Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Tao of Poker: 2006 Year in Review Part I

These posts are always my most favorite and least favorite posts rolled into one. I always start out writing a lot and then I'm pressed for time, so I hurry up and rush through it. However, Looking back on the year allows me to reflect upon my poker life in the last 350 plus days something that is essential for me to do before I begin a new fiscal poker year and I hammer out my goals for the upcoming year.

As I opened up the archives from 2006, there are dreaded moments that I'm glad are over and there were some highlights that I wish I can replicate sometime in the future. I'm not one to dwell much in the past so I immerse myself deep into reflection one the rare moments when I do. I've come to understand that your current frame of mind, head space, and levels of sanity often tweaks the perception of your past. I'm in a good mood now so I'll end up overlooking the bad points and downplaying the highlights.

One year ago I was in horrible shape mentally. My grandmother had just passed away, I was mentally bankrupt, my bankroll was bleeding, I was burned out as a tournament reporter, and utterly disappointed with the poker scene. In short, I dreaded the upcoming year, particularly the 2006 WSOP. Sure everyone might have enjoyed my coverage of the 2005 WSOP, but the toll it took on my body and spirit was immense. That's why the last thing I wanted to focus on in 2006 was poker.

And as expected, I got so sick of poker that I quit and even pulled my blog as I walked away from the game, the industry, and the community. After a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway, serious soul searching, and conversations with several people I trust the most... I made the decision to come back but knew I had to have a greater appreciation for poker and to take more breaks if I was to come back and flourish. The result ended up being a much more enjoyable experience at the WPT Championships and an amazing 2006 WSOP. I rediscovered a passion for the game and accepted my role within the poker industry and community.

The biggest change for me was the dedication to have a more rounded life and not let poker take over all facets of my existence. For the first time since I started in the industry I turned down work and several well paying assignments. I'd rather just get by and have more free time on my hands than to be miserable working so much. I found a happy middle ground where I was able to devote more time to friends, travel, music, and personal writing. I had more time to dedicate to Truckin' and the Tao of Pauly. I traveled more in 2006 than in previous years and I caught more new bands and saw more concerts than the year before.

I regained control of my life again. Having poker dictate my life made me an unhappy person and cutting back ended up being the best solution to my problem. I had a greater appreciation of the time I spent with poker and at the same time, I did more things that pertained to my personality in order to keep a healthy balance between work and play. And I found a semblance of happiness that had been absent from my life for a very long time. I lived more in the moment, fully enjoying my time in poker and out of poker, knowing that I'm miserable when both are not in a harmonious balance with one another. I also needed both to survive.

With a positive attitude, the words flowed smoother and I was able to absorb the shock of the UIEGA a little bit better than others. Sure, I lost a few clients and had to take a pay cut, but I'm getting assignments for 2007 and it looks like I'm pretty much booked through the 2007 WSOP which will allow me to take off five months at the end of 2007 to travel and work on a new project. I prefer that formula.

Overall, 2006 was a positive year for me. Although I didn't reach the level of writing I wanted to achieve, I did make some improvement across the board. Professionally, I've been fortunate to maintain regular columns in two publications and contribute as a writer to Fox Sports. In 2006, I got hired by the Borgata and PokerStars which were nice names to add to my poker resume. And in the last month or so, I worked out a deal with Poker News to help cover the Aussie Millions in January for them which will include writing, live blogging, and even some radio commentary.

There are a few moments that stand out such as working for the Borgata Winter Open, attending the Playboy Mansion with my friends, covering the 2006 WSOP, and the gathering a few weeks ago. Of course, there are some bad moments too like a horrible losing streak, getting fucked over by Poker Pages for the LAPC, quitting poker, the non-exclusive access at the WSOP, losing a few clients due to the UIGEA, and getting the Tao hacked. And then there were non-poker highlights such as March Madness wih Senor, two music festivals (with Professional Keno Player Neil Fontenot), spending lots of time in LA, a trip to Amsterdam, and getting to rewrite my first novel.

As far as poker playing, I started out the year in the worst losing streak of my life. Eventually the bleeding stopped and I built the roll back up thanks to the awful players that used to be swimming around on Party Poker. When Party Poker stopped doing business in America, I lost my ability to print money to cover my loses at the other poker sites and at the sports book. The winning ways stopped and I was back to being a break even player. However, I'm ending the year on a strong note hitting and running at the 5/10 tables on FT and PokerStars. If I didn't have a feeding frenzy of tournaments in late November, I'd be up for the year and wouldn't be worrying about breaking even during the last few days of 2006.

On a personal level, I've been able to make a few new friends in the last twelve months thanks to poker. I've also solidified older friendships and there are people that I met through poker who are making valuable contributions to other aspects of my life socially and romantically. Several have made the jump from "poker friends" to simply state... my friends. I'm fortunate for those people in my support group and I'm well aware that I wouldn't be where I'm at today without the majority of them in my life.

I enjoy playing poker again. Usually I can't wait to get my writing or traveling done for the day, so I can sit down and fire up PokerStars for an hour or so. I started reading some blogs again and I'm back to covering tournaments... if only sporadically. Taking longer breaks from poker and minimizing my days in Las Vegas (and when I'm there spending more time away from the Strip like at Red Rock National Park or in the burbs of Henderson) ended up being the best way to maintain a higher standard of mental health.

Just when I thought the Tao of Poker was near its death, I'm feeling more positive about it than ever before. Sure all of that can change in a heartbeat and if the run is over tomorrow, I'll shed a quick tear but be ready to say, "That's was one helluva run."

That's part of the reason the last blogger gathering in Vegas was one of the best to date and the reunion became a very special moment for several of my friends. We partied hard and barely slept because it theoretically could be the last ever gathering. With the understanding that all good things come to an end, we soaked up the weekend like it was the first and at the same time celebrating our success, our run, and our friendships.

Yeah it sounds cheesy, but I'm happy to be here and I can't wait to get to Australia to cover the Aussie Millions. Like everything poker in my life I get to take you along for the ride.

For now... it's time to look back at 2006 on the Tao of Poker as I review the first five months.

* * * * *


I had this crazy idea that I would only take me two weeks to write a manuscript about my experiences living in Las Vegas and covering the 2005 WSOP. I had one publisher interested they decided to pull out at the last moment when their other poker titles were not selling. After realizing the draft that I wrote was third-rate horseshit and with no publisher interested, I abandoned the project. I keep wavering back and forth whether or not I wasted those two weeks or if there was any intrinsic value to my failed attempted at a Vegas book. In the end, I have to feel positive that I wrote 18-20 hours a day, every day for two weeks straight.

I took a break from the Tao of Poker while I wrote the Vegas book and asked my friends Daddy, BG, BigMike, Joe Speaker, Bobby Bracelet, Change100, Gracie, and even Otis to step up and write a series of guest posts. They all shined with their posts and Daddy pitched a gem after I handed him the ball for Game 1. Here they are:
A Bad Beat Story by Daddy
Fundamental Need To Be Correct by BG
A Day in the Life by BigMike
Low Buy-In Online Tournament Manifesto Version 1.0 by Joe Speaker
The More Things Change... by Bobby Bracelet
Two Inches of Banana by Change100
Ladies Night by Gracie
Action Island by Otis
After the two week hiatus to start the year, I headed down to Atlantic City where I lived at the Borgata for two weeks covering the Borgata Winter Open.

I did the assignment with Friedman and the Philly boys Frank and Mike and it was by far one of my favorite freelance gigs to date. The Borgata treated me like a true king as I had free reign of the entire casino for two weeks including the employees cafeteria which had ice cream and frozen yogurt. I befriended locals (like Action Bob), poker dealers, floor people, and a few suits before my stint was over. I'm also a huge fan of their beds because I overslept a few times (which had not happened in years) because the beds were so comfortable than an insomniac like me had a pleasant slumber night after night.

Of course, I also got to meet the newly crowned Miss America and boxing champ Antonio Tarver, who was kind enough to shoot the shit with me for ten minutes about the similarities between boxing and poker.

Take a peek at the Borgata Winter Open photo gallery.

One of my biggest regrets is my schedule not being able to fit in with the Borgata for their other events. Let's hope that I can do some work with them in the future. Check out my first day of coverage at the Borgata Winter Open and my coverage of the WPT main event.

* * * * *


I started the month still in Atlantic City covering the final table of the WPT Borgata Winter Open. The Grinder eventually won and his final table featured Erick Lindgren, Stuart Patterson, and John D'Agostino. Here are some pics that I took:

Erick Lindgren & The Grinder

Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi
2006 WPT Borgata Winner Open Champion

I managed to play some poker at the Borgata before I left, I summed up in a post called Turn This Mother Out. Here's a bit:
"Call me Nicky," he insisted, "I want you to know the name of the guy who is going to take all your money!"

He began taunting me early on. He had the hipster kid from Brooklyn on tilt and must have run through at least 4 or 5 buy-ins according to the Russian chick sitting next to me. She reminded me of a young Meryl Streep. Her accent was thick and she smelled like flowers and blueberries. She sipped on a sea breeze or some sort of vodka-cranberry concoction. She was shortstacked and if I spoke better Russian, I would have figured out that she was the table captain...More

BG had some health problems and I started up the Save BG Fund where friends, readers, and bloggers pitched in to help BG with some medical bills. He has since recovered and is more snarky than ever!

I was caught in a terrible losing streak and wrote an essay about Gilligan's Island and poker called Island Theory of Ending Losing Streaks. Here's a bit:
Whenever I'm in a tough bind, I turn to television to solve my problems. This time I'll use Gilligan's Island to help pull me out of my losing streak.

Seven strangers stranded on a deserted island. Hilarity ensues. As much as they try to get off the island, they can't. The secluded island resembles the my current state of poker play. I'm trapped and can't get away from my losing mentality. I realize that at some point, my poker play has taken on the personalities of everyone from the cast of Gilligan's Island... More
My losing streak ended as I began a brand new winning streak which I wrote about in Market Corrections, Bozos, and Bolos. Here's a bit:
The Bozos had seats facing backwards on their tourbus so they could look back, while the Bolos sat looking forward. That represented two styles of thought. Are you one to look back constantly? Or do you stay in the moment while looking toward the future? I cannot answer those questions for you. That's something you have to figure out how it applies to your poker play.... More

I flew out to LA but the trip was bittersweet and full of drama. There was a mix up with Poker Pages after I was hired to cover the LAPC event in December of 2005. After getting blown off for a week, I was told that my services were not needed less than two weeks before the start of the event. They didn't even have the decency to tell me. I had to track them down. Without a place to stay in LA and already in the hole after renting a car for a week and buying a plane ticket, I was pretty much fucked. The owner didn't apologize, nor bothered to offer to pay for the car or plane or help find me a place to stay. I learned another valuable lesson about dealing with folks in the poker industry... mainly that I can't trust them, especially Poker Pages.

Friends helped out. Change100 let me stay at her apartment and Amy Calistri (then editor of Poker Pages) compensated me for the plane ticket out of her pocket. The gesture was amazing (because Amy is a wonderful person) but I was even more disappointed that Poker Pages lacked professionalism. Once again.

That incident sparked a revolt within Poker Pages which has not been the same since. I'm fortunate that my friends felt that how I was treated by their company was more important than their own jobs. Amy quit as editor over the incident. Soon after, Tim Lavalli and BJ Nemeth left.

I enjoyed myself at the LAPC and it was nice to see Shirley Rosario who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Overall, I lost money on the trip when I could not drum up enough freelance work (on such short notice) to cover all of my expenses. That salty experience was just another reason why I wanted to quit poker, especially because considering how many hours I had to work, poker tournament reporters made a lower hourly wage than the people at Starbucks. And customers at Starbucks don't bug their workers for constant chip counts for Phil Ivey.

Only a few weeks after the cushy Borgata gig, I was smacked back down to reality. Even the best reporters and writers in poker still get treated like shit and fucked over and the LAPC was a perfect example of that.

Without a sponsor, I headed to the LA Poker Classic solo and for the first time, I covered the event for only the Tao of Poker. Sure, I wasn't getting paid but it felt good to be out there on my own where I called all the shots. The first five days of action went quick as actor James Woods made a run for the money. Most of the biggest names in poker were in town. They didn't care about the tournament per se, rather they preferred the high stakes action downstairs in the poker room.

I live blogged the final table of the WPT LA Poker Classic that was won by Alan Goehring. The final table featured Mike Woo, JC Tran, Per Ummer, Steve Simmons, and Dan Quach.

I tried to win a seat to the WPT Invitational by a satellite. There was a media event where the winner would win a seat. I made the final table but ended up in 3rd place after Barbara Enright sent me to the rail in a vicious bad beat. That was the third or fourth of the day from her.

I covered the WPT Invitational at Commerce Casino featuring Wil Wheaton and a slew of poker playing celebs. Wheaton introduced me to George Costanza who instantly made my list of Top 5 Celebrities That I've Met.

Wheaton went on a great run and ended up the last celebrity standing as he won the celeb last longer which meant that the WPT donated money to his charity City of Hope.

I snapped some of my favorite pics of the year during the WPT. Here are a couple:

Wil Wheaton, Jason Alexander, and Danny Masterson

James Woods

Please check out the LAPC photo gallery and the WPT Invitational photo gallery.

Then there was In Cold Blood: Another Night at Murderer's Row which was supposed to be a recap of HDouble's infamous LA homegame that ended up being one of the last to be played. Here's a bit:
The infamous homegame at Murderer's Row in West L.A. is a place that no matter how well you played, you're still not guaranteed to leave without getting your junked kicked so far up into your esophagus, that you're gonna need emergency colon surgery just to pluck out your swollen testicles from your digestive track.

The Murderer's Row game is filled with some of the best minds in poker including an eclectic collection of the astute programmers and members of the poker blogging elite. Whether it's cash games, tournaments, online poker, or playing in the super loose local cardrooms... you'll easily find a successful player in one of the regular seats at Murderer's Row. With a mine field cluttered with tight players and loose maniacs, you're constantly playing the guessing game and must switch gears on every hand in order to survive... More
* * * * *


I started the month in Hollyweird and got a ticket... for jaywalking. Change100 got one too and went on MLACT (Mega L.A. Cop Tilt) when he wrote out our tickets. Here's a bit:
We jaywalked to the other side and as soon as we reached the sidewalk, a motorcycle cop drove up and told us to stop.

"Can I see some identification," he said as he took off his mirrored sunglasses at 8:10pm. "And sir, your zipper is down."... More
I stayed in LA for a little longer than originally intended which I explained in Ground Hog's Day. Here's an excerpt:
I'm still lurking in the shadows of the Los Angeles. I've become a cliche that I've been dreading... the drug-addled writer from New York City who can't leave the City of Angels caught up in a bumbling pack of strung out studio execs, c-list celebrities, and former German golden showers porn stars. I feel like Bill Murray's character in Ground Hog's Day. I wake up everyday in the same place and I desperately try to get out. I can't seem to muster up enough energy to leave this town. A jaywalking ticket and a dead cat isn't enough to pull me away from the sunshine and loose poker players... More
Yeah, I forgot about the dead cat.

I also penned one of my noteworthy posts of 2006 called Buwkowski and Poker, inspired by a legendary L.A. poet and one of my favorite writers Charles Bukowski. I dedicated the post to TC, a friend of Daddy's from Indiana who had been ill. Here's a bit:
We're all criminals. Doesn't matter if it's poker or Super Mario Brothers, we're all a part of a society built on the evil deeds of thieves, murderers, cheaters, and liars. Some of us get caught and the rest of us have to live with the guilt knowing that we are ruthless souls wandering throughout life. That's why we play poker. To either escape from the seriousness our daily lives for a few hours or to escape into orgasmic dream of winning it all and becoming the next World Series of Poker Champion. I'll see you at the tables... More
I posted an interview with WPT Borgata Open Champion Al Ardebili, who was happy to help me out with it.

Buckeye's Aces

I also played in the last game at the Blue Parrot after Ferrari sold it and moved to a new place downtown. Here's an excerpt:
The Blue Parrot will always be mentioned as an integral part of New York City poker lore. For the last two years, I've been fortunate to call the Blue Parrot "my home game." It's been the location of some of the wildest games I've ever played in. The seats at the Blue Parrot featured some of the best Ivy League legal minds in the city along with a rotating cast of characters that often reminded me of a bad Saturday Night Live skit on LSD.

The players came from all walks of life. Teachers. Sports writers. Corporate litigators. Mortgate brokers. Slam poets. Fashion photographers. Scientists. Law clerks. Even a comedian, a screenwriter, and a few Columbia students. Swish was a Blue Parrot legend who was willing to see any two cards to the river. He was a famous sportswriter at prestigious NYC newspaper and has since moved down to Washington DC. Swish and I were involved in a lot of tough hands during late night sessions at the Blue Parrot. Things also got weirder after Midnight in some of the games that went until sunrise. When Rick Blaine and his wife moved out to San Francisco, he was certainly missed. However, in the same week that Rick left the Blue Parrot, it was the same time as F Train arrived from LA... More
I went to Las Vegas to gamble on the March Madness tournament with Senor. We stayed at the Mirage and lost a ton of money. Grubby, Joe Speaker, Change100, Senor, and myself walked into a strip club in Las Vegas... that sounds like a punchline to a joke but it really happened which I document in the post Strippers and Blow:
By the end of the night I must have paid for her flight from NYC to Las Vegas. The lapdances were average, but she was feisty and kept grabbing my nipples. I know that too much information to reveal, even on a blog, but I admit... I like have my nipples squeezed by hot strippers in Las Vegas at 1am. And she just didn't squeeze them, she molested them. I loved every second of it.

She gave Change 100 three lapdances. At one point, she was grabbing her breasts and pinching her nipples. They were all over each other. I admit, I got a chubby. Nothing beats girl on girl action. I love to watch.

"I can tell, you're a naughty one," Nicki said.

"Don't you know it," admitted Change100.

After it was over, I asked Change100, "Were you making out with the stripper?"

She said no, but the look in her eyes said, "Yes." ... More
And then it happened. I was invited to the Playboy Mansion with a group of bloggers that included Spaceman, Joe Speaker, BG, Bobby Bracelet, CJ, Chad, and AlCantHang. Thanks again to Joy for making it happen! Mrs. Spaceman sent me an e-mail telling be to have fun, but to be safe.

I never finished the trip reports because it was one of those things that can't be verbalized... it just had to be experienced. I did write Bloggers and Bunnies Part I: The Arrival and Part II: Where's AlCantHang? Here's a bit:
I turned to AlCantHang and said, "Let's go do some shots."

As the late arriving players rushed past us, he didn't say anything and walked to the stone bar. Just as Babe Ruth called out a home run in the 1932 World Series, AlCantHang made a similar motion towards the bartenders. He raised two fingers and by the time we arrived at the bar, two double shots of SoCo had been poured for us.

Yes, even at the Playboy Mansion, the bartenders know what AlCantHang drinks... More
* * * * *


April was a tough month. I was sick. I quit my blog. Then after some soul searching, I returned to the Tao. I also went back to covering tournaments. The majority of the posts on the Tao of Poker in April and May of 2006 represent some of my best writing to date. The passion was there. The fire was back in my belly.

The reasons for my departure were obvious as I stated in The Last Waltz.

Here are some of the infamous April posts which include covering the WPT Championships at the Bellagio:
April Sojourn
Dazed and Confused: WPT Day 3
Hump Day Friday
WPT Day 5, Young Black Ass-Worship Slaves, and Dead Sharks
Day 6: Does Cinderella Wear Dolce?
2006 WPT Championship: The Final Table
Glass Eyes, Red Rocks, and Omaha Suckouts

I took a bunch of pics at the WPT Championship. Check out my 2006 WPT Championships gallery on Flickr.

Oh and in April, I finally made the same final table as my brother! And I also posted an job offer for a female intern during the WSOP. I could not pay anything but I did manage to offer, "Free lapdances during bi-weekly field trips to strip clubs."

* * * * *

5:30am... Sunday... Covington, KY... Daddy hit on 3 different Waffle House waitresses while he devoured a triple order of hashbrowns topped with chili and a pecan waffle on the side... the 20 year old pear-shaped waitress with three kids had a tattoo on her wrist that read "Total Bitch" in faded aqua ink...
May was an amazing month. After what seemed like several months in Hollyweird and Las Vegas, I went back to NYC and spent time with my brother. I also wrote a ton before I was scheduled to hit the road again in June and move back to Las Vegas to cover the WSOP. In May, I went out to Cincinnati to visit Iggy and some very special guests. I sat in a high stakes game down on Wall Street and I started writing something that turned into the Born to Gamble series which will be included in the next incarnation of the Las Vegas book.

Here are some gems from May:
The Warrior Within: Bruce Lee, Taoism, and Poker
Through the Looking Glass: April Maelstrom
Mother Lovebone
The Wall Street Game
LaFeltah Vermouth and the Village Drunk
Tao of Keno
Born to Gamble Part I: Where It All Begins
Born to Gamble Part II: Southbound.
Daddy also returned with two guest posts called A Bad Beat Story: Part II and The Routine.

In LaFeltah Vermouth, I recap my trip to Cincy to hang with Iggy. He took me to one of the riverboats to play cards. We caught a Reds game with Daddy, BG, Maudie and GMoney. I played in Iggy's homegame (held across the river in Covington, KY) with TeeDub, GMoney, Dann, Mr. Fabulous, and Duggle Bogey. Daddy and I managed to make two late night/early morning binge eating sessions at the worst Waffle House in all of Kentucky.

For shits and giggles, with the help of my buddy, Professional Keno Player Neil Fontenot, I wrote Tao of Keno in response to TripJax's 21 questions.

And I ended the month with the first two installments of my Born to Gamble series... Part I: Where It All Begins and Part II: Southbound.

That's it for now, stay tuned for Part II of the Year in Review.

No comments:

Post a Comment