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Are you scared?

Got my PokerDome show DVD at last!  I said after the pre-game interview that I was "trying to smile and not look like a psychopath".  Well, it didn’t work.

Only skipped through it so far. I’m sure I’ll have more to say when I’ve seen it properly…

May not contain nuts

Seeing as it looks like FX isn’t going to show Poker Dome again for another month, and I have no idea when my heat is going to be on TV, I’m just going to go ahead and do this from memory.  Without the aid of any screencaps of me sweating lots and looking like a nervous buffoon.

*** Spoiler alert *** If for some reason you do actually want to watch the show with some degree of suspense, do not read on. 

*** Length alert *** Sorry, longest blog post ever.  Promise it won’t happen again.  For busy people: I was 4th.

For what is probably the most high-tech show on TV, the seat draw was decidedly low-tech. At the Friday night players’ dinner at The Palm, after enjoying a delicious Filet Mignon (I couldn’t help checking the menu: it’s a $38 steak, and we had a private room and three other courses) I got to pick first from six books of matches, each with a number one to six written under the flap.

Seating:
1. Steve Day
2. Carl Olsen
3. Chad Padgett
4. Hello, it’s me
5. Trey Aitken
6. Tom Bashioum

(I don’t know whether to be pleased with my Google skillz that I managed to find the obscure link to Tom, or upset that I couldn’t find anything at all for Chad).

The limo bus dropped us downtown at just about the only unit still in use at Neonopolis at just before 1pm.  The show started at 6pm but in the meantime we had to go through "poker school", where we were taught how to play speed poker.  It’s not just a little bit faster - you also have to announce every move you make, always stack your chips neatly (splashing is strictly forbidden), and learn to never, ever block the little camera.

Then we had a bit of a rehearsal where I managed to stack Steve after calling a raise with 24o and flopping 2 pair.  For what it’s worth.  He was playing his hand blind and got his chips back anyway.  We all got to press the time extension button and make the lights go mental for thirty seconds.  I’m still a bit disappointed that I never did this during the show itself, but there was never a decision that I really needed that long to make, or a situation where I had to convince someone my decision was harder than it actually was.  The latter is how I’d hoped I’d be using it.

The set really is very cool, and the music is not as annoying as you’d think really.  With all the commercial breaks there’s plenty of silence to break it up.  The droning music helps hide for the fact the dome is not perfectly soundproof; you can’t hear much without it but you can’t hear anything when it’s going.  I did expect the audience to be completely blocked from view when the lights were down – in fact you can see the outline of the first few rows.  It would actually be possible to signal to a player if you really wanted to, but it would be very obvious, and probably followed by a swift ejection for all concerned. 

We filmed some headshots in the dome (this will be what they use to project my face onto a casino in the opening sequence) and some extremely tacky thumbs-up shots.  The film you see of the players getting fitted with heart monitors and being scanned for cellphones is bullshit though.  Sorry, I mean that’s the magic of television.  It’s recorded separately; I got scanned by a wand that wasn’t turned on on camera, but we did actually all get searched properly before going onto the set, and dark glasses were given particular scrutiny.

I did take some shades, but you won’t see them.  Probably nobody will ever see them.  They were even worse than the tie I wore, which people kept telling me they liked.  I always replied that I didn’t believe them.  Why would they like it?  It’s awful.  Simply the fact that it had glitter on should have been a big enough clue that I wasn’t serious, surely?

Walking back from the fake security check we meet Michael Konik, who has amazingly managed to write two Vegas books that I don’t have.  They actually might be the only two.  Of course I didn’t mention this.

The button is in seat 1, making me first to act on the first hand.  Matt Savage tells me that I have a very special role to play, giving the commentators enough time to explain how the timer works.  I must not, under any circumstances, do anything in the first ten seconds.  I have some kind of garbage, probably four-something as it felt like every hand I had for the first hour had a four in it, and I wait an age before making an easy fold.  Has to be said, because I’ll look like a moron who’s just going for the screen time.

Matt Savage is very modest, by the way.  He reminded us not to forget to go see Lucky You when it’s released in March.  I already know the answer, but I asked anyway.  "Are you in it?".  "Yeah", he replied, "it stars Drew Barrymore, Matt Savage, Eric Bana and Robert Duvall".  Second on the bill, apparently.  See his illustrious movie career unfold here.

So anyway, onto the hands I did play.  I can remember eight of note:

1. My first button.  I have 22 and it’s folded to me.  I raise the pot and Trey or Tom calls from one of the blinds.  I don’t remember who, or what the flop was, but there was a bet and I had to let the hand go.   I do remember the sudden tightening of the heart rate monitor as soon as he made the call, and the realisation that… bloody hell we only have 50 chips, I can only do that a couple more times.

2. I have pocket 8s and am first to act.  I raise the pot.  Only Chad calls from the big blind, and he donk-bets a KK9 flop.  With deeper stacks (and less sweaty hands) I’m popping him back, but I don’t have enough chips to test him, nor the balls to make a big move with an underpair here this early in the game.  There’s plenty of hands that he’s already beating me with here, and I’m only just better than 60% to make it to showdown if he only has overcards.  Good bet, I fold.

3. I fold my third pocket pair, this time jacks and this time pre-flop.  Trey raises and Tom immiediately re-raises.  It’s folded to me in the big blind, and I can (a) commit my stack right now, (b) call and play a mediocre hand out of position (assuming Trey doesn’t re-raise) or (c) get out of the way.  Plan C looks like the best option by a mile, but I can’t help wondering whether I just have to bite the bullet and go for it there.  We’ve been going maybe twenty minutes now, so there’s not much time left.  I made it known that I’d folded JJ and asked Tom if he had me beat.  He wasn’t able to play it cool convincingly, so I was a little happier.

4. I have ace-something suited on the big blind.  Blinds are 1k/2k and Steve raises to 7k from the cut-off.  It was either ATs or A8s, I don’t remember for sure, because in my head it was much stronger than that.  I reraise another 10k and Steve shows he has been paying attention by giving it up.  This was just about the last chance I would have had to pull a re-steal without moving all-in, it seemed like a good spot and so I took it.  I still don’t know what he had – I was probably ahead anyway, but if I did make him fold a better hand then I’ll be having a screencap for my windows wallpaper!

5. Tom is a min-raising scumbag on my big blind, and it’s not the first time he’s made that bet.  I make an almost compulsory (read: spite) call for 4k more with 64s.  I figure he doesn’t have any of my outs, at least.  All kinds of uneventful things can happen, but the board brings a massive scare: AKJ.  It’s my turn to lead the flop, and then beat myself up when he re-raises – the minimum again just to add insult to injury.  I’m still not sure if this was a move I had to try, or whether I was just throwing good chips after bad.  I can get him to fold TT or lower here and probably QQ, and QQ or TT alone is more likely than a set with that board, but what’s his range for the good old minimum raise?  I don’t know yet. 

6. Desparation sets in.  Chad has been eliminated.  Everyone folds to Carl on the button, who decides to let me fight it out with Trey.  My Jd4d is irrelevant with 6k up for grabs and less than 20k left.  I ignore the warnings in poker school about not moving all in when you have more than the pot and let the guys backstage figure out just how much I’m allowed to raise.  I get 4k back, Trey calls, and my future looks somewhat gloomy.  The flop brings a queen and two diamonds, and I then proceed to suck out on Trey’s Q9.

7. Trey is the desparate one now and moves all in (or close to it) first to act.  I have QQ, he has AQ, my hand holds up and and for a brief moment I’m alive again whilst Trey gets escored from the stage on the arm of one of the "chip girls".

8. Of course, I bust myself even before Trey has left the set.  We share an exit interview with Leeann Tweeden, who I later learn is actually a respected sports analyst and not just a pair of jugs to host the show.  I have AQs on the small blind, Carl raises from the button and I get it all in against, of course, AK.

Carl goes on to win, showing almost no emotion in the process.  He probably agrees with the 2+2 sycophants that there was never any contest.

Back in Blighty

Plane landed on time, once I finally got there.  That’s the last time I let someone organise a ride for me, as my limo ended up nearly an hour late, and I was getting just a little flustered.  The flight was half empty and I wasn’t the last to get there, but I had no time to eat.  Aside from some snackage in the green room and picking at plane food, the last thing I ate was Saturday morning, a horrible greasy breakfast skillet thing at Imperial Palace .  Ready for a curry!  It took a while for them to assemble the staircase to the plane.  Either there was no proper gate available or the pilot had missed the jetty by a mile.  We piled out onto the tarmac, with everybody managing to refrain from kissing the ground.

If you’d told me any time this week that I’d be spending my last night in Vegas at Pure I’d have laughed in your face.  But after the trip back from Downtown to Caesars in the party limo bus (it was a long trip, but it could have been longer – the coolest vehicle I’ve ever been in) I joined some of the other losers and their friends and did just that.  I could call it camaraderie, but mostly I think it was just that we all wanted to go and get drunk.

Yeah, I lost.  No real spoiler there, you know I’d be bragging much sooner if I’d won it!  I think I’ll post some hands I remember separately but still before I get to see the show.  Although it went out in the USA whilst I was flying, it should be on late Wednesday night here but it’s not showing in the Sky EPG at all any more!  I might have to find a torrent in order to watch myself looking like a nervous donkey and probably folding the best hand too many times.

I wasn’t sure that playing $20 roulette was the best way to get free drinks, but the game was kind to me.  And apparently we played briefly with Jim Belushi, although I never even noticed, so I’m starstruck in retrospect only.  I played four numbers and hit three of them in the first four spins!  Beginner’s luck I’m sure, as all I’ve done before is the odd matchplay coupon and being an evil influence on Vij one time.  He’d gone to make a bet for a friend at work, just a $25 double or nothing bet on red.  When it hit, I managed to convince him that he could press it and go again.  Then if it wins he keeps $50 himself and pays his mate off too, but if it loses then nobody really knows.  Plus EV to be sure… :)   The next spin is black, of course.

I still have no idea how we got into Pure.  Seat Five, Trey Aitken (long "a", silent "t" – he wasn’t going to get it misprounced on TV) did something or said something and then suddenly we were jumping ahead of about 400 people standing in line around the casino.  Par-tay animal Trey blew his $500 in chips the night before on table service with a bottle of vodka.  No table this time, but hey you can’t have everything…  Welcome to the home of the $10 beer, but this place is something else.

Let’s start with the fact that it’s so damn big it needs an elevator.  You can jump right in and go straight up to the strip level balcony.  Which is fantastic.  It’s not going to be the great city-wide view like you’d get at the clubs in Palms and Rio that are fifty something stories high, but it’s right in the heart of the action.  Neon in your eyes and desert air in your face.  Just awesome.  And if that wasn’t good enough, there’s the Pussycat Dolls too.  Caesars’ answer to the Binion Dollar Babes – a poor substitute, but they’ll do :)

I have a ton more pictures as usual (actually 351 it says, not bad for a week’s work eh) and some of them are even in focus.  Expect me to bore you rigid throughout the week!

Pre-match bollocks

They did get me a car to Caesars.  Yay!  I’ve just done my pre-match interview nonsense, which involved me struggling to think of anything interesting to say whilst trying to smile and not look like a psychopath.  After I maxed out on poker last night, I’m pretty spaced and trying to be human was all a bit too much effort really.

My mimes are: trying to look tired (as I’ve travelled further than anyone else this week); jazz hands (they will project Vegas behind me, apparently); trying to not drop a laptop whilst typing with one hand.  For all of them they kept asking to tilt my head down to avoid glare from my glasses, but I’m sure this will just have created new glare from my rapidly thinning scalp.

Now I have some free time (wowee) until dinner later, when I’ll get my $500 in chips.  In the meantime I’m contemplating a poker-free day.  Yesterday I played three tournaments and three hours of no-limit and nothing went right.  OK, maybe a poker-free afternoon.  There’s always the 11pm tourney at Caesars or $2/$4 over at the IP.

My champagne just arrived too.  Felt like I needed to tip but (a) they weren’t expecting me to be here and (b) I’m not going to drink it.  I might have the ice bucket though :)

So yesterday, I lost at The Orleans at midday, Binions at 8pm and the Strat at midnight, with a bit of $1/$2 NL inbetween.  I have bad beat stories from each if anyone would care to ask, but I’m sure they won’t.

Binions have let me down though.  Here’s the scenario.  We’re down to three tables and I’m in need of chips.  I see A7 and push.  It’s early position, but we’re seven handed, and I just can’t wait any longer.  I get one caller, but as we go to flip our cards the caller notices he no longer has them.  The dealer has taken his hand and mucked it.

Almost the exact same thing happened on Monday at the final table.  A player moves all in, a shorter stack calls and I umm and ah and fold pocket 7s – I have him covered but not by much.  Whilst I’m deciding the delaer has taken his hand.  Jenny the Floor comes over and tells it like it is – players must protect their hand, and as soon as it hits the muck it’s dead.  The short stack doubles up without even showing her cards.  If I’d called here, I’d have eliminated a player without showdown.  The floorlady shows a printed copy of the TDA rules to the protesting player and we move on.

So why, this time, is the hand recovered from the muck and played out?  I can’t really explain this without sounding like an angle-shooting asshole, and that’s exactly how I came across at the table.  I didn’t want to push too much because, basically, I agree that if the dealer makes a mistake costing the player a pot then they should try to make an effort to put things right.  But here’s how it actually played out.

Ethan the Floor whispers to the player.  The player whispers back.  Ethan picks up the muck, riffles through it and gives the player back two cards.  I ask why he’s changing the rules and he says, "I have discretion and I’m doing it for the integrity of the game".  So much for integrity when it’s one rule for one and one rule for another.  I was close to asking whether he knew the player, but thought better of it, took my shot against his pocket nines and left.

It was only on the bus back that I realised why this was so bad.  I don’t care so much about the hand being played out, but that rule is there for a reason.  It’s to ensure that cards cannot be swapped, and if your cards touch another player’s unprotected cards as you throw them in, both hands are instantly killed.  This is exactly the way the situation would be handled if the floorman was colluding with the player.  That’s not what I’m saying happened here, and I don’t believe it did.  It was just a power-hungry floorman who thought he was doing the right thing, and was not going to let anyone tell him what the actual rule was.  So now, sadly, there’s always going to be doubt in my mind as to whether something dodgy was going on here.  If they must go hunting for cards in the muck – which I’ve never seen done before, just the idea of doing so is ridiculous really – at least announce the cards you’re looking for out loud, and then turn the muck face up to see if it’s there and the cards are next to each other.

Contenders ready!

I just had an email from one of the Poker Dome producers that was sent to all six of the contestants in my heat.  So of course, I’ve been using this boob to do a little research :)

I already knew one of my opponents would be Carl Olsen, as he was the other qualifier from my heat.  He was a runner up in the 2005 EPT French Open (apparently dumping out to his best mate) and has a string of other live cashes to his name, and online success as colson10.  In fact, when searching for just his name, Google suggests: "See results for: carl olson poker".

Turns out we also have another possible online pro at the table in Steve DaySharkscope actually lists him (ackbleh) as a loser on PokerStars (current form is "tilt", it unhelpfully says), although he does play $210 and $315 turbo SNGs, which are perfect training for a speed poker TV crapshoot.  Steve has a handful of respectable recent cashes to his name.  Olson also is listed as playing $525 turbos and $500 and $200 heads up SNGs, although he hasn’t been on Stars for a few months.

Of the other three players, I only found one possible hit - Trey Aitken, a cafe owner from Alabama. 

I still don’t think there’s any reason to let this intimidate me.  I’ve known all along the game will be fast and furious, and at least I already expect two of the guys to be prepared for that and play accordingly.  Besides, there’s a very good chance that any skill or experience will be rendered neutral by the TV format.  Virtually every contestant I’ve seen on Poker Dome so far has appeared to be as poor as the show itself.  Oh, should I not say that?  I still have a one in six chance of $25k on Saturday, but I figure my odds of looking clueless are much higher.

Don’t you think this is a little bit tight?

The only new information I have had about Poker Dome in a month.

Regarding ground transportation, we take contestants from the airport  round trip to Caesars. Since you’re coming early on your own and staying elsewhere, it’s your responsibility to get to Caesars. 

Airport to Caesars = 3.8 miles
Strat to Caesars = 2.7 miles
Updated 26/1: I take it back, they did actually send a car for me, and I didn’t even have to ask again.  I was probably meant to tip.

What not to wear

More information just in from Mansion:

Clothing: To help you pack, Fox Sports Net requests that men wear business attire–collared shirts, jackets, ties optional; women—smart business attire–suits, dresses. Note: no white clothing, no logos for the telecast.  The dinner Friday night is held at one of the top restaurants in Caesars Palace or the Forum Shops, please wear appropriate business or resort attire.

It’s over seven years since I had to wear a suit to work, but I still have quite a collection of downright horrible ties.  Given that I very much doubt they’d consider any of my non-plain shirts to be business attire (let’s be realistic – they’re not) a tie looks like my best chance to wear something ghastly on TV.  I used to be a master at picking the tie that clashed most with any given shirt.  Can’t wait to see if I’ve still got what it takes.

I’m not completely sure what they mean by "resort attire".  I have a couple of t-shirts from Caesars, and - seriously - also a dressing gown.  If it was a toga, and I was a little more attractive, it might be OK.

In answer to a Trivial Pursuit question that I can remember from like twenty years ago, table tennis is apparently no longer the only sport that you can’t play dressed in white.

Front page: Me and Freddie Starr!!


The guys from the Sentinel apparently spent all day yesterday trying to get hold of Claire for a quote, causing much embarassment in the classroom. "Miss, your phone’s vibrating". Repeatedly.

She never got chance to talk to them but it looks like they’ve run the story anyway. I’m right there, above a story about the panto.

http://digbig.com/4qhdr for the full story.

I think it was a wise decision not to show my full face in either photo.

They took a picture too, the fools…

Apparently I’m going to be featured in The Sentinel tomorrow. Possibly even on pages one and two, the photographer said! Surely something more interesting will happen in the meantime… even in Stoke.

This is thanks (I think… having second thoughts now!) to Mike who asked me if he could write and submit the story as part of his journalism course requirements. I’m not even sure if he’s getting credit for the story any more.

No doubt I’ll write more once I’ve had chance to read it.  I’m down in London tomorrow though so I’ll have to rely on the online copy.

For anyone that ends up here as a result though (I don’t know if they’ll actually print my blog address – it was worth a try!) and wants to know more about Poker Dome, click on the banner below. Then click on it again. One click not good enough. It’s a security feature, or something.

Everything I know about Poker Dome – so far

I’ve got my dates now: Episode 36, filming January 27th, airing on Fox Sports Net on January 28th.

The show is now being shown on FX over here.  That makes four programs on that channel, alongside X-Files, Highlander and Cops.  But obviously those stalwarts of the schedule get top priority and Pokerdome is squeezed on at 2am.  I’ve put it in Sky+ and will try to work out how far behind we are.

The package includes:

Round Trip Air Transportation to Las Vegas
They’ve confirmed that this is for one person only.  Although it’s unlikely Claire can get time off during term time anyway so I’m almost certainly going alone.  Which will be strange.  If they book it for Fri-Sun though it won’t be a direct BMI flight.  At the very least I need to try to get them to make it Thu-Sun and then I can get diamond club miles too, as well as stand a chance of being awake when the tournament starts!  Have to make sure they’ve heard of other airlines than Virgin so I don’t end up having to get to Gatwick!  If I’m only going to be there for a weekend, a 24 hour round trip journey is an absolute upper limit, don’t you agree?

VIP Pick-up from Airport to Hotel
It’s a big black minibus, according to
http://kickasspoker.blogspot.com/2006/10/mansion-poker-dome-rules-and.html.  A limo with attitude.

VIP Check-in at Caesars Palace (2 nights included Friday and Saturday)
Never stayed at Caesars.  Always said its probably where I’d choose if money was no object, and I said that even before they had a card room.  So this is pretty damn cool.

Welcome VIP package in the room (champagne, mansion welcome wear)
Free shirts = always good.  Champagne = don’t care.  How much fun is it going to be to arrive by yourself and sit in your room and drink bubbly anyway?  I’m sure I can find an appreciative wino…

$500.00 Casino Credit
Sounds like this is actually just five black chips, according to http://pokerworks.com/article-674.html.  Play em or cash em… well I can’t see there being any tables games lower than $25 minimum at Caesars on a weekend, so I’ll probably cash em.  Or, I could try to do some real life rampaging at $2/$5 NL and see how just far I can spin it up…!

Welcome Dinner and Introduction to the Poker Dome (Friday Night)
Oh God, I have to be sociable?  After an 11 hour flight?  At like 5am UK time? Is this optional? :)

VIP Transportation to and from the Poker Dome (Saturday)
Why they’re not putting us in a Downtown hotel I don’t really know.  I’d probably still want a ride from the El Cortez at night, but anywhere else saves them a load of hassle. 

$50 meal credit at hotel
If it’s good at the Cheesecake Factory, you can be sure I’m going to be trying to smuggle a couple of those bad boys back home.

VIP transportation back to airport
BFH.  Super, smashing, great.

The tournament itself is a three round, six-handed, speed poker shootout for a million dollars.  15 players stand between me and $1m – hey, it’s just like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire!  And, if this article is to be believed, you can almost ask the audience too.  There’s also that annoying drone of tension music all the way through.  If I beat five players, I win some money that I can’t lose and get to come back for more.  It’s $25,000 for round one, and a further $50,000 for round two.  Second place gets diddly squat though.  The speed poker element is that you get 15 seconds to make each decision and there are two dealers to keep the cards flowing quickly.

In the rules I’ve been sent (which, incidentally, are all TV rules, and nothing to do with poker) state no logos on clothes, no ipods, and no recourse whatsoever if they decide to make stuff about you to make the show more interesting.

"I hereby release Producer from, and covenant not to sue Producer for, any claim or cause of action, whether known or unknown, for libel, slander, invasion of right of privacy, publicity or personality, or any other claim or cause of action"

I’m also a bit worried why they need to include this:

"I understand that there is a possibility of i) risk of injury to me or others and/or ii) damage to either my property and/or the property of a third party as a direct and/or indirect result from my participation in or connection with certain activity(ies) which may be included within the production of the Program."

It’s not like this is bungee poker or anything…