Archive for November, 2009

Its worth mentioning that I managed to do something that NONE of Tommy Angelo’s clients have ever done. He has coached some of the bigger names in poker,  but none of them ever managed to bust on the VERY FIRST hand they ever played with him.

It was our first night in Vegas, and we went to the Venetian to play 5/10 NL.  I sit down with $600 (Tommy started with $400, not entire sure why I just had to play with more), and I’m dealt QQ.  I proceed to bungle the hand, and lose my stack to a flush.  May have been an inevitable outcome given my stack size, but I still looked really bad doing it.  Ouch.

I did win the next couple of nights, and, I believe, every time we’ve played together subsequently.  Its an interesting thing–knowing somebody you hope to impress, particularly someone who advocates tight play, may be watching you causes you to play smarter.  Why should this make a difference?  Its real money we are talking about.  If you are going to play one way when being observed, and that style is effective, why not play that way all the time?  Wish I had the answer.


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Early in 2008 I had aspirations of playing high stakes no limit hold ‘em on (at least) a semi-professional basis.  I’d survived a year at the 10-10-20 game at Lucky Chances (broke even!) despite having no real no limit experience before that. I’d experienced cash swings that were unimaginable just a year before, and managed to keep my head.

OK, I still have these aspirations, only back then I was apt to actually pursue them, and to take measures toward that end.  One of these was spending a few days with Tommy Angelo.

I’d met Tommy earlier in 2007 when I first started playing bigger and learned about his poker “coaching.”  The full program is three days in Vegas, working with him directly during the day, playing live games at night. 

For me, engaging with Tommy was arguably irrational.  For one thing, he isn’t cheap. Spending a few days with Tommy can cost a significant part of most mid-stakes bankrolls.  For those that even have bankrolls.  A group to which I did not belong.  In addition, my playing future was uncertain—I wasn’t fully committed to serious, career-oriented play.  This was evidenced by the fact that while in Vegas I spent several hours in my room preparing for an upcoming job interview with Google, rather than simply focusing all of my attention on the reason I’d invested in the trip.  Dumb mistake.

But I’d met him and liked him, and I found the “curriculum” interesting and intriguing.  Plus it meant three solo days in Vegas to play poker.  So I engaged.  And here I am, a year and a half later, and I’m not even playing poker, much less playing seriously. 

And I would do the same thing again in two seconds.

Tommy is not about technical poker strategy.  We did (and do) talk about individual hands and individual spots, but that is a fraction of his value.  Tommy is about putting and keeping yourself in the right mindset to make sound poker decisions, ranging from what to do in a particular spot to whether or not you should be playing at all.  Also known as how to reduce and remove tilt from your game.  And, as it turns out, the same principles can help make better decisions in life.

Its not my place to detail his ideas and his methods, but here is some of my interpretation and experience:

Everybody knows tilt is bad.  And every decent player is able to recognize, if not control, when he or she is tilting (they know they shouldn’t be playing too many hands because they are stuck, they know that they should have raised that draw instead of just calling on the turn out of hope, they know they shouldn’t be playing because they are tired, whatever).  In other words, decent players are able to take the first step back and look in and recognize their behavior.  They may not be able to control the behavior, but they can find a place on that “first step” where they can look down and see that something is going on that is not necessarily in their best interest.

Tommy, in my view, is about finding your way to the second and third and fourth steps.  The steps symbolize emotionally oriented (and distorted) reactions to the present situation.  The further out you go, the more removed the emotion becomes (be it anger or jealousy or desire or whatever).  By the time you achieve those outer steps, you are able to look inside at the present moment—at that bad beat you just took—with peace and clarity.  Now its not a matter of recognizing that this tilt is bad for you; its not even being tempted to tilt in the first place.

Easier said than done, of course.  Tommy achieves this state –and encourages others to do so—through a disciplined mindfulness meditation practice.  A lot of the information and articles about it are found on his site (www.tommyangelo.com).  The practice helps put and keep you in the right frame of mind to make all kinds of poker decisions.  

So why write about this if I’m not even playing?  For that matter, I haven’t even developed a formal meditation practice (you try getting up at 6:00 sharp every day with four and one year old daughters who may or may not have had you up a couple hours before that).  Again:  it helps with day to day situations.  The core of the practice is breathing, being still, counting your breaths, not thinking about anything.  You can do this informally, anytime, and I do.  And perhaps because of this, I find that I’m better able to avoid getting too angry at the guy who just cut me off on the road, that I don’t need to “express” my anger and risk a worse situation.  I realize that stress because of work—or lack thereof—does not help my situation, and the stress thus becomes more manageable, and I become more productive.  The list goes on.

I’d rate myself as being on the second step.  I recognize that angry reactions in poker or in life are generally counter productive, and I’m typically able to take a deep breath (perhaps after a minute of self righteous indignation) and make clearer decisions.  But its very much an effort—I hope it will become more natural.  So, while I hope to continue to engage with Tommy on a poker level, I suppose I’d want to be in touch even if I never played again.

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Sam C

From the San Francisco Chronicle last week:

“Sam J. Conti, who for more than 30 years owned or managed a procession of nightclubs ranging from pornographic to posh, died in San Francisco of a heart attack on Monday. He was 65.”

Judging by the online comments left below his obituary, opinions about him are mixed, ranging from him being a creative, entrepreneurial, civil rights hero to a sleazy pimp.  I’m not sure.  But he was certainly legendary at Lucky Chances.

Sam C was a huge gambler.  Addicted to action.  And he was an absolutely terrible poker player.  Played nearly every hand, and saw those hands right until the end with almost anything. In relatively high stakes no limit games.  I don’t know how much money he was losing each week during 2007, but I’m pretty sure it was more than most people make in a year.

It went the same every time.  He’d sit down, buy in for close to the minimum (2K), and try to be disciplined and fold hands for a little while.  But he just couldn’t do it for long.  He had to play.  So he’d start raising with anything.  And it progressed from there.  He’d take all the money he had with him, and play it (and lose it) in $5000 increments.  When he ran out of cash, he’d turn to another player (same guy every time) and ask for a 5K loan (he did this by holding up five fingers, he had a tracheal tube in his neck, I think due to cancer, and couldn’t speak).

Throughout 2007 whenever he entered the casino it created a bigger buzz than would have occurred had it been Doyle Brunson coming through the doors.  People scrambled to get on the big game list below him.  Guys would quit playing altogether to get back on the list, risking a wait of far longer than the 90 minute minimum just to get a crack at being at Sam’s table.  Those with boxes headed for the cage, trying to have as much money in front of them as possible.

I remember on my biggest night ever Sam had come to my table and then I was must-moved to the main game.  It was about 4:30 in the morning, and Sam had been next on the list to move to the main game for about four hours.  Nobody was budging.  Eventually players start polling, trying to put together a fund made up of several hundred dollars from each player, to be given to the player that gave up his seat.  Eventually I gave in and left, content with the massive night I’d had (for my standards), without taking money to do so.  I sometimes wonder what might have happened had I hung around, waited for Sam, and played aggressively with my big stack.

It was wild. An environment perhaps never to be seen again (recession still hadn’t hit).  I won a little money from him.  Predictably, I also lost the biggest pot of my life to him as well.  He took my $6000 stack when he hit a random gutshot on the turn against my KK in the hole; I knew it, but that turn was also the third diamond on the board and I had the K, leaving me odds to draw for the flush, and when the river paired a card on the board, well, unfortunately for me my two pair (including an overpair) easily matched up against his range, so I had to call the rest at the end.

So it went with Sam C.

I wasn’t there to see everything, but it ended badly.  The story I got was that on his last night playing poker he lost around $70,000, most of it to one player.  From that point on he spent his time in the casino on the dark side–the Asian table games–where tons of money really is won and (mostly) lost.  The story goes that on his last day the casino accepted a bad check for a few hundred thousand dollars from him.  He lost those chips, and never repaid the check.  Persona non grata from that point on.

I think Sam was a dream for his opponents.  Not only was he a sure bet to lose a lot of money, but players had the perception that not only was he loaded, but that his wealth came from nefarious places.  Not that poker players are known for their compassion for the people they try to break, but in Sam’s case there was certainly never a feel bad factor.

That being said, I always found him to be gracious and pleasant.  He was always courteous to the casino staff and everyone around him.  Apart from lifting his arms in exasperation, I never saw him direct anger at an opponent, even when he was the victim of a bad beat.  He’d light up whenever there was something he had in common with another player.  People will obviously judge what he did for a living, but he seemed like a decent person to me.

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As I write this I find myself in poker purgatory.  Specifically, I’m not playing poker, haven’t played for several months, and I’m not sure when I will start playing again.

Great time to start a poker blog!

Thing is: I still think about it every day.  I’m hoping a blog will a.) be a therapeutic way to channel these thoughts and b.) help keep me focused and honest when I do start playing again.  At the moment I figure I’ll write about past hands and sessions, as well as how poker thought has changed the way I approach problems and situations in general.  Or maybe I’ll just complain about random stuff.

Who I am: I started playing fairly seriously in 2005.   I play primarily live games (I’ve dabbled online but never really got over the hump.  Online players will tell you live games are easier.  More specifically: they’ll tell you that live games are for donkeys.  They may be correct, but I find live poker more interesting.  Plus, playing more than one game at a time, as most serious online players do, tends to make my brain hurt).  Living in San Francisco, playing live limits my options to a few casinos, especially for higher stakes no limit games.  I play primarily at Lucky Chances, in my opinion the best casino in the area by a long shot.  Among its advantages: you generally don’t have to worry about getting mugged when you leave the casino.  Knock on wood.

I started playing 3/6 limit, and by 2007 was playing the 10/10/20 no limit (equates to about 25/50 with the little twists they throw in).  I read a lot of books in between.  By the time I stopped playing earlier this year I’d dropped down to 5/10 (this is Northern California, there really isn’t anything in between).  I figure I’ll write about coming back down at some point.

The one theme that remained constant during this period: from 3/6 limit to high stakes no limit, over an extended period of time I always seemed to (you guessed it) break even.  And I think I understand why (and the fact that the poker gods are constantly against me is only part of the reason).  I feel like I have the tools to do better, and when the stars align perhaps I will dive in head first once again.


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