I sat cross-legged in the hotel room. The carpet was new, clean, and better than what I had in my house. The balcony doors were open, letting in a wind and exposing a view you can't buy--it's only available for rent.
A few feet away from me sat more than $30,000 in cash. Most of it was wrapped in ten-grand bundles. A private dealer had been summoned to the room, a cache of one-of-a-kind chips littered the floor, and a setup of cards was being counted down. I speak of all of this in passive voice because, while I was there, I was--at least for the moment--a spectator. It was not my money. They were not my chips. I hadn't touched the cards. I was sitting in the middle of something that was simultaneously meaningless and exceedingly important. More to the point, I was caught up in a salt-washed epiphany.More in this Poker Blog! -->
When I wrote The End, there was a pretty serious part of me that believed it would be the last thing I wrote on the Up For Poker blog. After four years of finding nuances of the game and inspiration in the romantic turn of a card, I had given up. It had been a losing year--my first-- and I barely knew why. Poker had become more of an addiction than a hobby. It wasn't as if I was blowing through wads of cash and endangering my family. I was not playing above my roll or on borrowed cash. In fact, a nice-sized chunk of my bankroll sat in the bank untouched.
No, it was not your typical sweating, tweaking addiction. I only defined it as such because I was playing, but didn't know why. I wasn't playing for profit. I wasn't playing for fun. I was playing because, in short, that's what I do. I play cards. It was still better than drinking myself into barstool grandeur or experimenting with firearms, but it was not serving a purpose. I found no spiritual or financial profit in the game. Even if I kept playing--which I knew I would--I didn't see reason to write about it anymore. I write about things in which I find beauty and passion. Even if it's beautiful tragedy or hilarious passion, it's worth a word or two. There is only so much one can write about autotonomous raising and folding, and even less when the lifeless time at the table is the means to an unprofitable and unhappy end.
What's more, the G-Vegas underground games had become no man's land for me. After two violent robberies and one unfortunate bust, I made a promise to my wife that I was finished. No amount of entertainment or writing fodder was worth her worrying about whether I was spending my night looking down the barrel of a cheap .380. The games died off for a couple of months and then started their comeback. I did not come back with them. Despite pleas and protestations from my poker friends, I stayed away. Those long, hyper-caffeinated nights in smoky underground rooms were now just a thing about which I could wax nostalgic.
Indeed, I had all but given up on the idea of writing about the game that played such a large role in my life since 2003. When people asked what I do, I stopped saying "I write about poker." Instead I muttered something along the lines of, "It's sort of a long story."
A few nights before the mini-epiphany, I was half-crocked and sitting in a hotel lobby bar with a semi-motley crew of people. I gave a fellow writer 10-1 odds on his $50 that he could not blow up a deflated soccer ball using only his mouth. He pondered it for several minutes before declining the bet. Half an hour later, he inflated he ball anyway, just to see if he could do it. I thumbed the $500 in my pocket and wondered how I had dodged losing it. On any other night, with any other person, I would've lost the bet, lost the money, and lost a little more of my mind.
I was in a pretty dark place. No matter what I did, it didn't feel right. Privately, I think of it as One-Pip Syndrome. It's that time at the table and in life where you can make the decisions that feel almost certainly right and turn out to be just one pip from success. Eights versus nines, AQ vs AK, it doesn't matter. It's either a winner or a loser and when you're one pip off, you might as well be drawing dead.
The night that I ended up in the hotel room, I let go. I stood outside and let the wind smack me in the face. Whatever it was--the booze, the breeze, the bravado--everything seemed more clear. I made one decision that wasn't even officially mine yet to make. Everything inside my head settled, sediment at the bottom of a river that had been running too fast for too long. I ate dinner with my wife and friends. I laughed, indulged, and let go of whatever it was that I thought had tied me up. We walked outside after dinner and did something those afflicted with good sense don't do. No sense in describing it either, because it was certainly more important in my head than in reality. Regardless, it was 15 minutes of pure and simple abandon. No matter the consequences, I was free.
Later that night in the hotel room, I sat across from the friend who had just won the $30,000 in a poker tournament. He was happy, but no happier than I'd seen him when he was badly stuck. As the room filled in and we settled on a private HORSE SNG, we worked out the stakes. I can't remember how much it was per person, but it was $100 or less. A few of us did a last longer that was the same as the buy-in. We would do another game for similar stakes a few hours later.
I looked around and realized that it was not the money that mattered. I was sitting with a guy who had casually won more than my car was worth. I was sitting with people who had enjoyed the glamour of playing on TV. I was sitting with people who are big players in the business. The money was incidental. Not only that, almost all of it was incidental. All that mattered was I was playing with friends who appreciated the game as much as I did. I was sitting with people who took poker--for any amount of money--seriously, and at the same time, could laugh, cut up, and enjoy the time they had to play.
I admitted to myself that, for whatever reason, I am not as good a poker player as I used to be. I admitted to myself that I probably am not as good a writer as I used to be. Neither realization meant, however, that I had to quit. Even now as I struggle to figure out where my game fell apart and my words became trite, I am, in a word, okay.
Though I found it hard to believe, I was actually having fun again.
The room we called The Gaelic Game ran out of a fireworks warehouse on one of the oldest and most traveled highways in G-Vegas. It was not prophecy, but The Last Poker Game told the story of the joint pretty well. I spent many a night there, albeit few of them big winners. Still, before The Depot opened, it was my house of choice and I went there as often as I could.
At the end of the summer in 2007, the local Sheriff's office raided the Gaelic Game, effectively shutting it down, at least in that location. It was the second to last straw in the my little pig's collapsing poker house. When the game disappeared, with it went the rest of my poker year.
The other day, I was driving down the same road and, as always, stole a look at the place that had been my poker home away from home. The giant, red "FIREWORKS" sign had fallen on hard times. The letters that remained: REWORK.
I'm not much of a believer in omens, but sometimes you just have to read the writing on the warehouse.
Bill Gibron of filmcritic.com writes, "This is one case where, no matter the bet, no one wins."
At USA Today, Claudia Puig comes right out of the box with, "21 does not offer audiences a winning hand."
And these people are getting paid to write?More in this Poker Blog! -->
It's almost as if these critics are frustrated gamblers or bad poker players. They are the ones you want to sit at your table despite their ability to parrot the popular poker phrases of the day.
Lucky You was, apparently, a pretty bad movie. I missed that one despite Drew Barrymore asking me to see it (okay, it was a press conference, it wasn't like we were having lunch). But that didn't stop the critics!
Matt Stevens at EOnline tells us, "Director Curtis Hanson's long-delayed poker pic finally plays its hand, with Eric Bana as a Vegas gambler who has daddy issues and a crush on lounge-singer wannabe Drew Barrymore. Should you ante up? Nah, save your chips for a more exciting game."
Think he's done? Well, he also works in: "it's a bluff" and "feel card-sharked" and "low-stakes drama." Wow, a real wordsmith here.
EW.com's Lisa Schwarzbaum does Stevens one better, calling the movie a "no-stakes drama" while also wowing us with witty writings like, "Drew Barrymore, drawing the wrong hand when it comes to casting." She also tells us "the love story is a bluff."
She closes with, "Lucky you, I've run out of topical analogies for now, except for this: A decent movie just wasn't in the cards."
Guess what? You didn't run out of topical analogies soon enough. If people think the movie scripts are bad these days, they should spend 10 minutes reading the reviews. It'll make Lucky You seem like Casablanca.<-- Hide More
Have you read this post from the one-and-only F-Train? It seems the Tax Man dropped a $636 past due bill on him this week for tournament winnings from 2006.
Well, I can report that F Train isn't alone. I, too, forgot a few thousand dollars in tournament winnings from the Coushatta Casino back in my crazy rush of 2005/2006. In fact, in my post, I included a picture of the very W-2 that would doom me.
And the government wanted a big piece.More in this Poker Blog! -->
Thanks to a total of $4,246 of unreported tourney winnings from the Coushatta, I owed the government $1062 in taxes and an additional $82 in penalties and interest. If F-Train and I haven't made it clear, forgetting W-2-recorded poker winnings doesn't pay. I'm really curious if this was a specific crackdown on gambling-related W-2's or if this was a general roundup of unreported income.
Either way, the IRS wasn't playing games and there was no way to Luckbox my way out of this one.
In fact, you can expect this to get even worse. Starting this month, the IRS began requiring casinos and other poker tournament sponsors to report some winnings to the Internal Revenue Service.
Since March 4th, all poker tournament winnings of $5000 or more will be reported on a W-2G form. That doesn't mean, however, that your winnings of less than $5000 won't come under any scrutiny. Many casinos, like the Coushatta, will require W-2Gs on any amount.
As the IRS likes to remind us, "Tournament winners, by law, must report all their winnings on their federal income tax returns. This rule applies regardless of the amount and regardless of whether the winner receives a Form W-2G or any other reporting form."
Specifically, "Generally, gambling winnings are reportable if the amount paid reduced, at the option of the payer, by the wager is (a) $600 or more and (b) at least 300 times the amount of the wager." And that rate you'll pay? Try 25%.
If the casino elects not fill out a W-2G for your winnings, you can try to slip it by the IRS, if you want. Again, you do that at your own risk. Any unreported winnings will be subject to late tax penalties and interest. And if you decide to try and counter any taxes you pay on winnings by deducting your gambling losses, you better have some pretty good records to back up your claims. If the IRS auditor arrives, failure to have that information could again result in some pretty serious late taxes, penalties and interest.
So if the federal government is cracking down on tournament winnings at casinos and elsewhere, that must mean they are interested in profiting off the poker boom. If so, why wouldn't the government turn towards a potential gold mine of taxes, the online poker room? We'll leave that question for another day.<-- Hide More
As I've alluded to before, changes are a-comin' to Up For Poker. Since our launch waaaaay back in September 2003, very little has changed here. We settled into our all-star roster of Otis, G-Rob and The Luckbox, added a third column to make a few bucks and that's about it.
For a short time, we included something called "The Nuts." It was a chance for us to highlight some interesting, but not-yet-widely-read blogs that deserved some attention. It disappeared, but we're bringing it back.
It was in October 2005 when we spied a little blog out of that cozy hamlet of Los Angeles. She called herself Change100.More in this Poker Blog! -->
We were sold by this line in her nomination comment, "So while I'd rather be discovered as a pleasant little surprise while blog-surfing, I'll hike up my skirt and stick my leg out toward the road just this once and say that I should be the Nuts."
A few years later, she's a professional poker blogger and she's joined at the bong with the distinguished Dr. Pauly. Coincidence? Well... yeah, probably. But that doesn't mean similar fame and fortune can't be yours! We're looking for the next big thing.
To get things started, our selection for The Nuts is...
A professional comic takes his act to the Vegas poker tables. From his first post, "Why do people in Vegas like to have sex from behind? So they both can watch the slot machine!" Okay, I imagine his act is a little better than that, but the posts are pretty solid and we think it's a pretty enjoyable read.
So how do you get picked? Well, for the next round, we're running a little contest. The Up For Poker look needs a change. And that starts with a new banner. Send us your best idea here: ufp -@- upforpoker (dot) com. If your banner gets picked, you'll be "The Nuts." Lack any kind of artistic creativity? That's okay... just send us a written description of what our banner should look like or any another reason why you should be picked. Then keep your eyes out for the next edition of "The Nuts."<-- Hide More
It seems as though a few of the blogs in our blogroll have been away from the table too long. I've requested the floor pick up their rather pitiful stacks so that we can get some fresh blood at the table.
So, with that in mind, take a look at the blogroll. If you think you should be on it, but you're not, send me an email. If you're on it, but shouldn't be, send me an email. If you think you're too low or too high on the list, send me an email. The email address you should use is blogroll -@- upforpoker (dot) com.
If you're asking for a link, there are a few qualifications: 1) You've already linked to Up For Poker Blog, 2) You post at least semi-regularly with a couple of posts at least in the last month, 3) Your email includes the name of your blog and the blog link, and 4) You recognize my awesomeness.
Gee... two posts from me in one week. That's crazy. Oh, and for Little Willy... YES WE CAN!
It's one of my favorite scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Well, I'm not dead yet! I feel happy! I feel happy!
You see, the rumors of my (and this blog's) demise has been greatly exaggerated. Sure, I've been virtually non-existant for a few months, but I've gone through a little change... in order of importance... a new wife, a new job, a new house, a new city and a new car. I've been a little busy. I haven't played a hand of poker since my bachelor party weekend in January.
There was a time when Up For Poker's future was in doubt, I won't lie to you. I thought maybe it would be easier to just forget about it. We had a good run. Maybe we should have gone out on top. The last thing I want to do was start falling behind wanna-be A-listers.
You're about to start seeing some changes around here. There might even be some time when the site isn't available, but that will only be temporary. When the transition is over, you'll see a new and improved Up For Poker.
We're not going anywhere... we're just getting started.