Monday, 30 November 2009

Wolfgang, I'm only dancing

It’s a Friday night in October and we are sitting in the corner of a very small bar just off the Reeperbahn in Hamburg’s red light district. The bar was chosen somewhat at random as a place to shelter from the rain. As we sip our delicious bottles of Astra, we survey the following scene:

The bar is mainly wood panelled. Periodically the barmaid will stand up on top of the counter and pour everyone shots. It’s a little bit rough and ready, in fact probably as rough and ready as is possible these days in the tourist friendly Reeperbahn area.

At the bar, a middle aged German man seduces his wife by dancing very, very badly. She feigns mock disgust, but the hint of a smile around the corners of her mouth betrays the fact that she LOVES his bad middle aged German man dancing ways. Now of course, I am someone who cannot talk about this subject with any type of lofty position, but from what I’ve seen, German people dance quite badly.

German dancing 101

The German style of dancing is very overenthusiastic and although it has rhythm, this does not necessarily need to match that of the music. There’s a lot of arm work going on and facial expressions are important. The idea seems to be: “yes I’m going to dance and I’m going to love it and it doesn’t matter how bad the music is because tonight I’m dancing. Yeah look at my face, take a long hard look at my face. I’m dancing! See on my face how much I’m enjoying myself here.”

Next to us is another middle aged German man with a lady, but this time the vibe is different. She’s younger and quite attractive and he has a middle aged German businessman thang going on. A bottle of champagne sits chilling in a bucket on the table next door. Our table.

And he’s dancing too. Very badly. To the song ‘Black or White’ by the Emperor Michael Jackson. And he’s mouthing the words as he jerks and jolts out of time. And he’s dancing. Yes he’s DANCING. And his female companion shows disgust, but this time the hint of the smile around her face betrays the face that she doesn’t mind too much, because this woman is working.

Every further moment this man spends dancing and drinking champagne increases the amount of money this woman is earning and lessens the chance she will have to undertake rushed and perfunctory sex with him. As he leans in and sings the immortal line “Don't tell me you agree with me, when I saw you kicking dirt in my eye” in her ear, she cracks a grimaced smile. Would she likes some more champagne? No she would not, she is drinking her current glass as slowly as possible. But he should have some more. He certainly should have some more. More money not so subtly changes hands.

More champagne means that nature calls and as he slopes off to the toilet she pulls a fat roll of money out of her back pocket and counts it, exchanging terse words with the huge, ugly muscled man at the next table. How did we fail to notice the two huge, ugly muscled men at the next table?

But our German businessman is on the case and he will not be tricked. Instead of going to the toilet he peers from around the corner with a comedic Scooby Doo expression on his face. Oh he’s wily and clever, or at least he would be, except he’s standing in full view of everyone in the room and pulling the classic gormless German businessman expression #1.

A little later on, a further ugly muscled man in a bad Red Bull biker jacket struts into the bar, hackles bristling. Yes, it seems we are drinking in The Pimp Inn. This time the vibe is different and suddenly there is and unsavoury hint of violence in the air, though I don’t quite realise in the moment.

About five minutes later, SNAP. All of a sudden fists are flying and a punch up is beginning. However there seems to be some kind of etiquette here, as amidst the flying fists, the men bundle outside to fight on the street. Yes it seems there is some kind of decorum and agreement with the landlady. No fighting in the bar.

It is in this moment, with the ugly muscled men otherwise engaged; the German businessman makes his move and suggests that he and his companion for hire leave the bar. But no, he is foiled. The girl hasn’t finished her drink, the one she has been avoiding consuming all night, so they can’t leave the bar just yet.

Thankfully I don’t see the fight and it is over quickly. Seemingly less than two minutes later about ten German police officers are in the scene including several women. A number of people are being questioned and Hamburg’s red light district is calm.

A few moments later, a couple of the bull-necked ugly muscled men peer out of the refuge of the bar where they retreated when the cops showed. In a Wire-esque few seconds, they glance left and right and before quickly strutting off down the street, no doubt to report to ‘the boss’ what went down this evening.

Meanwhile the man at the bar continues to dance on in his bad middle aged German man ways, oblivious to the carnage around him. Because tonight he’s dancing. Yes he’s DANCING.

And we decide it is time to leave the bar and go for a well deserved hot dog.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Spanish bombs

I've spent the past few days on a golf course in southern Spain where I played a poker tournament sponsored by bookmaker Victor Chandler. I'd won free entry to the tournament back in the halcyon days of September when it seemed I could do no wrong at the poker table.

On arrival I was picked up at Malaga airport by a driver with a card with my name written on it. This was perhaps the most awesome part of the whole trip! When I rolled up at the hotel after an hour of Spanish football chat, I was allocated a suite with champagne, chocolates, two showers and a bidet.

After sampling all four, I went to dinner and met some of the fellow players. Almost all from the UK and Scandinavia, they seemed a little better than I hoped they might be, but I still fancied my chances. This was tempered somewhat after I saw the tournament structure sheet and realised the tournament would be something of a crapshoot.

The next day after a visit to Gibraltar which I will write about in another post, it was time for the tournament.

It was a 30 runner tournament with 10k starting stacks. Five places paid with the prizes from $10k up for $45k and the chance of doubling your money the next day by beating bookmaker Victor Chandler heads up.

I vowed to play pretty tight the first few levels and try to see flops and make a hand before turning up the aggression. However the first hand I ended up getting involved.


Hero (button) 10,000
Scandi in sb 10,000
Blinds 50/100

Middle position limped for 100 and I limped behind on the button with 76 of spades. The sb then popped it up to 450. The initial limper deliberated for ages before folding and I called in position and with a nice hand.

Flop: 5c 8d Kh (pot 1050)

I flopped an up and down straight draw and my first thought as the sb reached for chips was - Man, I've come all the way to Spain and I'm going to end up getting half my stack in on the first hand. But after some deliberation, the sb surprisingly decided to check. I thought about what to do here and decided to check behind and see a turn.

I saw no reason to bloat the pot on the very first hand. I had no information on the villain and if I was check raised then although the stacks would be correct for three betting all in, I'm not sure that I would be able to pull the trigger, nor would I be sure that it would be the right thing to do.

Turn: 4s (pot 1050)

A beautiful turn card giving me the nuts. The sb again deliberated before betting out 500. Just under half the pot. At this point I pot him pretty much exactly on a pocket pair between QQ and 99. I thought AK would be most likely to fire a continuation bet on the flop as would pocket aces. The other option would be pocket kings but that would be statistically unlikely.

Going with my read and with the board pretty dry, I decided just to call and give him the chance to bet again on the river where I would raise him as long as the board didn't pair.

River: 9 (pot 2050)

A lovely 9 on the river meant I still had the nuts and when he quickly bet out 1,000 I thought for around five seconds before raising to 2,500. After thinking for a minute he folded.

Perhaps waiting to the river to raise on such a dry board was suspicious. But I may not have got any extra money out of him if I hadn't waited, so I liked my play.


Nothing too much of note happened for a couple of levels. I won a few pots but my stack remained relatively static. Already though there was very little play left in the tournament when I picked up QQ.

Hero (utg+1) ~12,000
Button ~14,000
BB ~18,000
Blinds 200/400

I am dealt QQ second to act and with 30bbs in my stack. With the poorly structured tournament and top heavy prizepool, I'm pretty much committed to going all the way with the hand.

I open 2.5x to 1,000 and the button who has been reasonably tight, reraises me to 2,500. He hasn't played too many hands, but I do remember him opening to 5x at the 100-200 level, so based on that alone, I don't think he is a great player. Therefore his raise is not necessarily a monster. JJ, TT and 99 are in his range for sure, as well as AK and the two pairs that beat me. I am resolved to shoving, when the BB, who I'd earmarked as a good aggressive player, ponders for a moment before he cold four bet shoves all in.

I really don't see there is any way he is doing this with anything other than AA or KK. If he had AK I think he would have thought a little more and I would have detected some indecision, but it seemed to me he was saying to himself "ok here we go" before he shoved. I knew he was good and wouldn't risk his tournament on a crazy move. In the end I folded quite quickly. In fact, I think it was a pretty trivial fold. The button also pondered and folded.

I later found out the BB did indeed have AA and I think the button had AK, so it was a good fold by me.


I remained quite shortstacked approaching the dinner break and was mentally preparing to make a run for the buffet when I got involved on the last hand before the break.

MP ~8,500
Hero (sb) 10,100
BB ~14.000
Blinds 400/800

A poor player with no concept of stack sizes, fold equity or pot odds deliberates and then limps. He'd been limping with hands like AJ and folding postflop when he should have just been shoving. It folds to me in the SB and I look down to see A4 of spades. I'm sitting in the ten seat so I look around the dealer to the one seat just to check if he isn't itching to stick his chips in and he seems calm, so I decide to complete. BB quickly checks.

Flop: 7c, 4h, 7h (pot 2,400)

I take a second and check to see what develops and the BB quickly bets out 2,000. The player in middle position thinks and grimaces before folding. And now it is on me.

I don't know a lot about my opponent as my view of him has been obscured by the dealer for the whole tournament, but he seems pretty solid. My thought process runs like this. If he had a pocket pair, I think he would have at least paused for a moment to decide if he wanted to raise. Next, if he had a 7 then the normal play would be to check, to try and check raise or to let opponents get a free card. Now some players do just bet out with their trips here. But neither of his opponents had shown any particular strength and I didn't think he was an imaginative player, so I ruled this out.

This thought process led me to the conclusion that I had to be ahead. Either he had a worse 4, some kind of draw or complete air.

I raised all in and he quickly folded, cursing under his breath and I went into dinner slightly healthier with 20 players remaining.

After dinner the 500/100 level is inexplicably missed out and we go straight to 600/1200. I have only one move left in my arsenal. All in.

I duck and dodge my way around, shoving several times when I can get first in and am in late position. A couple of times I even shove blind as I can't afford to let the blinds go through me.

Finally I pick up KK and bust a short stack to go over 20k.

As we play hand for hand the clock keeps on running and the structure gets even worse. Finally we get down to nine players and break before the final table. I'm sitting in seventh place with 21.1k and the blinds at 1,000/2,000 with an ante and about to rise to 1,500/3,000.

I'm just looking to get my chips in. I start in middle position and vow to shove blind first hand if it folds to me. Sadly I don't get the chance as the aggressive Brazilian to my right opens the first two pots. Next two hands I get trash and am forced to take the blinds. In these hands the other two short stacks have gone all in and won coinflips to double up, leaving me in last place.

With just over 5 big blinds it folds to me on the button and I look down at my first card and see A5. It's an easy shove but sadly the BB wakes up with pocket eights. I don't manage to get there and am knocked out in 9th, with just my bidet to comfort me.

I really enjoyed playing live for the first time in ages, but I was sad that the structure of the tournament was so bad. I felt that with a better structure I could have been more of a threat, but I thought I played pretty perfectly, I was happy with my QQ laydown and didn't make any mistakes.

Maybe I'll come back and win it next year.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The package

Recently I went to collect a parcel.

In Germany, this is not so straightforward.

After trekking across town, we locate the Berlin DHL delivery depot, nestled in between a dual carriageway and a quite frankly scary looking building complete with gargoyles and an ominous sense of authority (that now seems to have been turned into the HQ of a German Radio station).

Upon entering the building we were greeted by a scene that looked like a doctor’s waiting room. All the classic signs were there. Chairs in rows of five or six with that little bit of extra space between them to stop the spread of disease. People sitting on their own, or occasionally in pairs, nervously flicking through several month old magazines whilst repeatedly glancing at the clock and eying the person who came in before them. The occasional cough or shuffle. All it needed was some posters about herpes and the picture would have been complete.

My partner and crime and I join the queue for the counter and eventually get to speak to a very officious looking bearded German man. Once we get the inevitable language hurdle out of the way, we get on to the task in hand.

In the UK this is relatively easy. You give the bored guy at a desk your piece of paper containing the postman’s scrawl and after tearing themselves away from The Sun’s page three (or in delivery offices in more middle class areas, a Sudoku puzzle), they slope off to get your parcel. Usually, if they can be bothered, they ask for ID. In Germany things are not so simple. Forms need to be filled in!

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from spending an extended amount of time in Germany, it is a country which likes paperwork and bureaucracy. LOVES IT in fact.

Herr Beard roots around in his draw and produces an extensive document to be filled in. I have no idea what he was diligently writing down.

He asks us what is in the parcel. We inform him it is a charger for a video camera.

Do we have a receipt? We inform him that we do not as it was ordered online. This is a problem.

The solution is this; we go to the computer in the corner of the room which is kitted out with a cutting edge 56k internet connection and find a picture of what the item is so we can show him. Okaaaaaaaay.

We go online and find the item, a picture of this is then printed off and stapled to the extensive document and given to us. We are then given a number and slope off to the seats to read the June edition of Deutsch Dentist Monthly as Herr Beard troops off to the next room.

Granted, I’m not the head of an international parcel delivery firm, but I’d say the most important thing someone should do when picking up a parcel is show ID. After offering to show ID several times our passports were waved away as unnecessary. Perhaps there simply wasn’t a box on the form for this?

We thought we’d have to wait a while but this is not the case. I’m just beginning to learn the developments in German root canal treatment that happened four months ago and considering going back to the computer to download some MS Paint stickman pornography, when our number is called and we can proceed to the next room. Obviously, as foreigners, our case is treated as urgent!

We go to the first desk in the next room and show our documents and print outs, but are greeted by a shriek of “NEEEEIIIN!” and a stern point to the far end of the room, where who is waiting for us but Herr Beard himself.

He examines the form closely, which of course he’d written himself five minutes earlier, before declaring everything satisfactory and handing us our parcel. We are then firmly instructed to leave through the exit door and not to return to the first room. I’m sure if we did this, chaos would ensue and forms would have to be filled in to detail our misdemeanors.

Beneath the gaze of stone gargoyles on the street, chastened and feeling like we’d just got out early from a school detention, we celebrate collecting the parcel and muse if we did actually go into a DHL office, or instead somehow stumbled into a scene from the movie Brazil.

Next time: Pirates, prostitutes, Nick Cave and coughing on middle class Germans over breakfast

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Every Day is Like Sunday // The Wall // Pornography

Sundays in Berlin have now settled into something of a routine. It is the big day for poker tournaments and generally I play around 15 of them in the evening, beginning at 6:45CET and often going on until four or five in the morning depending on how I do. There is generally a lot of money in play and it can be quite stressful. The day is usually one for a big win or a big loss, or most likely - scrambling to break even.

In contrast, Sunday daytimes in Berlin are a very laid back affair. Many shops and business are in Germany are closed, so the city has quite a sleepy vibe. People go out to have a big Sunday breakfast, read the papers and wander around.

I am currently living in the Prenzlauer Berg area of the city. It's a nice, if somewhat gentrified area - not as edgy and hip as Kreuzberg or Friedrichshain, but certainly a very interesting part of the city to live in.

Our current apartment is on the fourth floor (no lift!) and is about 100 yards east from where the Berlin Wall used to stand. As a consequence, it is at something of a dead end. There is not much through traffic and it is very relaxed and quiet, but still near many things of interest. I like it a lot.

At the end of out street is Mauer Park. The Berlin Wall used to run straight through the park, bisecting it into two. Nowadays it is a focal point for life in Prenzlauer Berg and one of Berlin's biggest flea markets takes place there each Sunday. All in all it's quite a scene.

Bearpit Karaoke
The first time I visited the flea market, I became aware of what has become a phenomenon in Berlin. Each Sunday, two guys with soundsystems on bikes ride up to a dusty amphitheater in the middle of the park. They set up their speakers and people sing karaoke for the whole afternoon. But this isn't any ordinary karaoke!

A crowd of several hundred people gather on the steps and the grass bank to watch the performances. Slightly dodgy men sell beer and snacks from their carts to singers and spectators.

It's a uniformly positive experience. Each performer gets a huge round of applause at the end of their song. There is also what I like to call the 'Stars in Their Eyes moment' during each song, where after the first line is sang and it is clear what the track is, people woop and cheer in appreciation.

Last Sunday we were treated to the following:

-An old man in a brown leather jacket singing Wagnerian Opera.

-A drugged up hippie singing The Who's My Generation whilst his wife danced beside him and his long suffering son looked on in horror.

-A girl singing Elton John's Your Song in an extremely theatrical and emotional manner, clearly directed at someone in the audience. At the end of the song her girlfriend ran on for a big embrace and kiss, to a standing ovation from the crowd.

-Many of the songs were also accompanied by a very stoned and dishevelled middle aged man in a multicoloured jumper doing breakdancing. I didn't get a positive identification, but those who wonder what Bez from the Happy Mondays is up to these days need to visit Berlin to investigate.

Check out youtube clips of some of the singers

Bargain hunting
The market itself is great. For about 30 euros anyone can have a stall and people sell every kind of crap imaginable. It is mixed between the more professional stallholders who are there every week in the same spot and the car boot sale style people who are just selling a load of their random possessions. Some of my favourite stalls include the second hand dental equipment stall (sadly only seen once so far), the guy who sells rusty bike chains and tools and the crazy hippy women with her van full of tie-dye.

Lunch at the market is an exciting affair. This time, my partner in crime and I decided to get hot dogs. In Germany this means a cornucopia of choice.

"Let me introduce the sausages" said the charming hot dog vendor, before giving us a rundown of the various organic meats on his grill. We were overwhelmed with choice and he hadn't even gotten to telling us about the ten different types of mustard on offer. I went for the Berlin standard, the currywurst. My partner in crime plumped for the more standard Bratwurst, with a side helping of sauerkraut.

Appetites satisfied, we ventured back into the throng of the market. There’s one stall we noticed before but not fully investigated. It had such things as antique telephones, military paraphernalia and loads of old photos. Further investigation revealed that there were many old family photo albums on the stall. They were mostly black and white and seemed mainly East German. It was unclear who was in any of the photos or where they came from, but it was fascinating to flick through the pictures and speculate on the stories behind some of them.

Whilst going through one pile of photos we uncovered something unusual. Near the bottom of the pile, underneath several bleak, black and white landscape photos, were several pornographic images, seemingly dated from the 70s and 80s.

Looking up from the photos, not quite believing what we’d seen, we made eye contact with the stallholder who had a big smile on his face and had burst out laughing, as did we.

Jokingly he said something to us in German, which of course we didn’t understand. Instead he pointed to one of the photo albums, which we had not yet opened. As we finally got an idea of what he was pointing at, he again pointed at the album and then, with a smile on his face, pointed over the next stallholder, an unassuming, greying middle aged German gentleman.

Of course, the photo album he’d told us to look in, which was wedged in and buried beneath much of his other stock, contained hardcore 1980s East German pornographic photos. Let me tell you dear reader, there were mullets on some of the photos in parts of the body that I didn’t think possible!

Naturally we scrutinised the face of the next stallholder to see if he really was the mulleted lothario pictured in this homemade x rated photo album. Our stallholder roared with laughter, clearly this was the highlight of his day. Meanwhile the guy next door shook his head and smiled. Evidently this wasn’t the first time he’d been the subject of this joke.

We passed on the porn and wandered on through and out of the market, back on the route towards the apartment. On the other side of the park, intense looking people played boules, whilst a band who had hooked their gear up to a generator, delivered an impromptu concert in front of an adventure playground. Around us people carried their second hand furniture back to their cars and apartments, probably stopping on the way back for some fruhstuck at a nearby café.

So in conclusion, if you want to sing in front of several hundred enthusiastic people, have a mindboggling choice of hot dogs and mustard, or pick up some homemade East German porn - Mauer Park in Berlin on a Sunday afternoon is the place to be.


Thursday, 24 September 2009

Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out) // Red Red Wine

Well I guess I'm officially a professional online poker player now.

Things have been going really well and I've been grinding online tournaments 2-4 nights a week. At the time of writing, I'm up to #27 in the Pocket Fives UK rankings. I've won a few tournaments and a couple of weeks ago just missed out on a triple crown for winning three tournaments with a prize pool of over $10,000, on three different sites within a week.

But one night recently things did not go to plan. A couple of hours into a session whilst playing around 7 or 8 tournaments and with around $1,000 in play, my apartment where I'm staying in Berlin had a power cut.

It's pretty much a nightmare scenario and I knew that every minute that the power was out was costing me money, as my equity in each tournament slowly diminished. After lighting some candles and waiting for about five minutes, I decided I had to make a run for it. I quickly packed a bag and jogged 500 metres or so down darkened streets to the nearest major crossroads, where I frantically tried to flag down a cab. At this moment I was glad I was in Berlin, as Berlin has BARS and they are open LATE!

Taxi secured, we ambled slowly towards the nearest collection of bars and clubs on Bergmanstrasse. I didn't know the German for "If you break the speed limit I'll pay you double", so we cruised along sluggishly with the driver humming to easy listening music. My slightly agitated state did not cause the accelerator to be pressed down further

Out of the taxi like a bullet, I had the laptop out and began running down the street, repeatedly hitting refresh on the wifi network list. After a little while I found an unsecured connection, so I stopped for a moment, logged in, played a few hands (doubling up in one tournament) and then continued to move.

Eventually, salvation! - A man sitting outside a bar with a laptop. I raced in and after a quick exchange with the efficient barman (don't you just love Germany), in which I was able to locate a plug socket, the wifi password and a large beer - I managed to log on to all my tournaments. Despite missing around 40 minutes, the damage wasn't as bad as it could have been.

I wish I could end the story by saying I went on to win one of the tournaments, but that night it wasn't to be. I struggled on manfully, busting out of each tournament one by one accompanied by some of the worst music in the world.

In my haste to find a wifi connection I had been less than diligent about my choice of watering hole. And that's right, horror of all horrors, I'd stumbled into..... A WINE BAR.

This place was bad. It played a selection of the most unappetising soul, watered down reggae and accountant friendly 'dance' music that is humanly possible. Of course, they wouldn't want to offend one of the well dressed members of the Berlin's chic and upwardly mobile middle class that supped wine by candlelight and discussed property prices and David Hasselhoff. Quite what the regular patrons of the bar made of a sweaty, bedraggled Englishman hunched over his laptop in the corner smacking his mouse button repeatedly, alternately cursing and cheering under his breath as he downed several beers is anyone's guess.

Included in the Ford Mondeo drivetime mix was of course, Birmingham's finest purveyors of steaming horse terd, UB40. Several years ago I'd been tortured by UB40's greatest hits, Abu Gharib style, whilst sleeping in a German leisure centre. This reacquaintance back on German soil brought back painful memories of what I now describe through gritted teeth as 'that long night in Essen' (these memories were only partly soothed at the time by a visit the following day to the quite marvellous Bochum Mining Museum).

Also in the mix was Sade, Phil Collins, Sting (natürlich) and a lot of other inoffensive and totally unmemorable vocalists. At one point a song began that had something about it - I thought to myself that things might be about to change, but I was wrong. It seems that song was just TOO INTERESTING for that establishment and the barman quickly skipped the track and moved back on to some bland, insipid neo-soul.

So there I sat for several hours, painfully busting out of one tournament after another without cashing, being aurally assaulted and stared at by German estate agents.

People ask me what it is like to play online poker for a living. Some think I travel around with the world wherever and whenever I want, don't pay income tax, don't get out of bed before noon, don't have to answer to a boss, don't have to wear a tie, watch as much daytime television as I want.

Yes, I'll admit, this is all true. But instead, what I will tell them to do is the following visualisation exercise...

Imagine this scenario. You are trapped in room unable to move from the table for more than a few seconds at a time, you can't even get up to go and use the bathroom. Sting's greatest hits is playing loudly on repeat. On the other side of the glass in an adjacent room, the faceless and soulless members of UB40, who you only recognise by their Brummie accents and appreciation of the musical canon of Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, slowly and methodically set fire to over $1,000 of your hard earned money. Whilst doing so, they alternately cackle maniacally and attempt to call Ali Campbell to try to desperately beg him rejoin the band.

This, my dear reader, is the 'balla' lifestyle of a professional poker player.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Four colour deck

"Send em all back, that's what I say"

"Who?" I replied, somewhat taken aback.

"The Muslims, all of them, send them back"

This was my first verbal exchange at the 1/5 Spread Limit Seven Card Stud game at the Mirage. As an opening salvo, this was somewhat of a statement of intent.

"But send them back where?" I asked in response.

"HOME" replied the elderly lady, now clearly getting agitated as she discarded her hand on fourth street. There was heavy action of a $2 bet from a man across the table, who from first glance, it was difficult to distinguish whether he was alive or dead.

"But most Muslims in the UK were born there" I stated matter of factly, as I brought it in with my three up.

"SEND EM' BACK" was the unequivocal response from the lady.

Clearly we weren't getting anywhere fast in this debate.

The elderly moustached man sitting next to me now chimes in, "They're all terrorists anyway, those a-rabs"

"You really think that?" I inquired somewhat incredulously.

"Damn straight" he emphatically answered, as he applied the heat with a fifth street bet of two dollars which was too much for his opponent, a sweet looking old lady who had thus far not revealed any prejuduces of her own.

I was only playing this game whilst I was on the list for the 1/2 no limit game, but when the floorman called me over the tell me that my seat was available, I knew I had to stay here at Racist Pensioner Stud Club (RPSC). Average age of the table must have been around 75, and needless to say, this proved to be my favourite game in the whole of Vegas.

The hotshot arrives

The game was slow of course and as I folded several hands in a row I considered my options. Should I argue with these people, call them racist, rile them up, ask them what they think about them there homo-sexuals? Or should I sit here and try to take some of their money (extremely slowly).

Fortunately I didn't have to make a decision, as a well dressed middle aged man in sunglasses took the open seat on the table.

1-5 Spread Limit Seven Card Stud is like this. Three cards are dealt to each player, two face down and one face up. The person with the lowest up card brings it in for $1 and then there are five rounds of betting where each player can bet or raise between $1-$5. Each player receives four more cards, three face up and the last one face down. There are no blinds or no antes, just the solitary $1 bring in. Clearly this was not an action game and the old folks were content to just bet $1 or $2 each street. Once someone bet $3 and the rest of the table insta-folded with looks of shock and fear on their faces. Like I say, an action game.

This new young hot shot (he was about 45 years old) had other ideas.

"You don't have to bet five bucks on every street you know son" pleaded the half dead looking guy, clearly exasperated. This big bet action was obviously not good for his health.

"Ahh know" replied the hot shot in a thick southern accent, now actually chewing an unlit cigar. He'd dragged in three or four pots in a row and the lack of racist comments for the past few minutes indicated that the rest of the table clearly had something to new to ponder.

And so it was that my rush of cards dictated that I was the one who was destined to stand up to this interloper ruining our little casual prejudiced game of cards.

First I spiked a small two pair on fifth street and hung on against his $5 bets on fifth, sixth and seventh and was relieved when it held up against his kings. Next hand I had a myriad of straight and flush draws in my four exposed cards and made the hotshot fold an open pair of fours in a decently sized pot. Finally a few hands later I began rolled up (the best opening hand in Seven Card Stud, three of a kind) and waited until fifth street to pull the trigger and check raise to get full value from the two pair of the hotshot.

When he lost the last of his chips a couple of hands later and strutted off, an audible sigh was heard around the table (and that wasn't just from the guy who had breathing problems).

Mr racist moustache man turned to me and said "Well done son, that sonnavabitch deserved it"

"But he wasn't even Islamic", I wanted to, but sadly didn't reply.

Then I received the heartiest and strongest pat on that back that I have ever been the recipient of. "I'm proud of you son" praised the racist old man, smile beaming from underneath his grey facial fuzz, "you really showed him not to mess with us".

I was now one of them.

Time to leave

As the game returned to its monster $10 pots, there was clearly nowhere else to go from here, so I left the table shortly afterwards.

"Send em back" the old lady exclaimed one more time, winking at me as I racked up my now not inconsequential mound of $1 chips. I sighed as I made my way to the cashiers cage, knowing that all was right with the world in one corner of the Mirage Poker Room in Las Vegas.

So there we have it, possibly one of my greatest achievements in poker, I'd earned the respect and admiration of a racist old man with a moustache and made friends with a prejudiced geriatric woman.

WSOP main event final table or not, I wonder if Phil Ivey has ever achieved that?

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Men aren't at work?

All I'm saying is:

I wrote this in April -
The BBC published this a few days ago -

I will inform Tristan, my lawyer, when he gets back from his family break in Tuscany.


Thursday, 28 May 2009

Whatcha talkin 'bout Willits

Willits, California is not somewhere I’d recommend to the casual tourist. But for the road tripper, I feel the experience was a vital rite of passage. My companion and I left Oakland late and drove for around three hours before hitting our destination. On the way we’d stopped for a classic roadtrip burger from In and Out, a place in America that is after my own heart by having only about five items on the menu. One thing that I’ve begun to hate in the US is choice for food and drink. Just give me a few options and I’ll decide, don’t give me infinite choice – my British brain just gets all confused and hurty.

Arriving in Willits the action was slow. It seemed there wouldn’t be any tourist sights to view the next morning and we soon found a road with about ten motels on. With such a range of options some might decide to go for quality and which one looked the best, some might go for a chain that they’d heard of which would hopefully provide some kind of basic standards. We chose the one with the biggest neon sign. The Lark. And let me tell you, at midnight to a tired road tripper, that sign looked mighty impressive. What sealed the deal was a picture of Shiva hung behind the desk at the counter.

We rang the bell on the front window three times but with no answer and were about to give up when a yawning elderly Indian lady (EIL) emerged from the door and gave us a glare which conveyed the message “I can’t believe you weird looking fuckers have just woken me up, you bastards.” We then negotiated the booking of the room through a glass panel of the kind you get at late night petrol stations. Communication proved tricky with the EIL and eventually when most of the details were completed we gave her our booking card and she passed us the key. No have a nice stay, no good evening, no thank you - just supreme indifference. When we asked if that was ok, if we were good, she merely waved her hand at us with a dismissive contempt. Her total anti-customer service attitude was one I’d encountered before in Poland and in this nation of ‘Have a nice day’, I actually almost respected her commitment to sheer hatred of the customer.

And what a treat we were in for - Grandma sheets, holes in the curtains and an ancient TV. Still it did seem pretty clean if you don’t count the dead wasp on the bathroom windowsill, but I got the feeling that a horrific murder had occurred there sometime previously. On a business card pinned to the mirror, the motel billed itself as ‘Willits finest’, something that I didn’t entirely believe was true unless it was claiming Willits’ finest dead wasp.

The next morning we were awoken at 8am by a Harley Davidson revving loudly and persistently and the woman next door screaming “Shut the fuck up”. She had windchimes outside her room and was clearly a more permanent resident. I wasn’t planning to meet her so we soon bid a hasty retreat and got on the road.

Chip dumping

*Warning if you don’t want to know what happens in toilets in Las Vegas at 4am then you better stop reading now.

A lot of people have asked me if I am playing the World Series of Poker this year, as it is taking place whilst I am in America. My answer to this question is no. In truth I am a bit over Vegas right now and the thought of going there in the stifling temperatures of late may or early June is something that doesn’t excite me one bit. Though naturally, I would like to visit the pinball museum again.

My epiphany, my Vegas nadir if you will, came one Friday last October, at around 4:30am, in the toilets of Harrah’s hotel and casino. I was playing in a pretty crazy poker game. There was a Frenchman who had all the money despite not knowing how to play. He had over $1500 on the table and he was willing to gamble and go all in on a whim. Two kids were randomly going in blind for $100 at a time and a couple of other players who weren’t too hot including one who’s catchphrase everytime the action passed to him was “what can I do again?” Like I say, it was a good game. Possibly the best 1-2 no limit game going on at that moment in the whole of the city and I was in it.

But I was stuck. After being down three buy ins (-$600), I had clawed about $250 back. The truth is that I was dead tired and felt I wasn’t playing my best. At any other time I would have gone to bed, but there was no way I was going to leave that game whilst the Frenchman was there with over a grand and a half in front of him. A good hand was all I needed. It was a waiting game.

I had adjourned to a nearby restroom to use the facilities and freshen up. I knew I had to be alert to try and get a read the next time I had a hand and the Frenchman decided to play a big pot. In his bad English he liked to talk and I was sure I could have a good inkling as to what he had if I was observant enough.

As I stepped up to the urinal, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Now, it was hot in Vegas, even in late October, so I was wearing sandals. This meant that extra concentration was needed on my aim. Male readers will know I’m talking about the splashback…

Therefore at first, I didn’t notice the voice in the background…

Then suddenly I hear “I know you are there, I can hear you pissing”. Silence again and then “can you help me?” I looked around and there was nobody there. I continued with my refreshing urination. And again “help me”… “I’m in the stall” And then a loud anguished wail.

OK, well I’m a nice guy, so I craned my neck slightly to look under the door of the stall. In retrospect this was probably a mistake. What I saw there was something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

In the space of around half a second I saw the following things. The floor was covered in poo. Why I hadn’t smelt it on the way in I’m not sure, but I was probably focused on how I’d just got sucked out on in a hand. Again.

Then I noticed that like me, the man in the toilet was wearing sandals. Then I noticed he had poo all over his sandals. Then I noticed that there were blue $1 casino chips mixed in with the poo.

This was a disturbing vision and after processing it in my mind for a few seconds I did something that I still can’t quite explain. I craned my head and looked again, this time for longer and this time the vision was even more disturbing. In amongst the poo and casino chips I saw two fat trembling hands searching through the excrement seeking to recover those now brown $1 chips. And let me tell you, these chips weren’t just resting on the top. Oh no. There was a chip poo casserole going on there down on the floor of the bathroom stall.

My question to you my dear readers is this… How high would the denomination of casino chips have to be for you to pick them out of your own poo? (Feel free to write a figure in the comments box)

On the way out of the bathroom to look for assistance from I have no idea who, I passed two casino security guys making their way towards the door. One of them was putting on some rubber gloves.

Tough break, fellas.

I later bumped into Mr Poo Chips’ brother and asked if the guy was ok. In return I got some raised eyebrows and a ‘what can you do?’ shrug, which indicated that this wasn’t the first time that his sibling had got drunk and rolled around in his own feces.

And the poker game? Well I won a little back but still ended up down for the night when the game broke at about 6am, about one millisecond after the Frenchman left the table with over $2,000.

I went back the next day and he was there again, but this time with just $100 in front of him and a new word in his English language repertoire. Fold. He was going home later that day and had his trip paid for and profit locked in, so he wasn’t doing anything stupid and there were no crazy all ins. I knew the feeling as I had done this myself the previous year on the last day.

Much like going all in blind with five two off suit, searching around in your own poo for $1 casino chips is something that probably seems like a better idea at 4am than in the cold light of day.

Monday, 20 April 2009

A detailed analysis of the song Down Under by Men At Work (with mild racism towards Australian people)

It's one of the finest songs of its generation, but one that has been sadly ignored by music historians and scholars. Until now...

Traveling in a fried-out combie
On a hippie trail, head full of zombie
I met a strange lady, she made me nervous
She took me in and gave me breakfast

The opening to this strange tale. Our narrator it seems is backpacking around Europe in a camper van whilst listening to White Zombie. I would encourage any Australian backpackers not to hang out in red light districts, let alone have breakfast with European prostitutes, particularly if feeling uneasy and unsafe. It's certainly not a good way to spend a gap year and it won't impress on your CV when applying for jobs in the future.

And she said,

Do you come from a land down under?
Where women glow and men plunder?
Cant you hear, cant you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover.

Clearly this makes no sense whatsoever. I can perhaps understand why European prostitutes think Australian men plunder, but why would they think Australian women glow? I'm mystified.

The next verse requires a more detailed line by line analysis...

Buying bread from a man in Brussels

OK - Our hero is now in Belgium. He's in a bread shop. A man works there. Although it's not clear a shop is involved, he may have just offered some money to a man on the street for bread. Typical Australian behaviour. So far so good though.

He was six foot four and full of muscles

This is where this particular tale from our Antipodean songsmith hits problems for me.

How about if he was in Ghent, would he have met a man carrying a tent?

If he'd been in Liege, would there been a siege?

I really have no idea what would have occurred if he'd been on a day trip twenty miles from Brussels in the town of Geraardsbergen.

I said, do you speak-a my language?

I assume he means English, despite the fact that the word speak-a is not in the dictionary as far as I can see. Although presumably if he'd already placed his order he would have already spoken. Unless he did the pointing thing.

He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich

Now I'm really starting to not believe this story. An Australian is in Belgium buying a snack from a tall well-toned gentleman. What are the chances of him receiving a sandwich containing some kind of bizarre Australian sandwich paste without even asking for it? Slim I'd say. Unless he was in some kind of Australian themed sandwich bar, which seems possible when the following information below is revealed.

And he said,

I come from a land down under
Where beer does flow and men chunder
Cant you hear, cant you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover.

What are the chances of that? The other guy is also Australian. The fact that he chose to wait for a verse and half a chorus to reveal this information to a fellow countryman is kinda rude in my book.

Now the second line clinches it. He's essentially saying. "Yes I'm from your beloved country, Australia, the motherland, famous for men drinking beer and puking up."

Then is starts raining. Of course neither Australian is adequately protected from the weather with a raincoat or wellingtons, so they need to seek shelter.

To conclude, let me say that I don't think this open air Australian themed sandwich bar in Brussels will stay in business much longer. It's a very niche market they are aiming for. In my view, this narrow focus combined with the lack of undercover seating could spell trouble for the future of the cafe. I suggest the owners branch out into more international food, perhaps soups and desserts from around the world. They could also employ more communicative staff who don't sing about sick whilst serving customers.

Lying in a den in Bombay
With a slack jaw, and not much to say
I said to the man, are you trying to tempt me
Because I come from the land of plenty?

This trip has taken a turn for the worst. He's in India in a crack den. Again, it's not going to look good on the CV mate, why not go and see the Taj Mahal? Someone is trying to make him take more drugs, but then he brags that there are already lot of drugs in Australia.

And he said,

Oh! do you come from a land down under? (oh yeah yeah)
Where women glow and men plunder?
Cant you hear, cant you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover.

This is getting ridiculous. Our humble narrator is clearly backpacking but surely he can find room in his rucksack for a small waterproof coat or perhaps foldable travel umbrella. Especially if he keeps ending up in thunderstorms. Unless he sold it to buy crack.

And what of the surprised Oh! Perhaps he offered the other guy a vegemite sandwich.


The subject matter of the song Down Under by Men At Work is a clear fabrication and this band have been misleading the public for years.

Quite frankly I'm shocked and outraged by what I have discovered. (oh yeah yeah)

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Putting the sex into snooker

I notice snooker authorities recently announced plans to make the sport more exciting and try to replicate the success of Twenty20 cricket. It's an ambitious plan and it involves...


Having less balls on the table

As far as I can see - That's it.

Is having less balls on the table going to make someone who has never watched snooker before suddenly decide to watch?

"Oh wow I love snooker now, there's far less of those confusing red balls. What do you call them?"


"Yes far less reds, I like it much better now without those reds"

It's just not going to happen.

So therefore, I announce my five ways to make snooker sexier and more appealing to the general public.

1.Make drugs compulsory
I've had enough of this campaign to get drugs out of sport. What we need is more players playing whilst high as a kite.

What I suggest is this.

One hour before the match in the dressing room, each player is required to take a mandatory ecstasy tablet Then hard house, trance and happy hardcore is pumped into the playing area during the match at full volume. If frames are even then instead of a respotted black, a dance off takes place.

An alternative is each player is provided with a spliff roller and then smokes cannabis during the frame whilst the other player is taking a shot. I mean, those chairs look mighty comfortable. Munchies will also be provided.

A strippers pole to be installed in the centre of the table. A stripper dances during each frame and the players play around her and the pole. Double points on offer for a shot that goes through the arch of one of her 6 inch clear wedge heels. Winner of each frame gets a private dance in the 'VIP lounge'.

3.Convicted criminals to referee matches
As part of a rehabilitation process for dangerous criminals, prisons should teach particularly violent or angry criminals the skills of snooker refereeing so they can do this on a day release basis. Not only will it give them an inner calm, it also helps them with numeracy and diplomacy. It will save the snooker authorities money and they will also be doing a valuable service to the community.

3a. An alternative is to get Mr T to referee snooker matches. Or even other celebrities. You could even turn this into a prime time TV show featuring a host of minor celebrities competing to be the top snooker referee.

4.Make snooker more Goth
This one is a guaranteed winner. How can we tempt more young people into the game of snooker? Goth it up! Hey, it's surely no coincidence that the black ball is worth the most points...

Black nail varnish and eyeliner are mandatory and players much dress in full Goth attire and pass strict Goth club bouncers to get into the playing area. Any player refused entry for 'streetwear' will be forced to forfeit the match.

Smoke machines in operation throughout the match and cider and black on tap for players and the crowd.

Andrew Eldritch from the Sisters of Mercy to become the official Goth ambassador for snooker (Well he's available and looking for work)

Bauhaus to reform and record a cover version of Chas and Dave's Snooker Loopy

5.Combine snooker with Gladiators
What better way to sure up two fading British institutions than to combine them together. The options are endless:

Following Charlie Brooker's observations, players are to be given gladiator style nicknames that sound like gay nightclubs. Thus we get Peter 'Eros' Ebdon, Stephen 'Rawhide' Hendry and Ding 'Cock Ring' Junhui.

Foam added to the bottom of cues so they can be turned around and used to joust against gladiators.

A moving platform (or travelator if you will) to be installed around the table for players to run up before taking a shot.

Players required to shout "AWOOGA" as loud as possible before breaking.

Gladiators swing giant foam balls at players as they are attempting to take shots whilst standing on small unstable platforms above water.

Crowd given large foam hands and taught the full lyrics to Queen's 'Another one bites the dust'

Referee John Anderson to oversee proceedings in his inimitable grumpy and humourless Scottish style.

After winning a frame a player must complete an obstacle course around the arena - Not as easy as it sounds - Have you ever tried climbing up a cargo net whilst carrying a snooker cue?


I mean - surely some of these things must be worth a try, right?


Next week - Putting the glamour back into lawn bowls

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Preaching to the introverted

Oakland, California - 10:30AM

*Knock at the door*

I peer through the net curtain. It is an elderly black man. I do not know this man, so I am about to make the decision not to answer, when I notice his most excellent hat.

I curse my love of hats.

I notice I am wearing my pajamas inside out.

I open the door.

I smell religion.

ME "Hey..."

Elderly Black Man "Good morning sir, how are you today?"

Me "Err yeah, alright thanks" (looks quizzically)

EBM "I'm here to tell you about the lord"

Me (actually groans) "OK, well what about him?"

EBM "Would you be willing to let the lord into your life?"

Me "Sir, you've knocked on the wrong door here, I don't want to waste your time. I'm a nihilist. I don't believe in anything"

EBM (Visibly taken aback) "You believe in nothing at all?"

Me "That's correct"

EBM "Do you believe I'm real?"

Me (narrowing eyes, tilting head and smiling) "I'll give you the benefit of the doubt"

EBM "Do believe in government?"

Me (very very confused) "What?"

EBM (holds out leaflet towards my hand)

Me "To be honest with you, organised religion actually physically disgusts me"

EBM (physically takes a step backwards)


EBM "Can I provide you with some information to try and change your mind?"

Me "I like your hat"


EBM (shakes head and sighs before walking away) "Have a nice day"

Friday, 27 February 2009

Too many mutha uckas

"Mate, you swim like a dickhead..."

I'm in a small swimming baths in the suburbs of a provincial English city.

I like to keep fit, though I've never ever been to a gym in my life, therefore swimming is a good solution. When I was about fourteen, I swam a mile. I have no idea how I did that.

I would describe my swimming style as unorthodox. I guess this stems from my only real fear or phobia. Going underwater.

I can't explain this fear and it makes no sense. I have no idea where it came from but I've always had it. It must be something to do with not being able to breathe, but that is not everything. Any others I've had, heights, needles - I've conquered without a problem. This one sticks.

I remember when I was at school, I think probably the only detention I ever had was when I got into an argument with the PE teacher after I refused to dive to the bottom of the pool and get the brick. I said no, then I ended up getting out of the pool and totally refusing to even try. I just couldn't do it.

When I swim, it is a bit like a dog. My neck cranes and my head sticks out of the water. And sometimes there is a lot of effort for very little movement. I am better than I was, but I'm sure it looks a little strange.

Last week was the school holidays. Bad news for swimming, but I needed a bit of nager nager. It was packed with kids breaking all the rules of the pool - splashing, bombing, heavy petting - it was all going on. The lifeguard watched on gormlessly, whistle hanging dormant around his neck. When I'd got there, the guy at the counter raised an eyebrow at me as if to say "are you sure you really want to venture in there?"

"Yes" I replied in my mind as I searched my wallet for the correct change to use the lockers, "I'm going in."

I was ready. I was brave and prepared to dodge the inflatables and hormone fuelled adolescent teenagers.

It was going so well and I was slaloming through the parade of obstacles in my path as I did my lengths. Then confrontation hit.

You know in the wild west movies when the two cowboys face up to each other and there is tension filled incidental music? Well here in Bramley Swimming Baths on a midweek afternoon, this was my wild west moment. The only differences were that we didn't have guns, we were both wearing swimming trunks and one of us was about thirteen. So only three real differences there from those old movies. Everything else was basically the same.

As I swim up to the deep end, the kid hits me with his best insult. He's been working on it, you can see. How to best impress his friends. Some time has been spent on the sentence construction and tone here. And it's not easy for him to say it, he blurts it out.

Let's analyse.

Mate - A friendly opening designed to suck me in before he hits me with the killer punch. Like a check-raise in poker. He's cunning this boy, I'll give him that.

Dickhead - Another interesting choice.

Firstly, perhaps he doesn't know any real swear words? Though I find this hard to believe.

Secondly, maybe he's scared that if he uses too strong a word I'm going to deck him or steal his pocket money?

And thirdly, how exactly does a dickhead swim?

Now, a dilemma, what do you do when a thirteen year old kid insults you? It's a difficult problem at the best of times. When you are doing a slightly awkward doggy paddle it complicates matters further.

I did what I do best. I gave him a dirty look. The one I use on people when I think they are trying to bluff me at the poker table. Trust me here, it's a good one. I think that did the trick, his chortling subsided and he fixed me with a stare of his own, but as he was only thirteen, a lot of work clearly had to be done with his glaring. To be honest, it was poor and lacked penetration. Thus. I win.

And then I used my killer move. As I pushed off to swim back to the other end of the pool, I kicked my legs really hard and completely splashed him with water. It was smooth. Trust me, it was smooth.

That's cus I'm a mean mutha ucka and I don't take anyone ucking with my shi...

Monday, 16 February 2009

Top five music videos

5. New Order - World In Motion

Remember when England were good at football?

No I'm not talking about 2001 or even 1996. It's time to go back to 1990.

Gary Lineker banging in the goals. A svelte Gazza in his prime. Chris Waddle bounding down the wing, his mullet proudly trailing behind him. A beautiful sight for all Englishmen.

In the video, witness Gillian Gilbert looking distinctly awkward, Keith Allen being a twat and Bernard Sumner driving across the pitch in a car, no doubt ruining the playing surface in the process. Perhaps this was the reason the team were unable to practice taking penalties?

And of course, we have to mention the John Barnes rap at 2:30. For me, rather than Gazza's tears, this was the iconic image of the 1990 World Cup. Some say it was his best performance in an England shirt and I wouldn't disagree. The lyricism, the flow, the focus, the hip swivel - It's all there.

In Stuart Maconie's excellent rock journalist biography Cider With Roadies he claims that several versions of the rap were recorded by a few different players. It certainly raises the tantalising possibility that a version of World In Motion featuring Peter Beardsley's mumbling Geordie tones is in existence in the vaults of a studio somewhere. That's something I would love to hear.

Still the best sports song ever. Bar none.


4. Guns 'n' Roses - November Rain

Not my favourite GnR song, but my word what a video. The overblown pomposity of it all is pure Axl Rose. Fantastic.

Now. Would you trust Slash to be your best man? I imagine it would be a good stag night, but I'm not too sure about his speech at the dinner or organising anything.

And then at 4:05, Stoke-on-Trent's finest son strides out of the church, dressed in cowboy boots and leather chaps, sunglasses around the neck, fag dangling from the corner of his mouth and rips into the solo. My favourite 'rawk' moment in music video history.


3. The Clash - London Calling

Live performance videos can be dull and unimaginative affairs. But when the band is The Clash then normal rules don't apply.

The side on camera shots are what make it. The triple attack of Jones, Strummer and Simonen stepping backwards and then lurching forward to the microphones when the vocals kick in. I can feel the crackling of that energy through the screen.

Having been born in 1980, of course I never saw The Clash play live. How I would do anything to be beside that bandstand in the pouring rain.

(I can't find a decent quality version of this that will let me embed. So this will have to do)


2. Joy Division - Atmosphere

Wow. Just wow.

Anton Corbijn's magnificent tribute to Ian Curtis. Beautifully shot in black and white, somehow the concept fits the song perfectly. And if you are even the slightest fan of Joy Division, it's impossible not to be moved by the sight of those huge prints of classic photographs.

Nothing more needs to be said.


1. Beastie Boys - Sabotage

Oh yeah!

This is the one I can watch again and again. I think it's the wigs that do it for me. That and the cavalier descent of staircases.

Of course Spike Jonze is a talented man, but surely this must have been the most fun either he or the band ever had in their life?

I would love to don a comedy hairpiece and moustache to have some car chases, do reckless kung fu kicks and roll around on the floor recreating this video.

In fact, what are you all doing next Friday?

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Some of my favourite music videos

For no apparent reason whatsoever, I wanted to tell you about some of my all time favourite music videos.

As a child of the MTV generation, music videos have always been really important to me. Some remind me of certain points in my life, others of certain people. Mostly they are just three and a half minute distractions.

I'm not saying these are the best music videos ever, but for a variety of reasons, they are some of my favourites.

10. Depeche Mode - Enjoy The Silence

Here's my theory. Dave Gahan is on his way back from a monarchy themed fancy dress party. It's late/early, the sun is just coming up. He takes a wrong turn just outside Basildon and finds a deckchair in a skip...

I have no idea what was on Anton Corbijn's mind when he came up with the concept for this video, but I'm mighty glad he made it.


9. Bronski Beat - Smalltown Boy

Firstly, I genuinely and truly love this song.

The crux of the video is that Jimmy Sommerville has a homoerotic encounter in a swimming baths and then eats his lunch on a train. Doesn't sound the most riveting, but never has a music video been so starkly poignant and yet so utterly hilarious at the same time.


8. PJ Harvey - This Is Love

Just because. OK?


7. Army of Lovers - Crucifed

When I was growing up, for some reason or another we had German MTV rather than normal MTV. As a consequence, I was exposed to more eurodisco anthems than was probably healthy at such a formative age. Perhaps this is why I now have a penchant for visiting gay bars despite the fact that I am completely straight. This one is my favourite eurodisco song of them all.

The video is truly, truly bizarre, completely camp and ridiculously over the top! The gratuitous cleavage shots, the miniature piano, the dog and cat on the chair, the revealing wedding dress, the bathtub, the swordfight, the bed in the cage... I could go on... Genius!


6. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Do You Love Me?

Whenever I am in a bar alone, writing, I dream I am Nick Cave in this video. However instead of Pedro, Luiz and Madalena, I'm usually surrounded by the likes of Dave and Kev from the building site down the road, Doreen behind the bar and Murphy the one-eyed Irishman. And I am brought down to earth and remember that nobody can ever be as brooding and cool as Nick Cave.

Mention has to be made of the truly terrible and inexplicable 'dad at a wedding' style dancing that begins 1:45' into the video. Possibly some of the worst dancing ever recorded on celluloid.


More soon...

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Sunday Warm-up final table

On Sunday I finished 8th out of 4,394 players in the Sunday Warm-up on PokerStars for a cool $10,985. I don't play tourneys very often and it's my biggest ever tournament cash. It was nice to make it in probably the second most prestigious weekly online tournament.

This was only the third time I've ever played the Million or the Warm-up and I enjoyed it a lot, though it was pretty nerve racking near the end. I managed to get hold of some chips early thanks to some kind donations and one or two suck outs and I was 10th in chips at the first break. From then on things got rolling and eventually some nine hours later we were at the final table.

In the time in between I played on the same table as some great players (Kenny 'Kenny Rap' Weinstein, Anthony 'D1rtyR1v3r' Nardi and Kevin 'BeL0WaB0Ve' Saul), as well of course as some complete donkeys.

I felt like I learnt a lot from playing such a lengthy high profile tournament - The way things change at different points, the importance of the dynamic of the table and your own table image.

I don't even think I am that good at tournaments, but I was able to use the things I've picked up in the past few months to play a pretty solid game with occasional aggression. I thought I played well, generally stole my fair share of blinds and also put in a few nice resteals at crucial times, even tangling with Kevin Saul on a few occasions.

Below are ten hands from the tournament along with a little bit of analysis. Let's hope I'll be writing about another big final table soon.

Hand #301

This is where things kickstarted for me in the tournament and I thought I could do something. An open raise from Carlito who is running at 31/19 and involved in a fair few pots. I elect to raise from the big blind with AJ. His opening range from the hijack is reasonably wide, so I think this is ok, though perhaps a call would have been better to try and play post flop. If he four bet shoves me here, then I think I may well fold in this spot.

The K69 flop gives me nothing more than a nut backdoor flush draw and some overcard possibilities and I check with the mind to probably give up on the hand if he fires. I've put myself in the position where a continuation bet of any kind is decidedly awkward, therefore the preflop raise by me seems like it was a mistake. Surprisingly he checks behind. The turn brings a third club and I decide to seize the chance. Smelling possible weakness after Carlito's flop check behind, I shove all in for 148k into a pot of 144.5k and am called by pocket queens with the queen high flush draw.

And of course I get there and hit my 25% shot on the river. This one sends me dancing around my lounge.

Was it a good shove? I'm not sure, but I felt the pot was there for the taking and went for it. He certainly didn't have to have a hand as strong as he did. So I don't mind my play here at all on the turn. My pre-flop and flop play is another matter.


Hand #332

Carlito is again the villain and I am now more than aware of his unconventional play. A standard open raise with AK is flat called in the big blind. With a flop of 4JQ all hearts I have two overcards, a gut shot and a backdoor king-high four flush draw.

It's checked to me and I check behind. I think I like my play here. The flop quite possibly hits a fair bit of his range there giving him pairs, a variety of straight draw options and perhaps some kind of heart draw too. If I continuation bet, he has a nice stack to check raise all in where I will be faced with a very tough decision indeed. I have a lot of draw options and my hand may even be good right now, the pot is still manageable so I think the check is the prudent play.

The turn is 8d which is a virtual blank, though it does mean he gets there if he has J10. He bets 2/3 of the pot and I choose to flat call. I could elect to raise all in myself here but I do worry that he might have some kind of pair with the ace high flush draw combination which would leave me in decidedly bad shape. I'm in a tricky spot now, especially if and ace or king hits on the river. Of course my AK high may still be good and he may just check and give up the river if he has nothing at all.

The river is a heart giving me a king high flush on a paired board. He bets 96k into a pot of 172k and the clear play here is to just call behind. I think it's a complete zero play to raise all in here, I'm not sure any worse hand is calling (q and j of hearts are out) and there is no need to risk my entire tournament. He shows 54 which I think was actually a good gutsy bluff bet on the river, turning a made flop hand into a bluff. But thankfully I managed to get there.


Hand #382

D1rtyR1v3r is clearly an excellent tournament player. In the top 20 of the Pocket Fives rankings, he knows his stuff for sure. So when he raises from under the gun, despite the fact he hasn't got out of line so far, I know his range could be wider than some other players. That said I'm really not convinced it was the right play to reraise with AJo from the cut off. And indeed, if I was going to reraise, my raise from 60k to 168k was too much. It committed too high a proportion of my stack and a little bit of a smaller reraise would have done the same job. I think if I was going to reraise, somewhere in the region of 140-145k would have been appropriate and easier to fold to a shove.

It folds back to D1rtyR1v3r and he shoves it in my face by going all in. Now this is an awful position and one that could have been avoided.

Including his shove there is now 809,164 in the pot and I have to pay my remaining 413,164 to call. It's a sickener. I could be dominated, but if my ace is live I think I have the correct price here. Perhaps I should have played the odds and made the call here. But if I fold, the blinds are only 12.5k/25k and I have over 400k, so I have plenty to play with. I'm really not sure. I need to put some numbers in Poker Stove and take a look.

It's certainly strong play from my opponent, but as a top player I know he is more than capable of making a move. Would this be the spot he would choose to do it. I'm really not sure.


Hand #404

Perhaps a pretty straightforward hand, but this is the type of spot I've been guilty of making a fold before and I think it was definitely a weakness in my tourney game. I have 9xBB and the small blind open shoves me. He is running at 11/9 over 140 hands, so he's certainly not a LAG. With A5 suited, I ponder briefly, but I make the call. He shows K3 and I hold to double up.


Hand #436

What should and could have been a standard AQ v 66 race turns into a sick cooler for my opponent when his pocket sixes are counterfeited on the river by quad threes, making my ace high play as the kicker. I like my shove here, I think it was the correct play and he also made the correct call, but it was twisted the way the hand went down. Nice to be on the right end of it of course. :)


Hand #460

Kevin Saul raises from early position and I reraise from the button with A7 of spades. Now Saul was opening a lot of pots with just over a minimum raise and it was a strategy that was picking him up chips. Every time so far when someone had played back he'd just folded. With A7 I figure to probably have the best hand. I also have the button just in case he decides to flat call. I like my re-raise size here too. As it turns out he folds this time. If he shoves on me I'm really not sure of the right play here, bearing in mind my opponent is one of the most aggressive on the internet.


Hand #486

Things are getting tough now with Kevin Saul pounding on my blinds. I'm managing to hold my own and not get runover, though this is a tough stretch of play.

I elect to open raise j9o from the cutoff and get min raised by the loosest player at the table, Hasie65 on the button. Options here, we both have chips and the raise is so small that a fold is out of the question. I could shove, but I get the feeling that this guy might call pretty wide, so I decide to call.

The flop is 68T giving me an up and down straight draw. Again options here. Shoving 1.32million into a pot of 736k is a possibility but I don't think the right one. If I donk out and bet something like 2/3 of the pot then its a tough spot if he shoves. Instead I check to him, he bets and I check raise him all in. I think this is a fine play in this spot. He makes quite a call with AQ and I'm a small 46/54 dog. A beautiful queen comes on the turn, pairing him but giving me the straight and now I have just under 3.4 million.


Hand # 494

Kevin Saul had played flawlessly up to this point, lots of little raises and bets, picking up a lot of pots and establishing a chip lead with 20 players left. I believe I was third at this point. But Saul was to bust in 19th place in a sick and crazy hand that had the observers going mad in the chatbox.

Saul ended up shoving his chips in with queen high and the crazy German Hasie65 again made the call with ace high and was again ahead. Blank on the river, Saul is out and we are down to two tables. I am mighty relieved as I was decidedly uneasy whenever Saul was in a hand. He such a good and unpredictable player.


Hand #504

About 15 left now. This time I don't have to draw and hit my hand on the flop, achieving maximum value and doubling up to monster 5.5 million.

Despite the fact it is a draw heavy board, I like my flat call on the flop of Hasie's donk bet. He's shown that he's overvalued any pair and I had to take the chance of giving him an extra card so he would be committed and be forced to call an all in. You can't blame him for betting the turn and when I move all in he snap calls. He's been calling all ins with ace high, so top pair is absolutely huge for him!


Hand #506

Two hands later and now this is a bit of a weird one and one that I think I misplayed quite a bit because of my opponent. Again it is me vs the crazy German. He's now running at 39/27 and with blinds at 50k/100k, he minimum raises from the cut off to 200k which is something he'd been apt to do quite a bit. I wake up with jacks in the BB and decide to pop him. The problem is that I think I make a misclick here. I'm pretty sure I wanted to raise to 800k but I only reraise to 600k. This is a mistake and I believe this raise is too small. Another play which I though would have been fine would have been to flat call, keep the pot small and see a flop.

He calls and the flop comes QT8 with two clubs and I fire a half sized pot bet. I want to take it down right here but it's such a draw heavy board and my opponent is so unpredictable that this is perhaps unlikely. He then min raises me which is a bit of a sickener. Perhaps my lead was a mistake. He's been making really small flop bets, tiny in fact. So if I'd checked to him I could have perhaps seen a turn and maybe even a river cheaply and kept the pot small. However, check calling is rarely a profitable play.

All three options are possibilities here. I definitely have room to come over the top and three bet all in. He'd called two huge all ins with ace high so perhaps it was the correct play. However, perhaps the situation got to me a little and I couldn't pull the trigger. I'd just seen what happened to Kevin Saul and as we were both amongst the chip leaders. I flat called to see the turn and assess the situation.

The eight of clubs is a pretty terrible card for me here. One of the worst in the deck and I ended up folding to a very small bet and feeling sick about it for quite a while. This is one hand I regret a lot, but I've still got chips.


Approaching the final table

Still with around 15 or 16 left I win a race AK v 33 in a 2.4 million pot, but the hand after run tens into kings in a 3.8 Million pot and I'm back in the pack with the rest of the field.

I carry on chipping away, stealing the occasional blinds and keeping afloat. I pick up AK twice but just take the blinds both times and eventually we are on the final table.


Hand #559

My final hand was a pretty standard affair. I shoved AQ from utg+1 with around 11bb's. The button, who was the only one with less chips as me, called and was also all in. The big stack in the small blind then makes what I think it a terrible overcall with AJ. Really bad call. In the end AJ > AQ & AK and he busts both of us. I have more chips at the start of the hand, therefore I take 8th place, so that bad call my opponent ended up making me an extra $3,800. Thank you big4aday!

So that's it. I still can't believe I got through almost over 4,500 players to get to the final table. If any poker geeks would like to make comments about any of the hands then please do!

Monday, 2 February 2009

More news from nowhere

I'm hibernating.

It feels like a bit of an in between time at the moment. Before something starts. Before the cogs begin to whir and and wheels begin to turn. Before an event of significance happens.

Somehow, I find myself in Leeds, in the north of England. Living in a residential area filled with chavs, small aggressive dogs and hyperactive children called Kane and Kyle.

I feel like I'm preparing, getting ready for something important. Or maybe it is just nice to tell myself that, to justify this downtime, this isolation from seemingly normal everyday existence.

I have spent some time thinking about Buddhism and I want to know more.

I have spent some time pondering Polyamory and I would like to investigate further.

And I suspect that I spend more time than most ruminating on the best way to play two overcards, in a shorthanded Limit Texas Hold'em game, when you've been just been check-raised by an aggressive opponent on the flop.

Poker player Andy Black spent five years at a Buddhist retreat before returning to the game and finishing fifth in the 2005 World Series of Poker.

When Joe Strummer hibernated, he went and holed up in Paris where he ran the marathon (whilst smoking).

Some say that Richey Edwards, guitarist with the Manic Street Preachers, has never stopped hibernating.

Me? Well what am I doing? Sometimes I ask myself the same question.

I drink tea. I eat pasta. I watch films at the local arthouse cinema. I try and fail each month to attend the local crime book group and schedule an induction at the gym. I scrutinise and analyse poker hands and strategies with the concentration and alertness of a chess grandmaster. I visit towns and cities in the north of England - once I may even take a camera with me. I listen to Faith No More. I avoid contact with people who I've worked for before, so as not to have to reject the offer of paid work. Most of all I enjoy the time, space and freedom afforded to me by my current circumstances.

I don't expect any rockstar has ever spent a lengthy and fruitful period of time ensconced on a council estate in Leeds. But my friend tells me that the Sisters of Mercy's offices are based nearby, in a rundown industrial area. Well they haven't released and album for 19 years and I expect the rent is cheaper there.

As the snow falls, I lie on my bed, feeling the springs digging into my back and gaze over the panoramic view of West Leeds offered by my bedroom window. The pristine white vista is only broken by the glisten of the barbed wire that surrounds the derelict mill building which was earmarked to be turned into apartments, a plan now mothballed due to the credit crunch. And I wonder if this scene will make it into my biography. Somehow I doubt it and the writer, who will be trying to piece together my life after I turned him/her down for interview, will skip to the part where I became successful at _______.

That would be a mistake because this time is important too. I can feel it.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Almost famous

I've never wanted to be famous. I think I would prefer to have a brush with fame, a glancing blow of notoriety, be a footnote in history.

Perhaps I could have been the kitman for the 1966 England World Cup Squad. Making sure Geoff Hurst's shirt was clean for the final and perhaps subtlety influencing team selection by sitting behind Alf Ramsey in the dugout.

I don't ever want to win the World Series of Poker, I'd prefer to come second. Take the pay day and slink into the sunset and never play poker again.

Or how about an associate, a confidant of Bowie and Iggy Pop in West Berlin in the late 70s. A friend from down the bierkeller. Maybe I would go round to Bowie's and play scrabble, perhaps add handclaps and percussion to some of the album tracks on Lust For Life or Heroes. Maybe go and get some milk for Iggy's cornflakes after an all night recording session, as he was wrestling to finish the chorus to The Passenger. Bowie could put a subtle, obtuse hint in the sleeve notes to Low about the time he got a seven letter word against me on a triple word score, using a Q and a Z, in one of the breaks whilst he was laying down the vocals for Be My Wife. Twenty year later, I'd read it, chuckle, raise my eyebrows in an amused manner and wonder if taking drugs really does make you better at word based board games.

Yes that would be nice, that would be fine. I think I'd like that.