Archive for July, 2016

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Ghostbusters (2016)

July 25, 2016

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth
Director: Paul Feig (Spy, The Heat, Bridesmaids)

Bottom Line: Honestly, I thought this was going to be a huge bust and it wound up being a pleasant surprise. The casting in this movie wasn’t bad news to me, but I thought the trailer looked terrible. Fortunately, the team that was responsible for Bridesmaids – director Paul Feig and actresses Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy – once again find a successful blend of comedy and charm, reinvigorating a dormant franchise that has long been in need of a reboot. But an all female reboot? Why not! It works just fine, as Wiig and McCarthy are two of the strongest comedic actresses working today and they are as solid and funny as expected here, plus SNL’s Kate McKinnon absolutely steals the show in what I believe is her first major film role. She’s so funny we will probably all hate her in about 5 years due to overexposure. Chris Hemsworth is also a fun addition, hamming it up in the part of dimwitted secretary. Part of my concerns with the trailer were that the special effects looked overwhelming, ala Superman Vs. Batman, but all the supernatural hoopla fits in perfectly.

2016’s version of Ghostbusters isn’t going to blow anyone’s mind, but it’s a worthy successor to the – let’s be honest here – overrated original. That film is unfairly hailed as a classic when it probably tops out at slightly above enjoyable, which is pretty much what you can expect from this movie. The good news is we should all be looking forward to new adventures with this team of Ghostbusters.

Replay Value: Fun enough that I’d watch it at least one more time.
Sequel Potential: This reboot should reinvigorate the franchise for years to come.
Oscar Potential: None.

Grade: 5.5/10 (Watchable/Recommended)

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Steve Jobs (2015)

July 13, 2016

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen
Director: Danny Boyle (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting)

Bottom Line: Geez, this was kind of a bizarre movie for me to watch having rather recently listened to Steve Jobs’ incredible biography by Walter Isaacson. Obviously a book has the ability to be much more encompassing than a two hour movie, so it wasn’t much of a surprise for Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs to feel a bit lacking to me. Jobs’ adoption, childhood, and early days creating Apple are merely glossed over, but these years are critical in defining the moments the film decides to highlight, like his relationships with his first daughter and former partner Steve Wosniak. While the film seems to want to make Jobs’ maturation as a father the largest theme, being a dad never comes across as a priority in the book I listened to, which makes me wonder how many liberties screenwriter Aaron Sorkin made while penning this script. Without a doubt, the acting here is top notch, particularly from Michael Fassbender in the lead role, but there were times where the dialogue seemed overwhelmingly staged – like it was transparent that these people were reciting a script rather than the scene feeling fluid and natural. It really took me out of the movie at times.

Steve Jobs is far from a bad film; in fact, it’s plenty enjoyable, with great acting across the board and an enthralling title character. For me, seeing the father/daughter relationship play such a pivotal role in the story felt… phony. Family was not a priority to this man and while the movie somewhat highlights this fact, it also suggests that he eventually figures it out and well, I just don’t believe that to be true. Steve Jobs was always business first, business second, and business third. If you’re interested in the life of one the tech era’s biggest pioneers, I’d suggest reading his biography over watching this movie – you aren’t going to learn too much here.

Replay Value: It is quite possible I would enjoy this more a second time around and it’s also quite possible the things that bothered me the most the first time would bother me even more!
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Acting nominations for Fassbender and Winslet.

Grade: 5/10 (Watchable)

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2016 World Series Of Poker Trip Report – WSOP #1: $565 Casino Employee Event

July 7, 2016

Live Stream Link: WSOP Event #1 (Part 1)

I’m not going to go into details again about how disappointing my trips to the World Series Of Poker have been prior to 2016, but I can sum up by saying that I was 0-4 lifetime in WSOP events and I think 0-9 total in tournaments at the Rio, including a pretty big choke ten spots off the money in my first ever bracelet event. Every time I looked at the Rio while passing by, I just shake my head in disbelief – it was my worst casino of all-time.

My goal for 2016 was pretty simple: I just wanted to cash one gosh damn time and get the monkey off my back.

My third try in the $565 Casino Industry event that kicks off the WSOP every year got off to a pretty poor start. I chipped down quickly and soon found myself on the rail, but when the Tournament Director was doing his original announcements I discovered that we could actually re-enter if we busted in the first six levels. This was good news and as far as I can recall, this is new for Event #1. Obviously, I promptly re-entered and then the Boom Switch activated.

With my standard stack size of ten big blinds I found a double up with AQ when I turned an Ace to run down my opponent’s pocket kings. Shortly after, I ran QQ into KK all in pre and flopped a set, building my stack up to 30k. I almost found another cooler reversal after a button vs. small blind raising war resulted in my opponent getting all in pre with QQ vs my TT, when the flop came AJT, but the K on the turn gave him broadway and I bricked the river. This unfortunate run out left me just above average chip stack about 100 off the money.

When the money bubble approached, I was where I always seem to be in these situations: sitting on a ten big blind stack. As I’ve noted in previous blog posts, one of the biggest changes I’ve made in my game in the past year or so, is recognizing that hands that are +EV to push in typical small stack situations need to be reconsidered on the bubble and this adjustment has not only increased my rate of cashing, it has also helped me ladder up deeper in tournaments. I managed to nit my way into my first WSOP cash, but as fast as I patted myself on the back for cashing, I just as quickly realized that it wasn’t going to be much of an accomplishment until I actually made a profit – which, with two bullets fired, still required me to outlast 25% of the remaining field.

And then I kept on luck boxing my way into a playable stack. Being in the money, my ICM considerations weren’t really factoring in and I found myself jamming my remaining 6 bigs with the QJ offsuit from UTG1. It folded around to the big blind who had slightly more chips than I did and he went into the tank for quite some time before finding a call with A9 – which is a pretty trivial call IMO. Anyways, after a standard shove followed by a standard call, I found myself on the bad side of a 40/60 match-up that turned into a 20/80 after we saw the T86 all heart flop, with him holding a heart and me not – or as my favorite poker player and Run It Up ringleader Jason Somerville would say: “Fuck City.” I bricked the turn, dropping my winning chances down to 15% and boom, Q of clubs on the river for a double up. Wow.

Immediately following this hand, I looked down at the AJ offsuit from under the gun. I now had about around 13 or 14 big blinds and found myself in a pretty awkward spot. I feel like raise-folding with my stack size is pretty spewy and plenty exploitable and I strongly considered just open-folding, but after some consideration, I determined that was too weak and decided to open-jam. In hind sight, I think it’s pretty close, but I’m leaning towards thinking it’s a fold. I’m not exactly desperate with 14 bigs and I’m sure I can find some better spots to get my stack in. While I’m going to win the blinds and antes quite frequently, when I do get called, I don’t think I ever have the best hand and from first position, I have to get that jam through the whole table. Anyways, I did run into a monster as someone called with pocket kings, but I wind up making a one card flush on the river with the jack of spades. Unreal! At this point, my stack is significantly above average at 76k and I’ve reached the point where I’ve actually made money on my first WSOP cash! I can now feel good about achieving my goal!

Not too long after my AJ miracle, I open to 9k at 2000/4000 with QQ and it folds around to the player I doubled through and he winds up jamming his 35k stack in and there’s nothing to think about here with two queens, but I did have a feeling he was having a blow up. He was, showing the A8 offsuit after I snap called. Unfortunately, the board ran out 94288 and he steamed his way to a significant double up through me. Still, I could hardly complain as I felt like I was freerolling this tournament many times over by now.

After that speed bump, I started to rush again, doubling up with AJ against AT and then finding JJ vs TT to bust a player. By the end of Day 1, I bagged up a slightly below average 117k with 23 players left. TEN BIG BLINDS.

For Day 2, the tournament moved into the Amazon to the Thunder Dome for the final three tables. I was well prepared on how I was going to play my ten big blind stack, but it all became moot when I found myself all in with QQ vs KK 15 minutes into the new day. Honestly, at that moment, I was sure it was over. I felt like I had used up all the run good I could possibly have. I had already been all in for my tournament life with less than 45% equity four times and doubled up on all four hands. This is just what happens to me deep into major tournaments: I get coolered or unlucky and find myself hitting the rail, feeling disappointed and wondering when I’m finally going to have a breakthrough. I couldn’t possibly pull of another miracle… and when the board read 3236 after four cards, I was already mentally busted from the tournament, but then the dealer brought a Q on the river and all I could say was “wow” in total disbelief. No. Fucking. Way. And that was it. I just said “wow” and shook my head. No celebration. Not even a smile. I’ve been on the other side of that devastating loss plenty of times. There’s no skill in spiking a two outer on the river when all the chips are in preflop, just as there is no skill involved in coolering someone’s pocket queens with pocket kings. It’s just variance – and in this tournament, variance happened to be looking very fondly on me. I’m just never going to rub that in my opponent’s face by celebrating after sucking out in brutal fashion in an extremely critical spot. I guess it happens in sports all the time, but something about doing it at the poker table feels really tacky to me.

However, after that hand, I really started to think that I just might be destined to win this bracelet. I can’t ever remember getting so lucky that many times in a single poker tournament, particularly in the deep stages. I wasn’t just winning flips, I was winning when I was CRUSHED.

With two tables left, I won a huge flip with TT vs AK and found myself sitting around 350k, which had me primed for a final table visit. I played a rare flop in a relatively large pot with KK where I c-bet the flop, checked back in position when the turn brought a 4-card straight in the 789TJ range and then decided to fold when my opponent led out on the ace river. It’s a hand that I’d love to know what he had, but I just couldn’t come up with many hands that I could beat on the river and even some of his bluffing range was good (the smaller two pair hands might think they had to bluff to win a showdown). That hand brought me down to 200k, but with 12 left, I won another flip with 44 vs KQ and not too long after that I found myself holding the chip lead at the final table of a World Series Of Poker bracelet event. Is this real life? I mean, I’ve always felt like I could eventually contend for bracelets but I just never expected it to happen this soon, even though I have started to final table some bigger events recently. What a totally surreal experience.

The official final table bubble lasted an incredibly brutal two hours. Two full levels passed without losing the next player, with everyone playing tight and trying to ladder up and the short stacks doubling up every time there was an all in confrontation. During this time, I lost a big flip and some other smaller pots and found myself with less than half the chips I had at my peak by the time the bubble bursted and we all moved center stage in the Thunder Dome to play for the bracelet and $75,000 up top.

Next thing I know we are being instructed on how to position our hole cards and avoid blocking the overhead cameras for the live stream and my buddy Vince is posting links to the stream on my Facebook post and I can feel the panic start to creep in. I’ve had stage fright issues my whole life – I never gave a speech in class without feeling like I’d rather die and my rap “career” never blossomed because I simply could not perform in front of people. I even had anxiety when I was recording most of the time, despite the fact that my writing ability was honestly ELITE. I have also battled confidence issues that I rather recently realize stem from being wrongfully cut from an all star baseball roster when I was in my early teens. I was always one of the best players on my teams growing up and never had a problem performing on a baseball diamond until that moment, but from then on, I felt an almost unbearable pressure when a ball was hit my way or I was standing at the plate to hit. I choked countless times and performed FAR below my level of ability all the way through high school baseball. I suspect almost no one that knows me even realized how much this affected me and it seems to have carried on with me as an adult in many ways. It’s kind of baffling to me how no one that coached me recognized my problem or knew how to correct it. Anyways, as if the pressure of being center stage, knowing I was being filmed wasn’t enough, when I saw Vince post that streaming link for all my friends to follow, well, I could feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety come over me. I told him to take the link down. If I made a huge mistake, I really didn’t want it to be on full display for all my friends to see. Now, I’m not going to suggest that I have resolved my confidence problems entirely, but somewhere along the way, I realized that I was at a WSOP final table and pretty much no one I know personally can say they’ve done the same thing and I realized that no matter what happened, I had to be proud of my accomplishment and likely, so would everyone else. While I got absurdly lucky in this tournament, I know for a fact that I belong at that table and that it won’t be the last time I get there either. With all this in mind, I was able to find my comfort zone and be at peace with the situation. It’s tough for me to admit some of that, but I’ve never been one to hold back in my writing.

At the official FT, we weren’t allowed to use phones at the table, so I mostly stopped posting updates on Facebook that I can easily reiterate here, but I know there were three massive all in confrontations in a short period and when all the dust cleared, I was the player that ultimately suffered the most. Two short stacks got lucky on back to back hands and instead of laddering up two spots, I found myself doubling up one of them when my AQ lost a race to 66 and put me back in short stack territory. I managed to ladder up a couple spots anyway and then I doubled with 77 vs 22 and busted a player in a blind vs blind confrontation when I picked up 44 vs 33. With 5 players left, while sitting on the shortest stack, my most critical hand came up and I wasn’t even in it. One of the big stacks raised under the gun and it folded to the chip leader in the big blind, who defended. After a flop check and call, they got it all in on the turn with the board reading TdJd8d9x and the big blind holding a straight flush and the other player holding a king high flush (and not drawing dead!). Absolutely sick. So with 5 left, the player in second position and a massive stack, winds up busting, and I ladder up with my very short stack. It was quite the coup.

With four players left, I realized I had to pee. I had to pee BAD. There was about an hour until the next break and I asked the TD if we could take an impromptu break so I could go and he refused my request. The next 45 minutes or so have to be some of the most agonizing moments of my entire life. Can you imagine playing on a WSOP final table, with four players left, and pay jumps approaching tens of thousands of dollars, and having to pee worse than you ever have? I had a short stack and it’s not like the bathrooms were nearby. I really couldn’t afford to miss any hands. If you ever happen to watch the live stream, you’ll notice that with about four players left, I am basically never in my seat when I’m not in a hand. I’m walking around the table in total agony. Needless to say, there is no way I could have been on my A-game while this was happening and it honestly baffles me that the WSOP staff would force me to suffer under such conditions. It’s the Casino Industry event – we all work for a living and are likely playing for life-changing money. It’s inexcusable IMO. I doubt they would make Daniel Negreanu jump around the Thunder Dome holding his crotch like an idiot. Well, I outlasted another player during this and managed to make it to the break, but I imagine I made some mistakes in the duration and it’s kind of hard for me to forgive them of the offense. I even asked the remaining players if it was okay and they agreed. Ugh.

I didn’t last long after the break, eventually shoving my short stack in with J8 offsuit on the button. I think I had like 4-6 big blinds, but having that sized stack playing 3-handed is MUCH different than having it at a full table. I could have maybe waited another orbit, but I was close to having no fold equity and it’s critical to have enough chips that you can win the pot without a showdown. The big blind woke up with the K9 and called and I was not able to produce another miracle.

I finished 3rd for just over $32,000. It was an incredible experience and despite my early discomforts, it was a total blast playing on the final table. And just like that, I crossed off most of my major goals for 2016 and the Rio went from being my all-time worst casino to being my all-time BEST.

I initially meant to post a whole trip report, but this was much longer than I anticipated, so I’ll post the rest later. I will also add some pictures and the live stream link when I get a chance.