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Posted by on May 29, 2017 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Politics, What's Left, World Series of Poker | 3 comments

Poker’s Shining Moment

 

Screenshot 2016-06-13 at 8.02.47 PM - Edited

 

A Personal Note:  The 2017 World Series of Poker begins this week.  This will be the first WSOP in 25 years which I don’t plan on writing about, or attending.  With poker becoming a faint glow in my rear view mirror, this seems like a suitable occasion to clear out some personal files and post a few (previously unpublished) articles that were written up last year, but never posted.  These next few days, I’ll post some behind-the-scenes leftovers of my final series.

 

There was a time not too long ago when Ryan Laplante might have faced ridicule, and even hostility inside a poker room.

Why?

Because he’s an openly gay man.

Years ago, before being who you are was acceptable to many, the shackles of unwavering expectation sired a strict conformity.  If being gay was widely viewed as unacceptable, then being out about it was downright scandalous within many social and business circles.

It took a while, far too long many would insist, but the poker community became an unlikely coadjutor in the broader at-large struggle for gay rights, and in some peculiarity even progressively far ahead of other arenas of society, especially male-dominated sectors, like sports.  This wasn’t at all expected, and was surprising even, given poker’s jaundiced past where one’s masculinity was once tethered to a cowboy hat, a smoky cigar, and a dirty joke.

But poker turned out to be a most welcoming scene for those considered a little different.  Just about anyone and everyone was permitted to sit down and play — male or female, black or white, gay or straight — so long as the minimum buy-in was posted and no one tried to impose themselves on the competition.  Sure, unrestrained prejudice still burgeoned systematically away from the tables outside the poker room, but was muted once the cards were dealt.  To its credit, poker has acquired a startling egalitarian quality.

This seemingly odd kinship between serious-minded poker players and disparate subcultures which have been the targets of varying degrees of discrimination, including the gay rights movement, came to pass by means of the shared common experiences of society’s outcasts.  Like gay people, poker players too, were once cultural castaways, often viewed with suspicion and mistrust.  Perhaps it’s the ability to identify with those who have historically been excluded from the traditional mainstream.  Perhaps this is what makes serious poker players of today generally more tolerant and accepting of others different from ourselves.  Poker players would be among the first to challenge the old adage that being normal is no virtue.

Indeed, we must accept our differences.  That is because so often, we play, we work, we socialize, and we engage is so many activities with others who are not like us.  Sometimes, they are even the opposite of us, and oppose the very things we believe in.  Welcoming those who are different from ourselves isn’t just good for poker — it’s the right thing to do.

_____

Getting here was a rocky road.

There was the time not long ago, July 2007 to be exact, when Rep. Barney Frank made an unlikely appearance at the World Series of Poker, held in Las Vegas.  At the time, Rep. Frank, who represented a congressional district in Massachusetts was the only openly gay member of Congress.  He was also a tireless advocate for legalizing online poker in the United States.  Although Rep. Frank didn’t play poker at all, and knew very little about the game, he viewed our cause as his own.  And so, Rep. Frank became arguably the most unlikely proponent for legalizing online poker.  He introduced pro-poker bills in Congress.  He appeared frequently in media and often went out of his way to bring up initiatives supported by the Poker Players Alliance (PPA).  His appearance at the biggest poker event of the year seemed to be an ideal setting in front of a friendly audience.

What could possibly go wrong?

I was there, that afternoon, when Rep. Frank — joined by other dignitaries at the Rio — took the microphone to say a few words to rally public support, just before giving everyone the customary tournament opening, “Shuffle Up and Deal.”  However, when Rep. Frank was introduced by name, the crowd’s reaction turned out to be an embarrassment.  About half the room containing a few thousand players, completely ignored the introduction.  Only a few clapped.  Others booed.  A few hecklers hurled shameful insults at Rep. Frank.

I was standing near one particularly boisterous section of the crowd, positioned next to Rep. Frank when I heard someone yell out — “faggot!”  Right there, I nearly lost it, and yelled something profane back into the crowd.  That didn’t help the matter, of course.  It was just my gut reaction.

I was so angry afterward that I had difficulty staying in the same room among so much indifference and hostility.  Desperate for an emotional sanctuary, I walked back to the main casino at the Rio with Rep. Frank.  Along the way, I made a feeble attempt to explain that this wasn’t truly representative of the way most of us felt about what he was doing for poker and the players.  “Don’t worry about it,” Rep. Frank replied.  “I’ve been hearing shit like that all my life.”

_____

Years later, a young poker player named Jason Somerville made his first appearance at a WSOP final table.  That’s a really big deal, especially to a player who has serious aspirations of making poker a career.

Before the finale began, it was customary to introduce each player to the crowd and the viewers watching on the live stream.  It was pretty simple, really.  We normally announced the player’s name, hometown, occupation, plus a tidbit or two provided by the finalist via something called a “Player Bio Sheet,” usually completed the night before.  Some players used this rare occasion of making a final table to call out their friends and supporters.  Others listed interesting things about themselves.  Pretty standard stuff.

Somerville decided to use this occasion to send an important message.  On his bio sheet, Somerville wrote that he was an openly gay man and was active in the fight for equal rights and protections.  He hoped that this public acknowledgement on a major stage would encourage others who were watching, particularly those who might still be comfortable about disclosing something still viewed as controversial at the time.

We customarily followed the wishes of each player, unless something written on the bio sheet was terribly inappropriate (which alone might make for another good column, someday).  After all, this was Somerville’s time to shine under the public spotlight.  If he wanted to acknowledge something personal about himself, then who were we to censor his wishes?

Unfortunately, the announcer didn’t honor Somerville’s request on the bio sheet.  It was simply ignored and the occasion was mostly forgotten.  Somerville never made an issue of it.  But the incident did stick with me, long afterward.  I thought we made the wrong judgement call that day by not following the player’s request.  Then again, at least we avoided a possible repeat of the Barney Frank episode from four years earlier.

One can never predict quite how a crowd will react — especially a poker crowd.

_____

[Reminder:  This previously unpublished article was written June 14, 2016]

Ryan Laplante won the largest non-Hold’em tournament of all time at the 2016 WSOP, defeating a field of 2,483 players in the $565 buy-in Pot-Limit Omaha event, good for a hefty payday of more than $180,000 — plus his very first gold bracelet.

Then, he woke up Sunday morning to the news of a terrible tragedy.

The worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 took 49 lives when a madman stormed into a popular Orlando nightclub and gunned down more than four dozen people, mostly young gay men.  Since the attack occurred very late on a Saturday night, most of us didn’t hear the news until the following day.

The scimitars for poker and the real world do not often cross.  It’s as if what goes on outside the highly-competitive, almost circus-like arena of the WSOP stands as some kind of island or desert mirage apart from the rigors and ritual of reality.  I recall that a major tournament was even played on the very afternoon of the morning right after the events of 9/11, a disgraceful decision by tournament organizers made considerably worse by the callousness shown by the dregs of humanity — those morally-bankrupt poker players who bothered to show up to play, all while the towers of our national identity were still smoldering in ashes.

The Orlando shooting was certainly shocking, as all terrorist acts are, but to most of us — it didn’t touch us personally.  The deranged gunman who targeted people just for being gay wasn’t personal for me (or others) in the same way it was so very personal to Laplante, and presumably many others.

On what should have been a day of celebration instead had become something far more surreal.  Laplante had been scheduled to receive his gold bracelet on that Sunday, barely 12 hours after the Orlando murders.  Moreover, as was the custom on occasion, I was to be the fill-in emcee privileged to award Laplante his poker amulet.  As horrific images of the Orlando nightclub shooting aftermath were being shown on televisions throughout the poker arena, we were about to award an openly gay man with poker’s supreme honor.

One of the perks of working in an executive position at the WSOP is the occasion to take something to a whole new level.  Indeed, this was a time for elevation and we owed it to ourselves to aim especially high.

That morning, during my drive from home to the Rio, I pondered the unprecedented quandary of just how to handle the upcoming daily gold bracelet ceremony.  This wasn’t just any day.  This wasn’t just any winner.  This wasn’t just a typical five-minute ceremony, with no lingering afterthought.  This was a celebration blunted by a terrible tragedy, fronted by a remarkable young man of courage and conviction fully prepared to use this occasion to educate us, heal us, and make us all better.  It was about making the event bigger than just himself, bigger than all of us.

When I met with Laplante just moments before he was to take the stage and receive his gold bracelet, it became instantly obvious he’d been thinking the same thing.  Gleefully standing upon a stage and going through the usual routine in light of terrible events just didn’t seem appropriate.  What did seem fitting however, was to have Laplante’s fiance, Chris Katona standing on the stage with him to present the bracelet in front of the poker world.  Typically, this honor is reserved only for poker legends and sometimes the relatives of players, mostly wives and parents.  Having two men in a committed relationship onstage together in celebration would be a poker first.  Stung by the tragedy, but also empowered by the occasion to do a pubic good, Laplante agreed with the alternative plan.

At about 2 pm during a tournament break, I took the microphone.  I introduced Laplante as the latest poker champion.  Then, the stage was all his.  No one knew what he would say, nor what to expect.  No one knew how the huge audience — comprised almost exclusively of poker players and tournament staff — might react.

 

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Once Laplante took possession of his gold bracelet, next he stepped up to the podium.  Few players opt to speak at these events.  I think I understand why.  Public speaking can surely be scary.  Many players don’t really have much to say.  Besides, no one comes to the WSOP to hear a speech.  Everyone wants to play poker.

This time, the room fell silent.

 

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Rather than post my recollections of the speech given my Laplante, instead I’ll let this short video clip (provided by Card Player) speak for itself:

 

 

After the speech ended, everyone in the audience rose to its feet and applauded simultaneously for what seemed to be the longest duration in anyone’s recent memory.  The memorable occasion didn’t make up for past sins, the ill treatment of Rep. Frank or the refusal to acknowledge people for who they are.  The cheers weren’t some false notion that everything now is okay.  But it was a big step in the right direction.

June 13th, 2016 was was very good day for poker.  It was a day to be proud, not because we are, or we aren’t gay.  It was a day to be proud because we’re human.

 

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Note:  Special thanks to photographer Antonio Abrego for the photographs.

 

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Posted by on Jan 19, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Personal, Sports Betting, World Series of Poker | 7 comments

Gambling for a Living — Part 2 (Not Just Another WSOP)

 

 

Here’s some advice:  Pay your taxes.  Preferably, every year.  On time.

Take it from the fool who’s danced upon the blade of the sharpest of spears and endured endless migraines instigated by the dreaded evil known as the Internal Revenue Service which lasted for years.  It’s all a nightmare, only you can’t wake up from the bad dream and when you do finally awaken, your awash in written threats and creeping deadlines.  You don’t want the IRS crawling up your back.  That’s an unromantic form of first base on the path towards getting fucked in the ass eventually.

Hey, I don’t blame the IRS for my seemingly endless, and ultimately very costly predicament.  I blame myself.  I accept full responsibility.  I freely admit to owing back taxes and very much wanting to pay my government, the devoted Socialist that I am.  We just couldn’t agree precisely on what I owed exactly, and I owed lots of back taxes on what I considered to be reasonable deductions taken years ago when money didn’t seem to be as big a deal that somehow snowballed into a giant shitload of interest and capital penalties and lawyers and paperwork.  Running a gypsy tab with the IRS is sorta’ like hailing that taxi from Manhattan over to New Jersey.  Only after you’ve crossed completely over the George Washington Bridge and approaching the exit ramp leading into Ft. Lee does the scruffy driver inform you abruptly the cab fare is going to be double because he’s driving way over to Jersey and has to get back into the city, all on your dime.  Oh, and you’re responsible for paying all the tolls, too.  That’s what it’s like to owe the IRS money.  Canines dig deep and they won’t let go.

One pitfall of self-employment over so many years — and I’ve been self-employed, a sorta’ free agent officially speaking off and on for precisely 17 out of the last 23 years —  is the maddening maze known as the federal tax code, which some self-claimed faux-billionaires somehow remarkably manage to exploit and not pay any income taxes at all, while working stiffs like the rest of us end up forking over parts of our anatomy to satisfy the 1040 bottom line.  Hell, the new President-Elect of the United States of America paid NO! FUCKING! TAXES! WHATSOEVER! WAKE! THE! FUCK! UP! AND! LET! THAT! SINK! IN! FOR! A! GOD! DAMNED! MINUTE! during the exact same years when the IRS was skip tracing and hunting me down like runaway fugitive, demanding their cut like a rag doll on shakedown.  Meanwhile, the incoming President-Elect brags that he paid NO! INCOME! TAXES! WHATSOEVER! WAKE! THE! FUCK! UP! AND! LET! THAT! SINK! IN! FOR! A! GOD! DAMNED! MINUTE! because — he’s smart.  I suppose that makes me and millions of others leashed to the IRS the dumbest motherfuckers on the planet.

After plowing through about $25,000 in liquid cash that I could barely afford, well couldn’t afford really given that I need fluff my bankroll like a peacock some more for the upcoming football season, and that’s just the legal fees and pencil-pushing accountants who didn’t know my name when I called them on the phone until papers had been shuffled off in the background and my file was located to they could refresh themselves that the client’s name is Nolan and I owed the IRS serious money, as in six figures, plus going to federal court and testifying once to fight the bloodsucking scoundrels who somehow were under the mistaken impression I was rich and hiding liquid assets under the mattress (check out my blog — all the money’s gone!  thank a few bad teaser wheels), I finally spotted my escape from the shackles of a perpetual audit in the form of one final massive lump sum payment to Dirty Uncle Sam, thus ending my decade-long ordeal of worry and misery and uncertainty and dusty unopened IRS envelopes piled high upon the desk laying aside losing sports wagering tickets.

The good news:  My IRS troubles were about to mercifully end.  The bad news:  Just about every dime I made in salary during the 2016 WSOP would go towards paying back taxes, plus the penalties and interest.  I’d be essentially working for nothing.

I reveal such an annoying tale of woe to you because my well-compensated temp position at the World Series of Poker, once again to be held at the glorious Rio All Suites Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in late May through mid-July, would do absolutely nothing to pay the obligation of my monthly expenses.  Like masked moth men with butterfly nets, the government was about to seize it all, and I was all too happy to pay this genuine obligation just to make them go away and leave me the fuck alone.  Such are the twisted joys of working for what amounted to absolutely nothing for seven long weeks.  [Now, many of you know why I didn’t order that second bottle of wine at dinner each night.  One has to control the temptation, except for one night which I’ll write about shortly.]

Between the IRS lurking like vampires in the wings, the 15-hour days and nights spent on the floor at the WSOP, I’d still have to produce something from sports gambling in order to pay my bills.

Oh, and on top of all that, out of the blue, someone claimed I was a pervert.

Under these three ring circus-like conditions, I was to chart the St. Louis Cardinals starting rotation along with 31 other major league teams most days and check the wind direction blowing at the Oakland Coliseum and 16 other parks and stadiums, shop for the best line and total, get down on games, manage my four online betting accounts, and then find some time actually handicap a sport I thoroughly detested.

This was going to be a hot long-ass summer.

***

Edgar Allan Poe, the dead writer, is probably best known for his poem, “The Raven.”

“Quoth the Raven, nevermore.”  It goes something like that.  Hell if I remember exactly.  I think the bird was supposed to be spooky and even creep us out a little.

What most probably don’t know is — the author Poe was a sick gambler and a very bad one at that.  Accordingly to biographers, while he was a freshman at the University of Virginia the maven of melancholy racked up massive gambling debts, on what I don’t know.  I’d be curious to read Poe’s bad beat stories, of they were available, but then again of a black bird could scare the bejesus out of us, imagine how frightening a nightmare roulette session might read .  Once this apparent gambling addiction was discovered, his father became so enraged and got so pissed off at young Edgar that he instantly severed the patriarchal purse strings and refused to give his son any more money for school.  And so, the aspiring writer who was then no more than a lost teen got dealt the worst possible beat imaginable….

….he had to move to Baltimore.

Baltimore’s filled with scum, and the reason for this fact is, the great-great-great grandparents of the present-day scum living in Baltimore weren’t just scummy, but scummier even.  Look at Baltimore now.  What do you see?  Maybe more telling, what do you smell?  Cold acid rain, dank humidity, pockmarked litter-filled streets.  Now, imagine what it was like way back in 1840 before Capital Grille and air conditioning.  Who in the fuck would want to move there or live there?

Well, Edgar Allan Poe ended up in what amounted to the urban colonoscopy of Baltimore City, in part because an editor from a startup magazine nestled in one of those brick row houses of that dreadful place saw raw talent in the aspiring young author and agreed to publish his work for the princely sum of $50 a month, about what I’m pulling in now from my own writing endeavors, so I can empathize.  Hey, Poe — I got your back.  Yet, poor Poe ended up spending the rest of his miserable life in Baltimore, before he mercifully died at age 40.  His lifeless body was reportedly found laying face down in a gutter, which should be a dire red flag to all writers and wanna’ be writers.  If that’s the fate of one of our more talented and successful peers, what sad fate awaits the rest of us?  While living there, he reportedly drank a lot, engaged in the services of prostitutes (on $50 a month!), and did some other pretty lurid stuff which is pretty god damned amazing when you think about having all those vices and living on scraps.  One doesn’t know whether to detest or envy this condition, but at least Poe squeezed some mighty good times out of a meager salary.  However, when one thinks back to the punishment of living in Baltimore, such perversions must be forgiven.  After all, what else is there to do in Baltimore?

I pen this short interlude because there’s a lesson to be told here which should be plainly obvious to my writer brethren who also happen to be pro football fanatics, and students of history of the game.  Think of this:  Had Edgar Allan Poe not been a gambler, the NFL team now calling Baltimore home would instead be known something else, instead of the Ravens.

Baltimoreites and Baltimoreans, all — thank Edgar Allan Poe for being a shitty gambler.

***

Two essential qualities to gambling success are money and confidence — not in that order necessarily.  The requirement for the need for money is obvious.  Without cash, there’s nothing to gain, no risk, no upside.  Cash is oil to the flow of the gambling engine.

Accordingly, confidence is its drive shaft.  A gambler must have confidence, not to be confused with arrogance, in his or her decisions.  Poker players, who know this all too well, must trust their reads.  You inherently know when your opponent is bluffing, so you make the tough call.  It’s almost an instinct.  Advantage players must maintain faith in the card count, the proven long-term percentages which produce something known as “EV” for short, which translates into Expected Value.  In other words, played out a million times hypothetically, what’s the net expectation on such and such wager?  A sports bettor must trust in his information and the knowledge the he’s got the best of it when a ticket it written and bet is confirmed.  Then, once the game starts, a rookie punt returner fumbles the ball and demolishes all that pregame research.  One has to prepare for such crisis, and be willing to accept those events which we cannot foresee, nor control.

The first couple of months of baseball betting gave me enough confidence to continue the exercise.  By end of May, a full ten weeks into wagering daily full-time, I’d stepped up my bets to $200, then later $300 a game.  The training wheels were coming off.  By margins of previous results, betting $300 a game instead of just $100 a game should have netted three times the profit.  Since I made $1,500 profit in April, that meant by summer I should be pulling in $4,500 a month.  When I eventually get to betting $500 a game, that figure becomes $6,000 a month, which is $72,000 a year — in other words, a living.

Sounds too easy.

***

Tilt and temptation are the death ditches of gamblers.

Going “on tilt” means just what it sounds like.  It’s a old poker term, denigrating emotionally unstable players who can’t control themselves after suffering inevitable losses and bad streaks.  So beset they are with inner angst, they then fire outrageous amounts of money at the next betting opportunity chasing losses and hoping to get back to even, something I’ve done once or twice in my betting career.

Temptation can be just as dangerous, which means the inducement to fire far more on a game than one can afford, because the stars and planets and zodiac and talk show prognosticators all line up on the game way too perfectly.  It’s the “can’t lose” game.  The “lock.”

During the second month of betting Major League Baseball, I uncover a previously undiscovered angle that works and so I bet blindly it at every opportunity and this sunken treasure chest puts me about $3,000 to the good in May followed by $3,500 in the black in June.  Three consecutive winning months is certainly sweet, joyous even.  But it’s still a couple of grand short of my monthly nut, and more like $4,000 to $5,000 in added expenses short of what I need for the dinner-laden drink-infused dates on my social calendar for the WSOP which incorporates entertaining media dignitaries and old friends.  Last year, I plowed through $5,500 just on dinners at the WSOP (about 50 of them) with friends and colleagues.  Fortunately, Mark “Pegasus” Smith and Bob Slezak picked up four of the tabs, or I would have been on the hook for nearly another dime.

The bottom line was, even though I was making money, I wasn’t earning enough.  I was still falling way short of what was needed to exist, let alone prosper.  Under the conditions, while the gambling experiment was undoubtedly a success, my financial needs weren’t being met.  My bankroll might as well have been a popsicle, melting away slowing in the desert heat.

There was only one alternative, which was to start betting even higher.  And so, on some spot plays I made two considerably larger wagers, and won both.  Prompted by temptation and fueled by desperation, I wagered about $3,000 (twice) on two perfectly ideal betting situations that appear to already be in the bag.  In the first situation, some pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays is on the mound against a worthless scrub for the other team, is laying about -190, and so I blast away hoping to cream off an easy $1,600 without even so much as breaking a sweat and acting like the game is already final.  While I’m obsessing over this on the night shift at the Rio, a couple of guys are playing for a coveted WSOP gold bracelet and I’m 30 feet away sweating the Blue Jays-Angles game on a laptop and hitting the refresh button on my smartphone every 30 seconds.  My bet wins.  A few days later, I find an similar spot where San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner (I remembered his name) is starting against some unknown mook who might as well have a broken arm wrapped in a cast.  San Francisco breezes effortlessly to an easy 4-0 victory on a masterful two-hitter, and I’m wondering why the fuck I’m wearing a suit and tie when it’s 109 degrees outside and working a job when my gravy train pitchers are making my financial life so damn easy and paying my bills, that is, except for the IRS which is still there with me like a garlic necklace.

Five or six days later, maybe it was a week, the Washington Nationals ace Strasburg takes the hill against some slug of a team, and while I usually hate betting heavy, heavy favorites, there’s some Twitter tweet that comes out that says the Brewers got caught in a rain delay at the Milwaukee airport the night before and sat on the tarmac for three hours before taking off to Washington National and finally arriving red-eyed at 3 am, only to be scheduled for an early day game the following afternoon.  Another $3,000 or so of my betting capital goes in the prohibitively-favored Nationals who then promptly go out and morph into the ’62 Mets.  My anchor Strasburg suffers arm trouble and gets yanked in the top of the first, and suddenly here I am holding the sitting duck of a 3K ticket riding on the arm of some Triple AAA bust out plucked from the bullpen in an unforeseen emergency.  The mediocre Brewers massacre the first-place Nationals and smoke my ticket like pickle ash and so the previous $2,500 roughly that was earned so effortlessly from the Jays and Giants games suddenly get seared like a fuck fillet.

Oh, and someone just won a gold bracelet, which requires me to suck it all up and put on a smiling face, as though I haven’t a care in the world.  This demands segregating thoughts, suppressing emotions, and taking decisive action.  In one room of the cerebral dollhouse of my mind is the lingering outrage of losing a sizable bet because Ryan Zimmerman grounded into a double play with the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth.  Off in another corner of my mind — the written logs of poker narrative.  Time to go congratulate the winner on collecting $700,000 and his glorious first WSOP victory.

***

Naturally-gifted writers are often trapped within the purgatory of what they want to write and what they have to and are paid write, either to pay the monthly bills or not tick off the rest of the world and lose readers.  It’s a perpetual compromise that must be made and a perilous tightrope and no one I know walks it better than Brad Willis, known to many as the longtime blogger for PokerStars.com.

Brad and I go back more than a decade in what I think he’d even reluctantly agree is a sort of isolated chamber of a mutual admiration society.  Yet for all our common ground, both working for PokerStars, writing about the game, sharing frustrations, and working so many tournaments and covering so many stories over the years, it’s astounding that @bradwillis and I have never once sat down face-to-face at dinner.

That would change one rare off night when Brad and I found the time to dine together at the well-reviewed SLS steakhouse, Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres.  Brad generously agrees to front the entire expense, even without the knowledge I’d dropped $3,000 the night before on the Washington Nationals and was in serious danger of suffering my first losing month.  Despite this predicament, I couldn’t hang Brad out to dry for the full amount like that, since this dining experience was destined to be two things — epic and really fucking expensive.

And so, I cut a crafty and in my mind generous deal that I still think is really, really good for me and would still be expensive for Brad.  He’d pick up the dinner tab, and I’d pay for all the drinks.

I didn’t know it then, but another sorta’bad beat was about to come.

I don’t remember the amount of the dinner tab, exactly.  I think the set-course meal was somewhere in the neighborhood of $450, plus the tip, which Brad willingly paid without so much a grumble nor complaint.  I took care of the wine, a rare Gewurztraminer from the Alsace region of France that I’d never tried before which drank marvelously but was rudely contrarian to the customary dining standards of drinking red wine with red meat.  Brad and I didn’t give a fuck.  We ordered what we wanted and plowed through the evening like two sailors enjoying our last meal.

Following this two-hour dinner punctuated with laughs and memories and mutual frustrations and plenty of gossip about some of you now reading this, we agree to have “one more drink” at the SLS bar, which was out in the center of the casino.  Walking that direction, I think we both knew very well this wouldn’t be a “one drink” chat not a one-story encore, more like treking off to a Grateful Dead Concert as an afterthought.  Toss two writers into a blender, pack with ice, hit the whip button, pour into a shot glass, and leave a credit card open for the next round after round and the stories lead from one to another and by the time you’ve looked down at your wristwatch, as I did, it’s 2 am and the bar tab has somehow skyrocketed to more than $400.

Despite the expense, this ends up as my favorite night of the entire 2016 WSOP.  Worth every penny, my only regret is I didn’t take notes because there could have been a scandalous book written that night just from the scribbling.  And so, with that, Brad and I exited the SLS and both have to be back at work at noon the next day.  And I’ve got another fresh slate of baseball games to handicap in the morning.

 

Next:  Gambling for a Living — Part 3 (The Lunacy of Betting $7,000 on a Los Angeles Rams Pre-Season Game) 

 

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Posted by on Jan 18, 2017 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Las Vegas, Personal, Sports Betting, World Series of Poker | 1 comment

Gambling for a Living — Part 1 (How I Got to Now)

 

 

Since March 2016, most of my attention has focused on sports gambling, more precisely beating the books.  This is a detailed retrospective of that emotional and financial (mis)adventure over the past ten months.

 

The decision to gamble for a living wasn’t borne as much out of naivete that I could conquer the odds and beat the Las Vegas sports books at their own game, but rather drifted from a sobering and starkly frightening realization that, for me, at this stage of life, few other alternatives existed.  In the period once crooned by Sinatra as “the September of my years,” I had few cards left to play.

For many years, I’d worked the “house” side of gambling and was quietly content to remain as a well-paid shill.  In plainer words, I crossed the River Rubicon of Risk over to fishing for the sure thing in a barrel a very long time ago.  Playing poker and sports betting became merely peripheral part-time pursuits, jolly distractions even, secondary to the time-clock punching guarantee of a steady paycheck signed by whichever master I was serving — be it now defunct Binion’s Horseshoe, the World Series of Poker, PokerStars, Poker Night in America, or any of several other gambling giants and entities which for whatever reason thought my rare talents were worthy of generously steady compensation.  Winning and losing a football bet over the weekend might have indeed determined if I’d be tilting Gevrey Chambertin or Gnarly Head toward my lips the following week, but I’d still drink my wine, bad beats be damned.  With rare exceptions, like when I blasted off the princely sum of $39,000 on the disastrous 2008 Super Bowl game, gambling outcomes and even the grind of being in action almost every single day rarely impacted my financial bottom line or altered my lifestyle.  The mortgage got paid — sometimes even on time.  Gambling outcomes rarely affected my psyche, except when I lost.

All that was about to change — in a big way.

***

Hunter S. Thompson, the dead writer, was a sports fanatic and passionate gambler.  He once wrote he hated the Dallas Cowboys so much that he unfailingly bet against them every single week for a whole couple of seasons.  That wasn’t a very smart thing to do in the 1970’s, which were glory years for Tom Landry and Roger Staubach.  So, famished and eventually flummoxed, Hunter flip-flopped over the dark side of the silver star, started betting with his head over his heart, and ended up loving the devil Cowboys — but only when they covered.

I’m not sure why, but most writers seem to think we have all the answers to everything and can figure out anything, from solving the world’s problems, to how to profitably handicap a professional football game.  Between snorting fat lines of coke, guzzling fifths of Chivas Regal, and popping enough quaaludes to fell an wild elephant, beastly Hunter even quasi-authored a rather shitty book on the subject if I do say so myself, a rambling collection of sometimes incomprehensible essays, really, a maniacal bitch fest about the crookedness of the NFL, the hypocritical league, the ghastly owners, and effervescent frustration with his inability to pick steady football winners, despite being smarter and more ballsy than just about anyone else on the planet.

I feel Hunter’s pain.  Pass the Chivas.

***

I can’t explain why I picked baseball, really.  When it comes to gambling on ball games, “biesball has not been bery, bery good to me.”  Frankly, I don’t even like the fucking game.  I don’t watch it.  I won’t watch it.  I refuse to watch it.  I don’t enjoy it, even on the startling occasion when I manage to pick a winner.  I spent Game 7, yes that game 7 with the Cubs beating some underdog team from the American League, of last years riveting World Series of Baseball championship dining in my favorite restaurant, where I received impeccable service since the joint was empty.  I hold no rooting interests, other than cheering for whichever team happens to be playing versus the evil Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, or Dodgers.  When the Yankees play the Red Sox I root for rain, or a stadium collapse.  That’s the extent of my interest in major league baseball.  Give me a rain out in Boston, a stadium collapse in New York, and a winning day betting baseball elsewhere, and I’m bouncing off the wall in ecstasy.

But for the next four months, at least, that late spring to midsummer lull when all the sports that really matter are on break, baseball was going to be my total focus and (help to) pay my bills.  And falling short of that lofty ambition, if I lost money betting on baseball, why then I’d hate it even more so than before.  So, this was a sort of sadistic win-win for me.  Baseball was like the homely girl everyone avoided in high school.  I wasn’t just asking her out to the prom.  I was proposing to go steady.  But I wanted no piece of her.

***

Two prior periods of my long life shoved me into the wolf’s den of full-time gambling and both were spin-offs of unemployment and laziness, in roughly equal parts, with a slight lean in percentage toward being lazy.

Thirty years ago, fresh out of university with a worthless college degree that fortunately didn’t leave me bankrupt because I attended a state school (thanks, Socialism), playing underground poker six days and nights a week became not so much a passion as a reaction to the blunt realities of the times and the accidental trips and falls of aimlessness.  It wasn’t that I was a good poker player.  No, not at all.  But unlike those around me, burned out lives stoked with dangling cigarettes from their mouths,who had never even heard the name David Sklansky nor had read Mike Caro’s groundbreaking Hold’em Report which first came out around that time, I read their ideas and studied and digested every word.  Lucky for me, my opponents in those bottom-feeder low-stakes games were so horrifically awful that just about anyone who was patient and knew hand rankings could grind out just enough to stay ahead of the bill collectors, even without an answering machine screening the calls.  Despite steady losses, still they could always afford cigarettes and another buy in.  I never did figure out where they got their money.

I never beat those games big.  But, I beat them for enough.  Just enough to get by.  And that’s really saying something.

Still, none of this skip down memory lane mattered now, not now in March 2016 with a much bigger monthly financial nut to crack and a different kind of poker game that might as well be speed chess to checkers in a nursing home.  Beating poker a couple years back in the ancient ’80’s and trying to compete today were disparate pursuits.  One simply had nothing to do with the other.  Even a few years later, starting in 1993, when poker was legalized at casinos in New Jersey, I played Atlantic City’s juice fest on weekends for nearly a decade during the fasten-your-seat belt 90’s, a winning pedigree back then is meaningless now.  The games and its players are just way too different, certainly much better, today than back then.  Besides, who wants to spend 60 hours a week trapped inside a poker room hunched over a table in backbreaking convention-style metal chairs?  Even if I could beat the game, and that’s a big if, I don’t even think I’d want to try.  Life’s too short to return to the assembly line.

That pretty much left me with just one option to make a living — sports betting.  Yes, there was a time, 17 years ago, when I lost my job and then spent two whole years without a steady paycheck.  That’s when I first moved out to Las Vegas to bet sports.  And the rest, as they say, is history.  Things didn’t exactly go according to plan, of course, but I have no complaints.

None of this matters now.  I bring up past gambling experience not to establish street cred, which I may or may not have, but as veritable evidence that I was acutely aware of the weight of my challenge ahead.  Winning consistently at something that was difficult to beat two decades ago doesn’t translate into the modern era.  Moreover, now that I need to make even more money than way back then, the task was even more perilous.  It’s one thing to win at gambling when you’re single living in a $600-a-month apartment back in the 1980’s and walking around with more money in your pocket than your car’s worth.  It’s quite different with a family and a mortgage and a health insurance premium due each month, and nothing to fall back on when the inevitable cold streak rears its ugly head and breaths dragon fire.

***

The image of the professional gambler is just about total bullshit.

Gambling for a living isn’t glamorous.  It’s not even fun, not most of the time.  Hell, it’s hardly the least bit interesting after you’ve done it for a while.  The routine becomes a grind.  A bore.  Wins, when they happen, bring no genuine joy because every gambler, even very successful gamblers who do this over many years, know the gremlin of a cold streak is just around the next corner, ready to pounce and mind fuck your head and strip you of your bankroll like a thief lurking in a back alley.

But the biggest misnomer of all about successful gambling are the betting amounts attached to what defines being a winner.  Non-gamblers often mistakenly believe gambling requires big bets and vast sums of money.  To the contrary, the majority of people I know who gamble for a living, especially over very long periods of time, earn what would be considered very average incomes.  Earning $60,000 a year at the poker table or even half that betting on sports is nothing to sneeze out.  Even modest returns place the rare winner into an elite top few percent.  While the tales of nosebleed poker games happening in big casinos might capture the public’s attention, the far more steady performers are those remarkably talented and disciplined individuals who quietly grind out a living day in and day out for years, and decades.  That’s professional gambling.  That’s the majority of successful gamblers.

Golfer great Lee Trevino said it best.  About gambling, he said, “pressure isn’t measured in dollar amounts, it’s betting $10 on a match when you only have $5 in your pocket — now, that’s pressure.”  Accordingly, I never quite got the fascination with high-stakes poker games or tournaments filled with billionaire businessmen or sponsored poker pros.  So, one mega-rich guy beats another mega-rich out of a million dollar pot?  Who cares?  I want to watch the game where the loser can’t afford to eat the next week and has to go live under a bridge.  Now, that’s exciting.

While I doubt I’ll end up under any expressway if I lose, indeed, if I do lose — the bills don’t get paid.  Bill collectors call.  When you lose, especially when you lose a lot, the world pretty much sucks.  Everything about the world just flat out stinks.  While it might have been more fun, relaxing even, firing $39,000 on a Super Bowl game when I had $50,000 in stray chips parked inside a drawer somewhere in the house and bet $1,000 on halftimes for shits and giggles, the thought of betting ball games with my case money is far more riveting, and excruciating.

That’s pressure.

***

Early season Major League Baseball starts out well.

I make absolutely no claims to having any expertise on this subject.  But I do understand contrarianism and the very crucial concept of mean regression.  I’ll avoid a lengthy tutorial on early season baseball betting because you just want to enjoy my aches and pains, although I’ve penned plenty of research in the topic.  However, let’s just say there’s some value in fading last year’s win-loss results, betting against the so-called “hot” pitchers, and wagering against popular public teams expected to perform well in the regular season.  I’ll leave it at that, unless someone wants to stake me in the upcoming baseball season.  They, you get all my secrets for free.  E-mail me offline for details.

Betting no more than $100 a game, that’s right, a hundred measly bucks, but often betting 8-10 games a day, I manage to run my account up $1,500 to the good during the first month of my new full-time career as a professional sports bettor.  No worries that I’ve fallen about $4,000 short of what I need to cut it each month, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 to 6 K.  But, I can honestly report that sports gambling moved me closer to my goal than I would have been otherwise had I just sat around and typed blog posts and bitched about Donald Trump’s alarming rise on the polls.  Besides, beating sports comes as a nice diversion from the looming reality that the end of Western Civilization may be near.

It remains to be seen if this gambling thing will continue to work out.  But my modest ambition was a success, so far.  That said, I’ll have to step up the size of my bets at some point if I really intend to make a living at this.  in the meantime, just avoid the gremlin.

 

Coming Next:  Gambling for a Living — Part 2 (Not Just Another WSOP)

 

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Posted by on Jul 2, 2016 in Blog, Essays, World Series of Poker | 3 comments

Who Stole My Mike Sexton Book?

 

Screenshot 2016-07-02 at 10.19.45 AM

Photo taken last week which shows the Mike Sexton book before it was stolen

 

Mike Sexton should be proud.

Someone ripped off the new book Sexton personally gave to me, right off my desk, out in the open, at the Rio in Las Vegas.

Someone out there is a thief!

The backstory goes like this:  I’m at the Rio working the 2016 World Series of Poker for 51-straight days and nights.  Since I’m toiling away inside a casino, just about every square inch of the property is covered by the watchful eye of surveillance cameras.  It’s almost impossible for someone to steal something and it not be recorded on video.

For this reason, I often leave my humble possessions completely out in the open, in clear public view.  I realize there are some risks at doing this, since not everyone who walks through a casino is honest.  I know — such a pessimistic outlook on humanity.  However, it’s way too much trouble to lock away everything at my desk each and every time I have to leave the room for whatever reason.  So, I leave most of my things at the desk which no one seems to bother with.

Until yesterday.

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Posted by on Jun 10, 2016 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, World Series of Poker | 2 comments

Why I’m Cheering for Ron Elkins at the 2016 WSOP

 

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All friendships begin among strangers.

Just moments ago, a stranger came up to me at the Rio, here at the 2016 World Series of Poker.  He said some nice things and after exchanging a few pleasantries, I assumed the short conversation had run its course.

Then, right as he was about to leave, he pulled a small piece of paper out of his pocket and showed me something that I found quite inspiring.  The man’s name is Ron Elkins.

Now before going much further with the story, let me make it clear that I have no aspirations of winning a bundle of money at the WSOP.  I work on the house side.  So, I have to live my dreams vicariously through others.  Yes, I’m impartial in my writings and coverage.  But like anyone, I also cheer for my friends and the people I like.

Ron showed me a piece of paper, perhaps 2 inches by 3 inches.  What captured my attention were the words written on the back side of a worn out business card.

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