March 13, 2010

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May 27, 2009

Follow me on Twitter

I'll be tweeting as quietlion. My first event will likely be the $10k mixed tournament on June 4.

April 16, 2009

Come back to Wing Lei Johnny Chan, Johnny Chan

They say you can tell a Chinese restaurant is good if there are Chinese people eating there. Me, I thought the Michelin star hanging on the wall at Wing Lei was a better clue.

I was entered in the million-dollar Baccarat tournament at the Wynn and I had made it to day two along with a few dozen others, one of whom was right ahead of us getting seated. I caught the eyes of Diane, my girlfriend, and Noreene, her BFF. I don’t like to talk about race but they were the kind of girls you didn’t have to ask if they liked Chinese food before you made the reservation. Bruce, our friend from tha OC who flies his own plane, was with us as well.

“You see that guy?” I whispered. They looked at his back. “That’s Johnny Chan,” I said. “Johnny Fucking Chan.”

“Doctor!” said Bruce. The girls stared blankly.

“He’s a famous poker player,” I said.

“Have you played with him?” asked Bruce.

“Yup,” I said. He knocked me out of a big tournament when his Kings beat my Jacks. Johnny Fucking Chan.”

“Doctor!” said Bruce.

“Why do they call him that?” asked Diane.

“Oh, they don’t really. It’s from a movie,” I said. “Rounders. He was in it. He won the World Series two years in a row.” Back to back baby, and the second win, against Erik “Stretch” Seidel, who will forever regret his decision to wear that funny orange visor, was immortalized in the movie. No one will ever do that again. Not even Jamie Gold.

Me, I never had much luck in poker tournaments. Baccarat was more my game. I had made the final table at the Wynn baccarat tournament back to back the last two times but had come up short: the first time I was the first one out, making a move that failed. The second time I had a chance to win it all when I bet Banker and Tie on the last hand, but when Player drew a third card to make nine, my third card came up one short and I lost by a pip.

The hostess took us to the VIP table in the corner and I told the girls to order anything they wanted because I was RFB. Diane giggled and ordered a lychee martini. I ordered pink Champagne on ice and the geoduck two ways followed by the three-cup cod, probably the best Chinese dish I’ve ever had. “The geoduck is $138! Doctor!” said Bruce.

“It’s good to be RFB,” I said. Diane giggled.

Noreene had her camera out and was looking around the room. “You want a picture with Johnny?” I asked. She grinned and nodded. “Check out the private room,” I said. She and Diane hopped up and found Johnny in the private dining room. He posed for a photo and the girls had their celebrity fix for the evening. “He wanted us to pose in front of the dragon,” Noreene said, showing me the photo.

Diane said, “Johnny Fucking Chan.”

The next morning I once again made it to the semifinals and, with some luck, to the final table for the third time in a row. Diane had been sweating me. It was five o’clock but I held off on the martinis as I wanted my head clear for the final table. Diane wanted something sweet so I suggested cookies or candy from the minibar. “Those things scare me,” she said. “What if you get clumsy and knock all the stuff off? Do they charge you for everything?”

“Well, I suppose they might, but you could get it reversed. Besides, I’m RFB.” She giggled. Then she wrinkled her brow.

“What does RFB stand for again?” she asked.

“Complimentary Room, Food, and Beverage.”

“Oh!” she said. “I thought it stood for Richard Fucking Brodie!”

I took my seat at the final table and maneuvered my way into the lead going into the final hand. When the bets were revealed, I saw that once again, I needed Banker or Tie to win it all. The player’s cards were faced: a natural nine. I squeezed and bent the banker’s cards for all they were worth.

Eight. I lost again.

I ordered that martini. After all, I was RFB.

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August 5, 2008

Hoss Gets Hitched

Last time I flew to the City was Sept. 21, 2001 – ten days after 911. But since I was flying east anyway for the wedding of Matt “HOSS_TBF” Hawrilenko in Princeton, NJ, I took the opportunity to sandwich two slices of New York rye around the meat of my trip.

I like to spend as much time with Hoss as I can in hopes he’ll accidentally let slip some information I can use to improve my preemptive bluffing frequency in multi-street games. OK, so he’s also one of my favorite people in poker. But then everyone loves a winner. Even if he got beat by a bot.

(Hoss barely lost the second of two 500-hand matches to the Polaris program but beat the bot handily in the first such match. I point this out because Matt enlisted his entire extended family, including his new inlaws, to badger me until I unsullied his reputation. So there you go. You try to do someone a favor by advertising he’s a fish, and this is the thanks you get.)

I used up the last of my Delta miles to fly business class to JFK. The airlines have fallen on hard times. Delta closed its Crown Room in Seattle, as I discovered when I took the elevator up to where it formerly was. Fortunately, terminal A had a stained-glass lion for me to look at while I waited for the on-time boarding.

Meal service in the forward cabin of the 757 was one tray of food followed by ice cream for the six-hour flight. My personal entertainment system didn’t work, but if it had, there would have been a nice selection of movies and TV shows to watch. The one high point of the business-class service was a nice selection of not only premium liquors, but also four specialty cocktails. I had a pomegranate martini toward the end of the flight. We landed early.

I had booked the W Union Square for the first night, the same hotel I stayed in right after the attack. They upgraded me to a Spectacular corner room (that’s actually what they call it at W hotels – I believe the worst room is Wonderful) because of my Starwood Gold status. The front desk had a bowl of complimentary green apples and in the morning water infused with herbs and fruit. Parking was a whopping $60/night.

I dropped the bags and hustled over to A Voce, where I had an 11pm reservation. This casual Italian restaurant came highly recommended for fabulous food and service and did not disappoint. The wine list featured Italian selections and I got a beautiful $75 bottle of Sicilian Nero D’Avola to go with the octopus appetizer and pork chop entrée.

In the morning I headed out to Princeton and checked into the Nassau Inn, a charming hotel in the heart of town. Matt and Emily, his fiancée, hosted a barbecue in a beautiful old house by a pond. Amazingly, no poker was played, although I did manage to have my team squeak out a win over a couple of bocce-ball pros. I was trying to hustle them into a croquet match because they probably didn’t know about my 2003 bracelet at the World Series of barbecue, when I beat Ted Forrest heads up for the championship. Never having played bocce ball before, I had to rely on my natural athletic ability, which fortunately came through.

Hoss got hitched the next afternoon in a beautiful atheist ceremony. It’s exciting to me to live in a time where people don’t have to pretend to believe in fairy tales in order to keep from being killed by mobs. Well, it hasn’t quite spread to American politicians but I’d lay odds Obama doesn’t believe in the man with the beard even if it would be political suicide to admit it. The community of winning poker players is full of atheists. It's tough to be a winning poker player if you like to believe in magic instead of reality.

Matt and Emily served a nice Cabernet Franc at the reception but with blueberry martinis available it was hard to decide on a libation. Given the geeky circle of friends, at least on the groom’s side, the happy couple provided foosball, air hockey, and a crane machine all set on free play. It’s rare for a wedding reception to be more than a heartwarming celebration of love and friendship, but this one was actually fun. Party animal Bill Chen, winner of two WSOP bracelets and co-author of The Mathematics of Poker, let loose on the dance floor as usual, showing why he's always the favorite of the ladies.

The next morning, after a Matt & Emily slide show and a quick discussion of quantitative analysis in hedge funds with the Susquehanna crowd, I returned to Manhattan for one more night, this time in the Westin Times Square. I love large, impersonal hotels and Westins fill the bill (although now that they are entirely non-smoking they aren’t an option if I’m in the mood to have a cigar in the room). Once again I got upgraded to a corner room and parking was only $48.
I had tickets to the matinee of Xanadu, a 90-minute romp based on the really great score from the really bad Olivia Newton-John movie. I had great seats but I didn’t realize you could actually sit on the stage, which would have been fun. Broadway shows have gravitated toward the 90-minute Vegas standard, presumably in deference to shortened attention spans in today’s audience, including myself.

Every time I go to New York I like to have a drink at the rotating bar at the Marriott Marquis, which my best friend Steve introduced me to years ago. The rotating bar used to be on the eighth floor. While there is still a bar there, it no longer rotates. Fortunately, the View lounge on the top floor does! I had a couple Woodford Manhattans and toasted Steve as the city turned about me for an hour.

For dinner I had booked Aquavit Café, a traditional Swedish restaurant featuring lots of smoked fish and infused spirits (aquavits). My favorite infusion was the horseradish! Dinner was delicious and the young waiter was charming and gave excellent recommendations without being either fawning or brusque.

I was booked on the 8pm flight back to Seattle but I got to the airport at one to stand by for the 4:40 flight. Delta wouldn’t let me check in until six hours before flight time, but I had a brilliant idea: I whipped out my laptop and Verizon card and checked in online, which you can do 24 hours before the flight! Then I went to the kiosk and tried to reprint the boarding pass. No dice! I couldn’t even reprint until six hours before flight time. Foiled again. I played Scrabble online until two, then got the boarding pass, stood by for the 4:40, and went to the Crown Room.

Delta’s standby and upgrade system is completely automated. A monitor at the gate displays the waiting list in order and notifies you when you clear. The flight was delayed 90 minutes and I sat at the top of the standby list until just before departure when I heard my name being called. Success! I got a seat with a working entertainment unit and was on my way back home.

The meal was once again a one-tray affair but I salved my disappointment with several Herradura margaritas. After the meal, the flight attendants ignored the 26 business-class passengers for about three hours but grudgingly served drinks if I came up to the galley and begged. They did come around with water just before landing. I guess they stopped calling it first class for a reason: it was definitely not a first-class experience.

The early flight, although late, gave me an extra few hours of sleep before leaving in the morning for Vegas and BARGE. I watched the late Seattle summer sunset, imagining Hoss and Emily riding off into it.

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July 10, 2008

A Heads-up for Human Poker Players

I had images of scientists rushing Einstein's dying brain to freezer storage, saving his wisdom for future generations who, they hoped, would have the technology to restore its function and make his incomparable intellect immortal.

I had invited many of the world's top heads-up limit hold 'em players to Red Square in Las Vegas for a drink in their famous ice room. Heads-up games are played almost exclusively online, since brick-and-mortar poker rooms rarely are willing to spare a dealer for just two players. So although I knew many of these guys' screen names and even human names, I'd never met most of them in person until now. (l to r: Heather, QsDaddy, TheComplainer, SallyWoo, RobLP, Quiet Lion, KPR16, pmv55)

Red Square issued us all fur coats and let us do as many shots of Chopin as we wanted inside the freezer room with Lenin's head encased in a block of ice. We shivered enough to soak up the atmoshpere and then retired to the main lounge area.

Head's up limit hold 'em is my favorite game, mostly because you get to play almost every hand and you see a showdown almost half the time. This satisfies both my thirst for action and my curiosity.

It also is the favorite game of researchers at the University of Alberta, where they continue to improve Polaris, their poker-playing program. In fact, they've improved it to the point where it can hold its own against the very best players in the world. Last week it beat Matt "Hoss_TBF" Hawrilenko, considered by some to be the best in the world, over 500 hands. Now Hoss will be the first to tell you that 500 hands doesn't prove anything. But he said he was impressed by the bot's skill.

According to unconfirmed reports in various poker forums, Full Tilt Poker recently caught several accounts using bots, or artificial-intelligence programs, to play heads-up limit hold 'em on their site. Because it was a violation of the terms of service, they seized all their funds and distributed them to the victims. I have no official confirmation from Full Tilt, as they don't discuss the details of such cases for a variety of reasons. But I can't imagine the perpetrators won't modify their programs and try again on other sites. This is a real heads-up for human poker players.

I entered a couple more World Series events but didn't cash. I decided to skip the main event in favor of enjoying summer in Las Vegas. I like hanging out by the pool and cruising the Strip in a limo more than spending 14 hours a day playing poker tournaments.

Can you blame me?

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June 20, 2008

Not the Champ

People keep asking why I came to Vegas. The World Series combines so many things I hate: slow, boring games; bad food; long hours; and losing six out of seven times even if you're a great player. But everyone knows why I came to Vegas. For the waters.

Although I had some luck in the casino, I failed to cash in the $10,000 limit hold 'em championship at the 2008 World Series of Poker. I did make it to day two despite being sandwiched in between Brandon Adams on my right and eventual winner Rob Hollink on my left, then being moved to the right of Andy "The Rock" Bloch.

On day two I faced the rogue's gallery of Howard Lederer, Erick Lindgren, and Joe Cassidy before Barry Greenstein showed up to round out the table. Nevertheless, I survived until the table broke but then got it all in with Ace-Queen against Ace-King and went busto about 3/4 of the way though this tough field.
I did manage to double my starting stack, but other than that the high point of the event was figuring out I could use the $10 food comp that Harrah's provides each $10,000 entrant to exactly cover a chicken parmesan sub and two bags of smoked almonds.

Desperate for good food, I cruised over to Bellagio for the tasting menu at Michael Mina, washed down with a 2006 Ken Wright Oregon Pinot Noir. I'm not loving the 2006 vintage compared with 2005, but I've never had anything from Ken Wright that wasn't good.
Michael Mina (formerly Aqua) is inside the conservatory, where I imagine Professor Plum killing someone with the candlestick every time I walk through the beautiful, fragrant, ever-changing floral display. This time they had a very clever mini-Bellagio complete with fountain show. Stop by and see it if you get the chance. It's one of the best free things to do in Vegas.
I'm planning to enter the $1500 mixed hold 'em event on Sunday.

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June 10, 2008

Sick Event

The only way to beat Vegas is to hit and run. That’s why I never moved here. If you spend too much time in Sin City it grinds you down, wears you out, and eventually absorbs you, stealing your soul and making you part of the jaundiced, hungry money machine. But if you hit and run you can get in, make a quick score, and get out before it bites you back. Sometimes you get bit anyway.

This was a nine-day trip to the desert playground, which was pushing it. I took five nights at the Palms, the closest decent hotel to the World Series, and then planned to move to Wynn, my favorite place in town, where they were giving away six Mini Coopers in a drawing Saturday night.

But while still at the Palms, I tried the new restaurant at Palms Place, Simon, along with Kyle, Crazy Mike, and Robyn. There are so many gourmet restaurants in Vegas it’s hard to gush about food but it was top notch. What really stood out, though, was the room. Intimate and glass walled, it sat surrounded by the private Palms Place pool. The waiter talked Crazy Mike into ordering his filet medium instead of medium well, and we relaxed as we watched the pool water lap onto the deck in the June desert wind.

I had no luck at the Palms, nor at Wynn when I moved over there. The good news was Nichole decided to fly down for the weekend, but the bad news was I picked up a nasty case of food poisoning that seemed to linger on for days. I dragged myself to the Rio to play the $1500 limit Hold ‘Em event but never got anywhere. The drawing for the cars was Saturday night and I could barely get out of bed but I showered and dressed and went down to the VIP cocktail reception with Nichole to see if I won.

When we got there we discovered they had secretly transformed the drawing into a game show. If your ticket got drawn you had to play “concentration” and match two numbers on a big board to win one of the six cars. If you missed twice they would draw someone else. I didn’t get picked in the first six, or the next four, or the next two. Finally there was one car left and they drew my name. Nichole said, “16 and 12! 16 and 12!” The room was spinning as I walked up to the stage. I decided to go for the drama. “Well, I’m pretty sure one of them is 16.” I said. Then I waited. I wondered if they’d call the clock on me. Finally I said, “How about….12!”

The room erupted into mixed cheers and boos as they revealed the final car. I took the cash option and used it to pay off a marker.

Still not 100% I flew back to Seattle to recover for a few days. Next event is the $10k limit Hold ‘Em championship on Sunday June 15.

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