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.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


I saved my trip to Tinian to visit the Tinian Dynasty resort and casino to Sunday, since the weather looked to be perfect on Saturday and there was talk of rain on Sunday. So gorgeous-weather Saturday became Beach Day, and possibly-rainy-and-cloudy Sunday became Casino day.

We found that there were only two ferries between Saipan and Tinian daily. If I took the ferry both ways, I would either have about 3 hours or 23 hours at the casino before the return ferry. So instead I sprung the extra $40 or so for the return airplane flight, which returned in the early evening.

C was initially interested in coming, but decided to pass in favor of going to a spa for most of the day. It sounded pretty good, actually - sauna, jacuzzi, massage, etc, but I had my gambling quest.

The ferry took about an hour. The windows on the lower passenger deck had not been washed in several weeks and were so coated in detriment from dried seawater that I could barely see out. So I listened to my ipod, watched the vague blueness and greenness through the greyed windows, and dozed.

Tinian looked much like Saipan, but fewer buildings. It looked like a couple dozen people lived on the island... somewhere. Aside from the casino, standing out starkly from the surrounding greenery. Our tour guide showed us quickly around the hotel and shops area, pointing out the pool and buffet and giving us $10 in matchplay coupons. The lobby was airy and spacious, circled in relaxing chairs and sofas... many taken by Chinese-looking tourists who had kicked off their shoes, dumped their bags by the side and dozed off for a couple hours while waiting for their tour bus to arrive.

The casino wasn't huge, but was big enough. There were several rows of slot machines, ranging from nickels to dollars, most of them off to one side of the large room. A bar sat in the center, next to a railed-off area for three or so poker tables, and three or so tables for some card game I had never seen but that the Chinese tourists seemed happy with. But the poker tables... were empty! No players, no dealers!

I found a poster up that read something like, "Texas Holdem! It's that game you've seen on tv, the World Poker Tour and the World Series of Poker! Come try it out on Friday and Saturday nights in our new poker tournaments!"

Okay, so Sunday was apparently not the best day for the casino trip after all. But I'm not a good tournament player anyhow and was hoping for a cash game, so it wasn't a crushing disappointment.

There were a few blackjack tables, a roulette table, and a few more table games like "Pacific Poker" (whatever that is) and baccarat. There was also a large raised area with one of the large-screen horse racing games you often find in Japanese game centers. A big screen tv displays the (computer generated) horses and you can sit at one of the terminals and wager. The computer horses race, and you collect your winnings.

I started with some slots, and was struck by how quiet the place was. There were very, very few customers, and I was the only one on a slot machine, so there was no din of beeping music, slot machines, and ching-ching-ching-ching of coins cashing out. It was a little unnerving, and I felt like I was doing something I should not be, and making a racket with it in the process.

I lost $20 and decided to get some lunch at the buffet. Which was... meh. It reminded me a lot of a $6.99 chinese lunch buffet someplace in Palo Alto, California. Unremarkable generic asian food, salad, breads, and desserts parked out on steam trays and unmanned. No prime rib here. I had no idea where the next closest place to eat was - probably a 20 minute cab ride to wherever "downtown" was, which might not be any better.

I returned to the casino and sat down to give blackjack a try. My first surprise was that the dealer was only dealt one card face-up, no hole card. The hole card was only dealt at the end after all players had finished. If the dealer had an ace showing, you could still place insurance but you had to wait until all play was over to find out if the dealer hit a ten. But if the dealer hit a blackjack, she would take only your original bet and return any double-down bets to you. I don't remember if I saw someone split with an dealer ace showing, so don't know how that was handled. Gameplay was the same as I was used to, otherwise.

Second surprise was ordering a Corona, then the waitress saying, "That will be $5, sir."

Third surprise was tossing in a red-chip tip for the dealer at the end of her deal, and seeing her eyes widen and the corners of her mouth turn up, as if to say, "wow, really?" She then pulled up the plastic blocker for the drop box slot and sharply rapped "shave and a haircut" against it with the chip before dropping it and thanking me. The sound was loud and carried through the quiet casino, and several folks looked up. I took inventory of the room and guessed that half were Japanese, half Chinese, and none of them very familiar with the custom of tipping. I kept up the occasional dollar tipping now and then and they kept rapping it out to the whole joint. Cheapest way to feel like a big spender I have found.

I played BJ for an hour or two, and was about even when I reckoned I had an hour of play left. Coming all the way out here to find this casino and then break even seemed pretty pointless, so I started upping my bets so that I would either bust out or show a worthy profit. Cards fell my way and I finished ahead about $200, paying for my trip out here and most of C's time at the spa.

The bus rode a dozen of us Japanese tourists out to the airport, where we rode in six-person Pipers back to Saipan. It was about a ten minute flight, making the hour on the ferry seem pretty pointless. As soon as we got to a reasonable altitude, we looked ahead and Saipan was right there. A stone's throw away. Just over the pond.

As I got off the bus from the airport at my hotel, the bus driver said, "Happy Easter."

Easter... I had forgotten. I had just spent most of my Easter Sunday in a casino, gambling at slots and blackjack. I hope that God is as forgiving as they say.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


After a busy week, last weekend's jaunt to Saipan begins to seem like a long time ago.

Saipan is about a three hour flight from Tokyo, which is long enough to feel like a real trip. But still shorter than visiting Hawaii or Las Vegas; I'm not complaining. I dozed and read Anthony Holden's Big Deal, and my girlfriend C watched the inflight movie, Pride and Prejudice, with a bored-but-nothing-better-to-do air.

We were concerned about going through Immigration in Saipan, since it's a US territory and C has been held up by Immigration officials for 30-45 minutes the last two times we've entered the States. She thinks the issue is that because we separate, me going though the US Citizens line and she through the Visitors line, it looks like she is travelling alone. Luckily this time there were no problems. Of the 500-some people on the flight from Tokyo to Saipan, about 450 were Japanese, 48 Korean, and two white guys, one being me. We gave each other a quick "what are you doing here?" glance on boarding.

I didn't see the other white guy when I got to Saipan. Immigration had 20 lines for Visitors, and one line for Citizens... with no one staffing it. Should I have called ahead to warn them a white guy was coming? I found the Immigration office and the agent on duty opened up the Citizens line and waved me through. The other 20 lines chugged through the hordes of visiting Japanese quickly, and C was processed in a few minutes with no problems.

Saipan has the deep blue sky, bright sun, palm trees and greenery every beach resort should. I was already relaxed. We boarded the charter bus our travel agency arranged, and trundled along the one main road to the main hotels, dropping off groups of Japanese guests. Most of the buildings we passed seemed somewhat beaten down, and the common sight of signs in Chinese as well as English added to the worn-out Chinatown look.

I couldn't help but notice a huge number of signs for game rooms, all proclaiming "POKER". I must have seen 6 or 8 on the bus ride to our hotel. Good lord, Saipan is a hotbed of poker activity! Who knew?!, I mused. Almost all of the poker shops looked even more worn down than their surroundings, though, the kind of dodgy joint you don't feel comfortable walking into with a fist full of money. Later on, I looked at the signs more closely and many promised progressive jackpots and 24-hour play. I didn't visit any of them to confirm, but decided they must be pitching video poker, which made more sense.

Friday and Saturday were the typical beach resort days, and you probably already know how that goes, so I will summarize. There were deep blue skies, puffy clouds, gorgeous sunsets, cool breezes, visits to a nearby beach island with clear, clear turquoise waters, snorkeling, and laying in the sun. I was content, as I was in Maui, just to sit on the beach and read. I finished Big Deal, Wil Wheaton's Dancing Barefoot, and most of his Just A Geek. C didn't bring anything to read, but was perfectly happy to relax on the beach, dozing and looking content.

(C asked what I was reading. I showed her Dancing Barefoot and Just A Geek, and tried to explain who the author was. She doesn't know Star Trek: Next Generation. [She hadn't seen any of the Star Wars films when we met, you may recall! How is that possible? I mean, yeah, she's Japanese but still, this is Star Wars we're talking about, here.] "He was also in Stand By Me," I offer hopefully. She brightens up. "Oh... River Phoenix?" "Uh, no..." I guess I'm going to have to go rent Stand By Me sometime. She did get a kick out of the photo on the back cover of Just A Geek. "Look! He's holding the same beer glass you have, the one with the weird geek joke on it that I don't understand! You both really are geeks!")

Sunday she spent going to a spa, and I made my trip to Tinian to check out the Tinian Dynasty Resort and Casino, which I will leave for a followup post.

Monday we did our souvenir shopping, a bit more laziness on the beach, and headed home. It was hard arriving back into Tokyo, which seemed frigid after the straight 30' C days in the sun. But Saipan is close, pretty cheap to get to, and I'm sure we'll be headed back there soon for an even lazier vacation.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Quick One

I can't seem to find much time for blog updates lately. I have the time, actually, but I've been spending it playing online and grinding out the last of my Full Tilt bonus. Bad blogger. At least the bonus is cleared now and I made a reasonable profit doing it. I'm doing pretty well at no limit cash games - Harrington on Holdem is my bible.

I got busy last week and didn't get a chance to write up our visit to the new spot in Shibuya doing poker nights, Bar Jack. Maybe Mike will write something up, but my memory is already fading. Short version - it seems like a reasonable bar. We had a reasonable crowd of around 16 or 18 poker players, many of them regulars from Duke. We did two tournaments, one starting at 7pm and a followup at 9pm. I had to miss the first 20 minutes or so of the first one to meet Mike at the station and guide him in. I lasted until the final 8 people or so, then got my dwindling stack in with Kings on a board of all lower cards, but two spades. My challenger was on a spade draw and hit it. Ah well, that's poker.

Mike stuck in there and won it, netting 3000 or 4000 yen worth of coupons for drinks and such at the bar. I joked that he made it look like I had brought in a ringer to the game, since it was his first time attending. He backed off and graciously allowed some of the others to win the second tourney.

The bar seems like a nice enough joint, though a bit hard to find if you don't know what you're looking for. There were some beginners there and some non-poker players hanging out, so hopefully it will help bring in some poker awareness to new people in Shibuya.

Podcast Poker Challenge

I just signed up for the Podcast Poker Challenge, a freeroll tournament on PokerRoom, with players representing their podcast of choice. There hasn't been a lot of talk about this one, so if you see this notice and listen to podcasts, go check it out.

In a point bordering on blasphemy, the Lord Admiral Card Club podcast was not invited or included at the start! Luckily some folks informed Cinci Sean and he got the podcast listed in time for player registrations under the Lord Admiral banner. (I just did so.) I am a dedicated listener to the Ante Up and Five Hundy By Midnight podcasts, but when it comes to poker and podcasts, I gotta align myself with the one and only Lord Admiral.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Bluejay hints on his blog that Johnny Fucking Chan might be coming to visit Tokyo here one of these days. That would be pretty damn cool.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Driving Practice

Owning your own car in Tokyo falls somewhere between a luxury and an eyebrow-raising absurdity. Cars themselves aren't that expensive, but parking spots run around 20,000-40,000 yen per month in most parts of Tokyo proper. (That's, like, $200-$400 a month, eh.) You can't use them to commute to work, since your daily parking fees would probably run you more than your salary. (Unless you're some bigshot executive who gets a paid spot in the office building's lot.) And Tokyo's mass transit system is extremely comprehensive.

So I've lived in Japan for eight years and my old driver's license from California is long expired. I've never needed a Japanese DL, but once in a while, it would be nice to have. Like if you go on a vacation to a spot outside of Tokyo. But it's not the easiest thing to do.

Brits and Aussies have it easier - they can usually get their current driver's license translated to Japanese, take it to one of the driving test centers, and get it transferred over to a Japanese license with little more fuss than a few hours of paperwork. But for those of us from countries who drive on the right side of the road (unlike Japan), they generally make you take the written and driving exam.

I'm confident behind the wheel, but when the wheel is on the right hand side of the car, suddenly I am out of my element. I drove a bit (sans license) when my GF and I took a trip to Hokkaido and rented a car. I frequently messed up the turn signals and wipers because they're also on the opposite side of the steering column. Driving on the long, straight, low traffic Hokkaido roads and highways was generally no problem, but at least once my old driving habits asserted themselves at the wrong time -- I made a left hand turn out of a gas station into the right-hand lane. I.e. the one with oncoming traffic -- in this case, a semi-tractor trailer heading straight for us. It was several hundred yards away and I quickly adjusted into the correct lane, but it freaked out the girlfriend and gave me something to think about as well.

Obviously, I need some practice driving in the cars and on the roads here before I will be ready to take the exam. I could join one of the driving schools here, but those cost $3000 or $4000 for their one or two-week classes, which is a lot of money and time off from work. I know how to drive, really! I just need to practice these few little specifics.

Tuesday after work, I found a possible cheap way for some basic practice. I went by a game center to kill some time before visiting Bar Jack for the poker game, and spotted...

... this new Driving School game!

It's not terribly exciting, but instead aims to teach presumably grade-school age Japanese kids the basics of driving. Maybe even replacing expensive driving schools? Who knows what Sega is after.

Anyhow, the game is a cheap way for me to get some basic practice in the reversed layout of Japanese cars, and start retraining my habits of what lane to enter when making turns and which hand to use to set the turn signal. It's still weird to change gears with my left hand. I doubt I will be ready for a manual transmission for years.

There's a series of basic driving lessons, starting with very simple tasks on a driving course much like those at the driving schools. If you pass one lesson with a score of 80 or above, you proceed to the next one. If you fail it, you have to pay another 100yen to take it again. You can also get a printed memory card that keeps a record of which lessons you have passed, so when you come back later you can feed your card in and start from the next lesson instead of the beginning.

The controls include pretty much everything from a real car. You even have to fasten your seatbelts, and there's a key ignition to start the thing up. There's no HUD to show your speed, so you have to practice looking down at the dashboard to see your speed, lest you exceed the posted limit and lose points. I'm grateful there's no stereo system in the dash for later lessons to test your ability to pay attention to the road and switch the radio station to J-Wave simultaneously.

I've only done the first two lessons, so I suck. But compared to 300,000yen for driving school, this should be a bargain.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Let's Review

So, for places to play poker in Tokyo, we now have:

Japan Poker Player's Association -- Ueno Room:

  • Thursdays - Live Game (simulated cash game). They even simulate a rake by removing some of the play chips from each pot. Kind of shocked me the first time I saw it, but I suppose it trains both the players to know what to expect in a cash game, and the learning dealers so they will know how to calculate and pull the rake for real dealer positions.
  • Fridays - Everest Cup (NLHE tourneys) [I think the E-Cups have finished, actually, and they'll probably switch back to a JPPA limit or NL holdem tourney on Friday nights. Pity, since the E-Cup games had no entry fee and decent prizes.]
  • Saturday - Mini Straddle Cup events at 2pm, Main Straddle Cup events at 7pm. I haven't gone to many of the Straddle Cup games, so I am unclear on specifics. I think the Mini game tends to be one type of game each month, rotating, so they include 7-Stud and Omaha games. The Main game I think is always holdem, usually NL. There's a point and bounty system for players, but I don't know the details.

      Duke :

      • Mondays - Live game and/or tournament, aimed at beginners. Very similar to the Friday and Saturday games, but winning does not gain points towards the Vegas Cup.
      • Fridays - Weekly tournaments. 7:30pm is Limit Holdem, 9:30pm is T.T.O.S (Texas Holdem, Texas Holdem, Omaha, and Stud, all Limit). Winner of each of these tournaments gains 5 points which can be used in the Vegas Cup.
      • Last Friday of the Month - Monthly tournament. The second weekly tournament is replaced with a NLHE tourney for those that have taken first or second in that month's weekly tourneys. Taking first place in this tourney gains you 10 Vegas Cup points, and second place earns you 5 points.
      • Fourth Saturday of the Month - Vegas Cup games. 7pm is Limit Holdem, 9pm is H.O.R.S.E. (7-Card Stud, 7-Card Stud Hi/Lo, Hold 'em, Omaha Hi/Lo, and Razz.) Taking first place in either of these games wins you 40 points, and second place wins you 15 points.
      • Vegas Cup - Every six months or so, Saturday, NLHE. All players who have accumulated points in the games so far can play in the Vegas Cup Final. Each point becomes one chip in the final game, so those who have won consistently since the last Vegas Cup will have larger stacks than those who have just one once or twice. The winner of the Vegas Cup wins a trip to Las Vegas for two, airfare and hotel expenses paid.

      Bar Jack:

      • Tuesday Night game. Details coming soon.

      Hopefully I will be adding to this list as new games open up in town.

      Another game!

      I just saw on one of the Japanese poker blogger's page that there's a new place to play in town! A bar in Shibuya called "Bar Jack" is now doing poker tournaments every Tuesday night. Maybe next week I can hook up with Mike and go out there to check it out. It looks like a pretty nice place from the photos, and if they can appeal to young, hip Japanese folks (like you find in Shibuya), it will help poker catch on here in Japan.

      The bar says they've become a member of the Japan Poker Enterprise Association, which I believe J.O., owner of Duke, started up. So far their web page lists three members, two of which are the bars that J.O. owns. But if a new bar is giving it a try and if it takes off, hopefully we'll see some more places to play spring up.

      (Thanks to our friend at "Working at the Net Cafe - Poker Life" for pointing this out to me. If you read this post sometime, introduce youself to me next time we meet so I can find out who you are. ^^;;; )

      Wednesday, April 05, 2006

      Poker Champ

      Jesus, would you all please shut up about the Poker Champ thing? Man...

      Turn to Hymn 42...

      I'm going to have to compose some songs of praise to the stock market gods if they keep this up. I'm enjoying fantasizing about quitting the day job, but I'm getting a bit scared that after another few months I might actually do it.

      My girlfriend's cold has lingered, so I have not gone out for poker (or other reasons, even) over the last couple weekends. I have to watch her to make sure she doesn't get to any of the housework before I can cut her off. She's worn herself out a couple times doing chores, and prolonged her sickness. I think she's finally on an upswing, though, so maybe I can get out to Duke for some poker this weekend.

      My playin the low $25 buyin NLHE tables on Full Tilt is going well, earning me back the funds I lost playing limit HE there. This cheers me up somewhat, and reminds me why I switched to NL in the first place. It still galls me that I continue to have these problems with limit HE, though. Do I just suck at this?

      When I have a "Do I just suck at this?" week or so, what really cheers me up is to go play on the Bad Beat Jackpot tables on Party. Last night was a perfect example, doubling my $100 buy-in on one of the $2/$4 tables and doing wonders for my mood. If I'm going to play limit, I know the place to play it.

      It seems like the best time to play on these tables is when the jackpot is relatively low, paradoxically. When it gets high, many of the tight-aggressive good players seem to show up, figuring that the odds are better. But when it's low, after it's recently been hit, you get the type of players who want that $70,000 jackpot regardess of what the odds are. Those are the kinds of players you want at your tables, calling down to the river with crap.