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.