Monday, January 31, 2005

Chapter 10: Closing Thoughts on Vegas
"Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us." - Jerry Garcia
Some of you don't know the story of why I am here posting about poker, mainly because I never really spoke about a certain in event in my life that really fucked me up for a while. I know what you are thinking, "Pauly, man, you were always fucked up." There's a modicum of truth to that. But something happened to me that sent me spiraling out of control. Everyone knows that story about how my friends started a mutiny on my main blog and demanded that I pull all my poker content off... and that's how I started this blog. It's in my "Who am I?" section.

The real question is... why did I begin posting a lot of poker on my main blog? Therein lies the tragedy only reserved for the third act of a Shakespeare play or for a depressing Raymond Carver short story.

The summer of 2003 was one of the hardest periods of my life. What happened is a story that I rather not share in my blog. Suffice to say, the event set me on tilt. I was directionless. I was doomed. I did what I could to numb the pain and avoided and alienated my friends who were trying their best to be a supportive group. I distanced myself from everyone in my life because I was withering in deep pain and didn't think I was going to make it. I did what I could just to make it through each long day. I found myself sleeping only a few hours a night. I couldn't write. I numbed myself with drugs, sex, and rock and roll. I traveled. I spent all the money I earned at JP Morgan and ran up my credit cards. And I drank alot. Too much. I started drinking at weird hours and found a bar that opened up at 8:30am. That's how I first met Briana. She was the only other person I knew in NYC that wouldn't frown upon me knocking back cold ones at 10am. In fact, she was the only person I knew who had the time to drink in the mornings with me.

At the time, my friend Haley told me that drinking in bars at 10am for the rest of my life wasn't the answer and I dunno why I hopped on a bus to Foxwoods, but I did. And I kept doing that. And yeah, poker pulled me out of the abyss that I had started to slide down. The poker world was a place where no one knew my name and I could escape and live in the moment... pain free. The other cool thing about Foxwoods was that one of my best friends lived less than a hour away in Rhode Island. I never got to see him anymore, and Foxwoods was the place for us to meet. Seeing my friend Senor every once in a while meant a lot to me. And the poker room at Foxwoods was our place to hang out. Eventually, I found myself writing again, especially about poker. I found myself reading poker books. I found a way out.

I posted a few blog entries that August to the Tao of Poker and figured only two or three of my friends read it. Little did I know Iggy and a few others were lurking in the shadows reading my Foxwoods stories. By the time October rolled around I was feeling a little bit better. I was far from normal but no longer living each moment on the razor's edge. I decided to postpone blogging until I wrote another novel. In November of 2003, I completed The Blind Kangaroo and it might be one of my best pieces of work.

I never looked back after that.

When I returned to playing poker and blogging, I discovered a bunch of new poker blogs. I had no clue other people wrote about poker. All I read was RGP from time to time and that group sucked. Ironically, the five or six blogs I found... all of them had me linked up!! Iggy sent me an email and I started reading his blog along with Decker, Felicia, HDouble, and Liquid Swords. That's how it all began. Soon I discovered five or six more and it kept on growing.

As I became friends with some of my fellow bloggers I always felt I should have told them why I really started playing poker again and why I was writing about poker. I will someday, but that's saved for a private conversation.

It was a freak accident that all this happened.... from me still being alive and not drinking myself to the gutter, to starting this blog, to discovering other bloggers, to developing friendships, becoming a part of a cool community, and then celebrating it all in Las Vegas... it's absurd to think that my life as I know it today... might never had come to fruition if certain tragic events had not happened.

I lost touch with me for a while. And when I least expected it, I rediscovered myself and found a dozen new friends along the way.

So, forward to December 2004. I was sitting at a poker table with Derek, Iggy, and HDouble. I told myself that there was not a place I'd rather be than sitting in Vegas with three of my favorite people. I was content. I was happy. I had not felt like that in a very long time.

When I looked around the poker room at Sam's Town a few minutes before the WPBT Holiday Classic and saw a gaggle of bloggers from all over the country and blogosphere, I had a very profound and humbling moment. That's when I realized the tremendous ripple effect of events in my life. Do I believe in ghosts or angels? Sometimes. Maybe there is something to be said about divine intervention, but for some reason the tragic events in my life did happen. I reacted the way I did. And the path I took to heal myself eventually led me to the poker room at Sam's Town.

Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter said it best.... what a long, strange trip it's been.

I needed to take a few days off to mentally prepare myself to write this post. I guess that's the real reason that it took me until January 31st to complete my Vegas trip reports. I was afraid of writing this post because I knew that the emotions involved would take me back to a very dark place. I had to address my past and how it related to the significance of the Vegas trip with my brother and all the bloggers. I postponed this post as long as I could. I didn't share this horrible part of my life with you to illicit sympathy. I felt strongly that I had to voice my true feelings on Vegas and I couldn't leave out how far I really have come from the Summer of 2003 to today.

Maybe you'll now understand why it was tough for me to cut back on reading every poker blog. I feel that I owe this community so much... but I also feel conflicted. I've gotten my life back on track and need to focus on rebuilding alot of old friendships that I destroyed during my down cycle and I have a thirst to write about topics outside of poker, which I have to do.

Poker saved my life, brought me closer to my brother, and poker bloggers (and readers) helped save my sanity and inspired me to keep writing. For that I never know how to thank you other than to keep on writing for you.

Let's move on now.

Here's the best of the best, some of my favorite passages and quotes from the trip...

HDouble on hanging out in Vegas with the bloggers:
The thing that impressed me the most about the bloggers was their level of intelligence and friendliness.
Iggy wrote something nice about me:
I shower and head straight for the bar. Only one thing is gonna cure what ails me: booze and lots of it. After praying with Saint Hair of the Dog for a bit, I snack on some olives for breakfast before finally hitting the card room and sitting with Pauly and Derek. Had a damn good time hanging with these two, not only here, but all weekend. Pauly's blog doesn't do him justice, believe me, you've got to hang with The Good Doctor to get a full sense of his huge, gregarious personality. You can't make a guy like Pauly up.

Holding court at the Sherwood Forrest bar

Derek's take on the food at Sam's Town:
The big question of the day is . . . what kind of food did I eat at the breakfast? Since I was a little drunk, I definitely needed some food in my belly before the tourney started. I ate 7 bagels (yes, 7). I drank 10 glasses of water and ate the world's greatest muffin. That muffin must've had some crack in it because it tasted so good that I ate two. And to think, earlier in the morning, I turned down an opportunity to share one of these muffins with EvaCanHang. What was I thinking?
The Poker Prof on us being late to the Meet & Greet at Sam's Town:
Then, about five minutes later while pacing in the hall like a patient waiting for the results of a tumor biopsy, I hear a commotion from around the corner… either a pack of bloodthirsty Huns from a Credit Card commercial were decending upon the Casino or the bloggers had arrived. Leading the pack was none other than Pauly with about two dozen Internet scribes in tow.
Asphnxma from Riding the F Train enjoyed the Meet & Greet:
What a stellar line-up! In no particular order: Charlie Shoten, Ron Rose (who provided free copies of his coffee table book Poker Aces to all bloggers), Marcel Luske, Kiril whatshisname, Tom McEvoy, and Eveyln Ng. Wow. I was privileged to have some one-on-one time with both Charlie and Ron, and I can confirm that they are very nice guys indeed!
BG wrote about meeting Iggy for the first time:
That Don Swayze staring dude came rolling over. "Hi, you must be BG. I'm Casey, from the 'Can't Hang Crew.'" Now, far be it from me to know who was in and who was out from the Can't Hang Crew. I didn’t meet a "Casey" in Philly, but whatever. I didn't remember meeting Phil out there either. I gave him a quick hello and turned back to Hank. "Casey" tapped me on the shoulder, and let me in on the joke. "Naw BG, I'm Iggy."

No shit! "Aw yeah, I’m seeing it now… The 'skinny Travis Tritt!'" Iggy had described himself as such previously, but he should give himself a little more credit than that. Tritt's losing the hairline rapidly, while Iggy's got a little more going on up top.

"Did you see me staring at you?" I lied. I told him no. I mean, I guess I really didn't technically staring at me, but trust me, I knew from where my earlier discomfort had arisen. Whatever though, I think I would have been disappointed had I met Iggy and he had not tried to dick with me somehow. Regardless, now that Iggy and Hank were in the fold, and knowing that I was going to meet Grubs on Saturday, my blogger meet-up wishlist was nearly complete.
Bad Blood wrote about a few vicious bad beats he took at the Mandalay Bay:
I had to let it go, and I eventually did. I told myself I'd somehow turn these bad beats into something positive. It took a while but I think I did.

Initially, I lamented the fact that every time I played above my normal limits and "took a chance," I seemed to fail. This was no exception. There are those players who take the chance, hit it big, and never look back. For whatever reason, not me. Upon further thought, I realized I played those hands about as good as anyone could. I had all my money in the pot when I was a 93% and a 95% favorite. What more could you ask for really? Losing the hands was just a formality, an occurance out of my control.

As absurd as it may sound, I took home from Vegas a greater confidence in my play. I was making good reads and good bets, and that's all you can really do at the tables.
Bill spoke about crushing the $2-6 tables at Excalibur.
Once he left I started accumulating chips fairly rapidly and went from a one rack buy-in to 3 full racks fairly quickly. But that was it. At some point I decided it was almost unfair that the games were this soft so I decided to handicap myself by getting good and drunk. I couldn’t win any more after that but I wasn’t loosing either so I ended up sticking around until 7:30am and was at the same three racks I had been at, at around 2am.
Glenn had a funny paragraph about playing Omaha 8 with Al Cant Hang and the gang:
At the start of the game, one lady had sat down, I think realized she was in the wrong game, and left. Another lady filled this empty seat, but this one got us going. During this point in time, we were expecting Maudie at any moment. Felicia remarked that the new arrival could fit the description we had for her and wouldn't it be funny if that was Maudie pulling a fast one on us; just sitting down at our game without introducing herself. Well, she neither said, "yes, I'm Maudie", nor, "no, I'm not, now shut up about it"--grin--but we did have a good laugh with her... While at the table, Al was downing SoCo shots. Once, upon getting a refill, set it down on the table that was sitting between him and the lady. All of a sudden the lady starts turning purple, exclaiming that she was sorry but she just drank Al's drink accidentally; all the while fanning herself after the unexpected hot liquor was coarsing down her throat! She laughed along with us and Al gave her the rest of his water, "don't worry about it, here, drink this."
Felicia wrote about the infamous hand between me and Max Pescatori in the tournament:
Pauly agonized and looked like he was giving birth. Finally, though, he folded, face up. Pocket tens. Everyone gasped. He was HU against Max, with a premium hand. No, no, no. He had only about 1200 left after limping in. The blinds were 100/200. No, no, no. I told him why he couldn't fold that hand, in that position, under those circumstances. At first, Max kidded him by saying it was a good fold, but later told him the truth of the situation. Don't make big laydowns in little tournaments, and if you ever make a big lay down, period, never show it, or the table will run you over. Max showed AK.

Okay, so the funny story was that after this hand, Pauly went on his premium run. During this run, Max looked at me like he was really suffering and said, "Couldn't you have waited to tell him he was supposed to call with those tens? Waited until after the tournament?" Naturally we both saw the hands Pauly was getting, because he always got action, due to the structure of the tourney. At the time, it was a really funny comment, though, and I wish it translated better to paper.

Felicia and Al before he lost to my AA.

And I loved it when CJ cracked Otis' Hammer! He wrote:
I'm dealt two black 6's and Otis raises in front of me. I call, hoping to catch a 6 on the flop. It didn't come, but it wasn't the worst flop ever: 2-3-5, all clubs. Otis checks, I bet out $6 and I believe Otis raised me. I was worried about a flush, but had to call. The turn was the 4 of clubs. Jackpot. I've never had a straight flush at a B&M table before, but I think I hid it well. I was really hoping Otis didn't have the ace of clubs. That would be a hellish beat. He checked and I bet out.

"I can't call you," Otis told me. I said he could and that I wouldn't bet anymore. He paused, and then sheepishly turned over the Poker Bloggers favorite hand, the HAMMER. That's right, I cracked his HAMMER with a straight flush.

When I turned over my 6, the table erupted. It also meant I got to spin the Excalibur's money wheel that brought me an extra 20 dollars (and a really awful baseball cap).

Napping at the table, again?

Otis describes the early Saturday morning fesitives:
Mrs. Can't Hang downed a shot of 7:30am tequila and played video poker. I counted the hours of sleep I would get if I went to bed at that very moment. At some point, someone there (I know who it is, but I won't say. He/She can cop to it if they want) said the funniest thing I'd heard in hours.

"This is surreal. I'm sitting at a bar at 7:30 in the morning with Patrick Swayze and Tony Siragusa."

I digested that and expressed my thanks for the summation of the morning.

At 8am, just two hours before the meet and greet at Sam's Town was supposed to begin, I quietly slipped away from the growing group and rode the elvators to the tenth floor of the hotel. I found a smelly room, full of people, and no bed space available. I collapsed on the floor and wondered if I would wake up in time for the tournament.
And this has to be the funniest blogger-calling-his-wife conversation of the trip from G-Rob:
Wife of G-Rob : So, how much did you lose?

G-Rob : Some

Wife of G-Rob : Did you play badly?

G-Rob : Not at all. I dropped the hammer in a tournament.

Wife of G-Rob : Is that good?

G-Rob : No. Its the worst hand in poker. But let's see if we can buy our groceries with pride.
And then there's Al Cant Hang living the celebrity life:
As we pull up to Sam's Town in this monstrosity (which had to do something like a 7 point turn just to get IN the driveway), the speakers ramming, there are a bunch of younger kids standing in or near the cab stand. Everyone exits the limo via the right door and I'm waiting for everyone to unload. Just as the last of the passengers are disembarking, the kids run over and open the left hand door.

"Is there anyone famous in here!"

There I am. On my knees, trying to slide over to get out of this beast. I turned to them, surely looking rather disheveled. I DO have a lot of hair and I WAS hanging out of a limo.

"Yeah, how you doin' kids. My name's Al. I'm the lead singer of the Al Can't Hang Experiment. You wanna autograph?"

At that point I pull out my trusty notepad and pen (which have barely been used for NOTES) and started signing AlCan'tHang. I wrote out four of the them and then apologized.

"Sorry kids, but I've really gotta go. There are some important people upstairs waiting for me."

The Al Cant Hang Experience

Maudie summed up her trip with a few afterthougts:
My 40 hours in Vegas exceeded all expectations and all fears were quashed immediately upon that first 'Hello...' Someone wrote - and forgive me for not remembering which one of my brethren bloggers wrote it - "It was like meeting your best friends for the first time."

Figuratively - and not so figuratively - speaking, I had roughly 30 pairs of arms reach out to me a gather me into this unique community of people, who hail from such diverse backgrounds and super-glued together by a shared passion for a little card game. A little card game.

I was overwhelmed at the unbridled acceptance of one who dwells outside their generational sphere. As a theatre person, generational differences go unnoticed so it's something I take for granted within that social sphere, but not something I expect outside of it. I felt at home.

My only regret was that I didn't have more time. There were so many conversations I wanted to have - and maybe even a shot of Tequila or two with the CANHang posse.

Pauly was gracious and let me virtually stick to him like glue. Iggy - we have several 'til dawn conversations ahead of us - and Confederacy of the Dunces will be on my bookshelf soon. CJ - what a treat our 2 mile stroll down the strip was, poker celebrities and all...oh, dear godfrey, I could go on and on...

This was the first. There will never be another first. We we always remember our first...

Maudie grabs a handful.

-EV had me chuckle with his take on Sam's Town:
We meander down to the poker room, which consisted of about 12 tables and was mostly populated by locals, cowboys, and really, really old people when we walked in as a group. I heard more than one of the players seated in the cash games grumble about "internet journal posters or some kind of bastards" as we entered. If only they knew that we had hijacked "their" game and taken it to new, amazing heights, across borders, and so on. But they were clueless, and probably pissing away their Social Security checks on a Saturday afternoon.
Bob wrote up a bit on the blogger craps table:
Hank wanders over and we get to talking about craps. I figure this trip should be the trip I learn how to play. Hell, it was probably my subconcious remembering the stories of the last time Hank and Iggy played craps in Vegas that made me want to so bad.

Hank was cool, he explained how to bet, when to bet, and more importantly, when to press!

Before long I was doing pretty good. I had a few good rolls of the dice, and all of a sudden we have visitors. BG, Al, Big Mike, and Tony all roll up to the table. I think Hank and Tony are the only ones who know what they are doing, although I'm learning quick. Well on my way towards hammered, I begin to get a little slap happy. Instead of just asking Kenneth to press my bet, I start semi-yelling "Press it KennNETH!"

You can't just ask him to press it, you see. You need to sort of yell it, and the inflection has to be correct. You need to start Kenneth out low and soft, and then roll the volume up as you get to the end. Otherwise the press wouldn't work, or so I was thinking.

Chatting, yelling for points, screaming Press it KennNETH, and boozing was too much fun to put into words. I can't do it justice. Even though I lost money doing it, I couldn't stop thinking about craps with the bloggers the rest of the weekend.
Grubby and HDouble were even gambling on kids playing video games! Grubby wrote:
I looked past HD and threw envy at two young'uns playing Dance Dance Revolution because ol' grubby has neither the coordination nor the trendy shoes to try jumping around on a platform set to music and lighted footprints.

But that didn't stop me from wagering.

We each picked a guy (my guy's name was Jess) and bought them into the next game. Our bet was $20.

It was quickly clear that this was not my guy's night. He had sat out the earlier round, and I thought perhaps he would have more energy. But as hdouble pointed out, his guy was warmed up. I was hoping to get the girl who was really good and on par with hdouble's guy, but she opted out probably because she didn't believe in gambling. She'll never make it in Vegas.

I sweated Jess and yelled encouragements at him. When that didn't work, I played dirty and tried to distract the other guy by yelling, "Hey there's Britney Spears" and "Your shoelace is untied." I even offered a $10 bribe to the other guy if he'd accidentally "fall."

Despite the winner having the most accumulated points, hdouble gave me a break when his guy won the first round and Jess squeaked a win on the second: whoever won the third round would win the prop bet.

It was neck-and-neck for maybe the first 10 seconds, then hdouble's guy catapulted into the lead by at least triple, and Jess choked.

I doubt he'll return to the Dance Dance Revolution courts anytime soon, as Jess hung his head in shame on the inside and appeared sportsmanlike on the outside. I know a bit about the pain in facing your friends after a failed DDR round.

I gave $20 to hdouble, who then tipped his guy and ran off with the rest of my money before I could ask for double or nothing.
Mas had some thoughts on the Meet & Greet with some professionals:
And I have to admit - I was a bit star-struck. I mean - poker pros are normal people - but to an avid player like myself (and other bloggers) who religiously watches any and all poker on TV they can find - these guys are my heroes.

I don't think I can express how tongue-tied and awed I was with being able to shake hands and have conversations with them about poker.

In a word: awesome.
Martin had a funny bit about playing Pai Gow with Otis:
Otis, after bestowing the mocking monkier on me, decided that what I needed was to play a little Pai Gow poker. This is a game for idiots. Seven cards are delt to you and you basically make two hands out of them. If you are too drunk, or just too stupid to do this, the dealer will play the hand for you. Like I said: a game for idiots. I settled in with about $80 in chips and promptly ordered a jack and coke. The drink service at the Luxor (Otis had decided that a change of scenery would do us some good) was fast, and before I knew it, I'd lost about $30 in chips but consumed about four rounds of sweet booze filled cola. There was a really weird guy at the table with rancid breath and Otis and I decided it was time to bolt.
Brian seemed a little overwhelmed at the tournament:
I shall say this, however - I was sitting at a table with two poker professionals and people who made my six months' experience look like about six hours. My only goal was not to go out first, which I made. And it was a piss poor way to play a tournament.

If you're going to play in a poker tournament, it's easy to play not to lose. And I can safely guarantee you will not win. You need to be willing to take chances and go balls out to take down pots. I know I didn't do this, and I bounced early. To be fair, I hadn't eaten in about 18 hours and was still nicely hung over.

I'll also say this: everyone at the tournament was very friendly and made me feel very welcome, which I greatly appreciate.
Linda wrote up a funny moment during the Meet & Greet:
A few people came to say hello to us "bloggers" and then were off to the tournament at Bellagio. Marcel Luske, Kirill Gerasimov, Evelyn Ng, and Ron Rose.

Ron Rose arrived about the same time I did. He brought each of us bloggers one of his books. I still find myself laughing over the following incident. Felicia Lee made a comment that went something like this, with the queries by Ron. She didn't like his book - why? - because of some of the players that were in it - like who? - John Bonetti.

Ron opened the book to a certain page, ripped the page out, went to another page and ripped it out. He then folded the pages in half and then ripped them in half and pushed her the book with something like, "I aim to please."

I'm still laughing over it. It was funny as hell then and maybe more so now. He did it so smoothly and with a straight face. It looked like he'd rehearsed it but I think it was all spur of the moment.
And of course even Daddy had a few things to say about the trip:
Every time I go to Vegas I get shitfaced, act like an idiot, and then come home and tell everyone who wasn't there all about it. I don't see why this time should be any different. I went to play poker with some like-minded individuals, place a few bets, drink a few coldies, and destroy a few buffets.

Those were my expectations. Needless to say they were blown completely out of the fucking water. Although I can't recollect precisely what happened at certain times with certain individuals, I do know that I'll never forget last weekend...

Daddy and Derek

Lastly, I'll leave you with my favorite bit from my Vegas trip reports:
At some point, just when I thought I had seen it all... the monkey on the dog was shown on the big screen. Yeah, ESPN2 had full rodeo coverage all weekend long and that was the main attraction on the big screen in the poker room. When they unleashed the monkey, the entire crowd began hootin' and hollerin'. It reminded me of the insanity on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. It was one of those bizarre scenes that you completely miss the context of while reading my report in your cubicle at work. But trust me, if you were shitfaced at 4am, floating around in a sea of loose cowboys at a poker room in Las Vegas and you saw two hundred and fifty people cheering for a monkey dressed up like a cowboy on a Collie... then maybe you too would start to think that time travel is probable, peace in the Middle East is possible and that I'm 100% pretty sure I'll catch my next gutshot draw, even if it is a one outer.

Certain moments in your life define your existence. That was one of them... a monkey in a cowboy outfit riding a dog.

That was also the only other sentence I had scribbled in my notes. So the next time someone corners me at one of those dreadful New York cocktail parties and asks me if I believe in God, I can honestly say, "I do believe that monkeys can ride dogs. I've seen it in Vegas."
Final Thanks

Again, thanks to Dick, Sam's Town, Jeff and Check n Raise, All N Poker, and of course the Poker Prof and his dad for all their help with the first event. And thanks to all the cowboys who dumped their money to the bloggers over the weekend. That was pretty cool. And lastly, thanks to all the bloggers who took a leap of faith with me and did what they could to make the trip.

Thanks to EvaCanHang for taking and sharing the pics that appear in this post.

There are certain points in your life when you look back and say, "That moment changed everything."

Vegas was one of those high water marks.

The reason I've written over 21,000 words on this trip is simple. Vegas with the bloggers was one of my five favorite trips all time and I've been overflowing with inspiration since then. And I'm someone who's lived life and cricled the globe. I've traveled to a lot of places, seen a lot of different faces, and certainly done my share of wallowing in the hedonistic rock star lifestyle.

You have to believe me when I tell you the trip was extraordinary...

not because of the poker...
not because of the partying...
not because of the poker pros...
not because of Vegas...

the trip was amazing but because of the people involved.

I'm forged some new friendships, strengthened old ones, and bonded with a group of people whom I am proud to call my friends. I'm not exaggerarting when I say that the poker blogging community (not just those who were in Las Vegas)... saved my life in more ways than you'll ever know. Thanks again.

And here are the ones I have already posted:

Chapter 1: Day 1, Part I
Chapter 2: Day 1, Part II
Chapter 3: Day 2, Part I
Chapter 4: Day 2, Part II... WPBT Holiday Classic
Chapter 5: Day 2, Part III
Chapter 6: Day 3, Part I
Chapter 7: Day 3, Part II
Chapter 8: Day 4, Part I
Chapter 9: Day 4, Part II

Derek posted some of his trip reports. Check those out.
And the seriatim of Vegas reports have come to a close. Thanks for reading.

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