Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Slogging away

I switched back to .50/$1 limit holdem to try to clear out my measley 500 raked hands for the Empire bonus - I'm still only about 400 hands into it. I haven't been playing much - got a lot of things to clear up before the move to my new apartment!

Limit I have never been very good at. I've never been particularly good at No-Limit either, come to think of it, except for my keen understanding of the Bigger Idiot theory. But I have been starting to feel more comfortable playing limit, as if I am making the right plays even if the cards are not coming my way. Reading Lee Jones a couple times and then letting it sink in has helped. I think I am in my no-reading, play for a while and shake things out phase.

The Red Line in Poker Tracker still bothers me. I'm over $100 in the red for $.50/$1, though I did accumulate much of that when first starting to play and learn. Still, even if I get my game down to where I can win 2 big blinds per hour, that's like 100 hours of play to earn that $100 at this level and get that red to green. That's... crazy. But I do stupid things sometimes. (For 100 hours? Even that is pushing it.)

When the hell did 3rd Edition of Winning Low Limit Holdem come out, anyhow?! And why doesn't carry it? I just bought 2nd edition a couple of months ago, with no idea that there was a 3rd Edition existing or on the way. It is a little frustrating... kinda like when I bought this iBook and then three weeks later Apple did their usual announcement of until-then secret plans for new iBooks and dropped the prices for my model by $500. Thanks guys! At least this time it's only for, what, $20? I am getting off light.

Another Friday night at the Poker Bar is coming up. This time my friend and co-worker JP wants to tag along and watch. JP says he played a lot with his family was growing up and was quite good.... at 5-card draw. I have been trying to suck him into learning holdem for some time now, solely to have someone local to talk poker with, but he has been very resistant. Finally... the water wears down the stone.

Duke, the poker bar, has pretty much replaced my desire to go to the Ueno card room, but the "championship event" of the JSOP is coming up on Friday, Sept 23. If that weren't two days before I am moving! I have been tempted to go in just to observer and play like I am Dr. Pauly in training and live blog it, but now I will be too busy packing to spare the time. Bleah. Oh well, maybe next year.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Another busy weekend

Firday night I visited Duke again for their Friday night poker game - I think I'll be going there regularly from now on.

There were two tournaments that night, and I busted out relatively early in both of them. But I came out well ahead in their simulated "cash game", and that's fine with me.

Most of the regulars from last week showed up - J.O. chatted with me a bit about working in Vegas as a blackjack dealer, then wandered off to greet the others as they showed up. There were a few salarymen there on Friday, shucking off their jackets and loosening their ties to get ready for some poker. A very shapely young lady who was in the game last week beamed at me when she showed up. I had busted her out in the tourney last week with a straight, she reminded me, but she was willing to overlook that and be friends, she confided. I believe her name is Saeko - I will have to be careful to confirm that quickly next time I show up, or it could get... well, I just don't want to ruin my good first impression.

If only I weren't so awful with names. My memory is pretty bad in general, which I am trying to work on, but names, particularly Japanese names, are a tough one. I brought a small notebook with me this week to scribble down hands, but I mostly used it to write down names or handles as I heard them. It's much easier to remember something if i write it down, even if I never look at it the note again.

We started with a limit holdem tourney - I think I was the fourth bustout of about 16 players. I wasn't getting any cards, and frankly wasn't playing the ones I got very well, so my stack shrank pretty quickly. My bustout hand was about the best I had seen - A4d. I limped in from early position, and two others followed. The flop came 2-3-2 with one diamond. I checked, as did the next player, but the third guy bet. I called, other guy folded. Flop was a 4. I checked, other guy bet, I called. River was a 9 of diamonds. I checked, he bet, I called, and he showed pocket 10s to beat my puny 4s.

Stacks were pretty small to start with, so calling all those bets had put me all-in with the river call, and I was done. If I was going to go out with this had, I at least should not have played it so passively. I probably could not have chased the guy off his 10s, but when that 4 hit on the river I should have at least taken a shot at it and put some fear of a straight in him. I was too busy thinking about the real straight I had yet made to think about how I might not even need it to win the pot.

After the bustout, I observed some of the other players for a while until they got down to 10 players and consolidated to one table. Then they started up the "live game", so I sat down for that. Everyone got 60 in chips and played as if it was a cash game, then would track how they stood at the end of the night. They keep track of the stats from week to week, too, and have a small prize every 3 months for the live game leader. (A t-shirt for the bar, I think it is at the moment.) We stuck with limit holdem, which was fine with me.

I did much better in the live game than the tournament. I played relatively tightly, got a few good hands and began to raise and check-raise, and took some good pots. I also took advantage of the fear that some of the others were starting to feel to raise with marginal hands and force some players to fold real hands and took pots that way. It really came together for me in the live game, and I finished up ahead 137, even after taking back my buyin value of 60. Impressed a few of the regulars, too, which I hope I can use in the future.

Then the second tournament, which seemed to be limited to those who had won previous tournaments. And since I had come in second in one of the games the previous Saturday, I got into that game. This time was no-limit holdem, and I got busted out early again, second of about 8 players. Mari went all-in on one of the first few hands with an AQo, but J.O. called with a medium pocket pair, I think it was, which held up to knock her out.

Again I played too passively, and bled my chips away. I had drawn the spot two to the left of J.O., who was playing aggressively and using his table reputation to his best advantage. So the second time he raised and I folded the blinds, he noted, "Come on, guys, you're not going to win that way." Right he was. I only lasted another 10 minutes or so before I felt the blinds coming around to me again and so I raised with something stupid like K8 suited, which itself took about half my chips, and then was re-raised and I called, figuring it was already over for me. Which it was. I paired my low card, I think it was, but was beaten from the flop onwards.

J.O. is clearly the one to beat in this game. He's quite sharp, experienced, and knows how to use his aggression and image to put fear into the other players. I'm going to have to find a way to deal with that and overcome it if I'm going to have any chance in these games in the long run. With the Vegas Cup coming up, I'll probably have only one shot at it so I'm going to have to play well. I have a couple more weeks to come up with a plan.

Busted, I returned for a bit more at the live game table. They had switched to HORSE, which I need more practice in, so I bought back in and had a go. We did a round of 7-Stud Hi-lo and Omaha hi-lo before my lack of clue about what I was doing pissed away the stack of 60 chips I had re-started with, and I decided to call it a night. I had still cleared a +77 profit at the live game table - checking the results page on their web site, this puts me in 5th place out of about 30 players. Not too bad! I would have been in 3rd or so if I had stopped after Holdem when I was at +137.

The rest of the weekend was filled up with a friend's houseparty to eat some damn good homemade curries, then rushing off in the evening to brave the crowds at Koenji for the yearly Awaodori festival. Awaodori is a traditional Japanese dance, originating in Tokushima but in Tokyo, the Koenji area has become very popular for it as well. 77 dance teams participated this year, which is a lot, and with good weather and the festival falling on the weekend this year, the whole area was jam-packed with people. Everyone got into it and had a great time, so we beat the crowds and headed home a bit early. Sunday was mostly taken up by doing the first walk-through and inspection of my new apartment. It's about as nice as I imagined! A couple of the rooms feel a bit more cramped that I had pictured, but the main living and dining area is spacious and gorgeous. It'll be another month before I can move in, but it is a relief to see the thing for real and know it really exists. There's even a nice-looking lounge area on the 19th floor that I can reserve for private events -- a home poker game would get on great in there, but first I need some players.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Celebrity Crap

Getting American TV in Japan used to be a pain, as you can probably guess. In the past few years it's got a lot easier, thanks to TiVo, computer capture cards, and Bit Torrent. Once I clued into this, it became almost easier to watch TV from the States than Japanese TV.

Japanese TV shows all blur together for me. There's an endless succession of comic variety shows, each with 8-25 "talents" on them underneath the main 1 or 2 hosts. I can't keep them separate, so can never remember when a particular one is on, so I can never manage to routinely watch the same show every week.

Once I got into BitTorrent and found a nice site or two for TV torrent files, I started watching a lot of American TV again. It's still a little hard to keep up with what is out there since I can't pick up by osmosis information about what shows are out there and might be worth watching. Even if you don't watch a given show, you probably have some idea about if it's a comedy or drama and maybe who's in it. Overseas, it's harder to pick up on such things, so you don't always know what to look for. "Hey James, have you seen that show Alias?" "No man, never heard of it," so you go and look and find out that whatever it is, it's been running for years now, doing quite well without you.

So a while back somehow I picked up a vibe about some show called Celebrity Poker Showdown. I had seen Rounders some years ago and heard Affleck was into poker as well, so figured it would be interesting to see this show. I downloaded a few episodes and watched and enjoyed, learning what this Texas Holdem game they were playing was in the process.

Point is, this show first clued me in to this poker thing and sparked my interest, causing me to learn how to play and watch a lot of other poker TV shows since then. But I hadn't watched Celebrity Poker Showdown since those first few eps that got me started. So last night I found that a new episode, the first from season 6, was out there so I downloaded and watched it for old times' sake.


You probably already know how awful most of these celebrities play on the show, and season 6 is no exception. But at least in previous shows, they had REAL actors, most of them in comedy shows, so you got some amusing banter to keep you entertained. Last night was all stars of Reality TV shows, all of whom I had never even heard of. They could not act. They could not play poker. They could not make a funny comment. Worst of all of them was this "Johnny Fairplay" guy, who called nearly every hand to the river with crap, spouting trash talk that could probably get him arrested in California, then when he was busted out to the Loser's Lounge, kept making cracks about the others' horrendous play until finally Trishelle ("...who?"), supposedly a close friend of his, gave him the cold shoulder and hissed, "Could you please just shut up for a while?"

You could hear the pain in Phil Gordon's voice as he struggled to find something to say about the play that was not insulting to the players. And Dave Foley appeared obviously drunk from the first minute of the show. It was probably the only way he could get through it. And the show is long. I thought they used to be about an hour long, but this show was 90 minutes of agony -- probably 2 hours before they removed the commercials.

If more and more people are getting into poker enough to recognize atrociously bad play like this, aren't Bravo's ratings going to fall as real players turn this off in disgust? I sure hope so.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Mix it up

Poker night on Saturday went very well. I went looking for the darts and billiard bar Duke a bit early, since I didn't know that part of town well. I found it easily enough, and although the joint didn't open for another 30-40 minutes, the owner let me in and we talked for a while.

The bar was about what you would expect - a couple billiards tables, a couple electronic dart boards, an old pinball machine, and.. two poker tables! The owner, who goes by "J.O." was very talkative and friendly - he spent many years in the states, including a 3-4 year stint in Vegas as a blackjack dealer. Now he owns a number of bars, and so I imagine he got his staff and customers started on poker and has been fostering it in his place.

"You've been to the Ueno poker room?" he asked. (His english is excellent.)

"Yeah, a couple of times. But when I found there was another place in Tokyo to play, I wanted to come and check it out. Always looking for more places to play poker."

"Well, other than the Ueno room and here, I don't think there's anywhere else," he stated. I was afraid he was going to say that. The grass roots poker revolution, taking seed in the dart-playing bar-going Japanese population, hasn't really germinated yet. Guess I will have to wait a bit longer.

He explained the rules of the Vegas Cup in a bit more detail to me. They had regular games about once a month, two games each night. The winner of each game would win 30 points for the finals; second place earned 10 points. The first game of each evening was limit holdem. The second game was... not holdem. It looks like earlier in the year they played one other game after the holdem game, but several months ago they switched to "Mixed Games". That would be HORSE.

So players competed once per month, and the first and second place winners from those games collected points for the final. Each point would be used as one chip in the final game, so if you won a lot of the monthly buildup games, you'd have a big chip lead going into the final game. "Oh, one thing you should know," J.O. said with a big grin, "if I win the Cup, I'm going myself. I'm the one putting up the money for it, so I'm allowed to win it."

I laughed. "Fair enough!"

Each of the games that night had a 1500yen entry fee (around $15). In additional to earning points for the Vegas Cup, winners also received "coins", which looked like gaming tokens from an arcade. Each coin was worth 500yen towards food or drink at the bar. Hey, cool, winning items of immediate monetary value! This is a step in the right direction. I believe J.O. said that the top 1/3 of the finishers got a payout of coin.

J.O. is a pretty big guy for a Japanese, cheerful, outgoing, and friendly. He and the staff of the bar all had that quality of quickly putting you at ease that you often find in a good bar. When 7pm arrived, we had about 12 players, many of whom were the staff, or maybe semi-staff. It didn't seem to matter that much, we were ready to play some poker.

I recognized two faces that I had seen from the last time I had been to the Ueno poker room, one woman and one man. They recognized me immediately (the white skin and green eyes give me away) and bobbed their heads in greeting. I introduced myself and they gave their handles - everyone at the Ueno room seems to have a handle they use, which usually matches up with their logon id on the JPPA web site and forums. So they told me their handles and I, true to form, had forgotten them in about ten minutes. (I said I have a horrible memory, didn't I?) But everyone else was a new face. I guess either the Ueno room players didn't know about this game, or didn't frequent it as much as I had assumed they would.

We split up into two tables of about 6 players each, although spots were set aside for known latecomers, and started with limit holdem. J.O. handled the dealing on my table, and it became clear pretty soon he's quite a good player. Most of the others seem to have a healthy dose of fear/respect for him as the resident expert, owner, and likely the one who taught them all how to play.

I got a mock-stern look from him at one point when I raised on the button with him in big blind. "I'll let you get away with it this time," he decided aloud, and mucked. In a later hand, I raised after the flop and he re-raised, then looked at me expectantly. My hand wasn't that good, I decided, and tossed it. "Ah, I see we can be friends," he chortled. I know I check-raised him at least once in the evening, earning a raised eyebrow, but I lost the hand at showdown so he didn't hold it against me.

I played fairly tight - only one hand really stands out. Dealt Ad-5d in early position, I limp in, followed by about 4 others. (We had consolidated to a table of about 8 at that point.) The flop came 2-10-3, rainbow with no diamonds. I only have high card and a straight draw, but I bet it to see where I stand. Two fold, two call. Turn comes a 4, and I make my straight. I check, not wanting to make it too obvious, and the next player raises. Last player calls, and I check my stack, which is already dwindling. Stacks for all the players started at ten 5's and ten 1's, and the blinds started at 1/2 and increased every ten minutes, so it moved pretty quickly. So I re-raised. The raiser called, next player folded.

The river came... a 5. Aw, crap. If this guy has an ace then we'll split it. I only have two chips left and I am pretty confident the other guy will raise, so I checked. He raised for those two chips, I called, and we turned them over. I had my ace to five straight and he had... K-T. He'd made top pair and good kicker early, but I guess he did not feel comfortable enough with it to raise my first bet. Hey, not bad.

I doubled up and left him with a small stack that didn't last long. After that hand, four players had small stacks, I was in second, and a lady named Mari had a slightly larger stack than mine. I won another small pot to put me in the chip lead, then played really tight as the small stacks busted out - Mari got most of their chips to put her just about even with me as it came down to the two of us.

"Once we get to heads-up, we switch to no-limit," J.O. noted. Ah, okay, that's cool, I think, and look down to find in my first hand of heads-up play... A-Q offsuit. I was in the big blind, so Mari went first with a reasonable raise. I doubled the raise, and she said it. "All in." The first hand of heads-up.

I must have paused for tiny moment, but come on, I wasn't going to throw that hand away. "Call." She flips over K-K. Ack. There's a King in the flop and I don't hit anything, so she wins it. We stack up out chips and compare them, and I end up having three more than she does, so I keep my measley 3 chips for the next hand, which doesn't even cover the small blind. I get something like a 10-8o, and she flips over Big Slick offsuit, and so I finished up after only two hands of heads-up.

But I still felt good. Second place earned me 6 coins, or 3000yen (about $30) of food and drink! And if you're going to go down, A-Q versus KK isn't a horrible way to go.

We took a quick break and then started up again for the second game... HORSE. Which I had never played, but as it turns out, most of the players there were really unfamiliar with most of the non-holdem games too. One of the staffers, who dealt for the table that J.O. didn't handle, spent the break explaining what the games were and what a hi-lo split was, and most of the players listened intently. J.O. had already explained it to me a bit while we were waiting for the place to open, so I decided I would at least give it a try.

I'd played a little bit of Omaha and 7 card stud on PokerStars, but had not figured out the hi-lo games, and Razz was completely new to me. Luckily it was pretty new to almost everyone there, though J.O. was completely at home. I won a couple good sized pots, catching the high and low with a good hand and barely following that I was in good shape. But steadily my chip stack dropped and I busted out relatively early with less a bang than a whimper.

Mixing up all the different games made the second tournament a completely different experience. It will be obvious to those who can already play these games, but I really felt like my brain was being stretched in three new directions as I tried to remember the rules and adapt to play these new games. By the time holdem came around each time, I was too dazed and confused to remember how to play it. But stretching the brain is a good thing, and I was very impressed. Once you can get to a point where you can play all these games well enough, you'll have learned a lot of flexibility that should be useful to any of the games. I'm nowhere near that point yet, but it looks like an intriguing path.

So I busted out of the second tourney not even "in the coin", as they had announced when the first tourney had dropped to 4 or 5 players. It was about 10:30pm, so I watched a few more hands, then settled up my bill, using up all the coins I had one to pay for my two drinks and the 1500yen first-time membership fee. The bar was half-full of folks playing billiards, throwing darts, playing pinball, and generally relaxing and generating atmosphere. One or two hot japanese women tossed darts, sadly with male companionship, but still... atmosphere! Gotta enjoy it. So I breathed it all in, then wished everyone a good night and caught a train home to the girlfriend.

Had a great time, and looking forward to going again - probably will this Friday! The Saturday tournaments are over until the Vegas Cup final, I believe, but Friday nights they have weekly games just for "coin", and that's good enough for me.

And the Vegas Cup... I'll be there for that too. My second-place finish won me entry, though I'll be one of the short-stacks with only 10 chips to start. Checking the web page, after I left J.O. won the HORSE tourney and is now sitting pretty with 150 points/chips going into the final. Three folks have 60, including Mari, who sent me packing. One with 40, two with 30, and four others with 10. It will be a longshot, but I'll play my 10 chips, try to double up, and see how far I can get. J.O. will probably be the one on that plane, but he should't buy his tickets yet.

Friday, August 19, 2005

But enough about me...

What's up with poker in Japan?

I finally noticed some of the links on the JPPA Home Page to some of the members' blogs. So I found the blog of "Bluejay" Hiroshi Shimamura. It's all in Japanese, so be warned.

He seems to take his blogging reasonably seriously, and has been experimenting recently with imbedding video and trying some voice blogging. Hmm, wonder if we'll see a podcast from him at some point?

From there I found a link to Tom McEvoy's article in Card Player describing his visit to Japan, and a little of his rationale for choosing Satoh Tamao, former pink power ranger and miniskirt wearing policewoman, to go try her luck at the 2005 WSOP main event.

And I still haven't seen any followup tv show on her Las Vegas trip! I've been taping the weekly show, but it has been pre-empted by baseball games a lot recently. Yesterday they showed an ep but no WSOP story. Bah.

Following a few more links on Bluejay's site, I found something very interesting. A darts and billiards bar here in Tokyo is having weekly poker tournaments on Saturday nights! Details (Japanese again!) are here.

For 13 weeks, they have a series of satellite games to earn spots into the main tournament, which starts September 17. Winner of the main tourney gets... a trip for two to Las Vegas! Hey, hey, now this is a plan I can get into!

My chances of winning the trip are basically nil, but this is exciting for other reasons. Poker tournaments in sports bars sound like they're common in the States now, but certainly not here. Darts caught on as a very popular trend here several years ago. Two years ago it seemed that half the japanese males in their 20s were learning darts and playing seriously whenever they could. Darts bars are still pretty commonplace here, though the mania seems to have dropped off.

If poker finds a home in Japanese darts and billiard bars, and appeals to the same crowd, it could really pick up quickly. That won't change the anti-gambling laws, but it would certainly give me a lot more opportunities to play live, and start shifting public opinion towards legalization.

Of course I'm going to go check it out tomorrow night.

I was wondering why the JSOP event for this weekend didn't start until midnight - probably the main players will be off at this bar tourney and then come back to the card club for the JSOP game. (This week is Omaha-8, I believe.)

Report later.

Sensing Weakness

I don't know how they do it, but Empire Poker just sent out the email for their August reload bonus. I just finished up the casino bonuses a few days ago, dumping the $200 in profit into my poker bankroll, and didn't feel like moving on to another online casino blackjack bonus. Blackjack is fine as a distraction, since it is mindless and mechanical. But mindless and mechanical also gets old fast.

Right on cue, here comes the Empire bonus. As you may recall, the last Empire bonus had me three-tabling, grinding for hours at a time, pulling out my hair to clear that 17x raked hands requirement. "Why the hell am I doing this for a lousy $100?!"

Did I swear "never again!"? I don't recall, but I'm going to break that oath if I did. This time, I'll only go for a $50 reload. At 10x raked hands, that's 500 hands in 10 days to clear. Piece of cake.

Thursday, August 18, 2005


I've been assuming that one of the best times to log in to Party (and skins) would be in the after-dinner hours in the States, when folks have come home, eaten, maybe had a beer with dinner, watch an ep of World Poker Tour on tv and decide, "hey, let's give this poker thing a try again."

I wish I could be online and available at the proper times to test this theory. Unfortunately, prime-time in the states is noontime here in Japan, and I have a day job. By the time I get home and log in to play, it's somewhere around 1-4am in the States. A friend commented that this might be good because the players on will be getting tired. I dunno, that might be true, but my feeling is that the up all night players are probably more hardcore and know a reasonable amount about how to play. They may be tired, but they're not clueless.

I don't see too many European players - it must the the same problem in reverse. When I'm on in the evenings, it's the middle of their business day and the ones with day jobs can't log in.

Is there a softest time to log in to Party skins? When is it? I need to log in an compare sometime.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Party People

I really thought I would be taking a few days off from poker. Really.

I finished the StarLuck Casino blackjack bonus earlier this morning. Ahead $50 from play, plus another $100 for the bonus. Not bad! And sometimes I am in the mood to do blackjack instead of poker, just because you don't have to think much for blackjack.

But a couple friends of mine from a chat room starting narrating their ongoing games at Party Poker, I figured, what the heck, let's just open it up and watch their games. And man, they had some players at their table doing some stupid crap, and they profited mightily from it.

So as they called it a night and went to bed, I thought, well, a few minutes on the tables shouldn't hurt.

Didn't hurt, indeed. I spent about an hour on the $25 NL tables and made about $75 profit.

One guy annoyed me by making a $.25 bet into a $7 pot after the flop. Gimme a break, I thought, and bet $8 pretty much to annoy him. He called, and called to the river where his... pocket 3s?... did not hold up against my ace that paired on the flop.

Won another nice pot against two other players when I had QJo, and the board came 687-T-9. One guy had 52o. The other had pocket 8s and must have been pissed that his trips got overridden by the board straight. I had actually been betting out to try to scare them off draws - unsuccessfully too, considering the first guy. Looking at it now, I guess I laid a bad beat on the trip-8s guy. Oh well! If he had reraised me, I woulda dropped. His slowplay backfired on him.

Checking out the hand histories now, it looks like pretty foolish play on my part. Gotta watch that.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Blackjack distraction

As if chasing poker bonuses weren't enough for me, I saw references to BonusBug and found out about bonus plans from online casino game sites. Since I used to be a fairly frequent blackjack player, I decided to give this a try for some free money.

After about an hour and a half of play, I'm about halfway through clearing a $100 bonus on StarLuck Casino, and I'm even currently ahead about $30. If I can stay even from here, then it'll be about 3 hours of play to make $130 of bonus money and profit. Not a bad rate for a few hours of near-mindless mouse clicking.

The money will just go back into the poker bankroll, since I don't want to put any "real" money into it after I withdrew it and have been playing with profits. Strange how my brain works sometimes. Doesn't bother me to spend 10 hours grinding through a poker bonus to clear the same amount of money I would make with two hours of "real work". But I've pretty much learned to let my brain have its eccentricities - they're not changing for the likes of me.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Two dollars!

I'll keep this short since it is dull.

Moved the $25 I made from the Party deposit bonus over to PokerStars, and checked out the microlimit games. Played a few minutes of Holdem with the $.02/.04 stakes and surprised myself that I was still folding crap hands when I should instead of going "hey, what the hell, it's only two more cents!"

Also spent a few minutes playing the microlimit 7-stud, and seemed to be doing all right. Made myself a whole twenty cents or so. As I did on holdem, players do actually seem to fold with bad hands, even for such trivial amounts, so it looks to be a good place to practice and learn 7-stud and omaha, and this whole hi-lo thing I keep hearing about.

Some time away from holdem is probably a good thing, too. Don't want to get sick of it or anything (though I can't really see that happening.)

Not sure what my weekend plans will be like - would be nice to get out to the card club again. Then again, checking the schedule, this week is 7 card stud and though I would like the practice and experience, it's 3000yen (around $30) for the tourney and that's a bit more than I want to blow on a game I barely know.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Didn't actually play any poker last night - waiting for a Neteller transfer to clear so I can put it into PokerStars for micro-limit 7-stud and Omaha learning.

Also converted PokerTracker to run with Postgres database instead of an Access file. I have long distrusted Access files, since a software project at Reuters I had to support used them and the software would slow to a crawl, we discovered, once enough articles were saved in it. Naturally we discovered this a month or two into using the product live, and the small local developer we used did the "hey, man, it worked fine when we sold it to you" thing and we had to live with it until we could get another developer to convert the product to a real database.

Converting my PT database took a long time, though, so I broke out Super/System and started reading the 7 Card Stud section. So far there have been a couple important concepts pointed out.

If you have a strong hand and you think someone in a late position will bet, check instead of betting and then make it two bets when it comes back to you, to force middle players to call two bets at once and drop out.

Hey, wow, check-raising. Think I have heard of that one.

If you have a marginal hand but a good card showing, bet into a guy showing more strength on the early streets, and then later on he will check behind you, fearing your represented strength, and you can get free cards to make your draw.

Oh yeah, getting free cards. I think I read something about that somewhere.

I'll make my way through the rest of the section in S/S, but so far I think I'm not going to come across any radically different basic concepts of play, so probably just getting on and playing it for a while will be the quickest way to learn.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Cheap seats

Spending so much time over the last two days churning out low limit holdem hands to clear out that Party Poker bonus (I did it again! What was I thinking? I can't stop myself!) has kind of put me off holdem for a little while. I think it is time to learn some of the other games so the Live game at the JPPA doesn't have to accommodate my pathetic lack of variety.

I've actually played a little 7-stud and Omaha for play money, just to see what it's about, but aside from learning the very, very basics (Oh, you have to play exactly two of the four hole cards! Damn, and I had four to a straight in my hand!) it wasn't very illuminating. Nobody takes play money seriously, so I was just betting and raising with anything just to see the showdown and see who won. And judging by the play I was seeing, I wasn't the only one doing that.

To actually learn how to play, I'm going to have to play for money. But considering I haven't even become any good at holdem yet, I don't want to drop too much money at this.

I noticed at PokerStars that they had some extremely low limit holdem tables... like $.05/$.10. That's pretty goddamn cheap! And I remember reading or hearing somewhere (it might have been on Card Club, come to think of it) that despite the nickel and dime nature of some games, people can play them quite seriously, trying to win that 75 cents in the pot. This sounds perfect to me. Time to break out Super/System for the 7 Card Stud section and... Hmm, I don't have anything on Omaha. I guess I'll save that for a bit later.

Lemme know if you have any suggestions.

Monday, August 08, 2005

The JPPA card room

Here's a couple quick photos I snapped of the Tokyo card room.

The building is a small non-descript office building. There's a ramen shop on the first floor, which I think a few of the players used when they ducked out for their dinner break.

There's no sign out front - the sign by the stairwell door for the 3rd Floor just shows "JPPA, Royal Direct, Ltd." They're not exactly advertising themselves.

Standing in the middle of the room, I took these facing the front and rear of the room. Five card tables in this space, and 46 players this weekend - it was pretty crowded! The air conditioning seemed to be straining, but maybe they just didn't have it set high enough for the number of people who came.

These photos are from late in the evening when many had gone home or off to get a late dinner before the midnight game. So there were quite a few more people than this.

Wish I had got a shot of the bracelet, but I did not think to. Maybe next time.

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!

Sunday, August 07, 2005

In defense of technology

Sometimes it is great to live in the 21st century.

The last few days I've been listening to the audio commentary broadcast of the WSOP final table that Card Player magazine webcasted. The content is great - I never thought I'd so much enjoy hearing Phil Hellmuth speak, but he makes a damn good commentator-host. And they've swapped in so many other great pros so far - Daniel N, Jennifer H, Eric Lindgren, Greg Raymer, Jesus... Not to mention that it is great to hear the full hand-by-hand discussion of the full final table. You won't get this on ESPN!

I've been listening to this on my iPod on the train to work in the mornings, and today going to and from the Tokyo card club, and it is a great way to spend train time. At first it doesn't seem to be so different than listening to a taped sporting even on your walkman on the way to work, but when I think about it, it is really a great time to be able to do this.

1. This type of content would never be broadcast on the radio. Poker is pretty big now, but would they really take up 14 hours of radio airtime to broadcast a full commentary on the main event final table? Radio can't/won't do that, but webcasting will.

2. Even if it were radio broadcast, I'd need to be in range of the broadcasting station to get to hear it. I don't live in Las Vegas, I live in Tokyo! But I'm still able to listen to this show because it's broadcast on a worldwide data network.

3. Even if I could get the radio show, it would be a pain to save the show to listen to it later. Who makes 14-hour audio tapes? And even if they did, wouldn't the audio suck? To tape this show, you'd need to swap tapes every few hours.

4. Playback would be a pain. Would you carry around 14 one-hour audio tapes to listen to this whole beast? With my ipod, I can fit this stuff on there no problem, and still have plenty of room for other stuff.

5. What if you missed the broadcast? Maybe you got the time and date wrong, or you're working or whatever and can't hang by the radio to tape this stuff. But even after the fact, you can find the audio on file-sharing networks and download it to catch up. Brilliant.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Not so bad

I'll keep the computer crap brief, I promise.

I went up to Akihabara after work and bought a new Celeron to replace my current cpu, which I suspected was going flakey on me from overheating. Tokyo gets so goddamn hot and humid in the summer. It's almost too much for a Colorado boy like me to take. The air conditioner in my den/computer room is essentially busted and I haven't bothered to have it fixed, so it can get pretty warm in there.

I bought the wrong Celeron model. They apparently don't even sell the pentium-4 or celeron cpus that my motherboard supports anymore. Sheesh, it's only about two years old.

But after futzing with it yesterday and today, the computer is acting a lot more normally. I'm back to feeling I can trust it not to spontaneously reboot on me in the middle of a monster hand, so I will let it go for a while and hope it doesn't freak out on me again.

I'm finishing up reading Small Stakes Hold'em, but I feel like I only really got a grasp on 5% of the concepts in there. I'm going to have to go away from it for a while and digest it, practice and play, then read it again, try to grasp another 10%, and repeat several more times. Once I finish SSHE, I'll either go back to reread the limit section of Super/System, or shift to a non-poker book (gasp!) for a bit.

Still, I did play for a while this evening (had to test out my PC, of course!) and it seemed to be helping a bit. Post-flop on hands that weren't obvious winners, I felt more comfortable judging what my chances of winning were, betting out to protect my hand, and staying in large pots where I felt I probably was beat but the size of the pot justified a call. I won a couple of pots that way that I would have just given up on before. Surprising what cards other people will play - I may have been giving the other players too much benefit of the doubt.

I only ended up maybe around $10 today, though, so haven't quite got into the green in the $1/2 6-max category yet. Maybe tomorrow? Here's hoping.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Bad Luck

Not at the tables, though. I came home and played about 40 minutes on the $1/$2 6-max limit table and made a bit over $20 profit, which I was happy enough with. Another $20 and I'll be green with that game.

But my pc reset once while I was playing. I had already folded the hand so I was able to wait until my pc booted up again, log back in, and no hard done, but it bothered me. Recently it has been rebooting like this every now and then - I figured it was getting a bit too hot, since it does get pretty damn hot in Tokyo during the summer.

So I played a little more, made my $20, and closed my table. Playing around with my machine more, it's resetting more often, usually when I have quite a few programs running and loading the system down. Ran a comprehensive memory check program with no errors, so I suspect either my cpu or motherboard is giving errors. Probably it got too hot at some point and something is beginning to fail because of it.

I'm buying an apartment in two months, man, I don't want to be shelling out for a new pc right now. I can replace the cpu with a Celeron for 9800yen or so, which is not too bad. But if the motherboard is the problem, it will be more expensive, since I have one of the small form factor Shuttle cases, so I'd need to replace the whole enclosure.

I can still play poker in the meantime - my machine seems to be all right under lighter loads, so a single table open seems to be fine. PokerTracker and GameTime+ running as well might give it problems but I don't know yet. If the machine gave up the ghost entirely, I could even play from my powermac under the VirtualPC machine - it's not the fastest, but it runs the Empire Poker client software well enough. (Poker Tracker chokes and dies in emulation with the size of my current database, though.)

But it is annoying.

Some obvious crap

Haven't posted anything for the last couple of days - haven't really had anything to contribute. I'll keep this entry short, since it won't have any insight that you won't have already had yourself or seen elsewhere.

Rake - I finally noticed the "Total Rake" column in Poker Tracker. My total is $407. Four hundred bucks?! When the hell did that happen? I mean, sure, I realize that a quarter here, a dollar there, all adds up, but I hadn't noticed it as it was happening. Considering that my profit for all levels has been about $450 total so far, does that mean that I would have had $850 profit if not for rake? That's crazy talk! Suddenly I see why the rakeback affiliate programs are popular. (I should check how PT figures that value - if that's the amount taken as rake for all the hands I have played, even pots I have not won, then that would shock me less.)

I have been cautiously trying to get a handle on limit play, with only limited success so far. I had a couple of mildly successful sessions on the $1/$2 6-player limit table over the weekend, but still having trouble with the 10 player tables. With all those players, especially on Party/Empire, someone is always playing some crazy hand and draws out to beat me, it feels like. Play seems more reasonable on the 6-player tables: you can actually scare the other players off their draws a reasonable amount of the time. I think part of the reason for that is that there are fewer people to keep track of, so they can actually remember that everytime you've raised and shown the cards you've had good ones. Maybe it's just too hard for them to keep that in their heads with 9 other people at the table instead of 5 others.

I re-read Lee Jones and am now working on Small Stakes Hold'em, which I had started before but put down for some fiction reading when I hit a "too much poker" point. I am pretty sure I can get my 6-player limit holdem rating into the green, but the 10-player games are going to be hard until I can learn how to deal with them. Maybe I should just abandon them and work on the games that have been profitable for me, but I don't like to concede defeat like that.

In local news, the Japan Poker Players Association has started their Japan Series of Poker! From 7/30 to 9/23, they're running a series of tournaments: limit and no limit holdem, some with rebuys, 7-card stud, limit and pot-limit omaha, and others that I have even less of a clue about. I believe winners of each tourney gain points for the series, and the overall winner at the end of the series wins a JSOP silver bracelet. Also there are 30,000 yen (around $300) travel coupons awarded to the best all around player and the main event winner. Not bad!

And yet I did not go to the 6-max NL Holdem with Rebuy game on Saturday, 7/30? 6-Max! That's even, like, my game as far as I can tell! What was my problem? Unfortunately, the girlfriend has not been feeling well and was thinking of going to the doctor to get checked out on Saturday, so I figured I should not duck out to go play poker. She is kind of dubious about this whole poker thing to begin with, particularly going someplace to play live, since most gambling in Japan has overt or covert ties to the yakuza. Last time I had to promise to be careful not to be stabbed and robbed when checking out the JPPA, and not to bring any credit cards or large amounts of cash or anything worth stealing.

Next week is another NL holdem tourney, so I will try to attend that one. Since the Saturday events are supposed to be better attended than the Friday night games, I expect there'll be a couple tables of 10 players each. Ugh. Well, what the hell. I still have my free-entry coupons from last time.