Friday, December 23, 2011

Why I do not, cannot, and likely will never support the PPA

Apparently poker got some good news today, as the Wire Act was deemed by the US Department of Justice to not apply to poker. I am not a legal expert and so I defer to those who are for an in-depth examination of this news. That's not what this post is about. This post is about the following quote from John Pappas of the Poker Player's Alliance, which jumped out and hit me square between the eyes with as much force and surprise as any left jab I've seen this week:
“The PPA commends Assistant Attorney General Seitz for recognizing this. However, this ruling makes it even more important that Congress acts now to clarify federal law, and to create a licensing and regulation regime for Internet poker, coupled with clear laws and strong enforcement against other forms of gambling deemed to be illegal.” (Emphasis mine.)
And this, very simply, is why I cannot in good conscience support the PPA. "My gambling is okay, but your gambling is illegal and should be punished," is the height of hypocrisy. It is indefensible. It is, morally speaking, little better than if the civil rights movement were to have argued for equal rights for blacks but continued oppression of Hispanics and Jews.

I've, at times, wanted to support the PPA. After the passage of the UIGEA, I actually got as far as the signup page on their website. But the John Pappases of the world do not represent me and can never represent me as long as this is their position. This, in my view, is the worst type of special interest group; the ones that are willing to actively throw others under the bus so that they can emerge from the wreck.

These people are no friends of liberty. In the end, what matters is not the freedom to play poker. It is freedom, period.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Three days in at Phuket Top Team

I'm three full training days into my retreat here in Phuket, training this time at Phuket Top Team. I've been enjoying it quite a bit. The last time I was here, at Tiger Muay Thai in April was enjoyable, but somehow less so. It wasn't really the training at TMT, which was good, but I think this time I'm just more acclimated to both the training and the lifestyle.

First the lifestyle. I've always been a city boy who loves his big city, first-world distractions. And here it's quiet, the internet is terrible, I know almost no one, the food is pretty much the same every day, and I can't get a decent cup of coffee to save my life. And yet in spite of all that I'm happy here. I wake up and train while in a fasted state, and so I'm pretty much down to eat anything when I'm done. Then I'm tired and it's time for a noon nap. Then it's time for the afternoon training session and the process repeats. I'm in bed well before 11pm and I don't really have time to think about not having my industrialized-world comforts.

As for the training, I think it helps I'm a little more fit than I was last time. When I came to TMT last time, I had been training consistently for a few months in Hong Kong, but certainly not as hard as I was this summer/fall in Vancouver. Maybe it's the pollution or that I get less sleep but I definitely train harder in Vancouver. That fitness level leads to an increased ability for me to do multiple sessions daily without too much fatigue, whereas in April I felt I was truly crawling out of the gym after every session. And I think most of the classes are a 7/10 in terms of difficulty as opposed to a 9/10 where I wouldn't be able to do multiple sessions daily. Doing more sessions also means I sleep more and have less downtime in which to get bored.

I have met a few interesting people while down here. A lot of the long-term students I've met here are actually pretty cool people and not typical bro/meathead fighters at all. I don't know how social I'll be here -- after all, I don't go out and party back home so I'm certainly not going to do it now when I'm wiped from twice-daily training -- but it's nice to at least be able to have a decent conversation over dinner.

Training is definitely good. Muay Thai is great, especially for the 7am class, because so few people show up for it that the trainer/fighter ratio is often close to 1:1. Thus you practically get a private lesson and many rounds of padwork, which is great. They also seem personally invested. I've had the same Thai trainer holding pads and coaching me every day, so he is quickly learning my strengths and weaknesses. Without question this is the biggest advantage of doing this second trip here at Phuket Top Team as opposed to the gargantuan Tiger Muay Thai.

The no-gi/BJJ training situation is a little different. Classes are similarly small; there are a lot of people who are complete newbs but there also appear to be some real studs and pro fighters. I don't think I have a large enough sample size to see what's going on there yet but I haven't encountered anyone like me who is just sort of intermediate level. The instructor is a former instructor of mine from Hong Kong, Silvio Braga, whom I like and have learned a great deal from in the past, so I'm sure I'll end up getting better no matter what the sparring partner situation ends up being. I haven't trained with the MMA instructor yet but I look forward to doing that on Monday or Tuesday.

This feels like kind of a boring blog entry, but that's because to most people this trip would be pretty boring: wake up, train, eat, sleep, wake up, train, eat, sleep. It's not what exciting blogs are made of, but it's keeping me happy. And it had better, because I still have 26 more days of it!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

off to train in Phuket

It's been a while since I posted, mostly because not much exciting has happened. I cashed small in the APPT Macau main event but failed to cash in the high roller event, so it was a trip that ended up in the red. Since then I've just been in Hong Kong training BJJ and MMA at my home gym here.

One thing that did transpire was my 31st birthday. As my cousin was quick to point out, that means I'm not just 30, I'm now in my thirties. Coincidentally, I happened to watch the MMA movie "Warrior" on my birthday. The movie contains a scene where the main character, a career journeyman, is told by his trainer, "c'mon, you were barely a .500 fighter when you were on the right side of 30!"

"The right side of 30" clearly implies that I'm now on the wrong side. Ouch. Just like that, I'm officially old? Hey, if Hollywood says it, it must be true. And I suppose there is also that wealth of anecdotal evidence and scientific study that indicates explosiveness, power, and so forth are now on the downswing at my age too.

Nevertheless, I am off to continue my quest for self-improvement in the MMA game by heading off to Phuket, Thailand on Tuesday. Once there, I feel like I'll be able to isolate myself and do nothing but train for a month, ideally working my way up to twice-daily, 6-day-per-week training, as a pro would.

It will be an interesting experience for me. Obviously I have already once set aside a long block where I did essentially nothing but train (the 8 weeks leading up to my fight) but this will be different as I will have no real support network and no tangible goal at the end. This time, the goal is the process itself. If an appropriate MMA or Muay Thai fight does come up during my time there, I will happily take it, but I won't put pressure on myself to do it. I'm fine waiting until spring time in Vancouver to fight again.

People frequently ask how much longer I plan to do the MMA thing, and I think until I am 35 or so seems quite reasonable. The other thing people ask is what I want to achieve. I'm not a big believer in setting very specific goals myself, but I do want to challenge myself, develop the best possible version of me, and see how far I can get in that time. The ultimate goal is to have no regrets and to never wonder what might have been.

Of course, the UFC did today announce it would be opening the 125-pound weight class starting in March. Which of course makes me think thoughts like, "my walking weight is about 137-140 these days, the division isn't so well-developed, and while I utterly lack experience the one upside is that I haven't taken much damage..." And then I realize there's also the part where I'm a 31-year-old with exactly one fight on his record and who still gets tapped out by blue belts. Well, dare to dream, I suppose.

But ultimately it doesn't really matter. All that matters is a little self-improvement, every day. And for my next little dose of self-improvement, I find myself packing my bags for Phuket.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

by popular request: handicapping (sorta) ElkY vs RaSZi

I guess since I am now perceived as some sort of fight expert by the poker community (spoiler: I'm not), people keep asking me my opinion about the ElkY vs RaSZi* kickboxing match next week. So in this post I'll concede to trying to break down a fight with very incomplete knowledge. I've trained with ElkY, but I've never seen Lex train, fight, or do anything more physically active than reaching for chips. Moreover, because I trained with ElkY, I'm biased; I want him to win.

But ElkY has been training hard. I sparred with him a little bit at EPT Madrid in April when he first started out with his Lincon, his current trainer, and I also sparred with him a little last month in Cannes. Unsurprisingly, the difference was very significant. He's able to put strikes together, move forward, and counterpunch now. More importantly, he never seemed to mind getting hit. In Madrid he was very inexperienced and we were going light, but even then he didn't mind being hit and kept coming forward. But in Cannes, I definitely cracked him a couple of times and he had no problem with it. Amongst novice fighters, the willingness to be hit and keep moving forward makes a big difference.

According to Lex's blog, Lex had 18 months of boxing training when he was a teenager. That's of some value but not a lot, since he's now 27. It seems like his training has also been hampered by injuries up until a few months ago when he finally got healthy two months ago. Since then, he has been training "a few times a week."

If one could be assured that Lex is telling the full truth and not underselling himself, I definitely like ElkY's side given this information. Lincon has ElkY training virtually every morning and has him eating well. Over a 5-round fight, I really have to think ElkY has a major cardio advantage, although Lex being more experienced in fights means he'll be a little less likely to adrenaline dump. But as far as I can tell, ElkY has been training consistently for six months and Lex has been training off and on for two months.

Lex points out in the blog that Elky's "coordination seems a bit bad and I don't think he is a natural athlete." To this, I will admit that yes, I've seen him in the ring and he's not going to dazzle with Muhammad Ali footwork. But he is very well trained. Lincon is a very good, technical trainer with a great attitude. So I know ElkY knows his fundamentals. He doesn't have to look great. All he really has to do is tuck his chin, keep his hands up, and throw strikes, and I think he's going to do that. Athleticism is often what separates guys at the elite level, but we're talking about two very raw guys. And when we're talking about two such guys, I favour the guy who has been working harder and has gotten consistent, professional training. Maybe Lex is a better natural athlete. Maybe if he weren't playing Starcraft and poker he'd be greater than Ernesto Hoost and Peter Aerts combined. I'm not denying the importance of athleticism, and maybe I'm biased because I'm not athletically gifted myself, but I'll favour the uncoordinated guy with six months of training over the athletic guy with two.

I feel there's one last advantage that ElkY has, and that is surprising toughness. As I said, even when he was very unskilled, he didn't mind getting hit and continued staying aggressive. The rules of the fight dictate that if no one is KOd or TKOd or quits, then the fight is a draw. I think ElkY is tough enough that this makes it a partial freeroll. Neither guy likely has enough power at this stage to KO the other unless someone really gets their hands low and chin up. And I don't think ElkY will quit because of the toughness I've mentioned. So his only path to losing is that he is taking so much damage that the ref is forced to stop the fight. And unless Lex lands some serious bombs early, it seems unlikely he has the gas tank to accrue that level of damage.

I'd be very surprised if Lex hasn't undersold himself just a little bit and he's probably a bit more trained than he's let on. Not because he wants to hustle bettors (the bet with ElkY is already very big), but just to manage expectations. Normally I don't buy into anything fighters say about how their training is going, but with less experienced guys and guys who aren't super-serious fighters, I think there is less bravado, posturing, and "I'm in the best shape of my life!!!!111" talk.

So yeah, I've put down my $1000 down on ElkY. Mostly just a bet for fun, and to show a bit of support, but I do think there's some edge. In any case I just hope it's a good fight and that they'll continue to train, improve themselves and find as much joy as I've found in the combat sports.

Official Prediction: ElkY by 4th round TKO

And with that, I'm off to my own gym!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Almost-Live Televised Poker and Play Clocks - A Match Made in Heaven?

There's been a lot of buzz about the "almost-live" WSOP final table and what came out of it. Personally, I was fascinated by it, and probably most hardcore fans and poker players were too. It did, however, go on for a very long time, and that led a lot of pundits to talk about the viability of such broadcasts going forward. In this week's 2+2 Pokercast, we talked about whether a casual fan of poker would have enjoyed the show or turned it off because they felt it was too long or slow-paced. Indeed it seems to be a common sentiment on Twitter that the broadcast was perhaps too dry for casual viewers, especially those used to seeing fast-paced, slickly-edited poker productions.

My aggressive, maybe even slightly insane solution? 60-second play clock on all postflop actions, and 30-second play clock on all preflop actions. The clock starts running from the time you're informed by the dealer of the bet size. Players would get one or more timeouts, maybe even as many as one per level, to tank on really monumental decisions or to draw out a read from an opponent.

Does it change the game quite dramatically? Yes, but obviously that ship has sailed long ago with both the creation of the November Nine a few years back and now every hand revealed on a 15-minute delay. This would be a less-significant strategy change than the revealed hole cards by a substantial margin.

And honestly, I think the majority of players -- and by this I mean across all players, not just pros -- would enjoy the pace of the game. Imagine if you never had to watch another guy tank for 4 minutes in a pot that doesn't involve you at all, ever again? I'd love it!

Let me hear your thoughts in the poll below or in the comments.

Would you support going to a play clock for major poker tournaments?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mixed Emotions: Sweating the WSOP Final Table

I love watching championship moments. I'll watch the finals of a sport I don't even like, only to get bored and stop paying attention. But I'll always watch the last few seconds on the clock, or the game-winning score, or however it is the game ends. I love watching the absolute unbridled joy of the winner when he realizes his dream. He can't believe it's happening. It's not real...but it is! It's such a great moment and I always get a little bit choked up, even when I have no emotional investment in the player or the team (or even the sport).

Poker is no exception. From what I've heard, Pius Heinz is a really nice, humble kid who is a deserving winner, and so it was great to see him over the moon and jumping into his rail when the harmless river card fell. I love watching moments like that. But in some sense it's harder in poker. I've known for pretty much my entire life that I will never hoist the Stanley Cup or win an NBA title or a World Cup, or even a UFC title. But I am a poker player. I've been playing poker for over 12 years; it's been my entire adult life. It's what I do. I'm pretty good at it, I've achieved a lot of success in it, and made lots of money doing it. Yet I know that realistically, when it comes to the WSOP main event all I can really do is daydream about winning it. Even if I play great and run tremendously good, it almost certainly won't happen. I'll never know what that final river card hitting feels like; I can only imagine it.

And that kind of leaves me with a sad feeling inside. I think most of the time I'm at peace with the thought of never winning the main event (ever since the 2004 WSOP, this has been obvious to anyone who can do basic math). Maybe I'm a little extra emotionally vulnerable since I bricked yet another big buy-in live tournament today. Or maybe it was even the fact that I watched the Heinz-Martin Staszko heads-up battle with nine other top-notch, highly successful poker pros, analyzing their every move and talking about how much better we could have played those hands. To be sure, we have egos, and our comments were borne of a genuine belief that we could play certain hands better than they did. But not a single one of us wasn't at least a little bit jealous, hoping against hope that we'll have the chance to be there one day.

I guess that's what keeps people coming back to poker. It's what puts 6,865 people putting up $10,000 in the wake of both Black Friday and the big economic recession of the late 2000s. Because even the most cynical of poker pros who say we "have to play the main" because "it's sooooo much value" are, at least a little bit, dreamers too.

Congrats to Pius Heinz, the new world champion of our game. I hope you enjoy every bit of it, Pius, because 6,864 of us wish it were us.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Poker's 1% walks into a bar

The poker tournament is in town.

I feel like saying "the poker tournament" oversells the matter. The BC Poker Championships is the biggest tournament of the year in Western Canada. Its main event is a $3000 buy-in, certainly not an amount to sneeze at, but in an age where $10000+ main events are the norm, it's not the sort that attracts international attention from media or high-stakes pros.  Typically during the BCPC, I am among the short list of best-known or most successful players in the field. But something unique has happened to Vancouver's poker population in the post-Black Friday world.  Dozens of the best American poker players have come north in the past few months to continue earning a living.  And that is why at midnight on a Friday night, at a dive bar called the Atlantic Trap and Gill, I found myself flanked by five self-made poker millionaires: Brian Hastings, Mike McDonald, Mike Watson, Tom Marchese and a fifth guy named Matt that I'd not met before.

Adding to the incongruity of tens of millions of dollars in poker winnings hunkering down and squeezing on to a crowded bar bench over $13 pitchers of beer were the half-dozen or so non-poker players in our group.  Some were old friends of the poker pros, but the others were actually just randoms who were nice enough to share their table with us. By engaging us in conversation they suddenly found themselves knee-deep in a world they had not even considered or fathomed.

"I'll lay 8-to-1 that Brian left that on the table," declared Mike McDonald, upon returning from the washroom.

The EPT champion and 3-time final tablist pointed at the crisp $100 bill sitting by itself in the middle of the table.  No one had asked to settle the tab, but Brian was in fact the person who had left the C-note before heading out the door.  A couple minutes earlier, Brian, apparently having made progress with the attractive young woman who'd showed up just a few minutes earlier, had made the decision to move to a (presumably nicer) bar.  He'd only been around 20 minutes and had one, maybe two beers at best before casually tossing the $100 on the table.

I told Timex how I'd even offered to break the $100 for Brian, but that Brian simply shrugged his shoulders, said "it's fine", and casually left.  Timex found the situation hilarious and exuberantly started explaining to one of the puzzled non-poker randoms that even in this collection of highly successful poker players, Brian stood an echelon above us.

"So this guy that was here and left that $100 bill, well basically, all of us here have won a bunch of money playing poker, but he's won more money in one day than any of us have won in our careers. He holds the world record for most money won playing poker in a single day.  So basically he just bought us all drinks because he's baller like that."  (Tom Marchese then pointed out that his lifetime earnings are in fact greater than Brian's legendary $5 million walloping of Viktor Blom.)

After the hubbub of the $100 bill died down, the topic shifted to poker players and the public perception of how much they win playing poker versus their actual results.  Eventually the topic of Andy Beal came up and I wondered out loud at what limit I would be willing to play him if I had all of my action.

Timex, true to his nature, quickly jumped in with his opinion: that assuming I am worth about a million dollars, that I should definitely be willing to at least take a shot with $300,000 and play him at $3000/$6000, estimating that I have an 80% chance of losing those 50 big bets but a 20% chance of winning some obscene amount like $30,000,000 (assuming he would go that deep).  Mike then punctuated his story, drawing images of me in some Caribbean island with dozens of models on my arm, a sort of 30-year-old Hugh Hefner being waited on hand-and-foot on a tropical paradise.

It was at this point our random turned to his friends and said "I can't believe the conversations that are going on this end of the table."  I think that while there are certainly many groups of successful poker players who are incapable of judging when it is socially acceptable to discuss huge sums of money in varied company, that the social intelligence of this particular group in that respect is actually above average.  But here we were, clearly blowing minds simply by talking candidly amongst ourselves.  At one point I reached into my inside jacket pocket in search of my phone and instead grabbed a small wad of $100 bills. I turned to Timex and Tom and said, "Sweet! Found money; I love when that happens!"  Needless to say, I had not considered the potential reaction of Jess, the red-haired girl on my right whose bewildered expression seemed to indicate that she had not, in fact, experienced the feeling of randomly finding $600 that she'd forgotten she'd had.

Last call came and went, unnoticed by us since our party still had a completely full pitcher on the table.  Our waitress brought us the bill. Actually, she brought us several bills.  I suppose in a bar like this, waitresses are used to splitting bills among large parties of 20somethings, but when we added up all the pitchers, the sum of all the various bills was just $75 and thus well-covered by Mr. Hastings' gesture of generosity.  Jess suggested that we should figure out Brian's share and give him back the rest of the money tomorrow. I assured her that while this would indeed be the fairest thing to do, that it was beyond unnecessary.

One of the randoms, a very pleasant and sociable girl named Andrea, went to leave, but before doing so, made sure to get our attention to tell us how nice it was to have met us, and we returned the sentiment.  I do wonder whether she meant it was nice to meet us in the traditional sense, or in the "I feel like I've just witnessed things that I'll never see again" sense.  I still can't help but shake the feeling that a half-dozen regular folk encountering a half-dozen millionaire poker players simply being themselves was only slightly less strange than meeting an alien species which happened to speak English.

Timex received a text from Brian, and he and Tom decided to head for the bar where Brian had left some time earlier.  I decided it was best for me to head home.  We bid farewell to the remaining randoms, as well as Mike Watson, who seemed engaged with the young woman seated next to him.  The waitress was appreciative of her $25 tip.  We opened the door to find it was raining outside, hard.  Timex and Tom quickly flagged down a cab.  Living only two blocks away, I simply put my head down and ran for home.

The young kids, they can enjoy their late-night drinking and partying.  I'm an old man and even before I was even an old man I was an old soul, so I'll just tap away at the keys and make some words appear on the computer screen for an hour.  But despite where we differ, I am still clearly one of them.

And if you read this story and thought, "nothing about this seems that out of the ordinary," well, then you're one of us too.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My fight in pictures

Everyone keeps asking for video, video, video. Still none yet; Battlefield told me after November they can put it up on Facebook. Let's hope. Anyway, my old poker friend Kevin Wong is apparently now an MMA photographer. He was kind enough to send me close to 300 photos which pretty much sum up the event in pictures; I've selected a few dozen of them:

Monday, October 17, 2011

My WSOPE is officially in the Cannes

I busted early on Day 2 of the main event of the WSOPE, meaning my chances of bringing my 2011 tournament year to even a respectable level are starting to slip away. The only poker tournaments I plan to play for the remainder of the year now are the BC Poker Championships in two weeks and the APPT Macau in November. I've always been a cash game player and I've never played more than 30-35 poker tournaments a year, but this is the first year since I started playing them seriously at all that has just been a total airball. Overall I'm down about $70k playing tournaments this year, which is basically an insignificant amount in the poker tournament world, but annoying nonetheless.

Regardless, there is much to be thankful for on the week following Canadian Thanksgiving.  I've done well enough playing limited hours online.  I have a sponsorship deal, which puts me in a seemingly shrinking minority of poker players every day.  The real estate I own has done well and my financial health is solid. My physical health is just as good, and while I've enjoyed this trip I'll be glad to get back to the gym, where three of my teammates are fighting on next month's Battlefield card.

Cannes was a great getaway though and everything I wanted in a post-fight getaway (other than winning millions of Euros).  I worked out a bunch and stayed in shape here, working with Elky and his trainer, Lincon, but it was not the relentless, stressful grind of fight camp.  While not training, I ate wonderful food, hung out with people, and got as much sun as I could in the context of playing a poker tournament (and more than I would have gotten in Vancouver anyway).  And even if the results were lame, I played well and had fun doing so.

Just call me Mr. Glass Half Full, I guess.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Cannes't think of a good pun - WSOPE prelims report

I've played five of the six WSOPE prelims, skipping only the €5000 pot-limit Omaha. Despite the lack of a big score, the events have been a lot of fun!  The tournament schedule is great. Seven events, and four of them (6-max NL, shootout, split format, and this one) involve shorthanded play in one way or another.

I continue to be extremely impressed by the level of service here. I've been critical of the WSOP (Las Vegas) in the past and have no problem calling them out when I think they're in the wrong or when they've treated non-A-list players poorly.  So since I've put them on blast, it's now time to give them credit where it is due. Here in Cannes, the WSOP team has left me virtually nothing to complain about.  They have definitely made me feel like they genuinely care about my experience here.  I think everyone -- or at least the better tournament organizers -- are slowly realizing that with the tough year that poker has had, that there is serious competition for the tournament player's dollar.  They're starting to figure out that things like word-of-mouth, blogs and Twitter are democratizing and influencing factors.  And the end result is that they're doing a better job taking care of us and it seems that all the circuit regulars I've been talking to have also come away impressed with the things they've done here.

As for the prelims, I'll talk about my series so far after the jump:

Monday, October 10, 2011

I think I Cannes: Why the WSOPE is better off on the French Riviera

As I've written in this space previously, I've been excited for the WSOP in Cannes for a while now. The WSOP management team further increased my expectations about a month ago when I received an e-mail out of the blue from Ty Stewart representing the rest of the WSOPE team. It was sent to me "as one of the world’s prominent players" (not sure what qualified me for that distinction) with some additional info and an invitation to e-mail him or the others directly with my WSOPE concerns, and later on even offered shuttle service from Nice to Cannes.

For the most part, they were fairly responsive, but there were a couple snags and a few seemingly missed or ignored e-mails. My biggest complaint was that they didn't confirm either of my e-mails with my arrival flight info, so I had no idea whether or not I should expect pickup upon arrival in Nice. Nice has two arrival terminals and even though I sent an e-mail saying I'd be at Terminal 1, I was later told by Mike Watson that the driver who picked him up was waiting for me at Terminal 2. So the end result was me wandering around Terminal 1 for about 45 minutes before giving up and fading the 90 taxi to Cannes. Now they didn't have to offer shuttle service in the first place, but it turns out I'd have been better off if they didn't; if I hadn't been expecting it at least I could have been prepared and made some kind of arrangement for it. By failing to confirm the e-mail, I missed the shuttle and the people getting picked up at the other terminal had to wait around for someone who never showed up. It's all about managing expectations and I think there was some ball-dropping on this one.

One area in which they were pretty solid was pre-registration. Registering for poker tournaments in European casinos is often a lengthy, highly-tilting process. But wiring and pre-registering for the events I'm playing went pretty smoothly; in fact, it was probably better managed than my annual wire to the WSOP in Las Vegas, and I don't have to carry cash/chips all over town. So props to them on that.

And then there is the move to Cannes itself, which seems to be the topic of much discussion. I count myself in the camp that's solidly in favour. Aside from a day in Nice prior to EPT San Remo, it's my first time in the Cote d'Azur, and I like it here. I'm not really the biggest fan of London either, which I've always found expensive, lacking in quality mid-range priced food, and not terribly interesting. And anyone who had played the WSOPE in the past realized how poorly designed the London casinos are for holding big poker tournaments.

So I was pretty surprised by the tone of this article which came across my Twitter feed and was highly critical of the move to Cannes. Among the reasons cited by the author:

"For Europeans, getting to Cannes and finding somewhere to rest your head is far from easy...For Americans, flying direct from Vegas to Cannes is a non-starter, so the big hitters from America will have to find an alternative route."
I'm not European so perhaps I'm missing something, but I had absolutely no trouble finding accommodation. I sent out 6 e-mails on a furnished apartment rental website and got 6 responses. I'm renting a very nice furnished 2-bedroom apartment just a few minutes from the water for just over €100/night. I'm not sure you can get a cardboard box near the Thames River for that. Instead, I'm writing this post while looking at this view:

And yes, I did complain about spending €90 to get from the airport. But the cabs I've taken from Heathrow to anywhere in London were pretty much the same. In fact, I'm a little scared to know what my cab fare in London would have been had I arrived at 5 PM on Friday night like I did in Nice.

"Secondly, poker in France is now regulated and therefore taxed. That means that 4% of every price pool will go straight to the French Government and in all the players will be losing eight to 10% of the prize pool in deductions, and that’s before you’ve tipped anyone."
The 4% surtax is certainly a very legitimate complaint, so I'll concede that point. However...

The WSOPE was such a special event because of the concentration of superstars, now this move will dilate that two-fold, with more locals and less big names making the journey across the pond.
This one makes me shake my head, especially because I looked up the author and found that he's an accomplished player with a long history of tournament results. I expect these words from some media or a fanboy, but not a poker pro. Presumably someone who has been around the block a few times realizes that when we're talking about southern France and the Mediterranean, "more locals and less [sic] big names" is a good thing?! If my starting table in the €1000 NL was any indication, I think the change in the quality of opposition is well worth fading the extra 4%.

"For the past couple of years London has been the centre of the poker world for a month every Autumn, making it worthwhile for players to travel and play a European series of events like we travel to the WSOP."
This just generally reeks of "I used to have majors just come to my doorstep and now I don't" whining, plain and simple, and if you read the whole article that attitude permeates it. Of course if you're a UK-based player you're going to lament the loss of the largest event on this side of the Atlantic, but unfortunately for you guys, the world doesn't revolve around London. So sad.

"Making the World Series of Europe as special as the actual World Series, and the bracelets as special as those dished out in Vegas, has been the biggest problem for the powers that be since the WSOPE’s inception. Just as it was becoming part of the poker establishment Harrah’s have made this move to France."

I'm sorry, but really, this was "the biggest problem"? Other than media people looking for storylines, and a few prop bettors, I don't really think the majority of poker players care very much about how "special" WSOPE bracelets are. I'm sure that tournament organizers love to have big names, but only inasmuch as big names draw attention and casual players and increase their bottom line. I wonder how they've done? Through two comparable events:

2010 in London:

Event 1: £2,650 Six Handed No Limit Hold'em
Entrants: 244, Total Prize Pool: £610,000
Event 3: £1,075 No Limit Hold'em
Entrants: 582, Total Prize Pool: £582,000
2011 in Cannes:

Event 1: €2,680 Six Handed No-Limit Hold'em
Entrants: 360, Total Prize Pool: €753,600
Event 2: €1,090 No-Limit Hold'em
Entrants: 771, Total Prize Pool: €740,160

Registration for Event 3, the €5,000 PLO, is still open as of this writing. The equivalent event drew 120 players for a £600,000 prize pool last year in London. According to PokerNews, there are currently 164 registered with two hours left in late registration.

And now remember that these results are occurring in what is considered by pretty much everyone to be a disastrous year for the poker economy and it seems like a slam dunk. While I admit to some personal bias against London, the numbers make it pretty clear that Ty Stewart and the WSOPE gang have done the right thing in moving here. Cannes is less expensive (though still plenty expensive), prettier, boasts a superior climate, has great food for all budgets, and there's way more value in the tournament itself. Easy win, n'est-ce pas?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Switzerland 48-hour trip report

On the list of exciting and cosmopolitan European destinations Basel, Switzerland does not usually register among them. Nevertheless, that's where I found myself just a couple days before the first WSOP Europe event in Cannes. I was there to see decorated grappler Ryan Hall, one of the most brilliant minds in jiujitsu. For poker players, I've always thought that if Ryan had dedicated himself to poker instead of grappling, he'd definitely be a winning high-limit pro. Ryan runs a school in Virginia and if not for my well-publicized issues traveling to the U.S. to train MMA, I probably would've already gone down to that gym. But thanks to the wonderful people at Immigration and Naturalization Services, we met on the most neutral of neutral territories, as I tacked on an extra flight from Nice to Basel to my Vancouver-Calgary-Frankfurt-Nice journey.

It was my first time in Switzerland, but if Basel (with 400,000 people, Switzerland's third-largest metropolitan area) is a good representation of at least the German-Swiss portion, it's certainly way different than any other European city I've visited. In preparation for the trip, I had read all the stuff about how the Swiss people take a tremendous amount of pride in things, being renowned for quality, precision, professionalism, and following the rules.

Reading all that stuff makes you aware of cognitive bias and makes you want to be careful that you aren't just seeing things through that lens, but it is quite apparent that this perfectionism and pride permeates their culture. In my first meal in Basel, I ordered sparkling water (in English). When I was given still water by a different waitress and corrected her, I was able to overhear a lengthy conversation in German between three of the wait staff, the topic of which was clearly them explaining to my original waitress which was "still" and which was "sparkling" in English.

And it is true that everything is orderly in Switzerland. I feel like you couldn't get hit by a car in Switzerland if you tried. Cars always stop for pedestrians: sidewalk, traffic light, or otherwise. In one instance, I started to cross the street and a delivery truck failed to see me and thus failed to stop for me. It was not like I was anywhere near the middle of the street when this happened and my safety was not jeopardized in the slightest, but the driver made quite the show of gesticulating an apology.

On the same walk, I noticed a large crowd, 40-50 deep, gather around a police car. I walked over to see what the fuss was about, and it was simply a guy being either detained or fined for drinking in public. The guy was just sitting there, still with the beer in his hand, while the cops wrote up the paperwork, but all around, people were staring and laughing. I guess in a place where no one ever breaks the rules, this was kind of a big deal. I also saw a women's shoe store that had expensive, brand-name leather shoes just sitting out on display, unattended. Switzerland is truly, in many ways, just a society of model behaviour.

Does all of this rigid adherence to rules and good behaviour equate to a lesser joie de vivre? It was unclear to me in the 48 hours I spent in Basel. Certainly the people I met at the jiujitsu seminar were very friendly and welcoming. But one guy I chatted with -- a walking, talking contradiction of half-Brazilian, half-Swiss descent named Marco -- certainly expressed the idea that Switzerland is not the most exciting place for a young, single guy. Although it should be pointed out that Ryan and I agreed that the Swiss girls we saw were extremely attractive, which surprised both of us since Switzerland isn't like a Brazil or Colombia with a reputation for gorgeous women. Luckily I remembered to bring European woman repellent uniform: a stained grey sweater, skater jeans and runners.

Switzerland is also shockingly expensive. Evidently, Basel is cheaper than Zurich, which is scary. Paying 5 Swiss francs ($5.40 US) in the hotel for a 500mL bottled water is one thing, but it's even 3.50 CHF at a news stand out in the sticks. A donair (not a particularly good one) was 12 CHF while the sit-down meal with the aforementioned sparkling water ran me 40 (with no appetizer or dessert). I guess in a place where minimum wage is close to $4000/month, they can handle it. I also feel like really high prices only adds to the mystique of quality and perfection, almost as though the idea implicit in the high prices is simply, "we're going to charge you a lot, but we're going to do it right." But that's probably reading too much into it.

Overall, Switzerland was a very interesting cultural experience. As for the actual purpose of my trip: learning from Ryan was great, and I hope one day to get down to his academy. He was a great teacher; highly eloquent, candid, invested and passionate about his sport. The first thing I did upon getting to the airport in Basel was try to write down everything I'd learned. The irony of this trip to Basel was that I booked the trip to Cannes in the middle of my long fight camp because I felt I needed a reprieve from all the hard training. So, of course, what do I do on this trip as soon as I get 3000 miles from home but train grappling?

Anyway, I'm here in Cannes now at last. We have a great apartment, the weather is beautiful, and so too are the people, the beach, and everything else you expect about the French Riviera. Hopefully I can make some big money to continue to feed my MMA habit! (Oops, gotta go: I have to get ready to train boxing with Elky and his trainer.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Oh, I play poker sometimes too: A recap of my WCOOP main event

After the big high of my debut fight, I had a chance this weekend to put the wraps on what would have been by far the most epic 9-day stretch of my life by winning the main event of the PokerStars WCOOP and the $1.4+ million that came with that title. Unfortunately, I had to settle for 36th place and a substantially less impressive $29286.

I was surprised by truly how grueling the event was. The 13 hours of play on Day 1 were very mentally taxing and felt more like two days of a live event. The experience was stressful enough that my skin actually broke out the next morning. And my Day 1 wasn't even really filled with difficult decisions. And I only played one table. I'm not really sure as to why it is the case that I find online tournaments so grueling compared to live tournaments. Perhaps it's the rushed 5-minute breaks. Or maybe it's the increased frequency with which one plays big, important pots. In a live tournament you might only play 1-2 really significant, stressful pots in any given hour, but obviously online (even one-tabling) you might play closer to a half-dozen.

It's also, of course, less fun to go deep in a big online tournament than a live one, because of the absence of a support network (putting aside random shouting in the chatbox or on Twitter). There are no dinner breaks with friends or encouragement from the rail. There isn't really even that weird and awkward sense of camaraderie one develops with one's tablemates, those very same people whose dreams you are trying to crush.

In any case, by the end of the long day, I was fairly drained. I did manage to squeeze some of my good practices from training for the fight into the 5-minute breaks. In general, I want to start bringing my healthy lifestyle approach for MMA into the poker world, by using deep breathing, exercise and better eating habits to feel better and less stressed while playing, which should ultimately result in better decision-making. I feel like readers of this blog are going to think I'm becoming this total hippie, so I'll emphasize that it's still far more important to play well and have technical skill (in both poker and in fighting), than it is to do all these other lifestyle things. But these things can significantly improve performance and have negligible cost, so they're certainly worth doing.

The other thing I did that was new for today was turning off all distractions. At the WSOP in 2009 and 2010 I became known among media and players as the guy who was always reading his Kindle at the table, and I almost never play live tournaments without making sure my iPod is full of fresh, new podcasts. In online tournaments I'm even worse, between the easy availability of chat, Twitter, Facebook, RSS feeds, blogs and just general dicking around on the web. But for an event as big as the WCOOP main, I decided it was worthwhile to embrace the boredom and turn off all of these things. The only things loaded on my computer would be the PokerStars client, PokerTracker and PokerStove, and the only non-poker tools I allowed were iTunes and my cell phone (which I mostly ignored). I don't feel like it helped me that much with information tracking because my mind still wandered a great deal, but where it did protect me was that I didn't make any clear blunders (misreading bet sizes or stack sizes and things of that nature) because I was never distracted by anything other than my own thoughts.

As you might guess, I feel I played pretty well. Since getting back from the WSOP, I've returned to my roots as a cash-game player, and up until the fight I was trying to squeeze in an hour or two of 5/10 NL cash on HeroPoker every day. My results there have been strong but nothing special, but more importantly it's gotten me back to feeling confident playing 50-100 BB NLHE. The tournament landscape is so much different from the mid-stakes cash one, though. I have this theory that a lot of this small 4-bet/5-bet/6-bet stuff that is occurring is not part of optimal strategy but is in fact borne of an unwillingness of many tournament players to play flops. I think people doing this would be better served making more calls and large jams. I will disclaim this by saying I do think that this is a very unpopular opinion in the tournament world and that there are obviously a lot of very talented and successful players who would disagree strongly with that statement.

Going deeper into hand analysis is not really my style; I played a couple of questionable hands that I posted on my Twitter, and I do wish I could take one action back on my final hand. But again, I'm happy with how I played and I feel like even though I've taken a few weeks off to prepare for the fight, that my NL game is as strong as it's ever been. I'll be going to WSOPE in Cannes -- which I've been looking forward to that ever since the 3rd week of training camp -- so this run, while disappointing, at least gives some confidence going forward. Yesterday was, I think, the deepest I've gone in a tournament that paid over $1 million for first. Maybe in a couple weeks I get to join that elusive million-dollar club!

Friday, September 23, 2011

When one (cage) door closes...

One of the silly questions that people love to ask is, "what are you choosing for your walkout song?" Other than a few guys in the training camp, I kept the answer a secret. In fact, I did more than that; I had even concocted a tall tale, a cover story about how Battlefield wanted full control of production and would force me to come out to something of their choosing. But in my mind, I was never coming out to anything other than the classic montage song from the Karate Kid: "You're The Best", by Joe Esposito.

I chose this song in large part because I knew people would love it. But it also represents me well. The vast majority of people come out to heavy metal or hardcore hip-hop because they want something intimidating and aggressive to fire themselves up. If you know me at all, you'll know that's not me. "You're The Best" is a great song to get hyped up to, but I love that it is cheesy and decidedly non-threatening. No one who takes themselves too seriously is very likely to come out to this song, and so I'm happy to express that.

I walked skipped out to the song from the Vogue backstage out front with a big silly grin on my face. My song was playing, and it was time to have fun. I embraced my coaches and team, the official applied the Vaseline to my face, and I climbed the stairs into the Battlefield cage, and it was all just as I'd visualized it. I heard a lot of yelling. I was able to pick out a handful of distinct voices of friends, but once I was in the cage, I couldn't see anyone in the crowd. I was under the bright lights, but everything outside the cage was a big black void of noise.

The referee reminded me of some rules. I can't really remember which ones. I checked the firmness of the cage floor. It was softer than I'd expected, which was good given my injury. If we went to the ground with violent impact it was less likely to hurt me. I checked the give of the cage and the turnbuckles. As the first fighter in the ring, I had lots of time to do this while I awaited Tony's entrance. Paulie reminded me to "check my paces"; that is, how many paces (in stance) to the front or the back of the cage. I did all of this with a big smile on my face. There were still no nerves, just energy and excitement. After a rollercoaster eight weeks, this was really happening! It was really going to happen!

Writing this six days later, I remember a lot more than I could remember on Saturday night, but it's still not a lot. Once I see a clear video I'm sure I'll remember more. I remember the signal to fight, and Tony offering to touch gloves. I recall that we touched very conservatively, both of us making sure to protect ourselves as we did so. Little would either of us know that later that evening on a much larger stage in Las Vegas, controversy would erupt because Victor Ortiz would forget that cardinal rule and Floyd Mayweather would have no hesitation in exploiting that lapse.

I don't know who threw hands first, and I don't remember how we got into the clinch, but I know we were there and I took an uppercut from him. That uppercut was that punch I'd always heard about; the one that "lets you know you're in a fight". I cinched a rear waistlock and tripped him to the ground. He got up quickly and I again committed to another takedown, and this one solidified my position on top. As my team and I expected, I had a big advantage once I got to the ground in top position. It sounds bizarre, but there were actually times where I forgot to punch. It was my first fight, and I fought conservatively; there were a number of times where instead of punching I simply consolidated position first. Highly skilled and experienced mixed martial artists use strikes to set up their passes to dominant positions. I could strike, and I could pass, but it certainly wasn't as fluid as you see from elite level fighters.

But my choppy MMA ground skills were enough to get me to full mount, where I finally started to attack with some good ground and pound. My jiujitsu instincts kept me driving my knees into his armpits, making it difficult for him to escape. I felt him bridging hard and using a lot of energy, but I made staying on top my full priority. I transitioned a lot from mount to knee-on-belly and vice versa, those being the best striking positions. I tried to throw as many punches as I could, but Tony was doing a good job of tying up my arms and protecting himself. I was buoyed by hearing my name chanted throughout the crowd. Late in the round I crept up his torso and set up an armbar, but he was able to wriggle his arm free. From there I transitioned to a triangle but right as I locked it in, I heard the 10-second warning clap. I knew I wouldn't be able to finish it given that time so I transitioned the triangle back to an armbar and yanked hard. Unlike the first armbar, this one was very very deep and I was confident I was going to get the tap. Tony was in a lot of trouble and I was very surprised he wasn't tapping. The referee asked him twice if he was okay, and he didn't respond. I hipped hard into it but Tony was just incredibly tough and refused to tap, surviving to make it to the bell.

I really managed to fuck this up? Really?

I was tired and stayed on my knees for a moment, but then I noticed that Tony was still on the ground beside me, even though we were in my corner. He was too tired to get up, and that was a great feeling. I only remember saying to Paulie, "I'm tired, but he's more tired," and him responding, "fuck that, you're not tired." I don't remember anything else either he or our wrestling coach Sina said in that round break. The only other part of the break I remember was the "Seconds Out!" call and looking across the cage to see an exhausted Tony. That made me stand up immediately and start moving my feet. He'd shown fatigue and I wanted to show strength and further sap his will. The Round 2 bell sounded and I charged to the centre of the cage.

This time I didn't need to get punched to know I was in a fight, because I smelled blood. I shot in for the takedown and managed to press Tony into the fence. I was not very technical along the fence. My head was too low, which would not only put me in danger against someone with a good guillotine, but it also makes it hard to finish the takedown. I also took some knees and punches to the body; luckily the hardest blows landed on my uninjured ribs. Sina would later tell me that I was wasting a lot of energy against the cage. In truth, I figured I needed only one more takedown to win, so I was charging up for it. I can't tell you anything about how I got the fight to the ground in the second round; I just know I did. It was not anything technical; I simply grinded it out and got it there by being the fresher guy. The one thing I knew from the first round is that once I got the fight to the ground, it would be lopsided. Confident that I would not be reversed, I threw a lot higher volume of strikes in the second round in an effort to stop the fight. I had multiple opportunities to finish by submission, but remembering how resilient Tony was in the first round, I decided to keep flurrying with punches instead of taking the gamble. At one point I thought it was almost the end of the round and moved my hips forward for another armbar attempt but heard Paulie's voice cut through the noise with a sharp "NO!" and went back to the ground and pound. My arms were definitely starting to get tired from hitting him so much, but the referee was warning him to fight back -- ref code for "I'm close to stopping this fight." Hearing that was all I needed to get a little extra energy to continue firing hard punches. Paulie's voice rang out again, this time yelling "FIVE SECOND FLURRY". Dutifully following instructions, I postured up one last time for what would be the fight-ending salvo. The official result was a TKO (referee stoppage due to strikes) at 2:52 of the second round.

Late 2nd round, the beginning of the end.

It is, as you would expect, a tremendous feeling to feel the ref push you off your opponent to stop the fight. No matter how tired your arms are in that moment, the weight of the world has been lifting off your shoulders. I turned towards my fallen opponent and bowed, an homage to Genki Sudo's famous win over Royler Gracie. I trotted around the cage, not quite sure what to do. I considered scaling the cage, but my honest thoughts were, "I'm short, the cage is tall, and my legs are tired. I might make an ass of myself."

The Battlefield cameraman got directly in front of me in the midst of my celebration, clearly expecting something from me. It was at this point I finally did the one cliché thing and spouted some babble into the camera about how Battlefield fans can expect a lot more of that from me, or some such. I dunno. I can't be unique and self-effacing all the time. :)

Backstage, I was giddy. It was a tremendous feeling and I wanted it to never go away. I loved anyone and everyone. Everyone I ran into said, "great fight". I took some time to relax backstage and then went out to say hello to everyone in the stands who had come out to watch me. My handwraps were still on my hands. For the first hour or two, I simply didn't want to take them off. I was enjoying it too much. By the time I decided I actually wanted them off, it was the co-main event, everyone was gone, and we couldn't even find a pair of scissors. So I wore them all the way to the burger bar where I finally got scissors from one of the restaurant staff.

It was truly and unquestionably the best night of my life and just incredibly magical. It was just too much fun. Levon won his fight as well -- in dramatic and impressive fashion -- so aside from Zach's illness, it was a great night for the team. called us "the biggest winner" of the night (and if you scroll down, you'll see I got an individual award too).

In truth, I could go on and on about what a great night it was for me. This is something I've wanted to do for so long, and in a sense going through the injury and the recovery and finishing up with the fight going exactly the way we'd planned made it even sweeter. I'd gone through the worst case scenario and made it through. I'd taken one thing I'd always knew I'd had, smarts, and combined it with the one I wasn't sure about, guts. It was a storybook ending.

Only it's not an ending. While I'm sure some readers out there would prefer I take this experience and walk away, that won't be happening. I'm officially hooked (if I wasn't already hooked long before the fight). I want to see where this thing will take me. I'm 30 years of age; not young, but not too old. In a few weeks I should be okay to resume full-intensity training. There's another Battlefield card in mid-November. If I can fight on it, great; if not, I'm okay with that too. I'm still a passenger on the ride, and I don't know where it's going next. But if last weekend is any indication, it'll be fun.

* Photo credits: Creative Eye Media, and

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

getting ready to ruuuuuumble

In my fight week post, I outlined my basic weight-cutting strategy, modified by little nuggets of information I would read here and there online. By Thursday morning, I'd cut as much sodium as possible from the diet and my water intake was minimal. I weighed 134 and felt good throughout the day, if perhaps a bit cranky. My friends started to filter into town and while you might think that would just add to the anticipation, they served as a great distraction from the event. They were also, of course, greatly supportive. Gavin Griffin's wife, Amy, compared my Saturday night to a bride on her wedding day, and "do you need anything, Terrence?" was perhaps the question I heard the most through Thursday and Friday.

I woke up at 133.6 lbs on Friday morning and headed out to the gym to cut weight. Due to a communication mix-up with the team I got there 90 minutes before everyone else. Aside from me, two of my Universal MMA teammates, Levon Kinley and Zach Koch, also fighting on the card. All three of us were within 4 lbs of our target weight on Friday morning. Zach preferred to lose the weight through exercise while Levon and I chose to wait it out and head for the sauna. After yet more somewhat stressful hassles, including a flat tire, we headed over to coach Paul's building to sweat out the last few remaining pounds. After about 30-35 minutes of misery in the sauna, we were on weight with about three hours to go to the weigh-in.

The weigh-ins were pretty uneventful. I'd cooked some food the night before and asked my friends to microwave and bring it to me. Though the weigh-in was scheduled to begin at 4:30, I stepped on the scale probably around 5:15. The scale was slightly heavier than the electronic one we'd been using to cut, and I had to strip down to my underwear to get to 131 lbs even, the absolute maximum allowed. I began to chow down and drink Hydralite, although to be honest I was unable to put back very much food or drink in that first hour. But by 8pm, I was pretty ravenous. Although I didn't weigh myself on Saturday, I probably stepped into the cage close to 140 lbs that night.

This is clearly my "Can I just go eat now?" face.

I fell asleep around 12:30am the night of the fight and woke up just past 8am, my first solid interrupted 7+ hour night of sleep in a few weeks. It felt wonderful and I was full of energy. I was ready to run out and get breakfast, walk around, be a Vancouver tour guide for my visiting friends, anything... but everyone was still asleep! I was stir-crazy in my apartment, just absolutely full of energy; all amped up and nowhere to go. But it wasn't nerves, simply anticipation. It was a lot like the feeling of waking up on the morning of a major final table and being in the chip lead, only better and more intense. Finally everyone was awake and we headed for some sushi. I ate a light meal, figuring undereating was superior to overeating.

At 4pm, I went to the gym and found out the awful news that Zach had gotten sick and would be unable to fight. It was a huge downer. The guy is just a beast in the gym who stomps all over me in every practice and I was stoked to see him fight. But I had to put that aside and focus on myself. We got to the Vogue Theatre and set up shop in our dressing room [pic], which was more functionally designed for touching up makeup than warming up fighters. Still, it was pretty cool, and I loved taking it all in. I wish I had taken more pictures or video, but with so much to think about, it never really came to mind.

As the first fighter on the card, I was worried that I wasn't going to have enough time to warm up. Everything was running late, and we hadn't even had the rules meeting finished by 6pm, when the first fight was scheduled to get underway. This is where having an experienced cornerman and teammates on hand made a huge difference. Paulie quickly and professionally wrapped my hands (it takes a lot more work than you think!) and I started to warm up quickly in the small backstage area. It was kind of weird, because right in front of where I was getting warmed up, Tony sat in the chair getting his own hands wrapped by his cornerman. So we were hesitant to go over the exact combinations and techniques I was supposed to use in the fight, but that's what we ended up doing anyway. Instilling the muscle memory in me and making any necessary last-minute adjustments seemed more important than tipping our hand at that point.

I had just started to break a sweat when it was time to go on. I snuck a quick look at Tony and he didn't seem as well warmed-up as I did. That would be the first little boost of extra confidence I got as I headed out into the bright lights.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Roasted Ribs: Confessions of a debuting MMA fighter

It's hard for me to think about how to begin this blog entry. Normally when I write, it's because I'm inspired to do so. This time, I feel compelled to do so because such a significant event in my life has come and gone, and now I don't know how to start or what to say.

I suppose one way to begin is with confessing a secret that I can finally divulge. I was fighting hurt. On August 24, twenty-three days before the fight, I was in the hospital, and I was badly hurt. I took the body shot from hell from my teammate, Zach, who was also scheduled to fight on the card. I can't express this level of pain in words. I was down on the floor for 40 minutes in the most incredible agony of my life. I've been hit by a car. I've trained martial arts in some form or another since I was 16. Nothing has ever been this bad. It was simply the perfect shot in the perfect spot at the perfect time. I was given a bunch of painkillers but they didn't help. I didn't sleep that night at all and slept poorly for a week.

That's what family is for: capturing pictures of your most horrendously painful moments.

For the next week, every movement was excruciating. I was in my cousin's wedding and managed to tough it out. Breathing hurt. Moving hurt. Sitting down and standing up hurt. Lying down and getting up from horizontal was absolutely horrifying. Bowel movements hurt. Sneezing was out of the question; I did not sneeze until about September 13.

When the calendar turned to September, I was pretty sure I was at best 20-30% likely to fight. But I didn't tell anyone. On August 30, I blogged on my private blog:
"I'm confused, conflicted, ambivalent and tortured this week and likely for the next few days as well until I get pressured to finally make a decision. For now I've been able to forestall things by just saying 'I'm gonna to try fight!' as convincingly as possible, but don't know how much longer I can hold on to that."
My coach Paul gave me until the last possible opportunity, but by the end of the first week of September he wanted to see how I could perform in the gym. I didn't think I was ready to return to any kind of activity, but I understood his demand: he needed an assessment of whether I could fight or not on the 17th. So on September 4th (Labour Day), I went over to my cousin's house so he could hold pads for me. It was painful, but something I could work through. On the 5th, I stepped in the gym for the first time, hitting the bag with tempo and practicing wrestling shots. On the 9th, I did my first real practice. He had me work pads a little and try to do a takedown or two on a partner. It went better than I thought; I was able to take down my partner who was offering just 20-30% resistance. But I was able to do it. I was able to move and scramble a little. I am incredibly grateful to two particular teammates, Oliver and Kirk, who both took an hour out of their training time to basically be little more than my grappling dummy for the few days up until the fight.

I decided -- or we decided together -- that I was good enough to fight. We devised a game plan around the injured left ribs. I would pin my left arm to the body, the hand protecting my face and the elbow protecting my ribs. I would not throw any jabs or lead left hooks. I would continue fighting orthodox, but would lead combinations with my right hand only: straight right-left hook-straight right, right uppercut-left hook-straight right, and so on. And, most importantly, I would not "stand and bang" with my opponent. I would get this fight to the ground as soon as possible, where we felt (from having watched his debut fight) my opponent was likely to be weakest. We practiced takedowns off of his left and right hooks as well as off of his kicks. We practiced takedowns out in the open and up against the wall. It was all about takedowns. Paul and I were both confident that getting the guy to the ground would be the main concern; once I had him there, I would have an overwhelming advantage.

It was a good game plan. Still, I was concerned about the ribs. It would really only take one good shot to the ribs -- which were still only about 40-50% on fight day -- to put me on the mat. Not only that, a lot of heavy lifting motions, so critical in wrestling, were still causing a lot of pain. I did have doubts. What if he cracked me to the body? What if I couldn't get him down? What if I favoured the ribs so much that I left an opening upstairs and he knocked me out? Whenever I was alone with my thoughts, I had doubts. I turned to meditation and visualization. That helped a lot to ease my doubts. When I visualized the fight, I would often go through some adversity early in the first round, but drag him down eventually, dominate on the ground, and win a stoppage in the second round. And when I was in the gym, working on the takedown drills, I felt great. I only got four training sessions in after the injury, but after each one I felt only one thing: this guy is mine.

In truth, I recovered from the injury much faster than I thought I would. Everything on the web -- from medical sites to forums to personal blogs -- said anything from 6-12 weeks, and I had just over three. I shouldn't have been able to recover that quickly. But I have a ton of advantages. Not having a job is a big one. Those first few days, I was able to just laze around at home and recover. As boring as that was, I didn't give myself a chance to re-aggravate the injury. I spent all day researching rehabilitation: supplements, foods, positions, behaviour, everything I should do. I got acupuncture. I continued to do breathing exercises. I gave myself every possible advantage. The nice thing about this is that there was no conflict between getting fight-ready and just getting healthy because they are one and the same. So even if on the 17th I was not ready to fight, I should be doing the same things anyway.

Was it smart to fight last Saturday? Honestly, no. I should have asked for the fight to be pushed back to the November card. It was dumb to fight. So why did I? It's tempting to say that the reason I fought was that I felt pressure with all the friends I had flying in from all parts of the continent, and other friends and family who had already bought tickets. And to be sure I did. But the real reason was that I wanted to do it. It was something that I wanted for myself. The training camp was so hard. There had been so much anticipation. The fight was always the light at the end of my tunnel. Every day when I walked out of the gym, no matter how beat up, there was always the excitement that I had made it through one more day, and that the fight was one day closer. To pull out would feel like throwing all that work away. Perhaps that is not very process-oriented of me, but I couldn't help it. I wanted, needed, and was desperate for this fight. I'd thrown everything aside and sacrificed so much for this fight that it would have been immeasurably painful to give it up, even if it meant the potential for serious damage. And this was something I knew as soon as the injury happened. I tried to tell myself that I was smart enough not to fight if I knew I couldn't. But I also knew that if I could, I would, and fuck the consequences.

But I know it wasn't smart, and I won't do it again (I hope).

So that's the truth about the last few weeks up until training camp. I hope that explains a bit of the silence on weeks leading up to this post. That post doesn't contain any lies, but as you can tell now from this post, it didn't contain the full truth.

In my next entry, I will write some more about the night before the fight and, of course, the fight itself.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fight week - what I'm doing

Since this blog is mostly read by poker players, I figured some people might be wondering what I'm doing a few days out from my fight.

Physical training: Nothing too hard. Yesterday I had a moderate to moderate-high intensity session working with one of my teammates. At this point it's less sparring than it is working specific things that I want to do, both offensively and defensively. Things that I have seen my opponent do and the best counter to those things. You might think we spend the whole training camp doing this, but in fact, we only spend the last couple weeks doing this. I think this is correct because at this lower level, overall skill development and improvement is more important than exploiting your own strengths or your opponent's weaknesses. Just like poker and other zero-sum games!

Mental training: A few weeks ago I resolved to start getting more sunlight, and the weather in Vancouver has been nearly flawless for the last two months. My building has a common garden too, so I've no excuse. So I've been going out there with some mats, sitting in the sun, doing some breathing, meditation and visualization. Maybe only 10-20 minutes a day, but it's more than I've really ever done consistently in my life. I'm also not playing poker at all this week. Don't really want the potential stress/cortisol dump if I ran bad.

Weight cutting: It's a fairly easy cut for me in part because of my fortunate metabolism, but also because I've been extremely strict on diet for the whole 8 weeks. I've never gone on a carb binge so I never got over 141 lbs this entire time. Sunday morning I woke up at 135.6 lbs. That day, I began going very low carb, and also began sodium and water loading (i.e. consuming large amounts of both). Tomorrow I will start sodium and water reduction. Adding lots of flax to the diet to get (more) regular. I won't drink anything on Friday and I'd guess I'd be down to 132-133 or so before even setting foot in a sauna. So this should be easy. Yay for staying on the wagon.

Nerves: Almost none. Kinda surprising, really. I mean, I'm aware of the fact that it's a fight and I could get hurt or knocked out. But nothing resembling nervousness and anxiety. Probably won't happen until a couple hours of fight time.

Miscellany: Last real training is probably tonight. Massage and acupuncture also scheduled this week. Weigh-in is at a sports bar at 4:30 on Friday, will prepare myself a small meal to consume, go out to a nice restaurant with out-of-town friends around 8:30, and hope to get to bed before midnight.

I'll probably do a v-log of my last few days as well with the weight cutting, fight prep and that kinda stuff, and post it after the fight.

Friday, September 9, 2011

from 8 weeks out to 8 days out

It's been quite the journey. Eight days from now I will have fought my first MMA fight in Battlefield Fight League's 11th event. There are only a few more days of training, which are more skill days than conditioning days. The hard work has been put in and the serious blood and sweat have been left on the mats (figuratively, of course). Now all that remains is a little weight cut and a lot of mental preparation.

If I'm to be brutally honest, this training camp hasn't gone so perfectly. There have been some rough times. Not everything went as smoothly as it could have been. There's been a lot of adversity. I questioned myself a lot. There were times where I didn't think I'd be able to do this or to get to this point. But here and now, on this Friday night just one short week away, I truly believe that I am going to win next Saturday's fight and move on up in the promotion. And that's pretty big for me.

One thing I do know in my heart of hearts is that I have done absolutely everything within my power to put the best possible me out there on September 17. I've been disciplined, diligent and intelligent in training, diet, and mental preparation. If it's not enough to win, then so be it. The process has been a good one, I've learned a lot about myself and what I'm capable of, and I've grown. In some sense, I've won already by getting to this point.

In another sense, fuck that hippie bullshit. There is no outcome that I am allowing to penetrate my thoughts other than the following one:

On Saturday, September 17, I'm going to win violently and decisively. End of story.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Fight tickets now available

Tickets for my fight at Battlefield Fight League 11 on September 17 in downtown Vancouver are now available by clicking on this link.

Please use CHAN as the promotional code. If you do so, I will be happy to give you 15% (my commission) back on your ticket price if you see me in person or send me your Stars/HeroPoker screen name along with your e-mail ticket confirmation. I don't want the money; just want the tracking to show I can draw tickets among the poker community and network of friends.

Thanks for your support! I am in Week 6 of training camp and it is going extremely well. I've been training martial arts for such a long time, but there's such a tremendous difference between just showing up at the gym for fun, and training deliberately and intensively with an immediate payoff on the horizon. I'm in a very good place mentally and physically, and I think I'll come out of this training camp a much-improved fighter. So I plan to put on a really good performance. Hope you can make it out!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Book review: The Big Fight: My Life In and Out of the Ring by Sugar Ray Leonard

Last Friday night's conditioning class at Universal was disgustingly hard; 90 minutes of torture. When it was all over and I'd come home, showered and eaten, I didn't even have the energy to sit at my computer. So I migrated over to the couch to get more horizontal and started channel surfing. How fortunate that I stumbled upon "The Voice Versus Sugar Ray Leonard", a one-hour interview conducted by excellent fight sport broadcaster Michael "The Voice" Schiavello.

The interview I watched entranced me. Sugar Ray Leonard was before my time, his glory days being in the 80s where I was still a child. He's obviously a mainstream celebrity, someone that I'd heard of, but I can't recall ever watching any of his fights either at the time or on replay. So this interview was truly my first significant exposure to him.

The first thing that surprised me was how young he looks. He's 55 but looks 40, even in unforgiving HD. And he was eloquent! Weren't old, retired boxers supposed to be traumatized brain-dead buckets who could barely formulate a thought? Sugar Ray isn't eloquent in the sense that he was a gifted motormouth crafting beautiful sentences like a prime Muhammed Ali, but in that he was able to express his emotions and tell a great story with clarity. In the interview I felt he articulated great insight in his career and his sport of choice.

And so, while watching this interview, I immediately decided that I had to learn more about this man. At one point during the interview, Schiavello holds up a copy of Leonard's book and I basically hit pause, found the book on Amazon and downloaded it to my Kindle. And proceeded to spend the entire weekend reading it (which is extremely rare for me and my miniscule attention span).

Needless to say, I enjoyed this book immensely. It is incredibly candid. Brutally honest. Leonard speaks so openly about so many things that so few people would talk about in their autobiography. He puts to paper things that I don't think most people would even admit to themselves. And I don't even mean things like divulging publicly, for the first time, that he was sexually molested as a teenager. And not just things like infidelity towards his wife and the mother of his child. It's the open and unfettered access to his thoughts about these events. It's not just that he slept around and lied to his wife. It's that he admits he had no intention of stopping even though he knew it was killing her. He admits very frankly to his selfishness. It's not that he writes about his brothers and closest friends constantly hitting him up for money, but rather the resentment he felt towards them for doing so. He admits to caring far too much what others though of him. It is such an incredibly intimate and honest look at a man stripping himself bare before you via the written word.

Through his writing it is apparent -- though not explicit -- that for as large as Sugar Ray Leonard's ego became, it is certainly an extremely fragile one. Throughout the book there is a undertone of defensiveness. He seemingly wants to set the record straight about even the most minor of things. It seems as though he still cares a bit too much about what his public thinks.

And of course, it a book about a fighter, there are some great insights into the fight game. But very little time is spent talking about right hand leads or left hook counters. Leonard talks a lot about the psychology of the fight game. He believes that psychology -- and seemingly, not much else -- lost him the first fight against Roberto Duran and won him the second one. He speaks constantly of being in "the zone". He talks about how he knew, before each fight, whether he is going to win or lose based solely on the look of his own eyes in the mirror. He spoke of tricks and ploys that most people would consider pointless and silly, like wearing a suit with shoulder pads to press conferences to seem bigger, or making fun of opponents in interviews. Typically when people overemphasize psychological warfare in sports, I roll my eyes. I've always been the type of hyper-rational, practical guy who believes that in the end, it is mostly fitness and technique that wins. But usually this type of thing tends to be said or written in a contrived manner, as though celebrating the fighter mindset in some over-romanticized or overdramatic way. When Leonard writes it, you can tell it is purely what he believes, and is once again, just totally honest.

In summary: It's not the greatest story ever told, but certainly one of the best-told. And it isn't because it's the greatest prose, either. It's one of the best-told stories because Sugar Ray gives you a level of honesty that so few athletes, cultural icons, or even regular people, will ever give you.

Buy it on Amazon:

Thursday, August 11, 2011

turning over a new (spinach) leaf

Along with training my ass off for my upcoming fight, the other change I've made since the WSOP is cleaning up my diet in a big way. My diet is pretty much what you would call paleo-cheat. I don't have actual cheat days (I have had just one since camp started) but I am willing to put some non-paleo stuff in my food to make it more palatable to me. Mostly the non-paleo stuff is dairy, as I have few negative reactions to cheese or butter. The way I see it, if some mozzarella cheese and creamy low-carb dressing that has some canola oil gets me through a bag and a half of spinach per day, it's worth it. The other "cheat" as such is that I continue to drink a combination carb-protein drink during training because I strongly feel that helps my performance over water alone. This is what today looks like, and it's been something very similar to this every single day (with the exception of one night where I went to dinner with some visitors):

12:00 - Protein scoop+almond milk+coffee
13:30 - Lunch salad: Salmon, lots of spinach, mozzarella, avocado, walnuts, creamy dressing
16:00 - 3 eggs, scrambled in coconut oil, served with Srichaca sauce
20:30-22:15 - peri-workout drink (30g carb, 15g protein)
22:15 - protein scoop+creatine
22:45 - grilled grass-fed steak, sweet potato mash
23:15 - (half) spinach salad, mozzarella, walnuts, oil-based dressing
01:30 - 3 strips of nitrite-free bacon
02:15 - protein scoop+coconut milk

I'm not going to bother breaking down the macronutrient content of this, because I'm pretty satisfied that it's good. The only carbs are peri-workout and post-workout (which is something I've always been good about). I'm not too worried about my weight: I'm 138 lbs in the morning right now, so getting to the 130 catch-weight should be a breeze. I'm slightly worried that the diet might be a little Omega-6 heavy, so I certainly take my fish oil. I still take my multivitamin too, but honestly I'm not sure I need it because I think I'm smashing on micronutrients.

I also feel like eating like this is pretty goddamn easy. I mean, I love bread, pasta, granola and rice. I really do. I like ice cream a lot, too. And pastries. So don't get it twisted; refined (and unrefined) carbs are fucking delicious. But you don't really need them. I mean if there are no restrictions and I can go to town on omega-3 deviled eggs and nitrite-free bacon and bison burger patties, that does a pretty good job of keeping the urges down. I'm really genuinely surprised at how easy it's been to stay on track. People have been asking me whether I'm just going to pig the eff out once the fight is over, and honestly I wouldn't mind having a big old slice of pizza or two to celebrate, but the truth is that eating like this is not that much of a sacrifice, especially just for 8 weeks.

And (bearing in mind potential placebo effects) the payoff seems to be really big. I'm in the gym training every night and in our training camp, I truly am the smallest guy with the weakest skills. I mean I think every single person in the training camp is stronger and better than me. So I am always the one on the bottom, always the one being taken down, and always being the one punched and kicked, but even with the ass-kicking I take, I still I feel like my energy levels are up there with everyone else's. And that's important because it's pretty hard to develop new skills if you're gasping for air and your legs don't work.

Anyway, I will wrap this up because I don't want to be one of those annoying diet zealots. In a way, this is not so much a post about diet but more generally a post about how great I feel right now. I've had a lot of really tough days in this camp, days where I felt totally useless as a fighter. But now approaching the halfway mark of the camp feel well-trained but not overtrained, starting to peak, and mentally starting to pull it together (which has been, surprisingly, the hardest part).

It just hit midnight in Vancouver. 5 weeks to a fight!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

José "Girah" Macedo and the trust of the high-stakes community

By now, almost everyone in the poker world knows the story. José "Girah" Macedo, a young pro who dubbed himself the "Portuguese Poker Prodigy", socially engineered his way into the trust of some high-stakes players and got them to reveal their hole cards to him via Skype chat, which he mercilessly exploited into a $30,000 profit. The story seems to be developing as more information is released and more people who knew Macedo online are coming forward with information and anecdotes.

One question which seems to have vexed observers of this story is, unsurprisingly, one of the more obvious ones: how could the victims of Macedo's scam have been so naive? Poker media maven Jess Welman tweeted today, in reference to the story, "It doesn't excuse the behavior, but I am genuinely floored at how trusting the HSNL community appears to be of ppl they've never met IRL," a tweet that has led me to this post.

And yes, to some extent, common sense dictates that if you're playing 25/50 NL heads-up on the internet, you shouldn't tell your hole cards to a guy you've never met. Yet, I find myself oddly sympathetic to the victims. I've been around poker a long time and I've also been playing online poker for decently serious money since about 2002. And I am fortunate to be blessed with a great group of friends -- pros, amateurs, and industry people -- that I have met through poker. But I think the young guys that are highly successful these days in online poker are still in the process of building their social networks. I think a lot of young people make questionable decisions about whom to trust and this is only exacerbated by the fact that they have not been able to form tight social bonds with too many of their fellow pros "IRL" yet. A lot of these guys have yet to turn 21, a lot of them may live in more remote areas where there are not many other online pros, and some of them simply haven't yet developed that intuition that tells you whether a person is honest or deceitful.

There is a natural need for friendship, companionship and camaraderie in most people. For those who for whatever reason are unable to fulfill these needs via traditional "real-world" interactions, there is the internet. And in many ways, the pseudo-anonymity of the internet can forge real emotional bonds, since individuals who may have trouble opening up in person are more than willing to share their dreams, aspirations, fears and regrets over a chatbox with someone who lives half a world away. In the case of José Macedo's victims, the desire for professional camaraderie -- and to be sure, some amount of greed -- led to a significant error in judgment.

There is also an element in trust that is inherent to being a high-stakes pro. To be perfectly frank, poker is ripe for the picking for cheats. I feel like live poker is just waiting for a gigantic bomb to drop and that one day there will be a massive live poker scam that blows people's minds. It could be anything from marked cards in a high-stakes game, to a very sophisticated collusion ring, to someone in the live televised poker industry being paid off, to any number of things that my mind hasn't even yet conceived of. For a long time, I said that the only way to be sure you would never be cheated was to only play heads-up poker on the internet. And then the UB/AP scandal happened and it turns out even that wasn't a certainty. The problem is that high-stakes poker (really, poker in general) can't function without some measure of trust. You have to trust that the cards aren't marked; you have to trust that everyone is playing for themselves; you have to trust that the camera behind your hole cards will not be used for any nefarious purpose; you have to trust that you are not playing a superuser online. You can do a lot of things to protect yourself, but at the end of the day, you simply cannot function in the poker world if you are a paranoiac because you will never be 100% sure you're not being cheated. You have to have some trust, and especially if you play high stakes. And once you have some trust, it is a slippery slope to trusting more. I trust that Joe in Seat #3 is not cheating me. Okay, I've been playing Joe for months on end, now I trust him enough to back him in a WSOP event and pay me if he cashes. Okay, he cashed and he paid me, now I trust him enough to ship him $10000 online and have him pay me back. Now I have built up this level of trust with Joe to perhaps even the point where I am letting him sweat my online sessions. Does any of these individual steps seem that dramatic a step from the previous one? Not really. In all human relationships, trust is built slowly, a little bit at a time, and destroyed with great immediacy and impact.

So those are a couple reasons why I am able to empathize with the victims of José Macedo. By all accounts, this kid is quite eloquent, charismatic, and understands poker well. Those are three attributes that a young online pro would value for someone in their social circle. Yes, they neglected attributes like "honesty" and "character", but those are much harder ones to judge. I think unless one fits the very specific demographic of being quite young, quite successful, and a high-stakes poker player, one should to take the above into consideration before deciding that the community of young high-stakes players are naive dupes. Macedo's scam is not even remotely the first social engineering scam that has separated intelligent poker pros from their money; it is simply one of the most dirty, devious, under-handed, and chilling ones.