way that you could buy a house here as a foreigner was to marry a citizen and get your permanent residency status and then, maybe, if you were a good boy or girl, the banks might give you a home loan. If you were single and had a regular visa, no way.

This was how it was for many years, but over the last few years Japan seems to be finally coming to grips with the idea that foreigners live here too, we pay our taxes and spend money and bring in jobs. It used to be you had to go stand in line at immigration for half a day and fill out a stack of paperwork to renew your visa at least yearly. Sometimes every six months if they didn't quite trust you. Eventually someone somewhere must have figured out that the gaijin here with real jobs were not going to just disappear if they acted difficult about the whole thing, and that maybe paying their officeworkers to endlessly process over and over the same stack of forms once or twice a year was actually cutting in to the 7500yen they charged for the visa in the first place. Over the span of several years, it got easier to do the forms, they started giving out 3 year and then 5 year visas, and they opened up new branches of the immigration offices that were easy to get to, and efficient and well-staffed enough that if you got there at 9am you could be out in an hour, instead of having to line up at 6am to have any hopes of being finished before lunch. (How it was when I was here in my student years.)

Late last year, I thought to check if they had also loosened up the restrictions on granting home loans to foreigners. Sure enough, they assured me that as of a year or two ago, a couple of the big Japanese branches had begun to grant home loans to foreign residents in Japan who did not have permanent residency. Whoa! This was something new to think about. I'd lived 7 years in Tokyo making a very good salary but paying rent every month because I figured I just couldn't buy a place of my own. With the idea now in my head, I began to look at apartments for sale in the Tokyo. I figure I'm going to be here pretty longterm, so buying a place makes a lot more sense than paying rent.

So my girlfriend and I have been looking at apartments for a while now. It's been hard, harder than I expected. There are some nice buildings, but it seems like by the time we got to them most of the apartments are already sold. Sometimes I definitely got a cold shoulder for being an foreigner. And of course many times the apartments that look great on the web are not so great in person. Lots of highrise apartments here must be built next to train lines or major thoroughfares, so they can be noisy even with the best attempts at insulation.

But, we finally found a nice apartment in a nice part of Tokyo, which is being built up and renewed and becoming pretty popular. We lucked out - a guy had had to cancel his purchase because his job was moving him to another location, so his slot opened up only a few days before we came in. And it looked great, so I signed the papers and crossed my fingers. All that remained was finding out if the realtor could find a bank to give me a loan for the place.

One bank rejected me fairly quickly. The next hasn't come back yet. But on Thursday I found out that Shinsei bank has approved my loan and I am good to go. Oh my god, I am really buying property, committing myself to debt for the next 35 years.

That icy slushball is back in my stomach.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

She's there, all right!

Just found a photo over at Tao Of Poker - yep, Japanese talent girl is there!

Be sure to check out Dr. Pauly's kickass live coverage of the WSOP at Tao Of Poker. The photos are part of FlipChip's 2005 WSOP Photo Gallery and he's got some amazing shots in there. I doubt they saw my previous comment about this girl being there, so I am assuming it was just coincidence they got a shot of her and posted it. I guess she does stand out.

I also found out that her name is Satoh Tamao (family name first), so Pauly or someone could probably score some points with her by going and introducing himself and knowing who she is and that she's from a Japanese variety show. I don't know if she speaks any English, though.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Hope for Tokyo

The lack of any apparent casino-type gambling in Japan or anywhere nearby has often weighed on me. When I lived in the San Jose area, it was easy enough to drive for several hours up to Reno, or catch a cheap flight to Vegas for the weekend. There were even card rooms locally, like Bay 101, but I never really played there. I went in once or twice and looked around but did not like the rules. At that point I played mostly blackjack, and while they had it there, I remember the rules being more hostile to the player and I think there was an hourly fee for playing or something like that. For someone used to Vegas, this was a real turnoff and I never sat down there.

Now I would probably push someone in front of a commuter train if we could get a real money card room in Tokyo to play poker at. Gambling in Japan is illegal, though they do have certain exceptions. Pachinko is the best known. I've tried it, and it is not for me. Sit there in the pachinko parlor in a raging cacophony of steel ball bearings bouncing off metal pins, amplified with machine generated beeps and snatches of music and the occasional siren. Put in 5000yen or so (around $50) into a machine and it deposits a double handful of ballbearings into the hopper. This amount looks pitifully small when you look around at the winners in your row, with several huge trays of ballbearings stacked up in the aisles near them. Then you adjust a dial at the bottom right of the machine to start firing the ball bearings up to the top of the machine, pinball style, and they fall downwards, bouncing this way and that between the steel pins. Turning the dial either way will adjust the speed that the ball bearings launch at, so when you find a spot that seems to send the highest percentage of your ballbearings falling closest to the goal inlet, you stop and FOR GOD'S SAKE DON'T MOVE YOUR HAND A MILLIMETER! Then you wait, frozen immobile, as your remaining ballbearings are launched automatically, one after the other, bouncing downward and hopefully into the goal inlet, which earns you.... more ballbearings, dumped into your hopper! If you're good, this can go on for hours. If you're just some slob like me, $20 worth will last you about five minutes. Like I said, the game is not for me.

It's gambling because you spend money to win ballbearings that have no cash value, then use those to play and hopefully win lots more ballbearings, which you can turn in for various prizes. Stuffed animals, cds, cartons of cigarettes, etc. Of course, if you really wanted CASH back for your pachinko play, you can take those prizes across the street to a little booth (not run by the same company as the pachinko parlor! Oh no, we swear!) that will buy them off of you for cash. Presumably the booth then sells them back to the pachinko parlor.

Betting on horse racing is also very popular among some Japanese. As well as other races - auto, motorcycle, bicycle, speedboat, etc.

But for casino and card games, you're pretty much out of luck. Macau, near Hong Kong, has some nice casinos now I hear, but it's only slightly closer and less expensive than flying to Vegas. I have also heard that there are some casinos in the Phillipines, too. But how many international flights do you want to make in a year to satisfy your gambling urges?

Then I noticed the following in an email newsletter about business in Japan that I subscribe to. (The whole article is available here.)

Now, a Daishodai (Osaka University of Commerce) professor, Ichiro Tanioka, has gone on record as saying that he thinks Japan will become home to at least ten new casinos over the coming years, and that it is just a matter of time before they start getting licences. Tanioka is an international expert on the subject of gambling and crime, and in 2002 did a research project for the ruling LDP about gambling here. Given that Ishihara championed and subsequently had to give up a bid to get a casino licence for Tokyo in 2003, no doubt Tanioka's research played a contributing role in the Justice Ministry's vehement objections to decriminalizing gambling.

Tanioka's research is quite interesting. He found that illicit gambling and particularly underground casinos are alive and well in this country. He told a conference recently that there are probably about 200,000 illegal casinos, apparently called shanti's, and that they generate about JPY1.1trn (US$10bn) in takings a year.

Legalized casinos in Japan! That would be great! But what's this about underground casinos?! This sounds intriguing as well. I kind of doubt that they will let foreigners in, and doubt as well that they play poker there. I would guess that slot machines, craps, and blackjack would be more common. But I could live with that as well.

I'll see if I can find one of these things and check it out.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Japanese girl in the WSOP

Last night I turned on the tv to watch a dvd, and noticed that one of the Japanese variety tv shows was doing something about poker players and the WSOP. I watched a few minutes of it -- they had a short bit on Scotty Nguyen, with little dramatic re-enactments by actors, and a similar short bit about Stu Ungar winning millions, losing it all to sports betting and drugs, coming back to win a third time, then dying in a hotel room after. Then it got into a segment with the various regulars on the show ("talents") describing their best "Poker Face" and some time in their life when they managed to bluff someone else into thinking something untrue, or controlling someone else through psychology, or the like. My interest waned, so I set my ReplayTV to record the rest of the show and figured I would watch it later.

I skimmed through it after getting home from work today - turns out they had some middle-aged english-speaking poker authority figure (no one I recognized) there with a translator, and each talent was describing why they should be the one on the show selected to go compete in the WSOP! In the end, the guy (I should go back and catch his name) chose... a cute young Japanese girl of no apparent ability! Why? "She showed the initiative by coming over and sitting on my lap even before we had been introduced, and that impressed me."

I must have missed that part!

Update: apparently the guy was Tom McEvoy, one-time winner at the WSOP and author.

Maybe there's something to that decision. The guy must have realized that if her first instinct is to use her feminine wiles on him to extract favors, she might be psychologically controlling enough to succeed in poker.

Anyhow, after the show the girl began to get private training in poker by a professional dealer, and will be participating in the WSOP. I assume in the main event - it was not clear from the show. I'll be keeping an eye on later eps of this show to see if they do a followup to show how she did.

And here I thought they didn't know or care about poker in this country. This could be a good sign.

Okay, this is the girl. Let me know if you see her at the WSOP with camera crews.

Update: I dug up a good deal more information about this girl, whose name is Satoh Tamao. Please see my followup posts, particularly this one.


A couple of my co-workers know that I have been reading about and learning to play poker over the last couple months, specifically Texas Holdem. One of them says that he played a lot of poker with his family as a kid, mostly 5-card draw. The other said that poker was never really his game, but he apparently played a lot of billiards for money and other games of chance when he was growing up.

A couple days ago one of them noticed that I had a book on Holdem poker with me in the office that I was reading on lunch hours ("Small Stakes Holdem" by Sklansky, Miller, and Malmuth, if you must know) and seemed amused that I was reading books on how to play poker.

"We should get together and play sometime."

"Yeah, that sounds like fun," the other contributes. "We could play for, oh, nijuuman'en each or so."

Nijuuman'en is 200,000 yen, or in the general vicinity of US $2000.

My eyes bug out. "Nijuuman'en?! Are you serious?!"

Sure, he says, and the other co-worker agrees. "It's gotta be enough that it hurts if you lose it. This would be a good amount - would be very nice to win it, but not too bad if you lose. I'd just take another Microsoft exam to pay for it if I lost." (Our consulting company gives bonuses out for each certification exam that their employees pass.)

Let me point out here that neither have ever played holdem. The 5 card draw player knows the general idea of holdem because I briefly explained it to him a while back. The billiards player probably knows basic poker rules but nothing about holdem.

"No thanks," I say. "That's just way too rich for me."

The idea really bothered me. I mean, I would love to play some cards with these guys since I don't have anyone to play with so I'm pretty much stuck to playing on the internet. Tokyo is not a seething hotbed of poker activity. What I would want would be a group of guys playing a friendly, but serious, game of poker, mostly holdem, for smaller stakes. I don't want to have to worry about losing a couple thousand bucks to play a game of cards with friends. I don't think I'd even want to win a couple thousand bucks off my friends at cards. Wouldn't that, you know, put a strain on your friendship?

I think these guys are more interested in the gambling aspect of the card game, and I'm more interested in the card playing. If you're at a table full of strangers in Vegas you'd probably love to have guys like that - guys who think it's a great time to wager a bunch of money and if luck favors you, you win big. If not, oh well, better luck next time! Hell, that sounds pretty sweet.

But friends and co-workers? No thanks, I will pass. Even if I was confident enough in my skills to be certain of winning, it would make me feel like a real shit to start a poker game with these guys for several thousand dollars and take their money because they barely know how to play. And I'm not even that good. A game for those stakes at this point would terrify me, and I would play like crap. I'd be constantly dreading whatever bizarre play they would come up with to lay a bad beat on me to the tune of $1500. There I'd be with pocket aces, and a third on the flop, and they'd draw and make their straight and kick my ass because they had 10-8 at the start and felt like "making it interesting".

Hopefully someday I will get to the point where the thought of a $2000 buy-in doesn't chill me to the point of immobility. But even so, I don't want that game to be against friends. If I'm going to outplay some donkeys and relieve them of their hard-earned money, I'd rather it be against strangers or vague acquaintances.

Shit. Eat. You know.