Sunday, January 27, 2008

Bloody Poker Weekend

Or, in "Friends" style, "The One Where When It Rains, It Pours."

Crummy weekend. I even had two stanzas of a poem written detailing the massacre, then thought better of it. The world does not need one more mediocre poet.

I decide to take a live shot again on Saturday, as much because I absolutely had to get out of the apartment as much as anything. I decided the 45-mile drive to Rockford and the games run by Rockford Charitable games was as good an excuse as any to get the new car out and up to freeway speeds for the first time, and it hums along okay, even at higher RPMs. It's never going to outrun a Ferrari, though, to be sure.

The Rockford experience was interesting. I played in a couple of small MTTs, $170 and $120, respectively, and cashed in neither. I didn't see much for cards throughout the day and despite making it halfway through the field or better in both, it was an uphill battle in each. In the first one I ended up short-stacked early, clawed back to above my starting stack, then exited after losing a race with fours against something like A-10. In the second one I also took an early hit after an all-in short stack connected with Q-10 against my waiting A-J, and then I clawed back again to get to the final table through frequent steals and one showdown where my A-K held against K-Q. Finally, though, I went out when I pushed with fives from EP with an M of about 3.5 and the SB called with pocket sevens. The funny part of this tale was the hilarious way the redraw was done for the final table. I recounted that in a post over at KickAssPoker for you all to enjoy.

The games were held in this old Italian-American community center on the east side of the Rock River, just north of downtown in an area I'd never been to before. It now also serves as a Rotary or Lions Club or somesuch, but I could look around the interior of the place with its high ceilings and inset stage on one wall and imagine an era when different types of political and social gatherings were held in its rooms.

Poker, though... blechhh. I returned home that night and went absolutely nowhere in a couple of late-night tourneys, and then Sunday, well, Sunday was worse. I didn't even get to play on Sunday thanks to one of my favorite sites screwing things up. Worse, when I contacted support for the site, I received a bullshit response, and I plan on going off on them in a day or two if they don't change their tune in a big hurry. (And, yoo-hoo, guys at as-yet-unnamed site, I know you read this.) To add insult to injury, the site in question locked down the complaint thread on their forum related to the problem.

So what that amounted to was waiting around for two hours for a site to fix a problem that they should have been able to fix, that they said they would fix... and that they didn't fix. Worse, the solution that was offered by support (in lieu of proper support) was and is unacceptable.

I expect to be going into excruciating detail about this matter in the near future. We'll see. And I'm going to make a few brief comments about a second newsworthy online site as well.

Friday, January 25, 2008

All Quiet on the Poker Front

Speaking of fronts, we've had a couple of cold ones move through lately, which has kept me indoors the vast majority of the time in recent days. It's not that I can't tolerate the cold, but I also see no need to willfully subject myself to it when it's warmer inside. Older means wiser. Wiser means... warmer.

As for poker, it's been a very quiet start to the year, with a vast reduction in hours played compared to December, when I consciously tried to play enough to snag an iPod in the Merge Network holiday promo. I fell short in that quest, with the holidays doing me in. Maybe next year. I can buy the darned iPod, I guess. Maybe I will, too: the new Yaris has a little MP3 plug-in for just such a use. So far the month has been a mild down for me in terms of results, but it's more the result of indifference than anything else.

I've won only one tiny MTT since the year began, though I do have a secret goal in mind for the year. I'll share if I accomplish the goal. I've also shown up for a couple of the BodogBlogger tourneys and KickAssPoker league events --- both on Bodog, of course --- with decidedly average results. I think I've played perhaps seven of the blogger thingies and have made it to the 'cash' twice, including ten days ago. If you've played it, you quickly realize that the payout structure calls for some distinctive end-game strategy, assuming you're still around to have an end-game strategy. To me it plays like a super-sat, and I'm working to get to the top five and take my chances from there for whatever money remains in the prize fund.

The live games have likewise been scarce in January. The newfound home game has had only one get-together this month, where I was bounced early in the $55 tourney by a lucky fish. I also lost $20 in the last-longer pot, but wiped all those losses out and left just slightly up after a couple of hours of cash-game play. Yes, I already wrote about this once, which shows just exactly how slow it's been in poker for me. January has been a very busy work month for me, and more work means less poker play, especially since the work is poker and after several long days I have to get away from poker entirely for a couple of hours. I've been invited to a game for a while on Sunday afternoon, and since I haven't played much lately, I may go have a couple hours of fun.

I'm reminded of that ridiculous poker bust in California where it was a tourney with exactly the same structure that we played last time out, $50 for the event and a $5 community food donation for the food spread (and well worth it in our case, too). And the Sonoma County game contained undercover cops and was raided. My teeth hurt after reading that one. Pathetic. So pathetic.

The more distant horizon? A couple of possibilities have arisen for road trips, namely the Council Bluffs Circuit stuff in later February and similar happenings at Caesars Indiana in late March. I haven't made any decisions yet but I'll probably do one of the two, funds permitting. If I went to Council Bluffs, I'd probably time it to catch a couple of the smaller preliminary events, and maybe try a satellite or two to the Main. Anyone have any idea what size fields the prelim Circuit events are likely to draw? Drop a comment if you know.

Then again, I may not go at all. Middle age and cold weather is a bad combination for a decision-making mood. At the moment I'm longing for a good warm fire and a cup of hot chocolate, or maybe even a decent beer, well-chilled. That sounds like the immediate winner.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Gotta Give it Up for Lou Again

One of the things I've been remiss on lately is reminding people of the latest adventures of Lou Krieger, who I consider both a poker mentor and a dear friend and whose support I have always appreciated. Few people out there realize the extent to which Lou has nurtured and encouraged new people to come into the poker-writing world and experiment with their work, no matter their skill levels. I think Pauly may have been the first and the greatest, but I certainly received key encouragement from the man and continue to do so to this day, as have many others.

It's among the most selfless things a writer can do, you know, to go out of his way to keep on encouraging other writers over and over again. Lou's got plenty of his own work to do as well, and it's never easy to stay on top in as volatile a market as poker. But Lou seems untiltable, qualities that so many of the rest of us lack. He's also among the straightest shooters in the business... away from the felt itself, that is. He calls them as he sees them, and has for as long as I've known him. He also manages to do it in that neutrally objective voice that even the best writers find it so hard to maintain, as in his recent posts on a couple of major scandals and in his podcasts on same.

So while I've pointed it out elsewhere, I did want to dedicate a post here to the fact that Lou has moved his "Keep Flopping Aces" show over to Rounders Radio. It's still on Thursday nights, and it's always worth the listen.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Searching for a New Car, Part 3

If there's one phrase that describes the first couple of weeks of 2008 for me, it's 'monkey tilt'. From this pain-in-the-ass search for a car to Internet and technical snafus that have made work a little bit less joyous than normal, it's been a tilty stretch.

Somehow, for what's it worth, I'm actually up a little bit for the year in the little bit of poker that I've played, though it should probably be much better than it is. When I get tilty and on edge my 'A' game goes away, I'm just a little too accepting of coin-toss situations and tend to get my chips in less good than normal. If there's a second theme to my early-year poker annoyance, it's having to deal with a couple of the modern-day poker snobs who only know how to play a NL cash game, and yet each always thinks he knows everything there is to play poker.

I was at my private game the other night listening to a couple of these so-called mixed-games experts argue over what alphabet acronym they should play. Some of them wouldn't play Omaha, but liked stud, and others were adamant that NL and Omaha were the -only- games that could be included. Razz was almost universally reviled, except by me and one other. And my offer to teach and deal some Chinese poker fell on deaf ears.

Pikers. Neophytes. Guess what they ended up playing? Me, I cashed out after a couple hours after doubling up early with the nut straight and a draw to the nut flush in an Omaha-8 hand with no possible low, dodging what I figured was a draw to a boat but turned out to be nothing but a lesser straight. (This was at a second table where we snuck in a few laps of NL/Omaha, with most of the others refusing to play even that.) For me, it was soon 1 am and I still had work to do by 2 am, such being the state of recent chaos.

But back to the car thing. I needed to buy something, and I knew I'd need to do so soon, after being pulled over one late night with my license-plate illuminator not working, due to the electrical problems in the rear end. Those of you familiar with late-night car patrols would recognize that America's fine officers use any such mechanical pretense to pull over a car to see if its operator is under the influence. I got off with the usual mechanical warning/non-ticket. But it was yet another reminder that the Saab's days were/are numbered.

I'd been looking at a couple of cheapie cars in particular, from Hyundai and Toyota. Hyundai crossed itself off the list due to an asshole dealership, so I finally returned to Pauly Toyota for a fourth time, and --- gasp! --- they had the Blue Yaris hatchback ready to drive. I took the thing out for a short buzz, running up its odometer from '2' to '10', and then went back to talk with my best friend in the world about the situation. We agreed that it was indeed time for me to get a different car, because the Saab had left me stranded on the highway twice in recent months and is just increasingly expensive to repair.

So on Friday, I transferred just enough money into the checking account to do the deal for the best numbers I'd been quoted, and headed back to Pauly to buy the thing. I wasn't thrilled with their salesmanship, and in an interesting segue the initial salesperson, who hadn't bothered to tell me about my rebate (or give me the best price), still tried to wheedle his way onto the official bill of sale as one of the two salesmen involved. That is until I told him to get his name off my title application or the deal was off, which I figured was fair payback for the guy snorting at me when I told him why I wouldn't deal with him any more. Maybe it was a good-cop-bad-cop ploy on their part, but I don't give a damn --- my senses told me the numbers weren't going any lower than what I got. They can also do whatever deals they want to behind the scenes, as long as they don't slap me in the face with it.

That little matter aside, it took about two hours to get the paperwork done and get an insurance card for the car faxed to the dealership. Here's what the new HaleyMobile looks like:

Yes, I'm going to water it in hopes it grows bigger, although it's still a half step up from that Tata Motors offering. Still, I got it with a decent interior package --- power windows and doors and such and even a plug-in for an MP3 player. It'll get me around and it is intended to just sip gas, which is what I want. I will bet that the price of gas hits $4/gallon before it again (if ever) goes back to $2.50... and $5-6/gallon is a very real possibility.

Buyer's remorse? I dunno. I do know that all my liquidity has disappeared for the short term. Still, the need for dependable transportation is never going to go away, and I think this vehicle will do the job just fine. Now I have two tasks at hand, other than the normal grind: Read lots of car manuals... and get off monkey tilt.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Searching for a New Car, Part 2

"I love me some Hyundai." --- John 'Schecky' Caldwell

Yeah, where was I in the last post? Hunting for new transportation, that's where. With my Saab having numerous mechanical problems and a March date with the emissions-testing center looming, I'd decided that the future was now in terms of me and a newer means of transport. I checked with Jo and Meg, who are really my family in this area, and heard reports of a decent dealership out on Randall Road in Algonquin, IL, several miles from where I live. The place was a new Hyundai dealership under the Rosen dealer name, with "Rosen" having several other dealerships in the area and known for flooding the Chicago market with cheesy commercials where they sing "Rosen, Rosen, Rosen" to the tune of "Rawhide."

By the way, major rants contained herein. Be afraid. Be very, very, afraid.

The stop didn't go that well. The salesman who greeted me didn't seem much interested in what I was saying, although this was still while I was still focused on a half-decent used car, and not a new one. I walked pretty quick, just as I did from nearly two dozen other dealerships in the following days, even though I did begin my refocus onto a possible new car when the lack of decent used ones at the right price became apparent.

A few dealers tried hard to sell me, while other didn't. Used-car places in general showed more interest in selling me, because I was driving a bomber to begin with and I tend to dress pretty raggy at times; working at home has its effects, y'know. But I figure my money should spend the same anywhere, right?

Not so at the side-by-side Spring Hill Ford and Piemonte Chevrolet dealerships in East Dundee, where I spent a combined five minutes. I couldn't even get waited on in the Ford place and when I asked the same simple question three straight times in the Chevy place and the sales guy would not answer me, I walked there, too. No loss; after a couple of days of shopping, it's plainly obvious why U.S. automakers are getting their asses collectively kicked.

After a couple days of frustration, I made a concerted effort at finding out what the best foreign ecomony cars were in my price range: cheap. That's when John expressed his like for Hyundais and a couple of other brands were recommended to me as well. I tried to do this while doing the normal work load of course, including plenty of Aussie Millions-related work, and several people pointed out that I didn't seem to be around Skype as much as normal.

Meanwhile I was considering going postal on several car salesmen. My final judgment is that they pretty much all suck eggs. Some were mediocre and some were really, really sleazy, at least in terms of how I rate 'em.

I went to another mostly new-car place called Pauly Toyota Scion, just a few miles up the road, and gave a serious look to the Yaris, the bottom-end car. After a long talk, I told the guy I wanted a specific set of very basic options and told him to give me a serious price, because I wasn't in the mood to mess around and planned on shopping elsewhere, too. The guy still wouldn't name a specific price, but hemmed and hawed around and finally gave me a rough figure on what I could pay if I wanted to pay cash and drive it away. I wasn't much impressed with the pitch, but I hadn't totally given up on the Toyota.

I checked out a VW Rabbit, a couple of different Nissans, and two or three others. Based on John's fondness for Hyundais, and my trust in John's judgment (because it's pretty good), I tried to take a really close look at a Hyundai Accent, but ran into a sales dude named Jasper who left a big negative mark on me; so bad, in fact, that I crossed the Hyundai off my list.

It was back at the Rosen, Rosen, Rosen place, and I asked the guy to quote me a very basic car virtually scripted right out of the sales brochure --- a hatchback Accent with a stick shift and a nominally powered interior. The sales brochure said it was an available combination, and Jasper said, "Sure, no problem, what color do you want?" and after I gave him three choices he did that "I have to go talk to the sales manager" thing where they disappear for a while and come back with a price.

Good ol' Jasper came back with a really, really good price. He got me happy, he did, and I was already pretty sure I was gonna like myself some Hyundai. And he tried to talk me into this option and that option and the next option and asked me if I was sure I wouldn't like something else, and why didn't I take this car for a test drive. And I kept parrying him off because he was trying to upsell me and I already knew what I wanted. After 45 minutes, he stunned me, saying, "Oh, by the way, the hatchback doesn't come in a standard transmission with a power interior."

"What? It says so right in the book!"

"Yeah, but it doesn't come that way. That's what our sales manager says."

Well, screw the sales manager AND this dude for keeping me there for almost an hour after giving me what now seemed to be a great quote for an imaginary car... in other words, great pricing numbers that they never had any intent of living up to while they tried to bait-and-switch me to some other car on the lot.

Fuck that. As the levels of BS became more apparent, I told Jasper I was gonna check things out at another Hyundai dealership. He quickly told me that the nearest Hyundai dealership was in Rockford, another 40 miles off in the direction opposite where I live.

"There's not even one in Schaumburg?" I asked. Golf Road in Schaumburg is probably the biggest collection of car dealerships in the entire western Chicago suburbs.

"Oh, yeah, well maybe, there might be one there." Lying sack of shit. Worse, when I checked, I found that there was another Hyundai dealership in Elgin, only about 12 miles away and almost as close to my place as this dealership. You're a sleazy goddamn liar, Jasper, and fuck Rosen forever. You cost Hyundai a likely sale, too.

I was on poker tilt for two days after that. I don't deal with slimy salespeople well, I guess. But it wasn't like good 'ol Jasper was the only one.

I'd went back to Pauly Motors to give the Toyota Yaris another look. Fortunately, the first salesman wasn't there,and the second guy I talked to went in back to get me a quote after a short talk, and came back a full $800 lower, including a $500 rebate that the first guy never bothered to tell me about, likely in hopes of pocketing it himself. But Pauly salesguy #2 confirmed that the options I wanted did actually exist as a real-life car, and lo and behold, there was even one in the color I wanted sitting out back, fresh off the hauler.

I said I'd likely be back to give it a drive. I came back the next day, almost 24 hours later, and they still hadn't even taken the shipping paper off the top of the car or pulled the styrofoam blocks out from beneath the wheels.

Lord. Dear car dealerships: If you had someone express interest in a specific car, would you at least make some effort to do the 30 minutes of work to check that car in during business hours the following day, so it could be taken for a test drive?

The answer apparently, is no. So I left Pauly Motors in frustration, and filled out an online quote for a Yaris instead. That one was forwarded to East Elgin Toyota, a fraction of a mile closer to my place and, coincidentally, only a block or two from the Hyundai place my buddy Jasper from Rosen didn't want me to know about.

I got a call from East Elgin Toyota a few hours later, from a sales officer named Julie who insisted that they had exactly the car I had requested a quote for on the lot, and it was available for a drive immediately. I knew Jo had the day off so I asked for a ride down there, half figuring I'd buy it on the spot if I likedit.

Julie 'assigned' me to a young sales guy named Dana, who was way aggressive and if categorized on the poker scale would fall squarely under 'Tool'. They showed me my car.

It was fire-engine red. I'd asked for a quote on a blue one.

I took it for a test drive anyway, just to see how the stick handled and how the interior seemed. The dealer joined us on the test drive and allowed us to drive around one oversized block, a distant of about a mile and a half. When we got back, he reached into his desk, pulled out a paper, and tried to get me to sign a blank red sheet confirming my offer on the car, without even showing me any numbers. When I told him I wasn't signing anything without seeing some numbers, he gave me a dirty look and then came back with a "best" offer nearly $400 higher than Pauly's numbers for the same car. And thrust the offer sheet back under my noise.

Get lost, Dana.

As we departed, this overslick middle-aged executive sales guy rushed over, trying to save what he saw as a blown sale. This guy had carefully Brylcreem-ed hair and oozed smoothness. He didn't save the sale.

Boy, was I tilted from dealing with these slimeballs. I took two full days off from the car search.

Next time, Part 3 of all this joyousness.

Searching for a New Car, Part 1

[Poker content: A little, down a bit.]

No, no, no, I haven't died quite yet. Truth is, I've had time for not as much poker the past few days since I've spent at least portions of five recent days searching for a new car. My current transportation, a '96 Saab 9000 CSE, has been an okay car but is reaching that stage of its existence where it's getting silly expensive to repair, and Saabs are by their very nature very, very expensive on the parts side.

By way of explanation, not long after buying this as a hand-me-down from my sister and her husband, one of the rear outside door handles broke. On this model, it's a known weak spot in the design. The car part alone was $247. The same handle broke again a few months later. I still haven't fixed it.

But there are lots of things wrong with the car, now, from a recently cracked windshield --- thanks, gravel-truck pebble and cold snap in the weather! --- to problems with the rear-end electrical system and the computer chip that runs the car's electronics, and that latter might have to be fixed before the car would face a mandatory emissions test in March. Another of the door handles is broken on the inside, the special inset lights to illuminate the rear license plate are either burned out or plagued by the electrical demons (and I got pulled over for that a week ago), the front-end headlight-washer blades are snapped off and dangling, and when I insert the key in the ignition there's this brief, odd, mechanical winding-down noise that I have yet to figure out. Oh, yeah, the right-front brake caliper is rusty and needs to be be replaced, too.

The car has 237,000 miles on it. You'd have issues, too. But on old Saabs, all the issues tend to be expensive ones, and I've reached the point of not caring.

So while this was a very decked-out older car --- its first owner, I later learned, was former Detroit Lions QB Scott Mitchell --- it's time to go to the other end of the spectrum, for something newer and (out of necessity) a lot more basic.

Enter the car jaunt. At first I planned to spend $6,000 or $7,000 or $8,000 on a small used car, but by and large those cars don't seem to exist. There are, however, veritable seas of 12-MPG SUVs on the market. Living alone as I do, I tend to value gas mileage, and that is something that remains a primary focus. After about eight used car lots I resigned myself to the fact that I may as well start looking at inexpensive new cars, too, if just to take advantage of the new-car warranty and all that other stuff.

There's a lot more to the search, including having to deal with some sleazoid car salesmen. I'll save those entertaining hijinks for the next post.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, on to poker. A brief bit of history: When I first started playing on teh Interwebs, I tended to play limit cash games --- some Hold'em, some stud games, maybe a little bit of Omaha on occasion. I'd play the occasional tournament and I'd all right in those, and in the last year, year and a half, I've unconsciously slid over to playing tons of SNGs and MTTs and very little in the way of limit cash games. I've experimented with NL games and found it's an area where I need to improve... and I'm working on that.

But old-fashioned limit? A couple of years ago, I used to content myself with playing tight ABC poker and grinding out unimpressive win rates, augmented by signup and reload bonuses. I didn't get rich at it. The style, though, that I used back then, doesn't seem to be how I play today; recent weeks' experience at a handful of limit tables has taught me that. Several thousand NL donkaments have changed my game into something where I'm far more aggressive at a limit table and willing to put other people to the test far more often. I might be three-betting something I wouldn't even play before, especially at a short-handed table, which is something I also didn't do much of in my earlier existence. Then again, I might not play certain hands at all, too.

In a nutshell, I used to stay in a comfortable shell and save a lot of bets. I don't seem to be that way any more, nor do I care if someone rocks me for a couple of bets in a given hand because I usually figure I'll get it back with interest later. Am I still controlled by the math? On a lot of hands, definitely so --- I'm chasing my draws when I've got the right numbers and I'll almost always get away from underpairs in a multi-way pot. But the difference is earlier in the hand, before the odds properly dictate the play: I'm far more often trying to dictate to my opponents how the hand itself is going to be played out, from blatant late-position steals and sneaking into hands with crap, to just firing back at people with air when I suspect them of the same.

Yes, the variance is much higher, and the single bets don't matter or hurt as much as they used to. And as I'm sneaking into higher limit levels on occasion, too, this new, slightly looser but far more aggressive game seems also much more effective. At the least, I've posted a few decent sessions of late.

* * * * *

Back to the car tales. But not 'til next time.