Raise or Fold:  A Year of Risky Business

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

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

So Soon?

I leave Las Vegas in just about 48 hours.

When I write it like that, it seems as if it can't possibly be right. How can this be? I'm only beginning to settle in, feel the rhythm, establish a way of life.

My god, I've only just discovered the gold that is the uncapped 2/5 cash game at the Rio! How can I leave now?

And I haven't won a tournament yet. I was supposed to win a tournament, dammit!

The Main Event starts in a few days. THE MAIN EVENT. How am I not playing in the Main Event?!? (You mean, I'm going to go home and then sit around waiting to see it on cable months from now? That is just wrong.)

The fact is, I don't wanna go home.

I've grown attached to the WSOP pad, which ~ despite a few plumbing quirks ~ is incredibly comfortable and quite luxurious. I love going for a swim under the blazing sun in the morning. The place has a dishwasher and a washer-dryer in the unit. Sigh.

I've grown accustomed to playing in comfortable casinos, with non-usurious rake, that are RIGHT THERE ALL THE TIME. Let me repeat: RIGHT THERE ALL THE TIME.


I've been living the dream, and it's time to wake up. I haven't made money on this trip. I am not living a sustainable lifestyle. I miss my friends and my city. I have a book to finish. And some big fat honking life decisions to make in just over a month's time.

It's going to suck big-time to get on the plane. Try as I might, though, I can't come up with a viable rationalization for putting it off.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Triple The Disappointment

I hate writing bust-out post-mortems.

Long story short: I made one mistake early, calling off my first 3000 chips with top pair. I thought my opponent was bluffing, when in fact he had gone runner runner for a backdoor flush. I misread him completely. My bad.

I traded in for my remaining 6000 chips. My table was tough; the only donkey (other than me) busted out in Level 2, and after that it was just high-quality poker all around.

And for the next five hours I did my best, to no good result. I was mostly card-dead. When I had anything even vaguely resembling a hand, there was inevitably already a raise out in front in me or a re-raise behind. (My table had exactly ONE unraised pot ~ except for blind v. blind hands ~ in the nearly 6 hours I played.) I couldn't hit a flop. I had nothing to play back with when the button made a stab at the blinds. My best hand was pocket JJ, and even then, there was an A on the flop, and I had to essentially turn my hand into a bluff to win the pot.

I got shorter and shorter. I never could get a spot to make a move.

Finally, I found 99 in the big blind. This was my second biggest hand of the day. There was a mid-position 2.5BB raise (the table norm), and two callers behind. This was a no-brainer shove for me. The initial raiser came over the top all-in. The others folded. I tabled my hand, and the other guy showed AA. Buh-bye.

I didn't take any bad beats, but I also think I only made one truly wrong decision. I just couldn't get anything going. When I tried to make a move, I got massively re-raised. When I caught a little bit of a hand, I couldn't do much of anything with it. I was either outplayed or outclassed (or both). In either case: no traction.

By the time I busted out, I was deeply frustrated.

My only consolation was watching Jerrod Ankenman, who won Event #42 (Mixed Hold'em), get felted at my table holding QQ ~ having gone all in on a baby flop ~ and losing to AA. Sound familiar? Apparently I'm not the only person to stack off with a simple overpair of Queens.

And that's it for my scheduled WSOP events: one mini-cash for 4 attempts.

I have three days left in Vegas. I plan to play cash at the Rio again tomorrow. It is POSSIBLE that I'll decide to play in one Main Event satellite in the evening. I suppose if I were to win a Main Event seat I would be very, very tempted to stay and play. (Gotta follow the story arc to its conclusion, right?)

Otherwise, it's home again for me, where the grim work of review and assessment will begin in earnest.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Relaxing The Night Before Event #52

I made myself a tasty and nutritious dinner and then went out for a stroll to the Strip in the ridiculous 90+ degree evening heat. I wandered about in the Bellagio, and then threaded my way through the crowds (drunken guys bashing into me, girls in evening dresses puking into the bushes... ah, la jeunesse dorée!) to watch the musical fountains, which seem to be reliably enjoyable.

I am accustomed to having big chunks of time on my own, but I have been much more than typically social during my time in Las Vegas. I am coming to appreciate how much the intensity and interpersonal nature of playing poker wears on me, and how very important it is for me to have time truly to myself to recharge.

The solitary evening has been a great preparation for tomorrow. The only thing more I need is a really good night's sleep.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

On The Good Side of Math

It's a weird thing.

When for months (and I'm seriously not exaggerating here) you've been on the wrong side of probability distributions, it feels utterly abnormal when the worst doesn't happen. Something as simple and generally routine as AA holding up ~ as it ought to do about 80% of the time ~ seems like a freakin' miracle.

It feels like the tide coming in.

But everyone knows the tide comes and goes (and yes, there's the occasional devastating tsunami too). There's nothing else to do but try to stay afloat and learn to navigate under all conditions.

Having lost for so long, I know how fragile any win actually is and how thin the margin provided by skill really is. I don't kid myself that three consecutive winning cash sessions mean much of anything. For perspective, my bankroll is now where it was back in November. It's as if the last five months never even happened.

I can only hope I stay on the good side of math for the next five days.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

I, Degenerate

Well, it had to happen eventually. I suppose.

After playing in a galloping-blinds turbo HORSE tournament at Green Valley and faring poorly, I naturally decided the sensible thing to do was to go to Harrah's and play the 4/8 HORSE cash game.

Of course. What else?

Never mind that Vegas's HORSE lovers converge on this modest stakes game. Never mind that they all know each other's styles backwards and forwards. Never mind that I was epically failing to heed the number one adage of table selection: PLAY WITH PEOPLE WHO YOU HAVE REASON TO BELIEVE ARE LESS SKILLFUL THAN YOU ARE.

Me, I consider losing at such a game as the price of a higher poker education. (Yeah, that's the ticket. Also, it's fun.)

Long story short, I commenced playing with this bunch at about 11pm, and finally bailed out at about 8:30 am this morning. Total profit for 9.5 hours of play: ONE DOLLAR.

But you know what? I count that as a win, and a pretty huge win, at that.

I battled back from a $240 deficit, and I did it after the table had become significantly short-handed. We played much of the night five-handed or less. That I managed to break even against this competition, playing games that are not my main strength... well, let's just say I'm entirely satisfied with the results.

Of course, getting some sleep and having anything left over for tomorrow ~ well, that's a whole 'nother question. Pulling an all-nighter was not part of the game plan. I have the discipline of a wet noodle. But I am a wet noodle who continues to learn how to be a better poker-player.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Don't Argue With The Numbers

The numbers say I am consistently profitable playing 2/5 cash games. It seems completely idiotic of me to not play 2/5 when it is available.

It is widely and readily available in Las Vegas.

There is, therefore, no good reason for me to play 1/2 here. None.

This afternoon, I played 2/5 at the Rio and had my first really solid winning cash session in a long, long time. I played well: I knew what was going on; I got my money in good or I made cogent bluffs... and I won. A lot. In a not very long time.

Wow. What a concept. Making money playing poker.

I remember that this used to happen with some regularity, months ago. It was a strange and pleasurably nostalgic sensation to actually leave a cash session well ahead.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

The Long Haul

Playing lots of tournaments is, it turns out, completely exhausting. Sunday I basically shut down at about 9pm in the evening and had to come home and just veg for many hours.

I decided not to play the Razz tournament today. It was too expensive an entry fee for a game I'm just not that good at. (I played in the Grand NLHE tourney at the Nugget instead and made it until about 10 o'clock at night.) I've decided to save up my pennies and enter Event #52, the Triple Chance No Limit Hold'em Tournament.

There are couple of reasons for this. One is that it offers a truly meaningful 9,000 in chips to go along with the one-hour blind levels. That's potentially an AWFUL LOT of play.

Another is the novelty of the structure, where you can start with as little as 3,000 and then effectively "rebuy" 3,000 at a time twice more until the end of the third level. At the end of the third level you automatically get the rest of your chips if you haven't deployed them already. There are some interesting strategic possibilities. It's the first time that this structure has been offered at the WSOP, so it'll be new to everyone.

Finally, the more expensive buy-in and the Sunday start will probably curtail the number of entries.

All told, this seems like a good combination of features for me. It'll likely be my last hurrah at the WSOP this year.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

I Made A Rookie Mistake

We had just made the money. My head was flooded with happy-making endorphins.

I looked down at QQ in the cut-off; it was the first premium hand I'd seen in the nearly two hours we'd been playing day 2. "Don't go broke with this hand," I told myself, "it's only a pair of queens."

The action folded around to me and I made a standard raise. The button re-raised me, almost tripling my bet. He and I had approximately equal stacks.

With that re-raise, I gave him the following range: AA, KK, QQ (not likely for obvious reasons), JJ, possibly 10 10, and AK. Or air, as an aggressive button move to counter a cut-off steal, although I would assign that possibility a relatively low likelihood.

Should I raise or call? I thought I'd take a flop, and if it came with an A or a K, I could get away from my QQ easily. Of course, by doing so, I pretty much defined my own hand range to my opponent.

I called. (Probably a mistake: if I had re-raised and then he had come over the top, I would have had a very clear idea where I was.)

The flop came 9 8 2. I checked, intending to check-raise.

He bet out. I raised, making it 20K to go.

He moved all in. (This same player, a couple of hands earlier, had claimed to have laid down JJ to an all-in bet, saying that he wasn't prepared to play for his whole stack with a hand that weak.)

I was behind to AA, KK, and a set of 99s or 88s. I had about 40K left. If I folded, I would suddenly have barely half the average stack. Over half my stack was already in the pot.

I was high on having cashed. This is a leak in my game that I have previously identified: success goes to my head and I make poor, rash decisions. Had I breathed and contemplated for another 45 seconds, I think I could have found the fold, which was clearly the right thing to do. How could I not be behind here, way behind? I was, mostly likely, drawing to two outs.

I called anyway. If you were to ask me why, I really couldn't say, other than there was a ton of money in the pot, my brain was clouded with pleasure, and I was indulging in crazy wishful thinking (a hero call snaps off an elaborate bluff, or he's got JJ).

Of course he turned over KK, and I didn't catch a miracle Q.

It was a very bad decision. Really bad. Donkalicious. An utter embarrassment. Certainly not worthy of an aspiring professional.

I am very annoyed with myself. I could have made the right choice and played on with a smaller, but still potentially effective stack. I could have gone deeper. I could have given myself a chance to come back. I COULD AND SHOULD HAVE FOLDED. I am, in fact, mortified that I made such an amateur error.

Paradoxically, however, I am also actually grateful to have busted out of a big tournament through my own bad play. I have been so beaten up lately by bad luck, that it was somehow refreshing to be able to take full responsibility for this failure. Granted, it sucks to have QQ run into KK the very first hand after the money, but hey ~ these things happen. Ultimately, though, I made my own misfortune this time, and I am entirely willing to take responsibility for it.

I am not soul-crushed by it, as I would have been if I'd gone out on some kind of horrible bad beat. This is an expensive lesson, but I do believe that I can learn from it and that the sting of it will make the lesson stick so that I become a better player.

I cashed (albeit for the minimum) in a World Series of Poker event. That's a personal milestone, and I'm proud of it despite my disappointment. It's one small but meaningful step on the road to greater success.

I'm not done yet.

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WSOP Event #36 Day 2 Preview

Can anyone explain to me why YouTube choices the most unflattering keyframe possible, rather than ~ say ~ the obvious choices of the starting or ending frames of the video? Annoying!

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I Make It To Day 2

It's very late (early), so this is going to be a short note.

At 1:30 am, I ended Day 1 of Event 36 with exactly 82,000 chips. Average chipstack was 47,500. Out of a starting field of 1695, 213 are left. Of those, 171 will cash.

I will be at Orange 81, Seat 8 tomorrow.

I am immensely thrilled to have survived this far. No matter what happens when action resumes at 2 pm tomorrow, I can retain the satisfaction of having achieved this modest milestone. I made consistently good decisions, and I fortuitously got the best of a situation that ought to have slowed me way down (I sucked out KK over AA against the very good player to my left).

Thank you all for your expressions of support, they are tremendously encouraging. My deep and ongoing gratitude also to the Grump, who has been a wonderful companion throughout.

Starting tomorrow, too, a group of friends (and rivals!) from my A League arrive to tear up Las Vegas. It'll be great fun to share the WSOP experience with them.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

If At First You Don't Succeed...

Try, try again. So tomorrow noon I sit down at Amazon Blue Table 25, Seat 6, and try to make my mark on WSOP Event 36, 2K NLHE.

Part of me is wondering why I'm doing this. My results so far have been pretty abysmal. But I came here to Las Vegas for this very reason, to play poker in tournaments. To make the best decisions I know how, and let the chips (and cards) fall as they may.

It's been daunting watching my bankroll drain down and down. But I built this possibility in to the budget for my year-long plan, and I had to expect that it might happen. This is, after all, a risky business.

One major tournament score would set everything more than right. I am ready to do my part to make it happen.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Different

I love the structure of the Grand tournaments at the Golden Nugget. They are perfect for me. And I was sailing along this afternoon until just before the dinner break, when my AA got cracked by 46 of clubs. Maybe a better player than I would have folded when my opponent (the huge chipstack) put me all-in on the turn as the flush card hit. I called and couldn't catch any of my four re-draw outs to win.

He called a (large) potsized bet on the flop with a naked baby flush draw. (I had raised big in early position pre-flop.) How is it that the people who I specifically do not give odds to call to a draw, call and draw anyways, and inevitably make their hand?

So tomorrow I'm going to play the Nugget's HORSE tournament. It'll be limit, it'll be less stressful, and as I am a mediocre player, I'll be doing it largely for recreational purposes. My friend and fellow blogger F-Train will be playing too, and I have much higher hopes for him than I do for myself.

Maybe playing a game where I have absolutely no expectations for my success will actually be good for me. Because god knows I'm not getting any traction in the games where I actually think I have some kind of edge.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

What A Mediocre Day Looks Like

So I went back to Imperial Palace in hopes of replicating yesterday's success. But this time I played for 6 hours and walked away just barely above break-even. Not exactly a world-beating outing.

I had an unremarkable mixture of starting hands, with perhaps a slightly less than average distribution of premiums and playable speculatives in position. The only hands I hit the flop really hard with were ones I (correctly) folded pre-flop. The tables were relatively soft, featuring some spectacularly bad play which I was only intermittently able to capitalize upon.

On the other hand, I didn't lose, which at this point feels like a victory to me. In two of my bigger pots (of which there were very few), one was taken down with a semi-bluff reraise and the other was won with three bullets fired from the button with position and air. Where I made mistakes in judgment, I didn't lose much. Where I played my best, I prospered.

Note to self: less of the former, more of the latter.

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

What A Good Day Looks Like

After Friday night's epic badness, I wasn't sure whether I was going to be able to scrape myself together and play poker today. But I woke up, had a nice breakfast on my balcony, made the drive-of-shame to an ATM, and betook myself to the Imperial Palace Hotel. Once more unto the breach, etc. etc.

Well, golly.

I played solid, unremarkable poker. I got a couple two-three decent hands and they mostly held up. Holy smokes, I RAN AVERAGE. I even caught a set and didn't get sucked out on.

You might as well have gift-wrapped the goose that laid the golden egg and put it in my lap. I made a tidy profit in the roughly four hours I played.

Months ago, I used to routinely have cash sessions that went that way. I vaguely remember what that was like. (As in a glass, darkly.) They've been so scarce since then, that I felt as if clouds had parted and God Himself had laid a finger upon me. Positively anointed, I tell you.

I came home and cooked dinner for a couple of guests, as if all of it were the most normal thing in the world. The evening featured good company and good conversation.

If most days were pretty much like this one, I'd be a very happy grrl.

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Poker Laughs (5): Why Being A Poker-Player Is Like Being A Cartoon Viking

Hagar The Horrible Cartoon

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Friday, June 12, 2009


I can't imagine ever running good enough to balance out how incredibly bad I've been running. Tonight was just the straw that broke my camely back.

I'm playing my best. And it just doesn't matter.

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Red Rock

Red Rock Canyon

No poker today. Instead I went to Red Rock Canyon with the Grump, and cooked a meal with food I purchased at an actual grocery store. (Just having a refrigerator and a cupboard full of food makes me happy.)

Red Rock Canyon

I will definitely want to visit again.

Red Rock Canyon

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

At Last: The WSOP Pad

Weeks ahead of time I arranged to rent a one-bedroom condo at the Meridian for the month of June. I looked at a site map, and I made clear to the agent with whom I spoke exactly what I was looking for. I had three specific criteria: a quiet, top floor unit; a pleasant view with some foliage; and a reliable internet connection.

She offered to email me photographs of the most promising of the available units. They never arrived. This was the first sign that all would not be going smoothly.

Nonetheless, I sent in an application and rental agreement.

When I arrived in Las Vegas, I went to the Meridian as scheduled, only to find that the agent was not there. She showed up 40 minutes later. This, too, became a theme. When she arrived, she told me there had been a "flooding" problem in the kitchen of the unit I had reserved, and she was going to have to provide me with a different unit. My poker-player's spidey-sense was tingling madly, but there seemed little I could do about it. She promised she would place me in an even nicer unit.

I will spare you all the details of the moving from one place to another that ensued. Suffice it to say that for a week I was in a unit that a) was on the ground floor right over the entrance to the parking garage (not quiet); b) had a view of the parking lot, and c) had no internet connection of its own (I was reduced to poaching an open wireless connection that dropped out after 4 minutes and was compeletely unavailable much of the time).

I was persistent and insistent, and eventually was able to move into the unit shown in this video. The unit I was originally supposed to occupy is across the way… and, I may add, I have observed that it is clearly occupied (I've seen lights on and off, and movement in the interior). I was given the runaround and bullshitted, which I do not appreciate at all.

I believe I'll be comfortable here for the remainder of my time in Vegas. I have been promised a free week's stay in the future for the inconvenience I experienced (second prize: TWO weeks stay!!). I assure you I will be looking to get that offer in writing.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Long Day's Journey Into Night

I played in the Golden Nugget's $240 NLHE deepstack "Grand" tournament today. It started at noon, and I busted out at about 11:30 pm, 18th of 201.

Here's the good news: I played my A game throughout. I was very pleased with the quality of the decisions I made, including several big laydowns, a couple of hero calls, and a few appropriate major re-raises or shoves. I do not know how to play poker any better than I played today.

Every big hit I took, I had my money in good. People had to beat the odds to beat me. Had the cards fallen my way I would have had an enormous chipstack heading deeper into the money. I have no regrets about my choices in this tournament.

The bad news: my net profit from almost 12 hours of playing was $80.

I am tired (really tired), but at peace. One of these days, I firmly believe, my good decisions will be rewarded proportionately, and I'll make a boatload of money.

The structure for the Grand series is exactly my sort of game: generous stacks and very gradual blind level increases. It rewards patience, observation, and strategic thinking. These tournaments are a VERY good value for the money. Their payout schedule, on the other hand, was ridiculous this evening. They paid 27 out of 201, with the bottom 7 getting their buy-in back. Ten hours of poker to get your money back??? They originally announced they would pay 18 and they should have stuck with that. If you make the money you should be guaranteed a profit on your buy-in.

The Nugget is also nickel-and-diming tournament players in a disgraceful way. The drinks service, for example, extends to soda, water, tea, and coffee only. If you want alcohol or Red Bull, be prepared to shell out additional cash. What's more, the Golden Nugget makes non-guests pay to park in their garage. That is just DOPEY, in my opinion. They should be doing everything possible to make it convenient and pleasant for people to play in their joint.

Tomorrow is a logistics and recreation day. My lodging situation has been sorted out (more on that in a future post), and I need to go shopping and stock up my larder. I'll also be seeing the Cirque du Soleil show "Love" in the evening, which I'm really looking forward to. I feel that I've finally got my feet under me, and should be able to get the kind of nutrition, sleep, relaxation, and exercise that will allow me to do my best.

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Monday, June 8, 2009

I'm No Lady

How tempting it is to make excuses for one's failures! I'm trying to not do that. If a player doesn't have the discipline to follow her own playbook, what kind of success can she expect to have?

My motto: Always be learning.
Also: Don't be an idiot.

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Friday, June 5, 2009

You Know You're In Las Vegas When… (#3)

During a poker tournament break, you walk past a line 30 guys deep to the men's room, into a blissfully uninhabited ladies' room.

And as you wash up before leaving, the woman standing at the next sink over is J.J. Liu. You both apply lip gloss before returning to the game.

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

The adventure begins...

Cardgrrl at WSOP Event 11

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Barry Greenstein Makes Eye Contact

I went by the Rio to buy my ticket for tomorrow's event and get the lay of the land.

I was irresistibly drawn to the Day 2 tables for the 2-7 game. It was absolutely loaded with big-name pros: Deeb, Ivey, Hellmuth, Matusow, Lindgren, Juanda, Seidel, Rousso, Tony G, and the consummate professional: Barry Greenstein.

I was like a kid with her nose pressed against the bakery window. Now I understand why some people go gaga around movie stars. I was just thrilled to be in the same room with these folks.

I love this picture because you can see a copy of Ace on the River underneath his chair. I already own a copy (through the generosity of a certain Las Vegas local), but I wouldn't mind getting one from Barry's own hands some day!*

Barry Greenstein

*Some of you may not know that Barry Greenstein gives a signed copy of his book to anyone who knocks him out of a tournament.

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You Know You're In Vegas When... (#2)

You are walking into the Convention Center at the Rio. Just as you pass under the "Welcome to the World Series of Poker" banner you see you first familiar poker face, heading in the opposite direction: Eskimo Clark.

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This Is Only A Test...

I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.

Or am I? What do you all think: video blogging ~ too weird or not too weird? That is the question.

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You Know You're In Las Vegas When…

A young woman gets into the elevator with you. She is slim in the manner of exceedingly slim young women. She is wearing a baseball cap, and her long dark hair is pulled back in a ponytail. She has on designer jeans that are so designery that they do not trumpet an obvious label. She is serious of demeanor, and looks straight ahead at the elevator door as we descend.

A tiny little rat-dog scampers at her feet, sporting a jewel-incrusted collar. A cloud of perfume surrounds her.

You look at her obliquely. It wouldn't be polite to stare. She's an attractive person, not so much outstandingly pretty but very well-gathered, stylish, self-branded.

Her profile looks awfully familiar.

The elevator stops at the ground floor, and she steps out and briskly away, the practically-invisible miniature dog (still unleashed) skittering after her. Your eyes track her as she rounds a corner. You turn to the people next to you and say, "You know who that was, don't you?"

They do not.

"That was the last woman standing from last year's Main Event. That was Tiffany Michelle."

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Monday, June 1, 2009

Nothing Is Ever Simple

I had it planned to a fare-thee-well, starting over a month ago. I had numerous communications back and forth trying to ensure that everything was just so, pre-arranged, and ready for me to walk in and settle down. And of course nothing has gone according to plan with my WSOP pad.

The agent was late in meeting me.

The unit I was supposed to occupy, selected with great care, had a plumbing problem in the kitchen, flooded, and was reportedly uninhabitable.

The place she gave me "for one night," has a gas leak, an unspeakable odor in the poorly-functioning air-conditioning, and an execrable and noisy view of dumpsters.

I am awaiting her return, at which time I fully expect to be put into A VERY NICE UNIT THAT WILL MAKE ME HAPPY.

Because right now? Not so happy.

[Update: I spent the night in a different unit. Acceptably comfortable but on the ground floor with views of the parking lot. I am assuming that something more closely resembling what I signed up for will be made available to me this evening. I'm not thrilled with the hassle of moving around, but hope this will get resolved.]

[More: The situation is NOT resolved. I am very disappointed in the way this is being handled by Berkshire Realty management.]

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