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

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 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.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Doomsday: Black Friday (Part 1 of 3)

One year ago yesterday I lost my job.  I wasn't fired or laid off.  I didn't decide to quit or go back to school.  My job just simply ceased to exist thanks to the United States government deciding to crack down on the horrible evil that is online poker.  It was April 15, 2011, a day that would henceforth be known to poker players as "Black Friday."

I woke up at the usual hour, around 11 am, determined to finish painting our beer pong table before we hosted a party later that night (an ambitious goal that wouldn't come to fruition for another month).  I painted for a few hours before heading back downstairs to take a quick shower before getting some lunch.  As I was about to step into the shower I heard a vibration from behind me and grabbed my phone to see a text message from a poker friend of mine, Austin: "Poker sky is falling, seriously this time."  Suddenly the shower could wait.

"The poker sky is falling" was a long-running half-joke in the poker community.  For two years leading up to Black Friday depositing into and withdrawing from online poker sites had become increasingly difficult.  No longer were the days of instantaneous cashouts or wandering over to Wal-Mart to pickup a few thousand from the cash counter as Poker Stars and Full Tilt were forced to cycle quickly through payment processors with the U.S. government tightening their grip.  We could obviously still cashout within a reasonable amount of time, but the gradually lengthening timeframe was a constant point of concern, especially with Full Tilt.  While it wasn't illegal for us to be playing online poker there was always a fear that the government could put the kabash on it.

So I slid over to my computer and hopped on the poker forums and Skype to see our worst fears had really come true.  Going to or still tells part of the story, although the FBI has changed from what it originally had, and what we opened these websites to on the afternoon of the 15th:

The image still angers me to this day.

The United States Department of Justice had, overnight and without any warning whatsoever, shut off the major online poker superpowers Poker Stars, Full Tilt, and Ultimate Bet to American customers.  Along with that, all player money held in online accounts was frozen as the DOJ had simultaneously frozen the accounts of 100+ payment processors.  (For the poker players reading this, my apologies for calling Ultimate Bet a superpower, I hope you didn't choke on anything as you read that)

I stared at my computer screen in disbelief.  Skype flashed with a constant stream of orange as the entire world I knew was thrown into chaos.  How could they do this to us overnight?  Our expectation was always that if online poker was to come to a complete halt it would be via new legislation and we would have plenty of time to prepare for it.  Think again.

April 15 just so happens to be tax day and earlier that morning my accountant e-mailed me to inform me that she had submitted my tax payment for 2010.  My tax payment was for approximately $18,000...I had $18,500 in my bank account.  $21,000 was now locked up on Poker Stars, another $17,000 was tied up on Full Tilt, and another $3,000 was on Ultimate Bet.  In hindsight it seems incredibly irresponsible of me to ever have that kind of money online when the games I was playing really only required 10-15k but I had been regularly cashing out money for a month and intended to continue to do so for the next month.  Additionally, in my naive mind poker sites were just as safe as my bank account.  With absolutely no idea when this money would be unlocked and a strong desire to feed and shelter myself in the upcoming weeks, I fired off a panicked e-mail to my accountant:

Hi Paula, I'm not sure if you have heard the very recent news (as of like 2 hours ago) but the FBI just decided to crack down on all 3 of the major poker companies.  This really couldn't come at a worse time for me as I have been working for the last month on just getting enough money liquid to pay taxes and was planning on continuing to cashout from the poker sites for another month to restore my bank account.  As it currently stands, they have seized 75 different payment processors and it looks as though cashouts may be impossible for the time being.  We haven't heard anything from the poker sites yet and really have no idea, but as of right now I have the tax payment covered in my bank account, but only by about $500.  Is it possible for you to delay the electronic payments we have filed?  I don't know what the situation is going to be and I don't want to leave myself completely screwed.

She replied within a half hour and gave me the unfortunate news that there was nothing she could do from her end once it had been filed but there was a number I could call to attempt to cancel it.  The problem was that it was a Friday and it required two business days notice to be cancelled and the payment was to be processed on Monday.  I quickly dialed the number and within 15 minutes was explaining my situation to another person who notified me that not only was he unable to cancel the payment for me, the payment wouldn't even show up in their system until 7-10 days after it was processed.  #useless.  Desperate, I shot over to the bank a half hour before it closed to see if there was some way I could cancel it from their end.

Yet again, there was nothing they could do to cancel the payment.   Intrigued by my desire to suddenly cancel my tax payment at the last second, the bank manager started asking a few questions.  For those of you unfamiliar with U.S. law concerning online poker, the legislation detrimental to the online poker world primarily focused on making it illegal for U.S. banks to knowingly move money in and out of online poker sites.  Banks did very little (or in my case nothing) to actively investigate where the money was coming from, but the general consensus was that there was no good reason to offer such information.  I, however, have a horrible tendency of wanting to tell people the truth.  As the words "online poker" left my mouth for the first time in a banking establishment I studied his face.  I expected a furrowing of the eyebrows as alarm bells rang or the eyes to widen as he realized I was one of those customers turning his bank counter to the law.  What I saw instead was his eyebrows raise and his intent gaze was replaced with a look of amusement and interest.  Perhaps he didn't know, or did he not care?  Did I not entirely understand what the law (UIGEA) dictated as a bank's responsibilities concerning online poker?  Surely a bank manager must know of UIGEA and it's implications.  For whatever reason, it was readily apparent that my occupation was merely a source of interest for him and not concern.  My heart slid back out of my throat as the manager's questions followed along the lines of those of a girl I meet at a bar rather than a lord whose realm has been threatened.  Before I knew it I was hitting on him and he said he needed to go to the bathroom and never returned...

In actuality, he was intent on being as helpful as he could possibly be.  We decided my best course of action, as had been recommended by my accountant, was to withdraw all of the money I had in my account and bounce the check I had written to the IRS...always a fun best option.  Once the check had bounced he would give me a call to let me know I could re-deposit the money and he would waive any fees associated with the check bouncing from his side.  He gave me his business card and told me that if I had any other issues or needed any advice concerning the issue just to give him a call.  Score the digits.

I drove back home, virtually my entire net worth sitting in check form on the seat next to me, slightly comforted knowing I could keep on eating for a while.  Time to prepare for a party.

Beer.  Beer pong.  Mike on the grill.  Anti-government sentiment.  Poker explanations.  More beer.  Plenty of empathy.  Outdoor table games.  Good party.  #movingon

Over the next few days very little news came from the poker companies.  The online forums were flooded with conjecture to fill the void of concrete information.  Full Tilt was adamant they had done nothing wrong, denying the accusations of money laundering and bank fraud levied against its CEOs.  Tensions heightened as panicked cashouts from the 15th were manifested by a return to our previous Full Tilt and Poker Stars online balances instead of an increase in our bank accounts.  Sure nobody expected this money to hit our accounts, but we hoped.  The companies e-mailed us to assure us that customer funds were safe but set forth no timetable as to when we would actually see them.

For many it was time to make a decision.  One thing was pretty clear: to continue playing poker for a living would require moving out of the country on a semi-permanent basis.  The alternative many faced was to finally enter the dreaded real world.  Personally it was pretty clear to me that continuing to play poker was my best option but I wouldn't need to make a decision immediately.  I had already finalized plans to go to the World Series of Poker in June where we had rented a house for myself and 5 friends.  A decision concerning my future in poker could wait but I began considering a few options for a move out of the country.

For weeks, 24" monitors across the country were simply vacant space.  One screen after another would go dark as we found spacing Skype and Mozilla across two screens to be a pointless endeavor.  Poker chat groups on Skype morphed into Risk chat groups as an entire community was left with nothing to do with their time.  Pale white faces peaked out behind doors and winced at the sheer brightness of sunlight.  Call of Duty players witnessed a new onslaught of players bearing inapplicable poker aliases or the occasional "TripleBarrellShotgun"s of the world.  Personally, my day-to-day life didn't change all that much as it really only freed up about 20 hours a week as I was a lazy son of a bitch with poker a year ago.  You never know what you have until you lose it.

Finally, after a couple weeks of waiting, we saw some light at the end of the tunnel.  Poker Stars and Full Tilt announced that they had signed an agreement with the U.S. DOJ to payout American players as they exited the U.S. market.  Additionally, the websites confirmed that they would be available to U.S. players who relocated outside of the United States.  Within a few days of this announcement Poker Stars had made cashout options available to U.S. players and I received my $21,000 in late May.  Full Tilt was expected to sort out their payment processors in the upcoming days and I would at least have financial security if not a job.  Ultimate Bet was assumed to be bankrupt but all things considered I could handle that.

I prepared for my road trip out to Vegas excited for a great World Series and optimistic about my future in poker.

(End of Part 1)

This song may not really fit the general mood of the blog, but that's not really the point of my music anyway.  Also, for those of you wondering how poker has gone since my last update, I had a huge finish to Australia and ended up having a pretty profitable trip.  A few more blogs are upcoming, for real this time as I'm back in the U.S. and without poker for the next 2.5 weeks.