Tuesday, July 13, 2010


My roommate John's table draw is very tough, with Full Tilt sponsored pro Gavin Smith and 1996 World Champion Dan Harrington. ESPN selected it to be the secondary feature table, and John is getting cold-called by agents with endorsement offers. I'm very happy for him and he's excited and a little nervous. He's got a huge stack of chips and plenty of room to maneouver; he should be very dangerous.

I felt great once the cards were in the air but couldn't ever get it going today and was always the shortest stack at my table. Felt like a spectator while the rest of them played huge pots, nearly all of them with over 100,000 in chips in them. I was forced to make a move while I still had enough chips and a good reputation and went in with Q 8 of spades. Everyone folded, but the big blind woke up with two Jacks. I hit an eight but it wasn't enough.

Five seconds after I busted I felt an extreme weariness and incipient headache. Suddenly reduced from hopeful participant to spectator, I head over to watch John. He's miked up at a fancy table on a dias with really cool blue lighting, ESPN cameras all around, and plenty of space and spectator seats. I'm very, very happy with him, and the 3% of any win he comes up with more than makes up for any envy I feel.

I'm feeling a bit discouraged when John and Gavin Smith both totally misplay a hand where John has Aces. Somehow that reassures me that what I lacked this year wasn't so much strategy, but cards. As poker players we strive for perfection, and it's probably theoretically possible for anyone to win the tournament, but we are all so far from perfect play that even the best pros don't stand much more of a chance than I do.

John's finally moved from the feature table, pocketing a minimum $5000 for sitting there for an hour. I hope they show him on TV, but I'm not sure he'll make it. I can't see him at his new table, and layer after layer of weariness is settling in on me. I bolt for the hotel and pack for the airport, once again leaving in a mad rush to try to make the 5:35 for home.

I'm on standby and just about to board the flight when the last passenger sprints up to take it from me at the last minute. This feels like another bad beat!

Somehow or other my spirits are still pretty high as I write this last blog post. One of my poker friends gave me a little pain pill and this seems like exactly the right occasion for it. I am starting to come down, but I've still got a very, very long way to go.

Right now it feels like I can take some of the fantastic energy I've felt and expended and put it to good use in my life back home. There's certainly plenty of room for improvement on a lot of fronts! Still, looking into the future a little, I'm sure I'll spend most of the next few days compulsively checking the tournament status and following John's progress.

As I write this they only have to lose about 60 more players before they're all in the money. John's the chip leader at his table, in his element, picking on the short and especially the medium stacks, as no one wants to bust out of the tournament at this point. I'd give almost anything in the world to be there, but I guess it just wasn't meant to be this year. No surprise, that's how tournaments almost always end. Now remind me again, why do have my heart set on playing this every year?

Thanks for following along with me. I hope you've had some fun and felt like you were there with me.

Until next year,


Morning, Day 4

I drank a Coke after the dinner break last night, and slept terribly as a consequence. Nevertheless I wake up in a fantastic mood, thrilled to be alive. Having a relatively short stack is in some sense liberating, as there's less pressure and play is less complicated.

My roommate has 361,000 in chips and is seated at a table where the combined poker tournament earnings are $15,000,000.

With 5/6 of the field gone, it's remarkable that both John and I are still alive. It feels, however, like we are headed in opposite directions: I am facing a tough, gritty struggle to survive to the money while John is trolling the internet sites looking for sponsorship deals. Tournaments are so volatile, however, that this could change in just a few hands.

Just came back from a few laps at the pool. This is the seventh day I've been in Vegas. I bought the New York Times but don't even care enough to read the headlines on the front page. Hell, I can't even bring myself to read Glenn Greenwald, my favorite author.

As always, good thoughts, visions of mountains of chips, energy beamed my way, and even prayers are most welcome.

PS If you haven't seen the golf video, figure out to do it. Colored links are mouse-clickable. And I will be posting to twitter.com/luckyscum throughout the day. If you want to follow the action more closely, check out pokernews.com and click on the $10,000 Main Even live updates link.

Main Event, Day Three

I didn't have a whole lot of fun on Day 3. The bright spots and big pots were few and far between. I got caught red-handed on two steals and one particularly expensive resteal. I do give myself kudos for continuing my larcenous ways after that, particularly on following up a big blind re-raise with a spadeless A 9 offsuit with a confident healthy flop bet on a Ks Js 10s board. Also, right before the dinner break, I raised in late position with K 10, got called by the big blind, checked back a A J 2 flop, and then when he led into a 6 on the turn, re-raised him all in on a stone cold bluff. (He folded instantly; a call knocks me out of the tournament unless a Queen comes on the river.)

When it comes to bluffing, a smallish raise frequently looks stronger than a larger or all-in raise. I used this to my advantage late in the day, raising an active player from 6000 to 15000 leaving myself 20 behing instead of moving all in. I'm convinced this made the difference; with just Kh Jh I was certainly glad of a fold.

All in all, it was a grim day, watching bigger stacks joust for huge pots and spending most of the day with a smaller stack than I started with while the average stack went from 84,000 to 175,000. I was fortunate and thrilled to end on a good note, moving from 35,000 to 75,000 in the last hour.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Even poker is going high tech

When John played a big pot with a guy from Holland, the reporter from Pokernews.NL came by and asked about the hand. They were talking in Dutch, so John couldn't figure out what they were saying, but he went on his I-phone to the pokernews.nl website and found out exactly what the guy had!

John and I are paying a friend of his $40 each to do a pretty thorough internet search on tomorrow's tablemates. I've been careful not to use my name on this blog, but may have to take it down rather than have someone able to glean even a little bit about my strategy. (John had to disable his blog after it started coming up when you googled "John Armbrust Poker.") I should be safer, as I am going by "LuckyScum."

In any case, we now play every day and I won't have as much time for blogging or calling. You can get updates by going to http://twitter.com/luckyscum and you can even get updates sent to your cellphone by registering for a twitter account yourself. I'll try to tweet at least six times a day.

To my tweets delivered automatically as text messages to your cellphone, do the following:
1) open a twitter account at twitter.com
2) register your cellphone (use the "mobile" tab to do so)
3) text "follow luckyscum" to 40404 (without the quote marks)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dreams of Glory

I usually room with Stephen for a few days at the beginning of the tournament, I've always soloed for the Main Event. This year I'm staying with John Armbrust, a good friend who I first met in the 2007 Main Event, the year I had the overall Day 1 chip lead. John (as he likes to remind me) went on to finish 18th and collect $383,202...and if it weren't for a pretty unlucky last hand might have won the whole damn thing. After we played together that year we went out for a few drinks and have become good friends; I went to his wedding and have gone up to teach some math and finance in his classroom. We are fiercely competitive, playing each other heads up for small sums until three in the morning, and even debating the merits of each other's blogs. (Here's his blog, with a nice description of both the Obama incident and our golf game.) Even though I have 3% of his action and he has 3% of mine, it rankles me slightly whenever he has more chips than I do and I'm sure he feels the same when I'm ahead. John constantly needles me about my age, eyesight, and technical know-how, and I tease him about his fastidiousness and overconfidence.

Even though we compete at everything, we are very protective of each other and would do absolutely anything anytime to further the other's chances. John also let me off pretty easy on the golf course and even made this nice testimonial to my prowess on the links.

The Romans were famous for their baths, and Caesar's spa feels like an underground cave with pools everywhere, water dripping from the cieling, and beautfully lit steam, sauna, and even an arctic cold room. On John's first trip to a spa he's stumbled into the nicest one I've ever seen. I tease John for thinking we need to bring towels to the spa but go easy on him in light of his mercy to me on the links.

It's already somewhat improbable that we would both have made it this far, but we hope to be roommates for another week. If so, we'd be in poker's promised land, guaranteed a million dollars for ninth place and with four full months to look forward to playing in front of all our friends and family at the Final Table for the title of World Champion. By the way, if you're reading this, you're invited!

Our nervousness manifests itself in different ways: John has a queasy stomach before we play and I sleep fitfully after about four in the morning. Once the cards are in the air, we both feel much better.

Day 2

For the first half hour of day 2 I didn't win a single pot, tensed up a little and became dispirited. I knew I had plenty of chips and hadn't done anything wrong, but couldn't snap out of it until I finally picked up K K and J J on subsequent hands. It's amazing how much winning even a small pot or two will lift your spirits.

The hand of the day came right after the first break. In early position, I make a speculative (as opposed to value) raise with the 10 8 of clubs and get called by both blinds. The big blind hesitates for just a moment, apparently contemplating a raise. The flop comes As Qc Jc, not at all what I was hoping for but giving me a two-way straight draw (either a K or a 9 makes me straight) and a flush draw. Both players check to me, I bet 4300, the small blind folds but the big blind raises to 11,000. This is already a large pot and we've got lots more betting to come. My draw is strong enough that re-raising is an option, but I feel very strongly that my opponent won't fold. In fact, I suspect from the fact that he thought about re-raising before the flop that he has either two Jacks or Ace Queen, neither of which I would be able to get him to fold. So I'm better off calling, and trying not to go broke on the hand if I miss my draws.

The turn is the 2 of hearts, a complete miss for me. Now he bets 16,200 and I have 38,000 left. Similar logic argues against a raise here. I have enough outs to call but if the river is another blank I will only have 22,000 left. The last card is the King of Spades and I make the straight! My opponent clearly doesn't like this card, but he's not folding his hand and can't really expect me to have a ten here (I wouldn't put this much money in with A 10 and I would have reraised on the turn with K 10.) He moves all in and I gladly call. Just as I suspected, he has three jacks and instead of 22,000 I am stacking a pot with over 100,000 in chips!

I'm in poker heaven briefly, as I'm already where I hoped to end the day and we've got lots of poker left. I try to press my luck a little and spew about fifteen thousand chips. I tighten up and slow the slide, but a half an hour before dinner I am down to 55,000, feeling out of synch, tired, and discouraged. I find myself glancing at the clock every two minutes, longing for a chance to regroup.

The dinner break is wonderfully restorative. We race back to Caesar's, where my friend Rainbow has generously arrived early to reserve us a table at Rao's, his favorite Italian restaurant. I order and race back to the room to shower. I shave, shampoo, change my hairstyle and replace all of my unlucky clothes with new ones, including my favorite flashy shirt.

Dana has taught me a little EMDR and a little bilateral stimulation completes my mood change. A couple of small early postprandial pots and I am a new man. A large pot develops when the button raises to 2000 and I look down in the big blind to a pair of tens. I re-raise to 7000. He thinks, pauses, and makes it 17,000, leaving himself about 38000. I do not like this raise at all and am wishing I'd just called instead. Before folding, I take my time and think for a while. Finally, acting on a very dangerous impulse, I re-re-raise enough to put him all in. If he calls and I lose, I will have only 20,000 left. He thinks for a long time and folds. (In discussing this with my friends later, we think his most likely hands are two jacks or ace queen. If he folded Ace Queen, he's making a medium-sized mistake; if he folded two jacks, he had an 82% chance of winning!)

Finally, the night is over. I convince a couple of the players at my table to head up to the Voodoo Lounge. After that, my friend Bill Phipps calls, and I head over to the Bellagio at 1:00 a.m. to meet up with him, his girlfriend, and his poker celebrity friends, "Unabomber" Phil Laak and his girlfriend, actress Jennifer Tilly. Jennifer has just won $120,000 in a Bellagio poker tournament and is flying high. I ask her for a one-minute tournament summary and she talks in detail about poker hands for twelve minutes, somewhat bugging Phil, who's probably heard this all several times before.

summary, more later

Made it through day 2 with 84,000 in chips, almost exactly average. About 2500 people left, 747 will make the money sometime on day 4.

Played golf on the off day, drop whatever you are doing and check out this golf action:


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