Monday, December 20, 2010

WPBT Moving on Up, Part 1: The Dream, Moving the Line, and Stay Away from My Sister

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

This recap is at least a week late. I had other work going on last week and never found a large chunk of time to sit down and write about the 7th incarnation of the WPBT weekend in Las Vegas. My brother finally published his perennial Hemingway-inspired post about the WPBT, and as always, it's one of the best of the bunch. Check out Derek's Matrix-themed recap titled Holiday Classic Recap: Unplugged.

The volume and strength of my recaps seriously diminished over the years. The inaugural WPBT weekend in 2004 was the shortest trip since the inception, but that recap is the largest to date with a behemoth 10-part series, which spilled into January, and consisted of a 21,000+ word rambling screed about bloggers heading to Vegas with each other for the first time.

The natural progression of how I process new experiences negativity affected the volume of writing about the WPBT weekend in subsequent years. If you've attended several gatherings, then you understand that the newness of the trip (and Las Vegas itself) wears thin. What was once new and bizarre has now become expected and downright overlooked. For example, on the first trip when my brother and I selected the weekend that would become set in stone for the ensuing years, we did not have a clue that we stumbled upon Rodeo Week as a backdrop. Like the blogger gathering itself, the selection process was organic -- it just happened that way -- and sea of cowboys surrounded a group of 20 or so poker-addicted strangers meeting for the first time, which added a peculiar and surreal element to the original Vegas WPBT trip reports. Flash forward seven years and the cowboys who once stood out quickly faded into the background. They were muted like the invisible blue hairs chasing jackpots at the penny slots.

As a writer I often struggle with avoiding the pitfall of repeating myself. Sure, universal themes are revisited frequently as long as the principles and situations are different, but I often censor myself because I don't want to repeat myself and strive for originality. That's another main reason why I've written less and less about the WPBT over the years -- because I feel as though I already told the story and if I can't tell it better a second time around, then I'd rather let the original story stand alone. Besides, when you move to Las Vegas full time, it affects how you perceive things. One of the main backstories to Lost Vegas is how I chronicled my struggles from as an enthusiastic tourist to a jaded local. Even though I choose not to live in Las Vegas during my down time, I still have to live there every summer for two months. The Vegas myth for me has been shattered a hundred times over.

The third reason contributing to why my WPBT posts have lost their luster is simply that the people in my life are not as comfortable with detailing their daily minutiae as I am. Sure, some of my friends are utter whores and thrive on the attention, but others are outright shy. Although it's taken a few years and a couple of hairy incidents to come up with the current formula, my close friends are content with my definition of discretion. My built-in filter is set up for their protection; I rarely ask permission and they rarely have to remind me. In short, they want to have fun without worrying about it becoming fodder for the intertubes. For most of our salacious musings, you're going to have to wait until a sequel to Lost Vegas gets published in 2015 or the Phish book comes out in 2012.

So much for a quick disclaimer to start this recap. I guess what I was trying to say that my silence, or lack of verbiage on the WPBT weekend does not reflect the amount of fun I had on the trip. Most of the fun that I experienced has already been written up better in previous reports, or we're having too much fun that I don't have the time to stop and document it all.

One thing is for certain, it doesn't matter if it was the first trip or seventh -- it was a sincere pleasure to see old friends and make new ones, and those who could not make the journey for whatever reason were sorely missed.

* * * * *

"Dude, we moved the line," Derek said.

I had never moved a line in a Las Vegas casino before. Sure, it was the Imperial Palace's sports book, a haven for the down and out horse fegens that God often forgets about, which probably explained why the line on the Knicks game moved from -2.5 to -3 after our bet. I mean, if you're the sportsbook manager and two swarthy guys from New York put down a big bet on the Knicks less than ten minutes before tip off, wouldn't you be a bit curious?

Our bet was of ill-significance compared to bets that I've put down in the past, especially in 2007 at the apex of my sports betting degeneracy. Even when I was betting five and six dimes on a game back then, I never affected the line like we did at the IP for a bet on the Knicks game. I'm guessing that we were the only action on that game but it was big enough that they were suspicious. Hence the line move.

I wasn't 100% convinced of our persuasion until we walked into the sportsbook at the MGM later that night and noticed that the Knicks line was set at the original -2.5. The line also stayed the same at Caesar's Palace, which is a tentacle of IP's parent company. You would think that all of their sportsbooks had a universal line, but the IP's sportsbook manager used his own discretion and bumped up the spread a half a point.

The IP is old school Vegas and has yet to embrace the 21st century. I wouldn't be surprised if an eighty-year old myopic goomba named Tony was setting the lines with an abacus in the backroom. The point spread for the Knicks-Wizards game was written down in a black marker on a white dry board behind the cashier. After we put in our bet, the manager rubbed out "-2.5" and replaced it with a minus sign followed by a number three.

At the time we made the wager, the Knicks had won six in a row and were in the middle of a historical streak that was threatening to break Knicks team records from the halcyon days in the 1990s. Newly acquired Amare Stoudamire was playing like an MVP and easily dropping 30+ points a game. The Knicks surprised a lot of people, but we knew they were a tough team to beat on the road. They were taking on the lowly Washington Wizards and it seemed like a lock.

"The Knicks are a second half team," Derek matter-of-factly stated before he took a deep drag on his cigarette.

The Knicks were down by 5 at the half but my brother didn't blink. As they had been doing all season, the Knicks caught fire in the third quarter and seized the lead. They never looked back and won the game by six points. My brother looked calm and cool the second half, while I acted the opposite. I started pacing around the IP sportsbook with less than 4 minutes left in the 4th quarter. StB thought that was hilarious, because in the five or six years we've known each other, he had never seen my frantic behavior when sweating a bet on hoops.

"I can now cross that off my bucket list," StB quipped.

I do it all the time. When I used to work on Wall Street, I preferred phones with long extension chords so I could walk up and down my trench while trying to churn clients' accounts. On Sundays during the NFL season, my girlfriend is amused with the amount of frantic pacing that I'll undertake in an eight hour session while walking around in circles for a total of three miles inside our 800 sq. ft. apartment in the slums of Beverly Hills. The bigger the bets (or important fantasy league match-up), the more that I pace. I obviously have problems -- call it an inverse God complex -- where I can't stomach not having control over a situation. Hence that's why I get an amazing, yet nausea-inducing rush betting on sports.

* * * * *

The last two plus years have been a dream... because America elected a black President, I finally finished Lost Vegas, my favorite band got back together, and I discovered two new outlets to write about topics outside of poker (music on Coventry and fear/financial stuff on Tao of Fear). It is all a dream, right? I must have died in a car crash in the summer of 2008 and everything I experienced up until this point has been one of those "life flashes before your eyes" moments when two years of what could have been gets accelerated into a micro-second before my screen fades to black and I return to nothingness.

10:20pm. Wednesday. I sat on I-15 in Victorville, CA. The northbound traffic halted as I watched an upside down truck unleash a plume of smoke punctuated by orange flashes as firefighters struggled to put out the blaze. During the two-hour delay, I was confronted with my own mortality. Two and half years earlier, I walked away from an accident in Las Vegas. I firmly believe that I used up a lifetime of Vegas run good that day, and that if I never won a bet at Pai Gow or at the sportsbook ever again, then it didn't matter because the fact that I was alive and not dead trumped every thing else.

I got sucked into a black hole of an existential crisis on I-15 and couldn't help but think about the origins of the WPBT in 2004, and how I was in a rental car and driving solo (on the verge of reaching bat country) from Los Angeles to Las Vegas instead of flying out to Vegas from New York City like I did on the first trip with my brother. Little did I know in December 2004 that my life would take a majestic turn in the ensuing six months, and all because of this corner of the web.

Death often wakes you up from the doldrums of banality. If I had left Los Angeles only five minutes earlier, then I could have been road kill and caught up in the fatal accident on I-15. That was too heavy of a topic for me to endure while stuck in a traffic jam only a few feet from the carnage. It's no wonder that I questioned my own reality and wondered if I was already dead and that the last two years, heck, the last six years of my life were a dream.

* * * * *

Change100 and I have a driving routine to Vegas -- she navigates out out of the treacherous freeways of Los Angeles, and we switch drivers after a stop at In-N-Out in Barstow or during a piss break in Baker so I can drive the rest of the way into Vegas. Our plans fell apart because Change100 threw out her back right after Turkey Day. She was out of commission the week before the gathering and at the last minute had to make a tough decision to listen to her doctor and stay home. I threw out my back at the last gathering and it really sucked. I usually welcome the opportunity to be hopped up on pills -- but not in a public setting when I have to socialize and speak coherently -- so last year was tough because I was so faded and wasted that most of the events blended together in a blur.

Change100 and I were looking forward to the December Vegas trip because it was a rare non-work sojourn to Vegas. Most of the time I visit Vegas these days, it's because of a work assignment or some sort of meeting. I rarely have the opportunity to be a tourist in Las Vegas, because that when I pretend to ignore all of the plight for a few days and indulge myself in the carnal pleasures of Sin City without worry about the ensuing downfall of Western civilization and the murky future of the online poker industry.

I had to drive myself to/from Vegas and remained relatively sober all weekend. I barely drank save for Thursday night at the Geisha Bar with a few drafts of beer from Falstaff's perpetual pitcher, along with the customary singular shot of SoCo with Al (sort of similar to the Catholic tradition of taking communion at least once a year, and instead of drinking the blood of Christ, I sampled the nectar of the hedonist gods). In the past, the gatherings have been a non-stop cocktail party, but this year was vastly different and my liver thanked me for a rare break. I honestly can't remember a time when I didn't wake up hungover to play in Saturday's tournament. Too bad the lack of booze didn't help my outcome.

With Change100 sidelined with a back sprain (the official designation on the WPBT Injury Report), Derek and I needed a third teammate for the 420 All Stars. Thanks to the cold war between online poker sites competing for the hearts and minds of bloggers, PokerStars added money to a team last longer pool, which juiced up the action for the Holiday Classic tournament. Last year, my team (with Derek and Change100) finished in third place, so we were gunning for a top spot this year especially because Change100 had been running well at the tables in the last two months. With a reduced writing schedule, she had much more time to play online poker -- significantly more than my brother and myself combined. We really thought that Change100 was our X-factor, but with her absence we needed some last minute help. That's when we turned to our step-sister Mo.

I know that it came to a surprise when we introduced Mo to everyone mainly because it was a shocker that we had a younger sibling (and yes, there's a lot of family stuff that I don't discuss in a public forum because it way too personal and that's one of those things that got filtered out, however if you follow along with Coventry Music, you might have read about her and our other step-sister aka the Disco Sisters, whom I write about from time-to-time). Anyway, Mo recently graduated college and moved to Las Vegas to earn some money for medical school. I know that's what most strippers tell us at the Rhino, but with Mo it's a legit story. Her poker game has progressed over the last few months. Derek and I felt that she'd be an X-factor because no one knew how she played.

The 420 All Stars family affair was ready. We gathered for a pre-tourney meal at Hash House, and were amazed when Mo crushed the Chorizo breakfast special. We partook in pre-game festivities before heading over to the tournament at the Aria.

I stood in front of Ivey's Room and chatted with author/tax specialist Russ Fox. I couldn't help but think that the WPBT has come a long way from its origins as a three-table tournament at Sam's Town to only a few steps away from Ivey's Room at the swanky Aria.

Otis arrived with news of an added bounty for old school bloggers that PokerStars funded. Ten of us who played in the original Holiday Classic were designated as old school bounties. $100 each was up for grabs and we were given a package of band-aids to signify that were were bounty players.

Great... like I needed to give my opponents another reason for knocking me out. I know that Full Tilt threw in a few bounties of their own, so someone like AlCantHang had $200 on his head. Lucky for me, Al was seated at my table and I had a shot at $200 in free money.
WPBT 2010 Holiday Classic - My Starting Table:
Seat 1: Mattazuma
Seat 2: Joe Speaker
Seat 3: Random Canuck (Astin's friend)
Seat 4: AlCantHang
Seat 5: Your Hero
Seat 6: Bree
Seat 7: The Mark (late addition)
Seat 8: Venneno
Seat 9: Snuffy
Seat 10: Falstaff (late addition)
We had a total of 97 runners for this event. Some guy named Mike was the Gigli for the event. He busted out in the first fifteen minutes or so. The defending champ was Astin, who beat out AlCantHang last year. Astin didn't become the first repeat champion. He bowed out rather early.

I had a fun table. I constantly bet "420" and the dealers were cool with letting me toss out $425 but say it's 420. I know a lot of Nazi-centric dealers without a sense of humor who would have done otherwise, but we had a charming dealing crew. I always wondered if dealers were happy for a change of pace with the WPBT crew, or if they mortified at the level of inebriation, shit-talking, and poor poker etiquette?

I won a pot early on against Snuffy. I held K-K and rivered a set. I value bet the river and got paid off. I got lucky with A-K against AlCantHang who opened with Kings. An Ace flopped on an all-spade board. I had the King of spades and was free-rolling a nut flush draw, but didn't get paid off because Al got spooked and bailed.

I lost most of my stack on a bad call against Astin's buddy from Toronto. I held J-J with two 10s on the flop. I didn't believe he had a ten, when guess what? He held a ten. I was knocked down to 2K on a terrible call.

We had a break at the right time, because I might have donked off the rest of my chips right then. I took a smoke break out front with a friend who I had not seen in 18 months.

"The last time we saw each other," I reminded him, "was when we were tripping on mescaline in Tennessee and Bruce Springsteen sat in with Phish."

My buddy thought he was getting busted for smoking by a trio of teenaged girls, but one of the girls pulled out a camera and asked him to take a picture of them in front of the rushing wall of water.

After the break, I was about to shove with the first pushable hand. I found A-10, but folded when super-tight Mattazuma three-bet someone. He had Queens and I probably would have been toast. I waited a few hands and woke up with A-K and made a stand. The Mark called with any two cards from his big blind and I was up against K-2. I flopped trip Kings, which held up after I faded his baby kicker. I doubled up to a paltry 2.3K

An orbit passed and a wave of fortuitous luck came over me. I opened shoved with pocket deuces and Mattazuma called with pocket Tens.

"Two on the door," joked AlCantHang.

It wasn't the door card, but the dealer squeezed out a deuce as the second card on the flop. My table exploded. I won the hand with a set and doubled through Mattazuma. I improved to 4.4K and was still short.

That's when I got struck with lightning a second time. I open shoved with pocket fives from UTG. Falstaff moved all-in in late position, but AlCantHang called from the big blind.
Falstaff: A-A
AlCantHang: Q-Q
Pauly: 5-5

I flopped a gutshot, turned a double-belly buster, and got there on the river. I tripled up and I think Al busted out. I all of a sudden improved to 14K after catching running cards.

On the very next hand, I woke up with Jacks. Mark and his short stack shoved with A-9. My Jacks held up and I was closing in on 18K. We had a $20 last longer and it was awesome to ship any bet against the Mark.

And then, my run good hit a snag and fizzled out. Venneno, the only player who had more chips than me at my table, sent me packing. Falstaff was all-in with a short stack in a multi-way pot. I had pocket sevens and flopped middle set with two hearts on the board. I couldn't get Venneno to fold. I hoped that she had flopped top two, but she was on flush draw and the rest is history. She made a flush. I failed to boat up and hit the rail in 49th place. Venneno already owned an autographed copy of Lost Vegas (my personal bounty), but she was more than happy to collect the $100 band-aid old school bounty courtesy of PokerStars.

I actually outlasted Mo and Derek. Mo was the first to go from the 420 All Stars. Derek went out shortly before me. They hung out at the sportsbook bar with AlCantHang until I busted out. Derek made everyone know that they needed to keep their hands off our sister. With my exit, we had no chance at making the money for the team side event. Team ROACH went onto to win this year's team event. Congrats to those guys.

When it got down to the final six around 9pm at night (or roughly nine hours into the tournament), Miami Don was the overall chipleader. A deal was discussed and agreed upon. Iggy was initially miffed that they didn't play it down to the trophy because he had a specialized Hammer trophy created for the winner of event. However, when you took into consideration the size of stacks in relation to the blinds, after nine hours it made more sense to chop it up. A fair compromise would have been to make save for the money and then play down to an actual champion for sake of the trophy. As is, all parties agreed on the deal which actually gave more money to the smaller stacks. Chipleader Miami Don took home second place money and the trophy.

Congrats to Miami Don. It was a fitting victory considering he just moved back to Vegas to give it a second go around. Not a bad way to make a comeback, eh?

Thanks again to Stars and FT for juicing up the prize pool. Thanks to the Aria dealers for putting up with our antics. And lastly thanks to April/CK for arranging the tournament/weekend because it's a tough and thankless task which is why I appreciate your efforts.

* * * * *

My report is going long, so I'm cutting it into two parts. Stay tuned to Part II tomorrow. And before we move onto Part II tomorrow, I suggest you familiarize yourself with Buy the Fucking Dip, an inside joke that got out of control over the weekend. So when I start writing about it the Dip, you'll know what I'm talking about.

And don't forget to check out my brother's recap titled Holiday Classic Recap: Unplugged.


  1. That's when I was 17. I had two more stints at 22 and 30.

  2. Anonymous10:26 AM

    I enjoyed your trip report as usual, especially the part where I hit a flush and scored a pack of bandaids..hehe

    Great seeing you! Next time we need to get Fluxer to join.