Sunday, November 19, 2006

How was Vegas?

Vegas... that's right, I was supposed to go to Vegas.

Let's not dwell too much on it, but we didn't go. Combination of being swamped at work and a pretty spectacular breakdown of relations with the travel agency handling things. I won't write about it, because it's Christmas and that would be against the spirit of things.

Instead it looks like I'll be going in mid-January. Even better, I'm going to mix in a technical traning class while I'm there, so it will be a long trip, maybe 10 days. Most technical training classes here are in Japanese, which makes things more difficult for me. My Japanese is all right for daily use but I struggle with more complex conversations. Technical Japanese isn't usually a problem, since so much of it is often imported English terms. So if you don't know the Japanese word, you say the English word as if you've spelled it out in Japanese katakana, and 90% of the time a Japanese person will understand you.

Still, it adds a layer of difficulty to a training situation, and I tend to get tired out and start getting drowsy in the afternoons if it's all Japanese. So I prefer to take classes in English so I have a better chance of staying alert and not missing any material.

And yes, it is an excuse to spend more time in Vegas when I have the chance. I'm not stupid. I don't get out to Vegas near as much as I would like, so I'll use whatever excuses I can scrape up.

So, if all goes well, my previous Vegas Cup win should pay for my flight and hopefully most of my hotel expenses. My company has agreed to pay for the training class, so I'll only need to cover my other expenses, like a mobile phone, rental car, meals, and, oh, maybe some gambling!

It's for work, baby, really!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Let's play Razz!

I don't remember exactly why, but I got a hankering to play Razz online recently. The mixed games at Duke include Razz so I wanted to get a better grasp of the game, at least the basics. So I reviewed the rules, and tried the smallest level tables on Full Tilt to give it a try, which are $.25/.50.

Good god. And I thought I didn't know how to play the game. The guys on these tables are awful. Amazingly bad. "Are you clear on what game we're playing?"-level bad.

Maybe this should be expected at this level - I'm just shocked that after an hour of play the basics of this game are not obvious to everyone there. On fifth street I can see what the best possible hand you could have would be, and if I can beat that hand, I'll just keep betting. Is that clear? Why do you keep calling me? I mean, don't stop with the calling, god forbid, but just... why?

It's a little ego boost. I can happily quadruple my $5 buyin and feel pretty smug, despite it being only $20. Was this what it was like for serious holdem players when the whole poker boom thing began? Musta felt GOOD.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Forgetting something?

Oh yeah, I was in the middle of a story, wasn't I? If anyone was actually reading this blog, other than to search for more Akihabara girl pics, they might be peeved that I'd been leading up to the Vegas Cup and then not bothered to write about what actually happened for more than a week.

I got a bit of a shock when I showed up to Duke for the Vegas Cup, since even an hour before the final was about to start, there were already 20 or so people there, and all the preparation for the game was ready. Six tables were set up - it was going to be a big game. They had chip stacks ready for all the players at a small table set aside for the signup desk. I wandered over and spied my small stack of 38, counted out and set by my name written on the sheet of paper underneath. All the stacks were there, ready for their owners, lined in up in order. Kuroda-san's stack rested in front, a reminder he was in great shape from the start.

As more people showed up, it was clear this was going to be a special event. Players were dressed up sharp, and had brought their sunglasses. Most Japanese players don't bother with sunglasses unless they're joking around or (apparently) playing in a serious game. I hadn't seen so many Japanese players with their sunglasses ready... well... ever. Stakes were high, and it was obvious they were there to take things seriously.

Well, fairly seriously. Maro-san, who I think mostly plays at Pleasure, showed up in a bright red suit, sandy blond wig, and mirror sunglasses, looking like a cross between a pickup artist punk or a semi-yakuza you'd take care not to bump into walking down the seedy streets of Kabukicho.

I began to feel seriously underdressed in my faded shortsleeve buttondown and jeans, and badly in need of a haircut.

Many were taking photos, and I tried to keep a low profile. But there were a couple young ladies with a video camera, taking shots of the gathering crowd of poker players in the bar, and doing short interviews with some of the players. I gathered that they were taking photos and video for the Poker Navi web site. The way they threw occasional glances in my direction, I could tell what they were thinking.

No, not that. They were thinking, "Hey, there's a gaijin here. Is he a poker player? We should get an interview with the foreign player."

I really needed a haircut.

They caught me eventually and I reluctantly agreed to a short interview. I described a little about how I got interested in poker from downloading a few tv shows from the internet, then found Duke in my search for places to play in Tokyo. They asked what I considered my strong points in poker. I answered that it was probably my native English ability, that there was a lot of good books on poker that I could read easily, giving me access to a lot of tactics and strategy that Japanese players would either not have or would have to read in a second language. If Harrington on Holdem were available in Japanese, I would be in a lot more trouble in the local games, I'm sure of it.

We cut the interview short, since my Japanese is pretty crappy for public speaking. I doubt they actually put it up anywhere. Thank god.

7:30 approached. A quick speech thanking everyone for playing, and they described the prize, the trip for two to Las Vegas. Everyone knew this damn well, but it gave us a little reminder that we were here for the Big Game. A man from the HIS Travel Agency showed everyone the travel certificate for the trip, arranged through his agency, and congratulated in advance whoever would win it. And with that, we took our seats and had at it.

Many of the weekly tournaments at Duke start as Limit Holdem for the first several levels, then switch to No Limit afterwards. The final game was set up the same way, but were limit for the first 4 levels, and the levels were 15 minutes instead of the 10 minute levels in the weekly games, which are geared to finish up in two hours or so.

Table draw had not put any of the big stacks at my starting table, which was nice, but not so important in limit. I played mostly tight, not taking any real chances. I scored one pot, but generally stayed out of things and my stack slowly ground down. My starting stack of 38 had dropped to about 30 when we finished up the limit levels, and switched to no limit.

J.O. and Kuroda-san were moved to my table right about the time we switched to no-limit. This was not good, since they were big stacks and dangerous players. Kuroda-san still had his 300-ish stack, and J.O. had 150 to start and still had about that amount. Wonderful.

I was down to about 25 chips when I found black aces UTG. Since I was short and the blinds were approaching, I pushed and hoped it would look like a desperation move. It worked, I got one caller with A-J and my aces held - I doubled up.

The next hand I got Q-10 clubs in the BB. Kuroda-san and I think one other player had limped in, so I raised 3x experimentally. The first player folded, and Kuroda-san grimaced and thought for a few seconds before he showed an Ace and mucked, noting he was worried about his kicker. Interesting.

The next hand, I had red aces.

One early-mid player raised, I believe, and Kuroda-san called, so there was a reasonable pot when it got to me. I was still somewhat shortstacked, even after the double-up, so I thought for a second and pushed. I was hoping it would look like an attempt to steal the pot and I would get called by at least one of them.

It worked. Both of them called, figuring I was making a play, and again my aces held up to take the pot, this time tripling me up. Now up at around 130 chips, I was in the game. And even better, I had put the fear of god into my table. Every time I raised after that I could see on their faces, "Good god, does he have aces AGAIN?" My earlier tightness had paid off, since now they figured I was only raising with premium hands.

Of course, from that point on I wasn't. I think I played the situation pretty well from that point on. If I saw weakness, I raised. I sized my bets as I had read in Pressure Poker and No Limit Holdem: Theory and Practice, so they saw not only the size of my bet, but the amount I had behind that they knew they'd be facing after. And it worked. I put the pressure on, and my stack grew.

Player moves were frequent, as players busted and they kept the tables as balanced as possible. We compressed down to four tables... then three... then two. And I was still in it. We made the final table. I don't remember all the players, but they were all sharp, smart, and dangerous. Blinds had continued to rise, and none of us were as far ahead as we would have liked. But Kuroda-san was still in it, with a good stack of chips. Bushi, a player I know from the JPPA games, was there as well and I wasn't too happy about it. I've never seen him look flustered or uncertain of how to proceed. A strong, cool, and confident player whose handle is Psyka was there - I think he plays mostly at Bar Jack in Shibuya, so he wasn't familiar with me and hadn't witnessed my aces. This wasn't going to be easy.

I wish I could remember more hands, but I wouldn't have remembered them the day after, much less now, several weeks later. Let's just say I continued to play my A-game, choosing my spots and putting the pressure on, and it worked. Bushi fell with a look of bemused exasperation, and then Psyka, shaking his head. Kuroda-san's chip lead dwindled as we all had to mix it up, and suddenly he was out. I don't even remember how it happened, but he just hadn't seem to be catching any breaks, winning any pots, and Shiono-san and I would end up with a slightly better paired card then his at showdown.

And then it was heads-up, me and Shiono-san. I had the chip lead but I knew it wasn't going to be easy to finish him off, and there was nothing certain about it.

I suddenly remembered when I had played in the first Vegas Cup, with only 5 or 10 points to begin with, taking my long shot. I remember discussing with my friend J.P. ahead of the game that I would feel a bit weird if I won, since it seemed like really a Japanese player should win. After all, it's harder for them to get to Vegas than Americans, and I'd been there many, many times when I lived in the SF Bay area. Maybe, if it came down to where I could win the game, I should throw it and let a Japanese player win, I suggested.

J.P. gave me a "you're being stupid" grin and said, "What the hell is that? If you get a chance to win, you should take it."

In the first Vegas Cup, I got knocked out pretty early and it was no issue, but now I remembered it. Heads-up at the final table, coming from a big chip disadvantage, I knew I'd be happy with my performance even if I got knocked out in second. Should I throw it? Let Shiono-san win? I considered it.

And rejected it immediately. That's not poker. You take the chances you are given and you make the most of them. You don't softplay your opponents. That's the game, and if I could win it, I was going to win it and not worry about if it was just or fair.

So I played my ass off. I pressed when I thought I had an edge, and the chips flowed back and forth between Shiono-san and me. He took the lead at least once, and I thought I would have to take my gracious defeat after all. But I fought back, got a few hands, and regained the lead.

It was a long heads up match. I don't even remember the hand I won with. I think it was 6-9 offsuit, and I hit the six on the flop.

Things got a little lightheaded and blurry after that. Shiono-san was a hell of a sport and congratulated me sincerely. I didn't know what to say to everyone's congratulations - mostly I smiled embarassedly and thanked them and said I never thought I'd be able to win it.

After the game, one of the players Kopa pointed out the sweat stains under the arms of my shirt when I was done. Good god, I had really been playing my ass off.

I had to give a little acceptance speech in front of the 60-70 people in the room afterwards, which I fumbled through in my normal crappy Japanese. I don't know how I came across. Was I magnanimous in my victory, or was I just coming across as an ass? I couldn't even consider it until much later, and I still have no idea.

There were more photos and videos taken of the winners, some of which are up over at the Poker Navi site. I cringe when I see the photos (it should be obvious which one is me) and I can't bring myself to watch the movies. A haircut would have helped, but it wouldn't disguise how much of a goofball I really am. Ah well. This goofball has a free trip for two to Vegas - what do you have?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

What the river?

My last visit to the JPPA room was about 3 weeks ago, Friday night. The next evening was the final for the Vegas Cup series, over at Duke, so I wanted a bit of last minute practice. I had gone by Duke the week before for one of the last Vegas Cup qualifying games to earn some more points to start with, but had been knocked out in both tournaments near the bubble and got nothing. I still had a measley 38 points from my earlier wins at Pleasure. Checking the web page, the point leader was still Kuroda-san, with 300+ points. I'd be going in to the final with a short stack - not quite chip-and-chair, since a few folks had only 5 or 10 points from a single win somewhere along the line. But still not much room to manuever.

So a nice relaxing Everest Cup game at the JPPA room was in order. Besides, if I managed to win it I could get another ipod nano, one to give to the girlfriend to help encourage her that my evenings out playing poker, returning late at night smelling of beer and cigarrettes, had some sort of upside for her.

We had 32 players, and I held on to take 4th place. No hands memorable enough to last three weeks in my sieve-like memory, but I wasn't getting much in terms of hands and had to struggle to stay in the game for most of the evening. I was pleased I lasted as long as I did.

Since I made it deep into the game, there wasn't much time left afterwards for playing in the live games, but I sat in for a few rounds. It was a dealer's choice game, and as I sat down one of the guys chose "nines-wild pot-limit Omaha hi-lo". Sick, stupid game. A round of that was enough. Next, the guy to my right chose... Fuck the River!

I had introduced Fuck The River to the JPPA a couple months ago out of curiosity, during the dealers-choice live game. I had never played it, and neither had they, though they liked the sound of the name. I chose pot-limit at random and it stuck. We had a ball. Japanese speakers can have a hard time with the F sound in "fuck", so there were a lot of delighted and outraged cries of "huck!" or "huck za ribaa!!" as those last three cards came down. Shin was playing and seemed intrigued at the wrinkle and suggested we do a FTR tournament some night. That hasn't happened yet (that I know of) but I sure hope I'm around for it.

(Limit FTR would probably be a lot more "reasonable". Pot-limit gets pretty crazy.)

We only had time for a round and a half of FTR (of course I also chose FTR when it got to my choice!) before we disbanded and headed home. Good times.

I woke up at my normal 6:30am the next morning, as I usually do. C elected to sleep in, as she usually does. So I figured I needed a bit more practice for the Vegas Cup later that day. I fired up an 18-player SNG on FullTilt, and doodled around in that for an hour and some. I won it. I was more surprised than pleased, though the $72 boost to my pitiful bankroll was welcome. But somehow unsatisfying, since there had been no feeling of effort involved. I had got okay but not great cards, got lucky once or twice, and made the obvious actions.

"Maybe I'm just getting better at this game?" I considered. "Nah."

Decided this was enough poker until the evening. At lunch, I reminded C of my plans for the evening. "Tonight is the Vegas Cup - I don't have many chips but will go give it a shot."

"How many do you start with?"

"38. Most have 50 or 60 - the leader has about 300."

"Heee... Do you think you can win?"

I shrugged. "Probably not. I'll try anyhow."

She gave me the standard "ganbatte ne," (do your best). C likes Vegas about as much as I do, but she's a slots, shows, dining, and blackjack girl. Poker has never appealed to her, except for the video kind. But I like it, so she puts up with my little hobby, even if it puts me in front of my computer in the evenings instead of on the couch with her in front of the tv. Occasionally I bring home a new ipod or win $400 in a Caesar's tournament or something that suggests it's not a complete waste of time, too. So if I want to spend my Saturday night out at a bar trying to win a trip for two to Vegas, she's willing to let me go take a shot at it.

If I really wanted to impress her, I'd buy her a Dyson vacuum cleaner with poker winnings. I balk at the idea, though, because deep down I would feel like a sexist shmuck for buying her something to do the housework with. But she really wants one. I swear!

Games in Tokyo

I can only get out for live poker play irregularly. If I were single and had a job with reliable business hours, I'd probably be playing every Friday or Saturday, and maybe one of the weeknights as well.

In writing up a summary of games in town for a new poker player in Tokyo (if you're reading, hi Nick!), I realized we now have a game going somewhere in Tokyo every day of the week. It feels like a milestone. 15 million people in this town and we now have enough who like poker to have a game going somewhere on any given night.

I ought to seek out and sample homegames. There must be some. My building has a pretty nice lounge that could host a good sized home game if it came to that. But then I'd need a few things - like chips, cards, felt, players, and a regular schedule. I'll think about it.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Checking my stats for this page to see who visits, I find that most of the hits are coming from Google searches for this photo, which I linked to in a description of a trip to Akihabara one Sunday.

I guess if I ever need more hits on my blog, I know the way to go.


I've mentioned before that there are a few different places to play poker in Tokyo. The first choice is the Japan Poker Player's Association's card room in Ueno. The second choice is actually a growing group of bars and clubs that are offering poker games, grouped under the Japan Poker Enterprise Association.

First in the JPEA was Duke, the "poker bar" in my mind for over a year now. The owner, J.O. owns another joint called Corner Pocket, which is also a member. The JPEA seems to be approaching other bars, clubs, and establishments that have an interest in starting poker games and tournaments, then giving them help in planning and running the games and getting things going smoothly. They have also expanded the Vegas Cup competition out of Duke to bring in players from the other venues. Each joint runs their own poker games, with the winners each week earning points for the Vegas Cup. Every six months, the Vegas Cup playoffs pit all the winners against each other in one tournament, with each point they earned that season being converted to a tournament chip. So the more games you win in the season, the more chips you start with at the final.

I wrote about Bar Jack, a new spot in Shibuya that started regular poker games and joined the JPEA. Mike and I visited there and played once, and it seems like a nice enough spot, though a bit hard to find if you're not sure what you're looking for. (Which is true for a lot of places in Shibuya.) Many of the players then were regulars from Duke who were coming over, like me, to check out the newest spot to play poker in Tokyo. Shibuya is a younger, hipper part of town (if an old fart like me can say so). Getting young Japanese interested in poker could really drive acceptance and knowledge of the game - if young Japanese guys got drawn to poker the way they were drawn to darts a while back, the game could explode here.

I'm not sure how the games at Bar Jack have been doing, and if they've attracted a Shibuya crowd and got new people interested or not. I should go back and check.

Several weeks ago I noticed a new spot listed on the JPEA site, this time in Roppongi. Roppongi is a section of town that has catered to nightlife for a long time now, with lots of bars, clubs, discos, and hook-up spots. Every foreigner guy I know has gone through a Roppongi period, where they spend every Friday night hitting their favorite clubs and trying to find as many Japanese girls looking for white boyfriends as possible. It's almost required. You move to Tokyo, and one of the first things your new friends will say to you is, "Man, we gotta hit Roppongi this weekend... have you been to Gaspanic yet? NO?! Oh man, we gotta go!"

Roppongi has bordered on "sleazy" for a decade or more, but the new Roppongi Hills development of higher-class shopping, apartments, and office complexes has brought some respectability back to the area. A lot of foreign investment firms also have offices in Roppongi. So there are a lot of foreigners coming through Roppongi -- some have suits and expense accounts, some have crewcuts and the swagger of military on leave, some just have the gleam in their eye of english conversation teachers looking for a good time cheap.

So of course it was a great idea to get a poker game going in the area. I had to check it out.

The place is called Pleasure, and most nights it's an upscale club for business types to blow extra cash at buying drinks for stunning Japanese hostesses and exhaling the sweet smelling smoke of a few choice cuban cigars. And then on Sundays, they break out the poker tables.

I came by on a Sunday afternoon, finding the spot easily enough. I had a strange feeling I had been there before, probably because there used to be an Australian-themed bar called Quest in the same building (or maybe the one next to it) that I visited once or twice during my own Roppongi Period. Before that, the place used to be an Indian restaurant that had a pretty decent lunch menu. Clubs don't often last too long in Roppongi. They fall out of popularity and are shut down, shuffled around, and reopened with another name or another theme. I couldn't tell if this was the same spot I had had a curry buffet lunch 6 years previous or not.

The players were mostly unfamiliar to me, all Japanese. J.O. came by and chatted a bit, and his cuban cigar smelled heavenly. Almost made me regret being a non-smoker. We had about 20 players in all, and ran two tournaments, both limit holdem until it reached heads-up, where it switched to no-limit. I played conservatively, as solid as I could, and took second place in both games. Some of the players were pretty new and were too passive, calling with obviously crap hands. I played tight and pushed my good hands and got paid off. Sadly, I couldn't finish off my two oppenents heads-up for the wins - had one of them on the ropes but took a bad beat that reversed our positions and I went out shortly afterwards.

Still, two second places in one night earned me 38 points towards the Vegas cup, and a lot of respect from the new players. There was only a couple more weeks until the Vegas Cup final, and 38 points was not much - the leader, Kuroda-san, had around 300 points from his wins over the previous 6 months. But 38 points in one day was not bad, and even with a short stack I still had a shot at the Vegas Cup. First prize was a trip for two to Vegas. Woo. I need a vacation.

Playing catch up

I've fallen behind, not blogging much in the last couple weeks. And considering there have been a few events that I really ought to talk about, I'm going to have to scurry to post some updates and try to get back on track.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Missing it?

I logged into Party this evening, to make sure I still could, and to see what it looks like now.

It's not a dessicated, crusty shell of its former self, if that's what you were thinking. From here, it looks pretty much the same. The Monster promo is gone. They have a link to a web site that doesn't work, but will supposedly carry poker tv shows.

There are still a lot of players at tables. I couldn't really tell if there were fewer than normal. Still, I joined a table for a few orbits and it was a bit weird to see that everyone else was from Germany (mostly), the UK, and Hong Kong.

Don't ask me if all the fish are gone. I'm still there, aren't I?

Where to begin...

I haven't been updating. Bleah, bad me.

Let's start with a quick link - I found an interesting article on Oliver Tse's blog. Actually, it's so short I'll quote it, but Oliver seems to collect a lot of inside information about the casino and poker businesses, so his blog should reveal a lot of insight to those with an interest, so go check it out.

LAS VEGAS -- Harrah's Entertainment is looking to hire a Mandarin Chinese-speaking MBA with 3 to 4 years of experience negotiating deals with the mainland Chinese government to fill a newly-created Director of Development position in its new Hong Kong office.

Harrah's is also looking for 2 additional MBA's, one Japanese and/or Korean speaking to be based in Japan or South Korea, and one Thai and Mandarin Chinese-speaking to be based in Thailand or Singapore.

These new Directors of Development will be responsible for negotiating casino and hotel resort development deals for Harrah's with governments in Asia.

He also links to the Harrah's web page describing the job positions. You know, this could be a cool job for someone with interest and experience in the gambling industry, an MBA (to begin with), fluent Japanese and/or Korean, and a pioneering attitude. I hope they find the guy and he does a good job, 'cause I'd love to go to a Harrah's casino either here or in Seoul.

I have to figure that Seoul is much more likely to bear fruit for Harrah's in the short term. Gambling is still illegal in Japan and though there have been talks and discussions about legalizing casinos in certain locations here, I've heard nothing definite so far. Seoul, however, has half a dozen legal casinos and the number seems to be growing. Some or all of them are restricted to non-Korean citizens, a la Monaco. But if they make a tidy profit from the foreigner tourists, they must might decide to throw open the doors and let the natives play too and fill the government tax coffers.

I hear they even have poker there. Probably only occasional tournaments, since I doubt they have enough players to keep a dedicated table going.

Seoul is so close to Japan that a weekend jaunt there would be like a Vegas visit from San Francisco. Heady stuff for a guy like me, especially since flights, accommodations, and food can be damn cheap. I've only visited once, but spent about $300 for round trip airfare and 3 nights hotel. My group of Japanese friends and I ate like Korean kings, gorging ourselves with grilled meats, kimchee, flowing rivers of veggies and beer, lots of beer. We would get the bill and work it out, and it always cost us about $15 a person. Or less. God damn. Living in Tokyo, that's jaw-dropping.

I do, however, like the implication that Harrah's is positioning themselves to be ready if Japan does open up and allow some casino gambling here. I love Las Vegas and will continue to visit once or twice a year, I'm sure, but if they open Caesar's Palace Tokyo, suddenly my weekends are booked for the rest of the decade.

Edit: Shit, I had this post in draft mode this whole time? Man I suck.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The biggest site you never heard of

I posted a long while back about Everest Poker, a poker site that took aim directly at poker players globally, providing native-language client software in something like 20 different languages, including most of the Europeans, Japanese, Chinese, and a bunch more I forget. I also liked that they mapped common chat phrases ("Nice hand", "Thank you", "Good game", etc) to function keys that would display in the language of the client software. So a Japanese player will see the comment in Japanese, and his response to the Frenchman who sent it will appear to him in French. Great idea. (Too bad their client software is unpleasant to look at and difficult to follow the action.)

With the World Poker Tour set to start airing in "Asia" (Singapore and Macau), hopefully we'll start to see Chinese players get interested in the game. This could be huge - I hope Everest is ready to go after that market, as I'm sure there will be some Chinese companies that fire up online poker rooms if it takes off.

I get emails from Everest to their players in Japan, letting everyone know about upcoming tournaments, Japan-only games, and freerolls for their Japanese customers. I haven't logged in in ages, so last week I reinstalled the software and fired it up to join the Wednesday night Japan-only tourney.

It was six players. Including me.

Okay, so Japan hasn't exactly bought into the whole poker boom thing.

I was distracted and played like shit, too, so was knocked out in fourth from our little Japanese STT. So I browsed the cash game tables. I was surprised to see quite a lot of games running, mostly filled with European players, with a smattering of asians, South Americans, and Africans. Nice. Everest seems to be doing well enough.

I checked on PokerSiteScout and found Everest listed in 8th place for number of cash game players, right between UltimateBet and Bodog. Not bad at all.

Then I saw the note:
Special Note: Everest Poker does not accept customers from the United States

That's right! I hadn't seen a single US player in my browsing. These guys are based in Canada and seem to be going along with US law as best they can by not accepting US players. And they still have more poker players than Bodog.

Much as I hate the idea, if the US does kill off online poker for their citizens, the game will survive. The rest of the world will still keep playing, even without the yankee masses. We'll miss you guys, but we'll get by.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Poker Break

When I got back from Vegas, I didn't play any poker for about two weeks. At first I was just busy getting my sleep schedule back to normal, catching up at work, and spending time with my girlfriend, who hadn't appreciated my running off to Vegas without her, but was a pretty good sport about it, considering. (Any time I am away she complains she can't get to sleep without my snoring. Then she's tired all day at work and it's my fault. Of course, when we started going out my snoring kept her awake. She kept earplugs by the bed. Then she was tired all day at work and it was my fault.)

I had played a lot of poker on my trip, too, and was ready for a break. The nightly tournament at Caesars that I took fifth in had also shown me players that take the game seriously (still having a good time), who knew the odds, who always considered their position, the players behind them and their stacks, who could read hands, and who had being steadily progressing for (I assume) years.

Impressive. Sobering.

I got back and found I did not have much desire to play. Instead I went back to reading my books and thinking about the game. I jumped back and forth between doubleas' Pressure Pokerand Sklansky's new No Limit Hold'em - Theory and Practice. I paid more attention in podcasts during the hand-of-the-day discussions and pros' analysis of their play and others' . Eventually I began playing again, mostly at the JPPA games in Ueno. It hasn't been a big difference, but it's there.

It's going to be a lot of work, and a long process, but someday I plan to be one of those guys.

Mobile Chocolate

Saw a new candy bar for sale at the convenience store... Crunchy, right?

No... wait a sec... it's not Crunchy, it's Crunky.

"Walking Bar"... so it's autonomously mobile?

It was all right but nothing special. Contains both almonds and macadamia nuts.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Vegas... I remember Vegas...

If I was going to describe my Vegas trip, I really should have done it immediately afterwards - my head is like a sieve. Most poker players probably hold secret fantasies about someday becoming world class players, rich and famous. Or at least rich. I gave up that secret dream almost immediately, probably on hearing the first interview with a pro on a poker podcast. As soon as they asked the player about some critical hand they played the day before. Or the tournament before. Or a tournament six months ago. It hardly matters - the interview always goes like,

Interviewer: So, you took a big pot from Scotty Nguyen at the Borgota tournament last month that propelled you to the final table. Tell us a bit about that hand.

Pro: You must mean the one with the queens.

I: Exactly.

P: RIght. Well, Scotty had been pressuring the three other small stacks at our table, and had built his stack up to about 120,000. He raises second to act to 20,000, with the blinds at 1000-2000, so it's folded around to me with pocket queens. I call and the blinds fold. The flop comes A 5 3 with two spades, and I have the queen of spades and the queen of diamonds. So Scotty bets out 16000, so I raised it to 35000...

You get the idea. The thing is, if I was the pro and someone asked me one of those questions, it would be more like this:

I: So, you took a big pot from Scotty Nguyen at the Borgota tournament last month that propelled you to the final table. Tell us a bit about that hand.

Me: Uh, which hand do you mean?

I: You had pocket queens... and?

Me: Oh, um, yeah, I had pocket queens and I sucked Scotty in. He was trying a move with nothing, and was pretty pissed I called him down.

I: What did he have?

Me: Oh, I don't remember. Six trey? Something like that.

I: Suited?

Me: Um... I don't think so.

I: What were the blinds at?

Me: Oh, I don't know... it was sometime in the afternoon of the second day. 400-800 maybe?

I: How much did he bet out?

Me: I really don't remember. Is it on PokerPages? Check on there.

Daniel Negreanu I am not.

Back from the dead

My blog has laid here empty for a while, like a homeless guy sprawled on the park bench you see every time you walk past, uncertain if he's asleep or maybe dead, so you hurry past. I'll try to update at least once in a while with bits of Japan-related content, mostly poker stuff.

Vegas was wonderful and relaxing. Until now, when I have Vegased for a week, by the end of it I am tired of the gambling, the bright lights, the fictionality of it all, and happy to move on.

This time I enjoyed every day and would happily have stuck around for another week (or more) if I could have. The difference must have been the rental car. I was free to leave the strip, to drive out to WalMart and buy bluejeans for $20, huge tubs of multivitamins, NyQuil, antiperspirant bars, and other toiletries that are hard to get here in Japan. I listened to DJs banter to each other on the car radio as I drove around and found the In-and-Out Burger by the UNLV campus. I pulled in for a Double Double, fries and chocolate shake, eavesdropping on the college kids at the table next to me talking about comic book movies. Then I took surface streets out to the Red Rocks casino instead of the highway, getting caught in early evening traffic and seeing a lot of neighborhood strip malls and corner banks. I wandered the casino for a bit and then paid a mere $8 to see Superman Returns at the cineplex.

It was a dose of daily Americana and easy automotive freedom I hadn't had in ages, and it soothed me. I don't think I even gambled that day, other than 20 minutes of cheap video poker before the movie. With a car, I would probably not get tired of Vegas for a long, long time.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


Where am I? What language is that? I thought I was in Tokyo!

Ah yes, I forgot. In Japan, writing on the sides of boats and sometimes automobiles is often written from the front of the vehicle to the back. Writing on the lefthand side would be normal, as would the front and back. But it does screw up the righthand side.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

5位 - Fifth Place



Just a short update -- I entered the nightly 11pm tournament at the Caesars poker room, at the encouragement of Celica-san and Kazu-san from the JPPA. Kazu-san and several other Japanese players entered, but I managed to last until 5th place out of 115 entries, and took home a $403 prize. The buyin and addon was $70, so this was a good return.

When we got down to about 25 people, pretty much everyone else was a lot better than me, and were very advanced in their thinking and strategy. I was a short stack from about the time when we got down to 40-50 people, but I managed to hold on and get lucky and double-up when I needed to to stay in the game. I won a lot of races, or I would have been out a lot earlier.

It was a great experience, and very enlightening to see these good players and watch how they made their decisions, see the reads on their opponents, and listen to their conversations and thinking processes. I can tell I need a lot of practice, study, and thought, but I am planning to keep at in and become a better player, and maybe come back next year to actually play in the WSOP.

And the money didn't hurt either.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Almost there

Only a few more days until I leave for Vegas. I am excited and nervous to be meeting so many great poker bloggers and players. Surely I'll get along with someone.

I found a bounty for myself in the blogger tourney, even. I was hoping to find some cds or something from the Japanese band that Dr. Pauly wrote lyrics for - get him to autograph it and I'd earn quite a few suck-up points. Unfortunately my online searches didn't turn up much. I'll continue to keep my eyes open, but it's not going to happen by Friday.

Instead I got something that's related to Japan and poker players, likely of tickling the fancy of a good percent of those who'll be busting me out. I'm tempted to open it up myself and quality control check it, but naw, I will restrain myself.

Japanese players have been doing pretty well in the WSOP so far. Bluejay is keeping a blog for their performances in a special section on the JPPA web page. So far the three players have cashed for a bit less than $30,000. Not bad at all. One of the guys, with the handle of Zico, is a sharp-looking young Japanese guy in the playboy suit, tinted glasses, moussed hair and plenty of silver. I'd expect to see him either in a host club (not that I go to such places) or in Shibuya, macking on possibly underage schoolgirls. Instead he's looking cool at the WSOP and taking down almost-five figure paydays. Hopefully we'll see him on ESPN.

Bluejay himself hasn't cashed yet, and seems to be very annoyed at the fact. He went deep in one of the Omaha events last year, finishing 12th, as I recall, but busted out of the recent Omaha event early.

And me? I'm not playing in the WSOP. Don't be silly.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


A few weeks ago I came across this article about Japan as a gambling market, particularly online. There are some interesting points in it, definitely food for thought.

With the most slot-machine-like gaming devices of any country in the world, Japan is a huge and growing market. Brian Gordon, a partner in the Las Vegas-based financial consulting company Applied Analysis, said Japan has to be seen as a huge opportunity if only because of the size of the market and turnover in slotlike gaming devices.

Already, there are 5 million devices in Japan, compared with 830 000 in the United States, 240 000 in Russia and 200 000 in Australia, a recent Deutsche Bank study of Japan found.

That certainly catches my attention. Five million slot machines. More than five times the number in the United States.

Of course, they're talking about "slotlike gaming devices", which are both straight slot machines (which payout in gaming tokens, not cash), and pachi-slot machines, which are pachinko machines with a video display in the center than plays a video slot machine. Do well with the pachinko play and you kick off spins of the video slot machine for bonus payouts of pachinko balls.

A lot of current pachinko machines, maybe more than half, are pachi-slot machines. There are also a lot of straight slot machines too - usually the first floor of a typical parlor is pachinko and pachi-slot machines, and the second floor (often smaller than the first floor) is slot machines and other medal games. Often they'll have a section for the computerized horse racing games.

Most pachinko parlors open at 10am or so. Walk by them at 9:30am, and you will see a line of people waiting to get in. The one in the same building as my gym sets out rows of folding chairs in front of the main entrance so folks can sit and wait more comfortably for opening time. I've often seen 40 or 50 people are patiently sitting, reading sports and horse-racing newspapers, waiting for the doors to open so they can get inside and get at those pachinko machines.

Recently they released a new themed pachinko machine based on "Winter Sonata", a wildly popular Korean tv drama, especially among middle aged Japanese women. The machines had a video screen and apparently doing well would kick off video segments of key scenes from the show. Opening day for these machines was all over most tv news shows that evening. Lines for the machines were an hour or more long. Most of those waiting were middle aged Japanese women. (This show ran and finished something like five years ago.)

Okay, okay, so Japanese love their pachinko. And their pachi-slots. Does that mean they'll become serious slot machine players for real money? It wouldn't surprise me.

What if the casinos cut out the middleman and set up pachinko and pachislot machines that pay out directly in cash? Would that fly? I don't know - many Japanese say they play pachinko for relaxation and stress relief. Their neighborhood parlor is fine for that - would they travel across town to play for cash at a casino? I am skeptical.

Pachinko parlors are also noisy and chaotic in a different way than the noisy chaos of a casino. The atmospheres may not mix well.

Still, lots of Japanese play the gaming-token-only slot machines and medal games, and they'd probably transition over well to slots for cash.

In addition to the potential in the existing market, moves are afoot in Japan to legalise Las Vegas-style casino gambling.

Given strong operator interest in Asian gaming, Falcone said the opening of Japan should seriously interest U.S. operators, including Harrah's Entertainment, MGM Mirage, Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Wynn Resorts Ltd.

That would be nice. I wonder if my MGM Player's card will work at MGM Tokyo?

Friday, June 30, 2006

Freeroll Tournament

Last night on Stars, I decided I ought to try a tournament, if nothing else to confirm that I suck at them. Also to get a little practice at larger-field tournaments before heading out to Vegas next week. (Oh my god, that's next week!)

I was looking for a 100 or so player tournament, but a freeroll tournament was starting up in 20 minutes, so I signed up. Hey, free practice, right? No cash prize pool - the top 27 places received free entry into another tournament several days from now, that one with a $1000 prize pool.

There were 3600 people in. Not quite what I was looking for, but did I mention "free"?

I decided to look at it as an endurance test, since my usual problem in big tournaments is getting bored and then doing something stupid. A huge field would be good for that.

I don't think I fully anticipated how the "free" part would really work into it. Players started going all-in nearly immediately, trying for a quick doubleup. I stayed out of the way, waiting for good cards and picking up pots when I got them. About 300 players were gone in the first 10 minutes. 600 in the first 20. Holy crap.

I played reasonably well, I thought, picking my spots and betting aggressively. I doubled up a couple times by having a good hand when someone else went all-in with a marginal one. I made the second break, two hours in. We were down to a few hundred players by then, and although they weren't supid, my tablemates didn't strike me as particularly strong.

The problem was, it was after midnight and I was starting to doze off. Part of me wanted to tough it out and see how far I could get. But the prize was entry into a tournament that began at 1am Monday morning and already had 1000 entrants, so would likely be several hours long. Even if I won, I wasn't going to stay up all night before work to play in a huge tourney with a $1000 prize pool.

When we got down to about 150 players left, I decided enough was enough. I had made my point and lasted two hours and beaten out 3500 other players. So I made a very risky semi-bluff, getting called by a better hand... and then sucking out on the poor guy to make my straight and bust him. I had nearly doubled up, and with 100 players left, the "money" was in sight. But I was having trouble keeping my eyes open to see it.

I got moved to another table. If I could stay awake and alive for another 40 minutes or so I would probably make the money, but I was done. Time for a "go out in a blaze of glory" hand. I found AK suited shortly after, raised, got reraised by the table chipleader, rereraised him back, was rerereraised, and I pushed. He called with a trifling AA, and I nearly doubled up the guy, giving him a massive lead over the rest of the table.

I went to bed happy with my play. I had finished in 80th place of 3600, and could have gone further. I knew damn well I was beat when I played that last hand, and would have survived and continued if that's what I was after. And I found that there are a lot of stupid poker players out there, so maybe I don't have to be as worried about big tournaments as I have been.

On the other hand, any blogger game every blogger game I have played in has been Noam Chomsky compared to this Dick and Jane crap.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Do your homework

Ryan (of Micks Poker Pages up in Misawa) made a couple of comments to my last post with suggestions for improving.

I have to admit, my first reaction was a defensive one. Get PokerTracker and use it to find my leaks and plug them? Oh yeah, like I had not thought of that before!

The nagging feeling that followed was the admission to myself that although I am using PT for tracking and categorizing other players, I haven't been using it at all regularly to review my own play and look for problems.

So tonight after work instead of firing up some actual poker, I just sat down with PT and went through a bunch of hands from my most recent limit holdem sessions. You can probably guess what I found. At one point C stuck her head through the door to my computer room and asked, "Are you all right? What was that noise?"

The noise was a incredulous "huugh?!" from me as I watched a replay of me making a lousy, lousy call to a turn raise where I had no odds to continue, and should have known better. I know better, right? Maybe not.

I went through a slew of hands and found similar mistakes. "Well, yeah," I told myself, "but cut me some slack, I was four-tabling to try to finish up that Party bonus at the time!"

I could slap myself when I tell myself stupid shit like that.

Anyhow, time to suck it up, eat my humble pie, do my homework and review my play after every session.

Thanks Ryan.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Where am I?

Right now I feel a bit lost as a poker player. The real question is, am I any good or not? I haven't a clue, and with my trip to Vegas for the blogger gathering and WSOP gawking, it's been on my mind a lot. I've been playing for over a year now, shouldn't I be better than this by now?

Taking stock --

Cash games: I can grind a slight but steady profit at $50 buyin NLHE full ring. The few times recently I have tried $100 tables have lost me a good chunk of money and put doubts in my head. I still show a reasonable profit on the $2/$4 Bad Beat Jackpot tables on Party, but my overall stats for limit holdem, even at $1/$2, show me a losing player.

SNGs: My impression is that I have done all right in single-table SNGs. I haven't looked at my stats in PokerTracker to confirm this - I suppose that would be the next step. If I am doing well, I should play more of them and try buying into some larger ones to move up.

Tournaments: Awful. Anything larger than one or two table tournaments I have always busted out well before the money. I don't think I have the patience for it. In the local live tournaments, usually no more than 2-3 tables, I have won a few times. Over the course of a year of play, it's not enough to feel like more than rudimentary play and random chance.

I'm ready to be dead money at the blogger tournament in Vegas. My expectations are way low - if I can outlast, say, 20% of the field I will be happy.

But other games in Vegas have me a bit spooked. One of the JPPA players, who I believe goes by the handle "Shin", chatted with me for a while on Friday night about the WSOP. He's headed out to Vegas about the same period I'll be there, so was checking if I wanted to get into some of the same tournaments as he'd be playing in. One he's looking at is the Orleans Open, though he suggested some other small tournaments as well.

Me: "I don't know.... I don't do very well in tournaments..."

Shin looked momentarily surprised, which gave my ego a brief boost. "You should think about it. The level of players in these tournaments is pretty low. Definitely compared to here," he added, indicating the JPPA.

It was food for thought. Am I really that bad? Some of the players at the JPPA seem to be pretty damn good (though it is hard for me to tell how good), so it's a solid training ground. Maybe Shin is right.

On Friday night, as I mentioned, I made it to 6th place out of 28, hanging in there as a short stack from about 12th place. Not too bad. And a couple weeks ago at Duke I showed up late and played in their TTOS limit mixed game (two rounds of holdem, one round of Omaha-8 and one round of Stud-8) and finished 6th out of 20 players or so. Just out of the "money", so I was bubble boy. Still, not too bad considering that Omaha and Stud are games that I know the rules to and that's about it.

Celica-san was there that Friday night, so we talked for a bit before the TTOS game started up. She asked if I was going to play more of the Saturday "Straddle Cup" games at the JPPA. Me: "I don't know... I haven't been playing very well lately."

She also gave me a look, this time somewhere in between surprise and annoyance at my display of modesty. "You just won that Straddle Cup game, what, two weeks ago?"

Me: "Uh... yeah. I mean, since then, you know?"

Don't always believe the things you tell yourself.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Everest Friday

After probably a couple months away, I went to the Everest Cup game at JPPA on Friday night.

I'd heard from Bluejay that there were quite a few more foreigners coming out for the Everest games, but I wasn't quite expecting so many. I think about 8 other gaijin (other than myself) came out - all of them fairly young men. All of them seemed to know each other, and from snippets of conversation, it sounded like they mostly lived in gaijin houses, low cost monthly-rental apartments aimed at short-term residents, mostly foreigners. It's a bit like living in the YMCA.

Three or four of them were asian and spoke Japanese quite well, as well as English. A couple of them spoke something that sounded like it might be Danish. One of them had a bit of a Gus Hansen look going on.

Twenty-eight players entered. I lasted pretty long, going out in sixth place. I was reasonably pleased with my play - I don't think I made any glaring errors, which is pretty good for me. The blinds go up pretty quickly in the Everest Cup games, so that they can finish in a few hours on Friday nights, so I made it to the crap-shoot point where any raise I could make was all-in. I won the first one or two, then lost one, crippling me, and went out soon after.

The feel of the game was different with so many young male gaijin players - it was louder, more energetic, with more drinking and English tabletalk. A bit like a frat party.

Most of the Japanese players didn't seem to mind, but I worried. Japanese aren't as familiar with poker as Americans, have no kitchen-table games in their childhood or background poker stories or knowledge in their culture. It's new to them, and there's no guarantee it will catch on here. It helps to have someplace where they can learn and play the game in Japanese, with other Japanese, and not have to worry about dealing with English.

Was it just coincidence that there was only one female player there on Friday? I've been surprised by the number of young Japanese ladies who have taken an interest in the game - in this case, the lack of poker background and stereotypes in Japanese culture works in their favor. But if they're put off by loud Americans, they may not want to play anymore.

Hopefully I am just overreacting. But my first reaction is to skip the Everest games on Friday and just go to the Saturday games at the JPPA, which are more expensive (Everest Cup games are only 500yen). For cheap Friday night games, there's still Duke. And not overrun with gaijin.

Yes, I may well be a hypocrite.

Monday, June 19, 2006

If you prick me...

I had a bit of minor medical work done the other day, and they needed to take a blood sample ahead of time to ensure there would be no problems with the procedure. (I assume checking for allergies to the anaesthesia, etc.)

The last time I had to give blood for a medical checkup they had to stick me five times before they got enough blood to reluctantly ooze out of my arm for their tests. Aside from being unpleasant, it was embarassing and troubling. If my bloodflow is so sluggish, how the hell am I still alive?

This time as well, they tried first on my right and got a trickle. Then to my left and got nothing. Just nothing. The nurse grimaced and shifted the needle around a couple times trying to hit the vein and failing, which started to get unnerving if not overly painful. Flustered, she took a break and considered her options. My veins are apparently fairly thin and slippery to boot.

Third time was the charm, thankfully.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A bout on Saturday

I shuffled around my work schedule and decided to head up to the JPPA for the Saturday evening game. I'm still not too clear on the ramifications of the point-system games they have on Saturdays, but my 25 point win from before puts me in a pretty good position right out of the gate. The real question is, how long is the race?

I tried something different and rode my bike up to Ueno - this took longer than I expected, nearly an hour, and I arrived about 30 minutes after the game began. I could have made it in 20 minutes, but I gave myself some cooldown time before I went in - the last thing most of these guys would want is a gaijin sitting next to them still radiating heat and sweat. Besides, Phil Hellmuth does it and I model my life after that guy.

As I walked in, four full tables were going, 36 entrants this week! Busy day, compared to only 14 players last week for the limit-only tournament. I took another couple minutes to visit the cramped washroom in the back and splash some cool water on my face. I didn't feel stinky.

I had been blinded down a bit but nothing major. The first hand after I sit down, I am dealt pocket queens. We're still in the limit rounds, so I raise and get two callers. An ace and a queen flop, and they must have had an ace each, since I bet to the river and they kept after me, only to muck when they saw my trip queens. Nice. If we'd been in the no-limit rounds, I probably would have busted one or both of them on my first hand. Maybe the poker gods are giving me another subtle hint about limit versus no-limit?

I didn't last very long this week, got knocked out about 24th of 36. Blinds went up pretty quickly and although everyone had similar stack sizes at our table for quite a while, when the antes kicked in I saw my M drop from a workable 9 to a scary 4 in a single "dong" from the level timer. I had to move fast, but got nothing worth playing for a couple orbits and was running out of chances. Finally I got AK of clubs and pushed, and got one caller with AT of diamonds. A King came and I doubled up, but double short stack was still pretty short. The next hand I got pocket fives, now under the gun. I considered... a 3x raise would be about 1800 chips, and I only had about 2300 at the time. Push again? Would I be more likely to get a caller if I pushed, since they may put me on a steal. I fiddled with my chips and decided on only a raise of 1200, giving me half my stack left. My fiddling was not lost on Doyle, who saw right through me and put me all-in. I called, and this time he had Big Slick. He hit and I was done.

Maybe it was a bad decision to min-raise like that, but Doyle would have called my 3.5x all-in anyhow. A worse mistake was the fiddling while trying to decide how much to bet - I broadcast that I wanted to play but had a hand I wanted to be able to get away from. I gotta watch out for that.

I sat down at the live game afterwards, but was immediately bewildered. They were playing a stud hi-lo variant, but I couldn't follow their description of the rules so I just sat out and watched to try to figure it out. Each player was dealt three cards down, discarded one, and exposed one so they had one card hidden, one exposed. Three rounds of dealing an up-card to each followed by betting (pot-limit!). Then, I believe, you had the option of discarding your fourth up-card for a replacement. Then one more down card, and bet. Then, at the very end, there was some system of palming zero, one, or two chips to determine if you wanted to play your hand, then everyone exposed their chips and if there was no showdown, the players took their bets back. I was pretty lost.

Kugatsu-san eventually took down the tournament, which was nice to see. Kugatsu is another strong, dominating player. He's a bit older than I, thin, glasses, and a somehow laid back and intense simultaneously. I've seen him raise to take down pots six times in a row at the beginning of a tournament, before someone finally played back at him. If he raises, you take it seriously - even if he's shortstacked, you fear what he can do to you.

Oddly, he complains that he rarely wins these tournaments, often getting to the bubble but not to the final tables. I have wondered how that could be, because he would scare the hell out of me if I were sitting across from him in the WSOP, but it was nice to see him take down a solid win this week.

Afterwards, we headed out to an iizakaya for a bit of late night food, drink, and conversation. Celica-san congratulated me about my win from last week, so I asked her about the point system. She explained that anyone who made 60 points during the year qualified for the WSOP (or WPT) seat tournament at the end of the year. This year's winner, awk (a very strong, regular JPPA player) apparently chose a WPT seat over the main event because he didn't want to take a full two weeks off work to attend. Pretty smart.

Second and third place also get an entry to one of the smaller buyin WSOP events. Otonn took third this year, I heard, so he's headed out to the WSOP for the $1500 NL Holdem event on July 18-19. Which kinda sucks because I'll only be in Vegas until the 14th.

Celica-san is also attending the WSOP Ladies' event, I believe, so I'll have another Japanese player to cheer for. I'd love to see her (or Saeko or Mari from Duke) bust Shannon Elizabeth's ass. They'd probably ask me later, "Who was that woman, anyhow?"

That would be sweet.

Over our late dinner it came out that the weird live game that evening was a followup to the weird live game at the Friday night Everest Cup. That night, they explained, they were playing Omaha hi-lo, but with nines wild. There was still some discussion about how to break ties in that game, by rating a hand using the 9 as wild as "impure", so that a "pure" hand would beat an identical "impure" hand. Sheesh. I'll let them work out the details - I'm not ready for a funky variant yet.

Afterwards, I rode home through deserted post-midnight Tokyo streets. The wide, well-lit streets of Ginza were empty except for late-night workers cleaning windows and doing photo shoots, and the occasional homeless person setting up camp in cardboard boxes in a handy alcove. Nightshift cops loitering in a kouban waved me down and hassled me a while about not having a light on my bike, despite my bright safety yellow sports windbreaker and the everpresent city street lighting. After they checked my foreigner registration card and confirmed that I had a proper visa and job, they grumblingly let me off with a warning. Whiteface in Tokyo - don't leave home without it.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Note to self

If you have arranged a week-long trip to Las Vegas and your girlfriend has decided not to go because she can't get the time off of work and is afraid that US Immigrations will harrass her more and more each time she shows up, do not casually mention it to her when you get your plane tickets, make your hotel reservation, etc.

Yes, I really was that insensitive.

I couldn't help myself. The plane ticket was considerably more expensive than I was expecting. And there was the refuelling fee, and a new one I don't remember seeing before -- a United States Entry Fee. Shit, they charge me $70 just to enter the country now? This xenophobia thing is starting to bother me. (Do the Canadians get hit up for this too?)

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Poker Day

Long day yesterday. Got up early to see C off as she rushed off to catch a 7am flight to Okinawa for a friend's wedding. Then I figured I'd just play a few hands online before heading off to the gym.

Does it ever work out that way? I tore myself away about 3 hours later. I wasn't even winning, just holding my own. Still playing mostly on the Bad Beat Jackpot tables on Party -- for a guy who says he doesn't like limit holdem, I sure seem to be playing a lot of it.

Gym, lunch, and then off to the JPPA room in Ueno. With the girlfriend off until Sunday evening, it was time to get in as many hands as possible. The 2pm game in Ueno was Holdem, but the 7pm game showed as 7-Card-Stud and Omaha Hi-Lo. Since the Saturday games are more expensive than the Everest Cup games on Fridays, I decided to play the 2pm holdem game and then head over to Duke in the evening for the fourth-Saturday-of-the-month games.

The crowd was light for a Saturday, only 14 players for the 2pm game. Maybe it was because of the price -- 5000yen! The Everest Cup games are only 500yen now, last I checked. Of course, Everest Cup sponsors the Friday games, wheras the Saturday games are all played for points in the WPJ series (presumably "World Poker Japan"). Winner earn points for placing in the weekly games, then at the end of the year, the player with the most points wins...

An entry to the WSOP main event, or an entry to a WPT $10,000 event. Whoa. This also explains why the Saturday games are more expensive.

This Saturday's tournament was... limit holdem.

Many of the Saturday games are NL, or limit for the first few levels and then switching to NL as the number of players dwindle. However, the fourth Saturday of the month is their limit-only tournament, with long levels. Since this is supposed to favor the skilled players, the tournament fee is higher than usual and the point values for the winners are quadrupled.

The game started out easy -- we all had deep stacks, and the blinds only increased every 30 minutes, so it was going to be a long battle. Towards the beginning, most pots had 4-5 callers and few raisers, and I found myself falling into the pattern of calling with a bunch of marginal hands. This paid off once or twice as I drew out an unlikely straight, but eventually I realized that if I was playing like this online, I would call myself an idiot and force myself back into a raise or fold mentality. It's easier in a live game to go with the flow and start passively calling, so I gave myself a stern talking to, warned that I'd be keeping a watchful eye on my shoddy play, and told myself I better shape up and play a better game, pronto.

I did tighten up and become more aggressive with the hands I had, and it paid off. I used my above-average stack to put pressure on the smaller stack players, and the friendly family game started getting a lot more serious as players got knocked out.

After a couple hours, we compressed down to a single table, and shuffled positions around. I checked everyone's chip count and I was in pretty good shape. One of the other players on my original table, a young lady named Kikuchi-san (going on the name she wrote on her drink glass to identify it) had a good stack as well, but several of the remaining players were struggling to stay in the game. I was still expecting to finish up in time to head over to Duke, so resolved to keep the pressure up and raise any pot I was getting involved with. Unfortunately, I found Kikuchi-san in the pot with me quite a few times, and we mostly shuffled chips back and forth between us for a while, occasionally sucking in blind money from the other players but not accomplishing much to thin the field.

6pm. I'm still in it, with a very healthy stack, and about 6 players left. I begin to think I might be here longer than I planned. Kikuchi-san's stack has been slowly shrinking after her early and mid-game successes. She seemed to be calling into pots too often, getting involved with marginal hands with slim chances of winning, yet not putting any pressure back on other players so they would fear getting involved with her. As we dropped to five players, she said her goodbyes and left - other plans. Her stack remained and we blinded it off. Celica-san, whose stack was dwindling, struggled to stay in the game because she "didn't want to lose to someone who wasn't even here," but didn't quite make it. I'm in the lead and still putting on pressure. Partly because I figured that was the correct thing to do, and partly because, dammit, look at the time! How long have we been here?!

7pm. Sida-san has fallen, and it's down to three humans (me, Doyle, and Otonn) and Kikuchi's zombie stack, now only a few chips. I comment that the only two tournaments I've won here, I was up against Otonn heads-up at the end. He and Doyle both seem a bit surprised to hear it. Otonn makes it to final tables a lot more than I do, so perhaps he's forgotten. The first time was the first night I walked through the door of the JPPA one Friday evening and introduced myself. We had only about 8 players that night, and for all I know Otonn took it easy on me as the new guy. The second time was about 6 months ago at one of the Everest Cup Friday night games, where I won my iPod nano. I had just finished reading Harrington on Holdem Vol 1 and felt enlightened. The stars aligned. I sat across from Otonn, huge stacks of chips in front of both of us, and managed to take it. I was more surprised than anyone.

Otonn had a bit of a dark look in his eyes as he considered my comment. "I'm not planning on making it three."

7:20pm. My lead has shrunk as I have bled chips off to Doyle and Otonn, and it's getting closer to even between the three of us. Have I been too aggressive? Doyle seems to have got a read on my preflop raises, meant to keep the pressure up, and is playing back at me selectively to see when I will lay down. I back off a bit, trying to figure out what I should figure are good cards to hold three-handed near the end of a tournament.

Queen Five offsuit. Doyle is on my left, Otonn on my right. I raise it up, and Doyle calls, Otonn folds. The flop comes with a queen and two other small cards. I bet, Doyle smooth calls. Turn is another small card. I bet, Doyle raises. Is he playing back at me, or did it help him? Either way, I still think my queens are good, so I reraise, and he calmly calls. The River is a five. I bet and he calls again, and I show my rivered two pair. He had Ace-Queen and was reeling me in - instead I cripple him and he goes out shortly afterwards.

7:30pm. Heads up with Otonn. He holds about 1/4 of the chips and is not going easy. All I know about heads-up play, and it's not much, is for no limit. But I think back to the articles I have read about the Andy Beal versus the Corporation games, which were heads up limit holdem. "Aggression is absolutely the key in heads up limit. If you have an edge, you push it." It's about all I have to go on, so I run with it. Otonn seems frustrated, as if he can't tell what my raises mean. I see him disgustedly throw away hands after raises, seeming to suspect he's got a good hand but not able to tell anymore. My plan works against me more than once, as we go to war on another queen high flop, bets and raises down to the river. I flip over my queen seven and he drags in the pot with his queen nine to take the lead.

7:40pm. I'm trying to check the time on the wall clock, but the glare of the ceiling lamp off its face blocks it out, so I pull out my mobile phone and flip it open to check the clock display. Doyle (now the dealer) and Otonn both freeze. Too late do I remember the rule against using your mobile phone at the table - no calls, no emails, no SMS. Flipping it open to check something on it may be enough to kill my hand. "Oh shit, I'm sorry, is it all right? I couldn't see the clock." Doyle hesitates a moment, then decides that since my cards are still untouched and unseen in front of me, we can continue. Abashed, I put the phone away and check. KJ offsuit. The flop comes with two Jacks and I drag down a big pot with it, feeling kind of like a shit. Otonn continues to brood and says nothing.

8:00pm. Otonn's down to his last chips, as my aggression strategy seems to have paid off. I'm in betting and raising with any king, any ace, and any pair, and if I hit a pair on the flop I am betting it to the end. More often than not the right cards have come for me. Finally, he's down to putting his last chips in for the big blind, and he flips over his 9-3 off. I had something like K-7, and the board brings two more 7s and a couple deuces for a totally unnecessary full house. Otonn shakes my hand, good sport to the end, and I discover that he's either left-handed or was once a boy scout.

Six hours of limit poker and I am wasted. All thoughts of heading to Duke are long, long gone. The remaining players at the other table applaud and I am too tired to know how to respond. I bob my head. Doyle notes with a smile that the six points for the win are quadrupled, so I just won 24 points towards the 2007 WSOP main event.

Me: " that a lot?" I've never had these point things before.

Doyle laughs.

I take the piss I've been holding for the last hour, make my goodbyes and head home. It's still early and I have a rare bachelor weekend with the girlfriend out of town, yet I go straight home, heat up a convenience store bento for dinner and zonk out in front of the TV to get around to watching my download of Sin City. My brain still feels packed in cotton. I wonder what it would be like to play in the main event... 12 hours a day. Then 12 hours the day after that. Then 12 hours the day after that.

I guess I'll worry about that if the time comes. The current point standings put me in fifth place, but next year's WSOP is a long way off and I'd need to play pretty much every week just to have a shot at it.

That's time and money better spent in other ways. But I'm still proud of this win. The real question is, will Otonn ever speak to me again?

Friday, May 26, 2006


One thing that sucks about living in Japan as a foreigner is waiting for movies. It's getting a bit better, but generally movies come out in Japan about 6 months after the rest of the world.

I'm a bit... extreme about being spoiler-averse. If there's a movie I know I want to see sometime, I don't want to know ANYTHING more about than I already do. So I'm one of those guys you may very occasionally see plugging his ears and closing his eyes while a movie trailer is playing. (I can usually avoid the chanting of "la la la! I am not listening!" unless the theatre has THX and the volume on the trailer is so loud that I can still hear the dialog.)

It was pretty hard to avoid talk of Star Wars ep1 or ep2 for six months until they finally fucking opened it over here. At least with Lord Of the Rings I already knew what was going to happens so I didn't have to worry about spoilers. ("Worldwide simultaneous release" my ASS!)

Sometimes they do occasionally have movies that come out simultaneously, or close to it. Often I find that movies by Sony Pictures are released here very promptly. (Imagine that. A Japanese company had to buy a frigging studio to get them to release movies here on time. Ah well, at least we got Spiderman here a bit before the rest of the world.)

Don't believe me?

How about, oh, Mission Impossible III?

(Ukraine gets it two months before us. Someone explain that one to me.)

X-Men III?

September 9?! The entire rest of the world gets it on May 25 or so, except for South Korea, who gets it June 15, but we get to wait until September?

The real reason new video games and systems always get released in Japan first before the rest of the world is because you've pissed us off for making us wait for movies. Suffer, bastards.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Ready for Action

Charged up my IC card at the convenience store during lunch. The sensor made a tinkly magical sound as it electronically dumped 10,000yen of credit onto my mobile phone. I could do without the sound of Tinker Bell happily flitting around my phone as I buy my canned cafe latte, but otherwise I feel like a real twenty-first century digital boy.

Sometimes it goes right

After my "man, I suck" realizations, I considered that I seem to do all right in cheap Sit and Go tournaments. Probably because my tournament play is okay in small doses, before I get bored and distracted enough to do something stupid.

I should check my PokerTracker stats to confirm this, but so far the Tournament section of PokerTracker is unknown territory to me. Uh oh, will I have to actually RTFM?

So I tried a couple of $5 SNGs on Full Tilt to test my hypothesis that I might not suck at them. I distractedly played in one while on one or two $50NL tables, folding all but the best hands and playing those straightforwardly. One moment I looked down and I was in third. I'm not quite sure how it happened. I was the short stack and made a play and missed shortly after, but at least I made the money. Too bad I don't remember it.

I tried another yesterday, and finished second. Again, I didn't try anything fancy, just waited for good cards and played aggressively when I got them. I was also in a two-table SNG at the same time so was again distracted, but the two games kept me busy and prevented boredom. The single table game played out much the same down to four players, where I found myself with a reasonable stack, tied for second. We fought on the bubble for a long time, partly because the table's big stack wasn't (IMHO) putting enough pressure on the fourth place short stack to knock him out. So I took up the slack, and kept raising his blinds and stole a fair amount off of him until he started pushing back.

Eventually we knocked him out and the next player, and I found myself heads up with the chipleader. We fought back and forth for what must have been 30-40 minutes, chips flowing between us as I took the lead and relinquished it more than once. We seemed about evenly matched, and the cards and suckouts favored us both pretty equally. I was thoroughly enjoying myself, and the other guy seemed to be having a good time too. We started chatting about headsup play and the 18K tournament he was in at the same time, and when eventually he caught me with a King high to his Ace, paired it and busted me out, we complimented each other on a game well played.

Games like that are a pleasure to play. I should try the SNG thing more often, especially if I'm often in the money.

Edit: Oh yeah, for full disclosure I should state that I busted out early (relatively speaking) of the two-table SNG. It was nearly an hour into the game, I was fighting on the bubble on the one-table and basically decided it wasn't worth my attention, so did something stupid and got knocked out.

Yes, that probably summarizes my problem right there.

Mobile Suica

I finally got the Mobile Suica function activated on my new mobile phone. This is the feature I was talking about to use the IC chip in the phone act as a prepaid card for all of the Japan Railway trains in eastern Japan. (I'm actually not sure if it works in western Japan - the two branches of JR seem to operate semi-independently but they both have similar IC card systems that may well be interoperable.)

It took longer than I thought, because they only accept the JR-based "View" card brand of credit cards for charging of the IC chip, so I had to apply and wait for one.

But on Saturday I plugged all the info in, charged it with 10,000yen from the card (which will appear on my next credit card bill), and boom, I was ready to go. Tried it yesterday and it worked like a charm. Waved my mobile phone over the turnstile sensor, and the LED on the outside of the phone lit up blue, the gates opened, and the turnstyle display showed 200yen deducted and 9,800yen remaining. Cool!

Next up is charging the other IC electronic-money applet in the phone, which will let me use my phone to pay for small purchases in convenience stores and other locations. Kind of silly, maybe, but it will cut down on the amount of small change I need to carry around.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Quick Update

Been busy lately with the day job - just got moved to a team leader type of position and a lot of work dropped on me. After a long, pleasant year of 8 hour days being the rule with only an occasional exception, it was initially pretty hard to adjust back to overtime every day and weekend work, but it's coming back to me now. As a contractor, I'm still paid by the hour from this big bank I work at, so I'm now getting a good chunk of overtime pay, too, so in the end I'll get stack of money to go spend foolishly on something. I'm thinking of a new computer update, geek that I am.

I may get an Intel-based Mac Mini (come payday) -- it should be a good speedup over my current 1.6ghz G5, and I can run my PC stuff in a virtual machine from Parallels, which by all accounts runs Windows on an Intel Mac with only a slight performance hit. I'm no gamer anymore so this should be plenty, and it'll be smaller, quieter, and probably faster than my current setup.

On poker, lately I have come to a realization. I suck. Part of it was hanging out for a few days on the IRC channel where many WPBT types hang out and chat while playing. These guys play tournaments, and they play them well. I play tournaments only once in a great while, and I bust out way out of the money every time, usually because of a string of donkey plays on my part.

Realization #1 : "I suck at tournaments."

(I confirmed this by playing in the Wil Wheaton Dot Net tournament for the first time ever since they moved to Tuesday nights. Since Tuesday night in California is Wednesday morning here, I can't play because of the day job. But during Golden Week I had Wednesday off, so I played and donkeyed out pretty damn early. Something like 93 out of 120-something participating.)

But that's okay because online I play cash games almost exclusively. Only $50NL tables right now, granted, but I have been grinding out a fairly steady profit on those for weeks. So I figure, yeah, I should jump up to the $100NL tables and see how that goes. Way back when, I was doing $100NL on Party and cleaned up.

So I jumped up a level and got bitchslapped. Retreated to $50NL to regroup. Tried again, and got a sock shoved in my mouth and took it up the ass during shower time.

Realization #2: "I suck at cash games, other than those so low limit only idiots lose money at them."

Unfortunately I don't have a lot of time and energy right now to spend studying, reviewing my game, and trying to learn how to not be a fucking idiot. So until things calm down at work, I'll stay at the kiddie table, grinding it out at the $50NL and the $2/$4 Bad Beat Jackpot tables at Party.

Have fun, you guys.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Rie takes second!

I went to the JPPA room on Saturday evening for the weekly Straddle Cup, which I may write up more about later. But later in the evening, some exciting news came around. One of the JPPA regulars, Rie-san, was in Las Vegas in one of the WSOP Circuit events at Caesars, and had posted on her blog that she had made the final table! She was in second place, just $200 behind none other than Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi.

I brought up PokerWire to try to find out more details, but they didn't seem to have any results from Caesar's yet. So today I checked on Poker Pages, and found this results page - she had entered the $2000 NL Holdem event, with 145 players. Earlier this afternoon, only Jeff Killian's 9th place finish was listed, so the match appeared to be ongoing.

An hour or so ago I refreshed the page, and found that she had taken second place, under Kia Mohajeri. She outlasted the Grinder, who finished in fourth. RIe-san will be bringing home $56,260 for her finish.

Way to go, Rie! Amazing!


It took several days to convince myself that I really, really wanted to go out to Las Vegas again in early July to catch the World Poker Blogger Tour, be there to support Saeko-san and any other Japanese players who are entering the earlier WSOP events, and generally get some more Vegas time in.

The biggest hurdle was getting over the guilt about spending money and vacation time to go out to Las Vegas again when I was just there in December. Sure, it's fine for those of you who live in the States but when I have to fly a third of the way around the entire goddamn world, I have to fight that nagging voice in my head about if it makes sense. The scary part is when the nagging voice insinuates that if I'm so willing to spend my time, vacation, and money to fly off to Vegas instead of relax on the beach in the sun of Koh Samui, I must have some sort of gambling problem.

My dad has been a regular smoker since well before I was born. I respect the hell out of my father - extremely intelligent (he was a rocket scientist [no shit] for aerospace companies his entire life), ex-marine, very reasoned, fit, and self-disciplined. But I remember many times when I was growing up he would try to force himself to quit, either cold turkey or to wean himself off a little at a time. For a while he switched to pipe smoking, which I gather isn't as amazingly bad for you as cigarettes, and which smells a lot less disgusting to boot. He never managed to give them up. He's addicted to this day.

The thing that really sits like a cold stone in the pit of my stomach is the thought that my father, pretty much my hero growing up, strong, smart, disciplined -- he fought against his addiction to tobacco, and he lost. Tobacco controls him, and until they eventually kill him, he spends some part of his life not doing what he wants, but what they want.

I have fun in Vegas, and I enjoy low-stakes gambling, poker and other games as well. But I never want to find my life being controlled by gambling.

So after a lot of questioning myself and justifying my motivations, I realized I really wanted to go out not for the gambling, but to be there for the experience, to meet Cinci Sean and Brent Stacks from the Lord Admiral podcast, to hang out (hopefully) with some of the bloggers whose amazing work I read and appreciate every day, and to see my friends and the people I play poker with every week or two out there in the goddamn World Series of Poker. It would almost be worth it if I didn't have any chance to play anything myself.

Of course, as long as I'm out in Vegas, I'm going to play. Let's be reasonable.

I still need to run this by my manager at work and confirm the time off - if there are no concerns, then making the travel arrangements should be straightforward. I'm actually thinking of renting a car and maybe getting out of town for a bit, to go see the stars in the clear desert air. And I could visit some of the outlying casinos, and even save some money by staying at a non-strip hotel. If all works well, I'm hoping to rent one of the Honda hybrids - there's a firm in LV that handles environmental-friendly car rentals, and I'd love to try one of those guys out. Hell, gas might be up to $4 a gallon in the States by then.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


The sounds of Tekken 5 drew me to the living room earlier this morning. C had fired up the new Playstation 2 and was giving it a go.

I only bought the thing last weekend, after C had declared it was cloudy out and looked like rain and she didn't feel like leaving the house and hey, weren't you going to buy a game system? What's the status on that?

So we left the house (I kept my mouth shut about it to her) and headed to Bic Camera in Yuurakucho. The real question was what games to buy. C is not a gamer and had no idea what kind of games she would like. I decided to stick to the cheap games for 2000yen or so to start, and see what clicked. We bought Densha De Go! 3 (the train conductor simulation game that was massively popular a few years ago), Tekken 5 (for me, I wanted a fighting game), and a game C heard was good from a coworker, called Momotaro Dentetsu. We picked up volume 12 (?!!) which suggests the game has been doing well for itself.

We both tired of the train game almost immediately. And then we both got hooked on Momotaro Densetsu for hours. It's a simple game where players ride around Japan in their steam trains, trying to make it to the goal areas first and buying local goods and businesses along the way to make a profit later. There are a lot of twists and turns and special events, and it seems a bit like a mix between Monopoly and Life. Very funny and addicting.

But now C is getting interested in Tekken, which I didn't see coming. I probably should have, considering that when playing the latest Dragonball Z game at her family's place with her nephews, she wanted to give it a try and sat in for a few rounds. She quickly managed to figure out Goku and smack me silly, cackling "hee hee hee!" theatrically. Getting your ass beat down by your girlfriend who doesn't play video games is a real blow to the male geek ego. Luckily I told myself that Goku is pretty much the most powerful character in the game and I was playing some random shmoe so the odds were stacked in her favor. I keep telling myself that and somehow I can sleep at night.

She has only dabbled in Tekken so far, so I still have the advantage on her there. But the day may come when we find out who is the master of the Iron Fist Tournament in our household, and I'm beginning to think it may not be me.

My thumb hurts, too.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The perfect gift

So, like a clueless geek son, I haven't got many ideas for an upcoming Mother's Day gift. So of course I open up Amazon and go to the gift center guides for "Mom".

I was surprised at the fourth item recommended. Moms today are more handy than I remember.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Card Protectors

Sato-san has linked on his blog to some pretty nice-looking card protectors. Some of these are quite nice.

I like this one for J-A, the "Jack-ass". I hadn't heard that one before.

Japan Casinos

(Legal ones, that is.)

Bluejay links on his blog to this article (in Japanese) about the governmental task force that was set up to examine allowing legal casinos to open in Japan.

On the 27th, they released an interim findings report. It sounds like it says what everyone expected - that casinos could bring in significant tourist and tax revenues, creation of new jobs, and restoration of sightseeing in some areas. It recommends strict regulation and supervision.

It sounds like casinos will need to have services that will benefit from the tourism, such as restaurants and hotels. But they have also proposed that ATM machines not be allowed on casino premises, or even in the immediate surroundings.

Bluejay sounds disappointed that the government is planning to treat its citizens like children and protect them from losing too much money at once. I don't think it would bother me too much, actually - as long as there is a casino to visit, I can manage to bring enough money with me. It'll be a hard provision to enforce, too, since convenience stores are on every corner in Japan and they all have ATMs nowadays.

More than ATMs, I would worry about the money lending services. There are a lot of companies here where you can go into an ATM-like booth and apply for an immediate cash loan. The rates are horrible, too -- 25% interest and up. There are a lot of these businesses here (Citigroup owns two, though just recently combined them) and they must be laking a lot of money. Usary laws must be different here.

WPBT and Japanese Players

I noticed a post on the BBS section of Duke's web site that one of their regulars, Saeko-san, is heading to the WSOP to compete in the Ladies event. A few others are planning to go at the same time and they're checking who else may want to come along.

The plan is to attend from July 7 to July 11 or so. And I notice that the WPBT Summer Classic is also scheduled for July 8.

God I would love to be there for that. I'm a lousy poker player, but it would be great to see the WSOP, support the Japanese players, and meet all the bloggers I've read for the last year.

Tonight I may go out to Duke or the JPPA. I want to find out who from Japan is going - if enough locals are going around that time, I might be able to talk myself into attending.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


My friend J.P. and I went out to Akihabara on Sunday for an increasingly rare day of geekness. Both of us made crochety grumblings about how the place has changed from when we got here eight years ago. Then, it was a dense collection of backstreet shops you searched for cheap pc parts to build your new machine with. You'd spend all afternoon pushing through crowds of intense Japanese computer geeks, and not see a single female. I think most girls were afraid of the place, since they'd just find several thousand Japanese tech geeks' eyes on them constantly.

It's different now. The computer stuff is still there, but they've stirred in anime, comics, games, airsoft, and other geeky hobbies in there. There's also a lot of cosplay going on, with all the maid cafes opening up. Yes, maid cafes. There are a lot of them. The gothic-lolita maid outfit is practically the official uniform of Akiba now.

On Sundays they close off the main street so it's easier for pedestrians. We were wandering, not really looking for anything in particular, when we saw this huge mob of people. (Camera phone photos, so they're a bit pixelly.) Everyone had their cameras out, or camera-phones, holding them up to get a shot over the heads of everyone else.

There are a lot of girls in costume in Akiba now, handing out flyers to get people to the newest maid cafe or other store. But even so, this size of a crowd around one was impressive. We pushed in and got a look.

It was this girl. There was actually another girl as well, but I couldn't get a look at her at the time. We got this photo 45 minutes later after the original crowd broke up and she resurfaced elsewhere. She was giving out flyers not for a cosplay cafe or anything like that, but a modelling service. You hire her, she dresses up as you choose, and you get to take photos of her. Yeah. Don't ask me for details, I did not ask.

A bit later we spotted this girl. I immediately noticed the trump symbols on the frill of her dress and wondered excitedly if it might be a poker-themed cosplay cafe. It would be heaven! J.P. crushed my little dream by saying, "Ah, that's cute, an Alice In Wonderland costume!" Blue and white dress, suits of cards... ah. Yeah. I guess that would be more likely.

A shame, though, because I would have been a regular customer.