Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Thoughts stuck in my brain cells

I'm hoping by letting these out of my brain, my head won't feel so tight, and I'll be able to sleep better at night:

• Five questions:
1) Do I have the worst hair in the world? Metrosexual I am not. At least it's not a mullet anymore from my high school days.
Still, it ain't good.
2) Is Pandora the coolest Web site ever?
3) Is "High Stakes Poker" the best poker show on TV?
4) Don't you love poker players who raise just the minimum all night long?
5) Is this format as annoying to read as it is to write?


I smell a losing streak coming. I've had a very good run in these last two months, with 11 of my last 12 weeks posting significant wins (and the one losing week was like $1 off), so I know variance is lurking around the corner, knife in hand, ready to slash my bankroll like a naked teenager in a "Friday the 13th" sequel. So far I've avoided her greedy little claws, but lately I've had some terrible beats in my SnGs, far too many suckouts to mention, and even my cash game is starting to get pecked at by dominated hands who find two pairs on the rivers under the shit in their outhouse.
I'll stick to my game as much as I can and hope variance decides that I'm far too nice to hurt (and that my tiny little bankroll isn't worth the trouble - there are people who have thousands, even tens of thousands, in their bankroll, variance. I'm a low-calorie meal. Honest.)

Editor's note: Two hours after I post that, my AA loses to 3,3 and K,K when they push me all in and they BOTH get sets, the 3s on the flop, the K on the turn. Oops. Losing week, here we come. OK, variance, fine, nibble on my bones, if you must.


I need to sorta apologize to Iakaris by saying I didn't really love his writing style on TripJax's Web site. Too much is probably too much, but I do love his voice.
He responded very well, by leaving a nice comment on this poor, little, comment-starved blog of mine.
Although a feud would have been kinda cool.
A blogging feud.
Or kinda geeky.


So I'm heading up Ice Mountain this weekend. Ice Mountain is a tough, tricky and somewhat dangerous peak near Winfield, CO. In the past, I looked forward to these challenges, even relished them, but now, I find myself hesitating a bit. Why do I continue to do these peaks when I've got Jayden waiting for me at home?
It's not the time away. God knowsI need it. It's the danger.
I can't completely change who I am, and even with the danger, the chances of me being killed are less than 1 percent.
Still, I"ve lost three hands this week when I was a 9-1 favorite.
All three times, they knocked me out.
Makes you wonder.


Finally, as I sort of alluded to earlier, my cash game seems to be going better than my tournaments right now. I'm bonus whoring, so I'm totally fine with that, but I wonder.
I also wonder if I'm aggressive enough in cash games.
What are your starting hand requirements? Mine tend to be pretty tight, especially if there's a raise out there.
That's your homework.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

A year to celebrate


Presents are scattered about the living room, a mostly-munched tray of baked beans sits on the stove, and Jayden is sacked out in his crib, snoring for one of the first times in his life.
I'm seriously considering joining him.

Instead I'm down here, playing poker on a late Saturday afternoon, after Jayden's first birthday party.
I told Kate it felt like our wedding, and she laughed and agreed before collapsing on the couch. There were so many friends and family members, so many we wanted to talk to and yet we were so busy with everything we barely had time to sit and eat.

Funny. That's how our life has felt, to some degree, since he was born.
It's been an amazing experience, more than I ever thought it would, and I'd like to share a column I wrote for the paper here, at www.greeleytribune.com. I am the Adventure editor and entertainment reporter and projects editor (that's a lot of titles!), but I also enjoy writing columns about Jayden from time to time.

Here you go:

ust work through the baby stuff, I thought when Kate told me she was pregnant, and everything will be all right.

They say you are never really ready to have kids. It's true. I certainly wasn't even as we drove to the emergency room after Kate's water broke just a couple of hours before June 25, 2005.

The sky flashed colors I'd never seen before, even during my many mountaineering adventures. Lightning speared through the sky, flashing through the night and making the clouds explode. There was no rain, nor wind, only the constant sparking of the so-called "heat" lightning, nature's own fireworks display two weeks before our own meager attempts during the Fourth of July weekend.

The sky was in chaos.

How appropriate, I thought, a perfect metaphor for what my life was going to become in just another 24 hours.

When I thought of kids, I shuddered at the wisecracks, the power struggles and the late-night discussions about doing something with your life. I stuttered when parents told me about weekends lost to baseball, soccer and football games. But threats of diapers, sleepless nights, screaming, puking on new shirts and hours of free time snatched away simply made me shake.

Just work through the baby stuff, I told myself, and then you can enjoy Jayden.

I was actually looking forward to the delivery and my last few hours of freedom.

Jayden, and Kate, had other ideas.

Kate was looking forward to the hospital for months, and not just because she would finally shed what felt like a sack of rocks from her belly. She was ready for kids. Kids were a dream of hers. She would love the baby stuff. She wanted to breast feed. I think she wanted the diapers. And the late nights? In fact, she might enjoy them.

Me? I had a plan.

I would, at times, stuff Kleenex up my nose to avoid the smell of diapers. I would watch him in the afternoons at first, when I was home from work, because he napped in the afternoons and was much quieter then. I would walk around with him when he cried and take him outside, hoping that the view of the mountains would calm him down as much as it did me.

I would go back to work and relish the days apart from the crying. And, finally, Mom would come out to visit, and I would take four days to climb three of the last four 14ers I had to complete my goal of climbing them all.

I would focus on that trip during the tough times.

I would work through the baby stuff.

But, as I said, Jayden had other ideas. He came quickly, just six hours after we entered the hospital, and it would have been even faster, had Kate not wanted an epidural (which, by the way, I was completely fine with after she nearly broke my fingers during one especially gnarly contraction).

I let the nurse give him his first bath, but I was there. I changed the first diaper, a mess of what they call meconium, but I left the Kleenex on the table. I walked around with him when he cried.

Then, on the second day, as he screamed, I spoke.

I'm here, I said.

He stopped his screaming at the sound of my voice and opened his eyes and looked at me.

Oh. Hello.

He was my son.

And he knew it.

Since then, I have spent many happy days with Jayden. I have laughed with him, played with him and just about burst with love every time he's smiled at me, which, I'm proud to say, has numbered in the thousands.

Jayden will be a year old next Sunday. He babbles and sometimes says, "Da Da," though I'm still not convinced he knows what he's saying. He shares our meals now, at times grabbing my shake out of my hand and planting his lips on my straw before I can protest. He can stand on his own and has even taken a step or two.

He is close to becoming a little boy.

I never lived up to my plan.

I will miss the baby stuff. Terribly.

But that's just something I'll have to work through.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Paradise Island?

I took many lessons away from my trip to Hawaii. But probably the most important is paradise comes in many different forms.
Even though I had to continually ask my wife for the date we were leaving, I was looking forward to this trip for months.
It’s Hawaii, man! White sandy beaches! Aqua-blue water! Women with leis around their necks!
But instead of Hawaii, we got Waikiki, a medicore time-share with a 20-minute walk to the beach, a semi-sketchy part of town and more tourism than Branson. Seriously, this place made Vegas look as non-threatening as a garage sale. Everywhere you turned, people were trying to sell you stuff. Cheesy dinner cruises. 7 T-shirts for $20. “Aloha” shirts for $15, in patterns that were replicated throughout the dozens of cheap stands that dotted the landscape like the moles on your grandmother.
You can only dodge so many of these angles, especially when you’re traveling with in-laws. I learned something about myself on this trip. I am not a touristy guy. Every vacation I’ve ever taken, except for my Honeymoon, involved some sort of adventure, usually up a mountain. Relaxing on a beach is not my thing. A dinner cruise is not my thing. Hell, even parasailing struck me as a bit boring, and I thought that was one of the highlights of the trip.
So, given that, this trip report may seem like a bunch of poodle-prissy whining about my POOR trip to Hawaii, but like I said, paradise comes in many forms.
The mediocrity, and the tasteless tourism of the place, were magnified severely by the fact that this was the first time Kate and I had spent more than a day away from Jayden since he was born about a year ago,and I missed him bad, way more than I thought I would. He had taken a few steps and seemed to be getting ready to walk right when we left. I was already regretting missing the milestone that was sure to come. At least I got to see the first few steps before we climbed into our plane with what seemed like 1,500 other passengers.
And I was traveling with my in-laws. Maybe you love your in-lawns. I don’t mind mine. I could have done much, much worse. They are nice, kind, friendly people who paid for our trip.
But holding conversations about farts, what we were gonna eat tonight for dinner and the weather is not what I would call an intellectually stimulating conversation, and after holding these conversations for a week, I could actually feel my brain start to wiggle and wobble like a Jello surprise. Yes, I am a bit of an intellictual snob, and that’s a problem.
But Kate’s family is also a problem. Kate’s family is why there are TGIF’s, Chili’s and McDonalds on every corner. I suggested we eat at a local fish place one night - they were offering lobster and shrimp and other dishes for $11.95, a pretty good deal - and Kate’s brother, instead, went to...Chili’s. In Hawaii. There were so many instances like this, that I found myself stewing at the end of the week about them. They spent one day inside, all day, for instance, watching the Hallmark Channel.
“If that’s what they want to do, that’s fine,” Kate’s push-button answer was to all my observations.
Well, no, the problem is this attitude feeds into why beautiful places like this are turned into spots that look like my town of Greeley, CO and other spots that look like a carnival stand. Here’s a quote, a perfect quote, from a NY times article I read on vacation last week: “As anyone who has flown over the monocultured American heartland will attest, we have carried out a policy of biiological purification with theorganisms we eat - an elimination of the random in favor of the predictable.”
OK, so there were some highlights. Snorkling at a preserve was awesome. The hiking was reasonably good, even if their “mountain,” Diamond Head, took me 20 minutes to climb and did not have a spot on it that wasn’t guarded by a handrail (I chuckled at the “I Climbed Diamond Head T-Shirts”). Later that week we went on a waterfall hike through a rainforest that was short but beautiful. And I got to read actual books, something I hadn’t done much of since Jayden was born. “Positively Fifth Street” is a great, great read, and if you haven’t read it, stop wasting your time with this blog and pick it up today.
But perhaps the best part of this vacation was, in fact, perhaps the best part of my mountaineering trips. It made me appreciate what I have at home. I ran in the door and gave Jayden about 1,000 hugs and kisses.
He had,in fact, started to walk when he was gone and learned how to play Patty Cake. He also seemed to really enjoy being around me and Kate, which was nice and reaffirming at the same time.
That night, I played softball again, spent hours with Jayden and had a nice dinner with Mom, who watched him all week. Then I went downstairs and finally, oh man, finally, got to play poker again.
Paradise comes in many forms. Home, I’ve found, seems to be the best.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Aloha for now

Don't worry, I'm only going away for a week.

Signs that perhaps you are playing too much poker or may even be kinda-sorta addicted to the game:

• You mumble in your sleep "can't believe that guy called my brilliant bluff with a pair of 4s."
• You start to feel edgy when there's not a poker show on TV. What the hell am I gonna watch now?
• You are going to Hawaii, and you aren't looking forward to it as much as you should because you won't get to play poker for more than a week.

I'm guilty of all three (at least I think so on the first, Kate claimed that I mumbled that last night but I think she was joking).
I'm heading to Hawaii Monday for the first time. I haven't really spoken about it here much, mostly because I didn't want to brag, but also because people make assumptions that when you're going there for a vacation, you must be rich.
I'm far from rich. Kate's parents have a time share and paid for our plane tickets. So we're lucky in the sense that for a week we get to live like we belong on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," even though we really belong on the show "Lifestyles of the Lower Middle Class" ("for breakfast he eats Frosted Flakes, for lunch hot dogs and for dinner...chicken fingers with a special kind of honey mustard, the kind normally bought for salads").

The trip has me a little antsy. It's the first time we'll spend any extended time away from the little guy. He's almost a year old, and just today, Jayden cried when I walked away from the cart to get a box of mac and cheese, even though my mother, who will stay with him a week, was right there.
It makes you realize how much they rely on you, even though he seems to be favoring Kate at the moment. I hope he does all right, even though I know he'll be fine. I hope he doesn't miss us too badly, even though I'm not sure he has the capacity to miss us at all. I hope I don't miss him so much that I don't have a good time in Paradise Island, or that Kate doesn't cry every minute of every day, even though it might feel good to feel like adults again.

But I also know I'll miss poker. I can't believe how much it's become a part of my life. It's now one of my passions, which include writing, mountain climbing, running, music and college basketball. And it's going well lately. I've had winning weeks in nine of the last 10, but that's not as important as the light that is starting to illuminate my dim cellar of a poker mind. I'm reading hands, reading players and reading situations better than ever.

A week away might be a good thing however. I plan to bring some poker books - don't worry, I'll do other things than read poker books while I'm in Hawaii - and maybe study the game a bit on the plane.

Everyone needs a vacation. Even from a fun yet addicting pastime that poker has become.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

It's not always your fault

Poker is hard on the competitive, Type-A personalities like me.
Whenever I lose, there's always something I think I could have done better. I could have been more aggressive. I could have been more paitent. I could have been, er, playing Doom 3 and avoided playing all together.
This weekend, after a horrible weekend of live tournament poker, I've changed my mind. A little.
So Friday night I played tournament poker at our Relay for Life in Weld County. Relay for Life is a really fun charity event that is all night long for cancer. The fun comes from all the different tents and "teams" who pick their own theme. We were Tour de Cure and pretended we were bike racers for the Tour de France.
We walked a little. Mostly we ate and played poker.
We found a Bank tent offering Texas Hold Em on the hour, every hour, so we started playing at 11:45 p.m. If you have the most chips at the end of the hour, you get a free beer mug.
So the stakes were high.
So two friends of mine and I played against two 11-year-olds, a fat guy who "likes to play those bar tournaments" and a loud, screechy 22-year-old woman who liked to raise and then talk about her raise (I gotta raise, I can't leave it there, I can't just not call) until the flop hit.
In a 10-hour cash game, I know I would have come out ahead. But the time limit, and the horrible play, beckoned variance.
On a table like this, the results can either be very good (see my post about my first time in a live casino playing limit, when I came out $200 ahead in three hours) or very bad (see my writing after this sentence). Really, it depends solely on luck. You can't raise with nothing because you'll get called. You can't bluff because you'll get called. And sometimes even these people wake up and find, say, AK, usually when you are holding A,Q.
Well, in the first game, it was down to me and 11-year-old #2, who had a huge stack after winning a three-way all in with a,9 (the other two had A,2, egh). And I had K,Q with a Q-high flop, with 4 and an 8, so I bet, bet and finally pushed, and the kid called me down with...
Oh. I forgot to mention he hit his 9 on the river.
Three hands later, he won after calling another all-in with K,J and flopping two Ks after the dude had A,Q.
He didn't really understand why I was laughing so hard. And I didn't want to tell him.

Saturday night I played a home game with a $20 buy-in. I have no bad beat stories in this one. I got no hands.
Now, I"m looking for suggestions here. I had 9,3 all night. If I raised preflop I got 5 callers. So I could never bet. It was the perfect situation, all I need is a few solid hands and I'm winning it. Only the hands never came. A,10 never came. Nothing came. I was clueless. If you can't bluff, and you get crap, really, what can you do?

You lose.

The experience has made me relax a bit in the low-limit SnGs I play now. I've played hundreds of SnGs now, and every time, I always think I could have done something different if I don't cash. That's a good exercise to go through. It's how you improve. I have, for instance, improved my position play as a result of this.

But sometimes you just lose because sometimes those SnGs aren't much different than Relay for Life poker.
But that's OK. Poker, after all, is just one long Relay.