Luckbox | Otis | G-Rob

About the Up For Poker Blog

Up For Poker Blog Categories:

2006 WSOP
2007 World Series of Poker
2008 Belmont Stakes
2008 Kentucky Derby
2008 World Series of Poker
2009 WPBT Winter Classic
2010 WPBT Winter Classic
American Idol 2009
B&M Poker
Bad Beats
Betting the Ponies
Disc Golf
Fantasy Sports
G-Rob's Thoughts
Game Review
Home Games
Horse Racing
Internet Gambling Bill
Las Vegas
Lefty's Thoughts
Luckbox Last Longer Challenge
Luckbox's Thoughts
March Madness
Movie Previews
Movie review
NCAA Basketball
NETeller News
NFL Football
Online Poker
Online Sports Betting
Other Gambling
Otis' Thoughts
Pick 6
Playing For Fun
Playing For Money
Poker Blogger Tournaments
Poker Blogs
Poker in the News
Poker Law and Legal News
Poker Movies
Poker on TV
Poker Players
Poker Psychology
Poker Theory
Poker Web Sites
Pot Limit Omaha Strategy
Reading Material
Sports Betting
The Nuts
The Playboy Mansion
Tournament Action
Tuff Fish Appreciation Society
Tunica Tales
Underground Games
Up for Poker News
WPBT Holiday Classic Trip

Previous Hands:

December 2010
November 2010
September 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
December 2008
November 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003

Powered by:
Movable Type 6.8.8
Poker Blog established in 2003 as the first stop for poker news, poker stories, and bad poker advice.

August 2, 2005

What is winning?

by Otis

I stood in the hallway, a backpack over my shoulder, and an ancient feeling of anxiety tied up in my gut. This was not my battlefield. This place belonged to someone else. By some quirk of fate, I'd slipped in. Maybe the real competitors needed a practice team, I thought.

The hallways were teeming with wide-eyed live poker virgins and girthy veteran gamblers. A half-eaten breakfast sat in my stomach and tried to work its way around my anxiety. I looked across the tournament area and saw a little number two hanging over a table in the back corner.

Just then, my brother and CJ walked up and asked a question I wasn't expecting.

"Is it Sweet Tarts or Spree?"


I always wanted to be an athlete. In kindergarten I kicked a ball around a soccer field. In first grade I got hit by slow fast balls as I tried to play catcher. By my late grade school years, I was missing baskets and running up and down the court in my Bearcats uniform. By sixth grade I was strapping on pads and playing football. It became my game of choice, though never a game at which I was very proficient. Somewhere along the way I earned the nickname "Teflon Hands." Still, I practiced hard and in the early years got some playing time.

My freshman year in high school, the team traveled to Ozark and I got put in the game. We drove the length of the field. When we hit the five yard line, the coach called a passing play, a curl pattern that I had practiced and practiced during the hot Missouri summer. When Danny Enos screamed "Hut!" I bolted into the end zone, curled around, and found the ball two feet in front of me. Instinct took over and my body somehow absorbed the ball. It was my first and last touchdown. I looked into the stands and saw my dad. His hands were in the air, his mouth open in a scream of pride like I'd never seen. It was as if that one twenty-second moment was enough payment for every game he'd been to and every game he would attend in the future.

Later, one of my teams (I forget which year) went undefeated. As the clock ticked off on the final game versus Rogersville, I ran onto the field, my hands in the air, my father's scream coming from my lungs. As I reached the other sideline, Danny, still the starting QB, looked at me and said, "What are you yelling for? You didn't do anything."

Though Danny and I went on to become good friends when we were older, it was a moment that never really escaped my psyche. It was a moment I was happy no one else saw.

Mostly because it was true.


The answer was "Sweet Tarts." Though I'd played a lot of poker with my dad and friends when I was in high school, my serious interest in the game developed a little more than six years ago. Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains, I'd step into the low-limit dealer's choice home game in town. I'd always carry two Diet Mountain Dews and two packs of Sweet Tarts with me when I went.

So, when I stood at the Rio sixty days ago and did my best to keep my breakfast down, I felt oddly touched that my brother and CJ had gone out of their way so early on a Vegas morning to seek out my candy of choice. Somewhere in my brother's eyes, I saw my father's pride. I saw that he saw me as a player, just like my dad had seen me as a player so many years before.

How I had I gotten here? How had I made my way from a low-limit cash game in Upstate South Carolina to pulling $1500 out of my pocket and buying into a tournament with more than 2300 players? How, when most people there were slumming in the low-buy-in tourney, did I see it as a defining moment?

Well, in short, I was ready to win.


Recently, I went to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting. Well, it was less a meeting than me sitting on my back porch with a beer in my hand. To no one in particular, I said, "Hi, my name is Otis and I have a gambling problem."

By the time most people have reached this point, they have lost their house, car, and wife, not to mention their bankroll and the rest of their life savings. Not me. My bankroll is flush, I have no debt except my mortgage, and my wife played cards with me and the boys the other night. What's more, I'm pretty on top of my limit cash game and am doing pretty well at $30/$60.

So, what's the problem? Where's the addiction in that?

Anyone who plays cards will tell you that "it's all just one long session." When you play cash games, you can't rely on a session's results as an indicator of winning or losing. And over the past two years of serious play, I am a winner. But the game isn't over. And it never will be.

That is the problem. Looking back, I never really wanted to be an athlete. I wanted to be a winner. Poker, I thought, offers that opportunity. To put a slightly more fine point on it, tournament poker offers that opportunity.



I had the one seat when I sat down in my first WSOP event. My brother and CJ had found a space on the rail and sensed my anxiety. I looked at Dr. Jeff and he gave me a reassuring nod, as if to say, "You don't care about the money, you're a good player, just have fun." It was true that I didn't care about the money. My recent poker successes had made the buy-in reasonable. I considered myself a good player and I wanted to have fun. But, I wanted to win. Worse, I wanted to not lose.

In the first level, I caught pocket aces and wanted to muck them immediately. Upon realizing this, I decided I'd never be a poker player. Still, when a guy in early position came in for a raise. I raised the pot and we went heads up. The flop came down Qxx rainbow. My opponent thought for two seconds and announced, "I'm all in."

I paused and looked at the board. I thought it was too early in the tournament for a stone-cold bluff. The range of hands I put him on was pretty small. I figured he had one of three hands: AQ, KK, or QQ. Finally, after what must have seemed like much too long for my tablemates, I meekly said, "I call."

My opponent stood and slapped two painted cards on the table. For half a second, I was sure they were queens. Then I looked again and saw reality--a pair of kings. The dealer laid out the inconsequential turn and river. I didn't realize that I'd been holding my breath since I'd called. I exhaled and let every bit of anxiety wash over the table.

A guy sitting across the table laughed as I raked in the chips. "It's okay," he said. "You can breathe now."

And I could. The anxiety was gone and the fun had arrived. I looked up to show my stack to my railbirds, but they had run off in search of some more excitement. Regardless, I was breathing again.

What I didn't realize is that I was breathing in an addiction like none I had ever experienced.


In the past few years, I have actually only "won" two tournaments, both of them WPBT events. I have monied many times and final tabled in three major multi-table tournaments. I also won a $12,000 seat in a WPT event that I didn't end up using.

But as far as "winning" goes, the WPBT events, as prestigous as they were, were the extent of it. Though I feel I get more respect that I deserve as both a writer and poker player, there is a part of me that wants more. There is a part of me that wants to be seen as a winner. More than that, there is a part of me that cares less about being seen as a winner as the absolute rush that goes along with beating everybody.

It's not just a rush. It's the best sex you've ever had, with the best looking woman you've ever known, followed by the best meal you've ever eaten, followed by some psychedelic wonder drug that nobody has ever invented running through your system like a sped-up hippy chick at a music festival.

In short, there ain't much better.


Over the course of the next six hours at the WSOP, I sat at three more tables and played, if not the best poker of my life, very close to it. I made one very good laydown that kept me in the tournament and picked my spots at the right times. My nemesis was pocket jacks, a hand that I still don't know how to play in early position and, in my mind, cost me doing any better than I did in the WSOP event. I played a little too tightly in the fourth level and it cost me a couple of opportunities.

All day long, the bloggers and my brother had been sweating me and living every moment as I lived it. At one point, after the aforementioned laydown, my brother eavesdropped on my opponent's conversation with his railbird and discovered he held pocket aces to my AK on a king-high flop. My brother looked at me and mouthed he word, "aces." It felt good to know I'd gotten away from the loser.

Though I played almost as well as I think I could've, the final hand hurt just as much as I expected. I'd been getting blinded off for an hour or so. We were ten minutes from the dinner break and I only had about 8x the big blind left. I'd survived 1800 players but was still about 200-250 players short of the money. While the money would've been nice, it wasn't my primary concern. I wanted to win. Winning was the thing.

A middle position player made a standard raise. I found AKo and didn't think twice. I pushed. My opponent thought for just a minute before calling with pocket tens. Needless to point out, I lost the race. I stood and stumbled for the rail. I know Maudie hugged me. I know G-Rob talked about food. Blood was there, too. So were others. I couldn't see. I don't remember.

I had lost.


In the two months since then, I've lived four of the weeks in Vegas. While I was there, I spent too many of my off hours playing tournaments. While I did well in the cash games and satellites I played, I couldn't crack the tournaments. I told myself the structures were too fast and that any donkey could win. I just happened to be the donkey who couldn't.

In my off hours since I've been home, I've played an inordinate amount of tournaments online. So far, the best I've done is a cash for $700, which doesn't even come close to covering the buy-ins. If it weren't for cash games, I'd be hurting.

I'm fully aware that for most people (obviously myself included) tournaments are a -EV proposition. While I enjoy the occasional game of craps, I don't have any real leaks...except tournaments.

Admitting it, I suppose, is the first step. I'm still working on the other eleven steps. That is, I'm still working on figuring out what the other eleven steps are.

Now, I know many people who would eat fermented shark (sorry, watched the Anthony Bourdain show last night) to have my problem. Of course, those are people who have a firmer grasp on the concept of winning than I do.


I walked out of the Rio, belly a-boil with Red Bull and Sweet Tarts. I hadn't eaten in ten hours, I had the remainder of an ignored hangover, and the cab line was an hour long. So, I started walking. I walked down the sidewalk, ignoring the heat, ignoring the scary people, ignoring everything except the fact I'd just lost.

When I made it to the Bellagio, I asked a security guard to point me to a cab stand. He asked if wouldn't rather take the tram. He pointed to Ballys, where I walked and couldn't find the tram. I was overheated, sweating cold sweat through my shirt. I was confused and likely on the edge of some sort of stroke. I found a cab stand and told the guy to take me to the MGM.

"Are you sure you don't want to take the tram," he asked.

It must have been something in my eyes, some wild yet forlorn blinking lost gaze. "MGM it is," he said.

When I got back to my hotel, I looked like Johnny Depp in "Blow" when his wife is having their kid. Mrs. Otis laid me back in the bed and wiped the sweat off my brow. She talked me down, then took me to the one place she knew I'd be better. She took me to The Castle and sat me down with my friends.

To play cards.


In the years since I was a kid, I've learned a lot about what people expect from me. In short, the people who love me only want two things. They want me to work hard and to be a good person. I do my best.

I've come to learn, however, that after years of thinking I was trying to win for other people, no one else really cares whether I win. I've actually only been trying to win for myself. Somehow, that makes it harder to do.

I need to find a way to reconcile my addiction to tournaments with my love for the game and my need to win.

In the meantime, I take comfort in the things I enjoy as much as winning. My kid's laugh, my wife's exaperation at my stupid jokes, and sitting next to friends at poker tables, learning from them, and laughing.

An I'm sure the day will come when I finally convince myself that I actually won a long time ago.

| Otis' Thoughts