Saturday, June 20, 2009

Playing the Bigtime to the party beat with Blowers

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This past Friday John Blowers invited some of Greg's regulars to a party to celebrate his novel
Live on Full tilt: Confessions of a Poker dad moving closer to becoming a movie.

I really looked forward to John Blower's game, but I was nervous anticipating it as well. I had to decide whether to play a hundred dollar or a twenty dollar buy in. I wanted to jump in the higher action, but I worried that my no limit skills were not ready for the tougher competition, especially when John kept telling us that that Gary, who had won a bracelet at the World Tour of Poker, was coming. The game would be our chance to pit our inexperience against a poker celebrity and an opportunity to get squashed across the felt as well.

I became less apprehensive when the Wednesday before the game John had brought to Gregg's game Oak, the movie guy from New Orleans helping to put John's novel up on the big screen. We expected a killer player, but Oak had never played Texas Holdem and asked questions like, "So a full house is three of a kind and what?"
At Greg's we helped John give Oak some experience and a few lessons. John gave good lessons running a bluff chatter while looking at Oak's terrible cards. Unfortunately, John had neglected to tell Oak in the car that he would be running a deceptive chatter of lies and suggesting Oak go all in with nothing, while representing to the table that Oak held almost the nut flush.

"Well, someone might have the queen, but if not, your hand is golden, so you might as well bet as much as you can."

And so there was Oak, having barely processed the combinations of cards, studying some rag offsuit hand and trying to make sense out of Blowers' bluff banter.

Then John made the crucial error of all bluffers. Oak revealed his hand in a manner that let all of us except John know his hole cards. When John started to hyperbanter these cards, we could not be sucked in.

Oak is John's movie guy from New Orleans. He has been involved with Spiderman, Day After Tomorrow,
Jumper, Basic,also has a magazine... He was an interesting guy, but I did not get much time with him at John's party. I regret that.

I regret even more that I did not get much time with Oak's friend Kendra, a perky blond who was just full of fun.
Kendra, who took a train from NYC to join us, is a model/actress who has an acting troupe in NYC with a production called Crazy Head Case.
As John reports it,

"It's a rock opera set in an insane asylum...sort of like the game at my house Friday :)"

My conversation with Kendra focused on her wish to sit in John's daughter's Princess chair.

Hearing her woeful lament, "I really, really want to sit in the Princess chair," I was enticed to respond.
"Well, if you sit in that chair just right with just the right frame of mind for just the right amount of time, you can go through John's mirror into a magical kingdom land.
The unicorns there are just beautiful and skipping down the lane of outlandishly colorful flowers is great fun."
"I sat in a chair like that before, but none of that ever happened."
"Well, you might try clicking your heels together," I suggested, as I looked down at her feet,
" although that might be hard in those sandals.
It is hard to really be a Princess in sandals.
And when the Prince comes to try the lost shoe on on foot of the one and only true Princess.... well..... a sandal fits just about anyone. How could he be expected to find you?

I liked that I could come up with the mirrors and unicorns and multiple literary allusions. It did take me some time. however, to actually name that last fairy tale allusion. I fumbled through "Snowwhite" and "Sleeping Beauty" before someone finally took the heat off with " Cinderella" and by that time perky blond Kendra had drifted off.
I guess I could hardly blame her.

And don't think that simply because Kendra was from NYC and talking about being a Princess that there was anything in a NY city Princess stereotype about her. She was just the opposite of snooty as was everyone else at this party. These were accomplished people, having fun in life, and not taking anything totally seriously, certainly not themselves.

But getting back from fantasy fairy tale thoughts to poker spite of my apprehension, my skill must have been sufficient for this competition because I bought in for a hundred and cashed out at $1119, the largest single session poker win I have ever experienced.
All my fears that after failing to find the fish at the table, I'd find myself starring at him in John's bathroom mirror, without any money left for skipping or unicorns, were for naught. I would not say there was a fish at our table, but I felt in sync with the dance of the game and neither the bracelet winner nor our own pokermaster intimidated me.
I suppose when I do the math my win is no different than coming out with over a hundred after playing Greg's ten dollar buy in game, but it felt different and was quite a thrill. Also, I was surprised that from the beginning I was ahead in chips, and I never dropped below my buy in. Most of that was good cards as opposed to skill, although Greg had one chance to take me down completely and the great ole river card risker played safe and let the waters of the pot run through his fingers.
I don't think the Pokermaster would have done that in a smaller game.
So while most of the winnings were luck, I can take credit for not making the kinds of mistakes that drain pots slowly over time. I played mostly premium hands, and I did not often chase.

My daughter-in-law Julie, when I told her my win was more luck than skill, responded with a chuckled,

"I thought when you guys won at poker, it was always all skill at work; that it was only considered luck when you lost?"

Very perceptive. Julie must have listened to the endless river of bad beat stories that form the trip reports of holdem players.

The truth in no limit is probably that good players ultimately collects a good pile of chips by not losing. That requires skill. It is the cards not played and the lay downs that make for profit.
The nut flops are not too hard to play. If they never come, we go home down chips, but we can consider ourselves winners even at the end of those losing sessions whenever our best play protected us from losing much more.
Sometimes in cards and like simply losing less is the best we can do.

Greg reported that he won $300 and all in three hands without ever initiating an all in bet. I remember his trip eights. They came as a huge surprise.

My two largest wins happened after playing A-J suited. In one I beat my K-J offsuit opponent when a jack hit the turn. In another I caught the nut club flush on the turn. And I had the absolute delight of all poker players; I had lucky boards with plenty of callers.
I took a hand from Jerry when the fourth club took away the power of his small straight and gave it to my king. I ended with the nut flush draw (ace on the board).
I had decided to semi bluff and bet out strongly before the river and perhaps take the hand right there before my flush arrived, using the draw as mere backup. Instead of folding, Jerry raised my fifteen dollar semibluff to thirty.
It seemed I had to call and at least see the river.
Out popped the club.
I went all in. Jerry called. I collected.

And it also helped to be playing against Greg and Jerry who I have played with week after week and without Bruce calling everything down to the river. That gave me some early betting options I would not have had in a limit game or the "kiddie" twenty dollar game and do not often have at Greg's. I gain those options in large part too because it is a hundred dollar buy in game, and not just an easy ten dollars to rebuy. The money means more.

I lost one hand because I did not chop with John. I thought he was kidding. I always chop in the casino, but there the house rakes and that is the rational behind the practice. In an unraked home game, I like the head to head action and there is no mathematical reason not to include a head to head experience every little while. But had I known he really wanted to chop, I'd have done it, even with my A-K.
He remembers my going all in. I remember just raising and having him go all in.
Why he decided to call me or go all in with his 9-2 is more of a mystery. I understand why he wins with it.
It is his son's favorite hand.
He spent a good bit of time explaining how the mathematics supports playing 2-9 against A-K until I felt a bit like Oak, listening to John talk about the power of his hand at greg's the Wednesday before.

Here is how John reports our conversation:

Please know I'm completely kidding about chopping the blinds. I tend to chop, but my jibber jabber about the 9/2 hand is just that. Obviously I called your all in blind and there was no math whatsoever. I was just making a point about chopping and got lucky when I turned over my son's favorite hand and got lucky on the flop.

However, I am not sure what John might say next. I never really know when he tells me some poker related angle whether he is trying to clear up my misconception or to confuse me even further. Perhaps I can learn that jibber jabber poker strategy from him.
I have done something similar in casino limit games when I try to convince my opponents that my card protecting fish is really in charge of why I fold or bet. But John is the jibber jabber crackerjack of poker.

When he turned the favorite 2-9 hand, I groaned that I knew I was beat, as it was the favorite hand I had heard him talk about.
It was destiny he win.
And as predicted he managed to make a pair of nines and beat me.
This was my biggest loss of the night. Had John had more money at the time, my bankroll would have been seriously hurt.

Our table was fairly quiet and focused as is proper for the serious table.

The other table was boisterous, talkative, and attracted three young and beautiful women who joined the party. I could watch them from afar, but my interaction was limited.
Sometimes I felt like I was in the classroom while the physics teacher explained the complicated mathematics of interface optics, I found my attention drawn by the kids in gym class playing baseball on the green, green grass of summer.
I could not really leave the table without busting the game, and since I had won all the money it would have been a great poker faux pas. Finally Jerry made good on his many promises to go home and I got to move, but by then the smaller game was busting up too.
John did move from our table, and joined the party table. As he explains it:

"You noticed how quickly I gravitated to the "kiddie table" once the demographics there changed...I may be a poker player, but I'm also human :) "

I guess John is the type who runs at the first sign of beauty.

Judo champ Kim, who did not play poker, was just there for the party part. She came over and sat right between Greg and I.

This meant that Pokermaster Greg and I had two games going.
One was the hundred dollar buy in poker game to see who could get all the chips.
The other was a contest as to who would be able to hold this young judo champion's attention and chat her up more effectively.
Kim was delightful. We learned a little about judo and we were very careful not to piss her off as wel had been warned. Normally, neither Greg nor I probably have any real reservations about being thrown out of a poker game, but when it might mean we would become airborne from the third floor, well ..............we were polite.

I hear Greg saying as he reads this, "I am always polite."
And I suppose that is the truth.
"Me too, Greg... me too!"

You would have thought that Greg would bring his "all guy" rule from the Wednesday game to this table and just pretend Kim was not there.
Yeah, like that's gonna happen!

Kim is an aspiring Olympic Athlete and you can use her as an excuse to play more poker this Saturday at the Jason Morris Juno Center, 584 Saratoga Road, Scotia NY 12302. There a $100 poker tournament with one optonal $100 rebuy and 20% will be used as a benefit to help her reach for her dream by funding her trip to Holland to compete in the World Competition.

Here is a report of a prior win:



There was a good bit of poetic tension between the activity of judo and physical combat and the looks and personality of this sweet, soft spoken young woman. She was delightful to talk with, and she even listened to why I fish for bluegills rather than cast dry flies for trout.

I expect to go up and support her judo dreams and play in the tournament on Saturday. I don't much like tournament play and I am not very good at it, but I like supporting this young woman. Elizabeth may come along to watch the play as well and then we can explore some Scotia restaurant. If any of you have an interest in making a day of it, let me know.

It is surprising that I could continue to win money at poker while competing with Greg for talking time with this beautiful young, but perhaps I am managing the multitasking skills of my host, John Blowers.
John managed to play at simultaneously at two tables while answering the door, introducing people to each other, playing with some tech equipment, and making fast jokes and dry bluff put ons.
At my retired age it seems hard for me just to accomplish one task, like sipping my coffee without covering my tee shirt with brown staining liquid.
Perhaps there is still hope.
One new trick I learned is in the middle of the party:
I should go into the bathroom and get thoroughly doused with overpowering cologne.
Hmmmmmmmmmmm. I wonder how that would work in Vegas.

Kim was the only woman who ever sat at our table. However, because our table was close to the "kiddie" table, I did get to watch the facial expressions of one other graceful beauty who I will call Sarah of the dark hair (although John tells me she has another name.)
One of the best parts of low limit poker is that faces are reveale
d in varied and subtle expressions that might be rare in conversation.
And at the poker table, it is acceptable for even old men to watch the faces of beautiful young woman. This is often of more value than any chip winnings.
All faces have always fascinated me. It is one of the reasons I enjoy riding buses and subways. In Vegas I love watching the faces from all over the world. At that low limit game almost on the sidewalk at O'Shea's, player's can watch all the people walking along Las Vegas Boulevard and be entertained with both faces and body language.
Poker is a random game of money and chips and cards, but it is also a random game of observing strangers.
In Vegas people from all over the world meet and their facial messages are not those you might find at a polite party when you try to mingle and everyone stays rather formal and distant with expressions that more often protect their personalities than reveal anything at all.
Just as poker simulates all aspects of real life, so faces often take on all manner of human emotion in spite of the goal of only showing the poker face.
Sarah of the dark hair smiled delightfully as she played with an occasional gentle laugh. She was quite lovely to watch.

An exciting meeting for me too was meeting Ed, John's brother-in-law, known as Fast Eddie Galway to his regular poker opponents. Within minutes Ed was saying things like:

"You can catch pickerel anytime right off my dock at Galway Lake. Or perhaps you'd like to use my pontoon boat. You should come up and try. Way too many pickerel in that lake. We like them fished out."

Ed is also the only person I have ever met who when I explained that we have decided not to mow our grass at home, said, "Good for you!" and then added suggestions as to how more wild flowers might be encouraged to push out the overpowering grasses.

So I could have lost at poker that night at John's and still been a big winner. And while a retired guy who knows about pickerel fishing, respects wild growing things, and plays poker is not quite such a fantasy experience as young beautiful women who might like passing through magical mirrors, he runs a close second.
Ed may join us at Greg's some Wednesday. I hope so. He seemed a fine fellow.
And I'm not just saying that because of the pickerel. He actually seemed like a steady guy, retired like many of us at the Wednesday table, with perhaps some fresh new stories.

I played next to Geoff, one of John's best friends. Geoff operates a consulting firm:
He was a good poker player frustrated by no good hands. He too lives up in Galway, not far from Ed. Geoff brought to the party one of the best dips I have ever eaten, a concoction of chicken wing sauce and chunks of white meat. He said that the girl ( his sister I think) who had made this chicken wing tasting concoction told him if anyone liked it, she wanted a date.
Somehow I did not think she had an old fat guy in mind when she imagined that scenario, but I offered to take her to Vegas if she'd cook more of this. I even offered to get a permission note from my wife.
It wasn't like Geoff jumped at my suggestions, but I did manage to get the recipe through John:

Here's what the recipe says, perhaps it is easier than what I do:

1 to 1 1/2 lbs chicken tenders*
10-12 oz Frank's Hot Sauce ( Buffalo Chicken Wing)
1 jar Marie's Blue Cheese Dressing
1 brick cream cheese
8 oz bag shredded taco cheese

Put chicken in baking pan and cover with hot sauce. Bake 20 mins at 350
degrees. Cool and break apart with two forks, shredding the chicken.*

In 9x13 inch baking dish spread softened cream cheese on bottom. Pour the
chicken sauce over cream cheese then swirl on Blue Cheese dressing.
Sprinkle top with taco cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

Serve with tortilla chips or Frito Dippers (my preferred.)

*I use 4 boneless chicken breasts. I boil it then let it cool (it has a
bit of a smell). Cut breasts into 2 inch wide chunks then take your two
forks and pull out the shreds of chicken. Mix the entire bottle of Hot
Sauce with all the chicken. It can be divided and/or frozen at this point.
What I brought to your house was a half-batch. The cream cheese and taco
cheese can also be frozen (separately); the dressing hold in the fridge.

My sister usually does hers in the slow cooker all day and it has more
juice so pulls apart easier.


In addition to Geoff's chicken wing flavored dip, John put out some lasagna and a fine array of drinks, chip dip, vegetables and other tasty food We were well fed and watered.

My winnings were not limited to money. John splashed a pot I won with this book: Charles Shoten's No Limit Life. It is a good companion to Larry Phillips' Tao of Poker as it offers ten ways of thinking about poker and life that promise to defeat the "thought terrorists" and fundamentally make us happy, focused poker players and people.
It comes at a time when I am thinking about these issues of patience and kindness and of how to leave anger and move into a more peaceful and celebratory experience in my games and in many parts of my life. So I will read it along with Thich Nhat Hanh's book Anger and see what I am able to learn.

I was ready to win a shirt as well when bracelet winner Gary Styczynski
splashed the pot with one of his shirts.

Gary and his partners decided to create a line of tee shirts that reflected violent and gory movies and the idea seems to have caught on, so that they are selling well.
The name of the company is Bloody Aces so a shirt with the logo of aces in a pool of blood, will be quite a lot of fun to wear to Vegas. It would certainly spark some conversation at the poker table.
Rather than splash an already flopped pot, Gary just decided to pass a shirt to everyone at the table.
Gary obviously had been having a lot of fun with this bizarre line of clothing. When he talked about it, he was so entertaining that I could imagine him with a stand set up on Freemont street, selling the tee shirts and bantering with the visiting crowd.
I had expected a serious poker player who rarely cracked a smile, and instead I met an animated story teller, a fast and frequent talker who reminded me of the best of poker tables in Vegas, and of the reason I play this game.

The juxtaposition of these pot splashes might be a way to define the delightfully mad tone of John's poker party, a place where the pot might be splashed with a book to create gentle people who have transcended violence or even angry thoughts, and the next hand followed up with graphic tee shirt celebrations of classic slasher movies.

Whatever the symbolism, I did not really want more value splashed into that particular pot.
I held A-9 and Greg held A-10.
Greg had been making small pot building bets as if he had a pocket pair.
Two aces were on the board by the turn. I decided to go all in to see if I could grab the pot right then rather than wait until Greg tried a similar semi bluff or push a stronger hand after the river.

Greg thought a long while.

"Do you have a full house?" I asked, reminding him that I was representing a full house in my bet, reminding him that it was a possibility on the board, reminding him he had better fold if he did not have one. (He claims that had nothing to do with his decision)
Had I bet just a hundred, he would have called, but we both had ab0ut three hundred in front of us, and I had not bluffed all night.
He turned the ace-10 over in front of him.
"Is that a fold," I asked as if I was ready to just toss my cards and gather in the pot.
"Yes," he said is a whisper so soft that I thought he might be able to back out of it.
"Sorry, are you sure you are folding that hand?" I asked again.
"It is a fold," he said definitively.
Had Gary splashed the pot with a Bloody Aces tee shirt, that might have been enough incentive for Gregg to take a shot and call. And while it would have been such fine symbolism for Gregg to win $300 and a Bloody Aces tee shirt while my trip aces bled all my winnings away, I was much happier to skip that bloodbath and rake in a bit more profit.

When Greg folded his A-10, I could have just tossed my cards and picked up the pot without showing. But I had not showed cards this weak all night, nor indicated that I might be ever bluffing. I intended with all these winnings to play tight for the rest of the evening and not risk them again this way, so this was the hand to show a semi bluff and encourage the guys to pay me later for really powerful hands not bluffed, but similarly bet. As it turned out, I did not have another hand that I pushed with an all-in bet. But perhaps I got paid on strong but lesser bets.

Gary did not end up being as formidable as opponent as he might have been for us old, retired, inexperienced players.
It was not that he was distracted or played poorly. He just got a run of nonproductive cards and gradually the small bets that might have set him up with nice pots simply drained his funds and then drained those funds Blowers had left at out table when he deserted the serious poker to indulge more poetic party pleasures.
And Gary was in the party too as much as he was in the poker, so he did not play the whole night with us.
Delightful from the beginning until the end, this game did for me what I want a poker game party to do. It introduced me to interesting strangers brought together with something common interest who party together.
Other parties have Charades or Truth or Dare. We have poker.

And it was refreshing as well to have an entire night go by without some long winded harangue about some obscure rule details or long winded justification of the minutia of past hands. That did not happen. Even the rule Czar was rather restained both about early turn overs and about river losses.

John says, My life is a bit fragmented and it's fun to have my various worlds unite on the felt.

While my own life is not fragmented at all just now, it is perhaps at times a dull old guy life, so meeting strangers around this game rejuvenates me.

It gave me a place to play at facing randomness with people who were not dead serious, but still playing a good game.
I have been worried that moving from limit to no limit in Vegas might lose the joy I have of the interaction of strangers facing randomness and on a bit of lark at the same time. However, I can see that I am ready to play some low level game no limit. I am sorry that Excalibur has chosen to replace their electronic room with live dealers. I loved those Poker Pro games. But perhaps I can find something in chips that I can manage.

I keep arguing in the Vegas discussion boards with people who say they don't like the PokerPro machines because they want to interact with the other players. They confuse machine dealing with being at home playing on line. The players are right there, closer and more accessible than at a traditional table. Also there is no dealer to jump authoritatively into every conversation.

I'll play them at Four Winds, New Buffalo Michigan this winter and in Montreal if I ever manage a trip there.
On my last trip at the dealerless table I met a fellow who told me all about the games in Montreal and another who recommended I read How to Dominate $1 and $2 No Limit Texas Holdem by Sam O' Connor.
I bought the book and am just starting it. Perhaps it will help me before my Vegas trip in early winter.

And now I have a new bankroll for that trip.
And so I am really jonesing to go there.
I'll be harder than ever for Elizabeth to live with.

I know I missed reporting on many of the party goers and poker players. Sorry. My memory fades and my interactions were limited as well. Slink, for example, was there but his quiet self. I don't know how he did in the end. He played the other table.

Thanks again, John. Good luck as this novel morphs into movie. It is exciting and if it all makes you a rich celebrity, it could not happen to a better man. Perhaps your next 2-9 all-in bet will be at a thousand dollar buy in game just a limo ride away from the premier.

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