Archive for June, 2011

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Check-Raise: The Road To Professional Gambling – June 2011

June 29, 2011

Poker is a cruel game. Even for the educated player, it can play tricks on your mind. For the uninitiated… good luck staying sane.

As many of you know, my goal this year was to make money gambling and through the first three months of the year, I had managed to eke out a profit, but it was almost entirely due to the rakeback I was receiving from Full Tilt Poker. You can read my update for the first three months here.

April changed everything for aspiring poker players when the FBI shutdown the three major online sites: Full Tilt Poker, Poker Stars, and Absolute Poker, making it impossible for players to gamble online in the United States. Of course, that happened just as I was realizing some of the major leaks in my game and starting to turn things around. I was already killing tournaments, but my cash game play was starting to come along as well. I had turned a profit in online cash games for the first time in many, many months. To make matters worse, I made my biggest tournament score of the year the day before Black Friday. So when the sites shut down and access to your funds became restricted, I happened to have significantly more money online than I usually do; and it’s still there.

With online play no longer an option, I turned to the local casinos, a bold move for someone trying to build a bankroll with limited money. I went from playing $0.50-$1 limit online to playing $4-$8 live, a significant jump in stakes even though the latter game is almost certainly much softer.

I had already identified cash games as a leak in my gambling. I previously noted how bad I was doing online, but my live stats weren’t much better. For the year, through April, I was down roughly $400 playing live cash games… plus in April alone, I was down $625 playing live period, whether it was tournaments or cash games. With online play no longer an option, my poker future was looking grim.

Then I went to jail for most of May. In jail, I read several poker books and came out on May 20th thinking I might have a shot at making money playing live poker. I only played for one week in May and 15 hours total and promptly managed to lose $298, logging my first losing month of the year. Also, on May 24th and May 25th, I managed to lose $450 in 3.5 hours of total play, such an absurdly bad run that I strongly considered quitting playing altogether. I was completely demoralized.

Being the gambler I am though, that notion didn’t last very long and I was quickly back in action in June. I got off to a hot start and by June 10th I was up $549 in the live game. Then, June 10th changed everything. I hit the Lightning Strikes Twice jackpot at Chips Casino for $1562 and had my best session of the year on top of that. By the end of the night, I was up $1809 total (after tipping the dealer $200 for the jackpot) and suddenly had a legitimate bankroll. By June 20th, including the jackpot hit, I had beat the live game for $3038 in profit. I felt unstoppable. I had a losing session here and there, but I was on a serious upswing, and my confidence was soaring. Unfortunately, the last week wasn’t so kind and is the reason I opened this post by saying how cruel poker can be. I’m down $715 in the live game over the past week and have felt completely defeated at times. Fortunately, I have the bankroll now to withstand this kind of big downswing, and at -89 Big Bets of my current limit, this isn’t even close to how bad it will be some other future time.

That’s the thing about poker that most people don’t understand. Even the best players are going to go through terrible streaks due to bad luck. It can be incredibly painful when it happens–which is not uncommon–but even a 200 Big Bet (-$1600 @ $4-$8) downswing is almost inevitable. But if you’re a good, winning player, luck always evens out in the end, and you have to win in the long run.

In total, I made $2406 gambling in June (more than at my day job). I got lucky with the big jackpot, but it was a great month besides that and now my goal to play for a living by 2013 seems plausible. Grinding it out at $4-$8 is going to be a long road, but now I have the bankroll to gamble with comfortably and never have to touch any of the money I actually work for. Also, if Full Tilt ever gets their shit together and cashes out their players, I’ll have a large enough bankroll to move up in stakes to $8-$16 and potentially double my hourly rate.

June Stats

Live play:
$3-$6: -$372 over 11.92 hours (-5 BB/HR) <— potential leak?
$4-$8: +$1342 over 85.67 hours (1.96 BB/HR)
+$1362 Lightning Strikes Twice Jackpot
+$164 in Tournament play
+$2496 total

Additional Gambling:
BlackJack Match Plays: +$15
Sports Betting: +$10
House Games: +$38
Side Bets: +$20

Overall Gambling since December 1st, 2010: +$3287.80

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X-Men: First Class (2011)

June 13, 2011

Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, January Jones
Director: Matthew Vaughan (Kick Ass)

Quick Thoughts: X-Men: First Class breathes fresh air into the X-Men franchise. The original series of films was mostly acclaimed with the possible exception of Brett Ratner’s messy X-Men: The Last Stand in 2006, giving this film some pretty high standards to live up and it easily blew those expectations away. Matthew Vaughan’s First Class manages to stand on its own while simultaneously giving enough nods to its predecessors that it works as both the start of a new franchise and a prequel to those earlier movies.

First Class takes a look into the lives of our favorite mutant heroes before they became established forces of good and evil. Set in the 1960s and amidst the Cuban Missile Crisis, the film focuses largely on Charles Xavier (McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Fassbender), and how they developed into the alter-egos we now know them as: Professor X and Magneto. Xavier is a young academic brought in by the government due to his excessive knowledge of the mutation gene and to help them against a potential new threat: a band of possible mutants, led by Sebastian Shaw (Bacon). Lehnsherr is after the same man, but for different reasons; Lehnsherr was a prisoner of war and his mother was murdered by Shaw and the Nazi regime. Upon meeting and realizing they have the same mutual enemy, Xavier and Lehnsherr team up, with backing from the United States government, to form the first class of X-Men, utilizing Xavier’s telepathic abilities to recruit other mutants across the world.

When I first heard about the concept behind X-Men: First Class, it seemed like a good idea, but the last X-Men movie was so underwhelming that my interest in the franchise was pretty moot. Fortunately, this movie is absolutely fantastic. From the story, to the casting, to the action sequences, all the way down to the music, this movie blew me away. I was on the edge of my seat and entertained throughout its entirety. The pacing was great and the character arcs of Xavier and Magneto are so well developed that the film exceeds its status as a pure action flick and dives into the territory of great film-making.

Though James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender aren’t complete unknowns, neither of them are stars. However, the casting in both cases is simply genius. McAvoy is charming, funny, and entertaining as Charles Xavier, turning a character I’ve always found mostly boring into someone compelling. While McAvoy is great, Fassbender as the future Magneto is the star of this film. Fueled by vengeance, Fassbender’s Erik Lehnsherr goes through the full development, reasonably transforming from a conflicted, anti-hero into the next big supervillain. The chemistry between the two actors is notable and its easy to see why, years later, Professor X and Magneto can sit down for a friendly game of chess despite their conflicting–and often deadly–differences. Magneto really is a fascinating character. One of the few villains in the superhero universe whose motives aren’t completely corrupt and self-fulfilling. While Xavier plays the eternal and sometimes naive optimist, Magneto arguably fights for the rights of his people. He’s almost like a violent Martin Luther King, Jr. This film really does a fantastic job of giving a believable identity to that character. Jennifer Lawrence is also great as Mystique.

At this point, you have to credit director Matthew Vaughan for knowing how to make a good action movie. Last year’s Kick-Ass was just the warm-up and this movie exceeds all sorts of expectations. It’s easily the best entry into the X-Men franchise and surpasses Bridesmaids as the most entertaining movie of 2011 to date.

Viewings: 1
Replay Value: I’m looking forward to seeing it again and will definitely buy the DVD.
Sequel Potential: This film works not only as a prequel to the previous X-Men movies, but also as the first installment in a new series altogether. I’m looking forward to seeing this portion of the story continue.
Nudity: None… but damn, Jen Lawrence, January Jones, Rose Byrne, and Zoe Kravitz all look fantastic.
Grade: 9/10 (Potential Classic)
RottenTomatoes Scores: Critics: 87% Audience: 88%
IMDB Rating: 8.2/10
Recommendation: A great action movie and character drama, X-Men: First Class is not only the best film of 2011 so far, it’s also the best in its franchise.

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Bridesmaids (2011)

June 6, 2011

Starring: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne
Director: Paul Feig (“The Office”, “Arrested Development”)

Quick Thoughts: It’s a shame people are mistaking Bridesmaids for a chick flick. Sure, the film has mostly female characters and the plot centers around a wedding, but this is a movie that continues the recent trend of really strong R-rated comedies, following in the footsteps of Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and I Love You, Man. And perhaps it’s the best of the bunch.

Kristen Wiig displays an acting range I didn’t think she was capable of. Between her small film roles and her current run on “Saturday Night Live,” I was a fan of her work, but she seemed to be a one-trick pony, often playing her characters with a holier-than-thou attitude coupled with a mixture of craziness and ditz. She didn’t seem to have much depth past that, but as Annie, an overwhelmed and self-destructive Maid-Of-Honor in Bridesmaids she gives a genuinely touching and hilarious performance. Wiig really hits all the marks in this movie, as her character suffers through the pressure of trying to organize her best friend’s wedding while her own life crumbles around her. The rivalry between Annie and the bride’s new, extremely wealthy and resourceful friend Helen (Rose Byrne) creates most of the film’s tension and also a lot of its laughs, as Helen’s success often challenges Annie’s self-esteem, providing lots of awkward moments for Wiig to display her patented one-upmanship. A lot of comedies add some sort of contrived conflict that its characters must overcome just because they’re supposed to, but in Bridesmaids Annie truly bottoms out and Wiig really goes through quite the range of emotions. It’s an impressive performance. One that will surely get the Golden Globes’ attention. Wiig has been a slowly rising talent the past half decade or so, but this is a breakout film for her and legitimate stardom may actually be in her future.

Wiig is supported in Bridesmaids by a pretty funny female cast. Fellow “SNL” alum Maya Rudolph and Elle Kemper of “The Office” aren’t given a whole lot to work with, but have some funny moments. Rose Byrne as Helen is a suitable antagonist: she’s gorgeous, rich, and mostly ignorant of her pretentious and snobbish behavior, giving her such a sense of naivety that you almost feel bad for her when she discovers that she’s the film’s villain. Wendi McLendon-Covey (“Reno 911”) is hilarious in a small role as one of the bridesmaids, providing most of her humor by constantly ragging harshly on her children and her retched life as a mother.

Obviously, this is Wiig’s movie, but if she’s Batman, then Melissa McCarthy is a worthy Robin. She plays Megan, the bride’s sister and a member of the bridal party. McCarthy has found some success on the CBS show “Mike & Molly” this year, a series that plays largely on the plus size bodies of its two main characters. As Molly on that show, McCarthy’s performance is pretty subdued, but she’s let loose in Bridesmaids and she’s much funnier than I expected. Megan teeters on the edge of sheer silliness but McCarthy manages to bring some heart to the role and makes a character that easily could have been annoying very enjoyable. She’s consistently hilarious throughout the film.

Bridesmaids is everything you want out of a quality comedy. Strong, funny performances from the important actresses and a pretty incredible script from Wiig and co-writer Annie Mumolo. It’s a shame that The Hangover Part II is cruising past $200 million in domestic revenue while this film has roughly half that gross in twice as many weeks of release because Bridesmaids is not only a far superior film, it’s also much, much funnier.

Viewings: 1
Replay Value: A must own comedy with tons of replay value.
Sequel Potential: These characters would be worth seeing again, but it’s usually a mistake to make sequels to this kind of film since continuing the story will usually be forced and unbelievable. However, the film has performed well enough to warrant a sequel, economically speaking.
Oscar Potential: Through the first quarter of the year, Wiig has given 2011’s best performance I’ve seen, but comedies are mostly ignored come Oscar time. The script might have a shot at a nomination though.
Nudity: The movie opens with a pretty gratuitous sex scene, but no nudity.
Grade: 8/10 (Excellent)
RottenTomatoes Scores: Critics: 88% Audience: 88%
IMDB Rating: 7.7/10
Recommendation: At the time of publishing this, Bridesmaids is easily the best movie I’ve seen this year. A very charming and funny comedy with breakout performances from Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy.

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The Hangover Part II (2011)

June 1, 2011

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zack Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Ken Jeong
Director: Todd Phillips (Due Date, The Hangover, Old School)

Quick Thoughts: I feel like I’ve seen this movie. Wait… I think it was called The Hangover and it came out in 2009. Sorry Todd Phillips, but no one roofied my Mountain Dew at the theater and I actually remember already seeing this same story. That’s essentially what The Hangover Part II is: a remake of a film that came out two years ago featuring the exact same actors. Sure, the setting is different–we’re in Bangkok this time–but the antics are only slight variations of what worked the first time around. Unfortunately, what made the original so good was how surprisingly funny the script was and the solid comedic performances from a breakthrough cast. Well, the element of surprise is gone for the sequel, giving the film a very bland flavor and a sense of “been there, done that.” Honestly, this film is such a rehash of the original that ninety minutes into it, I was shocked they hadn’t found a way to work Mike Tyson into the script yet… and then he “shocks” us by making an appearance at Stu’s wedding. Yawn.

Zack Galifianakis is still pretty funny as the sociopath Alan and Ken Jeong’s character is inexplicably written into a bigger role, but Bradley Cooper is stale and Ed Helms is basically reduced to jumping around like an idiot, although the film’s best sequence does involve Helms’ encounter with Thai hookers. I have to give credit to Jeong for his willingness to showcase what is possibly the smallest adult penis on the planet. That takes balls, and judging from his tiny package there’s not much physical evidence that he has any. Mason Lee plays Stu’s future brother-in-law Teddy, a 16 year academic prodigy that immediately becomes Alan’s enemy and a potential source of constant laughs, but he becomes this film’s Doug when he’s lost after the blackout and The Wolfpack spends the majority of the movie trying to locate him, wasting the film’s biggest opportunity for fresh humor.

If The Hangover was a laugh riot, its sequel is a mere chuckle fest. The first act drags quite a bit and the last two acts aren’t particular funny either. By a long shot, the funniest part of the movie is the end credits, when we again get to see the night in question play out through the various pictures taken. Phillips and co. struck pay dirt with The Hangover, but its sequel brings nothing new to the table.

Viewings: 1
Replay Value: Not much.
Sequel Potential: In 5 days, the film already surpassed the $100 million mark, but won’t benefit from the same great word-of-mouth that the original had so I wouldn’t be surprised to see it fall short of that film’s total gross. Regardless, it’s going to do well enough to warrant another sequel, which will probably be even more ridiculous and unoriginal than this one was.
Oscar Potential: None
Nudity: Tons… both female and male.
Grade: 4.5/10 (Netflix It/Worth Watching)
RottenTomatoes Scores: Critics: 35% Audience: 94%
IMDB Rating: 7.1/10
Recommendation: There’s nothing here that we haven’t seen before. Guys looking for a good “bro” comedy are probably still better off going to see Bridesmaids, a film that has gotten the same unavoidable awesome word-of-mouth that the original Hangover received. Don’t take my word for it though, most people I’ve talked to loved this movie and the general public has rated it very favorably, so if you’re in the mood for a completely unimaginative and mindless comedy, this is probably right up your alley.