Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Kids Stand Together Against Violence

CARNEGIE LIBRARY OAKLAND -- Kids here in Pittsburgh want safer communities. Through the MGR Foundation (, a group of them have created posters that explore issues of violence, and they are going to share them with kids in Chicago. These are now on display at the Oakland branch of the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Oh, the Doo Dah Days

ALLEGHENY CEMETERY, PITTSBURGH -- Stephen Foster was an American songwriter whose work included Oh! Susannah, Camptown Races, Beautiful Dreamer and Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair. He was born in Pittsburgh and is buried here, in the Allegheny Cemetery. The Lawrenceville Historical Society and the Allegheny Cemetery Historical Association threw their annual party to recognize their musical native son. It's officially the Stephen Foster Music and Heritage Festival, but it's mainly just called The Doo Dah Days.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Day 4 Without Larry

LAS VEGAS -- Larry played until 10 p.m. last night, Day 3. He was short stacked and finally had to push with a small pair (6s I think), and the other guy had Kings. It leads to a lot of "if only this, if only that," but ultimately, he did amazingly well. The guy next to him all day yesterday (on his left) was a pro from Belgium who is still in it and is one of the bigger chip stacks of the remaining players.

The payout starts with place 648. Today begins again at noon -- 666 folks still in it. Everyone will be playing so tight. Everyone wants to make the money.

Maybe next year.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Day 3 After Dinner -- He's still in

ON A BENCH OUTSIDE THE AMAZON ROOM -- Larry's still in. He's short stacked, needs to catch a break. Antes are 500, I think the blinds are 1,500 and 3,000. He could be all-in while I'm sitting out here. His chip stack has gone up and down in huge swings but not ever high enough. But he's hanging in.

The bubble will burst (folks will start to get paid) when 648 are remaining. I think there are about 840 right now. It's unlikely it will happen tonight, but people have been dropping like flies.

Fingers crossed.

Day 3 After the First Break

LAS VEGAS -- Larry's chip stack progression:  55k, 80k, 90k, 98k, 126k, and now 139k. Woops, now 155k. Average chip stack is 139k. There are 1,368 people remaining out of roughly 6,400.

Dan Harrington was at his table, so the press were hovering. Harrington busted out just before the break.

Dan Harrington in green cap. Larry told him he had read his book but couldn't get it signed because it was an ebook.

Some nature photos from the last few days. It actually is "raining" right now, not much more than sprinkling but maybe it's helping put out the wildfires.

He Made it to Day 3, Short Stacked but Going For It!

LAS VEGAS -- Stats:  1,743 players remain. A few folks have around 500k chips. The average is just over 100k. Larry will start with 54,700. He plays short stacked really well, but anything could happen. Dan Harrington will be at his table. Even if you barely follow poker, you will probably recognize that name. (

Slept well, ready to go. It even rained here this morning, so maybe that helped with the wildfires burning nearby.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Day 2 After the Second Break

RIO'S POKER KITCHEN -- At the break, Larry had 77,000 chips. That's pretty solid. The average chip stack count isn't up, nor is the number of folks still in.

On Monday, Daniel Negreanu was at a table just across from where Larry was playing. Daniel took pictures, signed shirts and hats, chatted with everyone, laughed a lot (he has a distinctive laugh). He's a great "face" for poker. But he was short stacked at the end of Day 1, and now he's out.

Dinner in 2 hours. If Larry's still in. Anything can happen.

Main Event Day 2

LAS VEGAS -- Play started for Day 2C at noon. Larry started with 42,550 chips. I'm not hovering, so I will only get occasional updates. One funny story:  a couple who are on their honeymoon both made it to Day 2 and are sitting at the same table!

Some stats:  6,352 total entrants; total chips 190,560,000; prize pool $59,708,800.

There is a mammoth brush fire burning close by. Forty square miles in the mountains near Las Vegas. Last night, the sky was brown. Sorry no pictures. They thought they had it 20% under control, but I'm afraid it's not even that contained. Maybe they'll get a handle on it today.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Resting up for Day 2 of the Main Event

LAS VEGAS -- Larry and I have had a relaxing day so far, since we got back to the room about 2 a.m. Yes, he's still in it, and it was pretty amazing how he came back from almost nothing.

In my previous blog entry, I listed the ups and downs and ups of Larry's chip stack. He ended Day 1 with 42,550 chips. And I messed up earlier about the starting stacks -- everyone got 30,000 to start (not 20,000 like I had posted). So, for Day 1C, there were 3,467 entrants. By the end of the night there were 2,306 left. Larry is in place 1,065 out of those 2,306.

The Day 1A and Day 1B folks are playing their Day 2 today.

Off to dinner in downtown.

YoYo-ing Chip Count

LAS VEGAS -- It's 12:23 in the morning and there is another half hour to play. It's 89 degrees outside, after maybe 110 today.

Larry's chip stack has gone like this in the past couple of hours: 28k, 8k, 15k, 31k, 39k. And I think it might be a bit more than that right now. That's just about the average. When he dropped to 8k, we knew it would be tough, but he's stayed focused and made great plays. And had some luck that eluded him earlier.

Lots of other others are hanging around, spouses mostly, as far as I can tell. The massage therapists are still working. Lots of sore backs, including mine.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Larry's Still In, Even After a Bad Beat

LAS VEGAS -- Larry's full house lost to a royal flush. That's a bad beat, having such a strong hand and then losing.

He's still in it, and he plays really well short handed, but it's tough. He's got maybe 27,000 chips. Everyone started with 20,000, and he was up close to 40,000. He doesn't get flustered, so we'll see. There are now 3 pros at his table. Two guys are actually playing a game of Chinese poker online against each other on their iPads when they aren't involved in hands. And they're both texting, too. They've got to hit brain overload at some point.

6,352 folks entered. The website says about 1,900 left, but that might be just the total left from Day 1A and 1B.

WSOP Main Event, a Tutorial

LAS VEGAS -- The cards are in the air for Day 1C, the last of 3 Day 1s. Larry is in the Amazon Room, table #406 in the purple section. They predict over 3,000 players today, but they won't know until this evening. Players can register up until the start of the 5th round (approximately 6 p.m.). You can follow the action at

In case you're not familiar with how this works, here are some basics about the WSOP Main Event and about poker in general:


Poker tournaments require a buy-in. On a typical day in a typical casino, it’s generally somewhere between $50 and $200. Tournament players can’t lose more than the buy-in. The pot size equals the buy-in times the number of players. Generally the top 10% win some part of the pot. If it’s late and the last few players agree that they’re pooped, they might “chop” the pot, split the remaining winnings evenly among themselves and call it a night. But not in the Main Event.
The buy-in for the Main Event is $10,000. You can pay by cash or money order (no credit cards) or you can earn a spot by winning one of dozens of designated satellite feeder tournaments. Anyone can play if they can pay. You don’t have to know what you’re doing. You’re not required to win a qualifying event or pass an IQ test or even prove that you can add two plus two to get a seat in the Main Event. It’s just plain old Texas hold ‘em. Make the best 5-card hand out of the two cards you’re holding and the five cards on the table, or bluff your way to victory.

The World Series of Poker (WSOP), owned by Caesars Entertainment, is a series of poker tournaments whose winners receive not just money but coveted WSOP bracelets. The WSOP runs throughout the year, mostly in Las Vegas, but also in Melbourne, Australia; Vancouver, Canada; and London. Winners of WSOP circuit tournaments -- or feeder tournaments -- might win money or they might earn entry into more expensive bracelet events.
The 2012 WSOP included more than 60 bracelet events, one of which was an $18 million Texas Hold ‘em payout with a $1 million buy-in. (That was the Big One for One Drop charity event. ) It also included variations on Seven Card Stud, Omaha Hi-Low 8 or Better, Pot-Limit Omaha and Seven Card Razz, among others. But the most prestigious event, the big daddy, the one that’s televised on ESPN starting in September every year, is the Main Event.


Today's announcement to "shuffle up and deal" was made by a guy named Chris Moneymaker. He's one of the reasons that poker has become so big. (Televising poker was another big reason.) Ten years ago, he won the Main Event, and having a name like Moneymaker helped propel him and poker into what it is today.


In November of 2003, on a Saturday afternoon, Larry was watching TV. He came and got me in the kitchen and said, “You have to see this. I know it’s going to sound stupid, but it’s poker on TV. A guy just won $2.5 million, and you won’t believe his name. It’s Chris Moneymaker.” I probably said, “That’s a joke, right?” But it wasn’t. And so I watched a replay of the final hand of the 2003 WSOP Main Event, and it was indeed won by a guy named Moneymaker.

Part of the reason I don't play poker is because, in general, I would be so embarrassed if I totally messed up a hand. Even though Chris Moneymaker did it. During the Main Event.
In a hand toward the end of the 2003 WSOP Main Event, Moneymaker was taking an inordinately long time deciding what to do. Even though he was a fairly new poker player, he looked so calm, like a real pro, making the others sweat. And then his eyes focused. He hadn’t realized that it was his turn. 


Last year's Main Event winner made over $8 million, so that $2.5 million only ten years ago is a good indication of how this "sport" has grown. And to me it truly is a sport. It takes endurance that I never imagined. Not just sitting for up to 12 hours a day but the energy burned from concentration. Larry has to eat something at each break (every 2 hours), even if he doesn't feel like it. 

I have played before, but only once. It was a Mother's Day tournament. All women, at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh.


I had gone back and forth about it for days. The night before, I said to Larry, “teach me.”
We have an official looking poker set in a metallic case with a faux marble handle. I pulled it out of the closet and I pulled out some of our daughter Hannah’s old stuffed animals that live on the shelf above it. I set the animals around the dining room table, and then I dealt to Brown Bear, an unnamed white Siberian Husky puppet, Wimooski the moose, and to the two of us. My first lesson in poker:
The “button” is both a silver-dollar-sized, hole-less, round, white piece of plastic and the person it’s parked in front of. That player always acts last for each round of betting. The button moves clockwise after each hand. The person to the left of the button is the small blind and has to put in a bet of a certain amount before the hand even starts. To the left of the small blind is the big blind. That person has to put in twice the amount of the small blind.
We played a few hands. I think Brown Bear was winning.
Larry asked, “Quick, which is better, a flush or a full house.”
I spit out, “Flush. No wait, I thought you were going to ask flush or straight. But wait, a full house beats a flush, right?” 
And yet I played anyway.
Approximately 36 women started in the Mother’s Day tournament, four tables of nine, with a buy-in of $65. We smiled and chatted, but thank god we didn’t shake hands because mine were slimy with sweat. (By the way, our local casino doesn’t wash its poker chips. Ever.) The first few hands were a blur, and then I started to get the rhythm of play. Forget strategy; I was just happy that I remembered when it was my turn. After about an hour, my chip stack was solid. Then it hit me:  if I kept winning, I would have to keep playing. I had work to do at home, and I can barely sit still for more than an hour under any circumstances. I would go all in, and Larry would be happy that I tried, and we could both go home. Except that I kept winning. I had great cards. I won with Queen/six off suit. I bluffed with nothing. Every time I went all in, I either won or the other players folded. Now I was really stuck.

When I knocked out an especially loud-mouthed woman, I felt silent thank yous from the other players. (I remember that I rivered a pair of Jacks. That means that the last card turned over -- the “river” -- was a Jack, and it matched the lowly Jack I had in my hand.) I was fearless. I didn’t care.  I was an unintentional bully, intimidating those other poor women, some of whom played a lot of poker. I made it to the final table, the last ten players, and before long, there were three of us left. We played a few hands. I was ready to go home. As chip leader, I suggested that we chop and they agreed (since third or second place would have paid them less). We all made somewhere around $300.


I'm in the poker kitchen, the cafeteria space filled with tables next to the food booths that are stocked with surprisingly healthful food offerings. Soba noodles and tofu, grilled salmon, protein smoothies. I will wander around, play a game of "spot the celebrities" (where crowds form), maybe step outside into the 107 degree heat for a minute. It's impossible to know how long Larry will last. The final 9 players who fight it out for the bracelet will have played 12 hours every day for a week. But anyone can bust out at any time. I'll keep you posted.