Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Heading East

In a somewhat last-minute turn of events, I am going to be heading to Ontario this upcoming weekend.

The move there is official and will be happening as soon as I sell my house. Anyone who has been reading me for a while knows that this has been the tentative plan off and on for the past year, but it is happening for sure this summer.

For this trip I am driving rather than flying, which means four long days in the car through Canada on the way there, and at least four for the trip back, which will be through the States and then Canada. There's a chance that if you live in Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, or anywhere near there, I may look ya up in a couple of weeks.

I am one of those strange people who actually like driving (or even being a passenger) for trips that last days. Especially if it is drving somewhere I have never been before. The scenery is pretty monotonous from Calgary to Winnipeg as it is mostly just farms, but once you get past Winnipeg it turns really beautiful. The Canadian Shield starts, and the flat farmland morphs into rocky, hilly, forest-filled lake country. A few hours inside the Ontario border is where my cabin is located, so that will be one of the stops along the way.

I have never driven through Canada past Kenora, Ontario, so that will be a first. Though it is in the same province, it is still actually 24 hours away from Toronto. I have a feeling that part of the drive is going to drag on a bit- as there aren't even many towns along the way. That plus the O.P.P. has set the speed limit at 90km/hr, and my radar detector is highly illegal there.

I haven't been to Toronto since November of last year, so I am looking forward to seeing a few things again. (Other than friends and family, of course.) First is my car. I haven't seen her in seven months. We left the "highway" car here since it only made sense, and shipped my Sebring convertible to Ontario last year. I feel as though I am being reunited with a pet or a child, I am so excited about seeing her.

The other thing I am really looking forward to is Nandos. I cant believe we don't have this in Western Canada. If you like super-spicy food, this is the place for you - they have the best peri-peri chicken I have ever tasted. Muy caliente. I would eat there every day if I could.

I wont be able to get online everyday while I am out there, so I may not be posting much over the next couple of weeks. If you are on the route, shoot me an email and I will see if we are able to possibly meet up.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

What A Week

I have been pretty depressed this week. There have been so many tales of tragedy out there in the blogging world lately. I can't say enough how bad I feel for everyone and and their respective losses. Unfortunately, I can relate all too well. I have become a master at blocking this kind of misery from my thoughts for about 358 days of the year, but every so often it comes to the forefront of my mind and I have to confront it once again.

I will state a warning - the following does contain some pretty terrible, graphic imagery. You may not want to keep reading. I need to vent this for myself, but it is not my intention to bring anyone else down.

The day I turned 20, I began working in a hotel as a waitress in the coffee shop. I had been living in a different province for the two years prior and just moved back home. I was also one month pregnant. Needless to say, I was scared and I was alone, with the exception of my immediate family. All the friends that I grew up with had gone their seperate ways, and for the first time in my life I found myself without a large network of friends that I could lean on for support. That feeling lasted less than a month.

Immediately my co-workers from all areas of the hotel befriended me. I went for coffee with the day bartender, the girls from the front desk took me to lunch. When a group of eleven staff members went for dinner, I was invited. The hostess from the coffee shop went to Lamaze class with me and was in the delivery room for the entire 36 1/2 hours while my daughter decided to procrastinate her entry into this world.

Two years and four job promotions later, I was in a great place. I was working in a junior management position as a Catering Coordinator, working weekends in the night club (which was also in the hotel), and I had a huge group of friends. We spent every moment together - at work, socially, we even started a softball team. Every Sunday we would play a double-header, then go to someone's house and play cards. I loved every minute of it. Overnight though, things changed.

I went to work in the bar one Saturday evening, only to find several of my co-workers crying inconsolably. Apparently the night before, after our shift at the bar, one of our bartenders went home and hung himself. No one knew why, no one saw it coming. This was probably the most popular guy in the group. He was tremendously outgoing and friendly to everyone. He was the guy that all the girls wanted to date and all the guys wanted as their best friend. Through weeks of talking to and crying with each other, and many, MANY, bottles of alcohol later, we all emerged from the experience dumbfounded but ok. We all still had each other and it was time to move on with our lives.

Within three months, there was another. This time it was a member of the management team. He traveled up north of our city to go on a sales call and never showed up. He was found a week later, had also hung himself in a remote area of Northen Alberta. Six months after that, one of our bellman died of aids and another 6 months passed only to find one of our bouncers had died in a car crash. Having seen too much untimely death took its toll on everyone. We were literally looking around wondering who would be next.

One day I was at work and received a call from our head of security. Her name was Janet, and we had only met in passing a few times since she was relatively new to the hotel and only worked evenings. She had stopped in the bar a few times on her rounds, but otherwise she was pretty unknown to everyone. She apologized for bothering me at work, but asked if it was possible for me to come by her house that night. She needed someone to talk to and for some unknown reason chose me.

When I showed up, coffee in hand, she told me something that to this day still sends shivers down my spine. She had tried to commit suicide twice. The first time was a year prior, when she used her diabetic needles to attempt injecting oxygen into her blood stream. Obviously, she failed. The second time she slashed her wrists. She came very close to not making it, but managed to call 911 in time for them to help her. This was just two weeks prior to me showing up on her doorstep. I was in total, complete shock. We talked for hours, and she said that she was getting counseling, and they recommended that she talk to some of her peers about it as she didn't know many people in the city. Again, why she chose me was a mystery, but we became fast friends.

For the next two years, we had a blast. When I wasn't working in the bar, her and I would tear up the town on the weekends and hang out for coffee during the week. She joined our softball team and was completely accepted into our group, or more accurately, our family. With the exception of my one lifelong friend who lived out of province at the time, she became my closest friend.

Then one morning, I got the call.

She broke tradition and left a suicide note. The words haunt me to this day. "I just can't stand the pain of living" was her only explanation. I still run that phrase over and over in my mind, trying to understand it. For two years we lived virtually the same life. We hung out with the same people, we went and did the same extraordinarily fun things, but the entire time she was absolutely miserable. I couldn't, didn't, and still don't understand it, but she was upset enough to premeditate her own death.

I saw the hole that was drilled into her car door two weeks prior. It was easy to accept her explanation that someone must have been trying to break in, though it never really rang true. When they told me she died in a garage, no one had to explain to me how she attached a hose to her exhaust system, ran it through the hole, and asphyxiated herself while in her car, I could already visualize it. I knew the exact moment of her death actually. I was calling her house frantically the night before and wasn't surprised that she didn't answer. I called her work, and they confirmed that she had called in sick. A few of us even went to her house, but she wasn't there. She was unreachable - no one knew where she was, but I was certain as to what she was doing. I dialed her number one last time, but hung up, knowing that there was no point - she had already done it. I hardly slept that night, just sat waiting for the call that would confirm what I had feared the entire time we were friends. When the phone rang at 6am the next day I knew who would be on the other line.

I was messed up for a long time. Truth be told, I still am, even years and years later. The next five years brought five more deaths to the hotel. Ten total, in as many years. Some were suicide, some were disease, all were untimely. Add to this count my grandparents who all died before I was 12 and several family members that have died of natural causes within the past few years, and it can be said that I have been to more than my share of funerals.

I quit working at the hotel/bar the day I turned thirty. Ten long years. I haven't been back since, either. There is still a group of fifteen or twenty of us that get together a few times a year, but underneath the celebration there will always remain a layer of sadness. We carry a lot of ghosts around with us.

When I read about other people's tragedy, I really can relate. Even though I know better, I wish there was something I could do to make it easier on those suffering from a loss.

A friend asked me once, knowing what I know now, if I would do those ten years differently. My answer is no. Even though too many of those relationships ended tragically, I am still grateful that I got to spend the time with them that I did. I have accepted that I was unable to change any of the outcomes, and I know that I am a better person because they were in my life.

It just wasn't for long enough.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Thoughts About Charlie

It's not my story. I am not related to this person and have never met him. I have never even met any of his friends. However, the story of Charlie has affected me nonetheless.

If you are reading this and don't know what I am talking about, go read Spaceman to catch up. Charlie is is best friend.

Please take a moment in your day to send some positive vibes, karma, love, wishes, prayers, hope, thoughts (or whatever you want to call it) their way. We all have times in our lives when we need this - right now it is their time.

I think it is outstanding that professional poker players are taking the time out of their day - during the middle of the WSOP - to do so. Marcel Luske, John Juanda, Max Pescatori, and Barry Greenstein are among those that I have read about placing calls to Charlie.

Also, Pauly and Felicia have been the ones spreading the word in Vegas, and I think they need to be recognized for what they are doing. It makes me wish I could be in Vegas helping as well.

My thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved. I hope you take a minute to do the same today.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

WSOP Coverage

The action is HOT at this year's WSOP.

How could I possibly know that as I am sitting at home, in another country, and it won't be broadcast on TV until August? Thanks to Pauly and the guys at Lasvegasvegas, I have up to the minute coverage on everything that is going on. Check out these links and support your fellow bloggers:

World Series of Poker Photo Gallery

Thursday, June 16, 2005

MTT Strategy

I've had quite a few IM conversations lately about tournament play, so I thought I would talk about that for a while. Specifically, the mental process I go through while playing. Please keep in mind - though certainly open for debate - this is what I have found works for ME. I am not preaching that this is how everyone should play, to each his/her own. I would love to hear what process others go through in their tournaments though.

There are four general stages to any given tournament:

1.) First hour
2.) Making it to the bubble
3.) In the money
4.) Final table

First hour

I am always amazed at how people play the first hour of a tournament, especially rebuys. Players will go all-in time after time just to attempt doubling up (or tripling, etc.) in the first hour, spending tens (or even hundreds) of dollars in the process. I can understand that some of the prize pools justify a "whatever it takes" type of mentality, but in the long run I have to wonder how far ahead most of these players are. (Actually, I have a pretty good idea...)

What works for me most of the time is to play uber-slow. I rarely play more than 12-17% of hands in the first few hours of any given tournament. When I am playing in this "zone" I always get to a point where I feel that I wouldn't recognize a good hand if it got up and smacked me. Then I say to myself:

"You will know when to play, and don't play before you know".

It may sound kind of silly, but it is the truest thing I can write on here. When you play with that knowledge, you don't have to wonder about your hand. The cards really don't matter, and you don't second guess your decisions. When you slip into this zone of playing - it is a beautiful thing. Now don't get me wrong - I am making it sound like this is a warm fuzzy place where you don't have to flex a single brain muscle, but it is actually the opposite. This is when my mind really starts working. I slip into a moment of clarity where I automatically calculate pot odds and implied pot odds, I can read my opponents more clearly than before, etc. The thought process becomes automatic, rather than forced. I begin playing with rose-colored glasses on, so to speak.

I know that a lot of people are going to argue this point. To each his own, really, but I am just describing what happens to me. No, it doesn't happen in every tournament, I could only be so lucky. However, the longer I play this way, the more often it does occur.

So many people say to me that they get too stressed out while waiting for hands, so they start playing junk because they are afraid of blinding out. Yeah, it does happen, but patience is rewarded in poker, and all I can say is wait for the right moment. You WILL know.

Making it to the bubble

My strategy here is basically the same as above. I play off other player's impatience more than anything. I think most people are concerned about building larger chip stacks at this point so they tend to do so out of position, with lesser cards, and without well-thought out decisions. When I am on top of my game, I don't worry about increasing my own chip stack at this point in a tournament, it just happens on it's own if I play correctly.

At this stage, I am only playing to get past the bubble. I let go of any thoughts of making the final table, and try to concentrate on the here-and-now. I slip into a ring-game mentality, which I think has helped more than anything. When you play ring games, all you are concerned with is the hand in front of you, not what is going to happen in ten minutes or an hour.

In the money

I allow myself a few moments to enjoy the fact that I have earned my buy-in back, but now it is time to get serious.

Though every aspect of playing poker is important throughout the entire tournament, this is when I find positional play is absolutely key. It is assumed that the blinds are large enough to make a difference at this point, so protecting them is a lot more important now than before.

I have also found this is when most opponents start playing the way I was while waiting for the bubble. Most seem to tighten up, and often you see everyone folding to the big blind. People are very concerned about making an error here, so this is when I will step out with more bluffs, scooping the blinds if nothing else. It takes practice making the transition from a tight player into an agressive one though, especially after hours and hours of folding.

I used to be overly concerned with my overall placement, stressing out if I was not in the top 20 or 30 chip leaders, but I have started to let that go. I keep the final table in sight, and try to stay in the top half of the field or better, but it is no longer my main concern. It is rare, actually, that I will look at exactly what place I am in, until it comes time to be concerned with the larger money spots. Let's be honest - unless you are playing in a very large buy-in MTT, there is very little monetary difference between 180th place paid, and 30th.

Final Table

I am not going to get into much strategy here. Honestly, if you are at the final table of a MTT you either have skills or got extremely lucky, both of which are important in poker. I think that final table play is an individual thing, and what works for me may not work for everyone. The only general advice I would give is to loosen up your starting requirements a bit, but don't play every hand. Find a balance somewhere in the middle, and play your position to the max - blinds are golden at this level.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Back in the Game

Ok, I have stretched out this hiatus for about as long as I can. Too much going on these days, so I am just going to ramble on for a while.

First of all - I assume that everyone is reading Pauly's WSOP live blog reports. I am sure I am not the only one who is jealous about the fact that he gets to spend a couple of months in Vegas, reporting, meeting all the players, etc., but make no mistake - this is hard work he is doing. I think the fact that he has been in Vegas for almost two weeks and hasn't been to one strip club speaks volumes about the work load. ;) We sit at home or work grinding out our daily routine, but for a few minutes everyday we can escape into the world of high stakes poker, larger-than-life casinos, celebrity antics, and laugh at the seedier side of Vegas. So thanks, Pauly, for providing us all with such excellent coverage.

I resumed playing my MTT's last night, when Drizz told me was in one that started in 11 minutes, so I decided to join. I'm not sure exactly what place I finished in, but it was about 30 outside of the bubble. Thanks to Maigrey for sweating as well :) I am going to try to play one a night for a while, as I am now spending my days writing and packing.

I am going through serious Vegas withdrawls. Even though I didn't go to the blogger's event, I think reading all the trip reports has given me the bug even worse than before. It has been four months since I have been there, after all. Far too long, in my humble opinion.

A big thanks again to all the bloggers that delivered dial-a-shots to me while you were in Vegas. It was great being involved even in that little way, and I really appreciate the fact that I was remembered while you were all away having a great time - so thanks again :)

Friday, June 10, 2005

Quick Update

My hiatus from blogging / playing poker is lasting a little longer than planned, apparently.

I have not shuffled a chip, opened an online poker site or looked at a card in over a week, but I have a few things that I need to get sorted out IRL first then I should be back in full force. I am expecting things to get somewhat back to normal Monday morning.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Have Fun, Everyone!

Hope everyone has a really good time in Vegas. I am going to take a few days off from blogging as well.

GL to everyone playing in the WSOP event as well!