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.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

UFC 133 thoughts

I enjoyed UFC 133, top-to-bottom. It wasn't a barnburner; it certainly wasn't as epic as UFC 132 or 129, and it lacked any truly brilliant fights, but it had some fairly entertaining bouts and quality moments.

Most notably, I was extremely impressed with Rashad Evans' finishing of Tito Ortiz. Ortiz was being solidly beaten but was still in the fight until the point where he got crumpled by the huge knee which led to the finish. Tito had scrambled out of side control into a front headlock, was trying to disengage and ended up in the "jiujitsu starting position". If you've ever been to a jiujitsu class pretty much anywhere in the world, you've seen this position with both guys starting on the knees before slapping hands and grappling. It's pretty much the dumbest thing ever since it bears no resemblance to any real-life fighting situation. Well, except tonight. Rashad saw Tito in this kneeled position and had the great presence of mind to launch a massive knee to the body, in a spot where I think 90% of fighters would have just lobbed fists at Tito's dome and 9% of remaining group might have illegally kicked him in the face. I'm always on the lookout for someone using quick, on-the-fly thinking in MMA and Rashad showed tremendous fight IQ here.

It is interesting to see Tito's transformation as a heel, or at least a polarizing personality, to a very sympathetic figure. I was in the building for his shocking upset over Ryan Bader and the place just erupted when Bader tapped to that guillotine. Tonight, Tito was humble in defeat, wished Rashad the best, and simply vowed to come back a better fighter. Dare I say it, but...classy!

I was amazed to see Nam Phan take an absolute schoolyard beating from Mike Brown for like 4 full minutes and come out and actually win Round 2. It's one thing if you get creamed by a punch, get flurried on, take lots of damage and manage to come back (a la Frank Edgar/Grey Maynard II), but to get beat on from a dominant position with basically just one hand to shield himself from what felt like hundreds of punches raining down on him for four minutes...wow. By the way, it is a travesty that two of the three official judges scored that round 10-9 for Brown. If one guy takes another guy down and hits him like 100 times, and the bottom guy literally does nothing except cover his face, that is a 10-8 or even a 10-7 round. Period. MMA judges are terrible. It's mind-blowing that there exists a sport where you could actually replace officials with fans or members of the media and improve the level of officiating.

Brag: I made some money on Alexander Gustafsson. Thought process went something like, "oh, -150, I should bet $500 on him." Think about it some more, as the fighters are walking out. "Wait, how the hell is Matt Hamill possibly going to beat Alexander Gustafsson? I should bet another $500." Think about it some more, "okay, so Hamill has basically no power, Gustafsson has lots of power, Hamill's only real path to victory is lay-and-pray and I don't really even think he's going to get him down once." *Scramble to get another $500 in as Bruce Buffer intros the fighters.*

Rory MacDonald. Jeebus, this kid is good. A lot of people I know who were in the Vancouver fight scene remember this kid from when he was underage and needed his parents' permission to fight in pro shows. He beat some very respectable pro fighters around town (including one guy who drops by the gym once in a while to tool the shit out of me) but now Joe Rogan is screaming his name and saying he might be better than GSP. Wow.

I'm not sure what is less surprising, Chad Mendes winning an easy unanimous 30-27 decision (does he do anything else?) over Rani Yahya, or Vitor sleeping Akiyama. Does Joe Silva's thought process go, "hey, Akiyama is a slow and undersized middleweight, and he has a propensity to get into firefights to the detriment of his skill set. Let's put him against a career light-heavyweight who possesses arguably the fastest and most powerful hands in the division." How the fuck did this fight ever get made?

Nick Pace vs. Ivan Menjivar was the fight of the night. You should find a way to watch it if you haven't.