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.

Labels: , , , ,

January 30, 2007

Long trip

The last day Mike and I went to the Chiang Mai night safari, a zoo that has tram tours at night of animals in their natural habitats. During the day it’s a self-guided walking tour through a pretty nice little zoo. We were the only ones there and had a leisurely stroll past monkeys, big cats, and capybaras. Of course we did the final cocktail hour and repeated the hotel restaurant, paying for it this time. Once again the Indian food was the star of the show.

In the morning Mike came by for breakfast and we said our goodbyes as the hotel’s Mercedes gave me a complimentary trip to the airport. I enjoyed the wifi in the Royal Silk lounge before my business-class flight to Bangkok, which cost less than drinks with Kitty, and in an hour I was at the new airport meeting another Mercedes to take me to the Westin Sukhumvit, which I had booked using Starpoints for the night. The Mercedes was a bad value, costing 2100 baht when a perfectly good Toyota available through AOT in baggage claim was only 900 baht.

At the Westin they treated me like a king because of my Platinum status, whisking me up to the executive lounge to check me in. They had a fabulous cocktail-hour spread and free wifi in the lounge so I camped out and played a little poker while I chowed down on chicken tikka and sipped Cabernet. I wanted to try out the new subway so I took a ride to Rachadaphisek to check out the entertainment district there with its super-high-end massage parlors. Unfortunately it wasn’t at the Rachidaphisek stop on the train – pretty much nothing was there. I asked a taxi driver and he said they were all closed already so I took the train back. Bangkok is full of incredibly expensive stuff that I can never figure out how anyone can afford. This subway was absolutely world class, with high-tech RFID tokens, sliding glass doors, and trains running smooth as silk.

In the morning I took the 900-baht Toyota (they insisted on my choosing between a Toyota and a Nissan) to the new airport and discovered my Cathay Pacific flight was delayed and they had put me on a Thai Airways flight so I wouldn’t miss my connection. The Thai flight actually had a first-class cabin and I tried to talk them into putting me there since I had a first-class ticket but it was not possible. Upstairs in the business-class cabin of the 747 was just fine for the short flight. It was all for naught anyway because when I got to Bangkok my onward flight was also delayed. I never minded hanging out in The Wing, though, and munched some sushi and sipped Champagne while I waited.

Finally I got on the 747 to LAX. First class was half full and I had two orders of caviar and a bowl of soup. The food on Cathay is so good I don’t feel the need to eat seven courses like most airlines serve you in first class. I just pick and choose what I want and enjoy it. Everyone in F slept most of the 11.5-hour flight, including me. I awoke two hours before landing, had two more orders of caviar and black coffee, and prepared to deal with missing my onward connection on US Airways, I wasn’t too worried since the worst possible case was having to buy a new $99 ticket on one of the 14 airlines that flew between LAX and LAS every 20 minutes or so.

We landed a bit over an hour late and I breezed through customs. I walked in the cool Southern California air to terminal one, seamlessly got put on the next flight to Vegas, and even scored a last-minute upgrade. I arrived at Caesars Palace almost exactly 24 hours after I had woken up in Bangkok.

Labels: ,

January 20, 2007

One more helping

I had finally learned to order “long black” when I wanted coffee in Australia but my short visit to Melbourne was already over, memories of barramundi floating dreamily through my semi-conscious mind as an early-morning taxi took me to the airport. I was looking forward to this next segment in first class on Cathay Pacific. It was a daytime flight so I doubted I’d be using the flat-bed feature but from past experience I knew I was going to have a good time. I was in fact the only passenger in F on this flight. I started with a light breakfast and then scanned the movie selection. I figured I could get in four movies on the flight, which I did. Woody Allen’s Scoop, starring uberbabe Scarlett Johansson, added to his unending oeuvre of funny little movies, while The Illusionist proved Paul Giamatti can do more than complain about bad wine.

As the flight wore on I decided what they really needed in these first-class cabins were gyms. You’ve got nothing to do on these flights and it would be a great time to work out. I didn’t see one, though, so instead I ordered dinner. I looked over the menu: filet, lamb – barramundi! I read no further and ordered one more helping of my new favorite fish. It was wonderful. I paired it with a nice Brunello di Montalcino. At the conclusion to the flight the attendants let on that they recognized me as a poker player and had me all sign playing cards for them.

I had deliberately left some extra time for my connection in Hong Kong because the first-class lounge there, The Wing, is the best in the world. You get a private cabana with shower, bath, and babbling brook. I caught up on the Internet and took a hot lazy cool shower after. The next leg, to Bangkok, was a short two-hour flight on Cathay. It was a two-cabin plane so I suffered through business class. Even on this short flight they served a delicious hot sea bass. No barramundi though.

It was my first time in Bangkok’s new airport. I wanted to see if I could transfer to Chiang Mai without clearing customs and to my pleasant surprise it was possible, although it was a very long walk to the domestic departures. I waited in one of the many Royal Silk lounges, got online, and then took the one-hour final leg of today’s long, long journey. My brother Mike was waiting for me at the Chiang Mai airport and he drove me to the Sheraton (formerly the Westin, where I have stayed many times), and having been up for 22 hours I simply crashed in the big old suite.

Labels: , , , ,

January 10, 2007

Circle Pacific

When I’m single I like to travel a lot. I met my second ex-wife in the Thai Airways first-class lounge in Bangkok, which I guess is a good place to meet nice Jewish girls from Toronto. I call it “Brownian motion,” which if you took high-school chemistry you may remember is the way particles in liquid randomly move about and bump into each other. Being a geek guy I have a limited need for social interaction. When I’m married I don’t seem to have the desire to go out and meet people, which doesn’t seem to please the wife. When I’m single I turn into this kind of international playboy, workout hound, raconteur, clothes horse – if I could just kick this marriage habit I’d be fine.

Anyway I still remembered a bit about the ins and outs of luxury travel from back when Lion Tales used to be more of a travelogue than a seamy underblog. One thing I know is that there’s a sooper-sekrit way to fly business class for much less than the cost of a round-trip ticket. There are three ways, actually, but the first isn’t secret: use miles. I have a zillion miles saved up from back in the day but unfortunately Qantas has very few award seats available so that wasn’t an option.

The second way is to use American Express’s two-for-one deal. With the Centurion Card I can take a companion for free if I buy a full-fare ticket. I’ve never actually used this program and it’s not as good as it sounds because there’s usually no need to pay full fare even if you’re purchasing a ticket – you end up saving a bit, but not half. I could think of half a dozen uberbabes who would probably jump on a plane but I was aching to try out the third option.

Very loyal readers will remember my brother Mike lives in Thailand. I used to go see him every year but recently something seemed to come up every winter (oh yeah, poker tournaments). Now that I’m not playing World Poker Tour I made a point of going up for a visit this year. That brings us to the sooper sekrit. You see, airlines make an obscene amount of money on business-class and first-class tickets. They make so much that they could sell the seats at half the price and still make a profit. But they won’t, since they are primarily purchased by business travelers who are not nearly as price sensitive as leisure travelers. How, then, to sell the empty seats to leisure travelers without undercutting their own market?

Make the leisure traveler fly around the world.

There’s a special department at all of the OneWorld and Star Alliance airlines called the “Around the World desk.” By requiring an itinerary that is too restrictive for most business travel, airlines can sell these excess premium seats to leisure travelers without cannibalizing the lucrative business market. I gave American Airlines a call and got a quote on a Circle Pacific fare from the USA to Melbourne to Bangkok and back to the USA. I asked how much for first class and it was still $1000 less than the round-trip business-class ticket. Sold.

So I’m here in my personal one-bedroom suite aboard Qantas 94, three hours out of Melbourne. I had been warned the service was friendly but Spartan on Qantas and that’s what it was: no super-premium wines or liquors, a decent dinner menu, and three very friendly flight attendants. I tried three different Australian reds and settled on the 2003 Stonier Reserve Pinot Noir. They have a nice selection of video choices but I spent most of the flight sleeping like a baby in my flat bed with Daniel Negreanu in the seat behind me. David Singer and his beautiful girlfriend Mandy are back in the business-class cabin but most of the Full Tilt team took the same flight yesterday.

I’ll stay in Melbourne until I bust out of the main event, which starts the 14th, and then jump on a sooper-sekrit Cathay Pacific jet to Bangkok. Shh.

Labels: , ,

December 8, 2006


I flew down to Vegas for the annual poker blogger’s convention. My seat opponent, an engineer, noticed me tapping away on my Toshiba, glanced at the full overhead bin, and said, “Looks like we have dueling laptop scenarios.” He asked me if they were going to let me keep my laptop on top of my lap during takeoff and I said I didn’t think so. Apparently he was concerned about the distance he would have to travel once they announced device turn-off to safely pack away his computer in his luggage and decided to read a book instead. Meanwhile, the captain got on the PA and implored us to set aside reading materials and listed to the safety briefing which, in his words, “is primarily for your safety.

I tried to think about what the secondary purpose of the briefing might be but was distracted by the presence of two of the most uberhot flight attendants I had seen in a long time, Kara and Michelle, both short blondes. When Kara came to take drink orders I exclaimed, “You’re named after Supergirl!” Now I usually refrain from making jopkes about people’s names because they’ve heard them all before but she was completely oblivious to the fact that the one girl lucky enough to be rescued from the impending doom of the domed city of Argo, itself cast away whole when the planet Krypton exploded, was named Kara. She did say, “But I am Supergirl,” and smiled until the corners of her cute little mouth threatened to puncture the fuselage.

Meanwhile I heard a voice behind me say, “He flopped a flush.” I kneeled on my seat, peered over the back, and saw a nice Jewish guy around 30 with a stunning brunette with a dress that let you see all the way to Cleveland. I chatted him up about poker and when he said he was just starting out I invited him to come play mixed games with the bloggers at the MGM Friday night. On the way out I wished good luck in Vegas to him and his daughter. I make that lame jopke a lot but this time I got a really good reaction out of her. I think they must have been from some place like Pocatello, Idaho, and never run into a smartass before.

I signed up for this web site that pays me to write reviews of other web sites. It’s a marketplace, actually, and they simply list my blog along with its readership ratings and cost to the advertiser. The advertiser purchases the prospective review, I write 200 words and post it, and oh, baby, the money flows in. So here’s my first paid review:

[Advertisement] With the poker boom in full swing, some people want to turn that spare room into a den of poker iniquity. Although to most folks such a home improvement would be risible, we’re not like everyone else – we’re poker players! We need poker fast, we need it now, and we need it in our homes. Well, good news! The people at Cardroom Supply have an enormous selection of poker furniture in stock for immediate shipment. My favorite is the 54” Cherry Leather Round Poker Table with Four Chairs for a low, low price of $2799. This is less than one big blind in the big game at Bellagio, so do yourself a favor and surf on over there right now and buy everything they have. Want to hold poker tournaments in your own home, where the cops aren’t likely to bust you? Check out their full supply of chips, buttons, and timers. And why not expand into a full underground casino with their craps, roulette and blackjack tables? They even carry drop boxes so your cash can be carried right to the skim room without employee pilfering. So what are you waiting for? Imagine yourself in sartorial splendor, running your own burn joint. Listen to my dictum: surf on over to Cardroom Supply today.

I’ll leave you with a link to the famous radio interview with Jamie Gold after he won the main event. I finally got around to listening to it. Apparently he’s a natural-born tournament player, possibly the best of all time. Yum yum.

Labels: , ,

November 3, 2006

Coda to the wine-shipping story

After learning that shipping two bottles of wine to myself from Las Vegas to Seattle was illegal, I got several emails from readers advising me to pack the wine myself and lie about the contents of the box to FedEx. I do, of course, know how to circumvent the law. I’m just sad when I consider that nearly everyone is forced into being a lawbreaker as more and more sumptuary laws go on the books and police departments become paramilitary units. I’m sad when I consider it’s no longer newsworthy when a SWAT team breaks down a family’s door, shoots their dogs, and seizes assets because they found traces of marijuana and cocaine while going through their trash. I don’t use those drugs but I don’t want to live in a police state.

Another reader emailed me that he was voting for whoever was best at keeping us safe from terrorism, and he thought that was the Republicans. Please. Even if you suspended disbelief long enough to believe a President who can barely put a sentence together is qualified to understand the politics of the Middle East, not even the level of security they have in Israel can stop terrorism. What we can stop is the erosion of personal freedoms in this country. Asset-forfeiture laws make a mockery of the Fourth Amendment. Airport security is a circus. I can’t bring a bottle of water into the airport? Please. The Internet gambling ban is a disgusting mixture of protectionism and theocracy. I’m voting dog shit all the way.

By the way, the airline lost my luggage with the wine in it. I got a knock on the door just before midnight from a smiling delivery dude with the wrong bag. We decided he had just delivered mine to the wrong house. He vamoosed and I waited for his return while watching season two of 24. Finally I looked out on the porch and my bag had magically appeared, the driver too embarrassed to show his face again.

Labels: , ,