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Lou Krieger's Trip Report

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  • Lou Krieger's Trip Report


    by: Lou Krieger©

    Time is relative, and 10:00 AM is a lot earlier in Las Vegas than it is anywhere in the work-a-day world, where everyone is up, about, and fully functioning, or so one would presume. But I had to be up and fully functioning in Las Vegas at 10:00 AM on a Friday morning, which is tough enough in and of itself, but I had to drag myself out of bed at 4:30 AM to drive from Palm Springs across 275 miles of desert to make it to Vegas on time.

    The occasion was a book signing. PokerStars had contracted for a specials edition of my new book, “Internet Poker: How to Play and Beat Online Poker Games,” and had asked my coauthor, Kathy Watterson, and I to spend some time signing them in a hospitality suite adjacent to the room in which the Orleans Open was held. Kathy was more fortunate where this commute was concerned. She lives so close to the Orleans that she could have walked from her apartment to the hotel.

    We unpacked carton after carton from a pallet full of books and displayed them on a long table. After the manual labor was done, we spent the better part of three days signing these books as a gift from PokerStars to anyone who came into the hospitality suite and requested one. After three days and 1300 books ¾ each signed with a personal inscription ¾ my hand didn’t hurt, but my shoulder did. I felt like a broken down pitcher in dire need of rotator cuff surgery.

    We added insult to injury by traipsing down to the Gambler’s Book Store the following day, where I signed every book of mine they could find on the shelves and storeroom. But I was glad to do it. The Gambler’s Book Store is one of my favorite places in Las Vegas. They stock every poker book one might imagine, the absolute best catalog of gaming books anywhere, and I like the people there immensely.

    Poker authors are having a grand time of it these days. There seems to be a harmonic convergence of sorts that involves the World Poker Tour on the Travel Channel, ESPN’s TV coverage of the World Series of Poker, Jim McManus’s book “Positively Fifth Street,” that combines coverage of the WSOP with coverage of the Ted Binion murder trial, and poker’s feel-good story of the year: Chris Moneymaker’s improbable tale of winning his way into the WSOP through a $40 satellite on PokerStars and parlaying that into victory in poker’s flagship event, the $10,000 buy-in, no-limit hold’em tournament at the Series.

    The effect of all this media attention has spurred an interest in poker that’s unprecedented. Everyone, it seems, wants to be a poker player, and not just any poker player, mind you, they want to be the next Chris Moneymaker. But before they can make money and be like Moneymaker, they must first learn to play, and book sales, as a result, are up ¾ way up. Not just mine, but every poker book author I’ve talked to has told me the same thing, and we’re all happily staring drop-jawed at the second quarter royalty checks that roll in each July.

    So if PokerStars and the Gambler’s Book Store want me to spend a few days signing books, I’m happy to oblige them. I don’t know how long this poker boom will last, but I’m gonna tuck myself deep in the curl and ride this wave all the way into shore.

    Not only is the World Poker Tour and the WSOP broadcasts teaching people all about poker, it’s teaching them to play badly. Most of the time TV shows viewers the final table, and the audience sees a preponderance of things that work well there but are not very useful in limit hold’em cash games with nine or 10 players at the table.

    I’ve seen new players come in raising with 5-4, or A-6 from any position, and feeling confident of their actions because they’ve seen someone do that when they’re short-stacked, in a short-handed no-limit game, looking at blinds big enough to bust them on the next two hands, and really have no other choice. When they’re watching this transpire on TV, they’ve no idea how different the context is between one situation and another. The errors some of these newbies commit are egregious to say the least, but they’ll either learn or go broke in the process.

    Books can help. So can joining Poker School Online, or reading RGP. But if they don’t learn, they’ll run through their bankrolls and not have any idea why; they’ll only be left with a vague feeling reminiscent of a Bob Dylan line from long ago, “You know something’s happening, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?”

    Many of these new players come into poker with a heart full of hope. But when it comes to poker, only losing players hang in there hoping. Hope springs eternal in much of the world, but the hope of poor players is the meat and potatoes of every poker pro's livelihood. While hope may be wonderful for many of life's endeavors it’s usually the kiss of death in poker.

    Once the Orleans open was done, I had a few days to myself before the beginning of BARGE, which is, as most of you know, an annual gathering of much of the online poker community at Binion’s Horseshoe. All of the attendees participate in the Internet newsgroup and BARGE is an annual opportunity for frivolity, fun, frolic, and a few poker tournaments where the bragging rights associated with winning far exceed the prize pool.

    Now that long-time BARGE attendee Nolan Dalla is a consultant to Binion’s, the Horseshoe’s usual gracious relationship with BARGE has gotten even better. The first official BARGE event is the team CHORSE championship. CHORSE features alternating rounds of Crazy Pineapple, Hold’em, Omaha/8, Razz, Seven-card stud, and 7-stud/8. Once again, my team, the Coney Island Whitefish, which includes Poker School Online instructor Barry Tanenbaum, finished second. We’ve been the runner up three of the past four years and are, it seems, perpetual bridesmaids. And while we always win some money, it’s not nearly as satisfying as a trophy.

    Because some of you have inquired about the meaning of “Coney Island Whitefish,” I’ll tell you. But it’s not a pretty story, and if easily offended, you might want to skip this paragraph. Most New Yorkers know this quaint term, but for those of you who are blissfully ignorant it, here goes. It wasn’t all that many years ago when they discharged raw sewage into Coney Island, where it just floated swimmers in the ocean. And when we were kids, used condoms that flowed by were euphemistically known to one and all as “Coney Island Whitefish.”

    Our next event was the “History of Poker” tournament, and it was made up of alternating rounds of draw poker and lowball. Both games are played with a joker, or “bug” that counts as the lowest card not in your hand during the lowball rounds, and can be used as an ace, or to complete straights or flushes, in draw.

    This was an event I enjoy immensely, because these are two games I don’t usually play except at BARGE. But my undoing came in three good hands. Each time I was dealt trips during the draw rounds, I lost with them. It wasn’t all that costly during the limit phase of the tournament but when I was dealt three queens during the no-limit round I was eliminated. Andy Hughes, my opponent, who had raised before the draw, was first to act and took three cards. This was not a good sign, since I hoped up he held two pair and was drawing for a full house.

    Were my queens any good at that juncture? I had no idea. I could have stood pat and given myself no opportunity to improve, and doing so probably would have prevented Andy from betting into me after the draw. If his were the bigger hand, I would have saved some chips and still have been alive in the tournament. But if my hand were the winner, standing pat would have prevented me from improving while also minimizing my winnings in the process.

    While I suspected he might have had trip aces ¾ remember, because of the “bug” in Draw Poker, there are five aces in each deck, not four ¾ I decided to take the risk that my set of queens might be good. So Andy Hughes and I each drew three cards. He bet, and I called. Andy turned up the three aces I suspected he might have and he broke me in the process.

    For those of you who are draw players, you might want to analyze this hand and post your opinion about how I played the hand, and what you would have done differently if you were in my shoes.

    That night I had to pass on an opportunity to go on the BARGE “Cheap Craps Crawl,” a tour of the low-rollers craps tables in downtown Las Vegas that begins at about 11:30 PM and usually ends at sunup when the dice shooters, drunken and staggering by that point, somehow make it back to the hotel to get a few hours sleep before the day’s noon tournament.

    I missed it because I suffered the only literary bad beat of my writing career. I went up to my room to check email and found a note from Card Player editor Steve Radulovich, telling me I missed a deadline and needed to get my next column into them ASAP. So I sat myself down at the computer ¾ something I did not want to do, believe me ¾ and begun writing. By 4:30 AM I had finished writing and editing my column, spell checked it thoroughly, and sent it on its way to the magazine. Then I fell into bed as tired as the craps crawlers. The only differences were that I’m sober, but they had a lot more fun.

    The noon tournament on Friday was modeled after the now defunct “Tournament of Champions” event, and featured alternating rounds of seven-card stud, hold’em, and Omaha/8. One big hand was my undoing, and it happened during a stud round. I began with an open-ended straight flush draw, while Peter Secor had a buried pair of aces and paired his door card for two pair on fourth street.

    I missed my flush card on fourth street, but caught a card that kept my straight alive. On fifth street I made my straight and picked up a four-flush to boot, so Peter and I went for four bets on that round. He called my bet on sixth street and caught an eight to give him eights full of aces on the river. A lot of my money found its way into the pot on that hand, and I was in a survival mode for the next three orbits, until I was very short stacked during a hold’em round and went all in with A-8 suited where I lost to Chris Straghalis, who had A-9.

    BARGE is only one of many events held during the year for the Rec.Gambling.Poker community, and there are spin-off outings in Los Angeles, Atlantic City, Biloxi, Tunica, and Foxwoods. This year they’ve begun keeping score, and although I attended only the events in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Biloxi, I was in fifth place in the running for the best player award. But my performance thus far ¾ two events in which I did not finish in the money ¾ isn’t doing anything for my chances.

    Today is the BARGE flagship event, a no-limit hold’em tournament. My chances of winning the best player award may already be gone, but I’d still like to do well. Instead, I’m eliminated early. I was in the cut-off seat with A-5 of hearts, not the best of hands, but when everyone folds to me, I’m handed a golden opportunity to steal the blinds. So I raise to $300, in hopes of taking $125 in blinds. I don’t like it when Josh Paley, who is last to act, calls. The blinds fold, and we see a flop of Q-6-4 with two hearts, and both check the flop.

    When an ace turns, I bet and Paley, with only a few more chips than I have, raises all-in. There’s no straight draw possible and I wonder what he might be holding. I’ve seen him make a few moves at this point and read him for a steal, a suited Q-J, or some other hand with a queen and marginal kicker that might have been exciting enough for him to call a raise before the flop.

    I do not put him on an ace, and I’m hoping he’s on a lesser flush draw too, though that’s almost too much to hope for. He’s a strong player and would either have reraised before the flop if he had A-K, or thrown his hand away with a lesser holding, because one of the possible hands he’s thinking I might have is A-K, since I’m the guy who raised before the flop.

    I almost throw my hand away to Paley’s raise, but I want to double up and figure this is as good a chance as any to do just that. After all, if I make a flush I’ll win, and if I make two pair or trip aces I’m fairly sure my hand will be good too. After I put myself all-in, Paley turns over a hand he probably should not have called me with: Q-6. But now he has two pair, and I need another ace, a five, or a four to pair the board, but none of these possibilities come in and I’m out of the tournament, eliminated, finis, done, a cooked goose, a slaughtered lamb, a former player deftly turned railbird with one devastating flop that hit Josh twice and a turn that seduced me with top pair and the nut flush draw. Grrrrrrrr.

    After a visit to PokerStars hospitality suite to pick up a few T-shirts and drown my sorrows in a diet Coke, I chat with a group of people who are sitting in the suite’s living room watching the WSOP on ESPN and playing low stakes Chinese poker. After about an hour of that, I begin to feel frustrated, claustrophobic, and in dire need of air. The air I choose is the smoky variety found in Binion’s poker room and sit down in the biggest game in the house, which is only a $15-$30 hold’em game. I play until it’s time for the BARGE banquet, where Howard Lederer will chat about the World Poker Tour and share some tips about limit hold’em, and cash out $400 to the good.

    As poor as my results have been during these BARGE tournaments, that’s how good my play in the cash games has been. I’m up more than a grand, even after deducting the cost of my room, food, and gasoline for my car, so in addition to all the fun and games, BARGE has more than paid for itself, and I’m looking forward to BARGE 2004.

    After the banquet, there’s the usual frenzy of games that only BARGERs play, like Chowaha, an invention of RGPer Mike Chow. It’s played with three flops, two turn cards, and one river card. If you’re desperately interested in this particular addiction, just punch up this web site and enjoy yourself: If you want to really bone up on this game and it’s history, Google “chowaha” and see how many hits you come up with. You’ll be surprised.

    But I have to spurn them all to drive home. Actually, I don’t have to drive home ¾ no one’s sitting with a gun to my head ¾ but I-15 between Las Vegas and Southern California is a parking lot on Sunday, and the miles and miles of construction just exacerbate matters. There’s no shoulder on much of the ride home ¾ just miles of K-rail on either side of the road bearing the marks of cars and drivers who weren’t paying close enough attention on the long, boring haul across the desert.

    So I’ve taken to leaving Las Vegas at night, when there’s almost no one on the road, and arriving home just as the sun comes up. Of course that means Sunday is a wasted day since I’ve had precious little sleep during my eight-day stay in Las Vegas and none Saturday night during the drive home. But it’s better, I figure, than a 275-mile stint in heavy traffic, and so here I sit right now, on Monday morning, typing and editing this trip report for you, the armchair traveler.

    And if you don’t much cotton to armchair travel, make up your mind to attend BARGE next year. You won’t regret a moment of it, and you’ll be glad you did. I guarantee it.

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