Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The meaning of money

A couple of days back in Seattle now, Michelle and I are still reflecting on our awesome trip and both suffering withdrawals from the rush of constant blogging. That turned out to be almost as much fun as the poker. We both enjoyed it a lot, and really appreciated the nice feedback we got from several regular readers.

I was thinking about how best to put the blog to rest when I received this incredibly wise e-mail from Jack Broom, the first member of Team Mark, who offered an anecdote from one of his first trips to Vegas.

With Jack's permission, here it is:

Hi, Mark & Michelle:

The first $100 bet I ever made in Vegas was on the pass line at the Stardust way back in the late 70s, when $100 was money. I was about to leave for the airport and I was down maybe $50 after gambling all night, so I figured I might as well take one shot at getting back to the plus side.
I put the bill on the line, the dealer replaced it with four green chips, and the stick man pushed the dice my way. I tossed them the length of the table, but even from that distance, there was no mistaking the ace and deuce on top when the dice stopped spinning. Three craps, line away.
It happened so fast, I felt like I got punched in the gut and it took me a couple of seconds to draw a breath. But even though it stung, it made for a vivid, potent and lasting memory. What better use is there for money?
Thanks for the blog, the vicarious action and for making my latest $100 loss almost as much fun as my first.
- Jack

I love that note. No way could I have have written it as poetically, but like Jack I can't think of a better use for money, and this strikes me as the perfect way to wrap things up.

This was the experience of a lifetime, one I'll never forget nor, I'm sure, ever replicate, no matter how many times I play in the World Series of Poker.

Thank you again, all of you, for helping make this week such a vivid, potent and lasting memory. For me, at least, it was worth every penny.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Here we are at home and stuff

I miss our blog. And hanging out at the WSOP.

Back to work tomorrow.

Monday, July 9, 2007

The joker

That Jeff Madsen guy who I tangled with several times at the first table on Friday drew a lot of attention from the cameras and the crowd because he showed up (about half an hour after play began) dressed like a jester or the joker from a deck of playing cards.

As he arrived at the table, Madsen didn't even wait for anyone to ask about his get-up. “All I can say,” he said, “is don't make stupid prop bets.”

Turns out he had a three-way proposition bet with a couple other young-gun poker pros, Joe Sebok and Gavin Smith. I didn't get all the details but it sounded like they wagered that whichever of them lost the most money in a certain amount of time would have to dress like a joker in the World Series.

How fun to be 20 years old, or whatever they are.

Anyway, Madsen had a good sense of humor about it, especially given the number of spectators, reporters and cameras in his face.

At one point, he spotted the poker babe and fellow pro Liz Lieu seated at the table next to ours, seated almost at my right elbow, in fact. Lieu was decked out in a designer dress of some kind, with perfectly coifed hair, makeup, the whole bit.

“Liz,” Madsen shouted over the clamor. “You look ridiculous today.”

Everybody laughed.

My guess is that I'm a good bet to be on TV when ESPN airs its World Series coverage later this month, just because he was the most photogenic thing happening on Day One, and the cameras seemed to be trained on our table all afternoon.

Shoulda woulda couldas

It's natural after losing $10,000, I suppose, to think about where you might have gone wrong and what might have been. I've been pretty regret-free in the days since I busted out of the World Series, but I've also had a couple of what-if thoughts.

First, a woulda, or really a wouldn't-a: If that guy hadn't caught that 10 on the river I would've doubled up, to about 64,000 chips, and would have been in great position to make it to the second day of play. I talked to several players over the weekend who made it through the first day and were thrilled to be starting the second day, on Tuesday, with anywhere from $60,000 to $80,000. I'd have been right in that range already at 6:30 p.m., with the possibility of stretching it out (or, of course, losing it all by the dinner break).

So, could I have played the key hand differently to keep myself alive? Yes, surely I could have. I coulda mucked when the guy went all-in, even though I thought (correctly) that my straight was best at that point. I could have reraised all-in on the turn, instead of putting in the attractively smallish raise of $5,000 that led to his all-in bet. Although the pot would have been smaller than it ended up being, I probably would have won it right there.

I try to make myself wish I'd played the hand differently, but I can't. Any thoughts, poker players?

As for the shouldas: There were a couple of hands early in the tournament that I didn't play well and as a result bled off some chips. I called twice with only a mediocre hand out of the big blind, and then ended up putting in another bet when I made second-best pair on the flop. In both cases I eventually realized I was beat and folded before it got too expensive, but those chips might have come in handy later.

That's it, I guess. As I keep saying, I hated losing but I loved playing.

How Many Hits, Pete?

Pete Rose was signing autographs at some memorabilia store yesterday. I couldn't figure out why he looked so pissed when this guy standing in front of the counter says "How many hits did you have, Pete?"

"A Lot," Pete says, scowling.

"No, really, how many? How many?"

I snap a few shots. Mark's waiting outside, so I tell him about the guy asking Pete how many hits.

"4,167," Mark says. As in, Duh.

"Most hits ever," he says.

So, the heckler knew how many hits, I guess, and Pete knew he knew, which is why he was acting like such a dick.

Today's USA Today listed all the greatest sports scandals, and Pete Rose was number one, ahead of O.J., Balco and Tonya Harding. Harsh.

Waiting for Phil Helmuth

"That's Hilarious," Mark says. "Phil Helmuth hired a bunch of hookers and gave them uniforms and paid them to wait around for him."

If you're going to make a schtick out of always showing up late to tournaments, might as well do it surrounded by a bunch of leggy babes.

Bowling in Vegas

The annoying blueberry-eating Jamie Gold is everywhere.

Checked out

Word of advice to Vegas dwellers: Don't stay at Planet Hollywood. They have an insane 11 a.m. checkout time, and if you want to ask for a late checkout they won't even take your request until 7 a.m. I tried explaining to a couple of different people that I was making my request at 3 a.m. because I expected to be asleep at 7 a.m., but no dice. Heck with Planet Hollywood. I have been none too impressed with this place anyways. For one thing, it looks boring as hell. And for a Rock and Roll themed hotel, they have the worst musak playing in the casino 24-7. It's unbelievable how bad the song selections are. Dang, hire a DJ already.

Turns out it's no longer the only casino in Vegas with a Starbucks, so all bets are off Planet Hollywood...

Man in Gold

I love this guy.

And this kid.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Bad-beat addendum

It occurs to me that out of fairness to the lucky Red Sox bastard who took me out of the tournament (see A feel-good bad beat story) I should acknowledge that he did in fact start with a better hand than I did -- ace-queen to ace-10.

Red Sox Bastard was ahead before the flop and he was ahead on the flop, when neither of us had anything and his ace-high notched my ace-high. I caught a lucky card on the turn -- one of the four nines in the deck to make my straight -- and he caught an only slightly luckier card on the river -- one of the three remaining 10s -- to make a bigger straight and win.

Yes, he “sucked out,” as they say, on the river. But I sucked out first, on the turn.

Like the steal-resteal play I described earlier, this sequence of events isn't all that uncommon, and it too has its own name: suck and re-suck.

It still sucked. But I'm just saying.

Nice Hand Sir

I met Men "The Master" in the conference hall and got him to sign an autograph for Mark.

I didn't ask him if he remembered busting me out of a Hustler tournament a few years ago with King Four off suit -- he hit two pair on the flop. I looked at him in amazement and said "King four off suit?"

He said "Why did you let me in the hand? You have to raise!"

Fair enough.

He was very nice. Doesn't he have a nice face?

Attack of the Brides

The brides are everywhere in Vegas. They all want to get married on 777. See Sammy Skolnik's story on the phenom...

Caesar's Sports Book

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Hi all,

Click the arrow on the right side of the page to advance photos ... Mark tells me this doesn't work on his Mac -- it's working on my PC ... If this version's not working for you try viewing it at

If that doesn't work for you, you can see the images without the cutlines at

Back to the speculative Pocket Kings

Mark and I disagreed on how we'd handle an all in bet into pocket kings on the first hand. Mark said call. I said fold. I called an all in bet on the first hand during a tournament I played at the Bicycle Casino years ago.

I had pocket tens (not a good call -- I hadn't been playing long at the time.)

The raiser had aces.

It happens.

Not sure I want to be in the position of calling all in -- at least not at that point in the tournament. ...


A feel-good bad beat story

There's really no way to talk about your exit from a poker tournament without making it sound like one of the dreaded bad beat stories that everyone hates to hear but everyone winds up telling. The Rio is lousy with them, in the poker room, the halls, the restaurants, everywhere. I was in the bathroom, standing at a urinal, and an older guy next to me was saying into his cell phone, “Ok, I had pocket aces in the small blind ...” I didn't hear the rest of the story, but the tone and the intro were enough to convince me it wasn't going to end well.

So I don't want to lay a bad beat story on you. On the other hand, as Michelle says, you paid your money to be part of this ride, and if you're curious you deserve at least to know how it turned out. Ok, fine by me.

My last caveat before spilling this tale of woe though is that unlike most bad beat storytellers I don't feel bitter, angry or ripped off by the hand that took me out. I had an incredible time today -- the most fun I've ever had playing cards or hanging out in Las Vegas, and that's saying something -- and I'm forever grateful that I got to compete in the World Series of Poker.

The sad part isn't that I got knocked out. Everyone but the winner does. It's that after getting off to a very strong start I seemed in great position to cruise if not into the money then at least deep into the first day's play. I felt like a contender. The shock was how quickly things changed.

As Michelle was posting here at the time, I finished the day's second round with a strong run. Four hours into the tournament I had nearly knocked out the poker pro Jeff Madsen and rebuilt my stack from a low of about 13,000 chips to a very healthy 33,000. That made me the chip leader at our table and probably among the top 10 or 15 percent in the tournament.

Unfortunately the floor managers broke our table as the second round ended and distributed the players to other tables -- this happens throughout the tournament as people are eliminated and tables are consolidated -- and I ended up with a new group of nine players, whose styles I didn't know and many of whose chip stacks were about even with mine. Whatever edge I had eeked out over the past few hours was gone.

After folding a half dozen or so unplayable hands at the new table, including the big blind, I found myself in the small blind with the ace of clubs and 10 of hearts. This isn't an overpowering hand but can be decent depending on the game's texture and the way the betting is unfolding. As it happened, all the players including the button (the player designated the nominal dealer for that hand) folded their cards, and the action was to me. I could forfeit my $200 small blind, call for an additional $200 and play heads-up against the big-blind player, or raise, trying to steal his $400 forced bet.

My opponent looked to be in his late 30s, wearing a blue Boston Red Sox baseball cap, and had about the same amount of chips as I did. Other than that I had no read on him.

I elected to raise the bet to $1,200, essentially challenging him to call $800 more or muck his hand. My thinking was that against one other player with a random hand (his blind bet meant he hadn't entered the pot voluntarily and could therefore have any two cards) my A-10 was a pretty strong holding.

To my dismay he neither called nor mucked, but instead reraised me to $3,400. This was an aggressive play and could mean one of two things: Either he had a quality hand himself -- perhaps a pocket pair, or an ace with a larger kicker than mine, something like A-K, A-Q or A-J -- or he guessed my bet was a bluff. If so, his raise was an attempt to take the pot away without a flop and to discourage any such future attempts on his chips. Many good no-limit players will make that move automatically. The betting sequence is so common, in fact, that it has a name: steal and re-steal.

Because I know that, I didn't immediately assume he had a better hand than mine. And in any event, his reraise meant it would cost me $2,200 more to contest a pot that had now grown to $4,600. In other words, I was getting better than 2 to 1 on my money, and even if my A-10 was behind, there were a lot of flops that could put me back ahead.

So I took a breath and called. The pot was now $6,800.

The dealer laid out a flop of middle cards -- a jack, an 8 and a 7 -- all of different suits. This was somewhat troubling because the flop didn't hit me directly, and many of the cards my opponent might have raised with -- a middle pair, or A-J -- would now be pretty comfortably ahead. At the same time, I could now make a straight if a 9 fell; a 10 would give me a pair that might put me ahead; and for that matter my ace high might even now be the best hand. I checked, hoping to get a free card or some kind of read on Mr. Red Sox. Happily, he checked as well, meaning I'd see the turn card for free.

Miracle! A lovely 9 fell on the turn, completing my straight (the 7, 8, 9 and J on the board, along with the 10 in my hand), and giving me the best hand possible so far unless Red Sox Dude had exactly Q-10, which struck me as an unlikely holding given his pre-flop raise. Furthermore, if he had been raising with something like 99 or A-J he'd now have a pretty strong hand and would feel just comfortable enough to make a big, losing bet. I felt sure I was winning -- even that he might be drawing dead, unable to catch a card that would make his hand the best -- and thought about how to extract the most chips from his stack.

After pondering for a minute or so I settled on a tricky and, I thought, very smart and aggressive bet: nothing.

I checked, assuming that since he had shown strength before the flop and I had shown relative weakness in only calling his pre-flop reraise and then checking both the flop and turn, he would feel sure he either had the best hand or could win the pot by representing that he did.

To my not-at-all surprise, he fell right into my trap, firing $2,500 with a look that said get out of my way. That brought the size of the pot to $9,300, the biggest I'd seen all day.

Again I took a deep breath and pondered what to do, although this was mostly for effect, since I already knew I would raise if I got the chance. My thoughts now were: How much more can I put in the pot without inducing him to fold, which I greedily didn't want him to do, and how long should I optimally sit here pretending to think about this without him concluding that I'm acting.

“I'm going to raise,” I said, and put out $7,500, effectively calling his bet and challenging him to match $5,000 more. He'd now be getting pot odds of more than 3 to 1 ($16,800 in the pot, against only $5,000 to call), which I figured he couldn't pass up if he had any kind of hand at all.

Incredibly, beautifully, he seemed thrilled. “I'm all-in,” he said a bit excitedly, and pushed the rest of his stack out in front of him.

Now, I had coached myself to take my time in this tournament, to never act quickly, even on seemingly simple decisions. So I looked at the board again and again ran through the possibilities. Yep, sure enough, I was beating every possible hand except the unlikely Q-10, and even among the best of the hands I might be facing -- pocket jacks, 9s, 8s or 7s to make three-of-a-kind -- he'd still need to pair the board on the river to beat me with a full house or four of a kind.

I didn't really want to call an all-in bet and put my entire tournament at risk, but there was no way I could fold a straight to what surely was a low-percentage draw.

So I called. Twenty-something thousand chips.

Red Sox Man turned over his cards. Ace-queen -- nothing! not even a pair! -- and audibly gasped when I tabled my ace-10 for the straight.

“Oh my god,” he said. “Nice hand.” And then after a beat, still staring at the board, he realized it was possible for him to draw a higher straight on the river.

“Bring a 10!” he pleaded with the dealer.

The beauty of bad beat stories, like the one I partially overheard in the men's room, is that you don't need to hear the end. They all end the same.

I can only say that when that horrible, damnable, predictable 10 fell on the river even the lucky Red Sox bastard who doubled his stack because of it seemed shocked and sorry. Chris, as he later introduced himself, kept apologizing and telling me how unlucky and unfair the hand was (yeah, man, thanks) and rooting for me to make a miraculous comeback with the $1,400 in chips I had remaining after paying him off.

Even the dealer got into the act. “Where are the TV cameras now,” he said. “They should have been here for this. That's as bad a beat as you're going to see.”

Michelle, watching from the rail, said I turned red, but I actually felt pretty zen and, weirdly, happy. It felt to me like an amazing World Series of Poker moment; I was grateful, sort of, to get busted with such a flourish.

My last 1,400 chips held no miracle comeback. I put them all-in two hands later with, fittingly, the same unsuited A-10, and lost this time when some guy with king-jack of diamonds made a flush. Oh well.

As promised, Michelle and I left the Rio and found a good strong glass of gin, Sapphire, a couple of them actually, to go with our perfectly prepared steaks at Smith & Wollensky. And then we stayed up late playing poker, and winning, at the little card room here in the weirdly redone Planet Hollywood (formerly Aladdin) hotel.

It was a wonderful conclusion to what, believe it or not, felt like an almost perfect day, even if it involved the losing of a $10,000 cashier's check.

During our little poker game tonight, I looked down at my chips to find I was about $400 up for the session.

Pretty good, I said to Michelle. Just ninety-six hundred more and I'll be un-stuck.

Friday, July 6, 2007

And Now for Something Completely Different ...
Ben and Matt yucking it up:

Mark doesn't know it yet, but that card in the air is going to knock him out of the tournament ...

Mark takes in his last flop ...

Ok, now it's dead money

I'm out.

Total bummer. I was in great shape at the second break, but went out pretty quickly after play resumed.

Ugly details to come. I need to find a gin bottle.
Table Move

Mark's muy refresco after a second cup of coffee. He's moved to a new table -- table 6, under the Johnny Chan poster.

Four hours down, nine to go ...

Dude, Killer poker action. Mark's hot. He practically put that Madsen guy all in just now. Madsen raised before the flop, and Mark reraised to 1500. Madsen calls and then proceeds to call all the way, including a 5,000 bet on the turn. There's a club flush out there, a straight, and finally an ace comes on the river. Maddsen checks and Mark says "how much you got there??"

About 9,000.

Mark bets 5,000.

Interesting, I think. That's the bet of a guy who wants you to call. I put him on trip 10s.

Madsen folds after thinking for about two minutes. Mark takes the pot, and now has about 32,000.

He gets up for a bathroom break. His hand: trip aces on the river.


Bad Hand

...Mark says via text.

Fuck, I say. Stay Chill.

And: How much? (I hate to ask)

Mark: 4000.

Me: Left? (trying to stay calm)

Mark: 13,000 left.

Me: You're good. No worries ...

Notes from the day:

--Forgot my camera charger in Seattle. Worm my way into the press room where a nice journalist from Brazil lets me charge up.

--In the lunch line the guy in front of me says "who do you write for?" I'm not wearing a badget. What's the giveaway?Mark says it's the frizzy hair.

--Got pictures of Carlos Mortensen, Antonio Asfandiari, Greg "the fossil" Raymer, and Phil Laak. Also, lots of strippers and hookers.

Okay. back to the action. More later.


I raised with aces before the flop...

The bad beat stories are flowing fast and furious. Mark doesn't have one to tell yet.

We just had the lunch break -- bad pizza like cardboard. But Mark's got the athlete mentality: it's not food, it's fuel.

He's got about 18000 chips now -- started with 20,000. He says to tell you all he's feeling good.

He won the first hand he played -- AJ. The hand was raise by pro Jeff Madsen and Mark called the raise. Flop came Jack high. He bet and won the pot.

Another hand: He got pocket kings. Made a small raise from early position, got called by three players. Ace came on the flop. Small bet called on the flop, check check on the turn, and another guy bet 1000 into an 1800 pot on the river -- Mark mucked.

Mark's guaranteed to be on TV when the series airs because he's at Madsen's table -- Madsen lost a prop bet and had to come to the wSoP dressed like the Joker. Cameras and looky loos have been crowding around.

I scored a seat at the ESPN feature table, so I have to get back. Plus, Mark wants coffee.

More later.

Thank you for playing!

Where do you want to eat? Hooters?

Overheard in tthe wsop convention room.

Anyways my fine friends, the game is on.

At noon, Mark pushed through the throngs and disappeared into the card room to find his seat at table 106. No spectators allowed until 3 p.m. He called me from inside to say he was all set, and no phones allowed, so talk to you later.

Last night at our 2 a.m. breakfast, we tossed hands at each other. Okay, I asked. First hand. Pocket Kings. You are the big blind. The guy in seat five raises All In. First hand. What do you do?

What do YOU do? Post your answers in the comments. I'll tell you later what we decided ...


The Scar Plays

(Written by Mark yesterday in the airport. I'm posting because he doesn't have a connection.)

There's a scene in Oceans 13 when Matt Damon, running some kind of scam on Ellen Barkin, adopts an elaborate disguise that includes a huge, attention-drawing nose. Damon's cohorts George Clooney and Brad Pitt like the scheme's set-up but think he could make it work without the off-putting schnoz. Damon insists that the prosthetic is an essential part of the scam, and I loved his explanation for its con-artist brevity:

“The nose plays.”

So here I go to the World Series of Poker, sans get-up, but I have an idea that there might be some kind of edge in this brain cancer business. Not a big overpowering advantage, just something potentially distracting, like the hoodie-and-sunglasses look that so many 20-something players adopt, or the low-cut cleavage advertising that a lot of women employ at the table, warranted or not.

Normally I go out of my way to avoid any mention or notice of my health when I play. I don't want the distraction myself, such as a bunch of questions from regular players and dealers who might then (genuinely or not) feel compelled to ask how I'm doing every time I sit down. So I almost always wear a baseball cap, give a noncommittal “great” when someone asks how I'm doing and try to just shut up and play my cards.

But in Vegas, where I'm not going to know anybody, I've been thinking about going the other way.

Michelle and I talked about making Team Mark t-shirts that, at one point, were going to include a sort of gruesome photo of me from shortly after my hospital stay, with some kind of slogan along the lines of “I just had brain surgery, what's your excuse?”

That plan didn't come together, but I decided to go for a more subtle suggestion of my “condition” after all. Since my first surgery last November I've been keeping my hair buzzed -- for one thing it'll be easier to deal with if it starts falling out one of these days as predicted. Also I've had the same Bobby Sherman 'do since 1975; it seemed time for a change.

Lately though my hair has grown out just enough to lay down and cover my surgery scar, practically stylishly. So yesterday, on the way home from the bank, I decided to stop at the barber and buzz it back down to my standard 3.5-clipper-setting length. That's short enough to draw attention to the C-shaped scar across my right temple.

I'm not sure even now what effect I'm going for with this move: maybe star-struck, vaguely sickly, golly-gosh innocent small-town doofus who will be as surpirsed as you are when I take your chips. How can I possibly pull that off? Acting!

I can't imagine the haircut will make a huge difference. But who knows. If the scar plays in even one hand, I'll be happy.

The News

Man, everybody's an editor around here! Yes it was 3 a.m., and I fell right to sleep after posting that photo. So here's the news: Mark plays TODAY! Game on at noon. Mark's psyched and ready to go. He watched world poker tour reruns on his video IPod on the plane to stay sharp.

He's tired, of course, because it took us till 2:30 a.m. to finish signing up. Oh dang, buried the lede: Ben Affleck and his buddy Matt Damon were yucking it up in the card room last night, with dozens of railbirds looking on. I got some pictures, will post later as we have to get over to the Rio.

More soon...


mark signs up

Thursday, July 5, 2007

A fellow journalist

We meet a guy on the bus ride over from the parking lot to the airport who looked like a geek and was wearing a Pandora t-shirt, so I ask, do you work for Pandora?

No, he says, I'm a journalist.

Huh, me and Mark say. Who do you write for?

I'm a freelancer, he says. I wrote a story about Pandora, and a few days later they were all, Wow, thanks! And they sent me this free shirt.

Nifty graft, I say, just a tad sarchastic.

"Yeah!" he says, not seeming to catch that graft might be a bad thing. "This is nothing." And he starts to spill over with stories of all the free stuff he's gotten over the years as an internet "journalist." He hands us two cards, one for his new "magazine" Puerto Rico Lifestyle, and some other magazine. He's getting an 8 week free vacation for himself and his wife and three kids based on freebies he's gotten because of his Puerto Rico magazine. It hasn't launched yet, but people gave him free stuff anyway based on the fact that he has other online magazines.

Don't they want to know what kind of traffic you do -- whether anyone reads the site? I ask.
No, he says. And even if they ask, how are they going to check?

What a racket.

"Did you know," he says, "You can get three days free at any Hilton just because you're writing something?" He shakes his head in amazement.

"Problem is," he says. "Writing just doesn't pay much. People don't seem to know the difference between good and bad writing."

He drifts off in contemplation perhaps over how his craft isn't appreciated, then returns to the bright side. "Another great thing -- if they have empty seats in first class, I get a free upgrade!"

We pull up to the airline gate, and he's off musing again. "I've never tried first class," he says. "I'd really like to try it."

Mark's jaw is clenching. His temple is doing that pulsing thing.

"I hated that guy," he says, as we run away.

"No kidding," I say. I hope he can ditch that tell before he hits the World Series ... !

No, that's not a cell phone in my pocket ...

... my bankroll's just happy to see you.

Today's big pre-trip errand, and kind of a scary one, was a walk to the bank to withdraw $10,000.

You can pre-register for the World Series online, ponying up the entry fee with a wire transfer, a credit card or even a promise to bring a money order. Pretty convenient. I put off doing it though, thinking I might win my seat in a local small-buy-in satellite tournament. (I didn't get close to qualifying that way, but Michelle finished in 12th place at the Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn -- 10 spots away from winning a free trip; not bad.) Anyway, by the time I got around to registering for the Main Event online it turned out I had blown the deadline, which was two weeks before the start of the tourney. After that, entrants need to sign up in person at the Rio Casino's WSOP desk where, the official website notes, only cash or chips are accepted.

The tournament starts tomorrow at noon and we won't be getting into town until after 10 tonight, so there won't be any time to mess around with Vegas banks. I'll need to leave Seattle with my 10 large ready to go, then head straight to the (24-hour, thank god) poker desk tonight and hope to avoid tomorrow morning's zoo.

This being the last minute and all, I sauntered into my neighborhood Wells Fargo this afternoon to get some cash. The look on the kid teller's face told me right away this was going to be one of those George Bailey/Mr. Drysdale moments -- no, I'm sorry, sir, I know it's your money and yes, the bank is good for it, but we don't keep that kind of cash lying around.

As my banker bud was in the vault counting out bills I heard the voice of my late father, Ed Matassa. He was from New York and thought of himself as a street-smart guy, but he always got nervous carrying money in the city. I knew if he were here he'd suggest I “break that cash up” into smaller wads split among several pockets as well as a shoe and maybe a strap-on wallet of some kind.

This advice never made much sense to me. First of all, I've never been held up, and the odds that the one time someone rolled me would be the time I had an unusual amount of cash on my person seemed remote and almost impossibly unlucky. And then, assuming I was the victim of a stick-up I couldn't imagine the robber being satisfied with my story that no, really, this money in this one pocket is all I've got. That would be one un-thorough criminal. Besides, I figure I look much more like a mark if I'm walking around with a limp, fingering my various pockets all the time. Better to be cool, carry your money in your hip wallet as usual and hope for the best.

What's more, I like my chances getting from the Rio parking garage to the tournament room. If I'm going to get fleeced it's much more likely to happen once I'm sitting down at the poker table.

All this was going through my head when the bank teller returned to say he thought he could scrape together five thousand or so and call a few other branches and have them hold some money for me there too. But I'm not driving right now and the prospect of walking or busing around town making thousand-dollar withdrawals struck me as none too appealing.

Another teller chimed in with his view that they wouldn't let me on a plane carrying that much money anyway. I can't imagine why not; if you can't smuggle cash into Las Vegas what's the point of going? I suppose there's the possibility of whapping the flight attendants with a brick of hundred-dollar bills and taking over the flight somehow, but still.

I called the Rio to see what other arrangements we could make. The nice lady on the phone said the strict “cash or chips” rule includes accepting cashier's checks. Cool.

So I'm set. Actually that is my cell phone. The check's in my shoe.

Record heat ...

... so I'm packing a fleece jacket.

As we get ready to leave for Las Vegas I see there's a giant heat wave there, with the temperature expected to hit 116 degrees. Yike. But I know they'll be blasting the a/c to an uncomfortable chill in the Amazon Room, the Rio's giant hangar of WSOP tournament fun.

A couple of links

I'm not going to create a long blogroll here, but I've added a few links in the left column to poker sites you might find useful or interesting.

The World Series of Poker is the tournament's official site, with updates on the action, photos, background and information about the previous events in this six-week long series.

Tao of Poker is my favorite poker blog, written by a lovable degenerate and former Seattleite named Paul McGuire, known to the poker world as Dr. Pauly. He could use an editor (he's a bit of an overwriter and not the world's best speller), but he has an excellent reporter's eye for detail and can spin a pretty good drug-addled story. He captures Vegas in all its sordid glory.

Bigger Deal is a new group blog written partly to promote the new book of the same name by Anthony Holden. The bloggers include Holden and his buddies, all expert poker players and many good writers. My take on the new book, by the way, is mixed: some good anecdotes and a nicely captured feel for how the explosion of Internet and televised poker has affected the old-fashioned game played in "brick and mortar" cardrooms; but it somehow lacks the romance of Holden's original, "Big Deal," from 1990, still one of my favorite poker books. Holden will no doubt be at the Rio to play in the Main Event.

No-limit hold 'em for casual observers

If you've played any poker, strolled through a bookstore or even just turned on a television any time in the past six years, you may have a pretty good idea about the basics of no-limit hold 'em. I know first-hand that about half the members of Team Mark could teach a course.

But it's also possible that this crazy Internet-fed fad has slipped by you somehow, so I thought I'd give the more casual of my backers a quick beginner's guide. This way when I make the featured TV table on ESPN's taped coverage later this summer, you'll know what the annoying announcers are talking about.

Fundamentally, hold 'em is a simple variation of seven-card stud, in which each player gets two down, or hole, cards, and then shares five common, face-up cards. If there's a showdown, the best five-card combination of the hidden and exposed cards takes the pot. Betting comes in four stages: one round after the hole cards are dealt; another after the first three up cards, known as the flop, are exposed; another after the fourth up card, or the turn; and a final round after the last up card, the river.

Unlike your friendly home game, where every player may toss a one-chip ante into the center before the deal, hold 'em uses a two-blind structure to ensure action and keep things moving. The first two players to the dealer's left put up a blind bet before getting their cards -- the small blind is half the size of the big blind, which will be the minimum bet thereafter -- and the subsequent players can call the big blind, raise or fold their hands. When action gets back to the player in the big blind, he has the option of raising or, if the pot hasn't already been raised, checking and seeing the flop for the price of his blind bet.

In a strucutred, or limit, hold 'em game like those Michelle and I usually play, the action is relatively predictable and so is the amount that can be won or lost in any one hand. In our regular $4-8 game, for example, I know that if I bet $4 on the flop nobody else can raise it more than an additional $4, and there's a limit of three raises on each betting round so the most this flop will cost me is $16. In no-limit, the version of the game played in the Main Event, there are no restrictions on the number of raises or the size of the bets. Hence the name.

Aside from the wonderful heart-wrenching bluffing opportunities in no-limit, the absence of structured betting rounds gives players one extremely powerful tool: the ability to control pot odds.

A lot of poker decisions come down to basic math. If I have the ace and 10 of hearts in the hole and need one card to make my flush on the turn I know that I'm facing odds of about 4 to 1 against hitting my hand. Therefore if the pot contains more than four times the amount of my opponent's bet it makes sense for me to call; less than four times the bet I'm facing and I should fold. The pot odds, or the amount of money the pot is offering against the bet, have to be at least equal to the odds against making my hand. In a limit game these calculations are pretty straightforward. Say there's already $40 in the pot and the most my opponent can bet is $8, there's no way he can get me off my hearts if I think I'm drawing to the best hand. Assuming he bets, I'll be looking at calling $8 to win $48 -- that's pot odds of 6:1, and I'm only a 4:1 underdog to hit my hand.

Now let's imagine we're playing no-limit with the same hand. This time there's, say, $400 in the pot, but instead of being forced to bet a set, inviting amount, my opponent throws out $800. Suddenly the pot odds don't look so good. I'm now being offered a $1,200 pot for the price of an $800 bet, or odds of only 1.5 to 1. That's a recipe for losing money, and I have to fold.

So the trick in no-limit is sizing your bets to manipulate the pot odds for your opponent. If you want him in, offer him the right price. If you want him out, price him out. Nothing to it.

The extra wrinkle in a poker tournament is that each player begins with the same amount in chips, the blinds and minimum bets increase regularly and once you run out of chips you can't rebuy. That's why the biggest, most intimidating bet -- TV's famous “I'm all in!” -- is so powerful. If you put all your chips out there and lose, your tournament is over.

Even without an all-in, the rising blinds ensure that players are eliminated pretty regularly. Eventually one player ends up with all the chips. He or she is the champion.

In the World Series Main Event, if you're curious, players start with $20,000 in chips, and blinds begin at $50 and $100, increasing every two hours. That's a generous, “slow” structure, leaving a lot of time before the blinds start putting pressure on players' chip stacks and suggesting that, with so much time, the best poker players will win.

We'll see about that soon enough.