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.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

World Serious of Poker

The WSOP is just 20 days away. This excites me. This will be my seventh full year at the WSOP, but it still never fails to get my juices flowing.

By my count, I have played 113 WSOP (Las Vegas) events, collecting 17 cashes, 4 final tables, and zero bracelets. It's an unspectacular record, but a solid one, and the number at the bottom of my spreadsheet says that coming to the WSOP has been good for the bankroll.

But it's for far more than any financial reward that the WSOP is my favourite time of year. It's summer camp not just for the pros who play it, but also the recreational players, employees, media, and anyone connected to the poker world. It's the time of year where almost the entire poker world descends upon just one town; when you never eat dinner alone and you can pretty much always find someone to do whatever it is you want to do in that very instant. Whether it's to rail a final table, celebrate a bracelet, or commiserate over a bad beat, it's about the people.

But for me, the upcoming WSOP feels a little bit different. Within my closest circle of friends -- the guys who comprise what is often referred to as the "Math of Poker House" -- there is some feeling that the band is breaking up. At least one person has expressed the idea that this will be his last full WSOP. Another of our group is working on a new startup and will skip the main event (gasp!). Yet another will be foregoing the tournaments entirely, only dropping in on occasion to play cash games. And I find myself questioning my motivation to play poker for a living more and more these days. I've been in the game a long time now, and it's getting hard to compete with the young lions who are passionate about grinding the long hours and putting in their work. If you follow this blog at all, you know that the passion for the game that made me into a strong poker player has been diverted towards the goal of making myself the best mixed martial artist I can be.

But if 2012 truly is the last hurrah, then I'm determined to go out with a bang, not a whimper. I've still got some swagger when it comes to poker, and I still think I'm pretty darn good, even if the competition has gotten tough too.  I know I don't have much control over my results over the space of a couple dozen tournaments; no one does.  But I have full control over how well I play in them.  My goal is to say that from Event 2 to the time I bust out of the main event, I played well in every tournament and gave myself the best shot to win each one. Whether it's the last kick at the can or not, I think I owe myself that.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Cebu is Ce-bomb!

(You have no idea how long I spent internally debating what Cebu-related pun I would use for the title.)

Well, Cebu was fantastic. For years I had asked my friends who regularly play the Asian circuit what their favourite destination was, and usually the answer was Cebu. I wasn't able to make Season 2 or Season 3's editions, so I was excited to get to go this year.

Poker-wise, there was certainly nothing to write home about. I played two events and a total of 7 hours. I was comfortable and felt I played well in the main event, but I was a spaz and paid the price in the 6-max. I'm now 0-for-6 in 2012 in terms of tournament cashes.

But what a phenomenal destination. I actually spent only 3.5 days in Cebu and I definitely wish it had been more. I saved a bit of money by choosing to forego the Shangri-La Resort, where PokerStars put its qualifiers up, in favour of a 3-star room which ran me about $70 US (and where friends rented out the penthouse suite for only about $40 more). I have somewhat mixed feelings about this because while my hotel was good (and had massages on the 2nd floor for $3/hour), the Shangri-La is amazing. It's a gorgeous resort with lots of free activities and the service seems good as well. For those who have been to the PCA, I think the Shangri-La is everything that the Atlantis in the Bahamas should be, but isn't. The Atlantis has more attractions but the service is atrocious and everything is massively expensive. In Cebu, I found the service and atmosphere everywhere to be excellent.

At the resort, we did some free kayaking, I worked out a bit at the gym (also free), and rented some jetskis (not free, but not that expensive either). The jetskiing in particular was tremendously fun. I'd never ridden on one before, and was really surprised how fast they go. In fact, they go so fast and I wandered so far out that I lost track of where I was and had to ask some fisherman for directions back to the Shangri-La. All in all, I spent about 5 hours in the sun on Saturday and even got a little bit of sunburn for the first time in about 15 years.

And the food. Oh, the food. The Philippines is really not known as a culinary paradise, but man do these people know how to roast a pig. There was roast suckling pig at the Stars party and I had it on numerous occasions, but my favourite was a local place called Zubuchon, which served up this amazingness:

One blog writes: "Zubuchon’s pigs are not from commercial piggeries but are hand-picked from pigs raised in the backyards of certain individuals. They do not use MSG or commercial mixes for flavor. Instead, they use organic ingredients, including olive oil, local sea salt, home-grown lemongrass, peppers, green onions, and other herbs and spices."

Sign me the hell up.

Aside from the poker, beach and the food, there was also a street festival in progress that took place on the street directly in front of our hotel. I mean, really, really directly:

That's my hotel, and that's the party. Here's another shot:

Like Mardi Gras, without the nudity

It speaks to how busy I was eating that I didn't really investigate this street festival at all, but it seems like it would have been fun. I know it definitely made getting a cab a bit tricky.

All in all, Cebu was a great trip. It's not somewhere I'd want to spend a really long period of time, but it's such a great short getaway from Hong Kong and I'd love to do it again. If I were taking someone I were trying to impress, I'd consider staying at the Shangri-La and laze around the beach, but staying at any of the hotels nearby which are a third of the price (not just rooms, but food/massage/activities) and a 10-minute cab ride away are also viable options. Can't wait to go back!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Copa de Hong Kong 2012

Suffered a tough loss in a BJJ tournament yesterday. The Copa de Hong Kong is HK's largest BJJ tournament. It's single-elimination tournament format. There were 10 guys in my division (there are byes) so I would have had to fight three times to get the gold medal. I was very ready for this.

I have trained very little in the gi in the last twelve months, since that is when I started training for MMA. The gi game is very different from the no-gi one; it's a game of tight control and grip fighting whereas no-gi is more fast and explosive (and slippery, due to the sweat). So I wasn't expecting to be technically as sharp as I could be, but I felt that I would have superior conditioning to my opponents and that I would be poised to make a deep run and gut it out when the going got tough.

At the moment I submit to the armbar, I am up 4-2. (Here is an explanation of how the points work.) By my stopwatch, there is 30 seconds remaining in the fight at this point. As you can see, I was totally disgusted by making the fatal error that led to the triangle, and subsequently the armbar. Not since Bret Hart got put in the Sharpshooter have I been so upset about the villain beating the hero with his own finishing move. That's how upset I was.

It was disappointing. I really felt great and I'd barely broken a sweat in the match, and it was all over. I would have loved to fight three times, but I was beaten by the better man. I received some small measure of consolation when my opponent -- exhausted as he was after squeezing his ass off for over 90 seconds trying to finish me -- absolutely smashed his semifinal opponent, sweeping him to the back and choking him with a hellacious bow-and-arrow choke.

So that was disappointing, but back on the MMA track for now. Gi-based BJJ is fun but much like boxing, kickboxing and wrestling, it is only part of the game for the MMA fighter. Much like it'd be tough to box against people who only box, it will continue to be hard for me to play jiujitsu against people who only do jiujitsu. And so the healthiest approach is to worry less about wins and losses and worry more about the continual process of self-improvement.

(But losing still sucks.)