Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Phuket Top Team training, take 2

I've been in Phuket since last Thursday, once again training at Phuket Top Team. Since the last time I was here, they have even further improved the training schedule. This is what Monday and Tuesday look like; every other day except Sunday (when they close) looks pretty much the same.

I really like that I can get up at dawn (6:30am here), go train Muay Thai, be done by 9, get breakfast and nap, get some sun by the pool, then do another afternoon session. The best part is the flexibility; if I feel like doing Muay Thai in the evening I can do that, or I can do MMA, or wrestling, or no-gi grappling. As you can see, the day finishes very early (one of the unfortunate things about MMA gyms in most big cities is that the classes go very late because people come in after work). When I was training for my fight in Vancouver, I often didn't get out of the gym until almost 11pm, which really messed with my sleep.

PTT has grown since I was last here 11 months ago. The instructor-to-student ratio is still pretty good so I still get a decent amount of personal attention, and now there are more sparring partners as well. So the growth has actually been a good thing. They have also added MMA wrestling which is great, because my wrestling is still fairly terrible. The wrestling is headed by Andrew Leone who was a decorated collegiate wrestler and also a 125-pounder! Before I came, I was excited to train with a guy who is at the elite status of my weight class (he holds an MMA win over a guy who is now in the UFC). I haven't gotten the chance to actually roll or spar with Andrew yet but I've enjoyed taking his wrestling class.

So I am definitely enjoying this trip a lot more than last time. Last January, I had a good time but I lamented the poor internet (which meant I couldn't get any work done), the lack of social interaction, and I also got sick/injured a couple times which further perpetuated my boredom. I think this time I'm coping a lot better: I'm more physically fit and I've also learned a lot about hacking my body to improve recovery, so I can spend more time in the gym productively without overtraining. I'm using a heart rate variability monitor and my scores are better than they have ever been, even better than during my last fight camp. My digestive system is handling the food a lot better, and I'm a nice crispy shade of golden brown. Between training, eating, sleeping and getting massages, I only have about 5 hours a day of downtime, which I can use to catch up on various things. (The internet is also somewhat less terrible where I'm staying this time, though still not great.)

It really is fighter paradise here. I feel like this is possibly the place where I would really be able to optimize everything and fulfill my potential as a fighter. If I had absolutely nothing else on the go, I might consider being here very long term (like 3-6 months or even more), but alas I'm only here until Thursday. The only thing that would get to me about staying here would be not having any of my friends around. The fellow fight tourists seem cool and all, but the friendships you build are necessarily ephemeral. And it's fairly unlikely I would ever have a girlfriend here - most of the foreign girls don't stay very long, and while Thai girls are attractive and nice, I think there's far too much of a cultural barrier to find an ideal companion for me here.

But in terms of being able to optimize and tailor my own training with no real limitations, and stay healthy, this would be a great spot. And while I have some projects planned back on the other side of the Pacific, you shouldn't be terribly shocked if you end up reading about some sort of semi-long-term relocation to Phuket.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Having your buttons pushed: Western perceptions of Hong Kong manners

I spent last night in Macau, an overnight trip to celebrate the wedding of two good friends. In the elevator of the Landmark Hotel Macau, I snapped this picture with my phone:

The camera photo heard around my Facebook feed

The next day, I posted it to Facebook with the very simple description, "I feel like this photo tells you so much about Macau/Hong Kong/China." To my surprise, the picture was an instant hit, receiving an inordinate number of Likes. The Likes were also disproportionately representative of my expat friends in Hong Kong. Clearly, the picture and what it symbolizes resonates with westerners who have spent a lot of time in the southeast China region. Below are a couple of comments from the thread:

There's no doubt about it. Chinese people love to mash the close door button. Often before you've had the chance to get in or out of the elevator. And they are absolutely unapologetic about it. To a foreigner unaccustomed to the Chinese ways, it is definitely shocking that a person would mash the button with such apparent disregard for others, but no local will ever bat an eyelash. People are always on the move in Hong Kong. Get to where you are going, and be quick about it. 

But perhaps the button-mashing mentality is representative of one of the greatest parts of Chinese culture. No one ever questions that the Chinese culture is one of diligence and hard work. In a sense, the jamming of the elevator buttons, the desperate cramming on to the MTR, and myriad other examples of chaos is what gives rise to the incredible skyscrapers, exciting commerce and success of the great harbour city. These people hustle and grind so that slackers like me can reap the rewards of a leisurely walk around town.

Yet from a mathematical standpoint, the button mashing makes little sense. The difference between mashing and waiting for the person to be comfortably situated in the elevator is probably 0.5 seconds at best. Even if you are constantly in an elevator throughout your work day, it is fairly unlikely you can even save a full minute per day. So this behaviour earns the performer well under 0.1% of their day. Hardly seems worth the number of bruised shoulders caught in elevator doors, not to mention the unfortunate souls who have to wait minutes -- full minutes! -- because they didn't get through the doors quick enough and were left to helplessly watch the elevator depart without them. Can't we just take that 0.5 seconds and lower our collective stress levels?

To be sure, the practice of slamming elevator doors in the faces of your fellow men is certainly one I would remove if I were given magical powers (a good indication that if there is such a thing as magical power, it would be a waste to bestow them upon me). Though an ethnic Chinese, I've spent most of my life in Canada and such practices offend my Canadian sensibilities of politeness. Hell, I'm so Canadian, I usually don't even hit the button until the person exiting the elevator is far enough they can't even hear me hitting the button.

But allow me to propose an idea: perhaps politeness is simply a form of currency. If that is the case, then it follows that overt politeness is simply a form of conspicuous consumption. Here, let me hold the door open for you; I am in no rush. The implicit message is: "I have plenty of time. I can afford the time." If politeness is a form of Canadian currency, then is extra politeness to Canadians what abalone, shark fin soup and Johnnie Walker Blue Label are to the Chinese?

In Chinese culture, we give money as gifts, be the occasion a birthday, a wedding, or a holiday. It's always money, and the more the better. In North America the practice of money as a gift has fallen into disfavour; instead gifts are more valued if there is the feeling the sender put a great deal of thought and/or effort into the gift. The divide thus comes down to time versus money; in the Chinese tradition, the value is measured in the money spent by the giver whereas in the West, the value is indicated by the the giver's time.

Time versus money. Two sides of the same coin. It is an interesting paradigm in which to view the East/West divide. Or at least, that's how I'll try to look at it the next time someone slams the door in my face.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Twelve weeks for 70 seconds: thoughts from my latest fight

"So when are you gonna retire undefeated already?"
-- "North Shore" Mike McManus, my friend of 12 years, over dinner last Tuesday night.

This is a common question from many of my friends. Especially, of course, the ones who don't fight. The opposite feeling is best summarized by a conversation between two of my cousins, Calvin and Derek, back in September 2011. The conversation occurred a couple weeks before my first fight:

Derek: "So do you think this will be Terrence's only fight?"
Calvin: "No way. If he wins, he'll be addicted to it. If he loses, he'll want to redeem himself."

And so here I am, fifteen months and four fights later. I still haven't tasted defeat in an MMA cage or ring. And it is still an amazing feeling to be able to step into a cage after what seems like endless weeks of preparation, and emerge victorious.

As I wrote in my last post, I could not have felt more ready to fight on this past November 24. I had absolutely zero doubt in my mind that even as I approach my 32nd birthday I am a better fighter now than I have ever been. The fight would be at flyweight, meaning for the first time I would be the larger combatant.

The cut to 125 was difficult, but not exceptionally so. My subsequent rehydrate and refuel went great and I was back to about 138 by fight time. I was in a great mood all day. I'm all smiles when I get to fight. I only do this because I love it, and I'll quit when I stop loving it. The preparation is the horrible part. It's where all the true pain lies. If you can survive the training camp – if you don't get injured, if you don't break down mentally – the fight is the easy part. So there's no reason not to be all smiles on fight day.

For those who haven't seen it yet, the video is below; my apologies for the lack of sound. The fight begins about 4:00 into the video.

Without giving short shrift to my opponent, you can see that this was pretty decisive. I was better in the standup and better on the ground. I launched a steady volley of knees in the clinch, but my trip takedown was countered and that's how I ended up on my back. I certainly didn't anticipate being on my back in this fight and I didn't anticipate winning by submission off my back. But being the smallest fighter in the gym usually means you learn to be aggressive off your back.

A lot of people asked whether I wished it had gone longer, whether I wish I'd gotten more out of it considering how much I'd gone through to get to that point. And I admit the thought has crossed my mind at times. I went through a hard second half of 2012 getting ready for this fight. I got beat up every single day. And going into the fight, I wanted a tough fight. I wanted to be pushed, simply because I knew that I had never been as ready for a fight as I was on that day. And I didn't really get it.

But at the risk of stating the perfectly obvious, fighting is dangerous. It may take weeks or months to prepare for a fight, but it only takes seconds to lose one. Any time feet and fists are flying, there is the potential to lose a fight in a split second. I've been submitted in grappling competition in matches that I should have won. That's why when you get an opening to finish a fight, you don't fuck around. I didn't intend to throw up that armbar. I really just wanted to sweep (reverse positions) or get my opponent off of me. But as I rotated perpendicular to him, I noticed I still had his arm trapped. With his arm trapped, I was in a great position for the armbar. And once I had that armbar locked in, I cranked it. I had it in deep, and I ripped it. Anyone who trains with me can tell you I am not an aggressive person in the gym. I don't “get mean”. On the continuum of sparring too hard and not sparring hard enough, if anything I am on the side of the latter. I've let up on more submissions and pulled more punches than I can count. But this time, when I knew I had it, I yanked on that arm like I was trying to take it home and frame it on my wall.

I confess to a certain level of satisfaction with one aspect of this particular win. As I said, I wasn't trying for the armbar. I was trying for something else, and the armbar was there. There was no conscious thought on my part. It's nice to know that I've put in enough repetitions now that under a scenario of extreme stress, my body will just do what it has done so many times in practice. When I scored an armbar victory in Legend FC earlier this year, the last thing I heard in the fight was “switch to the armbar!” Taking it on pure faith that my corner saw something there – as you simply have to do during a fight – I switched to the armbar, and it worked. But this time there was no command from either an outside voice or my own. This time, the armbar simply happened.
So I am happy for the win. Seventy seconds or otherwise, difficult opponent or otherwise. After all, I have always maintained that I fight to become a better fighter. Perhaps that borders on an iterative tautology which might not make sense to anyone else, but it makes sense to me.

But I also admit that part of me searches for that war. It seeks that challenge, the one that pushes me to the edge, where I am forced to empty the reserves and dig deep to a place inside me that I didn't know existed. A fight where I feel deep down that I am 100% prepared and where I need every last ounce of that preparation to emerge victorious.

I want to break someone, although I don't mean in a a sadistic or necessarily even violent way. A knockout or a submission is great, don't get me wrong. Finishing the fight should always be the goal. But there is something I haven't experienced in a fight yet, and that is the feeling of overwhelming someone. To overwhelm that person to the point he quits. Fighters like to say that they will never quit, that they will never stop. But everyone has a breaking point. People have varying levels of toughness, but everyone will break. It's just a matter of at what point. In my first fight, I beat the daylights out of the guy for two rounds, but he never quit; the referee had to jump in to stop him from taking further punishment. Since that fight I've made two opponents submit, but I've never made anyone quit. There's a big difference. I wanted this to be the first fight where I made someone quit. But I'm still searching.

But now I have to cut this train of thought short. I am encroaching the borders of hubris and arrogance. I am still a no one and a nothing in the MMA world. I am a babe in the woods. I am not in a position to decide whom to fight; that is the responsibility of my coaches. Keep winning, and you get tougher opponents. That's how it works. My job is simple: train hard, shut up, and keep winning.

And so, it's on to the next one. Sorry, Mike.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Two days to a fight

A week of weight cutting is about to approach its climax. On the weekend I began what's called a "sodium load", where you ingest a ton of sodium and water for three days, then rapidly remove all the sodium and reduce your water intake until the weigh-in. (Further details for those curious are available here.)

The first day of the sodium load felt awful. I think I probably overdid it with the sodium. I had some bad diarrhea and felt tremendously bloated. The second day was a bit of a "hangover" from the first, but not as bad. The third day I still felt bloated but it was tolerable. My heart rate variability measuring tool reported a terrible result after the first night but then got better.

I felt much better on the sodium de-loading days. I went into the gym to hit pads, roll light, stuff like that, and had definitely reduced energy, but I think I'm less exhausted than the other weight-cutters on the team. You definitely get tired much more quickly when you deprive yourself of all carbohydrates and sodium for an extended period of time.

It's almost 5pm on Thursday as I write this -- 24 hours before weighins -- which means this cup of black coffee in front of me will be my last intake of anything until this time on Friday. No food, no water. Tomorrow I'll wake up slightly dehydrated, then go dehydrate myself further in the sauna. At 5, I'll make it to the Shark Club Bar & Grill in downtown Vancouver for the weigh-in event, which will be late and full of cranky fighters who can't wait to get off the scale and down Pedialyte. It will also be at this time I stare my opponent in the eyes for the first time and try to get a sense of how he feels about stepping into the cage with another trained combatant.

I already know how I feel, and that's great. Nothing has changed since my last update other than another week of thinking positively about how well this is going to go for me. Mentally and physically I am in a great place, and I am prepared to deliver the best performance of my MMA career to date.

Also, two links to share:

  • For those who are unable to attend the event in person but still want to watch, the fight will be live streamed on PPV for $7 Canadian.
  • I'm doing a reddit-style "AMA" on 2+2 here. Obviously, I'll also answer questions here in the comments section.
Well, 5:02pm. That means the weight cut has begun. Thanks for the support!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Eight days from a fight and raring to go

What was probably my last sparring class is now in the books for this training camp, meaning that barring a tremendous freak accident, I have survived. Just surviving is huge. Most people think that getting into a cage and fighting another trained man until one of you quits or needs to be rescued by the referee is a dangerous thing. And it is. But the potential for injury is so much higher in training. Even though training is controlled and you are never trying to hurt your partner, it is intense. Even toned down versions of a fight, once repeated for multiple rounds a night, four nights a week for eight weeks, is likely to lead to injury. Long time readers will recall last year that I suffered a serious rib injury just 17 days before the fight. The injury was so severe that if I had taken a good shot to that side on fight day I surely would have lost.

This time around though, there are no significant injuries. Not only am I uninjured, I am in probably the best shape I have ever been for a fight. Not only am I in the best shape I've ever been for a fight, I am in the best mental place I have ever been in for a fight. The guys on my team at Universal MMA have been in fight camp mode since I finished with the WSOP, as there were two fight cards back in September and two again here in November. When I got back from the WSOP to train with the guys I was slow, out of shape and just generally shitty at fighting. But for the last four months I have taken my lumps, gotten totally dialed in on my health and nutrition and couldn't feel better. I train with a diverse group of fighters who all bring different things to the table, so even if I don't know much about my opponent -- I don't even know if I am fighting a left or right handed guy -- I feel as though I am prepared for anything.

I feel sharp. I feel I am as good a fighter as I have ever been, and I am going into this fight with very bad intentions.  I think anyone who knows me knows that I am not the cliché of a chest-beating, trash-talking, overconfident fighter. Thirteen years of poker have taught me about variance and that just about anything can happen in a chaotic world. And I know that every fight and every fighter is dangerous. And still I cannot picture in my head any outcome other than me walking into the Battlefield cage next Saturday and winning in an overwhelmingly dominant fashion. In eight days, I will think about every punch I've eaten, every kick I've absorbed, every takedown that's slammed me on my back, and every time I've tapped to a submission. And I will take them all out on this man by delivering him a hellacious beating. I can picture no other result.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

My bodyfat test and results (aka my trip into nerd/jock vanity)

A few weeks ago I decided to get a real body composition test done. The last time I had a body fat test was in my second year of university, done for free by a kinesiology student with some calipers. I think I got 8.9% or something stupid like that, likely because calipers are really inaccurate.

There are a number of reasons I felt now was a good time to get a body fat measurement done. The first is my age. I'm turning 32 soon and I'm now reaching an age where my metabolism will start to slow and I'll have less muscle and bone density relative to my fat. But I've also been doing a lot of "body hacking" (for lack of a better term) of late. I've been eating paleo/primal for well over a year, mixing in a little intermittent fasting, trying to sleep a bit better, taking my vitamin D and fish oil -- in short, trying to do all the little things right. To be honest, probably the least healthy part of my life is the part that people think makes me healthy: the fighting. A late-night 3-hour high-intensity session is actually pretty rough on the adrenals, will result in some level of chronic inflammation, and really just not generally ideal. But I love the sport and so to me it's worth it.

In any case, I figure that the result I get now is probably going to be the best result I get going forward. There are probably some modest improvements I could make in my lifestyle, but I suspect I can't improve my "score" very much, considering the effects of age.

So after some research, I found that the two most accurate, reliable and consistent methods of body composition measurement were the "BodPod", which is an air displacement method, and DEXA (Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry). There was a DEXA lab called Bodycomp Imaging very close to my home, so I decided to give it a try.

Like anyone, the first thing I wanted to know was "the big number".  It came as a surprise to me:


I'd had a discussion with poker pro/bodybuilder Jason Koon who was certain that I was under 10%. I'd also googled around and seen images like this one:

and thought that I looked a lot more like the 8% guy than the 12% guy. For reference, this is what I currently look like (relaxed on left, flexed on right):

Despite me being less than impressed with the 13.8% number, Peter, the guy running the DEXA machine, was very impressed with it. I felt a little better when he said that many of the Vancouver Canucks players come in around 12%. I suppose when I consider that I'm not a professional athlete, not exactly a genetic freak and also that I have never used any sort of "assistance" (ahem), I can be a little prouder of 13.8%.

But in the end, the absolute number doesn't matter much; it's the relative number that matters. Now I have a number, and so as I age, I will try to not get too much worse than 13.8% using DEXA.

The DEXA scan also provided some cool information about things like my symmetry and bone density. I've uploaded the full results here, but as an example, this part of the results were interesting:

As you can see, my left arm has (slightly) more muscle and less fat than my right arm, which Peter says is extremely rare in right-handed people. Maybe it is more common in fighters because we use our left more frequently in throwing jabs. My right leg being more muscular than my left makes sense in a fighting context too, since in an MMA stance you have more weight on your back leg. Nevertheless that level of asymmetry is probably a slight concern.

I was amused that my head is 22.5% fat. Feel free to refer to me as "fathead", since it is technically accurate.

My bone density scores were good but not great for an athlete, according to Peter. While my body fat is 2 standard deviations below the average North American male, I'm only 0.5 sigmas north of average for bone density. Peter said he would like to see that higher, but that it should improve with consistent Vitamin D supplementation. Also with my MMA workload being what it is, I rarely lift weights -- something like once a month -- so I suspect improving that would help a bit.

In any case, I learned a lot about my body, and most importantly, established a baseline that I can try to improve or maintain. For people who are concerned about fitness, I strongly recommend getting a body composition test done. I see many people (especially girls) on Facebook/Twitter/etc feed worrying about their weight when they should be worrying about their body composition. After all, you don't really want to lose weight, you want to lose fat.

If you're in Vancouver, I definitely recommend Peter at Bodycomp Imaging. He's super-knowledgable not just about the test but about recommending lifestyle changes to improve your well-being. You should get $10 off if you follow the above link.  Yes it's a referral link, and yes, I got a discount for plugging them on my Twitter, but I receive no compensation for this blog post. I think you guys know me well enough to know I wouldn't be writing it if I weren't fully satisfied with what I got.

Best of luck in your own fitness goals!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Fight lined up!

Big news of the day: I'm fighting again on November 24 here in Vancouver! As with my debut fight, it will take place in Battlefield Fight League at the Vogue on Granville Street. The fight will be the first 125 lb fight in BFL history!

The fight is at 125 because my opponent's team does not want him to fight above that weight; they felt that last time out he lost because he was facing a much larger opponent (could be true because he weighed in at 132 while his opponent cut to make 140). The cut to 125 will not be fun -- I weighed in at 138 this morning with 20 days to go -- but it'll be nice to be the bigger man in the cage for the first time ever.

Other than that I don't know much about him. I just hope he's tough and he's ready. I want a tough opponent because I am feeling sharp, on-point, and in great shape. I'm injury-free at this moment (knock wood) and feeling great. I've got four teammates also in action on this card and another 5 or 6 fighting the week after, so we've been pushing one another very hard in training camp. I'm totally raring to go and I've had a big smile on my face since I got the news.

I will sort out tickets soon for everyone who wants them; you can let me know for now and I'll put you on the list.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Skill disparity and entertainment value in combat sports

Tomorrow night at UFC 153, Anderson Silva, the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, will fight Stephan Bonnar, a popular and tough fighter but one who has never been in any sort of UFC title contention. Silva is a massive favourite (-1200 to -1000 on most books) and barring a total miracle, is expected to wipe the floor with Bonnar.

Similarly, a few weeks ago in the UFC's last pay-per-view offering, the main event featured light heavyweight phenom Jon Jones defending his title against Vitor Belfort. Jones was about a -800 favourite and after surviving an early submission scare from Belfort, dominated the vast majority of the fight.

People seemed quite excited about both fights, despite how one-sided they were.  Yet this doesn't seem to happen in more mainstream, stick-and-ball type sports. To draw an example from college football, no one would be excited to see Alabama play against Idaho and beat them by six touchdowns. People want to see Federer against Nadal or Djokovic, not against some random unseeded pro. When Canada plays Kazakhstan in hockey, it's pretty hard to find anyone outside of those two countries who cares. And while many Americans tune in to watch the USA's "Dream Team" of NBA superstars dunk all over some overmatched nation in the Olympics, the rest of the world is usually hoping the other country pulls out the upset, if they care at all.

Yet in combat sports, people do want to see these one-sided ass kickings. A couple years back, Silva put on a couple of uninspiring performances over Thales Leites and Patrick Cote. The UFC's solution was to match him with Forrest Griffin, someone they figured (rightly) would continue pressing forward even against a sniper like Silva. The result was one of the most embarrassing blowouts in modern UFC history, ending with this absurd Matrix-like sequence:

Both tomorrow's UFC 153 card and the Jones/Belfort UFC 152 card featured interesting co-main events. UFC 153 has a very close matchup (-120/+110) between Erick Silva and Jon Fitch, and UFC 152 offered the inaugural flyweight title fight between Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez. The reception to this latter fight was quite interesting.

For much of the fight, Johnson controlled the ring with quality ring generalship and brilliant footwork, getting in range to land combinations on Benavidez while evading the latter's counters. But except for a brief moment in the fourth round where Benavidez locked up a dangerous-looking guillotine, there was never the sense that either fighter would be able to stop his opponent. I thought the fight was not a great fight by any means, but reasonably entertaining. Yet many in the audience seemed to hate it and booed the fight vociferously.

It got me to thinking about what draws people to combat sports versus stick-and-ball sports. Of course, there are numerous great examples of epic fights that are close, edge-of-your-seat nail-biters or amazing come-from-behind miracles (Edgar/Maynard II, Silva/Sonnen I). Any time you get the best of the best putting on a dramatic back-and-forth match, it's a classic, regardless of the sport.

But on the opposite end of the spectrum, I don't know of any really memorable 61-3 football games, 8-0 hockey games, or 6-0, 6-2, 6-0 tennis matches. But anyone who was around sports 15 years ago remembers how Mike Tyson would be the hottest ticket in Las Vegas, uppercutting people's heads off in the 1st or 2nd round. People famously showed up for Tyson fights late (skipping the undercard) only to find out that the fight was already over. Silva/Griffin was such a memorable fight not in spite of, but because Griffin was so overmatched. Both Johnson/Benavidez and even a more entertaining affair in the recent Frank Edgar/Ben Henderson match fell under the radar, but people consistently go crazy when there is an obscene knockout or a dude helplessly takes 30 consecutive punches en route to a TKO. I can name many examples of truly uninteresting fights that people stood up and cheered for simply because someone's ass was being badly beaten.

I am (obviously) not a member of the holier-than-thou crowd which thinks that MMA and boxing are barbaric. I love the combat sports and they are beautiful to me. And I hold myself no better than anyone else: I am legitimately interested to watch Silva/Bonnar tomorrow night because it means I get to watch Anderson Silva do what he does best, which is use his fists, elbows, feet and knees to destroy people in mind-blowing ways. But it is interesting to me that this totally lopsided fight will likely draw more viewers than say, the Edgar/Henderson and José Aldo/Chad Mendes fights from earlier this year which both featured the consensus #1 versus the consensus #2 fighters in the division. When the two best teams in football, basketball, baseball or hockey meet up, you can be sure that fans of those sports will tune in. Yet in combat sports, unless someone is about to be beaten to a bloody pulp, only the hardcores seem to care.

Thoughts? Are people -- and in particular fight fans -- secretly actually snuff fans? Do they really just want to watch someone get pulverized? Or is there more to this?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Canadian No-Gi Trials wrap-up (with videos)

After a week of weight cutting, I ended up with only one opponent in my 60kg division. Seems to be a resonant theme of the last month that I go to the effort in participating in some form of 1-on-1 competition and almost no one else shows up.

My opponent was wearing a SFU wrestling hoodie in the warmup so I figured he would be stronger than me in that department. But for this tournament, you get down one point regardless of whether you pull guard or get taken down by your opponent, so I figured even if I expected to play on the bottom, I should make him work for it and hope to at least tire him out or make him overcommit and catch him. That's exactly what happened in the first match as he took me down but as he tried to establish position I snatched up a triangle. I knew I had it locked up tight as soon as I slapped it on. It was confirmed by his gurgling and laboured breathing and I thought he was going to sleep, but he tapped at the last second before stumbling to his feet. I looked at the clock and I'd won in 26 seconds, which is a personal record for me.

My favourite shape in all of geometry.

Since it felt silly to do all that prep and fight for 26 seconds, I decided at the last minute to enter the Absolute division. (Absolute means open-weight, so guys my size potentially fight against super-heavyweights.) I usually don't like to enter Absolute just because there's so much chance of injury; I have been injured before by guys twice my size torquing on my arms. But there were no super-heavyweights around so I figured I'd give it a shot.

My first match was against a guy I have seen fight MMA locally named Saeid Mirzaei. I knew he was good and he had a lot of size on me (he competes at 170 lbs), so I went over to one of my coaches, Chris Ross, who told me that I should wait him to pick me up with his double leg and snatch up his neck for a guillotine. As you can see in the poor, grainy iPhone video below, the game plan nearly works to perfection.

Once he slipped out of the guillotine he pretty much dominated. The neck crank at the end was very painful and I didn't want to be sidelined for a week, so I tapped. (Two days later, my neck is still pretty jacked up.) He then admitted that I almost put him to sleep with the guillotine, which bummed me out. If my grip had only been slightly better I would have pulled out the upset.

Holding on for the ride.

This pretty much feels how it looks. Pretty sure my neck is not designed to be at that angle relative to my body.

I ended up in the losers bracket of the double elimination format so I got to fight another wrestler, this time from UBC.

Not a whole not to see here as he shoots right into the guillotine, leaving his neck out there even more so than the other guy.

His world...

And mine.

That set up the bronze medal match against another successful local MMA guy. This was a match I was fully expecting to win. He competed against my teammate in the 90kg class, pulled guard, was unable to do anything with it, and ended up losing 1-0. I wasn't sure whether he would adopt the same guard-pulling strategy even against a much smaller opponent, but Chris thought he would. Chris expected him to pull guard on me but said that if he doesn't, to guillotine him the same way I beat the UBC wrestler and almost beat Saeid.

Unfortunately I didn't follow the game plan in any way. There was a lengthy feeling out process on the feet (which isn't on the video), and he threw a few half-hearted fake attempts to make me think he was going to try to take me down. It worked because I got impatient, shot a lousy single, he defended with a nice whizzer/hip turn and I ended up getting down on points very early. Despite coming back and using my cardio advantage to dominate the latter portion of the match, I just wasn't able to submit him or score enough points; the combination of his skill and superior strength just made it too difficult to recover.

I'm annoyed because this was a very winnable match which I lost because of a blunder. I'm very annoyed when this happens. If I lose because the other guy simply has better technical ability or physical attributes, that's one thing. But as a person who has made a living competing in a game, this type of loss is the unacceptable kind. I'm supposed to have an advantage in the strategy and decision-making arena. But I decided to go against the game plan, freeballed it, and it cost me. In the standard sporting lexicon, we have a name for this act: "choking".

It's a frustrating thing, and it's not something I really understand. This is the third grappling match I've lost in the last few months due to a mental error. All of these matches were ones I should have won, but failed to do so. The rational poker player side of me tells me that I also probably won matches I wasn't supposed to win because my opponent made some (unknown to me) error. And another way to look at the results is that I could have won against two skilled opponents who each outweighed me by 40-50 pounds. That should at least give me some confidence about my technical ability.

So in the end, a mixed bag of results. I won my division easily and am okay with how I performed technically, but not with my overall strategy in the open-weight matches. But if nothing else, I learned that I need to continue to compete more so that I can gain more experience and minimize the possibility of such errors going forward. That is the whole purpose, after all.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Back to competition: grappling qualifier in downtown Vancouver this weekend

I'm doing the no-gi portion of the 2012 World Grappling Team Trials for Canada this weekend here in downtown Vancouver. I'm competing at 60kg (132 lbs) which is pretty standard for me. What's not standard for me is that there are no skill divisions in this competition. Because it's a qualifier to represent Canada on the international stage in Moscow, there is only one division, meaning anyone regardless of skill level can enter. In fact, this is the first open tournament I've seen where novices are specifically discouraged from entering.

The last couple of years I have typically competed in the "intermediate" division of tournaments; I've lost in the first round (in Manila in March) but I've medalled a couple of times (including the most recent Grappler's Quest in Las Vegas where I notably suffered a concussion during my bronze medal match). But I feel like I'm starting to shake off the post-WSOP rust/lethargy/poor fitness and am getting back into a decent groove. Modulo a few minor niggling injuries, I feel like I should perform well on Saturday.

My weight this morning was 62.9 kg (138.4 lb) so my last meal until weigh-ins on Friday will be tonight (Wednesday), and I'll continue drinking water until Thursday around sundown. I'll shed the last few pounds in the sauna. It sounds difficult to the layperson but a teammate of mine is making the cut from >150 lbs to compete in the same division as me, so I can hardly complain.

I don't expect to actually win, but I hopefully I get a favourable draw and win a match or even two. Either way it'll be pretty good experience competing full bore against elite-level grapplers. The event is 1pm on Saturday right in the midst of downtown Vancouver at UBC Robson Square, so if you are local I hope you'll consider coming out to watch!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The correlation of KOs suffered and age amongst UFC fighters

Cage Potato has an article up entitled The Price of Wisdom: Age and Knockouts in MMA. I'm actually off to the gym myself shortly and I haven't had a chance to go through this entire article carefully, but it seems fascinating so far. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the author finds that the older fighters get, the more likely they are to lose by knockout.

But is this because older fighters actually have worse chins, or simply because they get outstruck more frequently as they age and slow down? After compiling some data, the author writes:
[T]he basic trend is clear that it takes fewer and fewer head strikes to knock down older fighters. When it comes to standup striking, it takes half as many landed strikes to knock down a fighter approaching 40, than it did when he was in his early 20?s.
Here is the link again. Some food for thought as this 31-year-old prepares to leave the house to get hit by a bunch of dudes wearing small gloves. :)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

I won a tournament no one showed up for!

I wish this were a story about winning my first big buy-in poker tournament since the 2009 WCOOP. And, for those who missed it, I did in fact win the "$4600+400" (the scare quotes a result of an irksome hidden juice) buy-in Canadian Open Poker Championships Heads-up Event, which had just 12 players and a first prize of C$34,000 (US$34,437). I did not receive a first round bye and thus beat four opponents, so from a certain standpoint I do feel like I actually accomplished something. Playing heads-up is always a grind because of the sheer number of decisions, and something about live heads-up NL is particularly fun and challenging because there is so much information to constantly process. I had a lot of fun playing the tournament (which had an excellent best-of-3 structure) and was very happy with the win.

@muckingaces tweeted: "Wtg, Terrence. But next time ask them to colour down the chips for the victory photo."

But sadly, this is not in fact a post about me winning a 5k buy-in poker tournament. It's mostly a post about how disappointing this particular tournament series turned out to be.

I was quite excited to come to Calgary for this tournament, as I did in 2009 and 2010. In 2009 I finished 3rd/4th in a 63-player field. In 2010, I lost in the 2nd round in a 64-player field. In 2011, they dropped the buy-in to $2000 but still saw their field halved to 32 players. This year, in an attempt to increase the field size (and in an apparent attempt to defy economic theory) they brought the buy-in back to $5000 using the logic that it would draw more out-of-town players, thereby increasing the field. Well, it didn't work. Unless you are running a 6-figure buy-in tournament and hope to attract a lot of hype, a 12-player field is horrendous.

The ambiance of the my semifinal match stood out in particular. After the other semifinal match finished, the only people in the sizeable tournament poker room (which is usually a room for shows and musical acts) were me, my opponent, the dealer, the relief dealer, and the tournament director. Due to some sort of technical issue, there wasn't even background music. Hell, there wasn't even the slot machine white noise, or the usual ubiquitous chip-riffling sounds (since we held the only chips in the room in our hands). It was pin-drop quiet, and incredibly eerie. The setting was made even more surreal by the fact that we were playing in this empty room on an elevated stage, for the benefit of an audience of absolutely no one. As weird as that was, the 6-max the next day was the true disappointment. This was a $2000 buy-in re-entry tournament which got 17 entries, a simply appalling turnout. I can kind of understand when the locals aren't interested in playing a $5000 heads-up tournament because many casual players are often intimidated by heads-up, but to get this kind of a field for a $2000 6-max NL is beyond fathomable.

There's a lot of speculation as to why this tournament turned out to be such a failure, from staff to marketing, a lack of satellites, and of course conflicts with Legends of Poker in LA, WPT Barcelona, and another more well-established tournament series in Edmonton. I'll leave the public speculation to those better informed, but the numbers are obviously disappointing for a tournament that had a very fun looking schedule on paper and that has done well in the past. What I know wasn't at fault was a poor poker economy, because many big cash games (10-25 up to 25-50-100) were going with regularity. Calgary boasts one of the strongest economies in the country, poker is still big in Canada, and clearly there was already lots of money in the building. But none of it was going into the tournaments.

It's certainly a strange feeling to walk away with a tournament win and $24,800 profit over three days and still feel a bit blasé about the experience, but in previous years I enjoyed this tournament because many fellow Canadian pros and other individuals from the poker industry would turn up for it, and it was fun times. And the Deerfoot Hotel, while a nice enough facility, is in the total middle of nowhere 20 minutes outside of downtown Calgary, and I didn't have a car. Even if I did, I didn't really have anyone to hang out with anyway.

I resolved long ago not to travel to poker tournaments where there wasn't some compelling reason to go other than the poker. In the end, this experience solidified the idea that my heart is no longer into playing poker for a living.  Money and the stuff it buys is great, but at this point I'm really looking to place more importance on having fun and improve my quality of life rather than just making the bank account bigger.

So in the end, I burned a few more Air Canada miles and $100 in change fees to come back home Thursday morning instead of Saturday night, bypassing the $1000 PLO event and the $2000 main, both of which I had originally intended to play. I'll be curious to see the numbers for both, but it seems likely they'll be as underwhelming as everything else this week. In any case, I'm looking forward to home, seeing friendly faces, getting on the mats and in the ring, and catching what remains of the Vancouver summer. And if I really do feel an overwhelming urge to try to win some more money at poker, I hear there's a little series on the Internet starting up this weekend.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

WSOP wrap-up and response to Jarred Solomon

The 2012 WSOP has come and gone. I almost wrote, "all too quickly", but of course this is with the hindsight that comes a week after busting the main event. When the WSOP is going on, it's a tough grind that you're always looking towards the end of; when it isn't, it's fun and you miss it. This year even more so for me, as I surely logged more hours than I had in any other WSOP to date.

Although frustrating at times, I went deep enough in enough events to make this year more fun than tilting. I built some stacks and had legitimate shots at a number of events, especially the $1500 NL where I finished 20th and the $2500 6-max LHE where I finished 7th. My enjoyment of the game was definitely renewed by this year's WSOP, the pursuit (as it were) of the cashes record kept me motivated and playing, and of course the camaraderie is always the best.

On that last note, I am saddened by the thought that it may be the last year together for our house. Matt announced his retirement as a pro via Twitter and will be focusing on grad school, Jerrod is already in grad school, Gavin played a very light schedule and wasn't in Vegas much, and another of our anonymous housemates has told us he doesn't plan on coming out for 2013. Jimmy quit, Jody got married. As for me, I definitely plan to play the 2013 WSOP, but it won't be the same with our big happy house, BBQ parties, late night In-N-Out runs, speed chess/Chinese poker mixed games, jiujitsu challengespelting Bill with water balloons, watermelon violence, and Apples-to-Apples hi/low behind us.


With that covered, I get to the business on which I'm a week overdue. In the blog world that might as well be a year, but as covered before, I had a good excuse. I guess the easiest way to respond to Jarred Solomon's post is to take it one statement at a time. I admit I was pretty surprised when I woke up in the morning to see this post. While I do appreciate that Jarred was critical in a very respectful way, I thought he was pretty off with respect to his analysis of my mindset, but it did make me question the perception that I may have given my blog/Twitter-following public.

Jarred's criticism begins accordingly:

You build something up so that if it comes to fruition you get to experienced an almost enhanced glory,but if things dont work out you simply play it down.In the early/middle stages of the series,you made it clear that the 'cash record' was a big goal for you,and something you were actively pursuing.

I am very confused as to where I ever would have suggested that the cash record was a big goal. It was never even a goal. I'd be very surprised if there was a single tweet that even implied that it was a big goal. Certainly I can't see anything in my original blog post that even suggests this at all. The cashes record was never something I was ever in pursuit of, and I would like to know where this idea comes from.


All of a sudden it's somewhat out of reach and now it's a nit record,and not one that anyone good respects.You even go as far as to say "it's not a record i'd be particularly proud to have". 

It should be noted that at the time of the post that Jarred is referencing, the record was not out of reach. At the time, Puchkov had 10 cashes and I had 9, and both of us were still in the last 1k event. He could have missed and I could have cashed that and the main event to overtake him, so I was still very much in reach of the record at the time of writing.

Whether this is true or not,it clearly wasn't your view when you were leading the cashes tally,or when you folded to three quarters of a blind in the PLO 8 tourney.

For the first part of this statement, see above. For the second part, folding to 3/4 of a BB in the PLO8, that was simply correct, and I knew it. I lost an all-in at the end of Day 1 of that event and left myself with just 8500 in chips to end the day. Since we were 30 off the money, I went home and asked my housemate Jerrod Ankenman what hands I should be playing at this point. Jerrod might more knowledgeable than anyone on the planet when it comes to the intersection of PLO8 hot-and-cold equities and ICM. He felt that while there was a chance I might need to double up, if it looked like people were busting quickly then I should probably only play AA with a wheel card and A2Kx and that arguably even these would not be playable hands (from an ICM, not cEV perspective of course) if there were already multiple people in the pot. I wasn't happy to have to play this way, but if the person you respect the most about this topic tells you that's what you have to do, then it seems foolish not to listen, bruised ego or not.

You doing the same thing with this 1k tourney and your grappling competition.You're going to try your heart out in the tourney,if you bust,you and everyone forgets about it and focuses on the grappling comp.And vice versa if you make day 3.With regards to the grappling,if you do well you're a hero for doing so without much training,but if you don't do well I'm sure you'll highlight the condition you're in and your lack of training(like you have already).

Maybe this happened in this grappling tournament, but I think I was just really telling the truth. If you've followed my MMA career at all (and I don't really expect people to, but if you're going to be critical about my comments on one match then you should at least check the previous ones) then you'll know I usually say pretty much how I'm feeling before the match. When I made my MMA debut last September, I was recovering from the most debilitating injury of my career, a rib injury that two weeks before the fight meant I couldn't even sneeze without pain. This is what I wrote in the blog entry a week before the fight:

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

That doesn't sound like something I'd write if I were trying to make myself to be "a hero". I wrote it because that's how I felt about that fight. Maybe I'm not honest with myself or my audience 100% of the time, and I don't know if anyone truly is, but I try to let the words on this blog be reflective of how I'm feeling about the topic. I'm not trying to be disingenuous or make myself out to be a hero.

What I suppose I could take out of this not that I shouldn't try to temper the expectations of my audience, but rather myself. Perhaps if there is a lesson to be gained, it's that I should go into anything I compete in with the mentality that I will win it. But having played poker -- a game where one can be perfect and still lose with regularity -- for as long as I have, it is hard to bring that sort of mentality to the forefront in other arenas. But maybe if there is something to take from this line of criticism, it is that.

Moving forward again:

I probably wouldn't have gone on this rant if you'd simply acknowledged Konstantin Puchkov in a bigger way.Not only did the guy tie the record,but he got a couple big results,unlike you and Joe who's resume was comprised mainly of min cashes.

I'm surprised you would feel it is important for me to acknowledge Puchkov's results in my blog. I've never played with the guy, and have spoken to very few people who have, so I really can't have any intelligent comment on how well he plays. That is why I neither disparage nor acknowledge him. I am not putting down "his" accomplishment when I say the cashes record is "sort of a nit record"; I'm simply saying that's how most poker pros will feel about it. And yes, it is true that Puchkov cashed for either me or Tehan, but again, I don't see why this is important with respect to the discussion at hand.

What makes it even more admirable is that he got it idone quietly,while you and Tehan were boasting about your tally at every opportunity you got.The guy may not look like a shark,but he's a great white,and has earned my respect in a big way.

"Boasting" is a word that I am, again, very surprised to see with regards to my referencing of the record. Again, please find a tweet or blog comment where I boast. The only thing I can think of that might be construed as a brag was this (obvious joke) tweet after Jesse Martin briefly tied me for the cashes lead (a fact that I wouldn't have known had it not been for Nolan Dalla telling me in the Amazon Room) and I re-took the lead. (For what it's worth, Jesse thought it was funny.)

I'm glad you think Konstantin Puchkov is a great player. I wouldn't know, but I'm happy to hear it if it is the case. I'm happy that the record is held by someone who other poker pros can hold in high esteem. (It is generally not the classiest thing to speak ill of the deceased, but from what I heard of people who played with Nikolai Evdakov, he was unpleasant to play against specifically because he was constantly playing very slowly in order to cash.) And even if I don't feel the cashes record is something to be pursued or necessarily held in high esteem, I congratulate Puchkov on his eleven cashes, as many have congratulated me on my ten.

Hopefully that puts that particular issue to bed; in any case, it is all I have to say on the topic for now. Further comments welcome as always.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Jarred Solomon responds to my post

I woke up this morning to see that poker pro Jarred Solomon (who himself has eight WSOP cashes in 2012) had responded in the comments section of my post last Monday, in which I discussed my pursuit of the single-season WSOP cashes record. I don't have time to respond immediately, but the comment is clearly thoughtful and and I don't want to simply ignore it or have it buried in the comments, so I am promoting it to its own post here.

Hey Terrence

I want to start off by saying what a big fan I am of you.Both the way you play the game and the way you are with social media.Your tweets are always witty and entertaining.Most of all,I love how you have such good balance in your life(the martial arts,nutrition,active blogging).I feel it's something that's fundamental and extremely rare in the lifestyle of the modern day poker professional.

I do however have a small grievance with you.You have this knack of 'covering yourself' for lack of a better term.You build something up so that if it comes to fruition you get to experienced an almost enhanced glory,but if things dont work out you simply play it down.In the early/middle stages of the series,you made it clear that the 'cash record' was a big goal for you,and something you were actively pursuing.All of a sudden it's somewhat out of reach and now it's a nit record,and not one that anyone good respects.You even go as far as to say "it's not a record i'd be particularly proud to have". Whether this is true or not,it clearly wasn't your view when you were leading the cashes tally,or when you folded to three quarters of a blind in the PLO 8 tourney.

You doing the same thing with this 1k tourney and your grappling competition.You're going to try your heart out in the tourney,if you bust,you and everyone forgets about it and focuses on the grappling comp.And vice versa if you make day 3.With regards to the grappling,if you do well you're a hero for doing so without much training,but if you don't do well I'm sure you'll highlight the condition you're in and your lack of training(like you have already).I know I'm somewhat clutching at straws,I'm just trying to emphasize my point from the above paragraph.

I probably wouldn't have gone on this rant if you'd simply acknowledged Konstantin Puchkov in a bigger way.Not only did the guy tie the record,but he got a couple big results,unlike you and Joe who's resume was comprised mainly of min cashes.What makes it even more admirable is that he got it idone quietly,while you and Tehan were boasting about your tally at every opportunity you got.The guy may not look like a shark,but he's a great white,and has earned my respect in a big way.

Good luck for the main event and the grappling comp,will be rooting for you...

Jarred Solomon

I plan to respond to this post this weekend, but curious what others think. Does Jarred have a valid point?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

a fast fast - 60 hours without food

Since the WSOP began, I've trained jiujitsu five times, and taken three Muay Thai lessons. Eight sessions of training is usually a week for me, but instead it's constituted my last five weeks here in Las Vegas. Last Friday, after frustratingly busting out from Day 2 of the 5k NL tournament, I went over to Cobra Kai Jiujitsu here in Las Vegas for a pair of classes. I got whooped on, as one would expect. I had been planning to attend the Grapplers Quest tournament here in Las Vegas, but given my performance I was starting to reconsider. Then J.C. Alvarado, another poker pro who has taken up grappling and MMA, tweeted at me and said that despite his inexperience, he would be willing to compete. Well, I figured if J.C. was willing to sack up and compete, then I could too.

The problem, of course, is that I haven't been training. Not only that, I've been playing poker, sitting for hours on end, eating poorly, sleeping worse, and just generally getting fat and out of shape. On Monday the 2nd, I bought a new battery for the scale and checked in at 138 lbs, needing to get down to 129.9 lbs on what would be today, Thursday the 5th. So starting on Monday, I went zero-carb, and had my last real meal on Tuesday morning: a big, greasy mess of bacon, eggs, and avocado. I basically haven't eaten since that Tuesday breakfast. I'm a voracious eater, so I had assumed that going 60 hours without eating would be pretty miserable and questioned whether I should even do it.

Fasting is something that I have always meant to do but never gotten around to doing. I've adopted a paleo-type lifestyle for a while now, and (mostly) adopted protocols with respect to nutrition, sleep, activity levels and so forth, but one thing I have never really felt strong enough to do was fast. I've always been scared to do it because I know that in the past I have been, quite frankly, a short-tempered asshole when I'm hungry. And I'm frequently hungry. Like 99% of the first-world population, I have grown accustomed to food-on-demand. I have often raided the fridge out of boredom, or simply eaten because the clock -- not my stomach -- has dictated that it is mealtime. I'm a very physically active person 11 months out of the year and so despite my size, I burn and consume a lot of calories. The thought of even going 24 hours without food had always terrified me.

But I'm now past the 48-hour mark, and it's not so bad. Yes, I'm hungry right now. But it's merely "hungry", not "starving" or "famished" or "dying".  My body has accepted that it's not going to get some convenient external source of glucose but that instead it will have to use up this body fat to fuel the systems. I played an entire day of poker (well, 8.5 levels anyway) yesterday and for the most part felt very mentally sharp. I thought about food only occasionally, whereas if you would have told me I would play a poker tournament after having not eaten for a day I would have guessed that the thought of food would be all-consuming. I was in a good mood most of the day and am in a perfectly good mood now, although I imagine as tonight's 6 PM weigh-in approaches I'll start to anticipate breaking the fast in a very big way.

Overall, I am completely surprised at how well I am handling my first 48 hours without food, and I think it's been a great learning experience. The old me would have freaked out at the thought of 48 hours without food, that my body would wither away and die. But really, the most difficult part of this is leaping that psychological hurdle. I've had to force myself to recognize that a fast of this length is not that big a deal and that humans are in fact designed and have evolved to deal with food scarcity. Sometimes the caveman threw the spear at the buffalo and missed.

As for the grappling itself, unfortunately I survived Day 1A of yesterday's 1k NL with a measly 8500 in chips, so I end up with the worst of both worlds: I have no chips, and barring an absolute snap-bust, won't get to compete in Friday's no-gi tournament. But since I have gotten this far, I will still cut the remainder of the weight (down to 133.6 this morning without cutting water) and register for Saturday's gi tournament, with the intent to compete in it unless I manage to somehow luckbox my way to a day 3. If, as expected, I bust out efficiently on Day 2, I'll jet it over to the Mandalay and coach J.C. in his no-gi grappling debut.

I guess I would wrap this entry up by saying that if you're a person who, like me, has considered himself a slave to food, you might benefit from attempting some sort of fast. Numerous studies have shown the tremendous health benefits of intermittent fasting, and not only has this been not nearly as hard as I thought it would be, it's been educational. Give it a try!

Monday, July 2, 2012

one for the record books...or not

While there have been a lot of really interesting stories in the 2012 WSOP -- Ivey's five final tables in 12 days, Hellmuth's 12th bracelet, Grinder's second 50k victory, the OneDrop event -- one of the minor (very minor) subplots that has been talked about is whether or not I would break the WSOP single-season cash record of ten, held by the late Nikolai Evdakov. As of now, the lead belongs to another Russian named Konstantin Puchkov, who overtook me when he cashed the $5000 NL and I didn't. Puchkov is now tied for the record with 10 cashes, with me and Joe Tehan behind him at nine.

But most people were following my ascent, in part because they know me and don't know Puchkov, but mostly because from the conclusion of the first event and up until a week ago, I started every day either leading or tied for the lead. "So what'd you cash in today," became a common half-joke, half-inquiry among the WSOP regulars. It was frustrating because none of the cashes were significant: zero final tables, and no cashes over $20000. I would trade happily trade all nine cashes for a third place finish in some random $1500 event.

And besides, "most cashes" is certainly a nit record. Serious poker players don't play for cashes. Players have been regularly ribbing me, calling me "Chainsaw", or "Cousineau", referencing a pair of notorious min-cashers. In most of the cashes, I've amassed a lot of chips, but there was also the $1500 PLO8 where I cashed with 3/4 of a big blind. In any case, I'm pretty sure that my run at the record hasn't affected my play in any way; I've still played to maximize my equity (which usually means maximizing my chance of winning the tournament).

The more interesting question is whether it has affected the number and types of tournaments that I've entered. I feel that I have probably entered more $1000 and $1500 NL "donkaments" than I traditionally have, but this is probably a good thing: these are among the highest value events in the series. I have however skipped a number of tournaments either because I felt I wasn't a favourite, or simply because I just wasn't feeling up to playing.

It feels silly to me to care about this record. It's not a record that anyone good actually respects. It's not a record I'd be particularly proud to have. But I suppose it'd be something. I imagine it'd fall under the category of, "sorta neat, I suppose."

If I needed 11+ cashes to hold the all-time record as something to show that I made my mark on the WSOP, then that says something about me, and something I'm not a big fan of. Poker pros aren't supposed to care about such things. We're supposed to care about money, not legacies or stats. We make fun of Phil Hellmuth because he can't stop reminding the world that he is a 10-, 11- and now 12-time "World Champion".  Records and the narratives that surround them are stuff for the media, not the players.  
I certainly wasn't planning this for the 2012 WSOP. As I've written before, most of the fun of the WSOP for me is actually hanging out with friends, but due to playing a monstrous number of hours (for me) in the tournaments, I haven't done all that much of that. In spite of the gentle ribbing, a lot of people have encouraged me to really go for the record. The series is starting to wrap up, and I'll play all the NL tournaments the rest of the way, including the 10k 6-max, but I'm not confident enough to think that I'm a significant favourite in the 3k PLO8 or the 10k NL deuce. If I really, desperately wanted the cashes title, I suppose I would put those events on my schedule. But thankfully my ego isn't that fragile.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

a dozen days at the WSOP

Last month, I wrote about how motivated I was for this 2012 WSOP. I said I was confident, planning to play a lot, and play well. As we approach the two week mark, I've done all of these things, although the results have been a little bittersweet. I've played 8 events and cashed in 5 (which leads all players, and is a pace where I would surpass the all-time record of ten), but none of those cashes have been over five figures. The cashes combine for just $23429, and as of this writing I've played $13000 worth of events.

So things haven't exactly been spectacular. Still, the results inspire confidence. Despite the mincashes, I've managed to collect lots of chips every time I've cashed. (The exception was the PLO, which ended up being my highest cash and deepest finish.) Basically, I've just been having great luck on Day 1s and really bad luck on Day 2s.

The schedule has been pretty rough for me though. Each of those mincashes typically means about 15-18 hours spent at the Rio, plus commute time. That's a lot more hours than I've planned to book at the casino. I've only been to train jiujitsu a couple times, Muay Thai once, and other than that it's been very quick gym workouts at UNLV. Matt and I haven't even been able to set up our grappling mats in the house! On top of that my sleep has been pretty funky; I seem to only be able to consistently sleep five hours a night and in the afternoons and evenings I'm a bit of a zombie.

Nevertheless, I shouldn't complain. I'm up for the series so far, which ~90% of people aren't. It's been frustrating to have five cashes without a final table, but as I said I'm happy with how I've been playing, and this thing is not only one-third over.  And, of course, tonight is the $5000 limit hold'em. I suppose might have a shot at a deep run in that one.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

the scary drive - Vancouver to Portland to Reno to Vegas

I've driven from Vancouver to Las Vegas seven times in my life, five of those for the WSOP. The most direct (and easy) route is the one pictured below, although a couple of times I've visited friends in southern California, so I've gone south down the I-5, then driven north to Vegas along the I-15.

This time, however, I was invited to stay with friends in Portland (and Portland is a great city I'm always happy to spend time in), so my trip looked a little different:

It's actually a fairly similar length, but the drive is much more treacherous.  I suppose I should have done my homework on this, but this drive takes me through a part of Cascade Mountains where the elevation is over 5000 feet and I was hit by sub-zero temperatures, snow, and winding, icy roads. Keep in mind that I drive a Porsche Boxster with racing tires, which is not exactly ideal. Most of the cars that were driving along with me were SUVs and light trucks, many of them with ski racks. It was very very scary. I spun the tires exactly once on an uphill, and it was at that point that I decided to go into old-lady driving mode and hope for the best. At one point I pulled over at a gas station to call a friend and have him check the weather and elevation going forward. Luckily at that point I had gotten the worst of it already and the rest of the drive was much less dangerous.

I wouldn't have dared taking a picture at the most dangerous parts, but once the traffic cleared up and the road got a little more manageable, I still managed to quickly get this one off.

After traversing the Cascades, one would think that things would be getting a lot less dangerous, but that wouldn't be the case. While driving through northeast California, I started getting some cold/flu symptoms. Now, driving isn't exactly a strenuous physical activity, but I was worried because I was getting very tired and sleepy. I pulled over a couple of times to recover and noticed I was getting the chills. A 10-hour driving day will give my body aches under the best of circumstances, but I was definitely feeling much more achy than usual. I could also tell my mental acuity and physical coordination was off: when I did actually arrive at my stop for the night in Reno, I noticed that I was fumbling objects when I went to pick them up, bumping into things, and just generally out of it.

I left Reno for Las Vegas early Saturday morning, but a little over an hour into my drive I pulled into a Walmart parking lot and slept in my car for an hour. Feeling sick, I didn't really feel like coffee, but the nap helped a bit and I continued onwards. I would end up stopping on nearly an hourly basis, including a second nap at a rest stop about four hours outside of Vegas. I now had a new problem that concerned me: my vision was getting blurry. I have laser-corrected and thus pretty much perfect vision, but my eyes were really fatigued. Signs that I would easily be able to read normally at 400 metres were unreadable to me at 100 metres. Especially when I shifted my eyes to look at something else (the rear-view mirror, for example) then went back to look at the road, my vision would become totally blurry.  I would often see cars off in the distance to find that there was in fact, no car; that what I was seeing was just a signpost or something. The road from Reno to Las Vegas is pretty much all monotonous desert and that didn't help things. It was very scary to be driving along at 75mph in such a compromised physical state. I think I will definitely look harder for a co-pilot on the trip back to Vancouver.

The good news is that I've finally made it safely to Las Vegas. Still running a slight fever, still not feeling great, but hopefully good enough to play the $1500 tomorrow. That first event is always awesome and it would suck to miss it.

Good luck, everyone!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

mental game: Chael Sonnen on Joe Rogan podcast

I'm currently about one-third of the way on my drive from Vancouver to Las Vegas for the WSOP (no, I'm not writing this while driving). I'm travelling solo, so I'm listening to a lot of podcasts on the way. One gem I managed to come across was a long appearance by UFC middleweight contender Chael Sonnen on the Joe Rogan podcast. (For those who are familiar with Sonnen's pro-wrestling-type persona, he is not "in character" for the interview.)

The whole thing is pretty good, but I wanted to draw attention to one part in particular which begins at 1:18:42 where Sonnen talks a lot about the mental aspect of fighting. There's a lot of discussion about how fighters mentally break, the psychological hurdles Sonnen had to clear to get out of a slump in which he was basically just choking repeatedly (literally and figuratively). The two of them also talk a bit more specifically about fighting and what it's like to win or lose a big fight. It's a great listen for any sports fan.

Here is the link. The podcast is quite long and most of it is quite good, but the 20 minutes or so beginning at 1:18:42 is excellent.

Monday, May 21, 2012

"Seat Open" with me

I did an interview with PokerNews in Cebu. In the strange event you want to watch me talk about myself for 10 minutes, here it is:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What I believe (or rather, don't believe), human body edition

I'm impressed with what seems like increased interest in health and fitness in the poker community in the past couple of years. It seems that a lot of poker pros are realizing that the lifestyle they lead is not the healthiest, and are looking to better themselves. As kind of a health/fitness nut myself, I applaud this! However, it seems that there are still a ton of beliefs out there among the general populace over what to do and when/how to do it, and unfortunately a lot of these beliefs are way off.

The following is a nowhere-near-exhaustive list of things that most people believe but I believe are wrong. And to be truthful, I previously believed almost all of them at some point! Generally, the below statements are simply asserted and accepted as fact regardless of the evidence. In response, I will do the same and assert that the opposite of these statements is true without bothering with the pesky evidence. :) I am by no means an expert, but I read an awful lot. Sometimes I even read those boring medical studies that no one reads.

Anyhow, I have only included the most ubiquitous of beliefs. I have only included statements where you took a random sample of people in first-world, Westernized countries, I bet you would find that over 50% of people would agree with the following statements. But I now agree with none of them.

The List of Lies
  • Saturated fats are bad for you
  • Vegetable/canola oils and other polyunsaturated oils are better to cook with than butter or lard
  • Low-fat yogurt is better for you than full-fat (you may replace "yogurt" with virtually every dairy product)
  • For a healthier meal, trim the fat from your meat
  • You should limit fat consumption to 20-30% of total calories
  • Whole grains are good for you
  • Brown rice is better for you than white rice
  • Chicken is better for you than beef (or other red meats)
  • Eating 5-6 small meals a day and snacking frequently is better than eating 2-3 large meals a day
  • Skipping breakfast is bad for you
  • Eating a big dinner at night is bad for you 
  • To fight a cold/bolster your immune system, you should take lots of Vitamin C 
  • You should eat lots of "antioxidant" foods 
  • Wear lots of sunscreen to avoid harmful UV rays
  • Get a good stretch before you work out
  • If you want to lose weight, just do more cardio
  • People who run should get shock-absorbing shoes to minimize damage
  • You shouldn't work out on an empty stomach

I feel like I'm still missing a number of things, but I suppose these are the big ones. Of course, you should not just assume that I am right and popular opinion is wrong just because you're reading my blog. Do your own research. I'm just putting this out there as something to consider the next time you get some diet/exercise/lifestyle advice.