Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Las Vegas Circa 1962

Thanks to the gang at LasVegasVegas for pointing out this video of Las Vegas recorded almost 50 years ago. Sin City sure had changed since then...

Las Vegas 1962 from Jeff Altman on Vimeo.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Degen Market

By Pauly
San Francisco, CA

A slanted photo of a bloody Al Pacino in his role of Tony Montana from Scarface hung high up on the wall above the check-out counter. The weathered photo sat inside a plastic cover, like one you'd use to protect a comic book. Pacino, adorned in a pinstripe suit, held a machine gun in his right hand.

The photo is hung so high up on the wall, it's almost at the ceiling. Pacino hovers over the top shelf, where the "expensive" booze was stored -- mostly a couple of dusty bottles of Patron and one bottle of Johnnie Walker Red. I couldn't figure out if the photo was an homage to the owner's favorite fictional character, or if he left it there as a message to would-be robbers. Maybe he was bragging about being a fourth-rate drug dealer? After all,no one believed he was actually paying rent on a corner store in Pacific Heights by inflating the price of cigarettes and selling cheap wine that might cause unexplained bouts of blindness. The owner had to be doing something shady -- either laundering money for a criminal enterprise like an off-shore online casino or using the store as a front to move a significant amount of weight of an illegal white powdery substance that's none of my fucking business.

Above one of the four clear-doored refrigerators that lined the wall, another photo inside a plastic cover where the overpriced generic milk and orange juice were on display. Shaquille O'Neil, grinning ear to ear, stood next to the store owner. Both of them wore snazzy suits. By the looks of it, the photo was at least a decade old, when Shaq first arrived in Los Angeles to play for the Lakers. Plus the owner looked much younger and had significantly more hair then. He was actually smiling. In the two or so months I lived around the corner I never saw him even smirk. He was the type of guy who woke up with a scowl on his face and he only grew angrier throughout the day.

It was obvious that the bodega owner's two idols were Shaq and Tony Montana. It could've been a lot worse, like Kobe Bryant and Charlie Sheen.

* * *

Growing up in NYC, I was spoiled with the convenience of a local neighborhood bodega. When I lived in Las Vegas, I missed bodegas the most because Vegas neighborhoods, a few miles away from the casinos on The Strip, are so spread out that it's impossible to walk anywhere, besides, it's always 110 fucking degrees outside. I didn't have an authentic bodega experience in Los Angeles because big business muscled out all of the immigrant-owned stores and replaced with a low-frill, generic version known as 7-11. Sure we had a 24-hour one three blocks away, but a homeless guy was camped out in front and if you wanted to buy anything, you had to pass by the puke-inducing grey meat-like tubes roasting on some sort of grill contraption next to the cash register.

I moved to San Francisco a couple of months ago and realized the corner bodegas are essentially liquor stores that also cigarettes, condoms, soft drinks, and junk food. Yeah, you can buy hard liquor and wine in bodegas here. In NYC, you could buy a six pack at a bodega, but you could only buy hooch at a liquor store. And in case you were wondering, the 7-11 around the corner from me in the Slums of Beverly Hills didn't even sell beer or wine.

A couple of bodegas are located within walking distance of my house. The closest one is something that we call the Degen Market. True story. My roommate Halli gave it its nickname because the owner is a degenerate gambler.

Halli refuses to buy anything in the store after she got into a verbal joust with the owner. He was fretting over the score in a baseball game while shouting into the phone (presumably to his bookie). All she wanted to do was buy a pack of smokes and get the hell out of what she described as "the creepiest store north of the Mission." But the owner, originally born in Jordan, was more focused on bitching about his bad beat in mixture of Arabic and baseball lingo than ringing up a pack of of cigarettes.

During her self-imposed ban of the Degen Market, she'd walk a couple of extra blocks to a different bodega. There's one with a beautiful new awning and colorful murals on the walls outside the store. It's better lit, smells much nicer and has plastic baskets to put your fruit and other "real" food items in. The nice corner store even had a deli counter and that owner was more jovial and shot the shit with you while he made sandwiches. He had an extensive selection of cheap and expensive wines and almost thirty different kinds of beer.

It was a totally different scene a few blocks away in the Degen Market where the only bottles of wine were in jugs or cardboard boxes. The selection of booze was sparse compared to the average bodega. The primary liquor shelf was stocked with cheap spirits -- lots of Smirnoff products and a brand of Caribbean rum that I never heard of before.

The Degen Market is an anomaly for the yuppie neighborhood that had a smattering of hipsters and neo-faux-hippies (a.k.a. Trustafarians). You know the types -- the elite one-percenters who felt like they were doing their civic duty by voting for Obama. On any given moment, you'll find someone pushing an uber-expensive German-made baby stroller that cost more than the blue book value on your car. Every sixty seconds, three women in black yoga pants stroll down the street with a tightly, rolled-up mat tucked under their arm.

The Degen Market is also on the same block as a couple of antique stores and a pet spa designed especially for the spoiled pets of Pacific Heights that prescription-pill riddled wives of hedge fund managers bring in once a week for a full-on treatment, which transform their canines into spiffy and pristine ornaments. You don't want the neighbors to think you have a mangy dog, which is a dead giveaway for subversive anti-capitalist activity. Otherwise, the plutocrats will rat you out to Homeland Security for being a pinko-commie hash-head who spends their weekends downtown in front of the San Francisco branch of the Federal Reserve building with wooked-out anarchists angrily chanting for the end of the corporate welfare state.

* * *

I've been hoarding water. It's a little quirk that I've picked up ever since I moved to California. It's the fatalist in me. I figured I can survive a short-term emergency situation like an earthquake or tsunami with a shotgun and water. If it's only a temporary breakdown in the system, then I can successfully ride our riots and looting with a Mossberg at my side. The water is to live on, the shotgun is to keep a million or so unprepared zombies away from my water stash and my girlfriend. If by somehow the Bay Area is hit with an 8.0 magnitude quake or higher and I somehow survive the damage, then I'll have to walk out of the city several miles to a safe house. Blackjack insurance might be a stupid bet in any casino, but I'm gonna need a shotgun and/or a samurai sword to get the fuck out of dodge if/when the shit hits the fan.

I learned it's never foolish to prepare for a worst-case scenario -- especially when you live in city prone to natural disasters. I was convinced that I was not crazy after watching footage of post-apocalyptic New Orleans after Katrina blew the roof off the Superdome and thousands of refuges turned the football stadium into a real-life rendition of Lord of the Flies with walls covered in splattered blood and fecal matter.

I think the owner of the Degen Market is suspicious that I have been buying out large quantities of his bottled water. He hasn't said anything... yet.

* * *

The massive freezer in front of the checkout counter looked like it had not been opened in a few months, maybe even a few years. The ice cream inside was years past its expiration date. All you had to do was take one glimpse at the sketchy-looking freezer, and you'd know instantly that you didn't want anything inside.

That, of course, made me suspicious and curious. What was really in the freezer? If I were to hide something in plain sight, I'd do it in an obvious spot where no one would want to look. For example a large sum of cash, a severed head, or some sort of contraband hidden snugly underneath a couple of bruised cartons of Häagen-Dazs ice cream. Didn't they go out of business a few years ago?

The Degen Market looks like it was hit with a first wave of hysterical people during an natural disaster. Most of the shelves were barren, save a few random canned items and microwaved popcorn that no one deemed a necessity during a potential apocalyptic situation.

Two TVs sat on top of the fridges and a closed-circuit screen was anchored to the ceiling. I had seen enough episodes of The Wire to wonder if the FBI, CIA, NSA, DIA, or DEA had tapped into his surveillance cameras to monitor the activity at his store. The more I thought about it, the more paranoid I got.

You could view the security cameras and both TVs while sitting behind the check-out desk. During the days, an old woman watched the news and talked on the phone. When the owner was minding the store, he always had on a different sporting event on one, if not both of the TVs. His viewing was not limited to American sports. I caught different European soccer matches and even one match that included two teams from the Middle East. The writing at the bottom of the screen was in Arabic. I tried to make small talk.

"Who's playing?"

"Shabab Al Ordon and Al Wehdat."

"So who do you have?"

"Al Wehdat."

I looked up at the screen completely puzzled at which team was which. I pretended to know who was who and nodded. "Ah, well good luck in the future."

* * *

The owner was not a drug dealer. He was not a money launderer. He was a run of the mill broke dick. Halli said that she's seen the owner play poker at one of the local card rooms just outside San Francisco. Ah, he's living the American Dream... leave an oppressive Middle East country, work your ass off to buy your own small business, drive around in a Detroit-made convertible, and then at the end of the day, empty out the cash register and drive to the closest casino to test your acumen at a card game against crazy Asian gamblers. Only in America.

As if being a degen sports bettor wasn't enough, he also had the fever for poker. If he had any skill, he'd be able to siphon off enough chips at the cash game tables to cover his sports betting loses, but the poker gods don't shine any love on him at all. Much like the sports betting gods, his prayers often go unheard and always unanswered. No wonder the owner sits behind the counter with a sullen grimace, like a man plotting revenge on the neighborhood bully who lit his puppy on fire.

I hatched a plan. By week 2 of the NFL season, I'd be booking bets for the owner. By the end of week 8, he'd lose so much money that I could go down to the store at any time and take anything off the shelf -- including the Patron. Is that what anyone wants in life? The freedom and power to walk into a store and take something without paying. Anyone can buy something with fiat currency. It takes a special circumstance to wield the sort of power like a druglord like Tony Montana or the hooligans from Goodfellas, and walk onto another man's property and take anything they want.

Of course, the main goal was to own the pink slip on his car by the end of the year and eventually own the store outright before the Superbowl.

What would I do with a bodega? I have no fucking clue, but the idea was so fucking crazy that I had to give it a shot.

And no. I didn't think about losing. If Las Vegas taught me anything it's that the house always wins. Always. Degenerate sports bettors will always be who they are. It's in their DNA. They've been conditioned by society to think that chumps are the working stiffs, and that they are the ones really living on the edge. No matter how much they win, they'll eventually donk it back off. The house always wins. Casino owners pad their pockets with every day addictions. It might take a couple of weeks, it might take a couple of years, but over the long haul, it's nearly impossible to out run the juice laying 11/10. Shit, it's a tough battle even if you're getting reduced rake at certain online sportsbooks. Bottom line it's a daunting task to remain a winning sports bettor over time.

Investing isn't that easy. If it were, the guys down on Wall Street wouldn't have to bend the elasticity of rules or put politicians in power to create new rules to make their crimes "legal." The financial services industry is so corrupt that very few people think twice about breaking so many rules to make a buck, and if by chance their outrageous bets shit the bed, then can simply extort ask the government for handouts (at taxpayers' expense) when they eventually go busto.

But grinding out an income as a bookie? As the saying goes, "It's a hard way to make an easy living."

Friday, October 21, 2011

I Didn't Know I Was That Far Gone

By Pauly
San Francisco, CA

"I didn't know I was that far gone."

I barely remember the Main Event because I was so hopped up on Oxycontin (a.k.a Hill Billy heroin) that I was floating fourteen feet off the ground while the field spliced and diced it's way down from 6,865 to the November Nine. I had no fucking clue what was going on inside the Amazon Ballroom -- everyone was crying in the press box, someone who looks like Justin Beiber handed me pills every half hour, Seth Palansky gave me fuzzy slippers, a loud French dude in pink hair went deep, I couldn't find fucking Benjo or Matt Maranz, all these drunks on the rail screamed Phil Collins songs, and I was pretty sure the greys from Zeta Reticuli had invaded Earth because we were playing the featured TV table inside the Mothership.

Seriously, how schwasted was I? AlCantHang and I were betting on baseball. Every. Fucking. Day.

I didn't know I was that far gone.

It's obvious that I neglected Tao of Poker over the last few months. The watershed moment was the car accident in Vegas on the morning of Day 1B of the World Series of Poker Main Event. I told my friends it was just a fender bender because I didn't want them to worry, but it was more severe than I led on. I probably should have departed Vegas and returned to LA to heal, but I was foolish and my whale-sized ego took over and I refused to leave. Instead, I ate a fist full of pharmies and shoved an ice pack down my crotch. I became a sad and decrepit sight, limping around the Amazon Room like a prize fighter seven years past his prime. My coverage on Tao of Poker suffered. It was abysmal. Someone should have shot me on the spot and put me out of my misery. But I had too much pride to leave and gutted out the remainder of the Main Event.

I fled Vegas as soon as I could. After a near-death experience (and the second crash in three years) the last thing I wanted to do was think about Vegas or poker.

The accident made me do something I should have taken a couple of years before -- take a long extended break. My body needed to heal. My mind needed to heal. But more importantly, I had to take a step back to see things for how they really were, and not what they looked like inside the echo chamber. The entire world was on the brink of collapse -- Japan was swimming in radiation soup, the U.S. was engaged in three wars with a fourth with Iran on its way, Greece went busto threatening a European financial meltdown, the Arab Spring was underway as revolutions were sweeping through Africa in the Middle East, which in turn had a ripple effect that you're seeing happening right now all over America in the Occupy Wall Street movement. But you'd barely know about anything about the real world and any substantial socio-political chatter inside the Fellini-esque grotesquerie of poker.

It has taken a while, but I'm emerging out of my hiatus after I moved to San Francisco, began writing a sci-fi screenplay, and started fanning the flames of revolution. Along the way, I had to ween myself off a proclivity to pain pills and had to momentarily postpone my return to freelance writing and poking my head back into the echo chamber to see if anything has changed. Luckily, I have an awesome girlfriend, cool brother, and understanding clients, business partners, readers, colleagues, family and friends -- all of whom knew I needed a break to heal, to slow down, catch my breath, and take time off from the insane restless work/travel schedule including the nonstop party scene while jumping back and forth between poker and music.

The good news is that I cleaned up in time to cast my vote for the Poker Hall of Fame and to attend the November Nine. The return trip to Vegas is huge for a few reasons, mainly because I was morbidly afraid to go back to the city where I almost died. Twice. I had panic attacks at the thought of booking my travel. I even turned down a few assignments to cover other events in Vegas over the last few months because I was afraid to go back. I associated the city with... death. But, I'm finally worked up enough courage to take a leap of faith. Besides, I'm not driving and flying instead.

But it's that pesky ego of mine that wants to finish what I started -- the 2011 WSOP. The Tao of Poker's Oxy-induced diarrhea that passed for Main Event coverage floundered because of the accident. I'm better than that. Much better. You and I both know it, but thanks for being understanding and sympathetic.

So that's the good news. No more excuses. It's time to finish what I started. It's the least I could to to everyone who supported me over the years, especially the last few months.

By the way, the title to this post is a lyric to one of my favorite songs. The hardest part about being you is lack of perspective. It's not easy to take a step back and see things as they truly are. As a result, you never know how far off the reservation you've gone until it's too late. If you've attended an AA or Gambler's Anonymous meeting, you'll hear a bevy of horrific stories about people who had bad beats in life and allowed their past to lead them to a future of nothingness. At the same time, you'll hear those "I never know how great I had it until it was too late" swan songs. Regardless of the route everyone took, they all ended up in the same place -- rock bottom. It's not until you pick yourself out of the gutter until you realize, "I didn't know I was that far gone."

I love poker, but the past few years my passion developed into a love-hate relationship that focused more on the hate side. If you've ever been in a bad marriage or relationship, well that's what happened to me. It got fucking ugly. Like Sid and Nancy kind of ugly. We were both on a path of self-destruction and playing a foolish game of "chicken" while deciding which one was going to jump off the edge of the abyss. I was one step away from lying slumped on the shoddy carpet of a blood-splattered room in the Chelsea Hotel.

Me and poker? Peas and carrots. We seemed like a match made in heaven. But what the fuck happened? Well if you haven't read Lost Vegas, then I encourage you to do so. But it's a similar tragedy that has happened to so many things/events/people/industries that it was inevitable that poker's story arc would reveal itself within my journey. My problem? I got too greedy and stuck around for a little longer than I should have. I always had an exit strategy and I should have went with my gut and skipped the 2011 WSOP (or as I originally planned -- to only cover the Main Event). If I had covered a shortened series, then I never would have gotten into an accident in Las Vegas and totaled my girlfriend's car.

If you believe it... then things happen for a reason. If you don't, then it doesn't matter. We live in a chaotic, random universe.

The gambling gods have a sense of humor. I cite every Pai Gow session as proof. But, if you believe in God or a higher being, then he/she/it/the Creator spared my life that fortunate morning and decided it wasn't my time to go. I've been trying to figure out why I've been given a second chance. It's been an exhausting summer searching for answers both spiritually and philosophically. If you been following any of my side projects, you might have a clue into what I've been doing with myself.

I didn't know that I was that far gone. See you in Vegas in two weeks.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Flashback: Exile On Main Street (2006)

By Pauly
San Francisco, CA

Editor's Note: On the 5th anniversary of Bush 2.0 sealing online poker's fate with the signing of the UIGEA, I want to share something I wrote five years ago. This appeared on Tao of Poker on 10/9/06.

* * *

"Just for grins I shoved a hot pepper up my ass while I was jerking off. Pretty hot, but not hot enough to not try it yourself." - Daddy

I was 22 when Jerry Garcia died on August 9, 1995. I had the day off from work and went to see a rare weekday Yankees game with my buddy Jerry who was in town on summer vacation from law school. We got drunk, smoked a joint in stairwell in left field, and watched Cal Ripken smash two home runs as the Yankees lost.

After the game I stopped by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to meet up with my girlfriend at the time. That's when I found out about the news of Jerry Garcia's passing. Less then two months earlier, I met Jerry Garcia and shook his hand (which eleven years later still marks one of my Top 10 Moments of All Time along with getting a blowjob on the subway and finishing my first novel).

Some older hippies and Deadheads that I know said, "The 1960s officially ended when Jerry Garcia died." For many fans the news was devastating. The music of the Grateful Dead was not just for teenagers. As they band evolved and got older, so too did the audience. The death of their icon and hero affected not just kids but former hippies who integrated into society. They had jobs, families, and mortgages and the day Jerry Garcia died marked a void for many of them.

The Grateful Dead were followed all around the world by it's fervent fans. Some never left tour while others jumped on and off as the drove around the country checking out shows in different cities. When Jerry Garcia died, not only did the music stop but so did the essential purpose for many individuals. Their entire lives revolved around the Grateful Dead touring. That included not just fans, but also people who worked and earned a living in the Dead's bubble such as roadies, management, and merchandise vendors. Most of the hippies following the Dead from city to city paid their way by vending in the parking lot. Most of them lived in their cars, vans, and VW buses and sold enough stuff to buy gas, food, and a ticket to the next show. When Jerry Garcia died, an entire subculture plunged into confusion. They never had conventional jobs and found themselves at a crossroads of uncertainty, confusion, and grief.

The immediate result for the passing of Jerry Garcia and the eventual break up of the Grateful Dead also meant that there was a void to be filled. Even Rolling Stone magazine printed up a list of bands that would take the torch from the Dead. In fact several of those bands benefited financially and commercially from Jerry Garcia's death. Without the Dead to follow around, bands like Widespread Panic, Dave Matthews Band, and Phish eventually inherited the fans, the suits, and the hippie vendors hawking their wares in the parking lot of their concerts. Their careers were advanced by the death of Jerry Garica.

Even I took advantage of the nomadic lifestyle in the late 1990s. I spent most of 1999 following Phish all over North America seeing concerts in 19 different states and 26 different cities including two in Canada. I got by selling whatever I could in the parking lots to get by whether it was tickets, pharmies, or t-shirts. Even my girlfriend at the time sold hemp jewelry or veggie burritos in order to earn enough money to buy a ticket for that night's show and have enough money left over to buy beer and gas so we can drive to the next city and repeat the process all over again.

In 2004 when Phish broke up, there was another void to be filled and several other bands benefited from the rabid subculture. Some hippies grew old and others cut their hair and got real jobs while a new crop of prep school kids or frat and sorority girls joined the mix to keep the monster going. They voraciously drink, ingest drugs, and will party to dawn. They love music and will travel thousands of miles to see a concert. Plus they'll spend money... and money is what keeps the monster going.

Twenty years from now they'll be some new band that kids will follow around religiously like I did with the Dead in college and Phish in my mid/late 20s. Why? Because that's what some people are into. They want to escape from the bitter realities of the actual world and feel connected to something/someone even if it's for a few hours.

I saw what happened to the hippie subculture in a post-death Jerry Garcia world and that's the closest comparison that I can come up with the recent legislation that tweaks the legality of online poker. Within a few days of Party Poker announcing their pull out of the American market, other sites such as Full Tilt and Poker Stars said they'd stay. They're filling the void and billions of dollars in rake and tournament fees will go into their bank accounts instead of Party Gaming.

Online poker is not dead. Yet. Even though the party got busted up, people still want a fix. Ever go to one of those huge suburban parties in high school and the entire place is jumping and you're about to declare the festivities were epic enough to be awarded Party of the Year... and then the cops come and bust it up? Mostly everyone leaves and goes home, but a few diehards stay around and drink the rest of the keg. I'm gonna be one of those guys.

For the past week, I've read the collective narcissistic psychodramas on everyone's blogs regarding the death of online poker and Black Monday or Black Friday. And depending on who your read, the future is dim and dark or bright and rosey. I think that the future falls somewhere in between. The news is not that bad, but it's not good either.

The post-apocalyptic poker world will not have mutant kids with three eyes running around and Jesus Freaks jumping out of the bushes spraying Holy Water onto the faces of hedonists. I don't think black helicopters will land in your cul de sac and the federales will whisk you away if they find you playing an SNG on Poker Stars and ship you in a secret CIA prison in Djibouti where they'll fry your testicles with car batteries and rip out your fingernails with rusty pliers before they toss you into a 10 by 10 cell with a fingernailess zealot named Ahmed who has a tattoo of "Death to America" written in Farsi on his forehead.

Or maybe they will?

Poker players are gamblers at heart and some will take risks to maintain their fix. The world is filled with greedy people and they'll be several ruthless companies who'll flip the bird to the American courts and lawmakers that will take risks to gain access to the subculture of online poker players.

Then I look at a place like my hometown of New York City and try to figue out the future. Without online poker, the demand for new poker rooms and underground clubs will increase dramatically. Some daring entrepreneurs will open up new clubs and the players will come in droves. Whichever ethnic mafia running rooms is about to make a shitload of money in the Big Apple. Of course the police will have to get involved and spend time shutting down the rooms, just like cops in the 1920s busted up bathtub gins and speakeasies.

The right-wingers who were in favor of the anti-online poker legislation pulled out the terrorist card and said that online gambling sites can be a haven for terrorists to launder money. But by banning online poker, the NYPD will have to exhaust their already limited resources on busting up poker games rather than focusing on protecting our city from terrorists... which we're severely under-prepared. Instead of cops breaking up terror cells, they'll be wasting their time keeping my brother, F Train, and The Rooster out of poker clubs in Chinatown. By trying to make our nation safer... the suits in Washington made my city more vulnerable.

Politicians don't care about the people. They only care about themselves. Same goes for corporations. If it comes down to a choice between you or them... they'll cut the rope every time and let you fall to your death. That's the way it is and that's why I've lost my passion for politics. It's not apathy but ultimately realizing that we don't live in a true democracy and we don't have freedom of choice but the illusion of freedom and choice. We can vote out the politicians currently in office, but they'll be replaced with a new group of lying scumbags that will sell your kids to the highest bidder if it meant they'll get another term in office.

That's why I don't see a revolutionary change happening in America. Not just with poker but with everything else surrounding the eroding civil liberties of Americans. Here's my reasoning... my peers in Generation X and the kids born after me are spoiled, lazy, dumbass little shitheads. We're overly selfish, hypersensitive, and too self-centered. We don't have the vision or the passion to evoke a world wide change like the baby boomers did in the 1960s. The hippies were better educated and organized. They believed in a better way and a brighter future. They put themselves on the line and for a while, the people in power got spooked the fuck out.

Most of the Americans that I know are more concerned with watching TV and buying stuff rather than hitting the streets to protest en masse. Some might write up whiny diatribes on their blogs or write nasty letters to their congressman, but after their little rants they'll never leave the couch or their cubicle to actually do something. We're a nation of apathetic scared fatasses and we're going to continue to let scrupulous politicians and multinational corporations dictate policy. Me included.

And the other reason I don't think my generation can undertake a social change is because the hippies failed. Even John Lennon admitted, "Flower power did not work. We need to try something different."

The 1960s saw the great minds, leaders, and visionaries trying to lead a charge against the political machines with millions of disgruntled citizens ready to make some changes. And in the end, it didn't work. The Man won. Black and white images from the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago or Kent State in 1970 should be all the proof that you need to see that in the end The Man will do anything possible to stay in power, which includes beating and killing their own citizens.

After the hippies got their heads full of Owsley's liquid sunshine bashed in a few times by the cops, they eventually stopped protesting. That's when militant groups sprung up like the Blank Panthers. I'm waiting for a militant group of poker bloggers to form a united front and start fire bombing the campaign headquarters of major political figures but that will never happen. We can't even get ten bloggers to agree on the same weekend to have a convention, let alone formulate any sort of social change and revolution.

I've traveled around the world enough and extensively throughout America to honestly say that this is an amazing country but our leaders are war mongering pimps selling our souls to suits in a boardroom somewhere. Sure there are places like Barcelona or Samui where I'd like to live for a while, but at some point I'd get homesick and want to return to America particularly New York City. Then again, I technically didn't grow up in America as Spalding Gray explained, "New York City is a small island off the coast of America."

As is, I'm an expatriate living in America. I finally understand the reference by The Rolling Stones... "exile on Main Street."

Monday, October 10, 2011

Monday Nugs: Screwed Up Full Tilt, Blessed Cheaters, Bots, White Knigts, and Russian Broke Dicks

By Pauly
San Francisco, CA

It's Monday and time for a few heady nuggets to keep you busy today. If you have the day off, then that's awesome, enough the day of rest. If not, enough these blurbs while you're killing time in the cube...
Smooth Criminal: I love it when Scandi philosophers delve deep into the big questions of the universe. In this case, Kim wonders "why do we cheat so much?" in thought-provoking essay titled Blessed Art the Cheaters.That brings me back to something I've always said -- "We're all criminals." It's innate in humans. We're creatures who have bucked the system and shot angles since the first time Adam attempted to pluck the forbidden fruit off the Tree of Life. Some of cheat more than others in life, but whenever large sums of money are around, you'll find a higher percentage of angle shooters. Case in point: poker, drugs, and Wall Street. (Infinite Gaming Edge)

Knights in White Satin: Snoopy weighs in on the Full Tilt Poker situation with Tom Dwan: A Knight in Shining Armour. You have to read this post because of three reasons... 1) Snoppy declares "durrrr" as the only white knight in the FT not-paying-its-players-back scandal, 2) Snoopy writes funny using "u" in words like armour, and 3) Snoopy is one of my favourite writers... see what I did there? (Black Belt Poker)

Paint It Black: So... how did Things Become So Screwed Up With Full Tilt Poker? My colleague and former FT employee gives his opinion on how things imploded in the Full Tilt universe. (Bill's Poker Blog)

Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots: Shamus wants to know... To Bot or Not to Bot? That is the question. Bots are bad right? That's what all of the Terminator movies taught me -- that at some point the poker bots will join SkyNet and fire nukes on humanity. Then again, what is the difference between a bot and a total nit? Nits won't blow shit up, unless they get stacked on a wicked bad beat, then they'll blow up a 2p2 thread. (Hard-Boiled Poker)

Broke in the USSR: Gotta love a rags to riches to rags story. Poor kid grinds out roll playing online poker. Kid wins Sunday Million. Blows it all that night playing high stakes SNG. Kid now being made fun of by the Entities. (Wicked Chops Poker)
And yes, part of the reason I haven't been writing about poker is because I've been helping stir up a revolution when I haven't been fear mongering. I encourage you to check out the Monday Morning Red Pill, which is the Tao of Fear's version of the Monday Nugs. In the latest version of the Red Pill, we discuss bleach fights among Walmart customers, potential WWIII with China, the real skinny on nuclear meltdown in Japan, the impending financial collapse of Europe, and more evidence that America is becoming a police state. If you don't follow @TaoFear on Twitter, then what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Superstitions, Jinxes, and River Rats

By Pauly
San Francisco, CA

I'm always afraid to write about baseball because I don't want to be a jinx. No one wants to be a jinx and become a social outcast and pariah, like the weird kid in grammar school who everyone avoided at lunch time because he smelled like cat piss.

Baseball is a game wrapped in superstitions, jinxes, rituals. Babe Ruth was an unlanced boil on the collective arses of New Englanders for almost a century. Even Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs ate fried chicken before every game and if he didn't he was doomed to go 0-5 at the plate, so he made sure he ate fried chicken -- no matter what. During winning streaks, players won't wash their uniforms or socks. Players won't step on the foul lines when running off the field. And everyone in the dugout doesn't even talk about or recognize a no-hitter when it's happening.

Superstitions are utterly stupid, because once you give in to a superstition, your life becomes ruined because you become enslaved by your biggest fears of breaking whatever ritual you created to make yourself feel less anxious. Yet, I only adhere to one -- I never carry around $50 bills. Grubby told me about it in 2004 when I first got into playing poker in casinos. Since then I refuse to touch $50s and if one crosses my path, I get rid of it as soon as possible.

I used to have another ritual which occurred whenever I traveled. A quick back story -- I have a recurring nightmare that I die in a plane crash -- so, to assuage my fears, I rap my closed right hand on the outside of the plane just above the doorway before I enter and I'm greeted by the flight attendants. I dunno when that ritual started, but I stopped doing it a couple of years ago. So if/when I die in a plane crash, I don't want that added extra pressure following me into the afterlife because I didn't quell any superstitions before I stepped onto the plane.

I'm supposed to smart enough to know that whatever I do will alter the future, as much as I'd like to think I can affect the outcome of a game or prevent a plane crash. Even though I know my actions, like writing about the Yankees on my blog, won't affect the game, I have been silent for a few weeks because I don't want to be bogged down with guilt that I jinxed the Yanks. No one wants to be a jinx.

As my buddy Joe Speaker proclaimed, "Jinxes are true. You and I and the American People know it's not true, but it really is."

Yeah, I don't want the jinx label, but I also won't adhere to any sports-related superstitions, which is why I still wear my Yankees visor backwards when they're in desperate need of a hit. Some cautious habits never die, even if it's a silly superstition. You know, hokey religions with light sabres and shit. Then again rally hats are waaaaaaay more inventive than that fucking insane cracked-up Rally Monkey that the L.A. Angels of Anaheim uses to fire up the crowd.

I hate to be known as a jinx among my sporting peers, because some of the most random people are slaves to superstitions, especially die-hard sports fans. Oh, and how can I forget about hard-core superstitious annoying-as-shit sports bettors?

I know, because I'm one who grows more and more superstitious and intense whenever there's sums of money on the line. Take this summer for example -- I was covering the WSOP in Las Vegas during the NBA playoffs leading up to the Finals against Miami. I had bet big on the Dallas Mavericks to win the entire Championship along with individual bets on each game they played en route to the title. I watched one game with AlCantHang at McFadden's Pub (formerly the Tilted Kilt) inside the Rio Casino. I never go to that joint anymore after the Tilted Kilt left, yet we had to watch the game there due to lack of space in the sportsbook and adjoining bar, which were packed with fans and bettors. Alas, I went to the pub with Al because we had no other alternative... yadda, yadda, yadda.... the Dallas Mavs came from behind wins (and covering the spread) in one of the most exhilarating games I had sweated in a very long time.

I made some good coin that day and thus, a new superstition was born. For the rest of the series, I wanted to watch every game with Al at McFadden's.

Sweating the NBA playoffs at McFadden's
with AlCantHang and Michele the Cougar

The one time we broke the streak and skipped McFadden's, the Mavs didn't cover (incidentally, when I watched Game 7 of the NHL playoffs with my colleague Lance, my bet on Vancouver shit the bed because Al wasn't with me!). As much as I know that neither myself, Al, or McFadden's will affect how many three pointers Dirk Nowitzki will drill or how many fouls the refs will call -- I still wanted to cover my ass and placate any potentially superstitions that induce a spike in sport betting anxiety. That means sometimes giving in to superstitions -- whether it's wearing a "rally cap" or watching a game in the same place with the same people.

I guess that's why I saved any baseball commentary for the infamous "NYC sports thread" -- an email thread with a small group of NYC sports fans that includes my brother, college buddy Jerry, and da Rooster, that has been running for few years now specializing in topics on all things sports in New York City -- lots of Yankees, Knicks and Jets chatter with a smattering of Miami Hurricanes football, hockey, boxing, trying to pick up Latina women on the subway, UFC, and English soccer.

Yesterday, if you polled the universe, I don't think not too many people had an inkling of faith in AJ Burnett. The locker room prankster is beloved among his teammates, but he's struggled down the stretch. AJ was scheduled to take the mound in Game 4 against the Detroit Tigers with the Yankees down 2-1 in a five-game series , and on the verge of being eliminated from the playoffs. All hopes rested upon the shoulders (more so the right arm of their weakest link in the chain) of AJ, who once achieved perfection ten years ago when he tossed a no-hitter, but his best days were way behind him. As a degen gambler, I frequently bet the OVER (combined run totals) in AJ's games and never dared betting on the Yanks whenever it was his turn in the rotation. I had no faith in him during the season and had even less confidence in the playoffs.

Even my mother, who is nothing close to being a religious person, knew the writing was on the wall with AJ on the slate to pitch. She all but declared the Yankees dead on arrival at the start of Game 4 and sent me a text message stating the only hope the Yanks had was to "pray for them."

Wow. When a native of the Bronx is looking for spiritual help, you know it's a bleak.

That text stunned me. My mother had not-so-secret disdain for AJ Burnett. I'd estimate that 75% of the text messages she sent me over the last two years occurred on days when AJ pitched and usually resembled something like... "AJ sucks."

No one had confidence in AJ. The bookies in Vegas set the line with Yankees as the dog. Yanks fans, even the most diehards, had little to no faith in AJ. We all prepared for the worst,. The bookies. My mother. Everyone calling into the Mike and the Mad Dog radio show. The guys in my email thread. Even me.

The wiseguys in Vegas bet the Yankees, because they love betting dogs in the playoffs, especially on a veteran team that was on the brink of elimination. Even with AJ on the mound, they bet the Yankees anyway. That takes huge balls from my perspective as a fan -- but they viewed the situation differently -- AJ would be on a short leash and Girardi would yank him before the game got really ugly, and at some point it would come down to the Tigers bullpen holding off an offensive surge from the Yanks in the late innings. I had a similar outlook, which I told my brother yesterday morning, that I had a feeling that AJ would get rocked early on and eventually get yanked in the second inning after giving up two runs, before Phil Hughes put out the fire and pitched five solid innings in relief as Yanks rallied and came from behind to win 7-4.

Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

Curtis Granderson bailed out AJ Burnett big time with the bases loaded. If Granderson doesn't catch up and chase it down that fly ball for the crucial third out to thwart a Tigers rally in the first inning, then the Yanks are looking at a deficit of 2-0 or potentially 3-0. At that point, the lynch mob would start chanting AJ's name and he'd be dead by the seventh inning stretch.

Right place, right time. Or as Yogi Berra succinctly stated -- "Hit 'em where they ain't."

But the ain't in that instance was Granderson on his horse making the the first of two sensational catches during his defensive patrol of centerfield (his second catch fro the 6th inning is pictured above). Granderson's outstanding catches symbolized the Yankees season, because he bailed them out in more ways than they'll ever know. Even if the Yanks lose game 5, Granderson put them in a position to advance to the next round.

After Granderson's first inning heroics, AJ Burnett should name his next kid after Granderson, or buy him a Lexus for Christmas, or pick up the tab to steak dinners every time they're on the road, because if Grandy doesn't make that catch in the first inning, then AJ Burnett gets whacked. He'd go missing for a few weeks, before his corpse was found floating in the East River, with chunks of his bloated face eaten up by river rats.