Tuesday, August 31, 2004

City Kids

I found this photo in one of my albums this morning of my childhood playgroup. Peter is the one sitting on the teacher's lap. For some reason, I'm not in this shot -- I'd say it was because I was taking the picture, but that's unlikely.

I know I'll see the kid in the batman shirt today at the memorial at St. John's. He and Peter lived in the same building, four floors apart. It's sort of perfect he's wearing that batman underoos top in the picture -- he wore that shirt, seriously, almost every day for two years.

Picture=1000 words. Hopefully.

Instead of recapping LA/Vegas in regular, silly, sentences and stuff, here is my trip via my camera phone:

I've been to Vegas before, but I'd driven there. I didn't know that when I disembarked from my America West flight, I'd be greeted with slot machines.

Since it seemed easy enough, instead of taking a cab downtown to my hotel, the Golden Nugget, I jumped on one of those shuttle busses. As we pull up to that "Welcome to Downtown Las Vegas" sign, we're treated to a warm reception...
Hey, I said, "What's that?"

It's a man who's set himself on fire! Delightful downtown vegas. You can't tell in the picture, but the tiny shirtless man sitting on the road was moments before ablaze with flames.

After playing 4 hours of poker, I spent some time the first night walking around Freemont street with a 57-year old guy named (no joke) Chip, who I met as I wasted a few minutes playing video poker. Chip was in town for a hearing aid convention. After we caught the Freemont Street Experience, Chip tried to buy us some deep-fried twinkies for a midnight snack, but alas, they were sold out.

After ducking in for a brief peek at Binion's Horseshoe, home of the WSOP. It was bedtime for this bozo.

Saturday I played in my tournament at the Nugget, then went to the Bellagio for a long evening of poker and then walked around the strip.

I liked the signs for The Flamingo and Bally's.

All the pictures get bigger if you click on them. Enjoy.

Friday, August 27, 2004


Last night I lost $$ again at poker -- I thought I wasn't going to go to my regular game at all, but I wasn't getting anything done so off I went. I had terrible, terrible cards and won only one hand in 3 hours. As opposed to the last time I went, it wasn't that I was playing badly, but as I complained at the end of the night, that I was very unlucky. I wasn't playing great either, but there wasn't much I could have done. Folded even more, earlier, perhaps.

As I took my self-punishing late night subway ride home (I only feel entitled to a cab if I win), I thought, woe is me. So unlucky.

This morning at 8:30, my dad called. This isn't a normal time for him to call and I've been sick and sleeping poorly, so I wasn't in a great mood and I think answered the phone with an annoyed, "What?"

Well, it turned out to be bad news. The worst kind. A childhood friend of mine, Peter, died last night in a car accident in Costa Rica. He was a photographer and was out there for some work-related thing and I guess the car went off the road and flipped over. I haven't -- or I guess hadn't -- been in touch with him really since I was in high school, but he was part of the preschool co-op group my parents, with other neighborhood new parents, had started in the 70's. The "City Kids" preschool met in a Lutheran church near the Bloomingdale Branch of the NY Library:

which is where I have some of my earliest memories, playing hide and seek within the pews. Five of the City Kids also went to the same elementary school (Bank Street) for the following 10 years. But I hadn't seen Peter in years until I ran into him last November on the street in SoHo and caught up a bit. I remember thinking he had come a long way from the shy kid who wouldn't let anyone videotape him during my eighth birthday party, during which he spent more time hiding behind things than playing with the rest of the party. I think he was the only one at the party who wouldn't do a one-on-one "interview" about the movie "E.T," which was the theme of the day.

My ex-fiance always complained that New York wasn't a town where you knew your neighbors, but growing up here I felt very differently. One of the reasons I think this has affected me more than if it were just a random elementary school classmate who passed away is that the five families of the City Kids/Bank Street children have stayed in touch through the decades. All of our parents still live in the same apartments we grew up in, all within an 8-block radius in the Upper West Side. My family spends Christmas with one of the other families, and my parents have celebrated New Year’s Eve with another set every year for almost 20 years. We all got together sometimes, after major events like college graduations and stuff. It wasn’t that we were close so much, Peter and I, but that I guess I expected to keep seeing and hearing about him for the rest of my life.

I don't really know what to say, other than it's tragic and my heart breaks for his family. It sure does make the idea that I was thinking of myself as unlucky last night laughable, though. All of the things I was upset about this week and things I wanted to say about LA and Vegas seem irrelevant now.

This is Peter's high school ID. It's about where we stopped seeing each other regularly, so this is how I think of him most days, even though he was 29.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Trip: LA Part 1

On Tuesday, I left New York City straight from work lugging my ridiculously overpacked suitcase from work to JFK. I left work at 5 pm for an 8:30 PM America West flight, ever my mother’s daughter, suitcase full of new clothes, "LA clothes," which I hardly wore.

I arrived into LAX where I caught a cab which took me not to my hotel, but to some other, even hipper hotel in which, after a long day of traveling, I mistook elevators for closets or bathrooms.

LA made a first impression as a friendly town. As I stood on the second floor of the wrong hotel, which didn’t have room numbers as high as the one I was supposed to be staying in, a group of friends told me I was being set up and invited me along with them for a drink. There were 4 or 5 of them, early 20’s. I rode back down in the elevator to lobby and asked, laughing, “What hotel am I in?” Turned out it was the Mondrian, just over a block from my hotel, The Standard. I thanked them for the offer and trudged my samsonite luggage the short distance to the right hotel, where Amanda waited. After checking out the view:

For some reason, I was in the mood for a beer, so Amanda went with me to the bar for a cocktail. Then, as it was 4 AM by my body, I went to bed.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

In LA, 18 Years is OK!

Still in catch up land here, but to start my trip recap, this was my favorite sign in LA, just a block down Beverly from our hotel:

Good to know that nude or clothed, if you're 18, the body shop thinks it's a-okay.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Vegas, Baby, Vegas

Back from Vegas, swamped with catching up I must do, but I had a great time and placed 9th out of 151 in the tourney I played in. I feel pretty good about it considering it was my first real tournament. Of course, I lost all the money I won later playing $8-$16 holdem at the Bellagio on Saturday night. It was totally worth it though.

More later.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Crazy Times

Quick report: LA fun, off to Vegas, will be staying at the Golden Nugget. So much more to say, but no time to be witty.

When I return on Sunday night, I'll try to explain this picture:

Though I have the feeling you might have had to have been there.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Off to La-la-land

Tonight I'm off to LA, which I like to say as "la" as in do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do, but I'm sort of nuts. Which is why I have no hotel booked for this following weekend in Vegas yet. I rock at planning! I could be a random-sequence-of-events planner. That's a job, right?

I've also packed the most insane amount of clothing ever for what's basically a short trip. What mystery jumble of shoes and tops and skirts awaits to suprise me on the West Coast -- I have no idea. But that's part of the fun! I have a nagging feeling that I forgot to pack bras.

I probably won't be online much until I get back, but I need the break. I'll report back Sunday night on all the hot fun in the summertime.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Handeded In

After working on the book and nothing much else for 120 hours straight and only 3.5 hours of sleep, I am completely unable to judge how high on the crap-o-meter the chapters I just sent off will rate, but what I do know is that they're off. All 18,000+ words of them. Some of it ended up very piecemeal, but I think I handed in enough to meet my contractual obligation. I guess I'll find out soon.

Meanwhile, my hand really hurts. By 8 pm last night I was using one of those face masks you put in the freezer as a combination brace/soothing cool relief pack by wrapping the whole thing around my wrist as I typed.

To look at it from the positive, poker-side: I guess I know I have thr endurance to last through a 5-day tournament now. Even if my hand gets sore from stacking and tossing all those piles of chips, I can soldier through. I might weep openly at the table, but that's not against the rules or anything. I think that would be pretty funny actually, to see someone sob their way through a tourney. Maybe my sense of humor is a little skewed. For instance, I found this cartoon via guinness and poker hilarious. Perhaps more so because my aunt and uncle met at some kind of D&D party and my ex also admitted to a D&D past.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Block Panic Party

I shouldn't have let myself feel like I was going to get it done.

Yesterday I lost some of the momentum I'd built up and suffered a little writer's block. This lead to more writer's block, pacing the apartment and a decision to drink beer and go to bed early. Jesus christ, am I still 19? The night ends up with me, drunk and panicked still unable to sleep at 2 am. Oh wait, I can't be 19, because back then I didn't have to suffer through carpal tunnel syndrome. Thanks, body, for the extra fun!

I am so screwed. Dammit, I'm going to be up all night, aren't I?

Saturday, August 14, 2004

The right movie at the right time

Last night, instead of watching poker, I watched the beginning of The Gambler, and just finished watching it over “brunch” (I don’t even want to get into how pathetic my eating habits have gotten lately but I’ll give you a hint. Two words: hot pocket).

This Village Voice review sums it up nicely so I don’t have to:

The Gambler, Hungarian director Karoly Makk's carefully crafted and richly atmospheric adaptation of Dostoyevsky's eponymous novel, interweaves its story of gaming and erotic obsession with a period of 27 days in the writer's life, when his hopes for future solvency lay in that work's speedy completion.

In the movie, he has to write 160 pages in 27 days. I’ll state the obvious: I could empathize. I got quite caught up in it.

I forgot to note in the last post, but one thing I did this week was look at the word count of the novella I wrote as part of my MFA thesis. I figured, well, I wrote almost all of that in three months, and that was pretty long, right? Wrong. It turned out to be 26,000 words. Which took me three months. And I didn’t work a full-time job.

But if good old, epileptic, Fyodor can do it, it gives a gal hope. Not lunatic hope that this is going to be Crime & Punishment, but just that I'll get it done in time.

14,000 words

I just finished the first section of the book. It's hella rough, but it's all down. I haven't been writing in order, so it was important for me mentally to get those first four chapters done. All told, they're just over 10,000 words right now.

To see how I was doing towards the remaining 10,000 that's due Monday (though I guess technically, I'm supposed to hand in 22,500, since that's half the full amount. But I can't think about that. If I get to 20K, I'll weep with joy), I MS Word-counted what I had written for the rest of the book. Another 4,000 words. Rounding up. But only slightly!

I feel good. Panicked still, but good. I know where I'm starting when I wake up in the morning and which two chapters I've gotta get done. And which ones I'll finish on Sunday. I just really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really,r eally, really, really, really, really, really, really, really,really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really want to get this done. And do it without staying up all night on Sunday.

I'm going to watch some poker now -- I downloaded some tournaments to lullaby me to sleep with the sweet sound of towers of chips tumbling down on each other. In that sleep, what dreams may come must give us pause...

Maybe I'll play some poker online instead. Research ho!

Friday, August 13, 2004

I hit a new low!

I just got back from losing the most money in the shortest time ever. Ouch.

I promised myself all today, to motivate, that if I finished another chapter -- which I did (mostly) -- I could leave the house for the first time in 48 hours and join my regular Thursday night game. It was still poker, I rationalized, plus J___ was not only reopening the “regal beagle” for poker business, he had also played in a tournament a few days before with Howard Lederer.

I had to hear the story, and it seemed like a sign since I had just heard from his sister, the amazing Annie Duke who may have the eternal lock for my favorite female player ever after she played the WSOP eight months pregnant. What could be more badass than that?

So I shut down my computer and headed to Chelsea for a game that was supposed to start at 8:30. When I showed at 8:45, no one was there. I don't really watch the news, but J_____ works at a newspaper. When I called him, he informed me he hadn’t left work yet because of the craziness in New Jersey. He said he'd be leaving in a half hour, though. Now, I literally haven't watched TV in over a week, but luckily the rest of the gang informed me, as we loitered outside, that the hold up was due to the amazing admission of New Jersey Governor McGreevey’s that he “was a gay American” and had an affair. I am reserving commenting until I catch up on the facts.

What this meant was that the Thursday night boys and me waited around until almost 10 p.m. when J____ could leave his newspaper and hop in a cab. Since I had only allotted a break from 8:30-midnight, I was agitated and almost left. I should have.

I was so caffeinated from the entire 2-liter of diet coke I had drank in the previous 3 hours, and just so generally stressed out that I couldn’t concentrate. I kept thinking of what I needed to write and recalling irrelevant statistics. I don’t think I’ve ever played quite so poorly –- or gotten beat on so many two pairs by flushes and straights in a night. It was only 11:45, not even two hours after we got the cards in the air, that I had lost all my money. Sure I wasn't getting good hands or hitting the flops, but seriously, it was no excuse. I was calling everything for no reason at all. It wasn't even that I was reading people incorrectly -- I was always, every time, right about when I was beat. But I kept staying in there because I wasn't trusting myself.

In any case, it was good to get out of the house, and we did come up with a lot of good alternative, double-entendre, headlines for tomorrow's newspapers that you won’t see. Though the only one I can remember at this very moment is “Governor McGreevey Packs it In.”

Someone should do a top ten list. But right now I have to write something about not playing when you’re concentration is hopelessly, pathetically shot.

How embarassing is it, also, to be the person at the table who's writing a book about poker and be the sucker for the night?

Thursday, August 12, 2004

This is is my brain on....

Computers? Staring at the computer for 16 hours straight yesterday has made me feel dumb. Once, when I was in college I participated in a medical study (Gooooo Science!) where I did simple computer tasks and memory tests while they took a PET scan. They gave me a transparency of the results as a souvenir:

Which made it totally worth it to be injected with radioactive material. The guy who was running the test complimented me on having "a very symmetrical brain." I thought that was funny and asked, "Don't most people?" But apparently some people's left and right lobes are lopsided.

All I know is that right now my brain hurts. I wonder what it would look like inside there right now. I feel like you could catch some kind of tiny neuron revolution beginnning, little brain cells demanding to be freed from the topic of poker. What do we want? No more poker writing! When do we want it? Now!

Well, sorry little rebel brain, we've all got to go back to the poker mines together.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Poker Poesy

So this is it. I'm off work until Monday and will be writing madly until then. Until I resurface, I offer my favorite poker poem. There are others more directly about poker, but this is a simply great poem. Enjoy.
If my editor is reading, this is the poem I would like to reprint in the book.

The Woman with Five Hearts by Stephen Dunn

The woman with five hearts knew what she had,
knew what we lacked. She bet high and then
higher; it was what any of us would have done.
A woman with five hearts,
we concluded, was a dangerous thing.
She did now think it romantic, what she had.
She knew it was better
than two pair, better than anything straight.
She was sure I, for example, had weakness,
three of something at best.
The man to my right
clearly resented the woman with five hearts.
He touched her arm, as if this were a different game.
He tried to be ironic, but instead was mean.
The woman with five hearts saw him
as a man with clubs, one fewer than he needed.
A man without enough clubs can be a pathetic thing.
Each of her bets demanded that he come clean.
It was simple prudence
to yield to such a woman, a woman with all that.
The rest of us did, understanding so many hearts
could not be beaten, not with what we had.
But the man to my right decided to bluff.
He raised her with what seemed
his entire body, everything he had been and was.
The woman with five hearts raised back,
amused now, as if aware of an old act--
a man with nothing puffing himself up.
He stayed because by now it had all gone
too far, a woman with five hearts and a man
without enough clubs.
And when she showed him all five, beautifully red,
he had to admit that was exactly what she had.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Atlantic City Rocks

I had a great first time in Atlantic City.

But now that I'm home, the mountain of what I have to do in a week has landed me directly in Panic City. In a House of Cards on Anxiety Alley!

So quickly, to sum:

I was given a lovely room at The Borgata which looked exactly as promised:

Quick review: Great rooms, service, shower products (cause that does matter -- as did the fact that they had the best towels of any hotel I've ever been in -- huge and bright white) I also really liked that they had good tea and coffee with little real half-and-half for guests. Why can’t all hotels do that? That powdery "creamer" you usually get is vile.

Crap. I just lost the rest of this post somehow. And I thought I had copied it but I accidently screwed myself. Like I did by leaving my iPod in AC! My own fault.

I just can't write it again. I'm so pissed. I need to get back to the slang definition writing though.

The even quicker version: Rooms nicer at the Borgata, but I prefered playing poker at the Taj and staying on the boardwalk. Met Cyndy Violette. Amazing.

Damn. This was so much more entertaining 15 minutes ago. But I know when to fold em, and I give up on this post.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Lots O Shekels vs. Mucho Dinero

I'm off to Atlantic City in just a few hours and I can't wait. I'm stupidly excited that I have to check in through the "black label" line for my free room at the Borgata, which is appropriate since apparently, it's my "happy place."

To prepare for people staring at my hands, I just got a manicure -- superstitiously, I chose color entirely by the name. They had Daring Diva, Mucho Dinero, and Lots O Shekels. Interesting fact: Did you know, in the good old days of the Old Testament, the going price for seizing and lying with a virgin was 50 silver shekels? You could buy a lot of barley with that kind of dough. I wrote a poem about that fact once, and therefore, I've got Silver Shekel fingertips.

My bankroll for the weekend is more than twice what I usually bring to a casino to gamble with, but I take comfort in the fact that it's almost exactly the amount I've won from the Thursday Night boys since January.

I got a pedicure as well. The color? "Party all night." My feet want to party all the time, party all the time, party all the time...

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Vegas Humor

The good news is, I've got a schedule down now for writing -- 7:00-11:30 each night. This means I'm in front of a computer pretty much from 9:30 a.m. - 12:30 a.m. or later every day (I do my emailing, Web surfing and IM-ing after & during the 11:30 Simpsons).

The bad news is, I still don't feel I'm making enough progress. Last night I considered buying Positively Fifth Street for my iPod, so I could further multitask. Don't get me wrong: I've already read the book, and it's great. But I was thinking, instead of listening to gambling songs on my commute, I could listen to this fine book. I'm going for total poker immersion. I think it's working, as I'm 95% sure I was gambling in my dreams last night.

Even my goof-off time I try to fit somehow into "research." The only story I read in The Onion this week? Deadbeat Dads March on Las Vegas. Poker Humor, in general, isn't that funny. Unless it's 2 AM and you've spent the last ten minutes trying to remember what you called that file with all those brilliant ideas about deception. Then everything is hysterical. Including, of course, me.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Vegas Advice? Anyone? Anyone?

Now that I'm set for Atlantic City, I'm turning my focus to the next trip: LA & Vegas.

I have a shortlist of where I'm thinking of staying, but I haven't been to Vegas in so long the choices are overwhelming.

Of course I'll be checking out the Horseshoe, where this year three women took home gold bracelets in the WSOP: Kathy Liebert, Annie Duke, and Cyndy Violette. I'm not counting the all-women event for obvious reasons. Though I'm not saying it's not impressive. Now a lady just has to win the main event.

But back to Vegas: Anyone reading have a favorite place to play or stay? Current top contenders: The Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, The Mirage, Harrah's, Rio's.

Bullet Proof Hilton Sisters

A friend of mine snapped this picture of the lovely Hilton sisters as they watched the polo ponies this weekend.

I was just thinking of them, since the current slang for two queens in the hole is The Hilton Sisters, being that the old term, Siegfried & Roy, has seemed in poor taste since the mauling.

There was also recently a contest held on another poker blog called The Hilton Sister's Challenge -- the challenge was to beat bullets with ladies. Here's the winner. I find it all kind of amusing, but seriously, do these celebutantes need more publicity?

Sunday, August 01, 2004

On deception & competiveness

Ok. I didn't get half as much done this weekend as I expected and I'm kind of in a panic about it. My parents, with what I'm sure were the best of intentions, promised to leave me to work this weekend, but since I haven't seen them or talked to them much since my life did a 180, they were reluctant to give up their "Toby time" as someone aptly put it. I'm sure they thought they were going to let me work. And I did get some stuff done. But not enough, not enough. Two weeks left for the first half. Two weeks! Fuck!

And in the interest of not giving into the self-deception that posting here is somehow "work" -- I'm going to keep this short. But I wanted to finish a thought I had before I left.

In an article on MSN I read a while back, I was struck by this quote from "poker pundit" Andy Glazer:

"I'm an ethical person, but I have this sneaky side that I like to indulge, and I think most other people do, too. Poker's a socially acceptable was to indulge our temptations to lie and deceive."

One thing about myself that I know is that it's important for me to be upfront and honest as much as possible in the way I present myself to people and how I live my life. Not that everyone has to (or should) know every hidden secret of my past, but that I know that I'm happier when I feel people really "know" me. For the most part, I think I'm doing an okay job with this.

At the same time, I have a bizarre urge to have a "secret" life. Even my high school boyfriend noticed this about me. Now, poker doesn't exactly provide me with a secret life, but it does satisfy some of that urge to "put one over" on people. To say, Ha! You think you understand me, you can predict me, but you can't. I fooled you. My best guess is it's a reaction against being predictable, boring.

But I'm not sure this says it all. I think it has to be combined with a need to take risks. At least in my case, I know it also fulfills that urge, as well as my competitive side, which can be at times, damagingly strong. My whole family is like this -- it's why we can no longer play Scrabble together. We all just want to win too bad to be nice.

Is this necessary in poker? To illustrate, I want to discuss the "bad beat" of Thursday night.

I folded a hand to go smoke and asked the player next to me if he wanted to come. He showed me his hole cards -- an Ace-Jack -- and shrugged as he said "I kind of want to play this hand." Not wanting to give anything away, I nodded and said, "After this, then."

The flop came holding an Ace, Jack, 10, and fourth street showed the decisive, third Jack. I was truly sweating his hand. I was so excited for him as he slow-played his full house and checked to fifth street, I really did start perspiring. When the final card, the river, came a 10, the other remaining player, Al, started betting like mad. My friend had what was almost the nuts -- the only possible hand that could have beaten him was a pair of Aces, and the betting before the river made us both pretty sure that wasn't what Al had. Al almost always raises before the flop with pocket aces. I knew this, even if my friend did not.

Since they were heads-up, the raising was unlimited, but eventually my friend simply called and Al turned over an Ace-ten. When my friend showed him his higher full house, the whole table reacted. Loudly.

"Why didn't you keep raising?" one asked. "You should have cleaned him out."

"I felt bad," my friend said as he pulled in the pot.

"Oh man," said Al, who hadn't quite registered the fact that he was the one who lost and was looking at it still, in this moment, in terms of proper play. "You should have kept raising. I would have."

And it's true. He would have. And so would I. Just as my friend couldn't bring himself to completely clean him out, I couldn't have stopped myself from doing so in this scenario.

I'm not sure what I'm getting to here, and I promised to keep this short which I have not, but I guess what I think is you have to be able to forget friendship and just play to win to succeed at poker. Which is not to say I don't think my friend played that hand amazingly well. But next time, friend, if you're reading this: take him for everything he's got.

(c) Toby Leah Bochan