Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Last Voyage Up The Oregon Trail: 2009 WSOP Preview

When I was in third grade, pretty much my favorite thing in the world was the computer game The Oregon Trail. There were few children’s games back then that featured such a high degree of left and right brain skill. I played every opportunity I got at school.
You started the game by naming the leader of the family and the four family members coming along. One time, I thought it would be funny to name the wagonmaster “Poop” and his companions things like “Piss” and so on. This trip up the Oregon Trail was deliberately doomed, so that when the last of the family finally died “Poop” would have a hilariously infamous grave (“Here Lies Poop”) and epitath. When the last of the expedition died, I wrote “I come out of a butt” for the epitath.

Word of this mischievous stunt leaked to the school’s higher powers, and they were not pleased. The hammer came down hard – that was probably the worst trouble I’d gotten into my first nine years. I don’t remember all the details of the punishment – probably some combination of restricted computer time, labor, reading, etc. I wasn’t going to be allowed to play The Oregon Trail again at Bixby School. And one more thing – the principal wanted me to go through the game, looking for a way to erase that vile gravestone.

I was given two hours one afternoon to try to eradicate “Poop” and his dirty epitath. I knew going in that was a hopeless mission. The chances of running across the gravestone were slim, and even if I stumbled upon it, I had no idea how to clear it. I regarded those two hours as my final opportunity to play the game, and I gave it my all. I had long wished to overtake the legendary “Stephen Meek” atop the Oregon Trail leaderboard. This would be my final chance. I was going to give it everything I had, and enjoy every last minute.

This may be the last time I stay in Las Vegas for the duration of the World Series of Poker. Spending six weeks in Vegas is an exhausting experience, suited only for diehard professionals. It is my hope that a year from now I will no longer be a professional poker player, let alone a diehard. I am hoping to extricate myself from the world of professional poker, to the point where my income comes from other sources and I can play the game for recreation. Whether or not this actually happens seems questionable based on track record, but imagining another six-week stretch in the City of Sin is even more dubious.

This summer, though, I will be there from start to finish playing a full diet of tournaments. Although my temperament isn’t in all-out assault status as it was last year at this time, I will find myself at the casino almost every day eating, drinking, breathing, and playing tournament poker.

Desirae and I will leave Boulder on Thursday aiming for a Friday afternoon arrival at a house on Buried Treasure Court in southwest Las Vegas. The three other extended residents are PiMaster, TheMasterJ33, and SamENole. It should be a focused, low-key environment, a far cry from last year's action-packed and ultimately exhausting stay at the Castle. I relieved myself of organizational duties this year. I'll be happy to settle into a role with less stress and leadership. In fact, this could end up being an enjoyable and memorable summer even if I don't make any significant scores. There are many people I would like to see do well at the WSOP. For the first time I can remember, I know several people whose success would bring me more happiness than my own. This includes everyone in the house, several pals from the circuit, and close friends from Boulder - some who will be popping their WSOP cherries.

Personally I'm looking at roughly 21 events at the WSOP with around $55,000 worth of buy-ins. I'll be texting updates to twitter.com/gnightmoon.

Tournaments I will very likely play:

May 30 $1k NLHE
June 1 $1.5k PLO
June 3 $1.5k 6-handed NLHE
June 3 $2.5k PLHE/PLO
June 8 $2.5k 6-handed NLHE
June 9 $1.5k PLHE
June 10 $1.5k NLHE Shootout
June 24 $2.5k Mixed HE
June 25 $1.5k PLO8
June 28 $3k Triple Chance NLHE
June 30 $5k 6-handed NLHE
July 3 $10k NLHE World Championship

Tournaments I will likely play:

June 2 $1.5k NLHE
June 4 $2k NLHE
June 5 $2.5k NLHE
June 11 $1.5k NLHE
June 13 $1.5k NLHE
June 14 $2.5k PLO
June 15 $2k NLHE
June 16 $1.5k NLHE
June 18 $2k NLHE
June 20 $1.5k NLHE
June 21 $5k NLHE Shootout
June 27 $1.5k NLHE
June 29 $1.5k NLHE

Tournaments I am on the fence for:

June 6 $5k NLHE
June 17 $5k PLO

Tournaments I will think about if things are going very well:

June 13 $10k NLHE Heads Up
June 20 $10k PLO
June 23 $10k PLHE
June 28 $1.5k Stud Hi/Lo

I am not going to let this WSOP bring me down. No matter what happens, I am going to be up more money at the end of the Series than I had projected the first four months of this year. You will not be reading any posts of this nature on the blog this summer, though I may spit out one or two of these.

I never found that gravesite during that last trip up the Oregon Trail, and I didn’t break Stephen Meek’s records. But it wasn’t too long before they let me play again, and eventually I finished the game with all five members in good health along with tons of supplies and smashed all those records. I say this will probably be the last blast, but in the poker world, you just never know what’s going to happen next.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Running On The Mesa Trail

This winter and spring, I spent many hours running in the foothills near my house. Running is not my favorite activity, but it dominated the colder months in the absence of the friendly warm weather team games like volleyball and softball. I got pretty fixated on running, steadily increasing the distance and difficulty of my routes. I had my eye on a sub-45 minute time in the Bolder Boulder, a popular 10k race on Memorial Day.

I live in the southwest corner of Boulder, right where a thousand miles of plains end and the Rockies begin. The system of trails near my house is based around the Mesa Trail, a 6.7 mile north-south artery from Eldorado Springs to Chautauqua in west-central Boulder. The Mesa Trail is runner's heaven, windy and lumpy and scenic, with no vehicles, no bikes, and fewer people than the subsidiary trails connecting it to Boulder. The Mesa Trail is far from flat, but it does not run uphill or down. It is hilly, but not consistently one way. This is the best kind of running - adventurous but never oppressive.

The hard part is getting up to the Mesa Trail. Doing so from my house requires a minimum of 1.5 miles of laborious uphill slogging. Most runs begin this way - I put on a pokerroad podcast, grab Daisy the black lab, put my head down, and chug up the mountain. I don't have much to remember about these uphill jaunts. I just try to pay attention to the ipod, not my legs and lungs.

Once I get to the Mesa Trail, it is pure glory. Endorphins rush through me once the angle lessens. The views are spectacular. Daisy, who has been running circles around me while collecting sticks and cavorting with other dogs, now struggles to keep up. I usually switch from the podcast to music once I reach the Mesa, which just makes me want to run faster. There is no pain, only pleasure. On the Mesa Trail, I sometimes feel like I could run forever.

This winter and spring was a difficult time for me. There was little I did, other than running, that seemed to accomplish anything. I struggled in poker, in love, in Catan, in life. I tried and failed. Every day was an uphill climb, and I never seemed to be getting anywhere.

Now suddenly, shockingly, everything in my life has come together in stunning triumph. It all happened so fast. I cannot believe how fortunate I have been lately, how well things have been going, how delightful each day has been. There is nothing that pains me, no area of struggle. Every hour is filled with joy, with the people and things I love the most. Softball and kickball and ultimate frisbee. The weather has been superb. The Nuggets and their compelling run at a championship. The recently-discovered hookah bar. A fresh crop of summer movies. There has been so much fun, in fact, that I haven't gone running more than twice this month and have decided to eschew the Bolder Boulder.

Every day is a gift. I am running without resistance. I have reached the plateau, and feel like I could run forever up here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Fourth Place For $165,000

A big thanks to all those who watched today and gave all the great support. I was so nervous and excited all day. When the final hand went down I mostly just felt elation - just so happy to sew up a winning 2009 after all the struggles and all the pain, and satisfied with how I played the tournament.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

FTOPS $2500

I'm fourth in chips of 87 remaining players heading into day two of the FTOPS $2500 event. I always get jacked up to play this event, even this spring when I have been playing very little poker. A big result tomorrow would allow me to realize my dream of playing even less, so wish me luck. Play resumes at noon MST.

My 100 Favorite Songs: #43

The Stranglers - Golden Brown

Based on this song, I went out and purchased a Best of Stranglers. Don't make that same mistake.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Greg Paulus Revisited

Greg Paulus will be playing football for Syracuse University in the fall.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Good Confronts Evil in the NBA Playoffs

The first round series between the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls was widely lauded as the greatest first round series in NBA history, and some even called it the greatest series in playoff history. But the second round tilt between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers has been the most compelling series of this year’s playoffs, an engaging and meandering skirmish between two foils who regard each other with disdain. We haven’t seen a good and evil juxtaposition of this lucidity in American sports since the famous 2004 Red Sox/Yankees ALCS, or perhaps any game the New England Patriots played during their 18-1 season two years ago.

The Boston/Chicago first round series was an entertaining seven-game affair between a wounded, staggering former champion and an alleged up and comer who lost as many games this season as they won. Four of the games were decided in overtime, including double and triple OT games, but ultimately we knew that the winner of the series was not going to compete for a championship this season. Watching the Cleveland Cavaliers sweep Detroit in four, the Lakers cruise past the Jazz without breaking a sweat, and the Denver Nuggets slap a 58-point road beating on the Hornets was like watching 1-seeds crush 16-seeds in the NCAA tournament. Watching the Celtics/Bulls series was like watching a quadruple-overtime first round 8/9 NCAA game. It was fun, everyone played hard, some money may have exchanged hands…but ultimately nothing happened to influence who will be the last standing when the dust settles in June.

The Lakers and Rockets, on the other hand, are Contenders. The Lakers were the obvious pick to represent the West in the Finals, right up until Houston strolled into the Staples Center last Monday, smacked the Lakers in the face with 48 minutes of physical, fearless ball, and emerged with a stunning road win to take a 1-0 lead and effectively wrest away the coveted homefield advantage. The Lakers responded with a predictable, muscular burst to take control early in game two, only to see the Rockets mount a shocking comeback. That barnburner went to the half tied at 57. The Lakers were able to put together a workmanlike second half and win going away, but not before five technical fouls had been administered, two players had been ejected, and Houston coach Rick Adelman had sent guard Von Wafer to the showers. LA point guard Derek Fisher, often cited as one of the NBA’s “good guys”, was suspended for this hit on Luis Scola.

LA won game three in Houston Friday night without too much trouble in the kind of performance that re-establishes a clear pecking order and puts upset talk to rest. The Rockets later learned oft-injured star 7’-6” center Yao Ming had a hairline fracture in his left foot and would have to miss the rest of the playoffs. All hope was lost.

But, lest we forget, the NBA Playoffs are Where Amazing Happens. The undermanned Rockets trounced LA in game four. Houston scampered to a 29-point lead after three quarters, embarrassing the Lakers Sunday afternoon and spontaneously hatching the first Double Ewing Theory. The anti-Lakers chants of the giddy Houston crowd grew louder and louder as the blowout’s shock dissipated and its severity swelled. The win was even more surprising considering Ron Artest, the closest thing to a “star” the Rockets have left, had just 8 points on 4-19 shooting.

The face of the Rockets since 2004, shooting guard Tracy McGrady, was lost for the season to microfracture surgery in February. It has been well-chronicled that McGrady has never been on a team that has won a playoff series. Of course, Houston dispatched the Portland Trail Blazers in round one in their first recent appearance without the services of McGrady. And now they are 1-0 without Yao.

Sunday’s stunner does not come as such a shocker when one considers the team’s history of overcoming adversity. Dealing with disadvantage is an area of expertise for these Rockets, both as a team and individually. Houston won 22 games in a row last season after Yao was injured, the second longest streak in NBA history.

Second-year forward Carl Landry, a key contributor to that 22-game streak, was shot in the leg on March 17 during an attempted carjacking of his SUV. Landry is an undersized power forward with an affinity for defense and rebounding. Another second year player, point guard Aaron Brooks, is one of the smallest players in the league – listed at 6’0, 160. Brooks scored 34 points on Sunday. Houston’s other point guard, Kyle Lowry, is also just 6’0, and can’t shoot all that well from long distance. He lives in the lane, and like most of his teammates, plays defense with passion. Chuck Hayes, who now starts due to the Yao injury, is another undersized, defensive-minded young player. Despite a stellar career at Kentucky, Hayes went undrafted and didn’t get a look in the NBA until after a stint in the D-League – which he led in rebounding. 29-year-old Luis Scola was a rookie last year, same as 20-year-old Kevin Durant. That’s the last you’ll hear Scola compared to Durant – Luis is an ungainly long-haired Argentine. By the way, none of these guys were lottery picks.

But the most likable of them all is Shane Battier, defensive specialist du jour, consummate team player, and all-around good guy. Like everyone else on the Rockets, Battier has a glaring weakness – his is a dearth of athleticism and offensive skill. But Battier plays with unmatched intellect and magnanimity, concentrating his efforts on the defensive end while aspiring to maximize offensive efficiency. Scoring outbursts have never been his forte, but he did step up with Yao out and Artest struggling to score 23 points on Sunday -15 in the decisive first half.

Battier often defends Lakers all-world superstar and despicable human Kobe Bryant, framing a vivid contrast between good and evil. It is a great pleasure to watch Battier go to work on Bryant, expending dogged effort, attention to detail, new age strategy, and a lot of heart. Kobe always gets his, but Battier often meddles with his efficiency. You can tell Battier is frustrating Bryant by the reactions Kobe has been making when he sinks a shot, by the taunts he flings out after a made basket. It is wonderful to watch Bryant’s jeers – these are signs of a bully being challenged, worried for the first time that his seat atop the mountain may come tumbling down.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Single Thought of a Single Man

In college there was a girl in the psychology department a year below me I “know” would have been perfect for me, but I never got to know her. I remember late one night Senior year I was working in the lab alone on my directed research project muttering to myself about t-tests and P-values when this girl walked by and gave me a huge, dazzling smile as she passed. These are the kinds of things I think about late at night trying to fall asleep.

Friday, May 08, 2009

My 100 Favorite Songs: #44

Jeff Buckley - Hallelujah

I think this is the only cover on the list - original spawned by Leonard Cohen.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

My 100 Favorite Songs: #45

Dire Straits - Money For Nothing

I distinctly remember taking a train from Philadelphia to Atlantic City in 2005 as I hit "The Circuit" for the first time, listening to this song as the towering casinos approached, thinking the lyrics sounded inspired by Daniel Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Single Thought of a Single Man

“You’ll like Tom,” the older brother said. “He’s a professional gambler.”

We talked for a bit about that. At this stage of my career it sounds more exciting than it actually is.

“So what do you do?” I asked.

“I’m a sophomore,” she said.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Offseason Observations Part I: The Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos have had by far the wildest offseason of any team in the NFL. It began with the controversial firing of Mike Shanahan and hiring of Josh McDaniels, continued with an aggressive slew of free agent signings, and rocketed out of control with the Jay Cutler saga which ended in a blockbuster trade landing Cutler in Chicago. Then came a nutty draft in which the Broncos took Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno with the twelfth overall pick, traded a 2010 first-rounder to get Wake Forest cornerback Alphonso Smith, and traded their two third-round picks for the last pick of the second round, which they used to take North Carolina tight end Richard Quinn.

Let’s start with the Shanahan firing. Shanahan possesses one of the premier Xs and Os minds in football, possibly even the best. The Broncos were generally powerful on offense during his tenure, though they have had little consistency at the skill positions since the Super Bowl years of John Elway, Terrell Davis, and Shannon Sharpe. Running backs not good enough to make most NFL rosters have had great success playing for Shanahan, a long list which includes Olandis Gary, Reuben Droughns, Quentin Griffin, Mike Anderson, Tatum Bell, and Mike Bell. Half these guys are selling cell phones these days, while the other half are struggling to make NFL rosters. The only real talent Shanahan has had in the backfield since Davis is Clinton Portis, who was traded to the Redskins for Champ Bailey.

The Broncos have not had a potent passing game since Elway retired, but that all changed last year as Jay Cutler made The Leap. Ryan Clady and Eddie Royal proved to be brilliant first and second round picks, and Brandon Marshall continued to elevate his game after a turbulent offseason. The offensive line played as well as any in the league, and Peyton Hillis emerged as the most popular Bronco since Ed McCaffrey. The Broncos finished second in the league in total yards.

But the defense was atrocious – one of the worst in the history of the game according to some new-age statistics. They lacked talent in every position, had arguably the worst defensive linemen and safeties in the league, and gave up tons of big plays while creating very few.

When he was let go, Shanahan had assumed much of the organization’s personnel decisionmaking power. The Broncos were coming off a great 2008 draft, but years of defensive busts (anyone not from Colorado, have you ever heard of Jarvis Moss, Tim Crowder, Willie Middlebrooks, or Eric Brown?) left the cupboard bare. Ultimately Shanahan was fired because of his decisions regarding defensive personnel.

In a perfect world, the Broncos would have retained Shanahan while cutting back his role in personnel evaluation. Instead, owner Pat Bowlen rolled the dice on then-32 year-old wunderkind Josh Daniels, previously offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots. Defensive coordinator Bob Slowik was sent packing and replaced by ex-Niners head coach Mike Nolan. Quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, a sharp young mind similar to McDaniels and a close ally of Cutler’s, was uncertain of his role and decided to take a position with the USC Trojans. The Broncos also overhauled their personnel department and brought in Brian Xanders as the new General Manager.

Somewhere in this mess word leaked that McDaniels & co. were shopping Cutler around. McDaniels wanted Matt Cassel, who he coached last year in New England after Tom Brady was injured. Cutler was not pleased when he got word of these developments, and reacted immaturely. Cutler asked to be traded, and when communication between Cutler and the Broncos disintegrated, the Broncos complied with his request.

As a lifelong Denver Broncos fan and current NFL diehard, the Cutler saga made me somewhat queasy. We all know quarterback is the most important position in the league as well as the scarcest. By my count there are only 20-25 people in the world who can play quarterback at the level necessary to win in the NFL, there are only 10-15 who I would feel okay about playing for my team, there are only 5-8 who played as well as Cutler last season, and there may not be a single person in the world who possesses as much talent as Jay Cutler does for the quarterback position. So the idea of losing Cutler before his 26th birthday did not sit well with me.

But the Broncos got two first round picks, a third round pick, and Kyle Orton in exchange. Orton was really starting to figure it out himself and play at a high level before his injury midway through last season. I can live with Orton and the picks. At this moment in time, I think the best word to describe the trade is “fair.”

But why did Denver’s new brass bring in LaMont Jordan, Correll Buckhalter, and JJ Arrington, then draft Moreno at #12? Prevailing wisdom in the Rockies was that running back was not a position of need for the Broncos. Selvin Young, Andre Hall, and Hillis were all successful under Shanahan, and the hype around 2008 fourth-round pick Ryan Torain reached deafening heights during an injury-riddled rookie campaign. Even PJ Pope averaged 7.6 yards per carry last season. Merely adding one running back in the offseason would have been viewed as gratuitous; adding four including a first round pick is clearly ridiculous.

As curious as these signings were, I do have some points worth mentioning to panicking Bronco fans:

1. As both the Broncos and Patriots found out last season, you can never have enough running backs. They get injured more often than any other position and seem to function best playing two or three in a game. NFL teams should have a bare minimum of three good backs (think what Mewelde Moore did for the Steelers after Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall went down last season) and could get significant contributions from as many as five or six throughout the season.

2. McDaniels is clearly bringing in players to fit his system. Selvin Young and Andre Hall may have functioned competently in Shanahan’s design, but maybe they won’t for McDaniels. LaMont Jordan and Jabar Gaffney might not have helped last year’s team much, but they will help institute the McDaniels system.

3. McDaniels wants competition. He wants these guys driving each other to get better, knowing jobs are at stake. Running back is largely a position of effort, and all these guys should bring out the best in each other.

4. I watched a few Georgia games the last couple years, and always got the feeling Knowshon Moreno was the best player on the field. I never had that feeling for Matt Stafford.

5. It has occurred to me that McDaniels may have something crazy, something revolutionary in mind. Perhaps something akin to the single wing. Maybe he took a look at tape of Denver’s offensive line and ideas started popping in his mind. Maybe he wants to make a splash with something bold and creative, something that could make him a legend. It’s an unlikely theory of course, but perhaps the offense Denver plays in 2009 will be unlike any we have ever seen in the National Football League.

No matter how the rookies turn out, we already know Denver's draft was rather inefficient. They traded a first round pick for a second and later traded two third rounders for the last pick of the second round, for a player who wasn't projected to be drafted anytime soon. Changing the offense, shuffling the coaching staff, bringing in your own style of players - these things don't bother me so much. McDaniels was hired as head coach - I believe he should get a chance to put his system into play. But blatant disregard for economics, trading 1s for 2s - those sort of wasteful transactions make me nauseous. You don't see the Patriots engaging in that sort of inefficiency.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Single Thought of a Single Man

Not long ago I was talking to some guys about using 4 Ss to evaluate women - sexy, smart, sane, and single - and which was the most dispensable. A couple guys said single, and then the one married man in the room said that obviously sane was the first to go, since all women are completely insane. And I thought - I couldn't agree more, that guy knows what he's talking about.