Archive for January, 2016

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Current Rotation – iTunes Playlist (January 2016)

January 28, 2016

Apple Music has gotten me back into listening to new music and playing 30+ hours a week of poker helps me actually listen to a ton of it (when the other players will actually let me, which is actually kind of difficult because they usually want to have some sort of dialogue after every hand), so I thought it would be cool to share what’s in my current playlist every few weeks so I can give readers an idea of what I’m checking out and what is staying in steady rotation.

January 27th, 2016 Playlist:

Adele – 25 (2015)
Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color (2015)
Anderson.Paak – Malibu (2016)
Big K.R.I.T. – All My Life (2015)
Boosie Badazz – In My Feelings. (Goin’ Thru It) (2016)
Cozz – Cozz & Effect (2014)
David Bowie – The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (1973)
David Bowie – Blackstar (2016)
Dej Loaf – #AndSeeThatsTheThing – EP (2015)
Drake & Future – What A Time To Be Alive (2015)
Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – Surf (2015)
Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside (2015)
Lemonheads – It’s A Shame About Ray (1992)
Little Simz – A Curious Tale Of Trials + Persons (2015)
Logic – The Incredible True Story (2015)
Mick Jenkins – Wave(s) (2015)
Mike Stud – These Days (2016)
Pusha T – King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude (2015)
Revenge Of The Dreamers II (2015)
Rubble Kings Soundtrack (2016)
Tut – Preacher’s Son (2015)
Vince Staples – Summertime ’06 (2015)
Yes – 90125 (1983)

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The Revenant (2015)

January 27, 2016

Starring: Leonardo Dicaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman, Babel, 21 Grams)

Bottom Line: The Revenant was quite easily the most beautiful movie I’ve seen all year – from the cold set locations along a wild river to the amazing cinematography, it is pretty astonishing to look at. Of course, Leonardo Dicaprio knocks another performance out of the park. Playing Hugh Glass, a legendary explorer of uncharted America, his character is left for dead by his peers after being brutally attacked by a bear and he spends the rest of the movie, barely alive already, fighting to survive through the threats of nature, unhappy Natives, and his body giving out in order to exact revenge on the two men that left him behind to die. Somehow Leo gives one of the best performances of his career while barely having any dialogue. And though I don’t think it was his best work, the Academy might finally reward him with a “lifetime achievement” Best Actor statue. Tom Hardy plays the main antagonist, part of the group of frontiersmen, one in constant disagreement with Glass and ultimately the man that tries to bury him alive after the bear mauling. It’s another fantastic performance for Hardy – one that kind of reminds me of Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow – and continues Hardy’s history of performances so diverse he is basically unrecognizable from role to role.

I felt like The Revenant was the full package – it’s the sort of movie you really just have to go see in theaters. Great performances, amazing cinematography and camera work (that bear scene though!), and possibly the best score I’ve heard all year. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is developing quite the Hollywood resume as he has a very legitimate chance to follow up his Best Picture win for Birdman with another one for The Revenant. I’d be curious to know how many times that has been done in movie history.

The Revenant is a bit long and not for everyone (my wife was not very impressed), but I loved it. It’s as well rounded and enjoyable as any 2015 movie I’ve seen so far – a true must see cinematic experience.

Replay Value: This movie should look just as sexy in HD on blu-ray – I’m looking forward to seeing it again.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: 12 Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor for Dicaprio, Best Supporting Actor for Hardy, Best Director, and Best Cinematography. I feel like The Revenant is probably the favorite for Best Picture at the moment, but it should have some stiff competition from Mad Max: Fury Road in a lot of the technical departments, including cinematography. Not sure how this film’s score got snubbed – I’ve heard all the nominated scores except Carol and none of them were better than The Revenant.

Grade: 8/10 (Excellent)

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Entourage (2015)

January 23, 2016

Starring: Adrian Grenier, Jeremy Piven, Kevin Connolly, Jerry Ferrara, Kevin Dillon
Director: Doug Ellin (“Entourage”)

Bottom Line: Once upon a time, “Entourage” was a good, but not great HBO show that gave viewers a possible glimpse into the every day lives and struggles of a rising Hollywood actor and his closest friends. It was fun and plenty charming and I definitely considered myself a fan… and then the magic just disappeared in the later seasons to the point where struggling through the last few in preparation for this movie was almost unbearable. I’m sorry “Entourage” fans, but the show jumped the shark several years before it went off the air. It’s not that it wasn’t good anymore, it was just bad.

Obviously my expectations for this movie were very low but somehow it was even less enjoyable than I thought it would be. Vincent Chase’s career arc hasn’t always been the most believable, but almost everything that happens in this movie is laughable. I guess Hollywood makes bad decisions all the time – this movie would be a good example – but I can’t imagine the character of Ari Gold letting Vince direct a movie, let alone one as important as Hyde is supposed to be. We’re talking about a barely average actor that appears to have next to no knowledge of actual filmmaking. What’s even more absurd is the clip of Hyde that Ari screens privately and later claims to be “amazing” – I can assure you the footage of Hyde shown in this movie is nothing short of terrible. I would never, ever watch that movie and I actually remember a time when the movies Vince does actually So by the time Vincent Chase’s debut directorial film is dominating the Golden Globes you can imagine that I checked out a long time ago.

There are endless amounts of celebrity cameos in this movie, and some of them are funny, but much like E’s relationship with Sloan or Ari’s unrelenting dedication to being a total asshole, it’s all just so tired. In fact, I’d wager to say that the only redeeming factor of “Entourage” that remains from its earliest seasons is the character of Vince’s brother, Johnny Drama. Kudos, to Kevin Dillon and the writers for doing something right.

The Entourage movie picks up where the last few, awful seasons ended. No one should be too surprised that this movie sucks and I wouldn’t even recommend it to fans of the show. If you, somehow, remained committed to enjoying the HBO show all the way to its close, then I guess this is worth checking out, but this is a total skip in my book. Bad, bad, bad.

Replay Value: It was bad enough the first time.
Sequel Potential: It’s certainly possible, but I think this movie was bad enough that this story might be put to bed.
Oscar Potential: LOL!

Grade: 3/10 (Just Skip It)

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Love & Mercy (2015)

January 15, 2016

Starring: Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti
Director: Bill Pohlad

Bottom Line: Love & Mercy is Bill Pohlad’s homage to Beach Boys great Brian Wilson in his directorial debut. While there are plenty of references to Beach Boys classics and scenes of Brian Wilson crafting some of the great songs that appeared on the all-time classic Pet Sounds, this movie has much more to do with Wilson’s battle with psychosis and schizophrenia – and a sketchy therapist played by Giamatti in a relationship I never really understood (maybe because I was falling in and out of sleep for a few stretches) – than it does with the group trying to craft a masterpiece in the midst of The Beatles dominating and pioneering the music scene in the 1960s. The focus on Wilson and the director’s attempt to mirror the songwriter’s mental illness with a dizzying array of stream of conscious cinematography make the film more difficult than enjoyable. Still, the almost always fantastic Paul Dano is great as a young Wilson, and while this musician biopic is no Straight Outta Compton, it should please fans of The Beach Boys just fine.

Replay Value: Not much.
Sequel Potential: N/A.
Oscar Potential: Paul Dano got some acting nominations in various awards shows, including a Golden Globe nom, but no Oscar nod.

Grade: 5.5/10 (Recommended/Worth A Watch)

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Me And Earl And The Dying Girl (2015)

January 15, 2016

Starring: Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (“American Horror Story,” “Glee”)

Bottom Line: This small movie about a boy that is forced to befriend a dying girl by his mother got quite a bit of buzz during the summer. While the story is touching and the acting from the young cast is pretty good, it’s also a tad bit boring. I have found it very difficult to write reviews of movies that left very little impression on me, so rather than waste a bunch of time thinking of ways to convey feelings I don’t even really have, I’ll just say Me And Earl And The Dying Girl is a moderately enjoyable film that probably isn’t as heartwarming as it was hoping to be.

Replay Value: One viewing is enough for me.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: None..

Grade: 4.5/10 (Watchable/Forgettable)

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2016 Poker Goals

January 6, 2016

My goals for 2016 aren’t fully realized just yet, but I have a pretty good idea of what I want to accomplish so I’ll go ahead and share some of them.

Play 1250 hours

Even though this number is less than the amount of volume I put in last year, I think it’s a reasonable target. It would allow for me to play three 8 hour sessions a week, which is probably my happy zone, considering I work 30 hours a week at my day job. I will probably end up crushing this goal, but I just like to have a Mendoza Line for how much poker I need to play in order to keep myself satisfied.

Play 150 hours of Omaha 8 or better and maintain a 1 BB/HR win rate

As noted in my 2015 wrap up, I am pretty disappointed in my results in Omaha games. Granted, I haven’t put in a ton of volume – probably not even enough to have meaningful results – but I know I can do better. I can feel myself doing fishy things – limping with hands I should probably be folding, calling on the flop with non-premium draws, etc. – so there’s tangible room for improvement. Part of my problem is that my limit hold em game has evolved to the point where my playing style is almost entirely exploitive and I’m hyper-aware of what’s going on. I do not have the same game feel in Omaha, and yet, I feel myself wanting to remain unpredictable when my experience level probably calls for me to simply nit it up. Even so, I can see some improvement happening. My big cash last year was in an O8 tournament, so I actually won considerable money in the variant last year (no thanks to my cash game performance), and a hand from that final table stands out: in this hand, I flopped a ten high flush and value bet it to the river; by this point, the board was paired and I had rivered a wheel, but my opponent was now raising me after calling the two previous streets. To me, it was perfectly clear that I was being raised by a wheel, so I three bet with my ten high flush confident that I was quartering my opponent. He called and tabled the wheel just as I suspected and I took 75% of a critical pot. But when I tabled my hand, there was some commentary that implied my three bet on the river may have been reckless. Perhaps that sentiment is right, in general, but in this specific spot, the flow of the hand made it rather apparent, to me, that I was quartering my opponent. This is the kind of laser awareness that I frequently have while playing hold em, but I rarely feel it when I’m playing Omaha. I’m hoping to change that in 2016. My current plan is to play two sessions a month at Clearwater Casino in their $10/$20 O8 game and I tend to gravitate to the O8 cash games whenever I have time to play in Vegas.

Play 100 hours of no limit cash games

At some point, my game simply has to evolve to the point where I am a small to medium stakes no limit cash game expert. I feel like my win rate in an $8-$16 limit game has a ceiling of somewhere around $25/hour, whereas $40+/hour should be attainable in a $3-$5 no limit game. Last year I only played 40 hours of NL cash and the biggest reasons for my reluctance to play a ton of volume are: a) $3-$5 is a pretty high starting point – I’m super conservative with my bankroll and I still feel like playing in that game is kind of like taking a shot; b) I feel like a novice at a NL cash game table; and c) in my limited experience of playing live NL cash games, I’ve experienced a tremendous amount of short term bad luck – I’ve had AA < KK twice, KK < AA twice, and the one time I had KK > AA my opponent had a short stack. In what probably amounts to less than 200 hours of live no limit play for my career, it’s absurd how many times I’ve ran Kings into Aces, or vice versa, all with bad to terrible results. I’ve had a number of other bad connections where I can remember getting felted. To sum up, I’ve experienced the feeling of being the stackee far more times than feeling of being the stacker and it has left a bad taste in my mouth when it comes to NL cash games. Still, I can’t imagine having a future as a full time poker player if I’m not a NL cash game expert, so I want to start developing that muscle this year. My current plan is to play the Muckleshoot $3-$5 game at least once a month on Fridays when it’s at its juiciest and I may try to play once a month on Wednesdays as well, although the games are probably far less attractive in the middle of the week.

Do the Advanced Poker Training weekly challenge every week and spend at least an hour a week playing hands on APT

The last thing I want to do is help my opponents improve, but anyone that reads Card Player magazine probably knows this online poker training site exists, so if you’re willing to spend the money to join up, go ahead.  My wife got me a lifetime membership to this site for Christmas and I have to say I’m super impressed with the operation. A ton of notable pros (Jonathan Little, Scott Clements, Lauren Kling, Ed Miller) are active participants and the site allows me to practice specific tournament situations with specific hands and simulate live NL cash games without having to risk any money. One of the coolest things I’ve been able to do on the site is set up a tournament that mimics the structure of an event I’m about to play and simulates the level of talent I expect to face, without having to wait in between decision points. It’s a pretty sick site and I expect it to do wonders for my tournament and NL cash games as long as I put in the work.

Play 3-5 WSOP events

I’m ready to step up my WSOP volume, starting this year. I’ve played in two WSOP events in each of the past two years and so far I’ve gone 0 for 4. This year I’m planning to play the Casino Industry event and probably the Colossus again, but I also want to expand into some $1500 events. I know for sure I want to play a $1500 H.O.R.S.E. and $1500 Razz event and I think I’d also like to play the $1500 Monster Stack NL event. The WSOP hasn’t released a full schedule yet, so while I know I’ll be in Vegas the first week of June, I don’t know how the rest of the schedule is going to pan out. Also, I’m hoping the first quarter of 2016 is extremely lucrative for me, otherwise playing in $5500+ worth of tournaments in a month isn’t very practical – unless I have substantial backing, which is certainly possible.

Cash a WSOP event

With four WSOP events under my belt and as many as five planned for 2016, I would be running below average not to find a cash in my first nine WSOP events. Certainly cashing an event would help my cause to play more events this year… and it would also help achieve my goal of netting another career high tournament score. I feel like I’m on the brink of a life-changing cash and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if that happens in 2016.

Read through Jared Tendler’s The Mental Game Of Poker vols. 1 & 2 and do ALL the work

I’ve read most of Vol. 1 multiple times and it has done wonders for my mental game… but I still haven’t fully absorbed the material and there is still a ton of room for improvement. I’m pretty confident that one of my biggest edges in my normal game is how tough I am mentally (bankroll is another big one). The standard swings of the game have little affect on my mental state and basically no affect on my actual play while the majority of my opponents’ games fall of a cliff after a difficult hour and sometimes after losing a single, critical pot. That doesn’t mean I’m immune to mental game issues – far from it. I saw plenty of kinks in my armor as I struggled in the final quarter of 2015. It’s one thing to read the material, but it’s an entirely different thing to actually complete all the work Tendler asks of his students and I think doing so can help me reach the next level of mental game superiority.

Maintain a 1.25 BB/HR win rate at the $8-$16 level

I finished last year with a 1.12 BB/HR win rate, which surpassed my goal of 1 BB/HR, but I spent the vast majority of 2015 hovering around 2 BB/HR, so I feel like a loftier win rate is pretty attainable. I was running at 2.1 BB/HR for 2015 as late as October before the last quarter disaster shaved an entire BB/HR off my win rate. While I think 2 BB/HR is probably unrealistic in this day and age – I experienced very few stretches of negative variance during the first three quarters of 2015 – I do think a 1.5 BB/HR rate is possible, so I’m going to shoot for somewhere in between that and my 2015 end result.

Reach a $30,000 bankroll

Considering how much money I’ve made playing poker since the start of 2011, it’s kind of absurd that I haven’t already achieved this, but when I consider that poker has been my primary source of income for a substantial portion of that time period and that my expenses have hovered around $3000/month, it makes a lot of sense. As I’ve noted in previous blogs, I’ve had difficulty building my bankroll despite the success I’ve enjoyed, but I started to see growth last year and now that my day job covers all our monthly expenses I think I could see substantial growth in 2016. In reality, this should be an easy goal to reach, but I settled on $30k because I’ve felt like that’s the magic number I’d need if I ever decided to move to Vegas and play full time. Honestly, I expect to smash this goal in 2016.

I’ll probably come up with more things I want to accomplish, but those are the goals I’ve written down so far for 2016. 2015 was quite easily the best year of my life. I spent 2011-2014 repairing the damage I had caused to my life over the previous six years while basically running in place in my poker career, grinding $4/$8 games almost exclusively, and struggling to take any serious steps forward. 2015 was an enormous step forward and I feel like it has set me up to achieve even bigger things in 2016, which I feel is destined to be, by far, my best poker year ever.

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2015 Poker Year In Review

January 4, 2016

All in all, I’d have to consider 2015 the best year of my life. As far as gambling goes, it was my third best year ever, but I’ll get to that later. In my personal life, I had a lot of big things happen this past year: I married my beautiful, amazingly supportive wife, Dina, in May and then we moved out of Kitsap County across the Narrows Bridge to University Place in Tacoma in August. Shortly afterwards, I was hired to work at the Palace in Lakewood, where a slow day is when we only have four games going. This wasn’t just a great move for me concerning my day job, it was an absolutely essential move for me as a poker player. Sorry to say it, but there just isn’t a poker scene in Kitsap County anymore. Silverdale and Bremerton went from 3-4 rooms completely thriving during the poker boom of 2004-2007, to having three rooms within 5 miles of each other spreading multiple games at the same time as recently as 2010-2011, to having ONE poker room with ONE $4-$8 game – and maybe a second game for a few hours on peak nights, but more often than having a second game there was NO game after 11 PM in Kitsap County in 2015. You have to drive at least 30 minutes to find another option. Eventually, with a major assist from my wife wanting to be closer to her work and family, I found that option so attractive that I decided to cut out the commute altogether and just relocated. It was a decision that already has and will continue to let us realize a ton of growth. If you’re as sick of the Kitsap poker scene as I was, I have good news for you: people are still gambling in Pierce County and King County.

In addition to the overdue change of scenery, I also bid adieu to my last link to my 2010 DUI: the breathalyzer that had been installed in my car for the past 5+ years. Less than a week later, I got rid of my POS 2001 Pontiac Grand Am that I was driving into the ground and upgraded to a brand new 2016 Subaru Legacy. In fact, the only negative that remains from my past mistakes these days is a hospital bill for my emergency appendectomy I had in late 2008. With a balance of over $23,000 I simply have no intentions of ever paying it off. I still haven’t decided exactly how I’m going to tackle that issue, but since it is not on my credit report and doesn’t really affect my livelihood, it’s not really that imposing of a storm cloud.

Now back to poker. Technically speaking, 2015 was only my third best year of my poker career – in 2005, I had an absurd three month stretch that convinced me to play professionally and make all sorts of terrible decisions in my life that would lead to a downward spiral I wouldn’t really start to recover from until 2011; and I had a breakout year in 2012 where everything finally started to click – but it was quite easily my best year in terms of giving myself the cushion that will be needed to play for a living some day and continue laddering up the stakes. My new day job has finally allowed me to handle our monthly expenses without having to use any money I win gambling, so all my profits from playing poker are now entirely invested in our future.

As far as my actual 2015 goals are concerned, these are the goals I set for myself and how well I succeeded at achieving them:

I had a bunch of mental game goals for 2015, including: studying away from the table, profiling players at the table, improving my c-game, focus on how well I’m playing and my emotional control instead of focusing on results, taking notes throughout my sessions, studing opponents in tournaments to find mistakes and exploit them, and taking my time in critical pots. If I’m being honest with myself, I feel like I started out really strong in staying on point with these goals, but as I smashed the $8-$16 game all throughout the spring and deep into the fall, I got lazy and, possibly, – *gasp* – overconfident. I certainly stopped profiling players and I stopped taking notes of all the hands I played, and I can think of a few big pots in tournaments where I really didn’t think things through enough and made big, tournament-costing mistakes. Definitely not a great success here, but I’m way better at handling variance than I used to be. Perhaps the best stat that shows just how much growth I’ve made in this department is this one: in 2015, my main game was the $8-$16 at the Palace and, overall, I played 93 sessions totaling 701 hours for an average session length of 7.53 hours. What that number means is that I’m basically never quitting a session because I’m running bad. There may have been a time or two I should have, but most of the time, I powered through and, quite frequently, I’d limit the damage or even book a win in a session where I would’ve left a big loser in the past. It’s all about the long run and that’s a concept I seem to fully understand now.

I also had goals to spend less than 20% of my live hours in $4-$8 games, play 750 total live hours, and play at least 100 hours of no limit cash games. I smashed my 750 hour goal by playing 1487 total hours, including tournament play. I only spent 18.8% of my total cash game hours in $4-$8 games and over half of those hours were as the floorman propping the game at my old job. At this point, I think it’s safe to say that the $4-$8 limit is a thing of my past. I did not play 100 hours of no limit cash. I only played 40 hours… over 12 sessions. So not only am I not putting in the sessions, but the ones I do play are super short. I played three reasonably long Super Sundays at Muckleshoot before I started working on Sundays, but other than that, I was in and out of any no limit game I played this past year.

I did play 2-3 events at the 2015 WSOP – two WSOP events and two daily tournaments – and went 0 for 4, to bring my career total at the Rio during the WSOP to 0 for 9. I did not play a tournament series in a city I’ve never been to before but I did set a new career high tournament score with my third place finish in the 08 event at the Wildhorse Fall Round Up in Pendleton, Oregon.

I spent most of my poker playing time in the $8-$16 game, where I exceeded my goal of 1 BB/HR by maintaining a 1.12 BB/HR win rate over a significant sample size, despite a monstrous downswing from early October to late December.

My five biggest $8-$16 wins were: +$2230, +$1835, +$1697, +$1360, +$1246.
My five biggest losses: -$1847, -$1238, -$1166, -$1081, -$896.

I had a 0.48 BB/HR win rate at $4/$8 with my top 5 wins being: +$616, +$499, +$456, +$441, +$425.

I played 151 hours of Omaha 8 for a whopping $478 profit despite a -0.29 BB/HR win rate (I hit and ran the $20-$40 at the WSOP pretty good).

I played 93.5 hours above the $8/$16 level and maintained a 0.46 BB/HR win rate. Most of those hours were in the $10/$20 O8 game at Clearwater where I basically broke even (-$34) and almost all of that win rate resulted from smashing the $20/$40 O8 at the Rio for an hour and having a good $15/$30 Razz session a few days later. Basically none of these stats are meaningful – due to lack of sample size – although I do feel like my O8 game could needs work. I see no reason for me not to be a 1 BB/HR player in most O8 game in the United States – it just seems so attainable.

My best location was the Palace by a mile. My worst location for 2015 was Diamond Lils and I only played one $8/$16 session there and it didn’t even crack my top five worst that I listed above. I posted a profit for the year on every single day of the week, with my best day being Saturdays by a long shot and my worst day being Fridays, which is a bit bewildering to me (note: after digging deeper, I discovered that my average session length on Fridays was less than 5.5 hours, which leaves me vulnerable to quite a bit of short term variance – it’s no mystery why my shortest sessions are far less profitable than my longest ones). I only had two losing months for the year and the worst month was in April and I only lost $289, so all in all, 2015 was a consistently very good year.

I played in 48 tournaments, cashed in 8 of them (16%), for a 25% ROI. My average buy in $183, which is a significant increase over years past. I’ve never had a losing year of tournament poker – even when I deep into the misery of alcoholism – but a week into November I was down multiple thousands in tournament buy ins before clutching up for that third place O8 finish at the Fall Round Up that put me squarely in the black for the year. I also won the weekly H.O.R.S.E. tournament at The Orleans in Vegas in June and cashed two of the major Muckleshoot events this year, but if I said I was satisfied with my tournament performance over the past couple years, I’d be lying. I know I can do better and I know I will. That’s the thing about tournaments – when you make a mistake, it can cost you your tournament life or cripple you and you have to wait til the next event to plug that leak. Hopefully I’ve ironed out enough leaks that I’m in store for a monster 2016!

I was going to post my 2016 poker goals in this blog, but I will do that in the next couple days. Good night!