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Married to my childhood sweet heart, father of a teenage daughter, amateur poker degenerate by day, cape wearing super hero by night.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Legends of Poker Are Still Just Human Beings

   Recently the WSOP Hall Of Fame announced it's 2011 inductees.  Barry "The Robin Hood of Poker" Greenstein and Linda "The First Lady of Poker" Johnson will be enshrined in poker immortality in November at the WSOP Main Event November Nine ceremonies.  Both recipients are truly worthy of this wonderful honor for their achievements in the world of poker.  As many of us know Barry Greenstein gives all of his tournament winnings to charities benefiting children and Linda helped found Pokergives.org.  In addition to their philanthropy both are also highly accomplished players.  I truly admire both of these individuals.  But I can't help to think that one well known poker player has been slighted again this year.  Scotty Nguyen, known as The Prince Of Poker, has accomplished things in his poker playing career that few, if any, players have done.
In terms of live poker statistics Scotty Nguyen has earnings approaching $11 million dollars, 1 WSOP Championship title, 5 WSOP bracelets, 3 WPT titles, 33 first place finishes in major tournaments and at least 199 cashes!* (stats obtained from pokerpages.com)  He is the only player to win a WSOP Main Event title and a WSOP $50K H.O.R.S.E. title.  In contrast, Barry Greenstein has never won a WSOP main event, has three WSOP bracelets, 12 first place finishes and 126 cashes.  His career tournament earnings (according to pokerpages.com) are approximately $7.5 million.
   Obviously Linda Johnson is unmatched in her charity work.  Her career is now almost exclusively dedicated to it.  And Barry is very committed to his chosen charities as well.  But what is not as publicized is Scotty Nguyen's charity work.  Twice a year he travels to his homeland, Vietnam, and donates a truckload, literally, of dry goods, clothing, toys for children, and money to a village or town.  His mother is also heavily involved in charity work, which is mostly funded by Scotty, in their home country.  Scotty also travels frequently around the country and the world to play in charity poker events.  He, himself, downplays his generosity.  Once during a conversation he told me that he doesn't like the publicity when he gives to charity.  He believes that everyone who has done well in life should give to the less fortunate people without receiving recognition.  That it is something everyone should do.
   I know that many people like to point out that Scotty Nguyen has had some public relations nightmares in his past.  When he was younger he was a brash, flashy kid.  Many believed he was cocky and self-centered.  But not many 21+ year olds can handle overnight success and avoid the temptations of Las Vegas.  Those early days of his career, while many would consider self-indulgent and reckless, helped to build him into the player and person that he is today.  Learning to deal with the roller coaster ride that is the Vegas-gambler lifestyle helped him build his confidence.  And no one can deny that he is one of the most confident players ever seen at a poker table.
   In 2008 while playing at the final table of the WSOP $50k H.O.R.S.E. championship he put on a display that was, simply put, humiliating.  His alcohol induced tirades against waitresses, dealers and other players was, perhaps, the most embarrassing moment of his poker playing career.  While he was rude and even downright nasty at the 2008 H.O.R.S.E. event, the person he hurt and embarrassed the most was himself.  Scotty did, however, make up for it, mostly. Many of his fans forgave him after he made several public apologies.  He is known, maybe more than any other player of his stature, to be very approachable by fans.  He never hesitates to stop and give an autograph or take a picture.  He is probably one of the most recognizable personalities in poker (even many non-poker players recognize his signature word: "baby" at the end of every sentence.) And he is credited with coining two phrases that are forever part of poker history: "you call this one and it's all over, baby" to Kevin McBride while heads-up for the 1998 WSOP main event.  And, usually heard when finishing off an opponent, or taking a tough beat, "that's poker, baby!" 
While Scotty Nguyen is often seen as a man of the people he is, at the same time, larger than life.  He is a true superstar in an under appreciated, and often disdained, sport/game.  He is a character in a show.  Poker history is filled with characters: colorful and unsavory; chivalrous and shady.  Many of the most famous poker players, WSOP Hall of Fame members, have had their troubles.  Here are just a few:

Julius Oral "Little Man" Popwell
   He operated lotteries and card games from his home near Birmingham, Alabama, and on April 3, 1954, he was sentenced to 366 days in jail and fined $250 for this, as well as income tax evasion.

Amarillo Slim
    In August 2003, Preston was indicted in Randall County, Texas on charges of indecency with a 12-year-old child to which he eventually pleaded "no contest".

Benny Binion
    Binion's FBI file reveals a criminal history dating back to 1924, listing offenses such as theft, carrying concealed weapons, and two murder convictions.

Fred "Sarge" Ferris
    On April 22, 1983, Ferris gained notoriety as the Internal Revenue Service seized $46,000 during a high stakes game at the Horseshoe Casino.

(Info on above listed players was obtained from Wikipedia)

Stu Ungar
     Stuey's problems with drugs and alcohol are well documented and we all know it was his substance abuse problems which were the direct cause of his demise.  To be fair it is often said by those close to him that Stu Ungar was one of the kindest, generous men ever to live.  But some of his friends will also attest that Stu sometimes had an aversion to personal hygiene as well.

   The common factor among all of the people mentioned here is: they were, or are, great poker players.  Legendary players or people who have promoted and advanced the game.  They were put into the Hall of Fame because of their contributions to poker.  Certainly we could argue that some of these men should be excluded from the Hall of Fame because of their behaviour away from the felt (or even at the tables) but the fact remains that these men are included. And, I didn't include these salacious tidbits just to bash some of these legends, I merely want to point out that poker is filled with all sorts of people.  Good, bad and scandalous.
   Scotty Nguyen has made poker history several times, is ranked in the top 200 tournament poker players in the entire world and continues to be a great ambassador for the game.  Let's not make the same mistake that Major League Baseball continues to make by excluding Pete Rose from their Hall of Fame.  Judge Scotty Nguyen on his poker skills and the good that he has done and continues to do. Don't allow this sport to miss out on honoring someone who is truly deserving because of a couple of mistakes.  Next year, please, be sure to vote The Prince of Poker into the Hall of Fame where he belongs!

(Photo courtesy of pokerpages.com)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Letter To My Daughter

Dear Felicia,

You are the most beautiful, incredible miracle I will ever experience in my life.  I can never put into words the love that fills my heart because of you. I want the world for you and if I could hand it to you on a silver platter I would. I want to walk beside you on every step of your journey through life and protect you and guide you so that nothing will ever hurt or sadden you. 

We both know that I can't physically be with you every waking moment of every day.  And there will be a time when you must walk on your own.  I would like to share some advice with you that i hope might help you along the way.

First, and most importantly, always try to be a good person.  Be kind and don't be afraid to help other people, even if you must make sacrifices! Be the nicest person you know...but do it smartly.  People will take advantage of your kindness, but do it anyway, carefully - you are doing it with good intentions!  Share what you have with others, even if it's the last loaf of bread in your cupboard.  Try to never hurt any living thing.  It will be difficult and you will hurt someone at some point, but when you do - be sorry, truly sorry, and tell that person.

While you should always try to be a nice person don't compromise your values and beliefs. Stay true to yourself, always!  Be a peacemaker! Try to avoid fighting at all costs, but when you absolutely must fight, fight like hell, and don't give up until you have won or gained the respect of your enemy.

Work hard. Work very very hard now so that you may enjoy every minute of your life at an earlier age than most people. Learn as much as possible at all times. Never stop learning. Succeed early in making a decent living for yourself so that you may have the freedom to try different things and live life to it's fullest.

Keep your house in order and your life will be orderly.

Choose a career that you enjoy. One of the worst things in life is having to wake up every day and go to a job that you dislike. Life will be much easier and more enjoyable if you love what you do for a living!

Save for a rainy day.

Fall in love.  When you do, be sure that person is someone who will treat you the way you deserve to be treated: with utmost respect.  Never stay with someone who intentionally hurts you more than once!  If a person loves you unconditionally they will not intentionally hurt you. Don't stand for it!

Learn to speak a second, third or even fourth, language.

If you have children love them above all else.  And, tell them you love them, often. Be willing to lay your life down to save theirs. Teach them to love others. Don't be afraid to discipline them when it is needed. They will thank you later.

Travel. See the world and appreciate all that it has to offer.

Learn the following: how to fix a flat tire, how to plunge a toilet, how to whistle loudly and, of course, how to play poker!

And finally, if you remember nothing else, when you find yourself facing a difficult choice in life imagine making one of those choices and thinking about whether or not mommy & I would agree with that choice.  We would never steer you in the wrong direction!

Love always & forever,

Dad

P.S. I'm serious about the poker thing! :)

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Solution Is Simple...

Today, give a stranger one of your smiles.  It might be the only sunshine he sees all day.
  ~Quoted in P.S. I Love You, compiled by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.


I've noticed something about people over the last thirty years or so: they're not very nice and becoming even less so!  

I'm not talking about during extraordinary times or in times of emergency or tragedy.  No, I mean on your average day in the good old USA people seem to be less and less considerate of each other.  I don't even think it's the majority of people, but it does seem to be many folks.

I see it often when I'm driving where other motorists, a whole column of them, won't let another driver merge, or when I do let someone into my lane and they fail to give the obligatory "thank you wave". Or when a driver feels too important to sit in the traffic jam like the rest of us and decides to use the shoulder as his own personal driving lane, inevitably delaying our drive home even longer when he has to re-enter! My particular favorite is when people are crossing the street and the traffic light changes but they don't even seem to make an effort to hurry.  I swear it's almost as if some people slow down and throw a look at you that says: "so, what are you gonna do? Run me over?"  I almost never see a man relinquish his seat to a woman on a crowded bus or train anymore and so few people ever say "thank you" when you hold a door for them.  Maybe it's just where I live?  I still see people throwing trash on the ground too.  Not only gum wrappers but entire fast food meal packaging! I thought we knew better by now.  With the internet and social networks so prevalent bullying and online aggression seems to be at an all time high. And from the grocery store to the poker tables I hear people say things to others that, in the past, would be cause for a duel!

I'm writing this on September 12th, 2011 which is ten years and one day after the horrific tragedy that occurred in America. I remember a lot of things about that day like it was yesterday! I wasn't in New York City or Washington D.C.  but I saw something in the way we all treated each other even if we were hundreds or thousands of miles removed from the epicenters of that day: we were all nice to each other. Strangers talked like they knew each other for years. People held doors and said "thank you" - and meant it! Those down on their luck were given a little extra generosity and not a single judgement was made aloud. It was as if we were all a part of the same family: the human family. This kindness continued for several days.  But things "go back to normal" eventually and we turn inward. We become concerned with "nĂºmero uno" and we trade in our consideration for others for the self-centered attitude. 

I know I'm guilty of some of these and other things and I'm sure some of you are as well.  I think some of our behavior is learned and some is instinctual.  But I know we can all become a bit nicer to each other. God knows our society can use it right about now.  So, just smile at that person in line at the store, call someone you haven't talked to in a while and ask how they are doing. Check with a neighbor and see if they need help with anything. Give the panhandler some change maybe he really does need it.

We can't pass laws to regulate people to be considerate, generous or respectful of others.  It must come from within each of us. And the solution is easy.  Most of the world's problems can be solved if we all live by two simple words: be nice!

Monday, September 5, 2011

If I Had Known...

If I had known then what I know now...

I would have studied more in school,
I would have helped more around the house,
I would have cherished my time with loved ones more,
I would have traveled more,
I would have learned to play poker at a younger age,
I would have learned to play a musical instrument,
I would have joined the military,
I would have seen more of the USA,
I would have learned to surf, ski and mountain climb,
I would have read more books,
I would have learned to appreciate the arts,
I would have learned another language,
I would have spent more time helping others in need,
I would have finished college,
I would have told more people that I loved them more often,
I would have taken a long road trip, 
I would have wet my feet in all the world's oceans,
I would be a better father and husband,

I would not have spent so much time worrying!

I don't regret what I have done only those things that I have not.
Time is so valuable, don't waste it.
Life is so short, live it!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Life Is A Game of Poker

"Poker is... a fascinating, wonderful, intricate adventure on the high seas of human nature." ~David A. Daniel

I once read something where a person described the game of chess as a miniature version of life. The general message was that you had to always look a few moves ahead and put yourself in a good position to succeed in the daily struggles that you would have to endure. The problem with this comparison is that in chess you can always see what lies ahead. It is a game of complete information. If you think clearly enough, theoretically, you should play the game perfectly and all games should end in a draw.
In real life we can never see everything that lies ahead of us. We can't even see what lies two minutes ahead of us. Life is unknown. It is a 'game' of incomplete information. It is random and surprising. It can be exhilarating and devastating. Life is more like a game of poker than any other game.

When we sit at a poker table for the very first time it's almost like the day we are born, especially if you know nothing, or very little, about the game. Just like in life there are rules and etiquette we must learn. We learn these things so that we will be accepted and fit in with the society of which we are a part. Basic survival - safety in numbers. Another survival tactic we learn quickly is to play strong hands and discard weak ones. For example, a baby will learn very quickly that touching something hot hurts and most likely will not participate in that action again. In poker you will learn the same thing once you slow play pocket aces in a multi-way pot! A young child realizes that when he or she is rewarded positively for acting in a certain way it is beneficial to act that way again. This is a key concept in poker as well. If a certain line of play worked out it is best to try it again. However, we must also learn to adapt and change, often very quickly. What works one day may have the opposite effect the next.

In poker, as in life, we must develop interpersonal relationships. We learn to relate to groups of people as well as individuals. When relating to others verbal communication is important, it's why we learn to speak, obviously. Hopefully, we learn how to speak to certain people in certain ways to best optimize our relationship with them. We also should learn what not to say as well. This includes the concept of bluffing. Let's face it: bluffing IS lying. There are times in life we must tell the truth and there are times we simply must lie. Whether it be to spare someone's feelings or intentionally mislead someone into doing something for their own good or ours, we must tell certain untruths at times. In the game of poker this is essential for obvious reasons. I once read a story by a well known poker professional who said that he had conditioned himself to go into "poker" mode whenever he walked into a poker room. This meant he almost never told the truth while there because he never wanted to reveal anything about his game strategy. One time as he headed to the poker room through the casino he realized that he hadn't eaten all day and was absolutely starving. When a friend approached and asked him if he wanted to go get something to eat he instictively lied and stated "no, I'm not hungry, I just ate." He was in survival mode!

Just as important is non-verbal communication. Body language. Tells. We all had an adult figure in our life at some point who could just give us "the look" and we knew we had done something wrong. We all exhibit body language to others without realizing it. We communicate our pleasure or displeasure and we receive this same information from others as well. A person would do themselves a great service to learn and understand this concept, both at the poker table and in life.

We are all taught that hard work will pay off. If we study and work hard in school we will get a good job. If we are dilligent in our carreers we will be rewarded with money and position. But what our parents don't tell us is that some people are just lucky in life and others sometimes aren't. There are people who just seem to step in crap yet come out smelling like roses. These people can do no wrong and have done well without working hard. They are far and few between and once their luck runs out they are not standing well in life any longer. Poker is very similar. There is a saying in poker "it's better to be lucky than good". This may be true to an extent but when that luck runs out the person who has worked hard and developed their skills will pass that person by at lightning speed.

Poker is also filled with great triumphs and victories as well as devastating losses and disappointments. It is this aspect of the game that most mimics life. When playing a game of poker in which money is the measure of success we often experience these highs and lows numerous times in one session. As in life, we can be cruising along for a time, content with our situation. Things may be going just nicely for us when suddenly, without any foreshadowing, we are blindsided by the proverbial bus. All of our chips gone without warning. The pits in our stomachs, our minds spinning, the disbelief at what just happened. The vast majority of us will shake it off, maybe some need to step back from the table for a short time – have a drink, take a walk, pray…whatever it takes, but we, hopefully, bounce back. We sit back down in our seat and take count of our chips. We sure up our position and get back in the game. The next hand might bring us a huge victory when we hit the stone cold nuts in a family pot or we might just steal the blinds. No matter what happens we keep going, playing the game, learning more about ourselves and those around us. In poker you can walk away from the table and quit the game at any time, but what fun would that be? The same goes for life…

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Life Variance

So I'm driving southbound on I-95 the other day thinking about my lack of luck. Not that I ever complain about it, seriously, ask my wife. Ok, maybe once in a while I might mention the black cloud that follows me like Schleprock. I'm not talking about health, or family etc. No, I'm talking about pure, out of the blue, random luck. The kind you need to win a game of chance, or find a twenty dollar bill on the ground or the kind you need to hit a one-in-five flush draw on the river. That kind of luck...I just don't have it. Experts say that luck evens out over the long run. You'll have exactly the same amount of good luck as you will bad luck if you live long enough. There's a term for it in poker: variance. At the rate I'm going, I swear, I'd have to live to be 176 years old for my variance to even out. 
As I continue my ride down I-95 I notice that there are no cars driving in the northbound lanes. There is a complete absence of any vehicles until a single Philadelphia Police Highway Patrol Unit motorcycle appears with it's emergency lights on. No siren, just the red and blue flashing lights.  Fifty feet behind that lone motorcycle rider is another, duplicating the first. And then another, followed by several police cars and trucks, as well as several PA State Trooper vehicles.  All of them riding silently with just their emergency lights flashing. I immediately thought "The President must be in town" and expected to see his motorcade any second. But the limousine I expected was not the one that appeared. It was a silver colored hearse. At first I couldn't imagine who could be inside. No Philadelphia Police officer, that I knew of, had been killed or died recently. I tried to recall any news stories of a dignitary who may have passed away but I couldn't. Then it dawned on me. The person resting in the rear of that silver limo was none other than Navy Petty Officer First Class Michael Joseph Strange. 
    
"Petty Officer Strange, who grew up in the Wissinoming section of 
   Philadelphia, was among 30 U.S.service members killed Saturday, 
   Aug. 6, in the crash of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter in eastern 
     Afghanistan."-Phila. Inquirer,8/14/11

This American hero was met at the Pennsylvania state line, where he was in route from Dover Air Force Base and escorted to his home town of Philadelphia where his final services would be held. Without thinking I made the sign of the cross as my car passed the hearse. My heart sunk and I felt goosebumps cover my arms. I was immediately saddened by my realization for who this nominal sign of respect was being made. Deep down inside I was also proud to be a member of The Philadelphia Police Dept at that moment. I thought of P.O. Strange's family, friends and loved ones and I grieved for them. I tried to imagine what he went though during his last moments alive, halfway around the wold in an unforgiving land, serving his country in battle. 
As my heart grew heavy I suddenly felt a wave of shame come over me. I remembered what I was complaining about moments before I saw this somber tribute to an American soldier. I was thinking about how unlucky I was because I can't win the lottery, or hit a set on the flop while playing a stupid card game. I thought the bad luck gods must be against me because the axel on my car broke last month.  Selfish. Petty. Trivial. I'm not unlucky. Most of us are not unlucky. We live everyday in a country where we can choose to do as we wish, how we wish to do it and with whom. Unlucky is a rocket propelled grenade clipping the tail rotor of the helicopter you are in as you are heading back to your base for r&r. Unlucky is an improvised explosive device on the same road as your armored column, as you are traveling on to the next town to search for terrorists. Unlucky is dying in a war torn, uncivilized country and never having the chance to hug your child or wife again. 
Petty Officer Strange's variance will never even out. None of the heroes who have given their lives in service to the United States will ever have their luck turn around. And I will always appreciate that thought, and their service, whenever I start to complain about my own lack of luck, because I AM lucky, after all, I can still hug my child and wife.
 God Bless P.O. Strange and all of the men and women who serve and protect us in the armed services. And, thank you.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Thank you, Department of Justice!

I played Hold'em and Omaha on Pokerstars last night, play chips of course. It's just not the same. Like tens of thousands of other Americans, I truly miss being able to play online poker for real money.  I'm not going to lie, I may have played a bit too often before April 15th, 2011. On the one hand the federal government may have done me a favor taking away my right to play a game to which I was addicted.  After all, I now have more free time on my hands to do things around the house, spend more time with my wife and daughter and catch up on reading some of those classics I only read the Cliff's notes to in high school. So, instead of sitting in the back yard, next to my wife, our laptops fired up running multiple tables of micro stakes cash games and sit-n-go's, and discussing betting strategies and bankroll management, or teaching my daughter things like probability and positive mindset to deal with stress, I'm watching more and more television. Shark week, Seinfeld, History channel, How It's Made, The Secret Life of the American Slut, er, Teenager, Pretty Little Liars (hey, I live with two females give me a break!). 
My wife and I weren't crushing cash tables and shipping mtt's like Durrrrr or Phil Galfond, but, after a couple of years playing, learning and relearning, we were finally beginning to come out ahead. In the first three months of 2011 we had combined cashouts from Full Tilt in excess of $700. That doesn't sound like a lot, but this is what economists call "disposable  income". This money went directly into the economy of the United States. Shoes, gasoline, movie tickets. That $700 paid another American citizen's salary somewhere.  It helped a company's bottom line, which, (aided by other small online poker wins by other players) could be used by a company to hire more Americans in the future. And let's not forget, had the federal government legalized and taxed online poker sites from the beginning there would be millions (if not billions) of more revenue dollars in the fed's coffers! 
It's a hard concept to wrap your mind around but try: the U.S. is fighting wars in two countries in the Middle East where sons & daughters, mothers and fathers, are dying every day to "protect democracy" and keep us safe from terrorism. Our economy is in shambles, our elected "leaders" are in Washington DC at this very moment arguing, like kids on a playground, about how to fix our problems (and getting nowhere!).  Unemployment and violent crime are escalating here at home. And, sadly, morale of Americans is at a low not seen since the great depression. I have never, ever in my life, wanted to live anywhere but the United States of America, and I still don't. But what does it say about my confidence in my government when I think about it now? The thought of moving to Canada or Europe has crossed my mind. Not that I was seriously considering it, just a thought, like a daydream, wondering if the grass is actually greener somewhere.
Somewhere, right now, in the former Soviet Union and in China and the eastern part of Germany, and even in the middle east, people are poised in front of their computers, clicking away at buttons labeled, in their respective languages, "bet" "raise" and "fold". Massive pots, of U.S. Dollars and Euros are being scooped and ridiculous bluffs are being pulled off. Some people are jubilant and others are throwing their mouse across the room. But they're all enjoying a piece of freedom that we no longer do.  
My trips to Starbucks and McDonalds are becoming less frequent and my wife and daughter haven't had mani/pedi's in a while. I don't have that extra little bit of income to spend here or there anymore.  But it's ok, I now have time to fix that leaky faucet and clean my storage closet. And, since I'm not gambling my life savings away, my child won't starve. Thanks, DOJ, you've made me more productive. 
Did anyone see where I left my copy of The Grapes of Wrath?