Sunday, May 31, 2009

Poker Mind In Depth Part II: Phil Hellmuth

[Content Disclosure: Poker Mind In Depth series]

We can't start a 2009 World Series of Poker conversation with Phil Hellmuth without talking about the "incident" at the end of day five of last year's main event. If you have read my piece on that night, you know that I disagreed with the floor call which resulted in a one round penalty against Phil that because of the hour, would have been enforced the following day at the beginning of day six of the main event. You probably know that after a meeting with Commissioner Jeffery Pollack and Tournament Director Jack Effel that penalty was rescinded. So I started my conversation with Phil about the new "Phil Hellmuth" rule that has been put in place for the 2009 WSOP.

The important part of the new rule is really not written down, but it is known because Phil actually attended a "sensitivity training" session with WSOP floor staff. Calling a player an idiot is subject to a penalty this year and at least a warning will be given. Phil was quick to point out that even using the term "these idiots" will not be allowed. 

P: "I actually think that goes too far, but I am for the rule change. Poker should not be about players yelling or screaming at each other. But this puts the WSOP and ESPN staff in a double bind because confrontations like have happened in the past are what makes for compelling television. I mean I watched tennis to see John McEnroe and we know fans watch for the excitement and for players who are passionate about the game. But this year I will just have to express myself in a different way. I will have to talk about how unlucky I get or about my play and not direct my comments at any other player."

I reminded Phil that last year the penalty/non-penalty was given without any warning to him.

P: "Even worse, I was acting and talking exactly like I had been for the previous six weeks of the World Series and then suddenly that behavior is being penalized.  I mean if there was a rule that is one thing, but last year there was no rule and past behavior without any penalties would indicate that I was within the acceptable standards."

I asked Phil if these new penalties are not actually meant for the professionals and for the feature tables. My point was that the rules were really about the image of the WSOP and sometimes new rules go too far.

P: "Well yes and no. Sure we will be watched more closely but we should be, we should know better than a first time player. On the other hand, I have been protected many times in the past by WSOP staff when I was playing at a table where another player just wanted to go at me because I was Phil Hellmuth. In fact that happens once or twice nearly every year. I am for the new rule, really I am. I just hope it doesn't go too far and take all of the interaction between the players out of the game."

Then I asked about rule 53E, which states: Harrah's will maintain a written log of all penalties throughout the duration of the WSOP.

Now that is the entire rule. Nothing is written down about what this penalty log is going to be used for. But Phil was told in his sensitivity session and media have been told that if a player gets a penalty say in Event #4 that should that same player receive another penalty in Event #32 several weeks later, the Event #32 penalty will be treated as a second offense and therefore the enforced penalty in the later event will be more severe. 

P: "Right, that is exactly how they intend to enforce the "log entry" rule. So I am going to be very careful in all the tournaments because one slip in a early event could cost me an additional full round penalty in the main event."

You can be sure that this will not be the last discussion Phil & I have this summer about the new player conduct rules or as we are all calling them: The Phil Hellmuth rules.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Poker Shrink to Poker Media: Take a Breath

[Content Disclosure: 100% Wisdom of the Shrink]

This is free advice from the Poker Shrink to all of my companions in the WSOP media. Take a breath! No really, that is not a joke or a metaphor, I really mean take a breath. Slowly inhale and ever so slowly breath out. Repeat several times. 

You didn't do the breathing did you?

Moving on. It is way too early in the WSOP grind for exhaustion and drama. There are still six more weeks of poker, chips, restarts, final tables and late nights. How do you plan to survive if you can't make it to the first weekend? Being the Shrink o'Poker allow me to offer some concrete advice, which you will ignore.***

1. If this is your very first time reporting at the World Series of Poker you can stop reading right now. You already know better than any of us old-timers and you will not fall victim to the ravages of the Series that I am yacking about. No, No you really do know better. Be on your way, ignore the shaking heads and muffled giggles, please continue with your 14 hour workdays and party nights.

2. If this is not your first time at the WSOP then might I ask: "What the hell are you thinking?" Have you reported one hand so far that has ended global warming? or solved the problem with stock swap derivatives? No. Then why exactly are you driving yourself to exhaustion?*** Poker Media like Poker Players are involved in a very individual activity. No one will take care of you except you and.. and.. and... you have been here before! Do we not learn from our previous follies?

3. Taking Breaks: This involves first lifting your numb ass out of that chair and at the very least leaving the Amazon Room, which does not mean doing a quick survey of one of the other tournament rooms. Leave the area, even better leave the Rio. Did you know that if you go offsite for a long lunch or even a workout at the gym---they do not stop playing the tournaments! Others will report on the meaningful events that transpire while you are away and no one will be the wiser. No really, your pithy words and earth-shattering wit will actually not be missed for upwards of two, even three hours.

4. Just to dispel some myths, which you use as excuses to work irrational hours:

-You are working for a new company this year and they demand more words --- check out what they did last year, you are doing that or better right? So take a breath.
-Something important might happen and if I am not here I will miss it --- so you report it an hour or even three hours later, its the internet, just how many readers do you think are hitting the refresh key on your brilliance anyway?
-Something important might happen (Part II). It's poker. A game not a sport and in theory at least it is suppose to be fun for someone, why not you?
-If I get a hand or a chip count wrong, the rabid internet fans will know it. Yes, they might and they might even flame you for calling the seven of clubs, the seven of spades.*** So what? Your self-worth is measured by an online forum post...

5. Delegate and share assignments. The reigning king loon of poker media, the great and powerful Dr. Pauly has hired himself help for the Series this year. If the good Dr. is now an shining example of sanity, what does that say about you? Myself, I have more to say and more smug advice to offer but the good doctor and I are going out for a leisurely breakfast and then perhaps a sea salt scrub at the spa.

Write On!
***Apologies to BJ, who does actually find such mistakes to be mortal sins, but BJ is different.
***None of this advice applies to Dan M. who does drive himself to exhaustion but never while actually at work.
***Yes Jen, I do mean you!

---for those seeking the next installment of The Poker Mind In Depth.... Phil Hellmuth tomorrow.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Poker Mind In Depth Part I: Mike Matusow

[Content Disclosure: In Depth Series: Poker & Psychology]

As I begin this series of articles I would like to mention how each of the interviews began. I told Mike, Phil and Daniel that there was no reason for me to pull any punches in our conversations. I would ask any question that seem relevant to their life and poker. They, of course, could pass on any question and if after answering they felt we should not use the information for any reason then it was out. I am not doing an attack piece for 60 Minutes. An open, honest wide ranging discussion was my goal. We then did an opening interview in which each of the players was very open and spoke in great detail about the issues they would face during the World Series.

I should also mention for new readers that I do hold a doctorate in psychology and the basis of these interviews was and will be the mix of psychology and poker. What we are seeking to reveal to the poker fans is just how a player of the stature of Mike Matusow, Phil Hellmuth or Daniel Negreanu deals with the demands of the six weeks of the World Series of Poker. Their coping strategies are different and the demands on their time and energy are also different. Today we begin the exploration with my first "In Depth" look at Mike "The Mouth" Matusow.

A bit more disclosure for new readers, I co-wrote the newly released autobiography of Mike along with Amy Calistri. So I have a fairly unique insider perspective on the life of Mike Matusow. I actually wondered whether there would enough to say about Mike that was not already in the book. About a minute into our first interview any concerns I had about Mike's mind being less than fertile ground for new material were gone. Mike is such a one-of-a-kind personality and he faces such unique challenges that his life is always full of surprises and insights.

For the 2009 World Series of Poker, Mike will be doing a few of the things he has done for the past several years. On the top of the list in Mike's approach to the Series is the number of events he plays. Unlike many players who are in the Amazon room every day and sometimes even playing multiple events in the same day, Mike likes a much less hectic WSOP schedule. He fully expects to play no more than 21 events and that number will go down as he makes a day two or a final table of an earlier event. For instance, as I write this, today at 2 PM Mike will be playing in the day two restart of the $40,000 Anniversary NLHE event #2, which means he will not be playing his favorite game Omaha 8 or better at noon in event #3. Already one event that Mike will pass on because of success in another. *** 

Another move Mike will make again this year is putting away his laptop. Mike does not play any online poker during the run of the World Series. In our book, Check-Raising the Devil, Mike repeatedly dealt with the distraction that online play can be to live events and several years ago Mike swore off online play during the World Series of Poker. Focus is a key part of Mike's overall approach to the Series. Focus and Patience, both of which can be affected by a bad or even a good run in the online games. There aren't any online bracelets being handed out this summer, so Mike concentrates his poker mind in the Amazon room.

The biggest new element in Mike's game this summer will be his new medication. If you have not read our book (you really should), you may not know that Mike has bi-polar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He takes a pharmacopeia of prescription medications to stabilize these two disorders. But one of the problems is that these prescribed chemicals do not always interact in ways that are advantageous to Mike's mental sharpness. Within the last five weeks, Mike has been prescribed another medication that seems, for the first time, to balance out the push-pull of the other prescription drugs. Literally, this may be the first World Series of Poker where Mike will not have to worry about disorienting bad med days. This might be the first WSOP where Mike Matusow can show up every day focused and patient. What that could mean for his performance this year will be just one of the areas where I will focus my Poker Mind In Depth articles with Mike Matusow.

***And then there are those times when plans change, as with any poker player. I showed up at the Rio today and found Mike playing in the $1500 Omaha 8 event. He took some early hits but told me that could only mean good things would come his way in the restart of the $40K and sure enough he more than tripled up to over 300,000 in the first two rounds today.

Next: Phil Hellmuth--new rules with your name on them.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

WSOP 2009: The Poker Mind In Depth: Intro

[Content Disclosure: In Depth Series: Poker & Psychology]

I have been promising an announcement about my special coverage series for the 2009 World Series of Poker, today is the day. I am calling the series: The Poker Mind in Depth. This will be a WSOP long exploration by the Poker Shrink of how the very top professionals deal with the demands of the six weeks of the World Series of Poker. I have wanted to do something along these lines for several years now but other writing commitments have taken my time during past World Series. Also there was the matter of gaining the trust of really top tier players to participate in a completely open and honest exchange of ideas on the issues surrounding these most important fifty-seven bracelet events.

I am happy to say that my first three choices to participate in these interviews have agreed, I am still negotiating with a fourth player. But already on board for what I hope will be a truly unique series of articles are: Daniel Negreanu, Mike Matusow and Phil Hellmuth. 

I have already had a long preliminary interview with each of these three poker superstars and to a man they were open about the issues they will be facing over the summer. From just these first sessions, I can promise some surprises and off the cuff insights. I will be speaking with each player on, at least, a weekly basis and more often should some incident or final table arise.

Stay tune for what I believe will be a completely different view on the World Series of Poker from some of the best players in the world.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

WSOP: The Magic Number is 40

[100% Poker]

Starting today the World Series of Poker celebrates the 40th anniversary of the biggest event in poker. Cash games and satellites begin shortly at the Rio here in Las Vegas. Like most of my media buddies I am semi-happy to be onsite for the big show again. Only semi-happy because it can be a long six weeks, particularly for those who do anything approaching live tournament reporting. Following all or most of the 57 events can quickly become a blur of cards, chips and players. On the other hand, there will surely be some outrageous moments that will only be captured by a poker writer being in the right spot at the right time. That is what makes following the Series so interesting for me. For true poker nuts, here is an article from the 2006 WSOP when I was the sole media witness to 101,000 chips being added to a tournament.

There is also the chance of being the chronicle to poker history, a new main event hero, an established pro making a comeback or finally winning their first bracelet. And, of course, there are the blow-ups, melt-downs and other deviations from the politically correct blandness the additional rules each year are creating. (Speaking the word "idiot" or "idiots" is a penalty this year). By the way before a long time reader seeks to call me out: there is such a thing as "poker history", I admit that. My long term position is that anything that happens during a poker tournament is not per se "history" nor history-making. But in the small "h" backwater, lower drawer footnote; it is poker history. My personal rant on the topic can be found here.

Meandering on. Thursday is the $40,000 anniversary event at the World Series. Interestingly the scuttlebutt among the professional players is that the field will be "at least 250" players. Many think it will be much larger. In contrast to the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament later in the Series, the 40K is no limit hold'em and it appears everyone intends to take a shot at this prize. But I have to wonder if a forty thousand dollar swing-and-a-miss is not going to send some internet wiz kids home for the duration, not to mention how many backers are going to balk at tossing 40K up front in what will inevitably be a very long summer for some established pros. The promotional glitz of having this anniversary event might be outweighed by the economic realities of the World Series of Poker 2009.

Just another question we will get some answers to as the summer plays on. It is now just a couple of hours until someone quietly whispers: "shuffle up and deal".

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Around the Town

[Content Disclosure: 50% Poker, 50% other]

Well I am fairly settled in for the extended stay in Las Vegas. I am actually within walking distance of the Rio and the Series but no one walks in the summer in Las Vegas. No 100 degree days yet, but they are acomin'. Got some poker under my belt and I am busy lining up my WSOP special assignment (announcement coming soon). Popped into a bookstore or two to actually see the book on the shelf and have been catching up with olde friends who have yet to abandon the foreclosure capital of the West.

I was at the Venetian last night for the end of the Laker-Nugget game three, I had forgotten how much Las Vegas becomes little L.A. on the weekends. Of course, nearly every sports book in town is located close to the poker room, they like the poker players drifting over for some sports betting action. But last night it was mostly drunken L.A. fans whooping it up.

I also caught up with Mike yesterday. We reviewed our varied views on the sales of the book so far. Mike, of course, knew it would do well. We also bumped around some promotional ideas and got ready for another week of PR interviews. On the southern coast, I see co-author #1 has been venting about the borrower-debt ratio in the poker world. Leave it to Amy to authoritatively address the meaning of deficit financing in poker without using the word degenerate.

Hope everyone is having a memorable holiday weekend, don't forget to take a moment or two to remember those who we are thanking over parades, hot dogs and beer.


Poker rooms I have played this summer:

M Resort -- NLHE (+)
Venetian -- Omaha8 (+)
SouthPoint -- Limit HE (-)
M Resort -- Limit HE (+)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Run (Not So) Good Challenge

[Content Disclosure: 100% Very Poor Poker]

I seriously may need to reconsider my plans to play more poker this summer during the Series. If the last few days are any indication, I suck!

I want to thank Matt Showell and the gang at PokerListings for the great tournament and the outstanding WSOP seats for today's winners. I hope they use them well and do us all proud. I, on the other hand, will be going to the SPCA to visit cats, somewhere I actually might have some skills. 

As I have said before in my "100 Things About Me" .... I write about poker much better than I play poker. Apparently, much better. Adding insult to injury, most of my chips went to Amy, when her desperation move (A10) flopped her a set (Q1010) against my AQ. I never really liked her that much anyway.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Da Book! Da Book!! Da Book!!!

[100% The Book, 100% Check-Raising the Devil]

Sometimes dear readers (OK, lots of times!) you have to put up with my obsession with the book. This time it is prompted by the photo above, photo-shopped and passed along by Amy's home game host. Hey, if you blow it up really big you can almost see my name on the cover.

We asked about how sales were doing and we told that it really takes another week or so to get any decent preliminary numbers but Barnes & Noble has put in a reorder sooner than expected, so someone is grabbing those new release copies. For Las Vegas residents, Mike will make an appearance next Monday on the local NBC affiliate--evening news broadcast.

And now I am off for a day of poker, may all be well in your world and may no one ever whisper in your ear: "A Queen and a Queen only!"

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Las Vegas: Where It All Begins...

[Content Disclosure: 23% Poker, 69% Las Vegas, 3% Where's Waldo, 7% da book]

Yes, I'm back where it all began. Oh wait, that would be Detroit. Well, I am back where I first (re)discovered poker... no not really. Oh hell, I'm back in Vegas for another World Series of Poker. I am dead tired from an early rising in the Bay area and the long drive but I am pretty much nested in my new digs for the duration (61 days). I plan to actually play some poker this week before the big deal starts over at the Rio. Bill did try to drag me out for some drunken $2/$4 at South Point tonight but the operative words in my evening are drag and out. So tomorrow I will get some felt time in.

As far as the Series goes, I have a project in the works that I think will interest and intrigue the poker loyalists out there. Something completely different as the saying goes. But more of that in the next several days. Stay tuned for what I think will be a very interesting announcement for the summer of '09 at the World Series of Poker.

Tomorrow a visit to the cat condos at the SPCA shelter and a stop by Cardoza Publishing, can you believe I have still not actually seen the book?! Lived with it for two years and now I just can't get a copy, hope no one else is having that problem. Hey speaking of the book, if you happen to walk into a Barnes & Noble and do not see Check-Raising the Devil on the new release shelf or table right at the front door, please let me know in the comment section below. Those slots are bought and paid for and we want them. You can, if you ist so inclined, mention the omission to the store manager, I do so cherish my uppity readers.

Off to sleep, perhaps to dream.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Run Good WSOP

[Content Disclosure: 100% Poker]

Slowly over the next several weeks you will notice a trend back to all things poker here on my little blog. The World Series approaches and I am headed back to Las Vegas in less than a week.

But today marks the renewal of the PokerListings Run-Good Challenge. A motley gaggle of poker bloggers will be competing for a $1500 WSOP seat. This should make for an interesting morning here in foggy San Francisco. Here's hoping someone wins who will actually make it to the Amazon room and do all of da bloggas proud.

UPDATE: I got no cards, I suck at poker, maybe next week. Hope springs eternal on every two outer.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How Do You Mend?

[Content Disclosure: 0% Poker, 0.3% The Book, . . . 99% other things like love and loss]

"Eventually time passed and had its way with him; not so much a matter of forgetting as of bleaching, or numbing. We look at the past through the wrong end of the telescope, he thought one day; eventually the things we can see in there become simply too small to hurt us." --Kim Stanley Robinson
I like the word bleaching as used here. The slow inexorable loss of color and vitality. When it comes to matters of love or more specifically love lost--the emotion drains away like it is being bleached by time. You can conjure the pain or the sense of loss almost endless, until you can't. Eventually you pick at the scab and find it is gone and the new smooth skin heals. But does the heart callous?
I am not so fond of the image of looking at the past through the wrong end of a telescope. In fact, like Sartre, I think we can alter our past by acting in the present. One man's poison is another man's bread (from my formative years working in the pharmacy). What was once evil may become light as wisdom and experience build but you have to be alert for what is new growth and what is scar tissue.
One wonders about reanimating the bleached dessicated memories and should be warned against it despite the siren lure of once again into the crotch of the beast. What is that writing competition where the winner strings together endless disembodied imagries? And what is the 96th most popular Biography on right now?
The sodden, somber silence of the what-might-have-been.
"Lost chances."
"Right, The fate of chance."
"Some fate is character."
"Sure, But most fate is fate. It's what picks you up and carries you off. Who you meet by accident, what happens--what you feel inside, no matter what you think. And it affects everything. Everything! Every thing. People argue about politics, and policy, the reasons why people did this or that--but it's always the personal stuff that mattered."
"It's always the stuff they don't write about. The stuff they can't write about. The look in someone's eye."
"Right, the way something catches you..."
"The way it carries you away."
"Like falling in love. Whatever the hell that means."
"That's it, sure. Falling in love, being loved back--"
"Or not."
"Right, or not! And everything changes."
"And no one knows why! And later on, or from anywhere on the outside, they look at your story and they say that story makes no sense."
"When if you only knew--"
"Then it would make sense."
"Yes. Perfect sense."
"It would be the story of the heart, every time."
"A history of emotions, If you could do it."
"It would be the heart's story." --Kim Stanley Robinson
I gotta learn to write like that.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

2,241 and falling

[Content Disclosure/Warning: a first time author prattles on about da book...]
The book is out. Check-Raising the Devil though scheduled for release next Tuesday is now in bookstores thoughout U.S. and Amazon has been shipping since late last week. Reviews are beginning and the authors after many weeks of "post-editing" depression are once again 'all book, all the time.'
One fascinating and addictive author pass time (pencil sharpening endeavor) is to follow your books "Best Seller" ranking on Amazon. Several months ago when the book was first put up for cyber pre-orders, we were something like the 333,128th best seller on the site and falling (rising?) slowly. Then someone actually pre-ordered a copy and we rocketed up to 275,231st. Naturally both Amy and I had to go and read what we could find about the Amazon algorithm. Its complicated and nowhere approaching linear, enough said.
Over the next few months we found ourselves eventually breaking under 100K and a few weeks ago after hovering in the 50,000-100,000 range for weeks, we suddenly got some press and starting a slow but steady downward climb. Now this past week with the book actually out but not officially released, we saw our first fourth digit ranking followed by a quick dash down under 5,000 then 4,000. Last night we got our first heady taste in the land on the top 2,241 bestsellers on Amazon.
Can three digits we far behind? (and will they blog it?)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


[Content Disclosure: Life, Home, Poker, Plans within plans]

"You are much better prepared than most to tolerate ambiguity." A.C.

Once again I am packing my ever fewer belongings and heading off to no place in particular. This time I am truly without a home, house or condo of my own. Since I hit the road again in October of 2006 I have spent 21 months in Bill & Kathy's retirement home in Henderson, but then they went and actually retired. Another 7 months in a condo on the south side of Las Vegas and recently a bit more than 3 months in my friend's tiny cottage in Sonoma. But as of Thursday I am anchored precisely nowhere. No bed, no key, no cat, no place to plug in my Wi-Fi.

I plan to spend a couple of weeks with Bay area friends before wandering back to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker. So I have a room in Vegas until July 20th and then once again I really have no idea. The vagaries of the poker writing market suggests that it is time to look elsewhere for an income stream. Perhaps just as well--the jaded would suggest that poker players all have just one name that clearly is not the case. But I wonder what else there is to cover in the world of poker, after all the best story is about to be told.

The last time I pondered the "where next?" question I had several options. Apparently this time I have even more because there is no location at the top of the list, nothing in second place either and no outlandish Texas options in the running this time around. I guess it really is turtles all the way down.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Matusow Chapter One

[Content Disclosure: Check-Raising the Devil]
We are just about a week away from the release of Check-Raising the Devil, the Mike Matusow autobiography that I co-wrote with Mike and Amy Calistri. Amy and I thought we would give all of our readers a look at what we had originally submitted as a prologue to the book. As it turns out, this was not used in the final edition, but may be the opening scene in the upcoming movie based on Mike’s life.
This prologue or chapter one was negotiated out in the editing process for a new chapter one, which begins the book in a slightly different place. You can read that opening on May 12th when the book is released. For now here is my version of how the book might have opened. Amy is putting up her own version on her blog: Aimlessly Chasing Amy. I think you will find they are close but not identical, which is how we worked on the book for the last two years: cooperatively separate.
Oh and you can order Check-Raising the Devil from by using that button up there on the top of the right hand column. They will deliver on the 12th if you order now.
It was July 14th and going to be another scorcher in Las Vegas; at noon the radio said it was already 105. I was driving downtown to Binion’s Horseshoe for the next-to-last day of the 2005 main event. For six straight years, I'd made a final table in at least one event at the World Series of Poker. But forty-four tournaments had already been played at the 2005 World Series and I had nothing to show for it except one small cash in the very first event. The only way I was going to keep my streak alive was to fight my way through the field today. But this was the main event. If I was going to make just one final, this was the one. Hell, it was the one final table that every poker player on the planet dreamed of making.
The poker boom was in full swing and the 2005 Championship had drawn more starting players than ever before; over fifty-six hundred players had paid their $10,000 entry into the No Limit Texas Hold’em main event. Harrah’s was claiming that it was the largest sporting event in history. The winner would take home $7.5 million and every one of the final nine players would leave a millionaire. That’s right, ninth place would get one million dollars. Only five years earlier, ninth place had paid less than seventy-five grand; that’s how big and how fast poker had grown.
For five days I'd played the best damn poker of my life. I only needed to maintain my focus for two more days. Today, we'd start with twenty-seven players and play down to the final nine. Eighteen players would hit the rail today, a few cards short of their dream. Only a few big names professionals remained in the field. Phil Ivey, Minh Ly and the reigning 2004 World Series Champion Greg Raymer were all still in the hunt. The four of us would all be starting with above-average chip stacks. Going into the day I had one and only one goal. I was going to be in the final nine, no matter what it took to get there.
As I pulled into the Binion’s valet, I called Michael Craig on my cell phone. Michael had flown into town from Arizona the night before to support me today. He asked me to meet him outside on Fremont Street. I ducked inside Binion’s and snaked my way through the dark casino until I finally stepped back out into daylight onto the Fremont mall. I spotted Michaela about fifty yards away on the other side of First Street.
When I reached him, he said, “I wanted to meet you here today. Do you know where we are?”
”Of course I know where we are. We’re outside in the middle of the desert on the hottest fucking day of the year.”
”No,” he said. “That’s not what I mean. I mean we’re right outside of Binion’s.” He pointed at the big Horseshoe sign.
“Yeah, I know. I was just in there and it was about 50 degrees cooler.”
He laughed, but I knew Michael; he was a really good friend. I knew we must be out here in this blazing oven for a reason.
“Take a look down there” he said, as he turned and pointed down First Street; “We’re also just about two blocks from the Clark County Detention Center.”
I looked to where he was pointing. I could just make out the jail where I had just spent six months of my life.
“Not too many people actually get to see their own crossroads, Mikey. Everything you’ve gone through this year has made you stronger. Think about that today.”
I started thinking about that building down on First Street. I'd been out of jail less than three months and just seeing the Detention Center, even from a distance, started to weigh on me. I didn’t need that distraction right now.
I heard Michael say, “Do you realize that you’re already guaranteed more money from this tournament than you’ve ever made in any single event in your life?”
What Michael said about the money was true. I'd won a quarter of a million dollars in Aruba right before I went to jail. The first player to bust out at Binion’s today was guaranteed over $300,000. What Michael was saying about the money was true, but I couldn’t focus on the money yet.
For me, this wasn't about money or even a crossroads. My job today was to lift chips off of inexperienced players and stay out of the way of the other big stacks. The new players to the main event would be impatient, but I knew there'd be time to pick my spots. I knew, because I'd been here before. I made the 2001 Championship final table – sure I was doing crystal meth at the time, but my drug days were now long behind me. Jail was behind me. The only obstacles that mattered to me now were the eighteen players that needed to bust today so I could make this main event final table.
I turned to Michael and said "Only suckers are thinking about the guaranteed money today. Let’s get the fuck out of this heat."

He smiled, “O.K. Mike.” He nodded and patted me on the back, “O.K.”
As we walked back to Binion’s I stared at the large neon Horseshoe sign. It had always been the heartbeat of downtown Vegas, going back to when Glitter Gulch was in its heyday. I remember thinking that this was the last World Series final table that was ever going to be played at Binion’s. Harrah’s had already moved all the preliminary events to the Rio and in two days the World Series of Poker would leave Binion’s forever. I was pretty sure the once great gambling hall wasn’t going to get a second chance to relive its glory days.
I had a lot of experience with these kinds of things. I had become a fucking expert on second chances.