Monday, 20 February 2012

Poker Post!

It's been more then 6 years since I first took up poker, and it really has become old hat.  For a considerable amount of time while I was first learning, I was filled with emotions while playing, and depending on the way the game went, I was overcome with these emotions after the game.  I played scared, I was hoping not to lose my money, rather then hoping to win.  In many cases I was completely naive to how experienced and in some instances how talented the players I was playing against were.  For the first couple of years that I played live, I did not track my results.  I waited for big hands, made my raise, then waited for the loose and aggressive sharks to take me out.  I can't count the amount of times that guys would call in behind and just wait until I showed weakness, then fire in a big bet and take the pot away from me.  I enjoyed the game at that point, mostly because the fear I felt while playing was a great adrenaline rush.  There is nothing like having top pair against a draw for $500 to get the heart racing a little bit.  I am not trying to be macho here, I still get sweaty when there is a large amount on the line, but I have managed to gain a level of maturity about what I am doing. 

I have been calling poker a job for the last few years.  In reality, it is.  The definition of "job" on has five meanings listed. 

a piece of work, especially a specific task done as part of the routine of one's occupation or for an agreed price: She gave him the job of mowing the lawn.
a post of employment; full-time or part-time position: She was seeking a job as an editor.
anything a person is expected or obliged to do; duty; responsibility: It is your job to be on time.
an affair, matter, occurrence, or state of affairs: to make the best of a bad job.
the material, project, assignment, etc., being worked upon: The housing project was a long and costly job.

Of course, I went ahead and posted that list, read the list over, and I now realize that poker as a profession doesn't fit into any of those 5 definitions perfectly.  It is "a specific task done as part of the routine of one's occupation or for an agreed price", but it is only part of my routine because I chose it to be.  As well, the financial compensation is hardly agreed upon.  One of the things that keeps me playing is that you have no clue when he sit down to play whether you are going to win or lose that night.  I might start my night feeling great and be in an excellent frame of mind, but that doesn't mean that everyone else at the table doesn't feel the same way.  I have to battle the other 9 people playing, the cards themselves, and myself.  When I first started I was easily intimidated as I already stated.  If I had a cold streak I rarely looked at my own play but chose to fault the cards, or bemoan just how wild and aggressive everyone else was.  Over the years, I have become more comfortable and my game has evolved.  I play to make money, but at the same time, I have come to realize that you need to enjoy yourself while playing, or you won't win.  Take a gamble once in a while, make a silly raise, sometimes it works, and other times you look like an idiot, which also has its benefits.

When I started typing this morning, I wanted to focus on poker as a supplemental income.  I went off on a bit of a tangent, but back to the point.  In 2009 I started tracking my results, setting up a spreadsheet and recording my wins and losses each time I played a session.  At that point I believed I was a winning player, but being that I am a bit neurotic about numbers, I wanted a more precise measure of where I was at.  It turned out that 2009 was a great year.  In 2010 I began recording how long I was playing for in addition to my wins and losses.  I feel that recording my results like this has helped me view poker as one long occupation rather then focussing on whether or not I was winning on a particular night.  When things aren't going well, it's nice to escape with a small loss, conversely, recording helps me realize when I missed opportunities as well.  I feel like I am less likely to loosen up when I am winning if I am not looking at the particular session in a bubble.  
For part of 2010 and 2011 I had a second job in addition to my work as a support worker, so poker was a third job, one that I really didn't need to rely on.  I still had decent results, but my focus was not always there when I was playing.  Towards the end of last year and going into this year, poker has held an important place in our household income.  The volatility of the outcome can be frustrating, but I am now confident in my abilities to the point that I know the wins will come on the long run.  I was a winning player in 2009, 2010 and 2011 so it isn't a stretch to say that I want to be a winner again this year.  I have been bandying about making specific goals for the year, and initially set a goal of $12000 profit for the year, or $1000 a month, or roughly $250 a week.  I don't play the same number of hours every month as things come up and family of course is a priority, so setting goals can be difficult.  I have since adjusted my goal.  I feel like $500 a month is more reasonable, with an hourly rate of ~$17-18 per hour.  If I make an effort to be focussed, well rested and ready when I sit down each time, I don't think this is unreasonable in the least.  I have made a decent start to the year, and look to have it continue for the rest of 2011.  Now I leave you with a hand history from yesterday that still has me smiling today.

I had been playing for a while and was ahead a small amount on the day.  I was under the gun with 10 10 and chose to just call the $2.  I don't limp the strong hands too often, but due to the table, and the afinity of some to call, I wanted to try something different.  If I make it $15 to go (standard raise at my casino), I will either lose everyone, or get multiple callers, the latter being more likely.  Not many flops will be to my liking if I have a number of people to act behind me.  Also, if there is a raise behind, I have the option to re-raise depending on who makes the raise and how many callers there is on the raise.  If there is $45 or more in there when it gets back to me, making it $75 to take it down is a strong possibility.  In the end, no one raises and we go to the flop 6 handed. The pot is $12.

The flop is J76 2 hearts.  I didn't mind the flop, but I checked after the blinds did.  Last to act, a very loose player makes it $7.  The big blind to my right calls, a young woman who I haven't played with.  In the hour since she sat down we had clashed a number of times, she fired off a 3 barrell bluff on me and showed when I folded.  She recieved a number of compliments at the table for that hand, then she made a solid top pair lay down when I went all-in.  I told her it was a nice fold even though she had me beat (she didn't, I was just trying to build her confidence).  She also loved to "float" meaning that she would call with nothing hoping to hit on the turn or river.  Due to these factors, as well as the loose image of the raiser, I went ahead and check raised to $30 looking to win the pot right away.  There was a distinct possibility that neither had a jack.  If they were drawing at the straight or the flush they might call, but the draws missing on the turn could let me win with a big turn bet, or we could all see the river for cheap with a check around.  Ultimately, I got called in both spots.  The pot is ~$100.

The turn is J clubs.  An interesting card in that my hypothesis about no one having a jack seems more likely now, but at the same time, are both opponents drawing?  If so, I am going to need to make a big bet here to fold them both out.  Before I can think to long, the lady in the small blind bets $40.  I was a little surprised as she was quite passive on the flop, opting to just call twice.  Her approach to the hand could have been a weak jack, she was in the blinds and on the flop a jack without a kicker would possibly play it her way.  She also had been bluffing lots as her confidence and her stack grew.  I tried to get a read about the other player in the hand,  and decided to call with confidence, hoping to fold out the third player.  He did go ahead and fold, and we went to the river.  The pot is ~$180.

The river is a 6  of spades, pair the board a second time.  At this point I was convinced that I had her beat, but this did not stop her.  She didn't seem inclined to giving up on a pot once she took the lead, and she began counting out the bet.  At first it looked like $40, but she continued to add to her bet.  I was going to make a super quick snap call just to show how convinced I was that she was bluffing, but opted to slide out 12 red chips to make the $60.  I asked "Do you have it?"  She shook her head, I tabled my 10 10 and the table went silent.  Not only was I happy about my call, I think I had a few people confused about the way the hand played out.  In the end ~$300 sent my way.  I gained satisfaction from this as well because she had frustrated me for 45 minutes, taking a few pots from me and driving me close to making a bad decision or two.  She moved seats, going from my left to my right, and those who play cards know that if someone is outplaying you as she had been, its much easier to deal with when you are acting behind.  She fired off the rest of her chips, ~$200 before the hour was out.  Its these small victories that keep me interested, and the money is nice as well.  Any poker players reading, let me know your thoughts.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Water For Elephants

After years of thinking about reading "Water For Elephants", I finally got around to it.  It was not for a lack of interest, because the subject matter had always intrigued me.  Pundits heaped praise on the peice, author Sara Gruen had won numerous awards for her effort when the book was published in 2006.  Keep in mind, I did virutally no pleasure reading in the years 2006-2010.  I started reading again in 2010, and eventually I found the book on a library shelf last week.  If a book is interested and it is able to capture my interest, I usually complete it quickly.  I finished this 420 page tome in 6 days, and saved the book from Asher's destructive grasp.

Having recieved the official Hollywood treatment last year with Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson in the lead roles, likely anyone reading this has at least heard of the movie, the book or the story itself.  The book is an exotic twist on the classic love story.  The female of interest, Marlena, is young but experienced beyond her years.  She is married to an older man, one who controls her through fear and intimidation.  Jacob is a young man, who was nearing completion of veteranarian school.  He experiences a great personal tragedy and ends up in the bleak situation.  Running away from his problems, he inadvertently ends up joining a train circus where is lauded as a veteranarian despite his insistance to the contrary. 

The story develops as a significant rift develops between Jacob and Marlena's husband August.  This rift is strengthened when Jacob's developing affection for Marlena becomes more obvious and August, ever one to be jealous begins to loathe Jacob for it.  Marlena is very aloof throughout, and it not readily apparent whether her affection for Jacob is anything more then a desire for friendship.  It is eventually revealed that she lives in fear of August on a daily basis, his suffering from schizophrenia being a main cause.  As the story ramps up August eventually loses control, as he bursts in on Marlena and Jacob setting up a celebration for him, and accuses them of sleeping together.  A huge fist fight insues, leaving both Jacob and August a bloody mess.  Jacob gets the spoils as he protects Marlena and wins her favour.  In an ironic twist, they sleep together shortly after, and her feelings for Jacob are confirmed.  The climax comes as the two lovers try to escape the circus with little money.  They want to save their friends Walter and Camel as well, but they are met with a violent end.  Some men who had been thrown from the train return to create an animal stampede that effectively ruins the circus and provides Jacob and Marlena with their way out.  In all, an excellent tale that kept me guessing throughout. 

I have read 4 books so far this year, and without question this was the best one.  The book I enjoyed the most out of those I have read in recent years was "The Boy in the Moon" by Ian Brown, but "Water For Elephants" ranks solidly in my top five.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Little Asher Man

When we were in the process of getting ready for Sheila's return to work, I will have to admit, I was scared.  This meant that I would be the exclusive caregiver for Asher from 730 am until 500 pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays.  A daunting task I thought, as Asher seemed to be in constant need of being entertained.  He didn't play much with his toys or distract himself with things he found around the house.  He wanted to be picked up, he wanted to be cuddled, he wanted to be loved, all things that I could give him. 

As it turns out, Asher is pretty fond of dear old daddy.  He loves to cuddle up on my chest to take his naps, and I get to attempt to slide out from under him without him waking so that I can get a few things done while he snoozes.  He goes to daycare twice a week and he is beginning to learn how to entertain himself.  He finds his favorite toys and plays, often distracting himself for 10 or 15 minutes at a time.  After a couple of months we have fallen into a pretty nice routine.  It has been getting easier for me to crawl out of bed in time to get Jasmine to school for 830.  Then Asher and I get to spend some quality father and son time together.  We go to the grocery store on Wednesday morning and slowly browse the aisles.  We have walked over to pick Jasmine up from school a few times, though Asher isn't a big fan of his sled.  Jasmine, Asher and I go to the swimming pool on Wednesday afternoon.  He loves goofing off in the water, always with a huge smile on his face. 

One of the cutest things Asher does is plant kisses on his mom, dad or sister when asked.  If I say "Asher kiss", he will smile widely, then run over and smack is mouth into mine, usually with his mouth opened wide, so he ends up sucking on your lip.  He gives the kiss as if he is trying to headbutt the recipient, with lots of force behind it.  We have also had a lot of fun with him and his hockey sticks and his soccer ball.  Whenever he sees his sticks laying about he runs over and picks them both up.  At first he had little interest in the hitting the ball with them, prefer to smash at the tv or to hit one of us when we weren't paying attention.  Now he has learned how much he can have smacking the ball around the rec room, even playing pass with one of us for a few minutes.  Asher also likes to play soccer with dad or his uncle, running across the room with the ball bouncing off his knees.  The regulation size 5 ball is as tall as his knee and it is quite a sight seeing a giggling little boy running behind the ball.  As I finish this up I am off to look at a jogging stroller, hopefully its a go so that Asher and I can spend some time on our days off out in the fresh(ish) air getting some exercise. 

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Heart and Hustle

I have really enjoyed my time coaching Jasmine's basketball team this year.  After suggesting the sport to Jasmine, I quickly decided that I would volunteer to help out.  I came into the coaching job a little jaded as I had a bit of a trying time with the same age group during the summer soccer season.  The girls I coached in the summer were very young and unfortunately, many of them did not seem very interested in the sport of soccer.  This in turn distracted a few of the others and made for a very difficult experience.  I was unable to teach any new skills to the girls that did want to learn.  Nonetheless, I signed up to help with basketball. 

I played organized basketball in elementary school and I really enjoyed it.  I was and still am a sports nut.  I have not come across a sport that I did not enjoy, and basketball was no exception.  Although I gave up the game after grade 7, I still played regularly in our driveway, at the park or in the school gym when I could.  It really is a great game and I felt that Jasmine's athleticism and long frame may find her aptly suited for basketball.  I was also hoping she could meet some new girls and enjoy herself.  The games were scheduled for Saturday mornings which worked well for us.  As I know very little about the fundamentals of the game, I have relied heavily on my co-coaches Jackie and Jay who are both great guys who I have really enjoyed volunteering with. 

What has really made my time so enjoyable are the girls.  I have never met such a well-mannered and attentive group, and I had my view of the typical 8-9 year old girl changed completely.  Over the course of a dozen games, I have had numerous opportunities to share advice and impart tiny bits of wisdom to the girls to help them to improve.  When we started in November, 7 of the 8 girls had never played before.  A few of the girls were unable to shoot the ball high enough to make a basket.  As coaches, we were starting at the very beginning.  From the very first Saturday, all 8 girls wanted to learn.  When any of the 3 coaches called the girls over to show them something we had their attention.  The girls have now learned how to playing stifling defence, how to bounce a pass to their teammates, how to crash the glass after a missed shot, how to use their off hand to guide their shot, and most of all, I think most of them have learned to enjoy the game.  Each week it seems a different girl has a great game.  One of my favorite games saw one girl score 7 or 8 baskets even though she couldn't even hit the rim 3 months before!  This same girl comes over to the coaches after every game and says "thank you", which still gets me everytime.  Another of the girls told me when I asked her if she played any other sports, "Um, well, I play the piano."  She has become our defensive stalwart, using her height to block shooting lanes and grab rebounds.  We don't usually win, but noone seems to notice.  None of the girls count the score, and nobody worries about how many baskets they have made.  As a coach I love to point out the great pass or the defensive play as much as I do the baskets.  If the girls get some positive feedback about the little things in the game, I figure it will only encourage them to continue doing them. 

I have fun with all the girls, but most of all, I enjoy spending time with my Jasmine.  She likes having me coach as I think it adds a level of comfort for her.  She is not shy, but she likes to have me involved and that makes me feel good!  Jasmine has done well learning things like the bounce pass, the defensive shuffle, and she has become a good shot blocker.  She is quite inconsistent as some weeks she is very aware and into the game, and other weeks she seems to have little interest and becomes frustrated quickly.  Today, she was on her game.  She made her dad very proud with her hustle, effort and perserverence.  We spend the first hour of our weekly sessions practicing and warming up for the game that takes up the second hour.  Jackie led the group, warmups with the balls, a few dribbling drills, a layup and rebounding routine and a few water breaks.   The girls are starting to grasp the game of bump and a few are really getting into it.  We finished up with a 2 on 2 drill focussing on movement and using the defensive shuffle to stay with your check.  Jasmine was working with Jackie behind me, then all of a sudden there was a big collision and two girls go down.  Jasmine had collided with one of her teammates, and her teeth had cracked into the back of the other girl's head.  Both girls went down, sobbing loudly, as we rushed over to help them to the bench.  Jasmine was quite upset, and told me her tooth was loose.  I reassured her that there was no blood, and she held a wet towel on her teeth to cool it down.  She sat down for about 10 minutes, by then the game had started, and before long she was ready to give it a try. 

We had spoke before the game about ways that she can get the ball more often.  She has struggled to understand why the other girls aren't passing to her,  and I was letting her know that she needed to move away from defenders, find the open spots and then call for it.  She also needed to make sure she was passing when she got the ball, so that she could be part of the passing plays as well.  After taking a few shorter turns, Jasmine got back to playing hard.  She ran hard up and down the court, rebounded a few balls and brought the ball up when she was playing guard.  All in all, she had her best passing game of the season.  Jasmine threw a very nice bounce pass to her teammate for a layup and she didn't get caught taking too long with the ball.  At the end of the game she dribbled up the court, saw an opening and went straight in for a layup.  She always has a little jumping cheer that she does when she scores, and I was happy to see that at the end of the game.  All in all, today's game was a very satisfying experience and I think it has cemented my place as a basketball coach again next year.