Friday, June 20, 2008

The Off Day Cometh

So, what does one do on an off day from covering the world's largest poker spectacular? Me, I'm gonna go play some poker. I'll be seated in the Brasilia Room tomorrow at noon for the start of Event #39, $1,500 No-Limit Donkfest Skillz Spectakular. Since I am indeed a donk(ette), I expect to do well.

In the meantime, I'll play a little cash-game stuff and perhaps venture into one of the many 7pm tourneys available in the vicinity this evening. I'd hoped to make it down to Binion's for one of the afternoon events but I was a little too beat this morning. C'est la vie.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Acoustic Bad Beat

It's not quite of the quality of Pauly's tales in a similar vein, but to that nameless soul who received a bad-beat phone call from Anna Wroblewski today at about 1:00 pm---

Yes, the reason that call was so tinny and echo-y is because she was telling it to you from inside a restroom stall at the Rio.

To quote John Caldwell, "Oy vey."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Lammer Heaven

I've had a chance to play an itty bit of poker here and there at the WSOP, and only in one official event, that being the Ladies Event last Sunday. Yes, detailed report at some point.

Instead I've snuck in bits of poker in very short doses at odd hours, including one very brief session when F-Train and I sat down at a $10/20 limit game in the cash area. I had to fly after about 90 minutes, but I was exactly dead even in that stretch, despite (*whisperwhisperwhisper*) this brief outing actually being the first time I played limit that high.

I held my own both literally and figuratively, cashing out exactly even after catching a large number of playable hands. F-Train can critique my play if he wishes, just as I need to congratulate him on his razz cash when I catch up with him tomorrow. We talked a bit about him entering the razz event as we played, and I saw him last night this morning at about 3am, as he happily clutched his chip-count pink slip, the receipt for his tournament chips after Day 1 play.

What I have instead played has been a small handful of those single-table satellites across the hall, because they only take an hour or so. And they have been so-o-o-o-o soft, that it's worth suffering the turbo format to take advantage of the wretched play.

I've played seven or eight of these things, perhaps one an average of every three days since the room opened two days before Event #1 began. I've played all $125 and $175, the very lowest buy-ins. I went on an early rush, too, cashing in five of my first six, in all cases doing some sort of late chop involving the lammers and cash, which is how it usually goes down. That's where my entry fee for the Ladies Event came from, just as I already have two of three lammers I need for one of the $1,500 donkaments. (I'll buy the rest directly if I fail to win one, and/or offer a few people a nibble of my action if they wish. But I'll take the majority of my own action regardless.)

I did play one higher sat, a $525, which included a couple of names you might recognize. I had no cards, made a bad read on what I thought was a re-steal, and got swatted. No harm in trying.

But the little babies have been gravy. Yes, I've been running well, though the two I didn't cash in required bad beats for me not to be in the mix. There was also the $125 where I was down to 275 from a start of 1,000, then sucked out with 9-7 against Q-Q and built as high as 7,000 before settling for a chop. Then there was the one where I caught A-A four times and K-K once and they all held up --- even though I still couldn't close out the deal and in the end had to give my last opponent one of the three lammers to go away. The luck runs both ways. A-A (x4) plus K-K in a turbo SNG is -sick-. Mikey the Chimp could've done as well.

Lately, each sat seat has been accompanied by a free debit card with a scratch-off code for a day's worth of access to CardRunners. Oh, and a fortune cookie from them as well, each with something more or less poker-related. Samples, as best as I can remember them:

"You should play as many events and satellites today as you can." (On that day, "as many" equaled the one, and I did get a lammer out of it.)

"You will change your table image if you bluff successfully with 7-2 and show your cards to the table." (Ya think?)

"Consider stripping naked and running around the poker room." (Considered. Rejected immediately... for the sake of humanity.)

But I have seen some strange plays both good and bad. In the most recent one in where I did not cash, I watched three players in a raised pot see a flop that came K-Q-10 rainbow. Maybe 800 in the pot. Each player has between 700 and 1,000 behind. Player 1, the early raiser, checks. Player 2 checks. Player 3, the button, jams. Player 1 oh-so-painfully folds. Player 2 chews the scenery, while Player 3 says "I have the nuts right now," and promises to show. Player 2 eventually open-folds K-K, top set after the flop. Player 3 shows J-10 for bottom pair and an open-ended draw and rakes the chips. Player 2 wants to puke.

Player 1 is just as sick -- he claims to have folded Q-Q for middle set, and the dealer flips over his cards and verifies this to be true.

Okay, legendary bluff -and- questionable fold(s) aside, it's not even the best hand I can report. I witnessed what I believe to be one of the top five worst folds I have ever seen in one of these.

It's about the middle of the second one of these I play, and I'm on the button. Blinds are 50/100 or 100/200, I forget. The UTG player has about 850 total and he makes it 500 to go. He's called by the cutoff, who has about 2,000 at the time. It's folded around.

The flop comes Ac-8d-9d. UTG checks. Cutoff jams. The UTG player chews the scenery for a good two minutes, then open-folds... 10d-Jd, the straight-flush draw. With only 350 behind and over 1,400 in the pot and two cards to come.

Worst. Fold. Evah.

Or maybe not. But way up there. Now you know why I play these.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Out Mid-Pack

Indeed, I was in Event #15, $1,000 Ladies, which featured 1,190 players (oh-for-two on prop bets now, dammit). No time to talk this morning and I have plenty to share.

The quick story on my tourney. Started with 2,000. Jumped up to about 3,000 early by swiping a couple of pots and then flopping a boat. Went card-dead. For three hours. Got my last 2,100 in with A-K against a loose player's A-J, only to see the board come something like 3-5-6-6-5 for an ugly chop. Whiffed on every baby pair and connector I saw (and didn't see many in playable spots). Stole a pot with 8-6. Had lots of blackjack hands, either in the double-down or surrender versions. Finally had to defend my last chips with 10-6 suited, but didn't connect.

Ugly structure... more on that later. I went out somewhere about 620th, and there were no celebrities or big names at my table. Cheryl Hines was two tables away, not that I was really rubber-necking the other tables.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Catching Up, Part 4: The Venetian

I expected to have a soft day or two before the start of the WSOP itself, though now that it's going full blaze, I'm asking myself, "Why I am writing this stuff up now?" Typical -- I run hot, I run cold, I don't seem to have a middle gear.

Anyhow, the day after our staff BBQ in Henderson and the day before the WSOP itself gets underway, John Caldwell phones me or Skypes me (I forget which) and says, "You should go play the tournament tonight over at the Venetian." I hem and haw a bit and he says, "After all, you're CawtBluffin."

Yikes. Downwards, gauntlet thrown. But I did want to sneak out and play a bit anyway, and the Venetian is one of those true Vegas landmarks that I've heard about but had never been inside before. John did recommend the nightly tourney as one of his Vegas favorites, and I've learned to trust his judgment in such matters. He even added that with the WSOP starting up, they might get 100 or more players.

John was wrong on that last bit... thankfully... blessedly... because I was beat when done playing. I drove over in plenty of time to get my player's card and sign up for the event, which was $125+15 plus a $50 re-buy that gave one an additional 80% more chips. This meant one must take the re-buy at the outset. 2,500 regular plus 2,000 re-buy equals 4,500 starting chips. We had 52 starters.

I found out later that the room's regulars think the nightly tournaments at the Venetian attract a tougher-than-Vegas-normal crowd for the price, and there were several serious types at my table who looked like they sure as hell knew what they were doing. One of them called me "new blood" within the first 20 minutes.

But if there was blood in the water, it was the poor chap on my immediate right, a fellow who very politely confided in me that he was from Sweden, and who quite possibly had never played in a live poker tournament before. He knew some poker basics, of course, but had no clue as to proper table betting actions. We literally had to help him out step by step,and he couldn't even tell which chips he needed to throw in the pot when posting blinds.

He also tended to be a very passive player, and that meant he bled chips at this table, and there where two open stacks off to my left, representing players who hadn't yet shown up. Odd, that, I thought, not figuring anyone for stylish Hellmuthian entrances in the $190 buy-in category. My new Swedish friend doubled up to above par when he found aces and accidentally played them right to double through against an aggro player who had kings. But this was like the Hunt brothers messing with silver prices -- a temporary spike in price. Two levels later he was gone for good, every bit the dead money that even I expected.

I was pleased with my start, and was put to a severe test right away. I found A-K in MP and was looked up by the big blind, a guy about 30 who mixed it up more than anyone else at the table. The flop came K-J-J. I am either way ahead or way behind here. I bet about 80% and he smooth-calls me. A four comes off on the turn. He checks, I bet, and he smooths again, and I'm sure I quake a bit. Another four hits on the river, for a board of K-J-J-4-4. He fires a bet of 1,600 at me.

Back when I played the HPT satellite at Majestic Star, another player tried the same thing on me early on, but in that hand I had less invested in a pot, had pocket tens on a board of four babies and a king, and decided after long thought to lay it down to a check-raise that I then knew was wrong, for I received that cat-caught-the-canary tell from the thief that Joe Navarro says most people who pull off a bluff subconsciously emit.

Here there was something wrong as well, and it just didn't feel right to me. I couldn't put him on on a jack, despite his efforts to represent one, and I was sure he didn't have a four. Most everything else I beat. I felt like I was being tested here. So after hemming and hawing so long I thought I was going to have a clock called on me, I made the call. "Good call," he says, and flips up 10-3 for total air. I'm so relieved I almost accidentally muck my cards, but I remember to show the king and rake it in. I'm over 8,000.

For the longest time, I would climb no higher, as player after player was busted from our table and new players and chips joined the fray. I drifted downward to about 6,000, then 4,000, and just couldn't get any action when I ventured in... even on my steals. I dropped one healthy pot with two pair -- no good -- and just kept looking for a chance to double up, and finally, when we down to about 20, I'm able to re-raise all in over an EP opener with pocket kings. He's got a worse pair and my kings hold, and I'm back up near 10,000.

We slowly, very slowly, shed players, and since only five players cash the money is a long way off. I'm still below par, too. Then I get my break -- I get the chips in bad with my own pocket pair attempting to bully a pot, but suck out a set of eights to crack jack and double through again. Now I'm in the hunt at about 20,000, if not exactly comfortable.

After four and a half hours of play, we coalesce into a final table, and since almost every player rebought, there's something like $7,800 in the pool. Tasty! I catch another pair of kings and bust a short stack and I'm starting to feel good about my chances. The blinds, though, are already 1,000/2,000, and no one can be comfortable.

I find A-K suited in the hi-jack and make it 5,000 to go a few hands later, and the short-stacked big blind, the other woman at the table, pushes all in for something like 10,700. I'm priced in, but dismayed when I call and she flips up kings. Kings were my friend most of the night, though and I flop an ace to bust her. She steams off... and I mean at high speed.

Across the table, a sunglassed dude who I learn later is a local pro or semi-pro named Adam Zinn, says, "You never got a chance to play against her, or you might have folded that A-K there." I ask for more, and Adam says, "She was super-tight. She played like three hands all night."

I'd rather be lucky than good, I guess. Babe in the woods. My luck, though, wouldn't hold. We've moved up again in levels to 1,500/3,000 and there's another young aggro player here who's been mixing it up as often as possible in a "double up or go home" manner. He wants to win this now. He's in the cutoff to my big blind, and he raises to 9,000, with 13,000 behind. Fold, fold... I peek and find the dreaded A-Q suited. I want to win, too, and against this guy's range, I figure to be ahead. I push, he snap-calls and turns up his kings, which hold, and after sneaking over 40,000 myself and likely into the lead, I'm back down to 18,000 and in trouble again. (Later on, we review the hand together. What does he do in my spot, given his range? The same thing, he says: "Insta-push.")

Kings are so fickle.

But there were problems in Venetialand. We had played so long that the blinds got stupid, and no one -- no one -- could land the huge knockout to open a big lead. A couple of the players started pushing for a deal of some sort when we had nine (!) players left, and when we finally got down to seven, the communal pressure became too much and we called it a night, doing a straight chip-chop deal. I was technically sixth, with my roughly 16,000 in chips translating to $581. Good enough, I guess. Even Adam across the way said he would never normally do a deal like this but it was just such an exasperating final that he let it go.

He kept talking at me, too, swearing that he knew me. I have encountered a small number of folks who either remembered me from the '06 WSOP or perhaps saw my disastrous outing on PokerDome at roughly the same time -- which thankfully seems to be the one poker broadcast in all of television history that cannot be found on YouTube. (Thank you again, Lord.) But I've gotten that several times out here from folks this year already. I would also run into Adam the following day in the satellite room at the WSOP.

No huge win. Still, I was pleased. It could have been a big win, if an unlikely one. It also could have been a long six hours of poker for no money whatsoever. This was a happy medium and a nice bankroll boost to start my Vegas run.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Catching Up: Many Greetings at the WSOP

After yesterday's rush of words, I'm up to perhaps only a week out on catching up with events. I mentioned my last time out of hooking up with PN boss John Caldwell virtually as soon as I hit town, and the next day we met again along with Tournament Operations boss Garry Gates, who's way-y-y-y-y better a coordinator and scheduler of things than I am. Garry's one of those folks I've e-mailed or chatted with hundreds of times, and it was great to meet him and see his energy in person. Multi-talented multi-taskers make me jealous.

That night, I had my first drink -- singular -- in Vegas. Shamus called me up and wanted to meet, and since he's only a short walk away over at the Ricin Hilton, we met downstairs here at the GC and had that one drink each -- me a strawberry margarita, him a beer -- and yakked about this and the next. Shamus in person is quiet and thoughtful, and I talked too much, which is a weakness of mine when I feel mentally intimidated. I'm normally the quiet one, too. Shamus be smart cookie.

We had a big staff get-together at a Lucille's Smokehouse BBQ the following night, and I got there about a half hour early because I'm really anal about being late for (or getting lost on the way to) must-attend things. I wasn't quite first, since Pauly and Change100 were both there already. Hugs for them both. I had myself a giant iced tea, which came in a Kerr-jar knockoff and was the best iced tea I've had in a long, long time. Our staff BBQ dinner was excellent, too. Ribs o' dinosaur, by the size. I am not a small person and I had one roll, a helping of salad, a spoonful of pulled pork and one rib. And was stuffed.

And amid so many meet-ups, so many faces to which to attach names I've grown long familiar with. BJ Nemeth, who I've corresponded with so much he's an old friend at first meet; Mean Gene, whose sunny disposition is so admirable, who I've tried twice to tilt with "Steely McBeam" references, and he won't have any of it. "130 pounds of blogging fury" F-Train was there, as were veteran PN reporters Steve Horton and Logan Leatham, the Brits Snoopy and Dana, the legendary Flipchip, so many many more. This was just at our table... and there were five tables, and I'm missing three or four more names just at our table you'd all know. This is some damn staff, and I'm more than a bit intimidated by it. If I felt this way, God knows how the truly new kids there feel.

Side Note #1: There are a couple of interesting Pauly photos from that gathering floating around somewhere. I'm not specifyin', I'm just sayin'....

Side Note #2: Most surreal moment had to be while John is speaking. We're on an outdoor patio area, enjoying a beautifully cool Vegas evening, listening to a pep talk about poker and reporting and such, and a line of monks (or something similar, Coptic maybe?), went wandering by through the walkway just five feet or so behind our tables. Whatever we are, we aren't monks, though we might feel on a mission of sorts, at that. Still, you don't get incongruities like this in the Chicago 'burbs. Do they play poker in monasteries? If so, do they ever go on monkey tilt? And whatever happened to Brother Dominick?

More meet-n-greets in the following days at the Rio, as folks filter in. A big hug for Michalski, another for Jen Newell [same site these days] (who I meet in person for the first time). I meet two of the famed entities that comprise Wicked Chops, where I'd managed to miss them both on my first WSOP lap two years ago. One of those two got hugged, too. I recognize Gary Wise milling and chatting outside the media center and introduce myself to him, and accidentally meet PPA honcho John Pappas at the same time. (I can be such a schmuckette at odd moments.) I also soon meet Bluff's Lance Bradley, who impresses me as a focused sort who knows his shit. Yes, I'm dropping names, but I owe people some linkies. Deal with it.

My first night's setup, out on the floor, a big grizzly bear of a man is introduced to me, and it turns out to be Mike Paulle. You who do not know who Mike is have little sense of poker's history, in terms of who did much of the recording of it. Tom Sexton, one of PN's feature writers, I spend a good stretch talking with as we watch the interminable bubble for Event #1 stretch into the morning daylight hours; Tom's famous brother Mike makes that final, as do Kathy Liebert and several other famous players, though I admit as I watch I'm secretly pulling for poker's old guard -- Liebert, Sexton -- since I'm of that age myself. There is suckout after suckout to keep the short stacks alive; a couple of them are gaspers, they're so unlikely. Finally, John Kabbaj exits in tenth after no less than five hands where shorter stacks than his were both all in and behind in the hand, but survived.

I tend to feel a bit for Kabbaj, since it should have been Amit Makhija or Chris Bell -- or even Mike Sowers or Liebert or Sexton -- missing the final. In my experience my most painful tournament ousters are those where my expectations are reduced due to the unlikely runs and suckouts of others, where I'm likely to back up the board while waiting for my moment, and that's what happened to Kabbaj here. He was in line for a six-figure payday and it didn't happen. What's also surprising is the mean age of the final ten. Mike "SowersUNCC" is the kiddie corps rep here, with Makhija just a hair older; I don't know everyone's bio here but Patrik Antonius may well have been the third youngest player seated in that lengthy bubble war.

I have little purpose there, since my night's work doesn't begin until the table is set... or so I think. Around about 4am I notice an internal computer glitch in the Rio's count-tracking screens, splayed all through the Convention Center, and accidentally help the WSOP folks thwart a potential technical nightmare, though they don't find the mechanical culprit until much later that morning. Someone would have noticed the problem soon enough; I just happened to be the one who caught it first. But it's a good omen, a sign that I might have use here after all.

So much to do, this tour of service. Surviving comes first. Maybe a bit of poker at odd moments, if almost as only doing it as a personal mental challenge. Can I pour in the many hours of tight focus my job needs each day, then still somehow hold it together to play an hour or two of good poker when the time allows? Pros measure that ability to stay focused in years, and I'm wondering if I can do it for just a handful of weeks. The first couple of tries have been promising, but I'm under no illusions of real success; I've been the beneficiary of some short-term good luck as much as anything. Perhaps the poker gods are rewarding my early efforts elsewhere.

Next post: a touch of that early poker.

* * *

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Wow, A Useful Full Tilt Strat E-Mail

Yes, like every other online player who's ever played at Full Tilt, I too get the bi-weekly strategy mailings that are really just Full Tilt ads and begs for more business. I did, though, like the one I received today, from Aaron "gambleAB" Bartley. It starts off like this:

The Dreaded Min-Check-Raise
Aaron Bartley
June 5th, 2008

There are a lot of potentially horrendous moves to be made in No-Limit Hold ‘em: playing out of position with a marginal hand, chasing down a draw without the correct odds, overplaying (or underplaying) the nuts. All of these are horrible, horrible plays. But in my opinion, the worst play that you can make (and I see made far too often) is the min-check-raise.

I’ve never seen this play used correctly. In fact, I don’t think it’s even possible to use it correctly. If you min-check-raise a hand it means one of two things: either you have an incredibly strong hand and don’t want to scare off your opponents, or you have a draw but absolutely no idea of how to play it...

Say no more! At least to the others. Dammit, but there goes one of the most basic and obvious edges I have over people at the stakes that I play. Bartley's piece is all good, and I couldn't agree with him more. Even I know that there is almost never a spot when the preflop min-reraise could possibly be a good play. 95% of the time I see it, it's done by someone with a monster... even if by that player's definition of a monster, it might be A-K. But thank you for the re-raise, kind sir,and I mean that sincerely! Unless we are already down to single-digit M's, the min-reraiser has not only automatically given me the right implied odds to call with something that might well crack his [likely] big pocket pair, he's made my likely payoff twice as large as well. I can get away from the hand in this spot, but if I flop my set or big draw, can the min-reraiser get away from his?

A few good players, and I'm thinking of a few of the better player/bloggers as I write this, will sneak in an occasional min-reraise with something like 9-8 suited or pocket sixes as a way of setting up a take-it-down move after the flop. The problem is that even then, it's most often attempted in a spot where the relative chip stacks make it a sub-optimal play, though I admit I've done it on very rare occasions myself. But usually, when the min-reraise appears, it's just some marginal player advertising his monster... and thus devaluing it.

Catching Up, Part 2: The Trip West, Leg Two

The Mountain West is big country, scary big when you're in a new, tiny car and you have a couple of thousand miles to drive. Pardon the lack of photos here, but I had the need to put some miles behind me. I'll take some on the way back.

Ogalalla, Nebraska to Denver is one of the worst drives ever. It's high-plains country, with just enough signs of civilization along the way to ruin what would otherwise be an almost pastoral drive. And it's crap stuff, too: occasional storage buildings and truck stops and a wind farm off somewhere in the foothills to the west. Into northeastern Colorado, it's at least a little bit more rolling country than western Nebraska, but it's perhaps best experienced after sunset.

Denver is Denver, as I spent a week here (and at Golden) a decade ago on an old business project, researching and writing the backs for those old Coors Brewing trading cards you can find at flea markets and second-hand shops all over this part of the country. (I wrote half of the Miller Brewing set, too.)

West of Denver, I-70 goes up-up-up, climbing another mile or so within 50 or 75 miles to the Eisenhower Tunnel, well north of 11,000 feet. The temperature dropped 25 degrees in a flash, and it began to mist. I don't like heights, and I don't even like heights when I'm on the ground, even if this is truly beautiful country. I learned something about my new Yaris, too. Loaded down, and perhaps even not loaded down, it's not much of a challenge for big grades. From my cruising speed of 70-75 I'd have to pull it out of fifth, pop it into fourth, and slug along at 45-50 on the big climbs, those in the 5- or 6-degree range and/or those that held steadily upward for a mile or more. I knew there had to be a tradeoff to get the mileage, and the tradeoff, I've now learned, is in engine torque. Losing engine power in the mountains is the type of thing that makes me a bit panicky as well... at least until I can reason it through and figure out what is happening.

Past the Eisenhower it's big ski country, with the resort cities spread out like a spring of pearls -- Breckenridge, Vail, Eagle and so on. It's the Eagle River valley high up, and the Colorado River lower and further west, and the resort cities are long and skinny and strung out, at most a few hundred yards wide in the river valley with the mountains -- still white-capped, throughout the inner range -- shooting up on either side. The Loveland Gorge is another beautiful experience, but oddly enough, wasn't the deepest or longest gorge of my drive.

At long last I burst out in the early afternoon to Grand Junction, Colorado, which must be a world onto its own. It's another river-valley town, but with generally more space available. My impression of Grand Junction is that it's a place with a bright future. It's only drawback is that it's not close to anywhere else, except its access to the mountains and national parks in the region.

West from there, it's only another half-hour or so into eastern Utah, and the most rugged, desolate, perhaps beautiful part of the entire trip. For 200 miles or more there is barely even a gas station, and I encountered far too many broken down and abandoned vehicles to ever be totally at ease. The Mt. Peale area is beautiful in the distance, visible for hours off to the south. There is one stretch where it's 106 miles between services, and with some big climbs into national parks, too. Exits are sparse. Most are just "Ranch Exit" off-ramps, which run down to little dirt roads that in turn run off into the brush to homesteads unseen. There's a little blip on the map north of Arches National Park, but then nothing at all between Green Valley and the Moab exit to the arches and the Salina/Richfield, Utah pocket much farther west.

The desolation and the big climbs with a small car exhausted me. I made it through to Richfield, where I would call it a night. I stayed at a brand new Fairfield Inn that had literally just opened its doors earlier that week, and experienced not one, nor two, but three bad beats. The first was a fingernail literally snapped off trying to open a new motel-room door that hadn't been properly lubed. The second was dealing with a place with new Internet. The poor kid responsible for wiring the place was having all kinds of trouble getting the room connections to work, and neither Ethernet nor wireless would work. (I almost checked out, because this was mandatory, as I had some work to do.) But he finally got it going, though it went down for two more extended stretches during the night. I suspect that the place won't be Net-friendly for a while, even if the folks were good and tried their best to please.

They even recommended the place next door as the best burger joint in town, one of those upscale burger restaurants a la Fuddruckers in the Midwest, but with its own Mountain West flair. The prominently featured mushroom-and-Swiss burger with just a touch of teriyaki sauce and that bit of Western flair sounded okay... even if one wonders exactly which West they meant. The thing came with I think three tiny mushroom bits somewhere in the mix, and enough cheap teriyaki sauce to drown out all other flavors. Fucking waste of what was likely a good piece of ground beef. The fries were great, the iced tea good, the staff nice, though I did sweetly tell them that in my experience a little teriyaki sauce goes a long way, and if the title led off with "mushroom" there ought to have been at least one small mushroom's worth in there somewhere, not just a bit of a stem.

So I'm a bitch. It was a long drive.

Richfield is another one of these small communities onto itself, population 10,000 tucked between all the national parks. I-15 was off there somewhere to the west with one last winding through the mountains before breaking into the relatively flatter high desert of south Utah. The surprise of that part of the trip had to be St. George, one of the gateway communities to Zion National Park and what looks to be a blossoming retirement community. I could check this place out, I told myself, driving through.

The high desert continued into the northwest corner of Arizona and then down that huge mountain gorge on I-15 to the Nevada state line and the casinos at Mesquite. Zero interest in stopping. Both my sister and my sweetie called, verifying my safe arrival, and I had only 100 miles to Vegas, baby, and wanted the trip done with. The desert north of Vegas isn't quite as desolate around the interstate these days, and a little over an hour later I swung by Nellis Air Force Base -- where a pair of fighter jets were doing takeoff/landing loops -- and the Vegas Speedway just beyond. The Vegas skyscrapers really aren't visible from that far away, maybe 30 miles or so. Drive into the area as I did and you realize that those mountains that look like they're 50 miles away from the Strip really aren't that far away at all. The prominent range to the west is only 15-20 miles west of the Strip, the stuff to north only 30 miles or so distant. Southwest lies the California desert. East is Henderson and the mountain wrap-around to Lake Mead and Hoover Dam, which I've only seen from the air. Northwest is desert hell, and somewhere out there, Stephen Fossett's coyote-gnawed bones. Yes, that thought occurred to me.

Soon enough, though, I reached the Flamingo Rd. exit and drove right on past the Rio and the Gold Coast, the latter which will be my home for the next seven (now six) weeks. I re-gassed the car, then ended up meeting with Caldwell only a couple of hours later for an impromptu lunch at the Ping Pang Pong inside the Gold Coast. We made a quick lap of the Rio where I said hi to another familiar face, Nolan Dalla, and introduced myself to Seth Palansky, who together are the two WSOP media gurus for the duration. Then I began the process of settling in. It's interesting when you haven't seen your boss face-to-face in two years. Welcome to the Internet era.

Miles driven: Roughly 1,750 in a little over two days. Nerves: Jangly. Many more meetings in the near future, and unwinding was tough. God, I needed a beer, but I held off for a few days. Alcohol comes out through one's pores in times of high stress, and that's no way to meet people; you can actually be cold sober and still smell like the bottom of a martini glass.

Michalski's a (Slighty) Rich(-er) Bastahd

The brain has tons of spewage stored up. Here's an interesting nugget of no consequence, and therefore no reason to save for a longer post. I'm now 0-for-1 on prop bets, setting the over/under at 1,650 on attendance in the first $2,000 NLHE event, and then taking the over against Michalski for $20. Last year's attendance was 1,520-something and it came in at 1,593. I thought with the ease of advance registration this year, this one would peak just a bit higher. Alas, no dice... or at least no 1,651.

Now all I have to do is give him his $20. Might have to work from the Gold Coast for a few days....

Catching Up, Part 1: The Trip West, First Leg

Yeah, been busy. So busy between work and trying to find myself an hour or two of fun time away from the computer at odd moments that the blog had to gather dust for a few days.

So be it.

It was a week ago Sunday that I loaded the Yaris up with way too many bags and began the long drive west, destination WSOP. The first question, of course, is "Why drive?" Answer #1 is that 50 days or so in Vegas without a vehicle would drive me fucking nuts. Answer #2 is that I don't fly that well, especially when I'm out of practice. Answer #3 is that because I did need to bring a lot of stuff --- "need" being relative, of course --- I saved myself some hefty airplane surcharges.

But my hoped-for 8:00 AM Sunday morning start became something more like 11:30, as I finished up some late work on stories before heading to the tollway and aiming west. Illinois, Iowa... old-home country in a sense, since I went to college in the state many years ago. I stayed at it and drove through Council Bluffs/Omaha around the dinner hour, then ran into one of those hellish thunderstorms at Lincoln, NE that were plaguing that region at the time.

Small cars aren't designed for 70 MPH wind gusts. Still, loaded down as I was, I was able to slug on through at about half that speed.

West from Lincoln, I-70 is straight and flat, and with night coming on I figured I'd drive as long as I could. Sometime after 11:00 I reached North Platte and ate a late-night dinner at one of those 24-hour aluminum railroad-car diners that now only exist in places like western Nebraska. But $7 gets you more food than you can eat; my order of hash browns alone was probably some Idaho spud farmer's entire crop.

After that I slugged it out for another 40 minutes to Ogalalla, which is about as far west in Nebraska as you can go before the interstate splits, one part heading up to Cheyenne, WY and the other swinging southwest to Denver. When you're exhausted, the bed in a Super 8 is as soft as any. Trivia question: Where do motels still take cash, and not bother with plastic if you don't want to? Answer: Ogalalla, Nebraska.

Amazingly, the Internet was awesome, and I hooked up with boss Caldwell on Skype the next morning. (He's an early riser, often up and at 'em by 6am Left Coast time, so this was no surprise.) I handled a couple of tasks, then searched for a bit more food to start the day. On Skype, our inside chuckle was when after telling him where he was, he typed back, "You're only that far?" LOLs all around. For those unaware of the geography, you can drive in Nebraska about forever, and I'd snuck into the Mountain Time Zone and within about 200 miles of Denver, not bad for a start.

But where the Internet connection was solid and the water in the room piping hot, the continental breakfast was... scary. I snagged an okay donut, coffee and OJ after seeing a sixtyish couple fuss with a soggy-looking English muffin; after five minutes, they said, the toaster was starting to warm the thing up. On the other wall they had giant, clear-glass cereal dispensers; the Cheerios looked congealed and I swear to good the Raisin Bran had a greenish tint.

Last step to the road -- gassing up. Yaris get g00t mileage, even at interstate speeds. Still, I had to chuckle when I saw the small sign tacked above the entrance to the gas mart:

And the road in front of me was even longer. A truck driver, a la Slime, I could never be.