Breaking News: The co-founder of NeTELLER pleaded guilty today to a charge of criminal conspiracy.
Stephen Lawrence admitted in court today that the operation illegally helped Americans place bets online, "I came to understand that providing payment services to online gambling Web sites serving customers in the United States was wrong."
His lawyers say he was cooperating with investigators and has agreed to be partly responsible for the $100 million the government is seeking to recover from people involved in the operation.
Another NeTELLER director, John David Lefebvre, was also arrested back in January as part of the U.S. crackdown on illegal online gambling.
"If you get a bloody nose, they won't let you back in the box." --WSOP dealer
Poker is a game of time. I once told my wife if I don't have six hours to dedicate to a live game, I can't play right.
Time for me at the World Series is in short supply. I've been trying to find six free hours to play and coming up short. I've played one six-hour session since I've been here.
That's just not enough.More in this Poker Blog! -->
When Pauly cashes in an event and Michal Craig final-tables another, it's enough to make a lowly writer like me a little green. Okay, a lot green.
Still, I'm trying to get in a little time at the tables. While not kicking me in the junk, it's not necessarily giving me the lovin' I enjoy. That's made for a lot of frustration where I normally wouldn't suffer it.
Dealers, for instance.
Some dealers don't know to handle a guy sitting down between the button and the blinds, and yet are well-versed in the rules of getting off work and the heretofore unfamiliar Bloody Nose Clause.
The problem with this is that it's unfair to most of the dealers here. In fact, I'd say 90% of them are really good. However, there is one I'll call X (because that's what her name starts with) who literally just stopped the other night and asked me, "What do I do?"
This lady is old enough to have been around the block, but I think the pace of the Series has gotten to her. The game had been on the verge of breaking several times and we had lots of people coming in and out. Finally, after watching her face scrunch up in confusion and, perhaps, fear, I just moved the button to the correct place, told the right people to post their blinds, and gave one guy an option to but the button. That was enough, apparently, for X to defer to me for most decisions over the next 20 minutes.
There are dealers here who have my attention and appreciation however. Stefan is the fastest and smartest in the room and actually stopped me 24 hours after a hand I played to talk about it again. Beth has kind eyes and is one of the roaming Dallas crew. Then there's an old Japanese guy who has three As and two K's in his name.
"My name Aces Full of Kings," he said. "I action dealer!"
Then there was a player I calll Bob's Big Boy. He sat on my right for a few hours one night and talked about every hand.
"Sure, I could've raised my nines there, but I just didn't feel like messing with it. I mean, I raise with my nines, what am I going to do if a ten comes out? I mean, I will raise with nines sometimes, but that time I thought, awwww, why mess with it, you know?"
This happened after every hand and usually in a hand he limp-folded.
I put up with it for a long time and decided that some people just talk too much. However, when he started digging his hand inside his underwear and scratching his balls incessantly, I vowed to bust him.
His friend had just asked him to leave and he said, "Wait, I'm down a dollar. I need to get that back." He came in for a rare raise and I looked down at 45-off. I called with a couple of other people and we saw a flop of A2x. He continued into the pot for $40. I called and everybody else went away.
I told myself that I was done unless...
...that beautiful three came on the turn.
"Should I bet again or should I check?" he asked.
"You're the one who was worried about being down a dollar," I said.
"Same bet," he said and laid out $40.
I paused, maybe a little too Hollywood, and then put out $40 on top of a $100 bill.
He hemmed, then hawed, then called.
The river was an ace, enough for Bob's Big Boy to wake up and bet his ace-king. His stacks became my stacks. Bye-bye ball-scratcher.
"Fucking idiot four-five offsuit."
"Come on, now. I'm a nice guy," I said. And I had been all night. Usually am, in fact.
"Alright, you're a nice fucking idiot."
A guy at the other end of the table came to my defense and told the guy he was out of line. In retrospect, the guy was probably worried about my glass getting tapped.
Regardless, bye-bye ball-scratcher.
Ten minutes later, I flopped a set of queens against a guy who mis-reaed the board and called my all-in river bet for a $1,400 pot. He thought he had a straight. He had J9 on a AQ872 board.
All of this would've been well and good but for me mis-reading the board a few hours later. I was sure I saw AK diamonds on board and thought--since I was holding the queen of diamonds--I could bluff the nut flush. Which would've been fine except my opponent--TheMark, for what it's worth--held the ace of diamonds. I guess it could've cost me more.
I'm still in search of that elusive five buy-in win that makes me feel like I'm doing myself any good at the poker tables.
That's just about all there is here. My time is spent sweating other poker players and writing about them. It's a good life, to be sure, but I'd kill for a week of participatory journalism, you know?
Hell, maybe I'll become a dealer.<-- Hide More
It took about 3 weeks for me to make it back to the felt. Remember, I'm a guy who was playing as often as 5 times a week as recently as a few months ago.
I wrote a post called "Goodbye to some Forever" when my work schedule changed again. I really can't play more than once a week anymore.
But something more signifigant has happened.
After Bonnaroo, after more time at home with my family, after enjoying the company of friends away from the table....I just didn't enjoy playing poker. That's new.More in this Poker Blog! -->
I've been playing terribly. I mean, I've never been very good at poker, but I'm absolutely HORRIBLE the last few months. I've had big wins at times but that solely a factor of good cards and lucky flops. When the deck runs cold, like it did this past Friday, I can't win.
I won one hand on Friday. At one point I folded pre-flop, including from the blinds, for a solid 2 hours.
As Senor Blood said then, "That's how good poker works".
I agree, of course, but I'm still not having fun.
I wear my iPod to any serious poker game. Of course, so does everyone else. Blood wears those giant noise-cancelling ones. It helps me concentrate and cancels out a lot of the outside noise.
But they're also a problem. I mean, when I was playing several times a week and had at least one night (Rick's game) set aside for playing poker with friends while watching the NFL, having a beer or two, and generally shooting the shit.
That won't happen anymore.
Now the ONLY poker is very serious poker.
Now let's assume I use my only night out each week to play poker. When am I enjoying time with friends?
I'll be honest, dear reader, serious poker is a fascinating diversion, but I'll take a great time with good friends first.
I think Bonnaroo brought that home.
A cold beer on a pretty evening with my family and friends is more fun that watching other people scowl over bad flops while ignoring you to thier own headphone beat.
I played online Saturday and DID enjoy that. Perhaps that's because it's time I intended to spend alone anyway.
AS I STOOD UP
Leaving the game Friday, I told the table they'd never play poker with me again. Anyone who knows me well knows I'll almost certainly back down from that proclaimation. Still, I went 3 weeks without playing before last week and I'm fairly certain I can do that more often.
Then again, I played online Saturday night.
G-Vegas...find yourself another fish.
Unless you want somone to join you in DRINKING like a fish. Then feel free to drop me a line.<-- Hide More
There is a HUGE announcement over at Up For Sports. It's a 100% completely legal way for you action junkies to get your fix. Go there now!
I knew it because I had stopped taking pleasure in my friends' success. Instead, I felt a nagging envy that set my mind wandering to places it shouldn't be. In the past, friends' success would be cause for celebration, a mutual endorphin rush that comes from the home team winning. My feelings had started to become the equivalent of the former leadoff hitter watching his replacement steal another base. The home team may be headed to the playoffs, but for the guy on the bench, it's just another reminder that he won't ever have a chance at being in the Hall of Fame.More in this Poker Blog! -->
I knew it because my heart had shifted. I'd never embraced schadenfreude before. Now, I was taking immense pleasure in watching people fail. If not pleasure, I at least found some sort of sick comfort in watch my enemies implode at the tables. And what was that? I'd never before had enemies. I never actively disliked anyone before. Now, I did.
Each of these things started to manifest themselves into misplaced anger. I wasn't merely feeling sorry for myself. I was starting to get mad at other people for failing to see how miserable I really was. I was feeling unappreciated. I felt like I was giving more than I was getting back. They were never feelings I would express, mostly because I knew how fucked in the head I really was. However, it was all there and I couldn't deny I was feeling it.
It occurred to me in mid-May as I stared at the digital clock on my nightstand: I wasn't me anymore. The guy I always loved to be--was proud to be--was missing. My patience had eroded and now sat like an exposed nerve in an abcessed tooth. My ability to enjoy anyone's company was usually short-lived. I didn't like myself and I couldn't see how anyone could like me either. Once trusting to a fault, I looked at 98% percent of people with a suspicious eye.
When I was thinking reasonably, I realized it was a question of whether I was gone or merely lost. If gone, it was a question of whether I could survive as this new person. If lost, it was a question of along which path I lost myself. Was it the road to attempted poker success? Was it the road to being a good family provider? Was it the road away from traditional career? There had been so many paths I'd traveled in the past four years, it was impossible to say. I could've slipped away on any of them.
"Your mood is not in a good place," my wife said one night over dinner.
"No, it's not," I said, and left it at that. I was unwilling--no, unable--to tell her the truth.
I was lost and had no idea where to start looking.
The only thing that was at all certain was that I was not succeeding anywhere. I hadn't failed yet, but I felt like I was close. I wasn't even sure how to define failure. It would've been easy if failure had a finish line, some easily discernable point at which I could just say, "Well, I guess that's it, then." It wasn't like that, though. Failure seemed to be a slow process, one that didn't kill with a shot to the head. It was a misquito that was never full and always awake.
I wasn't broke financially or morally. Emotionally, though, I was like that old bluegrass song. "I ain't broke, but brother, I'm badly bent."
In short, I was functioning. Getting by. It was stasis in some sort of death embrace with stagnation. I awoke most days--and went to bed each night--with the same overwhelming feeling. It whispered, "You're doing nobody any good. And for no good reason."
What in the hell did that mean? "For no good reason?"
I had the feeling that my attempts to succeed on all fronts was contributing to my slow failure in each of them. If I had any talent in any of the arenas I loved, I was allowing each one to waste away.
That night, over dinner, I must have had that far-off look on my face, because my wife said, "Where did you go?"
After some prodding, I said, "I'm thinking about going to Vegas a few days early."
In the run-up to the European Poker Tour's Grand Final in Monte Carlo, Pauly had e-mailed me and asked if I wanted to go to Amsterdam with him after we finished up in Monaco. I felt the selfish twitch and thought about long days spent with Pauly in the coffee shops. I considered it for about ten seconds, before reminding myself I am a man with responsibilities. Leaving the family to go to Monte Carlo for the third time in three years was bad enough. Taking a week on to the trip to go hang out in Amsterdam would've been a bit too much to ask. In fact, at the time, I didn't even bring it up with the wife. She would've thought I was looking for a Responsibility Medal.
One night in Monte Carlo, Pauly and I stood in the middle of the media room and chatted about his upcoming trip. He talked about the various people he might see there, but said, "Man, I just need to be alone for a while."
And that's when I realize his invitation to me was one he probably wanted to make, but deep down he knew it would be better if he just had a few days to get his head together.
I thought about that for a while. Every man needs some alone time. It's not for a lack of love for the people around him. It's just time to be Away. I'd actually planned for it a couple of years back. It was supposed to be a secret trip to Tunica to be alone and test my mettle. Instead, I decided I'd rather spend time with my friends. We went and turned it into a little tradition.
Since then, apart from one day in tired Milan, I hadn't spent one day alone.
And so, the plan was to go to Vegas alone before the start of the World Series. At the time, I had no intention of being in Las Vegas for the whole Series. I had many a grand plan. And then everything changed and I became a seasonsal resident of Las Vegas.
And here I am.
I've struggled to find a way to express everything that's been happening here. Between the Eskimo Clark stories, Vinnie Vinh stories, and all the other seedy news going on here, there's not been any time for reflection. I say all this because I get the sense a lot of people are searching here, but it's such a hard place to search, like trying to find a needle in a stack of needles.
So, here we are, and I've offered nothing yet in terms of good writing on Up For Poker. I've been working hard to make my paid gig better than it has been in the past. I've succeeded a few times and turned out three or four pieces--out of about 70--that I really like.
The good thing is that, even though this grind is not as enjoyable as it used to be, I get the sense I'm on the cusp of something. It may not be anything resembling success, but at least it will be something resembling peace.
Because of all that, a lot of what I had been feeling for many months is gone. I'm turning back into the guy I like, for better or worse. And if I can find that guy again, I'll be one step toward getting where I need to be.
A couple nights ago, I had the pleasure of having a couple of drinks with Jim McManus and something he said turned a little light on in my head.
He said that he had made more money writing in the past year than he had playing poker.
I'm not exactly sure what, if anything, that will end up meaning as I try to get this soul searching off the ground.
But, it has to mean something.<-- Hide More
Several posts forthcoming both on my work site "The Reporter's Notebook" and over at Pauly's Coventry blog. Hope you'll check it out.
I'm back to playing poker at the depot this Friday. See you there. In the meantime...Wayne (of the Flaming Lips) and Bobby (Grateful Dead/Ratdog) posed for this picture after our Saturday afternoon interview. I shot it with Todd's little handheld camera...but damn it was good to hang out with a member of the Dead!
We're into Round 3 of the Hot Blogger Bracket and Joe Speaker is in big trouble. You see, he got the worst draw imaginable. Some chump from Kentucky is racking up votes faster than is humanly possible. So how is it happening? That's easy. The seven people in the state of Kentucky who know how to use a computer are cheating. They've rigged this thing.
So what do we do? We cheat better. I gotta imagine the poker blogging community has enough computer savvy people to overcome whatever the state of Kentucky can throw at us. Time is running out. Start your ballot stuffing now. Joe Speaker's future relies upon it.
The G-Vegas underground scene has briefly transplanted itself to Vegas. Walking around the Rio is like walking into the Depot or Gaelic game on any given night. A guy that G-Vegans sometimes affectionately call "Rebuy" won $300K in an event a couple days ago. Late last night, I ran into several other G-Vegas players sitting at the Hooker Bar.More in this Poker Blog! -->
This afternoon, I found a familiar face sitting at Table 10 in the $2,500 short-handed event. He had just doubled through 2007 European Poker Tour Grand Final runner-up Marc Karam.
He offered me a last-minute chance to buy 25% of him. For some reason, I declined...which means he's going to win the fucker.
So, good luck, buddy. Make me hate myself more.<-- Hide More
The poker-blogging community is strong! Want proof? Joe Speaker breezed through the first round of the "Hot Blogger Bracket" over at Ladies...
Now it's on to Round 2 and our resident Obituarium and men's hair product expert is in a dog fight with an ambiguously gay duo from Pittsburgh (no connection to Mean Gene!). Joe Speaker needs your votes and AlCantHang has promised to bribe you for your cooperation. You can read Speaker's own request for votes here.
I'm writing about this so the nightmares stop.
Why don't we touch the hot stove anymore? Is it because our parents told us not to? Of course not. It's because we touched the hot stove anyway and we got burned. Or, in terms some of you may understand better, why don't we sleep with the drunk, loose skank at the end of the bar? It's because we did it once and we'll never forget that burning feeling either.
Pain is the world's greatest teacher. Without pain, we learn nothing. The pain I felt yesterday will stick with me for a long time.More in this Poker Blog! -->
"Live straddle," the dealer called out.
As the cards went around the table, I was telling the story of the last time I straddled and how badly it went.
"As long as I don't get pocket Kings again, I should be okay," I told them. It was a good table. The people liked to talk, and since I really liked to talk, I fit right in.
"I'll raise." The old man to my left made it $20. It was a strange raise considering my straddle already made it $10. Two other players called before it got back around to me. I looked down at pocket Kings.
"Changing up your luck?" the player on my right asked me after I put out my straddle.
"Yeah." I had run my $300 stack up to near a thousand in about two hours but I was in a rut. And I don't like ruts.
"Little something to change things up. I'm pretty superstitious. Hell," I told him, "I have a box with 'Luck' written on it."
The new UTG player bought in short and talked a good game, but he had folded almost every hand. This time, he raised my straddle to $30. It was folded around to me and I looked down at two black Kings.
"Raise," I said, putting $70 in the pot. He didn't have much more than that and I figured there was a good chance it was going into the pot.
"I'm all-in." He pushed in his remaining $65. I nearly beat him there.
The dealer laid down the flop and there was a K in the door. When she finished sliding it out, the flop was K42 rainbow.
"I just need a 3 and a 5," he said. It was obvious he had an ace, but I liked my spot. I went from a 71% favorite to a 97% favorite, although I've never been that good playing from ahead.
The turn was a 3. The river was a 5. The straddle did not change my luck.
Poker players need short memories. Mine's not nearly short enough. There was $77 on the table when it got back to me and three other players in the pot. With pocket Kings, the play here should have been a raise. I merely called. I still don't know why.
The flop came down 963 rainbow. I could hardly complain about that flop. I checked. I tell myself now that it was because I was going to check-raise. There couldn't have been any other reason for a check, right?
The tight old man fired out $100 into an $87 pot. If he was playing on Full Tilt, he'd be an animated rock. He had amassed a stack nearly equal to mine after two people bet into his nut flush. Everyone else at the table knew what he had.
As quickly as the old man bet, the next guy in the pot pushed all in for $285. I hadn't really taken the time to assess why the old man made his bet before the push happened. Now I was processing the second move. All the while, I was thinking about my pocket Kings.
I started to tell myself, "You're either laying down right here or you're playing this hand for all your chips. You can not call and fold. It's not an option."
It didn't take long for the old man to go all in. He had about $950 in front of him. I had him slightly covered. If I was following my own advice, I was calling. But I stopped. I started to think about the laydown. Sometimes making the right laydown is as important as making the right call.
I hadn't been there long and I was faced with my first test. Holding the six and three of hearts, I limped from late position and called a min-raise from the small blind. The flop came down 5h2h5c. I flopped a gutshot straight flush draw. I didn't plan on laying this hand down.
With $50 in the pot, the SB fired out a pot-sized bet. Frankly, I didn't think there was much chance this flop hit him. He played a lot of hands, but when he did, they were usually big cards or pocket pairs. If he had pocket 5s or pocket 2s, I doubt he would have bet $50.
I called. The turn was a 3. It didn't fill my straight or my flush, but it did give me another way to win the hand. In fact, I thought there was a good chance I was ahead right there. He checked and I checked behind him.
The river was another 3. The small blind bet $200.
I was concerned. I played the hand back over in my head and tried to put the puzzle together. Did he have a 5? Was he playing something like A5s? It just didn't fit. Not with the pre-flop raise and not with the check on the turn.
"If you have the five, I'm beat," I said, pushing $200 into the pot.
"I don't have a five," he said, flipping over QJo. It was a good start to the day.
"Great call," I heard from a couple players at the table.
"Thanks," I said, "too often I make the wrong laydown. And I almost did it there."
There was now about $1600 in the pot and needed to call another $675. There was a strong possibility that my Kings were good. It was logical to think the original raiser held TT-QQ. The short stack may have had A9 or been on some kind of straight draw. I was getting better than 2-to-1 on my money.
All I saw in my mind were Aces. Hell, I figured the short stack had probably flopped a set. In my mind, I was beat two ways. I was seeing monsters. Something I thought I was over. It was fear. And poker players shouldn't be guided by fear. They should be guided by information.
I folded. I couldn't believe I was doing it as I was doing it. But it was done. The turn and the river were rags. The old man flipped over pocket jacks and the short stack angrily folded.
I was crushed. I touched the stove and it was hot. I slept with the skank. I'll never do it again.
"Next time take a chance," Lady Luck later told me. "After all, isn't it called gambling? You shouldn't be worried about losing."
At least I know I'm marrying the right girl.<-- Hide More
"Do you know Otis?" one member of the media asked another.
"Know him? I've practically slept with him."More in this Poker Blog! -->
That coversation happened about 30 seconds ago and it pretty much sums up the bunker mentality of the World Series of Poker media. We're all in this together. We've never slept together, but sometimes it feels like it. This room reminds me of a Las Vegas version of a Lousiana shotgun shack. It's one long rectangle of clicking and clacking laptops. For a moment of respite, I've plugged Ben Harper into my ears and taken a break from my work.
Work and sleeplessness have largely kep me away from the tables so far on this trip. I played a little cash last night and picked up a modest profit. Other than running into a guy who had dealt to me in Tunica a while back and remembered dealing my bust-out hand in a tournament, the session was pretty unremarkable.
What is remarkable here, however, are the little things that keep me interested in this seven-week circus show. None of them are stories on their own. They are just simple quotes that make me remember why this place is ripe for stories if you just listen.
So, here, presented without comment, are a few things I've heard said over the past few days:
The biggest lie I've heard told this week:
Man on the phone to girlfriend/wife: "Baby, I think about your ALL THE TIME while I'm playing."
Staying healthy at the WSOP
Otis: "You're eating an apple and smoking a cigarette at the same time. Are you trying to balance the health scale?"
Dealer, holding up styrofoam cup: "I'm drinking water, too. So, I'm two-to-one."
Dealer #1: "ESPN won't let me deal the final table."
Dealer #2: "Why?"
Dealer #1: "Because I'm left-handed. I told them I was considering a class action lawsuit."
On dealer tipping and cheapskates
Dealer: "I dealt $2/$5 for a while and did great. I dealt $50/$100 for three hours and didn't make a dollar."
On Vinnie Vinh
Anonymous: "I heard he was a crack-head."
(Note: I certainly hope Vinh is okay. Regardless, I've found myself inordinately interested in the story of Vinh's random disappearance after leading Day 1 of the $1,000 re-buy event. As of this moment, there have been no reports of Vinh's return. For more on the story, visit our friends at Wicked Chops Poker)
Seen on hat of poker player: "Jay The Downtown Rounder."
The pride he must feel.<-- Hide More
Let's show the sports world the true power of the poker blogger community. Our very own Joe Speaker is in a fight. And it's a fight we can all help him win. Please head here for the details. Or, if you don't like to read, head directly here, scroll down some and vote for Joe Speaker!
I was minding my own business when the girl walked up. She was on the phone and hidden behind a pair of big, dark sunglasses. The first thing I noticed--seriously--was her toes.More in this Poker Blog! -->
My wife is pretty particular about painting her toenails when she wears open-toed shoes. This girl was dressed like she cared about how she looked. Tight slacks, a low cut shirt, etc. However, her toes looked like they had been ignored for a couple of months.
Odd, I thought.
When the girl finished her call, she looked up and said, "Do I know you?"
"I can't see any reason why you would," I said.
She paused and then said, "Do you know me?"
Everybody in Vegas looks the same, as far as I'm concerned. I feel like I see somebody I know everywhere.
"You face looks familiar," I said. I didn't say that I'd seen her playing a satellite last night and half of the adjacent table was craning to get a look down her shirt.
Slowly, the girl pulled her sunglasses down to reveal her eyes. She waited for some recognition, but it didn't click.
"Brandi Hawbaker," she said.
I could only say, "Ah. So are you playing any events?" Later, Dan would tell me I should've said, "Sorry, Brandi, I didn't recognize you without the Full Tilt sticker."
It was pretty clear that my media badge was about the only thing spawning the conversation.
I ran away, afraid Captain Tom might see me talking to her and try to huggle me.<-- Hide More
On Thursday night I said goodbye to the "Black Stallion" game. I'll never play there again. No more nights at the "Spring Hotel" and no more Gaelic game. If I stop at the Depot, it will be once a week. That's all the time I'll have.
My schedule at work has changed again and I suppose I'm happy about it.
Here's what I'm working on right now:More in this Poker Blog! -->
I play poker in Friday nights at the depot. That's it. I like the depot because it's really the swankiest joint in town. In fact, it's my favorite bar. I think I'd like to just hang out there with Otis, Blood, Mark and the guys. It's fun.
Because of the aforementioned BONNAROO (Good God I'm excited about THAT), I'm skipping another blogger gathering in Vegas. Thus, I'm planning to organize a special blogger get together in December. More to come on that.
Have I mentioned Bonnaroo?
Anyhoo, I'm on poker Hiatus.
I think I'll be blogging about it more... oddly enough.
Have a lovely day.
I hope to see you at Bonnaroo.<-- Hide More