Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Godspeed Sparky! Golden Emperor

In late May of this year I began my annual pilgrimage to poker's Mecca, the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, Nevada. I made the cross country trip alone, per usual, disappointed in my lack of a companion but enjoying the time on the road.

I wouldn't be so disappointed on the ride home. We rented a house a couple miles East of the strip, a group of five (Dan, Nelson, Noah, Dave, and myself) that would soon add a sixth.

A couple weeks into the summer we awoke one morning to find a tiny, emaciated little dog cowering in the corner next to our front door. When I opened the door it backed away timidly, clearly skittish at any attempts to be pet or touched. I wandered to the kitchen and grabbed a bowl of water which was empty within seconds of touching the ground outside. Vegas isn't the easiest place to stay hydrated. I returned to the kitchen for another bowl, which was again rapidly Hoovered. Figuring the dog would likely be hungry, I searched for anything that could be possibly deemed appropriate as dog-food substitute and came up with a couple of slices of bread. Dropping them to the ground outside they vanished in a matter of seconds. I had to get ready for a day of live poker so I took a quick shower and as I got ready to leave placed another bowl of water and a couple slices of bread outside the door and watched our new friend creep back out from behind the corner of the house and get back down to business.

When I returned from a little bit of poker I found that our friend was still hanging out around our front door but we were all loth to bring her inside a rental house that strictly forbade pets, especially considering we had no idea where our pal had come from. For reasons unbeknownst to me the name Sparky had popped into my head and it instantly stuck. I made the common assumption that our dog was a male, not having taken a close look at the nether-regions as we still had a hard time getting close to the dog. A week later, I held Sparky up to the camera on Skype chat and Hannah readily identified Sparky's genitalia as a vagina, and asked how in the world we hadn't figured that out yet.

We expected Sparky to casually go her way at some point or another, but each morning when we woke up we found her asleep on our doorstep, sometimes curled up in a ball in the corner, sometimes sprawling across the mat on her back, flashing the world. And each day she got more and more accustomed to our contact and we got more accustomed to having a new house guest. After a couple of days I decided to experiment and let her inside. She took to the new playground quickly and we soon realized that we had an incredible athlete on our hands. If Sparky wanted to go outside, she indicated it by jumping vertically at the door, but with a running start and a push off the door itself so that she could launch her one-and-a-half foot body about three feet in the air, landing on her feet and then bouncing back up to do it again. A visitor aptly described her as a pogo stick. Our living room suddenly became an obstacle course. She jumped up on one side of the couch, veered right, jumped down, took off around living room table and around the other side of the couch, flew around the poker table, and lept back onto the couch to do it again. All of this in about 3 seconds. She'd do about 10 laps in rapid succession until she got bored, always holding to her exact line and then barrel off to do something else. In addition to that, she didn't defecate inside, a huge plus.

My major concerns alleviated we began to invite her inside each day as long as there was someone there to watch her, normally myself or Noah, as we were both head over heals in love. Knowing little to nothing about 24-7 dog-care I consulted Hannah for more information...like when do dogs poop and pee, arguing that Sparky was not a Chihuahua (she's very fox-like imo), and other important things. I vowed that if she had actually been a chihuahua she would've been deposited far away from the house, likely in a Taco Bell parking lot.

Not a chihuahua.
Informed that many dogs have microchips we took her to PetSmart to get her checked for one and have a general health checkup. Her first time on a leash and collar (which they kindly gave to me at PetSmart after I explained to them her story - their compassion for animals is truly touching), we had to carry her into the PetSmart as she was terrified being this out in the open away from the house. We set her down on the ground by the vet's office and she stood there visibly trembling, backing away in fear of another dog who friendly approached her. Noah sat on the ground with her and pet her while I filled out the paperwork to get her inside. When she got into the office she barked at the vet a couple of times before beginning to relax a bit. Once comfortable the checkup went down without a hitch and she was provided with a clean bill of health. Additionally, she had no microchip so she was all ours if we wanted her. While our vet took care of our laundry list of questions about how the fuck to take care of a dog, Sparky's curiosity overcame her and she walked around the counter, timidly sniffing at everything, much to our vet's amusement (sidenote: if you ever want to pickup a cute PetSmart vet, rescue a street dog (this is not to imply I did)). With a new understanding of dogcare, we took her to pick out a toy and a bed. Noah suggested we let her pick out a bed she likes. It turned out the answer was all of them as she scampered from bed to bed in obvious bliss. After choosing a bed, a few toys, and finding some dog food, we took her home, still unsure as to what we were going to do with her but she was quickly becoming more and more ours. When she crawled into my lap as we were hanging out outside after a night out a few days later, the decision I had wanted to make all along was finally reached: I had to keep her.

Example of her lying in my lap...she so tiny.
Sparky became the house mascot of the summer and quickly adopted additional nicknames. Sparks, Sparkster, Dan's favorite Sparkles...the baseball-adapted Sparkle Anderson. Nelson generally (and lovingly) called her a slut since she had conveniently joined a house full of dudes, also occasionally calling her a racist as the only place in the house she had pooped was Nelson's bathroom floor (twice) and Nelson happened to be the only non-white person in the house (sorry Dan, I know you're half-Colombian but you look white). She did, of course, pee on my bed two nights in a row when I came in at 4 am and took her inside just to head to sleep to find my comforter soaked through. Apparently my comforter and pile of boxers on the floor reminded her of a fresh patch of grass as I caught her peeing on each a few times just to grab her and run her outside to finish. Thankfully she clenched anytime I picked her up.

I'm gonna piss in this bed when you're drunk and exhausted.

 The only problem with keeping her was that I am constantly traveling. After going home for a bit after Vegas I would be heading down to Panama for a few months. I knew a friend of mine already down in Panama had brought his dog down and I contacted him to find out the details. $1000 minimum and hours upon hours of paperwork to bring a dog in. Fuck. Noah, equally enamored with Sparky and top candidate for co-father, suggested he may be able to take her down to Costa Rica with him (our whole house is spread out around Latin America to play online throughout the rest of the year). After several inquiries he found that he too wouldn't be able to take Sparky with him. Fuck. I shot out messages to just about any friend that I thought could possibly take her and repeatedly came up with dead ends until early in July when I threw it out offhand to my friend Mike (taken from his blog post seeing as I obv don't have an IPhone to take such pictures):

He showed interest. Sparky wasn't exactly the type of dog he had imagined himself getting, nor had he expected to get a dog for about another year, but after telling him a bit about her we decided that I would drive her across the country and he could have a little trial period. If it wasn't meant to be we could finally bring her to a shelter, but I didn't really think it would ever happen.

I'll let Mike tell the rest: http://www.youngmanbrown.com/2012/09/my-new-dog-day-1.html

She loooooved the air vents.

But spent most of the cross-country trip napping next to me.

Some may be wondering what inspired the title of this blog and for that I will give a brief snippet as to the awesome character that is Sparky.

After dropping Sparky off at Mike's for a few days while I went home, I returned there a week later to find that he too had immediately fallen in love with her. Her name was now Sadie, which I begrudgingly accepted while admitting it was a bit more feminine, but I preferred calling her the Sadist or Sparky, or my still favorite Sparkle Anderson. Some nights when Mike was at work I took Sadie for walks around the neighborhood and noticed a new behavior she hadn't been able to exhibit on the shorter walks I took her on before. She pissed on EVERYTHING. Any tree, post, sign, hell any speed bump we walked past she would charge towards, pulling at the leash. After carefully sniffing for the scent of her own urine, if deemed unsatisfactory, she would squat down to mark her territory. This was made increasingly entertaining by two things:

First off, she would have a hard time pushing 15 pounds on a scale and has a proportionately small bladder. Exhibiting a remarkably consistent lack of foresight she would always take a long piss on the first landmark and by the time we'd reach the eighth or ninth nary a drop could be squeezed from her severely depleted stock.

Secondly, when she pees, she doesn't pee in one spot. Instead, she cocks up on her front legs with her back legs out and then somehow walks forward on them all the while maintaining a stream of urine. Thus, she manages to cover a vast amount of territory with each pee.

Amused by her antics and sheer determination to cover as much ground as possible with her limited supply of piss I began to audibly narrate our walks, dubbing her Sadie the Emperor, conquering new lands wherever she went. By my estimates Sadie has conquered the most square miles per pound of any dog in the greater Philadelphia Metropolitan area.

Please note that I am aware that she is technically an Empress, but Emperor just sounds far more badass.

I have been wanting to write a blog about Sparky/Sadie for a while and as soon as I began calling her an emperor I felt a tribute was appropriate. I know very little of Godspeed You! Black Emperor's music but I happened to walk past them on my way to a different stage at Coachella and was drawn in by the unique sounds coming from their tent. I could only stay 10 minutes as I had places to go but what I did see was an unexpected pleasure. So in tribute to that 10 minute treat, I give you a song by them recommended by a friend who has actually listened to a bit of their music. Enjoy.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Rage Valley: Brandon Paster (QB - WAS)

While watching the Olympics it occurred to me that while it is readily apparent that Usain Bolt is an absurdly fast human being (some might say the fastest ever), it is very difficult to get perspective on just how fast he is running while watching it on television.  Usain Bolt's world record time is 9.58 in the 100m dash.  Sweet.  What the fuck does that mean?

A thought came to me.  Why don't they stick a normal civilian in Lane 1 to give us a better sense of his speed?

I'm not talking about putting your average Joe American in there to lumber down the sideline (although you could and it would be pretty entertaining) but someone who is reasonably young and athletic.  I consider myself a reasonably fast runner, put me out there and everyone can see me at the 60 yard marker while Usain does his patented celebration and understand how goddamn fast he is.  Or better yet, put me out on the 50 yard marker to start and watch him chase me down.  Hell, put a chainsaw in his hands to add a little haunted house fear element.  Imagine how scared you would've been in that haunted house if you looked back and instead of a deranged killer or oddly-armed zombie chasing you down it was Usain fucking Bolt.  Now that shit would be terrifying.

Another thought struck me today while half-reading an article about Robert Griffin III and his first-game success in the NFL.  I wondered: "What would happen if you stuck me in an NFL offense and just let me play a full game, regardless of the score, regardless of my (lack of) success.  How would I do?"

With the intent of hitting a larger percentage of my target audience, I will go ahead and replace Robert Griffin III in the Redskins offense in this upcoming week's game in St. Louis.  This is also with the intent of giving me a chance to win the game.

A rundown of my abilities as an athlete/quarterback:
-5' 11" 170 lbs...we're going to take me from 2 months ago before I laid on a couch for weeks and food-binged, so there is actually some muscle there.
-I can run pretty fast.  I've always wondered how I would stack up against decently mobile NFL quarterbacks and would like to think I'm faster than the Mannings but a touch slower than Aaron Rodgers.
-I have pretty good arm strength for someone who never played quarterback competitively.  20 yards downfield is well in my range of an accurate ball, 30 yards on a good day, and I could maybe launch a 50-yard bomb if I had to.  I think.  I honestly have no idea how far I can throw the ball in terms of yardage.
-I have very good hands, in the event of an errant snap or the vaunted QB screen from NCAA Football ~'04 (it may still be in the game but I'm not sure).
-My athletic Achilles heel is jumping high but I like to think that I have "game ups."  Fortunately jumping isn't much of a required attribute for a QB.
-Football experience: 3 seasons at WR/CB/KR for my intramural co-ed flag football team.  1 season as QB (read: running back) for a different co-ed flag football team.
-The second team lost in the championship game where I was flagged perhaps 5 times for throwing past the line of scrimmage and completed maybe 3 passes.  It was also raining, I have small hands that grip wet balls poorly (heyooo), and I was benched by one of my WR's late in the second half of a blowout.

A quick rulebook for how this scenario would go down:
-We will assume that I have knowledge of the entire Redskins playbook and have replaced Griffin in all of the film-sessions for the week leading up to the game.  I have not, however, taken a single snap in practice but my ability to throw miraculously translates flawlessly while wearing pads.
-The Redskins would be allowed to adjust their gameplan for having a slower (if just barely) quarterback in the game.
-Similarly, long downfield passes would not be called, unless it is an HB option where I have tossed to Evan Royster.
-We are assuming that Evan Royster has greater arm-strength than Alfred Morris and Roy Helu Jr. for no other reason than that he is from Fairfax, Virginia (I went to Fairfax High School).
-Aside from these adjustments, the offense must stick to a normal gameplan balancing the pass and the run.
-The defense must likewise call a normal gameplan as if they were playing a semi-experienced NFL quarterback such as say, Sam Bradford.
-I am assumed to be in good enough shape to play an entire NFL game.
-A spell has been cast upon me to make me game-ending-injury proof, but a sack/hit/touch will still hurt like a motherfucker.
-I am never in danger of being benched.

It's a sunny, 73 and humid day in St. Louis, but none of that matters as we're playing in a dome.  I drive to the game with my father who seems to think it is just one more travel soccer game from my youth and is anxiously imparting his advice, "Stay on your feet Brandon, you're always on the ground."  Thanks Dad.

I have a special treat lined up with the PA announcer to give me an entry song even though we are playing an away game.  I told him I'm cheering for the Rams before the game, so I enter ready to rage:

Pre-game warmups go by in a blur and before you know it I am at the center of the field standing across Stephen Jackson and Sam Bradford for the coin toss.  I have been chosen as a captain in my first and only game with the team.  My locker room presence is undeniable.  I call heads, we win the toss and elect to defer.  Sam Bradford looks at me with his kind of Asian-looking eyes, the only part of him that at all portrays his 1/16th Cherokee-heritage, smiles, and chooses to kick.  Sam Bradford once again makes my life hell.

Brandon Banks drops back to receive the kick and in a rare occurrence in the NFL gets a chance to return.  With tantalizing speed and an incredible knack for finding the running lanes, Banks has a solid return to the 36-yard line where we setup offense.

The first play calls for a WR screen to Aldrick Robinson who is starting in place of Pierre Garcon, who was too much of a bitch to play through his foot pain.  I slide my hands under the taint of center Will Montgomery and stare into the eyes of James Laurinaitis and wonder why I chose to look into the eyes of the hardest Ram to spell.

I handle the snap cleanly and look left quickly to throw the safety off, adjust my feet right and find Aldrick Robinson with his defender ten-yards off of him, apparently unaware that I would struggle to throw the ball to where he is already.  I pull my arm back to drill a spiral into Drick's chest (my new locker-room nickname for him) and let loose.

The ball flies out of my hand end-over-end and drops lamely, 10 feet in front of Drick's feet.  I forgot to put my hand on the laces.  At least the ball traveled forward for an incomplete pass.

I sulk back into the huddle, embarrassed, but my locker-room presence has earned the loyalty of my teammates and I know they will fight for me every down this game, regardless of the score.  No Randy Mosses here.

Second down calls for an HB toss to the right and Alfred Morris barrels through a weak-tackling Rams D for 8 yards, setting up 3rd-and-short.  Evan Royster runs on to the field and calls the play in the huddle himself, a HB screen to the right.  The play calls for left tackle Trent Williams to push Rams DE Chris Long upfield and then slide to block for Royster on the right.  I hike the ball and he executes the block perfectly but I see Chris Long hurtling upfield and react as I would playing Madden in 2005...taking off towards my own endzone as my 5-step drop turns into about 14.  I see Royster open with a pack of blockers, launch myself off my backfoot, and immediately find that it is considerably more difficult to throw off your backfoot while sprinting than it is in Madden, my pass falling feebly to the ground 10-yards short of Royster.  Long reaches me as I release the ball and his light push sends me somersaulting into my own endzone, an impressive 41 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

As the Special Teams unit jogs onto the field I swear I hear Evan Royster say to one of the lineman, "I told you Fairfax sucked at football."  A fair point from a former Robinson Ram, a team which routinely trounced us.

Our defense holds strong.  No one is surprised.  The Rams are missing 3 starters from their offensive line and their offense focuses on game management rather than scoring.  Standards for a successful drive are low with Sam Bradford attempting a pass more than 15-yards downfield often drawing applause from surprised fans.

We get the ball with good field position again and this time Shanahan calls for a first down run up the middle with Morris gaining 6.  I hear Shanahan in my ear calling for another WR screen to Robinson.  The Rams should probably know this is coming as the Redskins ran 4 WR screens on their first 6 plays in week 1 but they are backed off Robinson again and I focus on hitting him with an accurate pass and unleash a spiral that hits him in the chest.

The pass takes so long to get there that Cortland Finnigan and the ball reach my wideout simultaneously and he is lifted off of his feet and drilled onto his back.  "DRICK!!!" I shout to him in alarm as I run over to the first friend of mine I've ever seen hit so hard.  But as I approach he is already getting to his feet, ready for the next play and I remember that such violent hits are par for the course in the NFL.  Then I remember that Cortland Finnigan is a douchebag and I shout, "Don't make me go Andre Johnson on your ass" as he walks away.  I can tell he's intimidated.

From here out I realize that each pass must not only be as accurate as possible, but I need to put everything, and I mean everything, into every throw.  Seeing the NFL in game-speed makes me realize that I make Chad Pennington's arm look like John Elway throwing a nerf ball.

Third down calls for a quick slant to Josh Morgan in the slot and I hit him with a dart.  I ask for the ball to be kept as a momento.  I also ask how Josh Morgan landed a starting job after a very underwhelming start to his career in San Francisco.

The play is called back for an illegal shift.  I still ask for the ball.

Shanahan calls in another HB screen and this time I am mentally prepared.  I drop back 5 steps and stop, find Helu in the flat, hit him with a nice pass and he scampers 18 yards for the first down.  I keep this ball too.

From here I begin to settle into my zone, completing passes every fourth attempt or so, and while this drive and the following seven end in punts or turnovers, we manage to scatter in a few first downs, one of them even in the air.  I keep the first down marker.

Amongst the punts I also found myself lying underneath some combination of the bodies and limbs of almost a thousand pounds of men: Chris Long, Kendall Langford, and my own guard Kory Lichtensteiger, my first NFL sack.  With the breath crushed from my lungs and lights sparkling in my vision, I took heed of the advice learned from Rocky movies, "look strong when you are weak, and weak when you are strong."  I taunted Chris Long, a UVA alum, famous academic rivals of my own alma mater, "William and Mary is a better school than UVA.  Michael Strahan provides better coverage than your dad on FOX NFL Sunday and is better looking than you too."  A ref overhears the last bit and finds it so offensive he flags me for taunting.  I keep the flag.

Late in the third quarter, with our team trailing 19-0 (4 FGs and a TD for the Rams, largely a product of incredible field position throughout the game), Brandon Banks takes a short kickoff back to the Rams 27-yard line and suddenly we are in business.  Feeling the rush of adrenaline from the return I find Fred Davis on a seam route that gets us all the way down to the 6.  Shanahan tightens up and calls two runs up the middle and the Rams defense gives but doesn't break, and we find ourselves 3rd-and-goal on the 2, when Evan Royster jogs onto the field.  He wants to punch it up the gut one more time, but I've got something else in mind.  The ball is hiked and I toss to Royster on the right with a legion of blockers in front of him but the Rams are stacked at the line and follow him wide.  Then, abruptly, Royster stops, plants his feet, and launches a strike all the way across the field where I have sauntered alone into the left corner of the end zone.  I make the reception and its time to dance.  In preparation for this moment I have taught my teammates the infamous Bob N' Weave, the celebration used by the Rams during the legendary Greatest Show on Turf.  A crowd gathers around me in the end zone where I lead my team in the dance and as we collectively rise from our positions we look around to see a sea of yellow around us.  We are flagged for 13 unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, team celebrations were outlawed by the league in the early 2000's in large part due to the Rams' Bob N' Weave.

Sadly, this is our only moment of celebration for the game.  I finish the 22-7 defeat 9/29 for 87 yards, 3 INTs, 0 TDs.  Somewhere, Derek Anderson applauds my effort.  The benefit of not having an NFL arm is that it makes it very hard for defenders to catch your passes, not just your receivers.  My catch stands proudly as the highlight of the game and I even manage to scramble 9 times for 44 yards but my propensity to bring the ball down and try to run also leads to 11 sacks.  I run out of bad things to say to Chris Long and talking hurts too badly anyway.

I can't walk after the game for 3 weeks and don't eat solids for the first 2.

The effort lands me the backup QB job in St. Louis.  Rams beat writers celebrate the improvement over Kellen Clemens.

Dude Write

Thursday, May 3, 2012

This is Nothing Like the Holocaust

I was walking away from the (awesome) Flux Pavillion and Doctor P set at Coachella when my friend asked me, much to my chagrin, "who did they take that song from?" referencing "I Can't Stop," which had been "taken" from "Who Gon Stop Me" by Jay-Z and Kanye, off of the Watch of Throne album.  Of course, "I Can't Stop" actually predated the rap version but due to its lack of lyrics it was virtually invisible to the public eye.  I explained this to my friend while attempting to stifle any condescension of his electrical-music ignorance, because really who can blame him and I was very happy that my friends had taken the time to come enjoy (and I mean truly enjoy) an EDM set with me.

I actually like the Kanye/Jay-Z version quite a bit and couldn't help myself expecting to hear "This is something like the Holocaust" after every "I Can't Stop" drop.  I relayed this to my friend who astutely commented, "it doesn't seem anything like the Holocaust."  My reaction was something along the lines of "huh", but not with a question mark at the end, more of a "wow, I never even stopped to think about it before," the inflection coming at the beginning of the word and my voice hitting an usually high octave.  I laughed, but a confused and intrigued laugh, and commented that it almost certainly was nothing like the Holocaust, regardless of the rest of the lyrics.  As far as I could recall, there was nothing in the song about widespread systematic genocide and a review of the lyrics a week later would substantiate this belief:

This is something like the Holocaust, millions of our people lost
Bow our heads and pray to the Lord 'til I die I'm-a fucking ball
Now who gon stop me? Who gon stop me huh?

But wait!  There were links on the lyrics, a much-needed explanation appearing when I clicked:

"Ye’s saying that the condition of black people in America is something akin to the Holocaust. He’s being historical: he means the diaspora of people of African descent and how slavery and colonization have killed many people of African descent across the centuries. Further, the levels of crime, death, and murder that negatively impact African Americans has caused the loss of millions of African Americans' lives Although Holocaust analogies are always dicey, American slavery is probably a fair point of comparison, though not the contemporary black experience."

This defintion was provided by the enigmous "Scottie" (don't you tell me enigmous isn't a word, it's damn well going to be today) and helped alleviate my fears that it was indeed Kanye who was inflicting this modern-day Holocaust (words CAN kill).

Now I am all for hyperbole, I use it as often as physically possible (BOOM), but this seems a bit extreme, and borders on ignorance.  The plight of African-Americans in modern society is very much real, but absolutely nothing like the Holocaust.  I would be hard-pressed to find anything to compare to the Holocaust, even among other genocides throughout history.  Off the top of my head I can't think of anything justifiably comparable (a good spot for a history major to make me look ignorant).

I find this particularly interesting because of a debate I just had with another friend of mine, that spurred from watching this video:

I thought this video was absolutely hilarious (apologies to Louis C.K. for my use of hilarious) and while I recognized that the subject could be a bit touchy, didn't find it remotely offensive.  A friend of mine, Paul, a history major, that I shared it with disagreed and a debate ensued.  At this point in time one of the top listed comments was about doing a similar sketch but about the Holocaust, a thought which to me was immediately abhorrent.  To this, he agreed and we got into a discussion as to why there was such a vast discrepancy in the reaction to two things that killed millions of people, one of which arguably had a greater long-term impact on a race (the slave trade).

We came up with several reasons.  For starters, the abolition of slavery occurred, at least in the United States, in the 1850's, so historical distance helped to ease the pain.  Slavery was also accepted among cultures all around the world for thousands and thousands of years, whereas genocides occurred in pockets and "accepted" would never be a term remotely associated with them. Additionally, education concerning slavery focuses more on the implementation of slaves as farm tools and (at least mine) spent disproportionately little time discussing the kidnapping, brutal shipping (minor exception here), and auctioning of slaves.  Paul informed me that during the Transatlantic crossing the sailors would throw slaves overboard in order to maintain a wake of sharks behind the ship, in order to prevent slaves from jumping off on their own accord.  This was shocking to me, not so much in the sense that it happened (amongst a system of absurd cruelty, it shouldn't be hard to expect something like this) but moreso in the sense that how the fuck had I never learned this myself.

I still don't think the two are remotely similar, but just as it is naive to compare the modern conditions of African-Americans to the Holocaust, it is ignorant to consider slavery something of the distant, and somewhat forgiven past.  I'm not saying we should go around apologizing for what our ancestors did nor that we should preach anything aside from modern equality (I am actually a bit of a naysayer of affirmative action, while I understand its role in our society), but we should be aware of the past and the ramifications it has had on African-Americans succeeding in modern society.

And while we're on the subject, can I stop feeling awkward when someone asks me to describe someone and I just want to say "the black guy over there wearing etc?"  He is black just as I am white and it makes it a hell of a lot easier to distinguish who in the world I'm referring to, especially where I have lived.  "Yeah that guy over there wearing the red shirt and the black khakis."  "Oh, you mean the one that looks like Tiger Woods on Sundays?" *Gasp*

And Kayne, if you want to stop being hated by so many people, can you please stop trying to be so ignorant.  Watch the Throne was a good recovery, but let's see if you can produce another good solo album.  College Dropout was awesome, Late Registration was nearly as good, Graduation was my personal favorite.  808 and Heartbreak was offensive to offensive and My Dark Twisted Fantasy was mediocre at best.  You can get away with shit like that if you're not running on stage during Taylor Swift's acceptance speech to tout your boy's girlfriend or spouting ignorance about the Holocaust.  More "Can't Tell Me Nothing," which is now looking like a surprisingly insightful self-description.

I do have to respect Kanye for this as well (for anyone that hasn't seen these, I suggest watching the entire hilarious series):

And lastly I leave you with the original, "I Can't Stop."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Dog Days are Over (Part 3 of 3)

As forewarning, this will be the most personal blog I have posted thus far.  As all of you that know me can attest to, I am a very open person, almost to a fault.  Don't worry, I will not be discussing my personal relationships with others because that not only requires consent but just isn't my place...


In July 2011, I returned to Arlington, Virginia after an amazing couple of months away from home.  I don't know what my exact financial situation was but I know I was still short about $25k between Full Tilt, Ultimate Bet, and outstanding poker investments and liable for $18k to the IRS.  Whatever the numbers worked out to, I decided I could afford to chip away at the IRS bill a bit and shipped a $5k check their way.  I wanted to do my part in keeping those government wheels churning, especially after they'd helped me so much in the last year!

I hadn't been giving my next move a ton of thought with how busy I was at WSOP, but one idea had materialized as the top seed.  My friends Nate (from Cali, lived with him at '10 WSOP) and Stu (from the UK, also lived with him at '10 WSOP) had moved into a house in Marbella, Spain with another poker player, Dave (from elsewhere in the UK), who I had never met.  Additionally, one of my best friends, Tim (from Australia, lived with him at '10 WSOP, 2 weeks in Europe '10, '11 WSOP) was going to join them in mid-August.  There was no longer an extra room available, but there was an extra bed.  There was also a pool and a Spanish-style villa...count me in.

The rest of August consisted mostly of relaxation as I wrapped things up in Arlington and prepared to move to Spain and continue my poker career.  On August 22nd, I boarded my Delta flight and took off for my overseas experience.

I was hot off the bat.  Not only that, my house was the perfect blend of people.  We would go out a couple nights a week, meet awesome people, play video games (epic Mariokart battles), play padel, ping pong, soccer 3 times a week (once a week in a Spanish league), mini golf, hiked up the tallest mountain on the Costa del Sol twice (La Concha), etc.  We just flat out lived.  The balance between poker, exercise, and a social life (not to mention a top of the line cook in Nate) made it so much easier to be successful at what I was there to do: occasionally play poker.

Dave and Nate chilling on top of La Concha.  Marbella lies below.
Tim, Nate, Dave, and myself after a hike near one of the white villages.

Heading there my intention was to primarily focus on .5/1 PLO and 1/2 PLO with a fair amount of tournament days mixed in to keep things fresh.  After a disappointing tournament grind during WCOOP (World Championship of Online Poker) I decided it was in my best interest to purely grind cash games.  My final cash results looked like this: 134,000 hands, +$16,845 with about 75% of my play at .5/1.  During this time, I generated $17,603 in rake (weeeeeeeeeeeee) which returned about $6k to me in rakeback when all was said and done.  I also binked a $1k luckbox bonus on Party Poker at the end thanks to a promotion they were running.

The tournaments I played didn't go quite as well but I was probably only down about $1k overall.  I went and played one tournament live in San Remo, Italy, a $2500 PLO that lasted just two hours.  Fortunately a majority of my action in that was backed so it cost me very little.  When all the numbers were crunched I was heading back to the U.S. in November a few days before Thanksgiving ready to finally pay my 2010 taxes, a huge financial burden off my back.

Sun setting over the ocean, taken from my room in Spain

And I was pumped to plan my next trip out of the country to do it all again.

I arrived home on Monday feeling great.  I still felt okay on Tuesday and then out of nowhere started feeling a lot of anxiety on Wednesday about seeing my extended family on Thursday for Thanksgiving (what else is new).  When Thursday rolled around the anxiety was really peaking and I was secretly having a very hard time communicating with my close family, let alone extended family members.  They had no idea because externally I looked like the same person but conversations that used to come naturally were now extremely stressful and I waited earnestly for Thanksgiving to be over.

It should be noted that I had never experienced anything like this in my entire life.  I have always been a very happy-go-lucky person and my friends have often commented that I talk like a girl.  Compliment accepted.  However, over the previous year I had started to develop some social anxiety, feeling very uncomfortable during any sort of silences, even amongst very close friends.  There was a very small number of people I still felt completely comfortable with and I soon found myself confiding in them.  Again, on the surface, I was the same old Brandon, but deep down I was struggling with situations I used to love and enjoy.  So this anxiety wasn't completely foreign to me but the degree to which it was felt was certainly alarming.

Thanksgiving wound down and I left my house to visit Hannah who helped take care of me for the next few days as anxiety completely overtook me.  I no longer could keep the outward appearances of being the same person but I was at least around people that wouldn't know the difference.  The one person who did know knew why and completely understood.  I lay on the couch watching TV and fought a massive internal struggle in my mind.  I had plans with a friend on Saturday that I had to make a lousy excuse for.  On Sunday I went and watched football with a few friends I hadn't seen in months.  I looked like I was having fun.  I was freaking the fuck out.

Things worsened.  Hannah returned to Wisconsin on Monday and I went back to my parents house and went on the internet to try to find a doctor to go see.  At this point I recognized that not only was I suffering from terrible anxiety but also depression.  I found a few doctors in the Annapolis area, where my parents had recently moved to.  The only problem was that I couldn't pick up the telephone to call them.  All this time I hadn't told my parents any of this as I had been living independently for three years and this was just a part of my relationship with my parents that was strained.  They had wondered if I had depression a few years before when I had nearly failed out of college as a junior.  Its quite possible that I did to some degree, but I think it had far more to do with a complete lack of interest in school than anything else.  I was still very happy back then.  Either way, I was going to have a very hard time admitting to them that I did indeed have depression.

Aside: When I say I have a strained relationship with my parents I am not saying it is in any way dysfunctional.  My parents are incredibly loving and supportive but we have struggled to see eye to eye on a number of things over last several years.  I think we are both working on it.

Around 5 pm on Monday my Mom came into my room and asked if everything was all right.  I hadn't left my bed all day.  It was time for me to ask for my parents help.  I told her simply, "No, I'm not okay but I can't talk to you about right now.  I'll talk to you about it later when I'm ready."  She said okay and closed the door.  She checked on me an hour later and this time I snapped back a bit, a defense mechanism of our strained relationship, "When I'm ready."  I came downstairs a couple hours later for dinner and poured it all out on the table for my parents to hear.  How everything in my mind was just a vicious cycle of negativity.  How all of the things I had once loved and thoroughly enjoyed: sports, music, friends...I had ceased to enjoy at all.  I didn't understand why, I just knew that it was happening.  I could literally do two things that gave me joy: eat and masturbate, and you can only do each so many times per day, as I soon found out.

My parents offered their help and I accepted.  They quickly found me a psychiatrist to go see who readily gave me a prescription for anti-depressants.  They also found a psychologist for me to go see.  The first one sucked, I moved on.  The second one was a former sports psychologist who upon finding out that I was a professional poker player began using poker metaphors on just the first day...bingo.

For a full week I lay in bed and waited for sleep.  I was happy when I slept, or at least not unhappy.  When I woke up the negative thoughts began and they were soon accompanied by an all-day migraine (the first migraines of my life) which would last another month and a half, long beyond the depression itself.  When I had issues I would talk to a couple of friends and my parents, who would attempt to get me back to thinking rationally.  I understood that I would be happy again but for the time being it was a feeling I had a hard time remembering.  Everything was saddening.  I have always been a very social person and my sudden complete inability to communicate with people was horrifying.  The anxiety and depression fed off each other in a vicious cycle of misery.  Nothing could entertain me and conversations with others provided 100x more stress than pleasure.

After about a week I started to feel a little better.  I watched an episode of "Big Bang Theory" and laughed a little instead of flipping channels in disgust.  I watched a college football game with some interest instead of total disregard.  I continued to go to the gym but I now found myself somewhat motivated again, no longer just going through the motions.  These three things helped me finally break the cycle.  I mean "Big Bang Theory" specifically.  I couldn't relate to their lives in any way and what I needed was pure fiction, everything else I over-analyzed like crazy.  I would watch "The Office" and wonder about character interactions on a level never intended.  After a few weeks I reconnected with friends, and finally went out of the house again to hang out with my friend, Andrew.  I told him about everything that was going on and he was incredibly supportive.  I told him he was the first person I was able to hang out with in person in 3 weeks and how much it meant to me.  Typing it out right now brings tears to my eyes.  I was laughing and smiling again.

After about a month the depression had faded into mere background noise.  The anxiety was still there and I was working on it aggressively with my therapist.  I was going to him twice a week since I was planning to leave the country again soon.  Crash course therapy, and it worked incredibly well.  New Years rolled around and I went out with a few friends and had an amazing time dancing in the new year.  With my head finally back on straight I realized I could finally start planning out my future, and excitedly pounded out plans for Australia.

On January 21st, I went to Madison, WI for a week to see Hannah and went to an Avicii show.  It was an incredible week and we had an amazing time at the concert, her first EDM experience (that's electronic dance music, not some sort of drug, Mom).  On the 26th I left for Vegas to chill there with Eric before we left for Australia.  We went to see Dada Life at Surrender and partied another night with some friend's of Eric's at the Aria.  Another amazing time and Dada Life blew the roof off the house, as to be expected from the Big Bad Wolf (that actually hadn't come out yet, but pretend it had because it works nicely).

On January 30th, I left for 2 months in Byron Bay, Australia.  My life had turned around in a huge way and I was determined to look at things from a different perspective.  I had always been a very positive person in general but my month-long bout with depression gave me a new-found focus on positivity.

Not too hard to feel better when you're going here...

The only problem was that the cards weren't with me.  That, and I was virtually broke going in having just sent a $15k check to the IRS and spent another $1500 on surprise medical bills.  The first two weeks were the toughest of my poker career, losing $4.3k of the $2k that I had to my name.  Okay, I had a little more than that, but I had $83 in my actual bank accounts and everything else was online and rapidly dwindling.  It was extremely stressful and inspired a few blogs.  But I was incredibly determined and working harder than I ever had before.  I also knew I was still playing very well and things were bound to turn around for me eventually.

When they finally did, it happened in a big, big way.  73,000 hands and 5 weeks into Australia, I was still down $3700 before rakeback.  After 129,000 hands, I had finally broken even.  In the following 18,000 hands, I made $7400.  It felt AMAZING.  On top of that, I had made another $7k in rakeback over the course of the two months, and another $2k in bonuses.  Things were finally looking up.

(During this time I was also playing some $1/2 and things weren't going well at all but this was backed and had no effect on my livelihood)

Then my roommate and I had a falling out.  For various reasons we decided we could no longer live together and I looked for other options.  A month ago I would've been stranded in Australia, only having enough money to get out and make it back to my parents house, resigned to look for a job.  But after the great month I had money to go somewhere, and even a little spending money.

I had a few options...Panama with Nate, Costa Rica with Nelson (from Texas, lived with at '11 WSOP), or Colombia with Dan (from Arizona, lived with at '11 WSOP).  The more I looked into it, the more it looked like Colombia was the best option so I contacted Dan and he was ecstatic that I would be able to join him for Poker Stars' SCOOP (Spring Championship of Online Poker) in early May before we headed to Vegas for WSOP 2012 together.

So the plans fell into line.  I went up to Brisbane to hang out and relax with Tim for another week, meanwhile playing about 20 hours of poker and making another $3k (run better Brandon).  During that time I actually my best day ever, making 16 buy-ins at .5/1 (+$1600 for the laymen).  This day preceded the last Sunday of my stay in Australia and I decided to freeroll a big tournament session to see if I could make it into a truly big day.  From here, I wish the story got truly epic, but instead I found myself exhausted out of my mind at 9 am (in Australia Sundays are played on Monday morning, starting at around 3 am) and my $1600 profit was now $50.  Oh well, it was worth a shot!  When Australia wrapped up I had somehow managed to achieve some goals that at one point seemed impossible (an A on the WRATH scale).

I left Australia on the morning of Saturday, April 14th.  After 24 hours of traveling via Seoul, South Korea (note: Burger King in South Korea tastes the EXACT same) I arrived in Los Angeles mid-afternoon, still Saturday.  I spent an awesome few days in LA then shot down to Indio, CA for a little festival called Coachella, completing the best week of my entire life...but we'll save that story for another day.

Right now I am in Madison, WI visiting Hannah for a week before heading down to Armenia, Colombia for 3 weeks there.  I stop for a night in Ft. Lauderdale, FL on the way to play a little at the Hard Rock Casino before catching an early flight the next morning.  I return on the 22nd for one night in Maryland with my parents before beginning the drive out to Vegas.  St. Louis on the 24th for a baseball game (free tickets from my brother's gf!), then going to Avicii on the 25th with my brother and his friends, and then I continue the drive to Vegas, where I will be staying through mid-July for the WSOP (and EDC, BOOM).

An incredible couple of months lie directly ahead, the depression far behind...


Right now in my life, I am extremely, extremely happy but I always remember how close behind me those dark days were.  They were irrational and the result of a chemical imbalance and they could very well happen again (drugs please hold one time) but in the meantime I am intent on living my life to the fullest, when I am doing really interesting things, or even when I'm just sitting around listening to music or watching TV.  Enjoy what you have, you only live once.

Depression is obviously a very personal issue to me, but I encourage anyone that suffers from it to share their experiences and thoughts with those they trust.  Its not something we can get through on our own very easily, nor should it be.  It also isn't something you should be ashamed of.  I had everything in the world going for me and was incredibly happy and then the next week found myself bedridden thinking there was no joy left in the world.  That will happen to some people but just know that you will get out of it and you will find happiness again, I promise.  For some that will mean medication, for some it simply means talking through their problems with friends, family, or an occasional unbiased third party observer.

Also, I encourage anyone and everyone to talk to a therapist at some point in your life.  You may not even think you have any problems but its an incredibly freeing experience and will open you up to things you've never considered.

One final note.  For those of you close to me who were unaware of my depression, I don't want sympathy or apologies or anything like that at all.  It is what it is and I sincerely believe I am better for it in the long-run.  I had the support of many friends and family during that time and I just couldn't come to everyone, whether it be because I didn't want to burden you with my troubles or because I just simply didn't have the time or energy. Everyone who has been a positive influence in my life at any point in time, I've got nothing but love for ya.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hold On: WSOP '11 (Part 2 of 3)

This is now going to be a 3-part series, as I didn't realize how much I had to write about from last year's WSOP.  Get ready for a long one...

On May 30th I arrived in Las Vegas ready for the 2011 World Series of Poker.  I had locked up backing for a pretty aggressive schedule and would be playing the following events:

$1500 LO8 (Limit Omaha 8 or Better)
$1500 HORSE (Limit Holdem, Limit Omaha 8 or Better, Razz, Stud Hi, and Stud 8 or Better rotation)
$1500 PLO (Pot Limit Omaha)
$3000 PLO
$5000 PLO 6 max
$2500 HA (Pot Limit Holdem and Pot Limit Omaha rotation)
$2500 O8/Stud8
$1500 PLO8 (Pot Limit Omaha 8 or Better)
$5000 PLO8
2x $1500 NL (No Limit Holdem)
2x $1000 NL
About $3k in side events

I had about 1/3 of my action myself and the rest had been sold to investors, primarily to the new staking sensation Max Katz, who had burst onto the scene with millions at his disposal and was putting over 100 players into WSOP events.  In addition to these tournaments I planned to play a fair amount of $5/$5 PLO cash games when I had free time.

My 2010 WSOP was a great experience but a major letdown in terms of success.  Tournament after tournament found me completely card-dead and unable to build any sort of stack/momentum.  I was only able to double my starting stack in two tournaments out of 12 played, let alone make a single day 2.  It was very frustrating and discouraging.  After busting the $1500 PLO8, in my mind the softest event for me, after just 2 hours of play, I was near tears.  I pulled myself together and decided to play two more events: the $5K PLO8 and the $5K PLO.  After busting on a mistake a few hours into the $5K PLO8, I called it a World Series.

The 2011 WSOP was completely different right off the bat.  I won basically every hand the first hour of the $1500 LO8 and had doubled my stack before the first break.  Coming back from the first break I realized I had lost my wallet when I went to tip the cocktail waitress for my water.  I was running around frantically trying to locate my wallet for most of the 3rd hour but whenever I found myself at the table playing a hand, I won.  As the 3rd hour drew to a close my friend Mike had arrived at the Rio and I enlisted his help in finding the wallet while I contacted my credit card company to cancel it just in case it had been stolen, which at this point I assumed it somehow had been.  The 4th hour came to a finish and I wandered over to the security desk satisfied that I at least had turned my 4.5k starting stack into 14k while incredibly distracted.  As I approached I saw a security guard coming towards me and stopped him to inquire about my lost goods.  "Was it a black wallet with about $17 in it?"  "That would be the one."  Apparently it had been found around where I had eaten lunch, an area I had swept three times over during the 3rd hour and come up empty.  Wherever my wallet had been the last couple of hours, I was just happy to have it back and I returned to my table triumphant, much to the delight of my tablemates who had eagerly assisted me on my quest.

Unfortunately, finding my wallet had apparently sapped me of all my rungood, as when blinds got high I could no longer win a hand.  About 8 hours in I found myself bounced from the tournament, disappointed the auspicious start couldn't pan out but happy with my play and relieved that I had finally been able to get some momentum going in a WSOP tournament.  On to the next one.

The $1500 HORSE followed a few days later and I somehow managed to get off to another torrid start.  At the first break I was very likely the chip leader, somehow turning my 4.5k stack into over 10k in the low blind levels of a limit tournament.  The next several hours continued much the same way and when I went to get dinner with Austin and Tim we all found ourselves with decent stacks.  For dinner I chopped some wings and a salad with Tim, a detail you may wonder why I'm including.  Thanks to my staunch refusal to use anything beyond a fork while eating a salad, I found myself with a rather large tomato wedge in my mouth about 2/3 of the way through my meal.  I attempted to chew it but thanks to its shape and girth I was having a very hard time getting it to the sides of my mouth to chew as it was pinned between my teeth and the roof of my mouth.  After successfully gnawing it down a little bit, I arrogantly decided it was time to swallow, tired of the back and forth and unwilling to admit defeat by returning it to a plate.

Within seconds I realized my mistake.  As Tim and Austin carried on in conversation I vigorously worked my throat in an attempt to finish swallowing the tomato that was now lodged halfway down.  Finding this unsuccessful, I reached for my water for the assistance of some lubrication.  Up until this point I was relatively calm.  I had never choked before but I didn't really think it was something I was going to die from and tomatoes are pretty squishy after all, they should go down.  When the water dribbled out of my mouth and down my shirt, a look of concern crossed my face.  I waved my arms frantically in front of Tim and Austin and gave the universal sign for choking.  Tim had no idea what was going on but Austin was a bit more perceptive, "Dude, I think he's choking. Fuck, I don't know how to give the Heimlich."  As the terrifying thought crossed my mind of running over to one of the super hot waitresses to request the Heimlich Maneuver, a piece of the tomato finally gave way, opening my throat just enough to suck in some blissful oxygen.  My heart stopped racing and I relaxed a bit.  After a few raspy breaths, I was able to focus my strength on returning the tomato to whence it came, much to the disgust of Tim who, still unaware of what is going on, thinks I have just thrown up all over his half of the salad.  An appalled look crosses Tim's face as he declares that he is a sympathy puker and takes off outside.  I gather my breath as Austin asks me if I'm ok.  I'm incredibly rattled after over 30 seconds of an inability to breath but I gather myself and we head back to the tournament in time to start the 7th hour.

I'm not sure if it was a result of my near-death dinner experience or what, but I find myself lacking focus during the next hour and make a few mistakes that compound my run of bad cards.  Within the first hour my solid stack has evaporated and as I exit the tournament floor I am livid.  Nothing pisses me off more than when I make mistakes and I felt like I had squandered another great opportunity.  I hopped into my car to embark on an angry and likely all too fast trip back to the house but as I get on the highway I hear the blissful words from my speakers "This kitten got your tongue tied in knots, I see..."  Britney brings me back to Earth and I can't help but smile, tomorrow will be a new day.

The third event was the $1500 PLO, which is the softest tournament in my very best game.  The first two hours saw me in several big hands.  I won the first couple to double my stack, lost the third,  won the fourth, lost the fifth, then won the sixth and biggest to take the chip lead at my table.  From here on out I was in complete control of my starting table.  At one point a French guy at my table said to me, "I don't know if you're just really good or really lucky, because we never see your cards."  I smiled and chuckled quietly.  About two-thirds of the way through the day a big stack got moved to our table and was sat on my right, perfect position for me.  I had about 30k chips from my 4.5k starting stack at this point and he sat down with around 45k.  He was wearing a Georgetown Hoyas hat and as we got to talking it turned out he was also living in Arlington, VA.  Our friendly discourse perhaps made it easier for him as I proceeded to take his entire stack over the next two hours.  It also probably made it easier for him that he went on to win the $10K Stud 8 or Better tournament a few days later.  As the end of the day drew close we were on the bubble of my first ever WSOP cash and I had around 75k chips while the tournament average was about 35k.  For a big stack, there is absolutely nothing like a WSOP cash bubble.  Nobody will play a hand unless they have the absolute nuts.  With the tables playing hand-for-hand, my table sat and watched as I raised 16 hands in succession, with almost no resistance put up whatsoever.  On exactly one hand, a player re-raised my open and I folded to which he exclaimed "See, I'm not scared!" and promptly flipped over his aces.  On around the 16th hand, the same player remarks aloud to the table, "This guy over here just raises in any two."  I smile and correct him, "Any 4."  My entire table laughs as they recognize they are completely aware of what is happening but unwilling to do anything about it.  A few hands later I am dealt 8432 no suits under the gun and I finally toss a hand in the middle with a "Here you guys go", the only hand I wouldn't raise during the ~25 hand bubble.  My table reacts with smiles and friendly banter.  By the time the bubble finally bursts, I have chipped up to 95k in chips and am 7th in chips heading to day 2 with 116 players remaining.

Everything was clicking.  I returned home pumped up for day 2 but needing to get a good night's rest with a long day ahead of me tomorrow.  Thank God for ambien.  I awoke the next morning full of fire and ready to take on the world.  Thinking about it now still gives me that excited feeling throughout my body.  As I write this, my heart has actually quickened its pace and I can feel a bit of a tingling sensation, that's just how exciting it was for me.  My first day 2 of a WSOP tournament, my first cash, and I was sitting on a huge stack in my very best game.  I shot over to the gym for a workout that I quickly pummeled and went back to the house for a quick shower as I was dancing around my room to "One" by Swedish House Mafia and "You and I" by Medina which had returned out of nowhere to be the song of the day.  There was a bit of a buzz in the house that morning as everyone was excited for our first deep run.  I headed back to the Rio, focused and determined.

My day 2 table draw wasn't quite as fortuitous but that was to be expected as the fields become tougher and more pro-filled deeper in WSOP tournaments.  I actually recognized a couple of faces and there were a couple of players with stacks similar to mine.  But again, I got off to a good start and while I wasn't in full control of the table as I had been the day before, there wasn't anyone that was giving me too much trouble.  About an hour and a half in I had chipped up to around 120k when I got into a massive pot with another big stack.  Thanks to internet histories, I have the whole hand details (and even a picture in my phone).  My conversation with Evan shortly thereafter on gchat:

so i was like utg or utg+1
i tried to make it 4100 at 800/1600 but i accidentally tossed in 2100 so they declared it a call
no big deal w/e

one person limps behind, sb completes, bb checks
flop J82 two clubs one diamond i have QQ97ccdd
i lead 4500 into 6400, guy in position flats, other two fold

turn is a 6 of diamonds and i consider c/r but decided to just go ahead and bet
i bet 14k into 15.4k
and he pots

he has 75k in front of him at this point
i considered it for a bit just to make sure i had it all thought through because i could still fold and have 100k left

and i didnt want to play that big of a pot quite frankly
but i was like i just cant fold here i have too many outs, so i ship it in 


The cards are flipped to show his JT98 is currently ahead.  I need a T, 6, 5, 2, club, or diamond to win and am actually a 57.5% favorite in the hand.  The river 8 seals the victory for him.

Sickened, I snap off a picture and go jogging around the room to try to calm my nerves.  I literally ran a few tables over and was jumping up and down a bit just trying to clear my head.  The 170k pot would've given me the chip lead of the tournament and instead I was left with a rather short (but playable) 25k stack.  I returned to my table, disappointed of course in the result of the hand but I'm still day 2 of a $1500 tournament.  I find a hand to double up with pretty quickly and over the next few hours I'm bouncing around with an average stack, never really able to gain much momentum but never in real bad shape either.  But as dinner break approaches I find my stack dwindling after calling a big turn bet with two flush draws and missing.  I come back from break with just over 10 big blinds as the tournament is down to its final 27 players and we re-draw for tables.  When the tables re-draw you are assigned a new seat at random regardless of whether or not you have just paid the blinds at your previous table.  I draw a bad card and am stuck paying the blinds twice in a row, 1/3 of my stack gone.  At this point I'm just looking for any decent spot to get it in with decent odds or fold equity, and my chance arises as it folds to me in late position with AQQJ with a suited ace.  I raise and the button isolates with KK75.  I am a small underdog, but a flopped Q gives me a dominant lead and he doesn't have any more outs aside from a K.  The turn is another blank.  River K and I'm out of the tournament in 25th place for $9k.

No doubt I was disappointed coming so close but as I walked away from the table I actually found myself incredibly happy and satisfied with my play.  It felt like another chance was bound to come and I was confident in having a good rest of the series.

The next tournament went down with little fanfare.  I built a big stack early once again in the $3k PLO but lost a massive flip on the last hand of the 4th hour to bust.  The fun picked up again in the $5k PLO 6 max.  Yet again I got off to a great start, steadily building my 15k starting stack up to around 75k.  With it being a $5k tournament, there were recognizable faces all around me.  However, there were a few big names missing, most noticeably Phil Ivey, the face of Full Tilt.  2 weeks into the WSOP, Full Tilt still hadn't paid out players and people were quickly losing hope.  Rumors swirled about a lack of liquid funds and then a lack of funds altogether and Phil Ivey's announcement in late May that he would be missing the entire WSOP led many to wonder the true scope of Full Tilt's troubles.  Full Tilt pros that did make it to the tournaments were often peppered with questions they had no answers to as they found themselves surrounded by thousands of people their company owed money to.  By mid-June I had written off the $17k I had on Full Tilt just as a matter of practicality.  I was actually surprisingly okay with this and I wasn't going to let the situation affect my play or distract me.

With my stack now hanging around 100k, the infamous David "Devilfish" Ulliot sat down at my table.  He has had a fair amount of success in poker over the years but he has always been more famous for his mouth than his play.  His Omaha game was fairly poor but the deck was constantly in his favor and he built up a pretty big stack.  A couple hours after his joining our table he limped in in front of me and I raised AKJT double-suited behind him.  It folded around to him and he announced a raise, much to my surprise.  He didn't have a ton of chips behind but it was still substantial, and a vast majority of his hand range is aces that spot.  I looked at my cards and became over-attached to their beauty and convinced myself it was okay to get it in against him and he flipped over his aces.  Granted I still had about 35% in the hand, but I felt like it was an easily avoidable mistake for too large a percentage of my chips.  His aces held and he proceeded to berate me for my "awful" call off.  I simply laughed as I found it pretty embarrassing for him as a well-traveled veteran of the game to feel the need to berate someone, especially after winning the hand.  More importantly this slowed me down a bit as I no longer had a stack I could mess around with too much, and the rest of the day was fairly quiet, going into day 2 with around 55k.  Solid, but a bit disappointing given my start.

Either way, making day 2 of a $5k tourney was still incredibly exciting and I woke up the next day once again ready to go.  The morning before day 2 they post table draws and I jumped on wsop.com to see who I would be pitted against.  My jaw dropped.  Seated to my right was Jason Mercier, now commonly ranked as the best live tournament player in the world, and a bracelet holder in the $1500 PLO.  To my direct left was Shaun Deeb, generally recognized as the best online tournament player in the world.  One hell of a seat.

I didn't recognize the other 3 names at the table but upon getting to the tournament I soon found out that the player two to my left was Chance Kornuth, winner of the $5k PLO the previous year.  Chance, Shaun, and Jason all knew each other fairly well so a fair amount of banter ensued at the table right off the bat.  I was certainly intimidated playing with such an elite group of players, especially Jason Mercier who owned me a few times, but I at least felt that I was a better Omaha player than Shaun and Chance's style of play didn't seem too hard to play against.  About a half hour in, one of the two randoms was bounced and a new player took his seat.  I happened to know him too, as he happened to be Chris Moorman, probably in the top 5 tournament players in the world with over a million in profits to his name.  Wtf.  Again, the one thing I had going for me was that while he was an absolutely amazing poker player and untouchable in NL Holdem, I had more experience than him in PLO and he actually played a very tight style.  Jason and Shaun were talking shit to him the entire time telling him he needed to play more hands and that he sucked at Omaha.  I could only sit and laugh as I witnessed one of the biggest names in the game taking shit with a smile.  Before long, they had come up with the idea that any time you won a hand you had to show 2 of your cards.  In PLO this isn't too big a deal as there's a decent chance you can show two inconsequential cards, but frankly I had no desire to give these poker masterminds any more information than they already had at their disposal.  All four of them were eager to adopt the rule and the random French-Canadian dude across from me agreed as well.  Fuck.  How could I say no to Jason Mercier, Shaun Deeb, Chance Kornuth, and Chris Moorman?   I would look like such a bitch.  After about a minute of deliberation, I reluctantly agreed as a crowd continued to grow around our table, several reporters included.

Over the next hour I was able to win a few pots on semi-bluffs and show two random cards, once against Shaun Deeb that felt pretty damn good.  I was also able to 4-bet light against Deeb's 3-bets a couple of times as he was 3-betting very aggressively.  Unfortunately, Jason took a couple of pots off me and I was unable to really chip up, sticking to around 60k.  Chance had blown most of his stack to Jason on a few really bizarre lines and found himself with around 15 big blinds when I flatted Jason's open with a strong KK hand in the cutoff.  Deeb folded the button and the action fell upon Chance, who pot-raised.  The big blind quickly folded and the action was on Jason, who considered his options.  Sitting behind him I was planning to go all-in regardless of what he decided as Chance should be 3-betting a fairly wide range with his stack size and the action leading up to it and Jason clearly didn't have aces based on his body language.  After about 30 seconds Jason elects re-raise and attempt to isolate Chance all-in but I announce that I call as soon as he does so, to which he looks at me in surprise and says "Ooops."  The cards are flipped and while I'm disappointed to see that Chance does somehow have aces, he only has about 20k to my 60k so I can still chip up fairly easily with my KK vs Jason's thin-drawing AJxx.  The flop is perfect for me aside from the lack of a K, as Jason's only outs are the case ace.  The turn, however, brings Jason his only flush draw, and I sigh in disgust as the river completes the flush.  Jason shakes his head in disbelief and offers a "Wow, sorry man" as Chance laughs at how good Jason runs and I silently walk away from the table.

After taking a breath I walk back to say good game and it was fun playing with you guys.  I don't usually just storm off from the table like that.  Shaun gets up out of his seat and shakes my hand and asks me what I had on a few different hands.  When the words "You were really tough to play against," leave his mouth I can barely contain my glee.  Leaving the Rio that day was probably the happiest I've ever been losing a tournament.  Knowing I could hold my own at that table truly meant I could hold my own at pretty much any table they threw at me the rest of the World Series, as that was truly an unimaginably tough group of players.  On the car ride home I called my dad to excitedly tell him the whole story, something that I never ever do.

I was able to build stacks here and there in the following couple weeks of tournaments and made day 2 of the $2500 Stud8/O8 mix running on fumes from a full weekend of non-stop dancing at Electric Daisy Carnival (the best weekend of my life).  Day 1 actually saw me sitting at the same table as my roommate, Tim, and we were somehow put at the same opening table in the very next tournament, a $1k NL that had over 3,000 players in it.  

(Tim is in the white hat, I am in the Cardinals hat)

I swung up and down a bit on day 2 but again the cards didn't fall for me late and I busted the tournament as we neared the cash.  For the next week I was deathly sick as the weekend of going to bed at 10 am and getting up at 5 pm to get ready to do it all again caught up with me.  I ordered green tea after green tea as I continued to grind it out but felt great about my play in spite of my body feeling the exact opposite.  I soon found myself down to my last tournament of the summer, the $5k PLO8, my 2nd best game.

The tournament got off to an ominous start as I found myself in a marginal spot that decimated my stack early on.  Starting with 15k chips, I quickly found myself trying to nurse a 3k stack back to health, which at one point was down to as little as 2100.  I played patiently but aggressively and found a few good spots to rebuild my stack to 18k going into day 2, nothing to write home about but just making day 2 in what had turned out to be a fairly soft tournament was pretty exciting considering where I had been.  On day 2 I started off strong and for the first several hours didn't look back.  My 18k stack was soon 35k, then 60k, and 6 hours in I found myself sitting on 180k with 45 left in the tournament, 36 cashing.  I could comfortably tighten things up and glide into the 10k cash but that isn't exactly my style.  I raised in AK2x double-suited behind a limper...the hand was reported on by Poker News:

Gary Bolden limped in middle position and Brandon Paster raised to 11,000 in the hijack as the next to act. It was folded back around to Bolden who made the call as the two checked the {K-Diamonds}{10-Diamonds}{8-Diamonds} flop. They both checked the {A-Diamonds} on the turn as well but it would be like the 4th of July when the {8-Spades} hit the river as there were fireworks.

It started out with Bolden betting 20,000 and Paster announcing raise. Paster then slid out two giant piles of yellow T1000 chips totalling 80,000. Bolden then counted out the chips for a call and went into the tank. He got up from his chair and asked Paster how much he had left. Paster counted out his stack and it looked like he had an additional 80,000 behind. Bolden finally announced all in and Paster folded as fast as humanly possible. As Bolden raked in the pot, he showed {Q-Diamonds}{J-Diamonds} for a turned royal flush and said that he wished his opponent had held at least aces full. Nevertheless, Bolden, who started the day atop the chip counts, is once again sitting near the top of them as Paster blew quite a few of the newfound chips that he had won a few pots ago.

When he led the river I felt as if he had a stronger hand than mine but that there were very few hands that he would be willing to call off a big raise with.  After a bit of consideration, I decided raising was my best option and as he went into the tank I certainly felt as if I had made the right play.  Little did I know, he was essentially slowrolling me.  Sure, the act was an attempt to get me to put the rest of my chips in but it was completely unnecessary as it would have no bearing on my decision whatsoever.  I wasn't angry so much as astonished.  I hadn't even considered the possibility of him having a royal flush.  Lee Watkinson was at my table a few seats away and just shook his head in disgust.

With 80k left in chips, I was still in a fairly comfortable position when our table broke and I sat down with Phil Laak two to my left and Lee Watkinson two to my right, who were notable more for the enjoyable banter they provided than any trouble I had playing against them.  Phil Laak, in fact, was sitting there with a book about Omaha 8 or better in front of him, reading it as he played.  To my direct left was the Russian guy who had taken almost my entire stack early on in Day 1 and I asked him friendly, "How are my chips doing?"  I expected him to laugh and maybe we'd talk a little, but instead, he immediately began to start reprimanding me for the way I played the hand.  And not just a little bit, he went on and on for like 5 minutes as I just sat there incredulous, laughing at the guys sheer douchebaggery.  The guy on my right was Russian as well, and he was so appalled by the guys actions that he felt the need to apologize for him.  Phil Laak and Lee Watkinson exchanged glances with me like "wtf" and Lee even asked me "Is this guy serious?"  Finally the guy gave it a rest.

About an hour later I raised in A257 double-suited and we went to the flop 5-ways.  The 996 flop brought a club flush draw which I didn't have and it checked around.  The turn 9 was checked to me and I found myself in a pretty good bluff spot, firing about half-pot.  The small blind flatted as the ret of the table folded and the river came an innocuous 2.  He checked to me and I considered before betting about 35k into the 50k pot, feeling as if I could likely represent aces.  I tried to keep completely still and stare at the table while my opponent deliberated the call.  Finally, after an excruciating 4 minutes of waiting, he made the incredible call with just AK.  I was stunned but I was impressed with the call as I felt that he had thought it through and against me its not that bad.  The pot was sent his way as I heard a laugh come from my left as the Russian guy turned to me and stated "I would've called that immediately, such an obvious bluff."  To be noted is that he had folded the turn.  He goes on to tell me that my bet sizing was terrible and that I should've bet really tiny to represent strength.  Regardless of the merits of his comments (which there wasn't much of) it was completely inappropriate for him to say anything at all, especially after I had just lost 2/3 of my stack nearing the bubble of the tournament.  I snapped and yelled at him "Why don't you just shut the fuck up about a hand for once."  An immediate hush fell over the table.  Thankfully the break started just a minute later and I took off for the hallway to fume.  After 20 minutes of discussing the hands with a couple friends I felt better and returned to the table and apologized to the guy I had lost the hand to for snapping and he told me it was no worries whatsoever and that the guy was completely out of line.  It turned out that the whole table was actually on my side, as everyone refused to speak another word to the Russian guy from there on out.  It was a really nice moment of poker camaraderie.

So as we find ourselves down to just 39 players left in the tournament, I am suddenly one of the shortest stacks in the room.  Over and over again I find myself raising half my stack (essentially all-in but its a pot limit format so I can't just go all-in) but don't get action.  Meanwhile, a girl has shown up on the rail of our table and stolen everyone's attention.  Additionally, she is in my direct line of sight.  As in, if I just look directly forwards, I am staring right at her.  And this isn't your ordinary girl.  She's about 5' 9" with incredible long, tanned legs, beautiful face, and long-blonde hair.  She is wearing a Victoria's Secret fashion show and I wonder if she might just be a model.  After about 10 minutes of torture, she wanders off, and I say to the table, "So which one of you guys was she here with."  Our whole table erupts.  Lee Watkinson exclaims, "Oh my god you mean the blonde?"  No one takes credit for her and Phil Laak says to me "I assumed she was here with you."  I laugh.  A ridiculous statement.  He continues, "No seriously I thought she was here for you."

Granted I was the only person under the age of 30 at my table and she looked about 23, but there was no question as to what league this girl was in, and it certainly wasn't mine.  As we got down to 37 players left and the true tournament bubble, she came back.  Phil Laak held his book up to his face and pointed from behind it and looked towards me, "Hey man, she's back for you."  Lee Watkinson laughed as we all continuously stole glances.  Phil Laak told me to go over to her.  Tables were now playing hand-for-hand and players would mingle around other tables to watch in the hopes that someone would bust the bubble, bringing us all into the $10k money.  As we talked, a couple people asked me if the girl was there with me.  I was like wtf is going on, no, she is clearly not here with me but you guys are really making me feel good about myself.  Any time we were at the table, Phil tried to convince me to go over and talk to her.  To be honest if I wasn't on the money bubble of a huge tournament they had built me up so much I might have, but I had to focus on my play, albeit there was little I could do.

For some reason it seemed as if I was the only one in the tournament getting their chips into the middle.  Only two people had shorter stacks than I do and they were completely intent on just cashing, each of them dwindling down to no more than 5 big blinds.  Soon I find myself all-in with ATT5 vs Lee Watkinson's AA3x.  The entire tournament gathers to watch the first all-in of the bubble and about 10 of my friends are there on the rail, cheering for a T as we await the flop.  A T peels off on the flop and a low comes on the turn to chop the pot.  My friends and I erupt as if we have doubled up, the entire tournament getting into our banter.  The very next hand I am in the big blind and look down at aces, not a bad hand to see with just 5 big blinds left.  The hand was again reported on Poker News:

Lee Watkinson raised the pot on the button and Brandon Paster, who was all in against Watkinson the previous hand when the two chopped, raised all in from the big blind for 22,000 total. Watkinson made the call and after having to wait until the other tables were finished their hands, the players flipped their cards.

Watkinson: {9-Diamonds}{4-Clubs}{4-Hearts}{3-Hearts}
Paster: {A-Hearts}{A-Diamonds}{Q-Diamonds}{10-Clubs}
Paster was ahead until the {K-Diamonds}{10-Hearts}{4-Spades} flop came down to give Watkinson the lead with bottom set. Paster could still stay alive with an ace, jack or running cards. The turn was the {6-Diamonds} to give Paster a flush draw but the river was the {K-Clubs} to fill Watkinson up and eliminate Paster in 37th place, one short of the money as this tournament’s bubble boy. The remaining players will now all receive at least $10,091 for their efforts.

Again I took it surprisingly well, perhaps a result of shock more than anything else, but I had a great time playing at the table, and was very proud of how I played.  That said, it was pretty heartbreaking.

As I left the tournament room my friends offered consolation but I needed some time alone to let it all sink in.  I wandered down the hallway and just paced back and forth, hands on my head, as the reality of the massive bubble and the end of my 2011 World Series sank in.  It is tough to describe my emotions at the time.  There wasn't really an overwhelming sense of anything so much as shock.  Disappointment sang its tune in the background but a feeling of numbness engulfed me as I sauntered back over to my friends and noticed a new presence in the hallway, the blonde from before.

I'm not sure if it was just an "I just don't give a fuck" attitude I had developed in the recent moments after busting the tournament, but after a couple minutes I had built up the courage to go talk to her.  As I walked with Tim and Mike past where she was sitting, I slowed my pace behind theirs and opened, "So were you there watching someone, or were you just sent there to distract the shit out of me?"  She smiled and laughed, I panicked...I had no gameplan.  She replied that she was there to watch Phil Laak which confused me a bit as he had said he didn't know her, which I told her.  She explained that she had also been watching a final table that was running next to me, where she knew Minh Ly, another famous poker player.  At this point I began to wonder who the fuck this girl was, so I asked.  She said she was a cash game player who played with Minh at the Aria, one of the nicest casinos in Vegas.  I was enthralled, but at this point I was freaking out a bit with how long this conversation had lasted and didn't know where I was going from there.  So I simply asked, "So what are you up to now?"  She said she was kind of tired and might just head home in a bit.  Think Brandon...  "Want to come hang out?"  She smiled and asked what our plans were.  I had nothing.  We were moving out of our house in Vegas the next day to spend a week at the Rio and had to do a ton of packing and cleaning the next morning.  The plan that night was to final table the $5k PLO8.  "Ummm, probably just going back and hanging out and drinking."  My brutal honesty brought another smile and a laugh.  She inquired as to where.  Oh shit, please let this be the right answer.  "We're about 15 minutes south of the strip."  A look of disappointment spread across her face.  Nooooooooooo.  "I live in North Vegas, that's kind of tough for me."  I was desperate, "I can give you a ride back?"  She smiled and said maybe another time.  My nerves were spent and at this point my brain was out of answers and all I could offer was an earnest "Ok, hope I see you around" as we smiled and parted ways.  About halfway down the hall Tim and Mike were waiting for me and after taking a few more steps we exchanged excited high fives.  What a rush.  And then about 15 steps from the car we realized, wait, why didn't I ask for her number?  Who knows if she would've given it to me, but what did I have to lose?  Unfortunately I felt as if the moment had passed and was content riding the rush from those two rare minutes of insane sober courage.

And so my World Series was over.  I had played about 15 tournaments and cashed one but felt incredible about my play.  In the meantime, I had played a handful of cash game sessions and had crushed every one of them.  My worst session I had made $1100 and I had played about 6 sessions at this point so I set out to play a good amount of cash for the last 10 days I was in Vegas.  The rungood kept coming.  One night, I went to dinner at a place off the strip called Rosemary's with Dan and Tim.  The chef there was a former second in hand to Emeril and the food was absolutely incredible.  Tim and I had decided to try a new place in Vegas every night for the last week we were there as we had done a good job limiting spending up until that point and there a ton of great restaurants to eat at.  This one took the cake.  4 bottles of wine later we returned to the Rio and played a few table games, which I still managed to hate in spite of my inebriated state of mind but we had some enjoyable banter with other players at the tables and a few more drinks.  We went up to the room and drank a bit more before Tim and Dan decided to retire for the night.  But I wasn't ready for my night to be over yet.

Emboldened by my recent successes at the cash tables, I went downstairs and hopped into a $5/$5 game and ordered another drink.  I can only remember the rest of the night in very brief flashes but I was just completely in the zone.  Normally I am completely quiet while I play but I was talking endlessly, betting exact amounts as soon as it was my turn, everything flowing.  At one point my $1k had turned into a $10k stack of $100s sitting in front of me.  River bets consisted of me slapping my stack of hundreds down in the middle of the table, indicating I was putting my opponent all-in.  At around 9 am my memory finally became a bit more lucid but I was determined to play til noon so as not to wake my roommate who would be coming down to play his Day 1 of the WSOP Main Event.  I struggled through the last few hours, aided by the friends I had made in the cash room over the course of the night who would come over and give me massages and even got me quesadillas when I was starving at 10 am.  As I stumbled into the Main Event room to wish Mike good luck, I had $6k in my pocket, a 35 year-old dealer's phone number in my phone, and a massive smile on my face.

This was pretty much the last session of 5/5 I ended up playing for the trip as my stay was just about at an end.  Between myself and a few friends I put together a tiny bankroll to take a shot at the 5/10/25 games but ran horribly and quickly went busto.  When I finally counted up all the money I had won/lost/spent in Vegas, I was down $1k overall, not bad for having lost a fair amount in tournaments, but a bit disappointing given I had made $14k at 5/5 PLO over the course of the month and a half.

I began my trip back home to D.C. with tears in my eyes thinking about all the amazing times I had in Vegas and the incredible poker experiences but now it was time to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my poker career.  Decision time.