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Anxiety: A New Mental Game Challenge

July 27, 2017

As a professional poker player, one of the biggest areas to gain an edge these days is in the mental game. This means that when you lose a big pot or get sucked out on by a hand that shouldn’t have even dreamed of seeing the river, you don’t let it bother you. You just shake it off and move on to the next hand like nothing ever happened. More importantly, it means that when you’re getting absolutely demolished – for hours, or an entire session, or even weeks and months at a time – you just keep plugging along playing your A-game. Easier said than done. Most people simply can’t do it. That’s why it’s a real edge for me and it makes me think of myself as having incredible mental game strength.

But a new mental game challenge has arisen and it has nothing to do with poker: I have become dangerously and irrationally scared of traffic. Yes, you read that right: TRAFFIC.

Here’s how it happened.

I’m a Type 1 Diabetic so I wear a device that tells me what my blood sugar level is every five minutes and whether it’s stable or trending upwards or downwards. When we moved from University Place to Lakewood, I was gathering some things from the apartment in UP to take to our new house and as I was leaving I noticed that my blood sugar was kind of low, so I stopped at Taco Time and got a crispy burrito and figured that would be sufficient enough to raise my blood sugar to absurd levels.

I was wrong.

And I wasn’t prepared at all. I remember I had something like peanuts or one of those Clif peanut butter bars in the car, but nothing to drink and it felt like I was going to choke on whatever it was I was trying to eat since I couldn’t wash it down. And I needed to eat fast. My blood sugar was plummeting. I’m talking danger zone and going down. This was all scary enough on its own, but I had just reached the terminus of Highway 16 and I was stuck on the I5 South ramp. My blood sugar was in a dangerous place, I had nothing to fix it, and I was stuck in traffic – there was nothing I could do. My survival instincts were telling me to get out of the car and start running, but there was nowhere to run to. Okay, so traffic was moving a little. Maybe I’m not here to write this if it was really gridlocked. But considering the severity of my situation it felt like we might as well have been at a standstill. Aside from having crazy thoughts like evacuating the car, I was also starting to see darkness or what I have come to recognize as “tunnel vision.”

I made it to a gas station. Barely. I mean I really was on the verge of losing consciousness on top of having a full blown panic attack. And that’s where the irrational thoughts of fleeing my car and the tunnel vision came from. A panic attack. It gives me a little anxiety just talking about it. Ugh.

I had a soda at the gas station and got my blood sugar back to a happy level and I tried to drive home, but I couldn’t do it. I was too rattled. I had to have my wife come get and I left the car behind.

Obviously you live and you learn, so since this incident I have tried to be well prepared for these things. However, last week I was running some simple errands and I didn’t bring anything with me to combat a low blood sugar incident and, of course, that’s what happened, albeit way less extreme than my previous story. But it was enough to remind me that traffic plus low blood sugar plus lack of supplies is a very scary place for me.

And then I went to a Mariners game last Friday. I left my house with my blood sugar pretty high, but trending down and with a decent amount of insulin coursing through my body, so I made the wise move to stop at a gas station before I got on the freeway and picked up a Gatorade and a package of those orange cup cakes that Hostess makes. I ate the cup cakes and stashed the Gatorade and got on I5 heading north towards Seattle. As I was passing the Tacoma Mall, traffic started to build up and things began moving very slowly.

I looked at my device and saw my blood sugar was trending straight down and the panic started to creep in. It made no sense. I ate the damn cup cakes and I had a Gatorade in the car. Not only was my blood sugar going to stabilize, it was going to skyrocket if I wanted it to. Nevertheless, as long as I saw that down arrow on my monitor I had an almost overwhelming urge to take every exit I saw. A police officer drove past me in the right lane and part of me wanted to pull over to the side of the highway and flag him down. I AM NOT EXAGGERATING. I wasn’t even thinking about the situation I was in – which was completely nonthreatening – I was thinking about what would happen if I didn’t eat those cup cakes or have anything in the car to save me. And the more I thought about this hypothetical situation, the more I panicked and I started to get that dreaded tunnel vision.

I was meeting a friend on the Light Rail and I really didn’t know if I was going to make it. I almost text him to tell him I was going to be really late or maybe not even go. Every time I passed an exit, I had to talk myself out of taking it. This was all in my head at this point. I knew my blood sugar was going to be fine, so there was absolutely no rational reason for me to be worried about anything. And yet, I was.

I made it to the game though. I managed to keep myself sane enough to keep moving forward, resisting the urge to exit the highway and eventually my blood sugar stabilized and the traffic cleared. And then I just moved on with my life like nothing happened. Not everyone seems to be able to do that. At least there’s no lingering affects for me.

Or are there?

Yesterday, with my blood sugar fine and plenty of escape valves in case of emergency, I was about to get on I5 to head five miles north and I saw brake lights and cars starting to jam up… and I almost didn’t get on. And then I almost did the same thing again today. It happened to be congestion because of a busy merging spot and then cleared up right away, but if this would have been full on traffic for five miles, I’m not sure I would have gutted it out. I had to call my wife the other day to distract me when I went to Costco because there was a little congestion before my exit. I’m getting hints of anxiety at red lights that take just a little bit too long to turn green! This is no joke.

At this point my fear is completely irrational. What I’m really scared of is having low blood sugar and not being able to do anything about it. When my blood sugar is fine and I have something like Gatorade in the car, just in case, there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of. And yet, my fear of traffic has reached legitimate phobia territory. This is actually a real thing. It’s called vehophobia. Right now, I’m a vehophobic.

But it’s not real. This is all mental (although I’ve experienced some pretty physical sensations). I have no good reason to be scared of being in traffic. So that’s the challenge. How do I overcome this thing and leave it completely in the past? I know I have nothing to be scared of, so why am I scared? I guess these are the questions I have to ask myself when I’m in the moment. I really have no interest in dealing with this for any extended length of time. Right now I can’t even fathom the idea of driving myself to Fortune in Renton to play 20/40 because it gives me anxiety to think of how I might react if the 512 or 167 is jammed up and that’s simply something I cannot accept. So let’s see how strong my mental game really is. Strong enough to talk myself out of a serious phobia?

This is somewhat embarrassing, but I’m not really one to be super private about things – it’s the writer’s nature. It’s no secret I’m a recovering alcoholic and I’m happy to talk about it to anyone that wants to listen. I’ve written horrible rap lyrics and recorded them in songs that people have actually listened to. And now I’m dealing with anxiety. It is what it is. And if anyone that reads this has any advice or has experienced something similar, feel free to comment.

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Dunkirk (2017)

July 26, 2017

Starring: Harry Styles, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh
Director: Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, Memento)

Bottom Line: This is not “the best film of Christopher Nolan’s career” or “one of the best war films ever” like many critics have made it out to be – it’s not even as good as last year’s Hacksaw Ridge, which hit me right in the feels. I’m shocked at how well received Dunkirk has been because it is absolutely hollow. Dunkirk made me feel nothing. Nolan is still a master at making beautiful films – Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises were both very easy on the eyes – but this is now the third straight film of his where I’ve left the theater thinking “eh” because of his writing.

Set during World War II in the city of Dunkirk, France, Allied forces are trapped on the beach and surrounded by German troops. The story has three different timelines: one takes place over a week following a group of soldiers on the beach, a second takes place over a single day following a man and two kids from the British Empire on a boat headed towards Dunkirk to help out, and a third takes place over the course of an hour, in the air, following a couple of pilots in dogfighters. The problem with these intertwining stories is we are completely immersed into the action, from the very first scene, and there is virtually no character development so you never really care about what happens to anyone or what is at stake. Maybe just knowing this is a true story and a number of real people were in a similar situation is enough to make some people feel something, but watching a movie, following certain characters, I want to feel something about them – and I never did.

Mark Rylance does a very fine job as the ordinary British man that sails into battle and his story is definitely the most interesting. In contrast, Tom Hardy plays one of the pilots and that entire story arc is completely devoid of any investment from the audience. How can you possibly care about someone when you can’t understand a single line of dialogue they say the entire film? That’s another issue I had with Dunkirk. Even though everyone is speaking English, subtitles felt like a requirement, particularly during the flight scenes – the sounds of the jets are so loud you can’t hear anything that is being said. While that might be authentic, the audience isn’t equipped with a headset like the pilots are. I suppose Harry Styles does a fine job as one of the soldiers on the ground, but again, I wasn’t invested in his story and even though the script follows a select group of soldiers it isn’t particularly easy to tell them apart, especially since I wasn’t familiar with the actors.

So yeah, Dunkirk is visually great, as all Nolan’s films have been, but the script falls short. Even though the movie is riveting and Hans Zimmer’s score adds lots of tension, the script doesn’t invest you in the story and there is simply no emotional payoff. Maybe I will change my mind when I watch it again but I can’t say I’m exactly excited about a second viewing. I appear to be in the minority in not loving this film, so take this review with a grain of salt and go see it for yourself, but I can promise this much: there is no way my wife, a casual film watcher, would have enjoyed Dunkirk.

Replay Value: I didn’t love Interstellar or The Dark Knight Rises the first time I watched them but I did see them again. I think a second viewing of Dunkirk would be more laborious, however.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: I would be appalled if Dunkirk was the film that finally got Nolan an Oscar statue, but the praise being heaped on it makes it a pretty strong contender for things like Best Picture and Best Director. I would have no problem with Dunkirk being nominated for Best Cinematography or and visual categories though.

Grade: 5/10 (watchable)

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Moana (2016)

July 21, 2017

Starring: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Jemaine Clement
Director: Ron Clements (Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Hercules)

Bottom Line: Walt Disney Animated Studios had a pretty massive year as both Zootopia and Moana are arguably the best films the studio has produced since Tarzan all the way back in 1999 (Note: Walt Disney Animated Studios and Pixar are NOT the same company). Moana is a spectacular blend of Polynesian mythology and coming-of-age story thanks to a large team of writers collaborating on a great script with amazing songwriting contributions from famed Hamilton playwright Lin-Manual Miranda. Miranda’s work here cannot be understated: I was singing the songs from Moana for days after watching the movie and immediately added the soundtrack to my Apple Music library. Miranda has proven that he is a master songwriter and a true genius and I am actually quite sad that he didn’t win an Oscar for “How Far I’ll Go.” He even makes Dwayne Johnson sound good!

Infused with a smart, funny script seeped with mythology, memorable characters, solid vocal performances from Cravalho and Johnson, and unforgettable songs, Moana continues Disney’s best run of animated features since the early-to-mid 90s.

Replay Value: This is one of my favorite recent Disney movies. I’d be happy to watch it again today and it will be a must own when we have kids.
Sequel Potential: A theatrical sequel for a Disney animated film used to be unheard of: Winnie The Pooh and The Rescuers are the only Disney originals that got sequels in theaters. Tradition seems to be changing, however, as recent Disney films Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen both have sequels scheduled for theatrical release in the next two years. Straight-to-video sequels are common for Disney, so it will be interesting to see what happens with Moana.
Oscar Potential: Nominated for Best Animated Feature and Best Song, but lost to Zootopia and La La Land, respectively.

Grade: 7.5/10 (highly enjoyable/must see)

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War For The Planet Of The Apes (2017)

July 20, 2017

Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson
Director: Matt Reeves (Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, Let Me In, Cloverfield)

Bottom Line: Chalk up another win for the rebooted Apes franchise. War For The Planet Of The Apes continues the franchise’s trend of combining amazing visual effects with storytelling that pulls on the heartstrings and another phenomenal motion-capture performance from Andy Serkis. Caesar really has become one of the best film heroes of the past decade and it is largely because of Serkis’ nuanced acting. This role probably won’t get him that elusive Oscar nomination, but many have said it’s his best work yet. Woody Harrelson provides a worthy villain, one that will make you hate him and actively root for the apes against the humans.

The latest Planet Of The Apes trilogy has had a great run, breaking ground with its motion-capture performances and awesome CGI, while developing plenty of non-human characters. I still think the first film with James Franco was the strongest, but the last two entries have been very enjoyable as well, although not quite as memorable. This is an obvious must see if you are a fan of the franchise and an all around strong sci-fi sequel.

Replay Value: It will be cool to watch all three in sequence, but the first one is by far my favorite.
Sequel Potential: Obviously this is a franchise that will always have possibilities, but I don’t know if there are plans to continue with any of these characters.
Oscar Potential: A shoo-in for a Visual Effects nomination but the series is yet to get a nod for anything else and Andy Serkis will likely be ignored again.

Grade: 7/10 (highly enjoyable)

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The Mummy (2017)

July 13, 2017

Starring: Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jack Johnson
Director: Alex Kurtzman

Bottom Line: Universal continues to struggle to jump start their Dark Universe, a connected cinematic world featuring all their classic movie monsters, ala the formula Marvel has made famous. Dracula Untold was the first false start and now The Mummy is supposed to finally get things moving forward but… it sucked. Okay, maybe it didn’t suck, but it was very dull and unmemorable.

We are introduced to Sofia Boutella’s mummy and Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekkyl here and there are allusions to vampires and other possible monsters, but there was very little to be excited about. You kind of hope you get to see Crowe’s Jekkyl turn into his alter-ego Mr. Hyde, but when it happens it’s kind of an “oh boy” moment. I feel like I can confidently predict there will never be a Dr. Jekkyl and Mr. Hyde movie starring Russell Crowe – the transformation was incredibly lame.

Tom Cruise does a fine job as the renegade hero and Sofia Boutella’s mummy is whatever. You’d think that a mummy movie in 2017 would be much better than the version that came 15 years before, but it’s not. The Mummy starring Brendan Fraser had a lot more of an adventurous feel to it and the lighthearted humor made it a lot more enjoyable than this one. There are some funny moments as Cruise and Jack Johnson have some pretty good chemistry, but it’s clear that the tone of this version of The Mummy is meant to be much more serious than its predecessor and it just doesn’t work that well.

The Mummy wasn’t scary and it wasn’t all that entertaining. I don’t think it was terrible and it’s not like I wanted to leave the theater, but I wouldn’t really recommend it. Not even to huge fans of monster movies. I think Universal has no choice but to move forward at this point, but they are yet to get their cinematic universe off to the start their vault of classic monsters deserve. It’s brutal to recommend a reboot after the first movie, but I don’t want to see this mummy in future movies and I have no desire to see Crowe’s Dr. Jekkyl again. The future looks grim for Universal’s Dark Universe.

Replay Value: I would never watch this again.
Sequel Potential: This is supposed to be the first in a long series of connected monster movies. However, as of this writing, only The Bride Of Frankenstein (a weird choice for the second film) has a scheduled release date and that is two years away! Johnny Depp is reportedly going to be The Invisible Man and Javier Bardem is allegedly the Frankenstein Monster, but there’s not much on the horizon. Universal doesn’t seem to have a very good plan and after two rough starts maybe this thing never really takes off.
Oscar Potential: None.

Grade: 3.5/10 (skip it/forgettable)

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Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

July 10, 2017

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Zendaya
Director: Jon Watts

Bottom Line: I loved it. Tonally, this is the Spider-Man movie we’ve been waiting for: a high school kid that looks and acts like a high school kid and is clearly in the rookie year of his superhero adventures, despite briefly dipping his head in the majors in Captain America: Civil War. While Spider-Man might have a high tech suit capable of amazing things thanks to Tony Stark, he’s still just a kid looking to help out around his borough and hoping not to be a loser at school, while waiting around hoping The Avengers come calling or he stumbles across something big.

Tom Holland crushes the role. We got a glimpse that he might be the right actor for the job in Civil War but now there’s no doubt about it. Holland is charismatic and hilarious and does some great physical comedy in the film. I think it’s safe to say that we will be seeing him as Spider-Man for at least the next decade and that’s a very good thing. He is perfect for the job and it will be fun to watch him grow up with the character.

The script in this movie was fantastic. I’ve heard people call it the funniest Marvel movie yet and maybe it is – it was basically nonstop laughs for two hours and all the jokes landed successfully. Michael Keaton plays Spidey nemesis Adrian Toomes, a.k.a. The Vulture, and, as expected, does a great job, bringing an everyday person element to the character that is usually missing from comic book villains. Toomes is a regular guy whose company strikes a huge deal to cleanup the aftermath of the first Avengers movie only to have a Tony Stark subdivision come in and take things over with little apology, despite Toomes pouring all his financial resources into the project. It’s a smart way to weave The Vulture into the MCU and screenwriters make some other genius decisions with this character as well.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is exactly what you want from a Spider-Man movie: great action, lots of laughs, a charismatic and funny hero, and a formidable villain with some emotional resonance. The film works incredibly well considering it doesn’t introduce Spidey staples like Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane Watson, or Harry Osborn. Most movies, even when they are good, you still want to end at some point, but I could’ve watched Tom Holland play Spider-Man for several more hours and I’m really looking forward to more sequels and Avengers appearances in the future.

Replay Value: I’d watch it again now and it will be a must own in my movie collection.
Sequel Potential: Avengers: Infinity War is due out next year and a Spidey sequel is announced for 2019.
Oscar Potential: Great performances from Holland and Keaton, but not really Oscar fare here. Of all the 2017 films I’ve seen so far, I’d give this one the edge in Visual Effects.

Grade: 7.5/10 (highly enjoyable/must see)

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2017 WSOP Trip Report – Part Two (the good stuff)

July 5, 2017

This is the second part of my 2017 World Series Of Poker trip report. In Part One I talked about the six non-WSOP events I played and the few cash game sessions I put in. This post will be all about the 2017 WSOP.

Those of you that are friends with me on Facebook know that I like to post sweat threads for most of the bigger events that I play in and I post a decent amount of critical hands on there. Not only does it make it more fun for anyone following, but it also gives me a great reference point for when I type up these blog posts. However, there are times when I’m not posting because I really need to focus so I’ll do my best to recall what I can.

My first WSOP event of the year was the $1500 Omaha 8 or Better, which was the only event I played in the 2016 WSOP that I didn’t go deep in. I’m looking at my sweat thread right now and I actually didn’t post a single hand in it and I honestly can’t think of any specific hands that really stand out. Starting stacks were 7500 and it looks like I peaked on Day One at around 18K at the end of the 200/400 level. There was a key blind versus blind hand at the start of the 250/500 level where I lost a bundle. My comment on Facebook says: “flopped the world and then counterfeit, counterfeit to get scooped.” If I remember correctly, I had an A23X hand where I went three bets with the small blind preflop and then I flopped the nut flush draw with three nut low draws and I paired on the turn and river, to give me two pair and a live card low, while my opponent made a wheel. I continued to lose chips, getting as low as 4300 before finding a double up just before the end of Day 1. I bagged 10,100 with blinds starting at 600/1200 on Day 2, putting me at 220th of 254 remaining, and only 136 players cashing – happy to still be alive, but not looking like a favorite to cash.

I did get to play with Jason Mercier for the first time on Day 1, but it was for a very short time. However, it was still notable, because he was sitting on my left and the player to his left was playing 30/60 limit hold em on Ignition while playing in this tournament and Jason keep peeking over at his iPad and making comments about the action. After watching this happen for quite some time, I finally said: “I wonder if anyone on that table would believe you if you said you were colluding with Jason Mercier right now.” Obviously, not a serious accusation on my part.

I led off Day 2 by getting scooped in my first confrontation, which left me with 4.5 big blinds, but I tripled up on my all in and an hour into Day 2 I had 32,000 in chips and over 15 big blinds. This gave me a relatively comfortable stack that I nursed over the next couple hours, but by the time the money bubble approached, I was back in the danger zone, with 4.5 bigs on the stone bubble. Daniel Weinman bet me $20 that I couldn’t remember the names of everyone at our table after the bubble burst, so when we all made the money, I happily collected from him also. I did triple up again, but my run finally came to an end when I called a raise with Ad4dQ3, saw the Qd5d3 flop, and eventually got all in on the turn, which was a 7. Obviously that was a very good flop for my hand, as it is really difficult to scoop me while I should have plenty of scooping potential. However, my opponent had a pretty miraculous A277, and a brick river gave him the knockout and I had to settle for 105th place and $2315.

Next up in the WSOP for me was the $565 No Limit Hold Em Colossus. Just like in 2016, I waited until the last flight to play this event. You only start with 5000 in chips, so it tends to play pretty fast. If you lose with a big hand early, you are likely to be out or crippled – there just isn’t much room for error or big folds. The first notable pot I played, I open with 33 from late position to 150 at the 25/50 level and only one of the blinds defends. The flop is AA3, with two diamonds, and she check-calls a bet of 150. The turn is a 9d and she check-calls 400. River is a 6 and she checks to me again. On the turn, I had determined that she was pretty strong, likely holding an ace or a flush, so I decided to go for full value by jamming 3600 into a 1500 pot. I guess it was a bad move because she tanked for a long time and finally folded 75dd face up. The early stages of this tournament are filled with recreational players so I just don’t expect people to fold hands that strong very often at all. On the other side of the coin, a lot of those recreational players might have taken time off work and flown down to Vegas just to play the Colossus and probably don’t want to bust during the first level… so maybe I misread the situation. Either way, a pretty sick fold that felt like a big missed opportunity for me – she’s probably calling 1000 100% of the time.

After four levels, I had built my starting stack up to 13.5K and I had it up to 18K during level five before losing with AA to J7 (!) and falling back down to 12.5K. By the 500/1000/100 level with the money bubble in sight, I was sitting on a 27K stack and playing poker with Cate Hall for the first time. I won’t go as far as to call Cate unlikable, but in this sample size of one encounter, she’s been one of the least friendly famous pros I’ve played with. She stared daggers at her opponents, had big headphones on, and I don’t think she said a word to anyone, except to ask for a chip count. In fact, I three bet jammed on her once with AK suited and had my chips in perfect stacks of 20 and totally visible, as easy to count as possible, and she still asked me how much I started the hand with. I had to resist the urge to burst out laughing at how comical that was. I’m not saying that everyone that has had success and becomes recognizable has to be an ambassador for the game and always be approachable and friendly, but I do think it’s a better table presence than being stone-faced and quiet all day. Shrug.

We reached hand-for-hand play around 11:30 PM, needing to lose one or two players to make the money. At this point, there were roughly 55 tables running, so each table had to deal one hand and then stand up and wait for all the other tables to finish. With that many tables, it seems like the bubble would burst on the first hand most of the time. I’m not sure how many hands were actually dealt because there was a lot of sitting around and waiting going on, but amazingly, no one busted for 45 minutes. Considering the circumstances, it was the sickest bubble I’ve ever seen. Shortly after the bubble burst, I jammed about 12 bigs from the button with QJ and it folded to Cate in the big blind, who tanked for a while before finding the call with A4 and doubling up through me. I got my remaining five bigs in shortly after and lost that confrontation, busting in 309th place and cashing the Colossus for the second straight year.

Next up was the $1500 H.O.R.S.E., an event that I really felt like I had something to prove in. I made it to Day 2 of it last year with over 50K in chips and managed not to cash after running a five street bluff and whiffing 20+ outs against a pair of 7s that called every street. Ultimately, I busted seven spots away from the money. In my initial post of my sweat thread on Facebook, I had this to say: “Not all tournaments are created equal: I want this one more than the others.” I had a really good starting table in this event, with zero notable players, three different players I had history with and none of them were strong. I felt like it was a pretty fortunate situation, especially when I glanced at the table behind me and saw at least four bracelet winners sitting together: Greg Raymer (1), Anthony Zinno (1), Vanessa Selbst (3) and Ian Johns (3). LOL! I chipped up steadily over the first four levels, with a stack of 11K at the first break and 17k by the second break. Unfortunately, tables were breaking the wrong way and my easy table broke and I got placed with 2015 WSOP Player Of The Year Mike Gorodinsky and another elite pro in Connor Drinan. I had just under 20k at the dinner break and I was mostly flat for the last five levels of the night before going on a little rush before the end of the day and bagging 30,800.

Day 2 started with 175 players and 111 of us would cash. I started Day 2 with 60% of the chips I started it with last year and I got a good taste of how bad I punted when I cruised to the money with ease this year. I’m not suggesting I played that big pot poorly and I would probably take the same line again, but it’s pretty clear that pot was the reason I didn’t cash last year. I was a little below average when the money bubble burst, but I had 62K after scooping a well known pro in a hand I thought was a little weird. I defended my big blind heads up with Q532 and check-called a bet on an A65 flop. I turned a Q and decided to lead out and my opponent called. The river was another A and since I expected my opponent to have one most of the time when he opened-raised from middle position, I checked and planned to call, hoping to get half. He did bet and I was pretty shocked when he turned over a naked 43 low and I got the scoop. I lost a big pot in limit hold em when the button opened and I three bet KK from the small blind and Don Zewin four bet from the big blind. The three of us saw an Ace high flop and, having no history with Zewin, I just check-called it down and he showed me TT, which turned a set. Having played with Zewin now and watching him play on the live stream of a later final table, I would have at least folded the river because he’s actually a pretty huge nit.

I ended up busting Mike Gorodinksy in this tournament, which is pretty notable because I had seen him go all in around 15 times (no exaggeration) and stay alive already. In fact, I had already joked with him that I was going to get all in for the first time of the whole tournament and end up busting before him. Alas, we got it in preflop when I had AJ92 and he had AT53 and I was in terrible shape after the flop came T62, but the board ran out a miraculous J-6 and I finally got rid of the toughest opponent at my table. I had 60k after that hand and then I played a huge Razz pot that really got my adrenaline pumping. The player on my left was playing super aggressive and seemed to have no method to his madness – just pure unrestrained aggression. I completed on third street and the player to my left reraised and we were heads up. I wasn’t planning to make a lot of folds against this player but he caught perfect on 4th, 5th, and 6th, while I caught bad, but not terrible cards. On the end I had a 9 low and he had a 456 showing on 5th street! Obviously, any number of those cards could have paired him and this player was very likely to run a big bluff, so after being in the tank for several minutes on 7th, I finally looked directly at him and said “I can only beat a bluff” and as soon as I said that he gulped. I actually laughed out loud after seeing that because the timing was so perfect I had to wonder if it was intentional, but at that point folding was out of the question and I put the call in and won a massive pot that put me just under 100K as we headed to dinner break with 47 left.

After dinner, the heater was officially on. I had 268k by the next break. We had a redraw at 27 left and there was nothing but wizards at my table… and then the last seat was filled by Wayne LaMonica. The first hand we played was Razz and LaMonica was first to act after the bring in and, at a table full of world beaters acting behind him, he completed from first position with the worst up card (a 10)! Naturally, moments later, someone busted at another table and LaMonica was moved to balance and the reactions from my table were hysterical. Basically everyone made some sort of audible groan while Max Pescatori actually asked the TD “are you sure that’s right” and A.J. Kelsall to my right mumbled “this can’t be real.” I ended up bagging 243k which put me in the top half of the remaining 18 players advancing to Day 3.

On Day 3, I went into hyper focus mode and didn’t post any updates at all on Facebook, but I can recall a couple of key pots I played leading up to the final table. The first one was against Esther Taylor when I defended a JJ97 against her open. I check-called the T82 flop and then check-called when the 2 paired on the turn. I don’t think she has a full house very often and I expected to scoop with a Q, J, or 9 river. The river was a perfect J and I lead out. I don’t know how great my river lead is since I expect her to bet all her A2 hands, especially the ones that are full, but I hate missing value on the river by trying to check-raise, especially when accumulating chips is so important, as it is in tournaments. Another key pot was against Max Pescatori. I can’t remember if I defended my big blind against an UTG open or if we were heads up in the blinds, but I do know I had a disguised AJ2X holding and I rivered a jack high flush on a double paired board and bet for value and got paid off.

By the time the final table was set, I was second in chips with 720k and only LaManiac (sorry, too easy) had more than I did. I had now cashed 6 of my last 8 WSOP events and was making my second final table appearance in 12 lifetime tournaments. Not bad! And it was particularly satisfying to final table the H.O.R.S.E., as it’s more of a testament to being an all around good player.

The final table was absolutely loaded: Max Pescatori is a four-time bracelet winner; David “Bakes” Baker and Brandon Shack-Harris are both multiple bracelet winners; David Singer won his second bracelet in this event; E-Tay is well-known high stakes cash game regular with over $800K in lifetime tournament winnings; and Kyle Loman and A.J. Kelsall appear to known quantities with rising status. I’d say that Kevin LaMonica and myself were the only total unknowns at the final table.

LaMonica was playing very crazy at the final table, doing things like straddling in limit hold em and completing dark first to act in the stud games, regardless of what his up card was. My wife made a comment on Facebook during this stage of the tournament saying that “one player is dumping chips to everybody but Mac (me).” Indeed, he had doubled up multiple short stacks in very precarious spots, but I did appreciate the fact that all of my formidable opponents were always at risk any time they entered a pot. However, it is safe to say that David Singer probably wouldn’t have won a bracelet in this event without a strong assist from LaMonica. I felt pretty unfortunate that I never really benefited from having such a loose, reckless player at the table.

Brandon Shack-Harris and E-Tay got their small stacks in a couple of times with safe results before eventually busting in 9th and 8th places, respectively.

With 7 players left, I found myself holding a four flush on 4th street in Stud high against Max who had an obvious pair of kings. I raised Max on 4th, planning to go with this hand and Wayne LaMonica came along also, and Max called. LaMonica paired the 10 he caught on 4th and checked to Max who lead out again. I had just under three big bets left and wasn’t planning to fold and I honestly didn’t think I’d lose LaMonica by raising – he’s the last player I’d expect to fold open tens – so I raised it up to get all in, LaMonica did fold (!), and Max put me all in. I didn’t have to sweat long as my next card gave me a flush and I more than doubled up.

Kyle Loman and “Bakes” busted in 7th and 6th shortly after and I headed to dinner break with 826K, which put me in third of the remaining five players. Max and A.J. were both coming back to less than 12 big blinds, so I really liked my chances of finishing in at least 3rd.

Unfortunately, I doubled Max up almost immediately after the dinner break when I opened with 76-3 two spades in Stud 8 and he defended with a 3 up. On 4th street, he caught a 4 and I caught the king of spades, which was a bad, but not terrible card. He’s never folding on 4th, so betting my hand doesn’t make any sense, so I checked it over and he bet. I’m no Stud 8 expert, so I really don’t know if folding or calling is correct here. It just seems like there are too many good 5th street cards for me to give up, so I made the call. Obviously I would fold if I bricked 5th, but I caught a ten of spades. Even though Max caught a 6 and could be freerolling me at that point, I had to make the call as Max was all in. Max had two pair and a three low at that point, so I was actually in a pretty decent spot to bust him; he bricked on 6th and I caught an Ace for some split potential but the 9d on 7th totally bricked me and Max got a full double.

I ended up opening another Stud 8 hand that I had to fold on 3rd (correctly) after the action got too hot behind me and finally I opened the 88-5, LaMonica called, and David Singer reraised from the bring in, I called and Lamonica folded (weird). Singer caught a 7 on 4th and I caught the 9 of clubs, giving me a three flush. I checked and Singer bet… It seemed like I had the best hand for high and I only had about 1.5 small bets left so I just went with it. Unfortunately, Singer had buried aces and I was in bad shape. I caught running deuces on 5th and 6th to take the lead, as Singer caught low and a brick, but he made two pair on 7th, and I would need to fill up to stay alive. I didn’t and I busted in 5th for around $45,000.

Obviously this was an amazing finish for me. It was my biggest tournament cash ever and my second final table in my last eight WSOP events. I’m really proud of myself, but in retrospect, I wish I would have played tighter in Stud 8. Fact of the matter is, I felt lost in a lot of the pots I played and the pay jumps were immense. Max Pescatori ended up busting less than ten minutes after I did and he made an extra $18,000 – that’s pretty huge. I would have felt a lot better losing my stack in Hold Em or Omaha because I would know I was making the right plays. In Stud 8, I’m not sure if I made mistakes or if I just got unlucky. Either way, it’s a clear area to focus on leading up to next year’s Series.

I got to play with a lot of notable pros in this event and all the people I final tabled with in this event were class acts with good senses of humor. Wayne LaMonica was an amazing presence and a game-changer at the table. Some of what I have said here may seem disparaging, but he took on a table full of players that were undoubtedly all better than him and played with absolutely no fear. He ended up going heads up with David Singer for the bracelet and had Singer almost all the way to the felt before Singer made an epic comeback to capture his second bracelet. Esther Taylor, Kyle Loman, and Max Pescatori were all really cool and E-Tay actually invited Dina and I to hang out, but we were unable to ever make it happen, which is pretty damn disappointing, as mingling with the elite players of poker is definitely something I’m interested in doing. I also got approached by Daniel Negreanu during one of the breaks in this event and we actually had a real conversation about the difficulties of balancing a relationship during the WSOP. I have to say it was pretty wild being treated as a peer by arguably the most famous poker player in the world.

My next WSOP event was the $1500 8-Game. I have to admit a hit a wall during this event. I had played 41 hours of H.O.R.S.E. over the previous four days and by about the sixth level of this tournament I could feel the exhaustion overpowering me. I felt like I got a pretty good starting table in this event, but I wasn’t really able to take advantage of the situation. I had a really loose player on my direct left that basically played every pot and played hyper aggressive. He was playing totally reckless and putting bad beats on everyone. I only beat him in one pot, when I flopped a set of sixes in limit Hold Em and he gave me max action. The rest of the time, I just lost every single pot to him, while he sprayed my chips around the table to everyone else.

I was down to 4k in the fourth level when I flatted a raise in no limit Hold Em with AJ of diamonds. I got my stack in after a flop of J64 in which my opponent flopped the nut flush draw with AK of clubs. He missed and I scored a full double up. I had a little over 12k after four levels and I didn’t really gain any momentum either way over the next four hours, but managed to peak at 16.5k heading into the last two levels of play for the night. At this point there were 160 or so players left and 70 of us would cash, but I was sitting on a below average stack.

As a limit specialist, it’s in my best interest to avoid big clashes in the big bet games (no limit Hold Em and pot limit Omaha) but I found myself in exactly that kind of spot when it folded to me on the button in PLO and I had the AJ97 double suited. This is a standard open, but my problem was that I knew the guy on my left was going to three bet pretty much every time – it’s what he’d been doing all day long no matter what game we were playing. So if I opened this hand, I knew that he was going to pot it and at that point he’d have half his stack in and we were going to have to play for the whole thing because there was no way I’m ever folding. And that’s what happened. He had AK53 and we both made club flushes, but his was the nuts and I went from having a decent stack to having a short stack. I didn’t find any good spots in the ante games to get all in, but I picked up pocket tens in no limit Hold Em and got my last ten bigs in, but David “ODB” Baker called me from the big blind with A8 and I couldn’t beat it at showdown. So I busted in 132nd at 1:15 AM after 10 hours of play and felt like I’d never been that tired in my life. I had been grinding mix game tournaments 10 hours a day for five straight days and my brain was ready for a break!

I ended up taking the next day off, but the following day I was playing what would be my last event of the 2017 World Series of Poker: the $1500 Limit Hold Em. No doubt about it, limit Hold Em is my strongest game and I suspect that I have more recent experience in this variant than 95% of the field. I got off to a rough start, dipping down to 5500 quickly, but I had an epic third level and emerged as the early chip lead of the tournament. In level three alone, I flopped three sets AND quads once and made it to showdown in every single hand. I also had an incredibly sick hand that I didn’t win. I had AK in a 5-way pot that was capped preflop where I got a QTxJT run out versus JJ. By the end of the level I had just over 19k despite losing that 8500 pot!

I was up to 24.5k after six levels and was getting to play with Barry Greenstein for the first time. I had gone through a dry spell and had only shown down one hand since Barry sat down (pocket aces), so I was pretty surprised when he called my UTG raise next to act at a 9-handed table and ended up showing me A5 of clubs to beat my AQ. That’s like a 0% play in my game, especially at a tight table, so it really makes you wonder. Barry was super cool though – funny and very friendly. Our table was pretty tough, so I appreciated it when it was breaking and he looked at me and said “pretty much any table out there has to be better than this one.”

My first significant pot at my new table is one of the most interesting LHE hand I’ve ever played. I got a free look with 98 from the big blind after four players limped and the small blind completed. The flop was T63 rainbow and one of the limpers bet, followed by calls from two more limpers, the small blind, and myself. The turn card was a J of spades, putting two spades on board. This time it checked around to the button and he fired in a bet. The small blind folded and I decided that the button’s range was too wide not to exploit. It’s unlikely he flopped top pair or better after flatting on the flop and it’s hard to imagine what hands he calls the flop with that have a jack in it, so I raised and the rest of the field folded. He called and the river was an ace. I continued my story and fired another bluff and he went into the tank for many minutes. In fact, I’ve never seen someone think so long in a limit format. And then he called… with Q9 of spades. Yes. Queen high. So sick! It seemed pretty genius until he said he put me on the 54 of spades, which makes it sound like he called because he thought of one hand he could beat. I peaked around 30k, but wound up bagging 14.4k after my 99 got beat in a big pot by AT. That put me 106th of 132 remaining players heading to Day 2 with 93 of us cashing. Maybe I’ll bag a big stack one of these days and not have to sweat the bubble? Not this year!

I started Day 2 off ice cold. In the first 75 minutes I only played two pots both of which I defended a raise from my big blind. I did score a double up when I got a T64QT run out with QT versus AQ, but that just got me back to where I started the day. Finally after over an hour of folding everything, someone in front of me raised and I played to get it in with AQ. He had AK, but I flopped top two pair and scored the double up. By the end of the first break, nearing the money bubble, I had built my stack up to a respectable 47.8K.

That was good enough to get my fourth WSOP cash of the summer, but I went right back into ice cold mode. By the time we had played four hour long levels, I had only entered a pot outside of the blinds five times – that’s just over one hand an hour! I dwindled all the way back down to 15k before doubling up with the K9 versus 77 and getting back up to 46k and immediately lost with AK to JJ and fell right back down to 15k.

I finally found some momentum by tripling up and then peaking at 70k after I opened with AQ and rivered Broadway against Alex Luneau. The rush I’d been waiting all day for was immediately extinguished, however, when the button tried to steal the blinds with 87o and I woke up with AA and lost a number of bets to his flopped two pair. I did end up busting Luneau to chip up a little bit one last time, but the same player that cracked my aces opened from middle position with A7o and I played to get it in with 88 and he made trips to bust me in 45th place for $3500.

I suppose I was happy to make a deep run despite having very little to work with on Day 2 and I should have busted with that AQ versus AK most of the time, so it’s hard to complain, but losing with those aces after being so card dead all day when I had finally caught some real momentum stung. If I had won that pot, I would have been a top 15 stack with less than 50 players left and had a real chance at making another final table run. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be and the guy that crippled and then busted me went on to a 4th place finish.

So that was my 2017 World Series of Poker. After this event, I was in 27th place on WSOP Player of the Year leaderboard, which kind of blew my mind. I really wonder what I could have accomplished if I kept plugging along, but I busted my last event on the 13th and I didn’t fly out of Vegas until the 21st and in between I just played the downtown tournaments I talked about in Part One.

I can’t help but feel like this was another wasted opportunity and a little bit of poor planning on my part. My wife made a deal with me that I could stay for the whole Series if I made a final table – and then I did that. But what I should have done is flown home after busting the Limit Hold Em event, take a week off to relax and study, and then flown back in time for the $1500 NLHE Monster Stack and a number of tournaments I was interested in to follow. But instead, I burned myself out in the downtown events and I was ready to come home and any chance I had of being relevant in the Player of the Year race evaporated.

Still, it was another great Series for me, as I cashed for the seventh time in my last ten WSOP events and made a final table for the second consecutive year in what has been a pretty limited schedule. Next year – barring the addition of a newborn or the latest stages of a pregnancy – I will be staying for the whole Series and playing my biggest schedule yet, possibly including my first Main Event. I’m planning to drive myself down and I might fly back if there is a big gap in between events I want to play, but otherwise I will be in Vegas all six weeks. I owe it to myself to really see what I can do over a full schedule and I think that I have proven that I am capable of playing for bracelets, so that’s my new goal: I want to win a bracelet.