Saturday, June 30, 2012

WSOP Warm-up Continues:  T-9

PITTSBURGH -- Last night, Larry played in a tournament of 53 people that started at 7:15 p.m. By 1 a.m., there were 7. The tournament was a satellite, meaning that a certain number of people (5 for that particular tournament) would win entry into today's $550 buy-in deep stack. It was suggested that the remaining 7 pool the winnings and chop the pot -- it was enough that each of the 7 would win at least $550, and it was late enough that folks were ready to go home. But one person wanted to keep playing, so play continued.

And then there were 6. Someone suggested collecting $110 from each of the 6 remaining players for "the bubble" person. That 6th place finisher would then also get enough for the $550 buy-in. Play continued.

Larry ended up being that 6th place guy, but it turned out that two of the players didn't have the $110 cash on them. Could the game be held up for a few minutes so they could run to the ATM? No.

And then the person who originally wanted to keep playing when everybody else wanted to chop was the first to act on a hand. That person said I'm going to take a really long time to figure out whether I'm going to fold this hand or not. And he took just enough time "thinking about it" that the other two people ran to the ATM and came back so Larry and I could go home.


In today's tournament:

Larry was “on the button." Seven people had limped in before him for a 100 big blind. He had pocket jacks and raised to 1000 to get the random hands to fold. Three people called. The flop came Jack, 6, 5, all different suits. The three others checked around to Larry, and he bet 1000 with the best hand possible at that point. The first player re-raised him to 3000, the next guy folded, and the third guy called the 3000. He was pretty sure that the other two players had smaller sets or were on a draw for a straight. So Larry raised all-in for 22,000. Player 1 called and eventually player 2 called. Player 1 had a set of 6’s and was just about dead to find the fourth 6 in the deck. Player 2 showed 8, 7 and was on a straight draw for about a 28% chance to win the hand (we checked the percentage) – a crazy call for his tournament life.

But crazy sometimes works, and a 4 hit on the next card to give him a straight. He had to dodge the last card to not pair the board and give Larry a full house to take down a pot of over 70,000.

We’ve heard that the pros sometimes fold hands when they are dominating (even pocket aces pre-flop) just so that they don’t give some schmuck a 20% chance of knocking them out of the tournament. That's why they call it gambling.

Friday, June 29, 2012


PITTSBURGH -- Larry is playing tonight and he will play again tomorrow starting at noon. This is now endurance practice. He also has a few little things he wants to work on, things that have to do with the mental part of the game, the patience.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

WSOP, T-10

PITTSBURGH -- Larry's playing tonight. Tournament started at 7:15. It's 8:42 and I haven't heard, so that's a good sign.

Last night we had some friends over. We ate and drank and ate and drank. And then we talked about poker. We played a few hands, and Larry was able to figure out what cards our friend Shawn was holding for each hand. Shawn kept asking How did he know what I have?? I had to admit it was a little freaky.

The Opposite of Poker:  Ballet at Chautauqua

PITTSBURGH -- I have a piece in the Chautauquan Daily today:

If you're not familiar with the Chautauqua Institution, check out

I found some of my old Chautauqua photos.

My sister Mary Ann and me on the Keystone porch, 1963.

Looking down on the Amphitheater stage from the Keystone second floor porch.

Us older beginning ballet students. I'm fourth from right (plaid socks!)

The oldest dance student. And yes, the dance teacher is fully clothed... just lousy photo quality.

Modern dance (a more advanced class).

I think her name was Leslie, one of our ballet instructors.

Mr. Martin, another ballet instructor. Sticking his tongue out. A gruff taskmaster but a terrific teacher.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Trip from Ecuador

PITTSBURGH -- I've never been to Ecuador, but these flowers grew up there. They've traveled farther than I have.

I bought them this morning in the Strip District for $5. They cost $5 after flying from Ecuador.

A quick check on Travelocity shows that a one-way trip for me to Quito, Ecuador would cost between $693.58 and $1,022.70. Okay, the flowers don't need leg room or a meal.

Monday, June 25, 2012

WSOP -- I Agree With Norman Chad

PITTSBURGH/LAS VEGAS/CLEVELAND -- Norman Chad is one of the ESPN announcers for the WSOP Main Event. This piece, written in Las Vegas, published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, passed along by me here in Pittsburgh, pretty much sums up the way I feel about poker. Hope I can spot this guy when we get to the Main Event.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

WSOP -- To Wear a Hat or Not

PITTSBURGH -- I lost Larry's favorite hat on our trip to Hilton Head. Actually, I'm pretty sure I left it in our room, but when I called, the lost-and-found didn't have it. Anyway, his favorite hat was a CMU hat. So he bought another one, and slightly different one, and he figured he'd try it out today. The hat worked, but the tournament really didn't. At Rivers today, the schedule wasn't posted correctly, so people didn't really know if there was a tournament or not. Ten people played. The prize wasn't money but a buy-in to next Saturday's deep stack. Larry busted out in 3rd place. But the hat? It's a winner.


Saturday, June 23, 2012

WSOP -- T Minus16 Days

PITTSBURGH -- Sixteen days until Day 1 of Larry's Main Event Tournament. Today's tournament at Rivers Casino started at 12:15 with 85 players. It was a "deep stack" that can last as long as 12 hours. He was short stacked early but worked his way back. After about 5 hours, it reached the point where a lot of short stacks were going all-in. By then Larry had a better than average chip stack, and he was holding pocket jacks. He decided to call an all-in matched with a slightly bigger stack who, it turned out, had pocket queens. So 25th place out of 85.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

According to Larry. . .

MY STUDY -- As to last night's tournament, this is, according to Larry, what really happened:

"Actually, I 'called' an all-in pre-flop bet at 1am from the chip leader who ended up knocking me out with a pair of 8's."

I sit corrected.

Farewell to Babyland

EAST LIBERTY -- When I moved to Pittsburgh in 1976, my first apartment wasn't far from Negley Avenue and Baum Boulevard.  A few blocks up Negley, at its intersection with Penn Avenue, sat Babyland. I had no need for a store like that back then, but over the years I bought baby gifts there. And I used Babyland as a babylandmark when giving restaurant or store directions to new Burghers, even as recently as a month ago. 

After 61 years at that location, Babyland is moving to a new, as-yet-undisclosed location. So what will happen to that old familiar building? I don't see it crumbling or remaining empty for long. Its neighborhood of East Liberty, just on the cusp of Garfield with it's new and trendy eateries and artist havens, has gotten much more than a new coat of paint recently. In fact the make-over of East Liberty is stunning in its breadth. New housing, shops, library, attitude. The possibilities are that another retail business will move in, or a restaurant, or the building will be torn down to make way for something that I hope will be great.

So, farewell to the old Babyland. In a city where nothing much ever used to change, this is a sign that change is now the new norm.

Third Place (but not really)

PITTSBURGH -- Larry played in a 7:15 p.m. tournament last night. $65 buy-in, 40 people. Even though he had lousy cards (not a single pair for almost two hours), he was patient and made it to the final table. Actually, he made it to the final 3. By then, it was almost 1 a.m. He pushed all in with (I think) Ace/8 off suit, because he was ready to either double up or go home. One person called. With a pair of 8s. So third place. But he wouldn't have done that if it wasn't just practice and it wasn't so late. He would have stuck it out. But I need my beauty sleep.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


PITTSBURGH -- Casino poker rooms tend to be cold. It's a side effect of the heat generated by slot machines. Also, the air has to circulate a lot to suck out the smoke (or die trying). But when the fans come on full blast near the poker tables, it can be like an arctic blast.

When we first moved to Austin Texas in August of 1985, the temperature was somewhere around 107 every day for the first week we lived there. But I couldn't believe how cold it was in every office building and shopping mall. It wasn't just that it felt cold initially, it truly was way too cold. Sweater weather inside. Isn't that a waste of energy? Does it have to be that gosh-darn cold?

An excuse to show a cute pix of my kid in Austin
Today was the hottest day of the year so far. My car said 93 degrees; my neighbor said 95 degrees. And yet, when Larry went to play in a poker tournament tonight, we had to figure out what he could wear so that he would be warm enough. He decided on a tee shirt under a long-sleeved shirt, and it seems to be working. He just texted "lousy cards, playing well, 20 left" with no mention that he's too cold.

Lots of poker players wear hoodies. You might have thought it was to hide their faces so they don't give away their "tells," but I think mostly it's so they don't freeze.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Countdown to Larry's WSOP Main Event

PITTSBURGH -- Today is T-21 or T minus 21 days until Larry starts playing in the World Series of Poker Main Event tournament at the Rio Convention Center in Las Vegas. His "Day 1" is the third "Day 1" because so many people sign up that they can't all start on the same day. His Day 1 is Monday, July 9th, and he'll start at noon.

Larry paid for his buy-in this morning by sending a wire transfer from our bank around the corner. We thought we had all the paperwork with us to do that, but since we're both completely jet-lagged after our return from Honolulu, it took a while to figure it out. Why does jet-lag seem to be worse two days after getting home than that first day? We were actually in pretty good spirits when we finally got home Saturday morning (see previous posting re wheelchair mishap), so much so that Larry went to Rivers Casino and played in a 7 p.m. tournament. And won. There were 41 players, and it was over about midnight. The mental part of playing poker and the stamina takes practice. It was good to show up, jet-lagged and tired and to still win.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Zen and the Art of Motorized Wheelchair Maintenance

PITTSBURGH -- People who fly a lot know that it isn't much fun anymore. Full flights, shoes off, raise your arms over your head when you stand in the giant full-body scanner. I get it. It's annoying. But try traveling with a motorized wheelchair. Sometimes the baggage handlers take the chair apart and then they can't put it back together. It happened again yesterday.

We've had problems in the past of having the chair taken apart, so this time we decided to attach a huge, bright-yellow, laminated card that explains how to release the brake (so the chair can be pushed like a stroller). The card also says PLEASE DON'T TAKE THE CHAIR APART. Our most recent trip included 6 flights. I was asked at least twice "How do you push the chair?" meaning that not everybody noticed or read the huge, bright-yellow, laminated card. Yesterday in Atlanta before our flight to Pittsburgh after a 9-hour flight from Honolulu, I showed the baggage handler guy how to release the brake to push the chair. I pointed out the huge, bright-yellow, laminated card and said -- not with anger or frustration but with as much compassion as I could -- PLEASE DON'T TAKE THE CHAIR APART. And yet, when we arrived in Pittsburgh, when everyone else was off the plane and long gone and we were still waiting for Larry's chair to be brought up to the jet way, we knew. We knew the chair was in pieces, somewhere. 

I know that I have to stay calm in these situations. Getting angry doesn't help because the offending party, the person who took the chair apart, is in the city that we left behind, oblivious to the havoc he or she has created. In these situations, I need help from the folks at hand. It usually goes like this:  

Me to flight attendants Do they know that he has his own wheelchair and that we need the aisle chair and two people to help lift?  Flight attendant Yes, we alerted them. So we wait a little bit, and eventually the skycaps show up with the aisle chair to help Larry off the plane. Then I ask any airline employee who hasn't already high-tailed it to Olive Garden (including the pilot) Do you know when his chair is coming up? That's when the fun begins. Phone calls, walkie talkies, hand wringing (that's from the flight attendants who realize that something is wrong or from gate agents or pilots who want to turn the plane around fast and we're in their way). Sometimes the chair is rolled down the jet way just then, having been pushed from the cargo hold to an elevator and then down the hall to our gate. Yeah. But when it doesn't show up at that point, we know. They have taken the dang thing apart.

 Yesterday, we heard it for ourselves over the walkie talkie. It's in pieces.

At this point, Larry is on the aisle chair (one of those narrow straight backed chairs that fit down the aisle of a plane -- not something that one should sit on for more than a minute or two) and we are waiting just outside the plane on the jet way. The pilot asks if we can be moved up inside the terminal because they have another flight to get out to which I reply That isn't our problem. It's pretty obvious what our problem is, and if they push us aside, they will forget us.

Now everybody knows that the chair is in pieces and I'm the only person who knows how to put it back together. So I do that (no details here because I don't want to cause trouble for the person who used common sense and broke some rules to help us). 

There has to be a better way. For our sake and for the ease and safety of the baggage handlers and the airlines. We need to figure out what that is. 


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sand Boots and Solar Panels

HONOLULU -- Some random vacation-brain thoughts:

1.  Walking in the sand would be therapeutic even if the ocean disappeared. Calf muscles get a unique workout and dead skin gets sloughed away and the body absorbs vitamin D (even if it's raining, I think). Probably walking in sand is where the idea for earth shoes came from. But getting a few grains of sand in your shoe is a nuisance (wow, could I not spell that word). So what if, inside a pair of over-sized rain boots, each of your feet could nestle in their own little sand dune. When you walk, you're walking in the sand. And the extra weight and the way the sand shifts as you walk would exercise your legs and your balance. Yes, it would make a mess when you take them off, but for a little while, you could almost hear the ocean.

2. Could an umbrella have solar panels? Power your cellphone as you protect your skin from the sun.

3.  I've had nightmares that I am in a school, barely dressed, surrounded by people I don't know, trying to find my classroom but not knowing my schedule or the building I'm in. Walking onto the beach for the first time in a two years was a little like that. I was surrounded by people I didn't know, wasn't sure if I wanted to swim or sit or read, and then I took off my beach cover-up and stood there, essentially in my underwear. It helped to take off my glasses. I could hardly see them, so they probably couldn't see me either.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dogs in the Surf

KAILUA BEACH PARK --  A guy and his three dogs were playing fetch-the-stick in the ocean! All three dogs barked and charged into the surf as the stick flew out toward a buoy. The group of four swam together to retrieve the stick.

One dog was done in and headed to shore, checked on his friends and then found a place to nap.

I later caught up with the dogs -- Chula, Eli and Alu (don't know which is which) -- getting showered.

And then there was this dog:

His mom had to hold him...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

New Trends?

HONOLULU -- Trend #1:  elevators. To ride the elevator at our hotel, instead of jumping into the first open elevator, there is a key pad where you punch in your floor number and it flashes which elevator (A-E) will open for you and take you directly to your designated floor. It's a great improvement, especially at quiet times like 5:00 a.m. (since we're up and out, still on east coast time). 

Trend #2:  shoes. At Hartsfield-Jackson Airport (the sprawl that is the Atlanta airport), I saw a young woman wearing very high-heeled pumps -- one was black and the other was beige, but they were they same style of shoe. Perhaps she had done a lousy job packing. Perhaps she was barely awake when she dressed that morning. Or she did it on purpose. Or perhaps I was way over-tired and frustrated because Delta had taken Larry's wheelchair apart and couldn't put it back together, and my over-taxed brain imaged those 2 different shoes. 


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ocean #1

HILTON HEAD ISLAND -- June 6, 2012. Rain, rain and more rain. And then a splash of blue sky.

 The riled up Atlantic. On a business trip. On the way to another business trip.

Ocean #2

HONOLULU --  June 9, 2012. Sun, sun and more sun. With loud fireworks last night at 7:45 pacific time, 1:45 a.m. in my bones.

The Pacific on its sparkling best behavior.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Meditation on Casino Gambling

PITTSBURGH -- To me, tournament poker players don't really fit with slots players and table gamers and even cash poker players. A lot of the dedicated tournament players -- people who only play in tournaments -- have read all the books, know all the odds, and know exactly how much they are going to lose because they buy in up front. Okay some of them play EVERY DAY, and that means they are as addicted as the guy who keeps running to the cash machine to feed his roulette habit. I saw "that guy."

I was sitting with my daughter Hannah and her boyfriend Dan at a roulette table. "That guy" put chips on probably half of the choices, and he lost everything. He and his wife left the table and came right back with fresh bills from the ATM. He made his choices again and he lost again. Over and over and over. Dan (who played for quite a while with just a little bit of money) said the guy won once or twice, before I sat down. Just enough to keep him coming back, and back, and back.

Slot machines. I haven't looked that closely at them recently (do some of them have cartoons?), but I went to Las Vegas a couple of times years ago when my folks were there on vacation. Ching ching ching ching ching. The sound of coins dropping into the metal bins under the machines. Movie-popcorn-size buckets to carry your change around. That's pretty much gone since everything is now electronic. I have no problem with that. But now, a player doesn't even have to lift a coin or pull the arm of the slot machine. People can sit, immobile, and drink and smoke and lose their paychecks. So I have a suggestion:  treadmill-fueled slot machines. Exercise while you gamble, and cut the energy usage of all those machines. Of course this won't happen because if people started exercising, they might not feel the need to sit and gamble. They might actually want to go outside and walk.

There are smoking sections and non-smoking sections at the local casino. Even though the management would try to disagree, the smoking section is actually the entire casino. Las Vegas tried to go smoke-free. It didn't last.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Taper to the WSOP

PITTSBURGH -- Larry played in a tournament last night at Rivers Casino. Approximately 92 entrants, a big crowd for just a typical tournament. Okay, he busted out about two hours in, but most of the players weren't there to practice for the WSOP. A crazy Friday night amalgam of humanity, mostly they would all just stay in every hand because they might get lucky. So it's not such great practice.

Over the past two weeks, he's played 4 tournaments and won twice. The number of folks registered ranged from 35 to the above-mentioned 92. So every tournament is different. It's good to face the unexpected.

Other preparations:  sunglasses or no sunglasses? A card cover or not? Or which one? Can he stay in it today no matter what cards he gets and no matter who is playing? Where will we eat in Vegas during the tournament? And what? Yes, it's like tapering for a swimming meet. Except no Speedos allowed.


Friday, June 1, 2012

Leah Learns to Play Poker

PITTSBURGH -- I have played  poker 3 times. The first time was at the Flamingo in Las Vegas. Larry told me to give it a try, even though I didn't have a clue what was going on. I "bought in" for $100, and the table was a $1/$2 table. What the heck did all of that mean? Small blind, big blind, the button. I probably stayed there for half an hour. I even won one or two hands, mostly out of dumb luck. I cashed out with $105.


The second time I played was on Mother's Day of 2011. There was a tournament at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, and both Larry and Hannah said I should play. Women only. I really didn't want to. I thought I would rather scrub floors on my hands and knees than make a complete fool of myself. But the night before, just in case, I said I need a lesson.

I pulled out some of Hannah's old stuffed animals and sat them around the dining room table. (On the table, not on chairs -- they couldn't have seen their cards.) I learned about the big blind and small blind and who goes first and a flush beats a straight. But I was nervous. I was sweating. Even the stuffed animals probably noticed. I still wasn't convinced to play. I really didn't want to. It would literally be a game-time decision.

The next morning, with just enough time to get to the casino, I decided that I would play. Really, how bad could it be?

There were maybe 36 women in the tournament. Making chit chat before play started. It was cold in the poker room, but I was sweating. Play started, and everyone, well, I don't know what everyone was doing. I was just trying to follow the action. After maybe 30 minutes, I calmed down. I won a hand or two. Women were busting out and leaving.

One woman had a really big mouth, and it never stopped flapping. I'd seen her before. She played in tournaments with Larry, and as far as I could remember, she always busted out early. And then I got it, that "I have got to bust this person out before she drives me crazy" syndrome. I know, a good poker player should be able to block out all of the annoying habits that players bring with them. I couldn't beat her with skill, so I just hoped she'd find us ladies too boring and leave. Then I got a pair of Queens. It had to be a sign. She called me. I went all in because, well, I just wanted to say that. And boom, she was gone.

After maybe 90 minutes, I thought omg, if I keep winning hands, I have to stay here. I'm trapped. So I kept trying that all-in thing, hoping that I'd get to go home, but I kept winning. It must have made me seem like an aggressive player, but my brain was really screaming "uncle!"  Until there were 3 of us left. We decided to chop the pot. I probably said "split" at the time. It just means that we collected our money, pooled it and divided it evenly so we could all get the heck out of there. $200+. Woo hoo!


The third (and probably final) time I played was on Larry's birthday in March. We sat at different tables, and I got absolutely no decent cards. And I really didn't think I could bluff guys who play sometimes 3 or 4 times a week. But I hung in there, even playing for a good hour after Larry busted out...