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Am I still a poker player?

It’s an interesting question. Is there such a thing as an ex-poker player?

I don’t think it ever leaves your system. Just like you can never be an ex-alcoholic. Or like that band on X-Factor a couple of years ago that claimed to be “ex strippers“. I didn’t buy it. Once you take your clothes off for money, you’re a stripper, right?

I haven’t played online poker in quite some time. It wasn’t necessarily conscious decision to quit, but just the way things came together.

At the end of 2009, the site I was playing at the most was about to restructure its frequent player program to take away many of the benefits I’d come to rely on to make it worth playing. I was way past the recreational stage and if I couldn’t produce numbers to show that I was making money, I wasn’t going to play.

Unfortunately, I relied on what was effectively 60% rakeback from this particular iPoker skin in order to show satisfactory results. I’d show a small loss at the tables but cash out a few hundred dollars in net profit every month thanks to the perks. Since then I played odd tournaments on Poker Stars, but never got myself back into the right frame of mind to take it seriously. Playing online poker to make money takes commitment and discipline and this was at a time when I was getting busier than ever in my work.

I was long past the delusion that I could “go pro” with poker and use it as a primary source of income. I still enjoyed playing – by which I mostly mean that I enjoyed the satisfaction of knowing I was getting out more money than I put in – but it was either a way to pass an evening or to fill some spare clock cycles on a quiet work day. Although I never consciously made this decision, it was essentially a choice between finding a new poker site where I might expect to eek out $10-15 per hour for my spare time, or filling my time with low-paying contract work – undercutting everyone to build a portfolio.

You want a complete mobile app for $50? Ask me 2 years ago.

You want to know if that gamble paid off? Ask me at the end of the year.

I have played live poker exactly once since I last went to Las Vegas. That’s not particularly unusual. Combine a decent tournament with the chance to visit somewhere new – like, err, Stockton – and I might be interested. Otherwise, I steer clear. But I am looking forward to playing again on my next trip to Vegas – even through by then O’Shea’s will be gone, and I’m still mourning the passing of the Sahara.

However, I do think there are parts of the poker mindset that stick with you day-to-day, no matter how out of practice you are.

Is something good value? Am I the sucker here? I think he thinks such-and-such, but what does he think I’m thinking? How can I exploit that?

Meh. Poker player. Passive aggressive sociopath. Who can tell the difference?

Of course I find myself yelling “string bet!” and sighing “don’t splash the pot” at the TV almost every time I watch anything that has a poker scene.

And I do keep seeing parallels between what I was trying to achieve with my poker play and what I’m trying to achieve now in business. Of course it’s a gamble. If I didn’t think I had the best of it, I wouldn’t be doing it. And I absolutely want to maximise my edge wherever I can.

Assuming I’m able to articulate them, that is most likely what I will be writing about here.

So, yes, I still consider myself to be a poker player. I just don’t play cards much any more.

Many days later

It took some time to click the “Add New Post” button, but the blogging voices in my head are strong and apparently there’s things I want to write about in order to try to quieten them. I’m not sure this is the right outlet, but it’s what I’ve got.

So then. This all fell apart two summers ago. I suspected the end was in sight as I just didn’t have time to keep writing as regularly as I wanted to, but I thought I’d least get to the end of one last trip report. Once I broke my arm, it pretty much ruled out me having anything interesting to write about.

In fact I just went back and checked what photos I had taken after the accident.  Basically nothing.  A shot of some floor tiles at The Orleans (they have little silhouettes of their jazz alligators on them, which is pretty cool) and a video of a slot club promotion that I couldn’t even be bothered to watch the whole way through.  I wondered whether it might have been possible to reconstruct at least some of what happened in the last 21 days of that trip – but it seems not.

So, much as I hate having left things hanging that way, and I always detested “sorry it’s been so long since I blogged” posts, let’s move on.

In the past 20 months:  Claire and I broke up.  Katherine and I got engaged.  I’ve not played any online poker.  Just haven’t felt like it.  I took Katherine to Las Vegas and she seemed to enjoy it enough to want to go back again this year.  T-44.  She wrote her own trip report, so I didn’t have to 🙂 I transformed my company from being software developers for hire (who dabble with mobile apps) into a games studio (that does a bit of contracting on the side).  I expect this is what I’ll be writing about more than anything these days.  Oh, and I discovered that I do like sushi after all.  Now there’s almost nothing I won’t eat.

So what next?  I don’t know.  I have ideas in my head that I have to write down.  They’re quite likely garbage.  You might see some of them.  I just needed to post something here first to mark the passing of time, and to see whether anyone was actually still reading.  Not that it matters.  I just thought that if anyone is still hanging on, you deserved a little update.  You got a very little one.  Enjoy.

Day 7: Be prepared

I’m a little disappointed this picture didn’t turn out clearer.  You may just have to take my word for it.

Back to school – be prepared.  With this excellent range of alarm clocks, pepper sprays and stun guns.  For those wishing to be discreet in their classroom defence activities, there’s even a “stun pen”.

This is perfectly normal?

Day 6: Steve Wynn is watching you

The Wynn proudly announced a new iPhone app today and I was keen to see if they’d managed to make a better job of it than Harrah’s or MGM.

Oddly, for a casino that went to such great lengths to create the world’s most unusable and slow-to-load web site, they’ve plumped for an off-the-shelf app by Mobile Roadie, crowbarring a platform designed for musicians to just about fit rather than creating their own monstrosity from scratch.

It’s nothing special, but I imagine the priority with creating this was to give iPhone users a way to actually get information about the property without needing to create a non-flash web site, and in that respect it’s a success.

Now they just need to give web users a similarly straightforward way to find what they’re looking for.  In fact, I’d much rather use the app to find information about the Wynn than have to put up with Steve Wynn’s narration while trying to catch the section I’m looking for as it flies past my mouse pointer.

Here’s what bothers me though.  A bit later in the day I noticed that the location services indicator was stuck on on my phone.  It took me a while to figure out why, and I killed every app I could find that looked like it might still be running, and even rebooted the phone.  Still something was watching my every movement.

Eventually I found it from the location settings.  Wynn must have asked if it could check my location, but I generally don’t care about that to start with and say yes to everything, as it’s easier to switch it off than give permission later if an app does happen to do something awesome that uses your location.

Having now played with the app and realised that it actually uses location for nothing except, presumably, tracking who is using the app, I turned it off.

And then, magically, the location services indicator in the title bar just disappeared.

The location indicator in the title bar is a new feature in the latest iPhone operating system.  Notably, the Wynn app hides the whole title bar when it’s running – so you can’t tell it’s watching you.

It’s one thing checking where users are when they launch an app to track distribution.  Some might find it a little invasive, but really it does no harm.

However if you keep polling the user’s location for no good reason, even when the app isn’t active, and without any function in the app needing that information, it’s nothing short of stalking.

Is this the next generation of casino surveillance? Who’s to say they’re not also secretly taking your picture using the iPhone 4’s front-facing camera and hooking it into the casino’s facial recognition system?

Probably not possible on the Mobile Roadie platform, but maybe that’s just a front after all.

I’ll get my tin foil hat eh?

Would you like sushi with your boobies?

Don’t ask me why I’m getting texts from a titty bar.  This was actually on Claire’s phone anyway.  Rather random.

Day 4: Slippery

Look at this magnificent array of novelty slippers, which were on display in the prize cabinet at the Four Queens as part of their July promotion.

I was almost certain one of these would always be the bottom tier prize and so I felt the chances of walking away with froggies on my feet were pretty high.

Usually when we stay there, they give us three free nights, all the food we can handle and $200 in free play for showing up.  It’s a pretty sweet deal.

Sometimes, when there’s a slot promotion running at the same time, the free play isn’t included; instead the promo usually works out about the same value based on the action needed to keep this offer coming, you just get paid at the end rather than up front.

This time the promotion awarded a paltry $20 in free play, and to make matters worse we got stiffed on the slippers too.

It’s a novelty wall clock.

The James Dean theme of the clock still confuses me.  I don’t get it at all.  Especially when the way you pick your prizes is by selecting from a number of tins.  And those tins all have pictures of Elvis on.

If there’s some six degrees of Kevin Bacon connection between Las Vegas and James Dean (or even Elvis and James Dean) that I haven’t figured out, could you fill me in?

The clock is huge, too.  Maybe 15 inches across.  I’m not one to throw away casino tat, but I’d have to really like this to make it worth packing to take home.  And, as you may have gathered, I’m not a fan.

So if anyone actually loves this, or desperately wants a new clock, you’ll have to ask me really really nicely 🙂

Day 5: One-armed bandit

I didn’t think there were many new things left for me to try in Las Vegas, but I managed to find one.  I’ve now experienced the American healthcare system!

I’ve broken my arm.  Actually, it’s a fractured shoulder but the result is basically the same.  I’ll be functioning at a severely reduced capacity for the rest of the trip.

As I consider this a somewhat more significant event than not winning a pair of frog slippers, you may notice that I’ve bumped Day 5 ahead of Day 4.

Don’t worry, there’ll still be pictures of slippers.  Although sadly not on my feet.

Looking at this as an achievement, it’s my first ever sporting injury!  If you can call Geocaching a sport.  Apparently people do, but that’s a bit of a stretch for an activity that is basically walking or driving, interrupted by a hunt for plastic boxes.

For those that care, this happened round about GC26E6N.  The tiny cache was hidden in a hollow stick, tied to a tree.

Then I saw tracks leading up to the nearby mound of dirt and wanted to explore.  The Jeep was probably too large – although I was tempted to give it a go – so I decided to go up on foot.

About half way up, I did start to wonder how on earth I’d get down again but I really wanted to see the view.  Then when I finally got there, I realised that I was now the tallest thing for miles around, and as I’d just been taking photos of the surrounding storms a few minutes before, that this was quite a bad idea.

Even so, there’s a chance that if I’d made it down in one piece, I’d have gone back up there with my camera.

I tried to find the least steep route back down, which turned out to be still fairly steep and quite soft under foot, and a walk quickly turned into an involuntary run which ended up with me hitting the level ground leaning forward with too much momentum to get my balance and and slow down.  So I ended up diving forwards into the dirt.

I just couldn’t work out if I had done any real damage.  It hurt pretty bad but I’d sunk into the gravelly ground which suggested it was a (relatively) soft landing.  Plus I could still wiggle all my fingers, and eventually I managed to put enough pressure on my arm to stand up.

On the other hand, I could tell I’d ripped my knees to shit but couldn’t really feel anything apart from the pain in my arm.  As it was no better when we got back into town, I thought that getting it looked at was probably a good plan.

CSI fans will no doubt be disappointed to learn that “Desert Palm” hospital, mentioned at least once in just about every show as the place that every victim who doesn’t already have a toe tag goes to, doesn’t actually exist.  If it did, obviously I’d have made sure that’s where I ended up.  I actually went to Spring Valley Hospital, conveniently less than a block away from the house we’re renting.

It took 4 x-rays to find something, in between which I got mopped up, had a tetanus shot, handed over a credit card for a $1000 deposit and continued to hold on to the hope that it was just quite badly bruised, but eventually the doctor wheeled round his computer trolley and zoomed in on a picture of my bones to show something a little bit darker than it should be.  Apparently that means a fracture, and so I’ve got to keep my arm in a sling for about 6 weeks.

I’m not yet sure how the travel insurance is going to work for this.  By the letter of the policy, I was supposed to call them before turning up at the hospital so they could authorise the treatment.  But I wasn’t exactly in great shape to do that, and would not have been able to call overseas from my cellphone anyway.  As the cover is for emergency treatment, I’m not sure when it would ever be appropriate to call ahead.

The hospital said they’d deal with it, but took no more information from me than the name of the insurer, and when I called to make sure they knew what had happened there was no sign of any claim by the hospital yet.

You don’t expect to be ripped off by a hospital, but if the $1000 I already paid actually covers the cost of the x-rays, a jab, a painkiller, a few bandages and a sling, and about twenty minutes of combined time with medical staff why would they bother following it up for me?  Am I way underestimating how much money they’d want?

Anyway, this little accident changes the trip quite a bit.  Many of the things I like to do in Vegas require two arms.  Well, obviously, most things are easier with two.

I may get the hang of playing poker one-handed (it has to be worth a try – if the guy I met at Christmas with a metal claw for fingers can play, so can I) and video poker should still be possible, but a little slower.

But I can’t drive; I won’t be able to hold my camera without a tripod (and won’t be able to set up the tripod myself); can’t eat steak without skewering it and eating it like a lollipop; can’t go on any coasters; will even struggle to blog (I’ve found a two-handed typing position, but it’s not comfortable for any length of time).

On the bright side, I somehow didn’t land head first, and it’s my left arm that’s out of action.  It’s the one I’d pick if I had to.

And if all else fails, I can catch up on some of the shows I’ve never seen.  Or even try to figure out what the hell baseball is all about.

Day 3: When cacti attack

Wild desert cacti are vicious buggers.  And apparently they don’t like me.

I got stuck several times while geocaching off-road near Primm, NV.  Desert geocaching is surprisingly fun, even though the routine is pretty much: drive 0.2 miles, look for pile of rocks, sign log, rinse, repeat.

Even though we’re really not meant to take the rental car off road, the four-wheel drive Jeep Patriot was much better suited than the little Toyota we had last time.

My natural reaction to a hostile cactus attack was to take pictures first, remove the sharp things that had sunk into my skin later.

Thankfully I didn’t meet any snakes.  I don’t think this strategy would have been good enough.

Day 2: Casino playlists

As the day was full of jet lag and little excitement, it’s the perfect opportunity to begin a possible new regular series.

What music do they play in different casinos while I’m playing video poker?  I’m sure the world is dying to know.  And thanks to the Shazam app on my iPhone, I’m going to tell you, whether you’re interested or not.

I might even start doing this in real time if anyone feigns the slightest bit of interest.  Live blogging baby!  I’m more mobile than ever before, and can you think of a better use of technology than to transmit not only the name of a song you’ve been forced to listen to, but also a little album art picture, all the way around the world?

Live photo blogging is, well, just a bit too obvious.  However if I can pick up an iPad camera connection kit I will be able to take photos with my DSLR, crop them with my fingers and put them online immediately.  It’s significantly less portable than a camera phone, but that’s not really the point.  It’s.. because it’s possible.

It’s actually really impressive that Shazam can pick out the music behind all the casino noise.  Sometimes it struggles if someone nearby is on a big win and it dings for the whole time it’s trying to listen, but generally the typical “sound of winning” background noise doesn’t seem to stop it being able to identify a track.

So here’s what was playing at the Four Queens while I struggled to stay awake playing enough video poker to justify all the free food we have been enjoying last night.

The missing words are “all the cow”.

Day 1: Turning left

I flew first class again. Row 1 baby. Any further forward and I’d have been driving the thing. It was – predictably – sweet.

Believe it or not, it was actually a little bit better than the last time. I did this same route in this same class last December. It was still awesome, but you could tell things were a little old. The dead giveaway was the help-yourself selection of movies on mini-VHS tape.

This time, they’ve switched out everything, including adding a new video-on-demand entertainment system with a really nice screen. I’d guess at about 15 inches using other things in the photo for reference.

I wasn’t expecting it, and neither were some of the crew by the sound of it. While I was settling in and busy taking pictures of my feet, the pilot came forward to have a nose around, commenting that he’d never seen this configuration before.

Everything I’d seen on United’s web site suggested that the 747 fleet had been upgraded, but they hadn’t started on the 777s yet. I’m no plane geek but I can tell the difference. 747s have an upstairs. 777s have “777” printed in the corner of the safety card.

The seats were all shiny and new, with lots of storage space and two huge fixed shelves, as well as a large collapsible dining table. Plenty of room to sprawl.

And as an added bonus, there an actual power outlet, not the silly emPower thing that I was expecting, and have never managed to get the right adapter for. Hence coming prepared with an array of batteries, and – between us – a PSP, five iPods, two laptops and an iPad.

It’s better to have an iPod and not need one, than to need an iPod and not have one.

I was particularly intrigued by what the connectors under the headphone socket were for. Clearly, it’s USB and ethernet. But why? The entertainment system boasted an iPod input, but that used the other one, that looked like S-Video. But who has an iPod to S-Video cable? (The on-board duty free store, of course, that’s who).

Surely you can just use a dock cable into the USB, I thought. Alas no. Not that it matters when I’m all reclined and have taken my glasses off – it’s far easier to watch a 3 inch screen from 2 inches away, than a 15 inch screen from 6 feet away.

“It appears that my iPod is not properly connected”.

In fact, it didn’t even give enough power to keep my iPhone charged, so I have no idea what it’s for – or the network socket. Surely there’s no chance of internet flying transatlantic any time soon. Do they expect teams of Counterstrike players to come on board and have a LAN party?

The other thing I noticed was a peculiar change to the seat configuration. These things are so large you can only fit four of them across the plane (bizarrely, our middle seats were 1C and 1H!) and they’re set at a diagonal.

However, instead of being arranged \ /\ / like on the old layout, they’re now / \/ \. In other words, all the seats face towards an aisle, not away from it.

The practical difference is if you’re sitting in the middle two seats, you now end up with your heads being closer together than your feet. Which is great if you’re travelling with someone and want to talk – you don’t have to shout across a four-foot void.

But as a result the whole cabin felt a lot more exposed than last time. It’s not a big deal to me – I’m just happy to have a flat bed and edible food – but I imagine the kind of flyer who pays for first class as a matter of course would be expecting a little more privacy than they’d get with this layout.

Not that we’d use it, but I couldn’t find a partition between the middle seats – so you have a perfect view of your neighbour’s screen (in theory, you’d be able to see exactly what’s on their iPod). Or with them angled away from you, you have a great view of what they’re doing on a laptop. Also my natural position was to face directly across at the window seat, which was also facing towards me. It was certainly less of a head-turn to look at the stranger opposite than Claire. I just thought it was a bit odd to have changed things this way.

The food was great. I ate swordfish, and quite enjoyed it.

Followed by filet mignon, with a so-good-they-baked-it-twice potato.

Finished off with cheese and biscuits. “I’d offer you port Mr Newman, but you don’t drink do you?”.

Sure, it’s five o’clock somewhere, but nowhere this plane is going, or even passes over, when we fly west from the UK at 2pm.  So I just said no to a drink before takeoff and as I pretty much don’t do wine, declined anything to go with my steak.

But cheese and port is a different matter… come back here!!