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.