Raise or Fold:  A Year of Risky Business

Writing and playing poker as if they were activities worth doing well.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Glory Hallelujah!

After more angst than I care to mention, it looks as if I have functioning internet again. (I'm afraid even to type it, for fear of jinxing the whole thing.)

If it's still working in 24 hours, then I'll celebrate.

The joy of flowing intertubes puts my modest wins at my A League totally into the shade.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Kindness of Worthy Opponents

One of the curious features of moving in circles that are ~ for all practical purposes ~ "underground" is that the social mores tend to mimic those of any other such group or movement. So, despite the fact that when we meet over the felt we are diehard enemies striving to take one another's money without mercy, away from the table we often treat each with special courtesy and consideration. We have each others' backs.

Last night I took refuge in yet another free WIFI-offering dining establishment. I won't say which one, because I don't want to get the manager in any kind of trouble. He's a poker player I've encountered numerous times at the Crime Scene Game. (I took a shine to him immediately when we first met. Just a very likable guy, a fairly good player, and incidentally cute as a button.) He was nice enough to comp me a really decent glass of wine, just because. He allowed as how he'd give me a break any time I came in.

Totally unnecessary, but appreciated nonetheless.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

One Problem at a Time

So the car folks are saying my car is fixed. I will be going to get it shortly. If anything else goes wrong with it in the next six months I am going to sell it and get myself some kind of cheap gas-sipping metromobile. No more flushing money down the drain on this vehicle.

The confluence of no car, snow, and no home internet was making me INSANE.* After many frustrating conversations with Verizon tech support, they have finally agreed to send a technician to my place on Friday. I hereby predict that FRIDAY will be the first day I am required to actually go in for my jury duty ~ and I'll get impaneled too. Because that's just the way things are going.

On the plus side, my Vegas trip is completely locked in. Air tickets: bought. Hotel: booked (with comps 'n' all I'm going to be paying a grand total of $160 for 5 days' lodging). I start the trip about $500 in the hole, but that seems an entirely manageable sum. It is helpful to have this to look forward, as it inspires me to keep my eyes on the prize.

*I would like to offer a nod of thanks to the Friendship Heights Panera Bread (#3572), which has kept me in lattes and wifi during the car/DSL crisis.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

My Image

I was walking home from the coffee shop where I had been fruitlessly waiting for my car to be finished getting fixed (grrrr!). It was cold, I was wearing a huge sweater and a big bulky coat, and carrying a big shoulder bag with my laptop in it. I was striding with some purpose as I was eager to get out of the winter weather.

I heard a southern-tinged, older urban voice from behind and then alongside me: "You walk just like a cowgirl packing a big gun," he said with a smile.

I was momentarily nonplussed and at a loss as to how to respond. "I just might be," I said cheerfully, "you never know!"

"That's right," he laughed, "you never do know."

Maybe I do have a bit of a swagger these days. And who knows, maybe I am packing, too, metaphorically speaking. There was something about this unsolicited, spontaneous observation from a total stranger that tickled me. We don't often get an opportunity to see ourselves as others see us.

It was like getting an unexpected gift from a secret Santa.


Another Good News/Bad News Scenario

The good news: I've bought my plane tickets to Vegas and will be there from February 11 through the 16th. I am planning to participate in the Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza and attendant cash game juiciness. I still have to determine where I'll be staying, but alea jacta est 'n' all that. I have also contacted a condo owner about renting a place for all of June, now that the 2009 WSOP schedule has been published. The process of actively making plans to do this is getting me all psyched up. For better or worse, I am putting myself well and truly to the test in the second half of my year's adventure.

The bad news: Freakin' car repair still not done. NOT DONE. As in unfinished. No car for me tonight. Words cannot express how very, very aggravating this is for me. Am I peeved? Yes, Sparky, I am downright peeved, and I don't care who knows it. This is EPIC FAIL. (I strongly suspect that the dealership is not telling me something. Since the repair is being done under warranty, I wouldn't be surprised if the problem was more extensive than originally identified.)

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Day 160: The Good with The Bad

I've been in a pretty foul frame of mind the last few days, and it hasn't improved the quality of my play one little bit. This afternoon found me throwing a magazine half-way across my living room, in sheer frustration. The angst was brought about by a combination of factors, the proximate cause being the abrupt accidental termination of an hour-and-a-half-long support call trying to address my currently VERY SHODDY high speed DSL connection. That was the final straw. It wasn't helped by the observation that, at that point, it was too late for me to get to the gym before my afternoon social engagement.

So I toddled off to a Chinese New Year party being thrown by my friend, the first one which she was hosting with her husband as the new parents of a one-year-old adopted from Taiwan. It was a chaotic scene, more appreciated for the quality and quantity of friends and good feelings than the material provisions. I had a lovely time, and I left a few hours later in a vastly improved mood.

I proceeded directly to the Crime Scene Game and went on something of a rush. There were a couple of unusually soft customers in the mix, I played well, and I quintupled my buy-in in relatively short order. I then gave a couple of buy-ins back, but by the time I cashed out, I was still in good shape. I should have left earlier, but I guess I got a little greedy.

Learning how not to start playing well only when coming from behind and how to consolidate and maintain a win remain two of my tougher challenges. It's two ends of the same problem. I also noticed that I started playing with scared money toward the end of the evening, when I began worrying about protecting my profits. (I definitely misplayed one hand because of that: I was much too passive and failed to make a continuation bet and/or a re-raise when I knew I ought to. Either play would have given me the pot.)

As is usually the case, these are things I know I'm doing wrong as I do them. I just have to find a way to STOP DOING THOSE THINGS. It's not rocket science, really.

Still, month six is off to a decent start.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Romans 7:19

For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.

I know I shouldn't play when I'm exhausted. So what do I do?
I play when I'm exhausted.

I know I should work out every day, and especially on days when I'm playing. So what do I do?
I don't go to the gym and sit around while my legs atrophy.

Once the minimum intellectual requirements are met, the fundamental key to success in this game is pretty simple: self-discipline. That comprises physical maintenance, emotional equanimity, and mental toughness.

I have a ways to go.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

When they say "deep stack" they are not kidding!

I'm playing in a deepstack tournament on Pokerstars: 5000 in starting chips, THIRTY MINUTE blind levels, and a very gradual blind structure. We've been playing for four and a half hours now, and the blinds are only 200/400 with a 50 ante! The original field of 81 has been reduced to 18. Nine will be paid. This type of tournament should play to my strengths.

I'm currently third in chips. Please wish me luck!

Update: Finished 7th. Got two-outered for most of my chips (99 v. 22) and then 6-outered on the river for the rest of them (99 v. KQ). Apparently nines are not particularly lucky for me. Oh well! Played my ass off for six+ hours, and went deep. Made some money. Overall, it doesn't suck. Thanks for the friendly railing, Joxum! Off to bed now...

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Day 156: Low stakes donkathons and lots of sleep

Honestly, I haven't managed to get much done in the last few days. I played a couple of A League tournaments on Monday, won the first and took third in the second, and made some money in the cash game too. All in all, a profitable day.

Yesterday was All Inauguration All The Time. (Which, don't get me wrong, I loved.) Finally, at about 7:30, I went out to play in a pub game just to change the subject. I was killing the game until a misdeal gave my opponent a 4-outer on the river. :P

So far, I haven't actually had to do any jury duty. It's just keeping me in town for the rest of the month. WHATEVS.

I'm going out to play in another donkathon tonight. I'm too tired to do anything more constructive. Apparently I'm still recovering from my AC trip. I am officially a wuss.

Monday, January 19, 2009


I arrived home from AC at 7 in the morning and immediately collapsed into bed. I slept like a rock, but I had a curious dream. In this dream, I was in some mountain resort in Colorado (?) where there was poker. I hooked up with one of the poker-players I met on this recent trip to AC (a young hipster-type fellow who I wouldn't have said made much of an impression on me at the time), and we proceeded to have a nice little romance. We were becoming close and it was really pleasant. Then there was a horrible rumble, and I looked out the hotel window just in time to see a giant wall of snow descend. I realized that both of us were about to die, and before I could say something affectionate to him the avalanche hit, the dream went to black, and I awoke.

I've never had a dream even remotely like that before. On the one hand, I have to say that I truly hope that death is that blank, painless, and abrupt. On the other hand, WHAT THE HELL IS THIS SUPPOSED TO MEAN???

Too weird.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Month 5 Gets Put To Bed

The books are closed on Month 5 of my poker adventure.

I'm back from six days of virtually non-stop poker playing in AC. The trip was basically a break-even proposition for me: all my rooms and food were comped, but I barely made a profit at the poker tables and I had to pay for tolls and gas to get there. (I would have shown a much more substantial profit but for two hands: one where I was all in with AA over QQ and lost, and the other where I was foolish enough to go all in against someone who I should have known was incapable of folding top pair. These two hands were both, of course, at a 1/2 table. The players suck, but I experience higher variance there because I don't dumb down enough.)

Fortunately, the trip was useful in a few non-monetary ways. I now am completely convinced about the correlation between physical exercise and success at the table. It's pretty straightforward. The days I worked out before I played, I made money. When I didn't, I didn't. That ought to be enough, right there, to get me motivated to go the gym.

I gathered some new and challenging material for my book, especially concerning my ongoing thinking on the meaning of money. I spent some time on Wednesday with a guy whose attitude toward money (and gambling in general) is worlds away from my own, and it was food for thought. Look for future posts on the topic soon.

After a night playing at The Table From Hell*, I also realized that I need to be more proactive in changing my circumstances if, for whatever reason, I'm not happy with the table I'm at. When I'm not in a casino, table selection is much harder. In AC, I'm generally playing at Harrah's, but I have good relations with the floor staff, and they are very helpful and accommodating to requests. If there's only one table at the given stakes, that's one thing, and you kind of have to just suck it up. But if you have a choice, why not exercise it? One of the edges I think I have over many players is that I genuinely find playing poker to be FUN. I need to continually find ways to keep it that way, otherwise I'll be just another grim-faced grinder without any alternatives.

*The Table From Hell comprised Chatty Asian Girl Who Knew She Was Hot But Wouldn't Shut Up EVAR And Ended Up With Everyone Hating Her, Two Sloppy Beligerent Drunks, Lagtard Luckbox, Cranky Pro, Stinky Man, Lovely Sunshiny Dealer Who Finally Lost It and assorted other characters. It was the slowest, noisiest, and most annoying table I've ever sat at. Finally, in desperation, I went to the floor and moved back to 2/5. Blessed relief.

I am going to focus intently on my writing this month. I've accumulated a lot of very valuable direct experience, and I need to spend some time digesting it and reshaping it for the book. I'm starting to feel that time is growing short for me to get this thing written, especially as I expect that I won't have much time to work on it during the WSOP. Time to crank it out!

Without further ado, my stats for Month 5. Numbers in parentheses are Month 4 for comparison purposes.

ROI on live tournaments: 261% (0%)
Obviously the wins in AC were the big factors this month.

ROI on live cash games: 7% (63%)
It seems that I alternate between having strong cash months and strong tournament months. It would be nice to be able to fire on BOTH cylinders at once.

Combined live ROI for the month: 34% (56%)

Total live tournaments ROI to-date: 92%
Total cash game ROI to-date: 257%

Current live bankroll ROI: 37%
I am now five months into my experiment and I have, cumulatively, put every dollar of my original bankroll at risk at least once. This suggests to me that 37% may start to approximate an expected rate of return on my money. If I absolutely, positively had to live on my poker income, I could. But it would be very, very difficult.

Here's another item worth noting: I have put four times as much money at risk playing cash games as I have at tournaments. Despite the swings, cash games are indisputably more profitable for me than tournaments. They are clearly the bread and butter of the professional life. On the other hand, a big score in a tournament could vastly overshadow the profits possible at the cash stakes I play. The big tournament win is obviously still worth pursuing, but on some level it is much more of a 'lottery ticket' than the regular returns of a cash game livelihood.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Day 148: Back at Action Central

Well, the car trauma isn't quite over yet (my turbo charger apparently has given up the ghost). The bad news: I have to bring the car back YET AGAIN. The good news is that it's drivable in the interim and the repair is covered under the extended drive-train warranty. I'm guessing, too, the blistering feedback I gave on a customer satisfaction survey had something to do with my service manager's improved interpersonal skills on this visit.

The best news, of course, is that I'm back in AC. I arrived in the early evening on about 4 hours of sleep, and sat down to play 1/2. My table was a drama fest, and I put into action my new extraverted persona plan.


I saw this hoodie at a supermarket in Manassas, and after cracking up, I knew I had to have it for the poker room. It worked like a charm. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: "The AC Cougar!" I was dubbed this by one of the wags at the table, and baby I WORKED it all night long.

After getting beat up on two big hands (the worst was when I got felted flopping the wheel just as the big blind flopped the higher straight to the 6), I ground it back and ended the evening even. If I'd quit after the second time I misread my hand ~ I guess I was really tired, huh? ~ I'd have come away with a tidy little profit, but noooooo.....

Honestly, the table was so juicy, and so personality-packed, that I hated to call it a night. We had Angry Old Nit. We had Good Player Who Drank Way Too Much. We had Young Gambooly Asian Dude. We had Solid Ex-Marine. We had Internet Guy Who Plays Any Two. There were stupid arguments that required the floor. There were drunken prop bets. And until my fatigue caught up with me, I had excellent reads on ALL of them.

I'm going to play 2/5 this afternoon, if a game is going. And depending on how things go, I may play the daily tournament tonight. I was also able to get Harrah's to comp me an extra night, so I won't have drive home in the wee hours of Wednesday. Score!

Also, and let's hear it for me, I followed through on my promise and went to the gym upon waking up today. My head is fully oxygenated now, baby! Fear me! ROWR!


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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Always the Bridesmaid

It could have been a lot worse.

I came second in my A League's End of Quarter tournament. I didn't win the coveted bracelet, but we chopped most of the money when we were down to three, so we all got better than second place money.

I was runner-up again in the second game of the night, for a decent profit.

I'm gonna donk off twenty-bucks playing cash before I hit the road. I feel like just hacking around for fun. (This is probably a leak.)


Friday, January 9, 2009

Super Monkey Life Tilt

Four hours of sleep.
Car trouble. More money spent, problem still not entirely resolved, and horrid service.
Tournament loss to donkey play.
Cash loss to even donkeyer players.
Plus, someone poured a glass full of sticky red liquor all over my beautiful new faux fur coat.


I should not play poker when I'm running this bad.

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

More frustration

Didn't even make it to the final table of my B League.

Then, on the way to my Capitol Hill game, my car's overheating engine warning light started flashing. This is, mind you, the same car I just had in for very expensive maintenance yesterday. So I pulled over, waited for it to cool down, and then went straight home. Of course the light came on again, as well as the check-engine light, causing me nothing but anxiety the whole way. I have an appointment for tomorrow morning, and it is to be hoped that they can solve the problem in one day, as I'm planning to drive to AC on Monday. I suppose I should be grateful if I can get the car to the shop without the engine melting down.

NOT a happy camper. (God only knows what this fix will cost.) File under: life tilt.

I did manage to cash in a Omaha Hi/Lo game online. Barely, but hey, I'll take what I can get at this point.

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Chips, ahoy!

Yeah, off to AC again next Monday. Not the ideal time, but I don't have a whole lot of wiggle room with jury duty coming up.

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Day 143: Not a Whole Lotta Action

The doldrums continue.

On Tuesday I placed 4th in my A League tournament, which was a cash but nothing to write home about (oh the irony! apparently it was worth blogging about, sorta kinda).

Then I skipped merrily over to the Crime Scene game, anticipating great juiciness. I had been informed that one of the most actiony of action players was attending. He brings huge variance to the game, but ultimately can only be described as the softest of soft targets. I was licking my chops.

The first half of the night I prospered mightily. I had more than doubled my money. Life was sweet.

And then I think I went on win-tilt. Or maybe not. In any case, I misplayed a hand that wound up with me going to head-to-head with the only really skillful player at the table. In the end, he turned over quad tens for the mortal nuts. He played it well, me, well... I should have just called his final weak bet rather than re-raising, and then certainly I should have folded to his big re-re-raise.

After that it was all downhill. I got pot-sized bets called down all the way to the river by the aforementioned action player who was holding BOTTOM PAIR. He caught his second pair on the river. His hand: six deuce. Subsequently I got coolered multiple times. In the end, I walked away down a buy-in.

Not a catastrophe, to be sure, but there's no denying that the quality of my play suffered the second half of the night. I have to avoid being cocky and I have to avoid being frustrated and demoralized. This game is all about keeping your head. I failed to maintain my equanimity and I paid for it.

Online, well, I'm approaching a return to the level I started at four and a half months ago. That's not a downswing, that's a bloodbath. I need to go back to the drawing board and take a hard look at the way I'm playing online, because these results are unacceptable.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Pathetic Dribbles

Well, let's see...

I am expelling prodigious amounts of funny-colored phlegm from my sinus cavities. Delightful! On the plus side, I don't really feel sick. It's just as if someone turned on the snot spigot.

I finally managed to win something online, but just barely. I cashed in a Razz tournament (I was the overwhelming chip leader until the final table, at which point I bricked in EVERY. SINGLE. HAND. I played. Hero to zero in about an orbit. It was grotesque.) I also managed to cash in a no limit hold'em game ~ finally ~ but for a mere 3x my buy-in. Pretty dismal. God help me if I ever run this bad in brick & mortar games; it is unbelievably demoralizing.

The holidays have somewhat derailed the live game schedule in this area, so it's been quiet for the last few days. Tonight features an A League tournament, and ~ I hope ~ a visit to the Crime Scene game (which has been on hiatus). I am oh so ready to get my gambool on!

I'm trying to figure out when I can get to AC, given that I have jury duty for two weeks (I have to call in the night before every weekday) starting on the 16th. Also, since I have no idea if I'm going to be impanelled ~ perhaps even more than once ~ I'm having a hard time scheduling my Vegas trip.

I know, I know, I could come up with all sorts of devious ways to get out of jury duty. Previously, as a self-employed person, I generally claimed hardship and was dismissed. But now, although it would be a massive inconvenience, it wouldn't really be a hardship (unless the trial ran on and on). I feel as if I ought to be willing to perform my civic duty cheerfully, since my current occupation contributes exactly nothing to the greater social good.

Meanwhile, it's winter and gloomy and nasty outside, which is reducing my desire to get out and walk to nil. As a result, my festive-food-to-exercise ratio has gotten completely out of whack.

Also, after twenty-five years of computing, I finally spilled a mug of coffee into my desktop's keyboard. Now the question is: get a new keyboard or a new desktop system? I was hoping for an iMac revision out of today's Macworld keynote, but it looks like no such thing is in the offing.

All in all, seems like a perfect constellation of reasons to sit here and whine. But no! I shall gird my loins and get on with things! I am Cardgrrl, hear me moan roar!


Friday, January 2, 2009

Day 137: Stupid Mistake

I made an awful, awful call for my tournament life in my WSOP subscription series. I then played a cash game and made back my tournament buy-in (and more), but not my dues for the series. I'm going to have to play error-free poker for the rest of these games, AND get lucky to win or cash a whole bunch of times as well.

I blame it on the two Red Bulls in combination with the Excedrin I took. Waaaaaay too much caffeine.

Note to self: do not do that again. EVER.


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Day 136: Happy New Year!

I rang in 2009 at the office: three tournaments and a brief cash game. I chopped the second tournament (should have played it out!), but that was about it. I did make money.

Staggered home as the sun rose, slept 5 hours, and then went off to my Capitol Hill venue, where I played in a tournament in the afternoon and in a cash game in the evening. Chopped for second in the tournament, kicked ass in the cash game. The new running joke in this game, now, is to refer to me as "the professional." I am afraid they are going to be a little pissed when it turns out to be sorta true.

All in all, a satisfactory start to the new year. For the first time in a long, long time, I have a good feeling about this one....

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