Where Does the Time Go?

March 5th, 2011

Where has everyone been? Haha, just kidding. I haven’t done a blog post since December, but time sure flies. It started out with the holidays – they always get hectic – and then between poker games and tournaments, a new cat, and a super busy work schedule, the time really just disappeared. But I’m back! 😉

January was mostly a blur, with lots of travel, work, and personal business to take care of. February was a time for me to play some poker but also take some personal time. Everyone needs time away from the internet, time to focus on the important things in life, and I did too. But February was also a time for some private poker games. Vegas doesn’t seem to have the games I’m looking for in the casinos, but with juicy private games, though, I certainly played a good amount of cash poker, which was nice.

I also participated in a great charity event on February 19. It was called Raise Your Hand for Africa, and it was hosted by the Starkey Hearing Foundation at the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas. I am so glad I attended! It was not only a great event to raise money for a good cause – and I met celebrities like Steve Martin, ‘Mini Me’ Vern, and a handful of NFL Pro Player! – but I connected with the foundation. I found out that they took a trip to Vietnam in 2010 and gave hearing aids to thousands of kids, allowing them to hear sounds for the first time in their lives. And they’re going again this year, so I spoke to Starkey about their plans, and I’m going with them! I’ll be able to combine the trip that I wanted to take to deliver food and other help to the poor in Vietnam, and I can help Starkey donate hearing aids to children, too. I’ll have more details on that as we plan the trip.

After playing that poker tournament, I hopped on a flight back to Los Angeles for the WPT Invitational, which was the same night. I made it in time to play, though I busted out of the event on the first night.

A few days later, I played the WPT L.A. Poker Classic, which I play every year. Things started slowly, without much action at my first table. Lee Markholt was at my table, but I didn’t know many others. I had an up-and-down day that ended with 42,250 which was a little above average.

Day 2 started with an exciting table, one that included several good players like Nenad Medic, Joe Hachem, and a few others. I have to say that Joe is completely hilarious! He had our table laughing for so long. The best joke of the day came when he said that he figured out why the young kids wear glasses at the table…because they’re all high. Maybe you had to be there, but it was so funny! For poker, I started off the day with a big double-up. On the second hand, I woke up with pocket kings UTG, so I raised and got one caller. I checked the flop of K-J-8 with two diamonds on the board, but the guy bet 5K, and I just called. The turn was a 5, not a diamond, I checked, he bet 6500, and I raised to 15K, which he called. The J of diamonds on the river came, and I went all-in. He called with A-Q of diamonds, and I had a nice double-up to begin the day. I took a hit at the end of the night, though. With 35 minutes left to play, I looked down at pocket aces UTG. Wanting to make the most out of it with my table, I simply limped in so there was 4 of us in the hand. The flop came 9-9-2 rainbow, the blinds checked, but when I bet 2200, the BB made it 6800, and I called. It was heads-up, and the turn came 8. He bet 10K, and I called. The river was a blank, and he pushed all-in for 32K. I was pot-committed but thought I was beat, but he was new to the table and I didn’t have much of a read on him. As I was thinking about my decision, he called the clock on me after less than a minute! He was very nervous, even shaking, and I finally called. He showed 9-6 suited. Yuck, I lost 55K in that pot. Even so, I ended the day with 50,700.

(photo courtesy of Matt Waldron)

Day 3 was a tough one. I had no cards in the beginning of the day and aside from stealing a few blinds, I blinded off some of my chips and was down to 31K. Allen Cunningham joined the table and played his first hand. He raised it up to 6K, and when I looked down at K-Q in the BB, I shoved all-in. He called with pocket jacks, and I never improved on the blank board. I was out. It felt good to go so far in the event, but obviously it sucked to bust on Day 3 before the money.

What else is new with me? A few things…

I was informed in January that I won a great award. It was in the 2010 Maven Awards that the public voted for several categories. I was nominated in two and won the Humanitarian Award, which was great because I was up against Annie Duke and Linda Johnson, and both of them do a ton of charity work too. I am grateful for the award and recognition, even though I do all of my charity work each year for the people who benefit from it. But thanks to Woman Poker Player and the tens of thousands of people who voted in the awards!

I also wanted to mention a very cool, creative person I met a year ago who has the most positive energy. Her name is Gabriela Pomplova, and she’s an artist, yoga instructor, jewelry maker, and painter. A few media crew and poker players had approached me and asked about the cute necklace I recently bought from Gabriela that I wore through the LAPC, and I felt that it kept me in a good place no matter what the cards were.

Finally, I want to mention a couple of things that Chilipoker is doing. 2011 is going to be a big year! After a very successful first season of DeepStack Open tournaments around Europe and Morocco, they announced Season 2, which will have 7 stops – Costa Brava, Cannes, Marrakech twice, Paris, Malta, and Vienna. Buy-ins of €550 are the same as last year, but they will have cheaper side events and cash games at every stop. Players can still qualify on Chilipoker for all of the stops, and they can also get cheap flights and good hotel rates through DSO specials. Not only can players win their way into tournaments in some of the best locations in the world, but they have a chance to win a full DSO sponsorship for 2012 as part of the Chili DSO Team! The first stop is Costa Brava, Spain, and I hope to see you at one of the stops on the tour soon!

I’ll be going to Paris to play in the Team Poker Cup at the Cercle Gaillon. I’ll be playing with partner Xavier Niel, CEO of Iliad, and there will be 20 teams. It should be a real fun tournament.

March is going to be a busy month, but I’m going to try to keep my blog updated so you don’t think I fell off the face of the earth. 😉

Cheers!

Back in the US for the Holiday Season

December 16th, 2010

When I last updated, I was still in Marrakech and looking forward to leaving, though there was a bit of business to attend to first. The World Poker Tour Main Event was still in the works, and I stayed in town so I could watch the action at the final table, which was sponsored by Chilipoker. It was an amazing day, as Sebastian Homann, who had been the chipleader since Day 1, took that lead into the final table and went on to win the tournament. To top that, he was a Chilipoker qualifier! It is what players dream of when they win a satellite into a big live tournament, and Sebastian did it and played so well. The young man from Germany did a great job, so Congratulations to him!

(photo courtesy of Hugues ‘Def’ Fournaise)
(photo courtesy of carrondesign.com)

By the time it was all over, I was ready to get back to London on my way home to the U.S., but it wasn’t going to be easy. Because of terrible winter weather in London, Gatwick airport was closed, which meant that my flight was cancelled. I was in the airport wondering what to do, waiting for about 4 or 5 hours for some answers, so finally decided to head back to the Palace where I had been staying. Then a few hours later, I received an email from Virgin Atlantic informing their upper class passengers that they’ve cancelled all flights to and from Gatwick Airport for the next two days, but with determination and hours of internet searches, I finally found a flight to Heathrow instead.

Once I arrived in London, I tried to book a hotel room for the night because my flight to Los Angeles wasn’t until the next day, but everything near Heathrow was sold out! After about three hours, I was able to find a hotel online that said it was 5.5 miles away. I jumped in a cab to head over there and get a little sleep, but it turned out to be 13 miles away. I did it anyway, was able to get a few hours of chill time, then headed back to the airport early in the morning and caught my 11-hour flight to L.A. When I got there, I booked a Southwest flight to Las Vegas and finally arrived home. What a journey that was!

I was so happy to be home! Jace was so patient and loved that I was finally home. So when I made the decision a week later to head to Seattle to visit some good friends there, I decided to take him with me. It was his first flight! But he did so well, trusting me the entire way but being the very good boy that he is. I’ve even been going Christmas shopping for actual gifts, instead of just giving people money when I’m too busy to shop in past years! Hee hee. But this year, I’m shopping and loving it. I guess I really found the Christmas spirit this year!

One of my friends told me about this great cat shelter called the Meow Cat Shelter, so of course I had to visit! I saw three cats that were attractive and melted my heart, but two were just not suitable for a home with another cat, especially the sweet one that I met with his ears cropped. He was so traumatized by the process and the “home” he was in before that he was fearful of everything, and I feared that I couldn’t give him the right home. But I did meet a sweet brown female kitty who was just amazing! She was super friendly, loving, energetic, and her energy was very positive. She even a polydactyl (an extra toe) kitty, which is odd but very cute! And she has the same kind of tail marking as Jace. So, I adopted the little girl as a companion for Jace, and they’re loving each other so far. I decided to name her Tesni, which means “warmth from the sun” in Welsh.

As for poker, I’m excited that the latest issue of the French magazine That’s Poker has finally come out! The cover photo turned out really well, so I’m looking forward to getting my copy of the magazine to read it – in French?! – and enjoy the article as well. There’s nothing else going on in poker for the rest of the year for me because due to my travel delays, I couldn’t make it back to Vegas in time for the WPT event at Bellagio and won’t play any other live events until January. I need the break, as all players do sometimes, to simply enjoy friends and family and relax for awhile.

(photo courtesy of thats-poker.fr)

I should mention, though, that Chilipoker is running an exciting promotion right now! It’s called “Santa Liz is coming to town” – haha! The pictures are kinda fun, and the promotion is great! Part of it is for cash game players, who can compete in the raked hand race and compete for their share of $13,000 and prizes like an iPhone, Android, camcorder, camera, and Xbox. There are also thousands of dollars for MTT players and SNG players, and the promo runs through December 31st. Who couldn’t use some extra money for the holidays, right? 🙂

As for me, I’ll be back to posting again when I take a break from the holidays, and I’ll be back on the poker scene in January. I’m planning a trip to the Bahamas for the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure (PCA), where I’ll play the Main Event that starts on January 8, though I’ll probably play Day 1B on January 9. It should be an amazing time, and I know that thousands of players go there every year. And on my off days, I’ll just take advantage of the amazing Bahamas beaches. Win-win!

I’m also trying to decide on some dates for a return trip to Vietnam. As the new year gets underway, it will be the perfect time to do some charity work, as there are people in my country struggling, and some food and other help could be very useful in starting their years with some hope and love. It’s been too long since I’ve been there, and I’m anxious to get back, so I’m considering the trip around late January or early February.

For now, I want to wish all of my friends an amazing holiday season! Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Holidays! And if we don’t talk before the year ends, Happy New Year! May the holidays and the new year bring all of the health and happiness that you can handle!

Cheers!

Thanksgiving in Marrakech, Home for December!

December 2nd, 2010

It’s been a while since we’ve chatted. Sorry for the break! Everything from Halloween forward seems like a fog now. So much happened, I had quite a bit of business and personal life to attend to, and flying to Marrakech for some poker tournaments was the first chance I’ve had to get back in touch with my blog readers. Thanks for being patient with me. 😉

(photo courtesy of Francois-Philipe Fpc Croue)

After being able to spend some time at home in Las Vegas and with friends in Los Angeles and Seattle over the past month, it wasn’t so bad to get out and travel again. Flights to Marrakech are not easy, though! But I made it in one piece, I wasn’t groped by any TSA officials at the airport, and I’ve been set up in a very luxurious hotel here.

When I arrived in Marrakech, I immediately got into the poker spirit with a charity event on my first night. It started at 10:30pm, and the Tournoi des Sultanes was a fun set-up, The nine Sultans were Estelle Denis, Karima Charni, Tatiana Golovin, Laurie Cholewa, Pascale Clark, Caroline Diament, Valerie Benaim, Charlotte Pay, and myself. The winner of the tournament was going to receive 10,000€ Euros to donate to the charity organization of her choice, and when it all came down to it after four hours of play, I got heads-up with Pascale Clark, and the tournament ended with Pascale claiming the victory. But things were light at the end, and we all agreed that the top three players would split the prize money, with first place getting the most of course, to donate to our charities. We were all so passionate about raising money for causes that meant something to us that none of us wanted to give it up! It was funny and fun, all in good spirit, and the money raised for charities was a great outcome.


Tournoi des Sultanes – Chilipoker Marrakech Festival 2010

I should mention something about my lack of Twitter and Facebook updates from Marrakech. I started having internet problems as soon as I arrived, and it’s been sketchy for majority of the time during my stay. It was strange not to be connected at all times! I also recently switched to an iPhone from a Blackberry, and I’m still getting used to it. It’s very different from my BB, and I’m not entirely happy with my decision so far, but I’m trying to love the iPhone!

Anyway, after the Tournoi des Sultanes, I was ready for the Chilipoker Deep Stack Open event, and so was everyone else because it was a complete sellout! It was incredible to see so many players turn out for it, and the casino was pretty happy to have a full house.

(photo courtesy of River Tells/Chilipoker.fr)

I arrived about two hours late, which was normal for me, and I was off to a rocky start at the tables, but I won my first hand with AK and felt okay for a bit. But I couldn’t get much momentum going. It was into the fifth level that I tangled in a huge pot . I had about 45K in chips and looked down at pocket nines. Blinds were 150/300 with a 25 ante. I raised to 750 from middle position, and the guy to my left reraised the minimum, and two other players called and I did too. The flop came 9-T-3, and I checked. The guy to the left of me checked, too, and the last player to act on the button bet 5,500. I raised to 16K, and he moved all-in. I called his all-in with my set of nines, and he showed Q-J offsuit! I had to look at that hand twice! Anyway, the 8 came on the turn to fill his straight, the river blanked, and I was out of the tournament.

The next couple days were filled with interviews, the most interesting was done by That’s Poker, a French magazine. I’d arranged to meet up with Hugues Fournaise and Emmanuel Vanglabeke at 3:30pm down by the pool at my hotel to do the interview which lasted 3 ½ hours! I decided to open up and shared a lot more personal details than I normally do for this one, answering a lot of questions about my personal life, charities, my career, visions about the poker industry, and my family. I’ll be on the cover of That’s Poker magazine for the issue that comes out in December, I’m looking forward to seeing it!

(photo courtesy of Hugues ‘Def’ Fournaise)

I spent some time watching the rest of the Chilipoker DSO tournament play out. And I took a trip to the local souk, which is a monstrous market in a walled part of the city, filled with vendors,food, and interesting people. I had a great time hanging out with my Chilipoker team member Ophelie Laffuge, Hugues ‘Def’ Fournaise, Kevin Noblat, Steven Bensimon, Julien Bochereau, Julien Gaignard,and Stephane Lecocq who were all in town for the Chilipoker DSO event the WPT Marrakech tournament. I was looking to buy several rugs to bring home as gifts – they call it a carpet here – incense holders, moroccan oil, and candles, but I didn’t find what I was looking for. I did find a nice chess set. The price was jacked up, but I was able to bargain with the guy. He wanted 500, but I told him all I had was 300. He kept trying to get me to make a deal, but I stuck to 300 and he finally took it. So, now I have a chess set. Who wants a chess set?! Hehe 😉

(photo courtesy of Hugues ‘Def’ Fournaise)

I waited until Day 1B of the World Poker Tour event to play; I always like to play the second starting day. Numbers were down for the tournament in general, maybe partly because it was on Thanksgiving weekend and many Americans didn’t make the trip. Even so, it was a good tournament, especially with Matt Savage running it.

My table was full of action players , including two local cash game players, and all of the guys were majorly gambling it up. They were playing some crazy poker, and it was tough to even put them on hands. For example, in one hand, I had two pair on the A-J-9 flop holding A-9. I check-raised my opponent, and he called. The turn was a king, and he makes a slight over bet of 6,800 that time, and I called. The river was a 5, he bet 10K, and I check-called again. He showed pocket kings. It was that kind of tournament. I did slowly build my stack throughout the day but had to keep doing it because I lost every big pot I played. Another example, I had two black kings. The flop was 7-6-2 with two diamonds, I bet out 3,500 and got two callers. The 10 of diamonds came on the turn, player behind me bet 6,500, and I called. The river was the 8 of diamonds, he bet out 12K. After I decided to muck my kings, he turns over J-5 of spades! Gotta love it!

(photo courtesy of carrondesign)
(photo courtesy of Hugues ‘Def’ Fournaise)

That was how my tournament went. I lasted until about 1:30am on Day 1B. With only 37K left and 8-6 of clubs in the big blind, I called the min-raise from the UTG player. The flop came K-Q-9 with two clubs, he bet 2,500, and I check-called. The turn was the 7, which gave me the open-ended straight draw to go with my flush draw, so when he bet 6,500, I check-raised all-in for about 29K. He insta-called with Q-10 offsuit! The river didn’t give me what I needed, and his queens were good. I was out of the WPT event.

I’m done with poker in Marrakech and just wrapping up some business before heading back to Las Vegas. I’ll be there through Christmas, which means I’ll probably play the WPT Bellagio in the next few days if I make it back in time. I’m considering another trip to Vietnam before the end of the year but that might wait until January. For now, I’m just looking forward to getting home for a little while, relaxing, and trying to refocus back on poker.

I hope my American friends had a great Thanksgiving! We all have so many things to be thankful for!

Cheers!

Whirlwind October Brings Me Back to Vegas

October 30th, 2010

The month of October was a crazy one! I didn’t have much time to blog about it, but now that I’m home in Vegas, I can relay some of the things that brought me from the food poisoning in London in September to where I am now.

After missing the World Series of Poker Europe because of my sickness, I was excited to get back to the tables and play the EPT London event. I started that on September 30 – Day 1B – and even though I didn’t feel totally healthy at that point, I was ready to play poker. But it was an uneventful tournament for me with a quiet table. I didn’t get involved in any hands until after the third break, when I looked down at Q-8 of hearts next to the button. I raised to 750, the button reraised to 2000, and I called. The flop came 2h-6h-8s, I bet, the button raised, I reraised, and the button called. I bet another 6,200 on the 9s turn and the button moved all-in. I called, and the button had pocket jacks. The river was the 4s, and I was out.

I spent the next two weeks in London, enjoying my days with the cats and spending some evenings with my girlfriend Kele Le Roc who had just gotten back from L.A. We spent a few nights at the local clubs, and the dancing and good times were just what I needed!

Kele just finished recording a music video with Tha Vill in Los Angeles for a song called “More Than Friends,” which was directed by another very close friend of mine, Shannon Elizabeth. I still can’t stop watching the video! Congrats and a big shout-out to my friends for the amazing video!

After those good times, things took a turn for the worse when I traveled to Vienna on October 14 for the Chilipoker Deepstack Open. I was excited to get there, and even though my flight out of London wasn’t until 9:50am, I left home at 6:45am to head to the airport. We hit bumper-to-bumper traffic on the way, and I did not hit the airport until 30 minutes before my flight was scheduled to leave. I rushed to the desk to check in, and the customer service woman rudely told me that the flight was closed. I was too late! I headed over to a different customer service desk and was told that I was considered a no-show and my ticket to Vienna was no longer valid…even though I was still there before my flight! On top of that, the guy told me I could buy a new ticket – for £659 one way! – but I couldn’t use my airline points because that had to be done 24 hours in advance. I didn’t believe him, so I walked away with my heavy luggage to used my iPad. Guess what? I was able to book the ticket with my points online and only paid $87!

That flight was more than five hours away, though, and they wouldn’t let me check in for that one, so I had to wait in the arrivals area. For some reason, everyone else there could access the wi-fi and use their computers, but I wasn’t able to purchase the internet access. Frustrating! I also discovered that my Blackberry wasn’t working because the trackball was broken, which meant that I couldn’t access any of my emails or do any work from the airport. I felt like the day was wasted.

My new flight finally boarded, though it was an hour and a half late, and I ended up getting to Vienna at about 8:30pm. As soon as I get to my hotel and walk through the doors to check in, the computer system at the hotel went down. Really? LOL. While I was waiting for them to figure out how to get my room key, I asked the guy if there was a place to fix my phone. He actually worked at a place but told me it would take 14 days to fix. Ummm, no thanks! Anyway, I got to my room, and I started to turn on the TV to get the internet access code to get to my emails, but the TV crashed. The guy who came to help me couldn’t help but laugh at my horrid streak of road blocks, and I had to laugh, too! It seemed that everything I touched that day went wrong, and I just wanted it to be over.

(Tourn Report and Interview with Georg Steiner from Pokernews DE)

The next day was better. I headed to the Montesino Casino to play the Main Event – €550 for 50K starting chips! – and I discovered that the tournament was very well done! Everything there felt comfortable, the staff was amazing and welcoming, and the players even had a great attitude. We chatted at the table, and everyone seemed to be having a great time. I had a bounty on my head in the tournament, though, and anyone who knocked me out won a freeroll into the next DSO event, so people were definitely gunning for me. One of the big hands in the beginning was a good example. I had 7-8 from the big blind and got involved with two other players. When the flop came 7-8-3, I checked, the UTG player bet, and the other guy raised to 3500. I pushed it up to 12,500, UTG mucked, and the other player called. The 3 came on the turn, we both checked, and we checked again on the 5d river. He turned over Q-2 of diamonds for the flush.

(photo courtesy of Montesino Pokertainment Center)

The players kept coming after me, though I busted two of them and built up a nice stack through Level 5. However, I lost a lot of chips (50k+) on this hand. It started with 7-9 in the big blind and there were four of us in the hand who all called the original minimum raise from seat one (UTG position) I flopped a straight on the 8-10-J flop! I checked, seat one bet 2,500, another called, and I raised. The action got a little crazy, a few re-raises until i called seat one’s all-in on the flop, it turned out that my opponent had pocket eights, and the turn paired the ten to give him a full house. I doubled him up.

(Interview with Georg Steiner from Pokernews De)

I still had 27K or so in chips, but I didn’t see any playable hands for awhile and got blinded down. I eventually moved tables and decided to push all-in with A-K. Another player called with J-9 for ¾ of his chips, and of course the board came 3-7-7-9-3. I was out!

The next day, I played the €300 side event. That one started rough. The fifth hand I decided to play was pocket nines and hit on a 9-3-3 flop. Got my chips all-in on the flop, but my opponent had pocket aces, and an ace came right on the turn. I was crippled but made a quick turn around the very next level, doubling up twice then continued building my stack and finally ended the night with a healthy stack of 78,600 in chips. Day two started off slow, I couldn’t get much going. After about four levels of play, I finally picked up pocket J’s and went all-in, one player calls my all-in push then turns over pocket K’s. I ended up busting out in 27th place.

(photo courtesy of Montesino Pokertainment Center)

I even lost in cash games! Leon Groenewoud the head of events manager for the Montesino Casino and a few others wanted to play a friendly game of $1/$2 no-limit hold’em. At first I said I didn’t want to play because I just knew that I would lose playing such low limits, but changed my mind and played for the fun of it. And just as I thought, I lost €400!

(photo courtesy of Roy Decker)

The rest of the trip to Vienna was fun, though. One night, a group of my Chilipoker teammates and some of the tournament staff went out to a nightclub called The Box, and it was quite an impressive club! It wasn’t like Vegas, but it was nice and we had a blast. I also spent met and chatted with the CEO of Montesino, who was such a lovely and polite gentleman. He was so friendly and down-to-earth that it made me even more glad that I got to spend some time at the casino and get to know some of the people there. I will certainly be back!

Leaving Vienna was not so easy, though, because when I got to the airport, I found out that my ticket was cancelled. Since they considered me a no-show on my last flight, they cancelled my whole ticket! Unreal. I had to buy a new ticket, which I did online again, and about five hours later, I was finally on my way back to London.

I chilled in London for a few days with Kele then finally headed back to Las Vegas. The lovely Jace was waiting for me, and I can’t tell you how great it was to see my sweet cat again!

The last week, I’ve been thinking hard about what to be for Halloween, and my costumes are ready to be picked up! I have three to choose from, but it’s going to have to be a surprise. 😀 All I can say is that there will be some skin and at least one naughty outfit! 😉 I’ve already got tables reserved at my favorite clubs in Las Vegas for Halloween weekend, and the entire weekend will be a huge party. I can’t wait!

My next trip isn’t until November 17 when I head to Morocco for Chilipoker Marrakech Poker Festival, but I have another week to enjoy being home before I get on the road again. For now, I’m enjoying home and friends.

Cheers!

Recovery & Back to the Tournament Trail

September 29th, 2010

The last week in London has not been a great one for me. I’m finally feeling better, but the week of food poisoning not only kept me from playing one of my absolute favorite events of the year (WSOPE) but even forced me into the hospital for a few days.

It all started early Wednesday morning, the day before my starting day for the World Series of Poker Europe Main Event. I was registered and ready to go. So, I went to bed on Wednesday night feeling absolutely normal but woke up after a few hours with serious pain in my stomach. I tried to lie there and hope it got better, but it only got worse, to the point that I was doubled over in pain and very afraid that something major was wrong. I called down to the front desk and asked them to call me an ambulance, and while I waited 2 hours for it to arrive, the hospital called me with a million questions to ask me on the phone. I was practically begging them to hurry with the ambulance while they were asking me my date of birth and lots of other information. When they finally arrived, they didn’t bring a gurney and forced me to walk downstairs and out to the ambulance. Then we sat in the ambulance on the cold London early morning – with the engine off! – as they asked me even more questions! That seemed to take another hour, and they finally decided to start up the vehicle and take me to the hospital.

The waiting time gets worse as we go through this story. I’m still shocked by it all.

Once in the emergency waiting room, I waited another hour to see a nurse and it took 2 hours from there to get someone to come in with painkillers. Unfortunately, they came in with pain pills and I told the nurse that taking pills would be impossible because I couldn’t keep anything down, so how could I take pills and not throw up? They finally decided to give me a shot of liquid painkiller, however to obtain this, most of my veins were poked and prodded for what seemed like eternity until they eventually found a suitable vein to inject the IV. I was pretty horrified by the difficulty that it took for the nurses to get in the IV line and my bruised arms are a testament!! After laying there for more than three hours, the pain didn’t get any better. The doctor, who looked like he couldn’t have been more than 21-years old, came in after taking x-rays and told me that all of the test results were negative. He thought it could be an ulcer but then again could also very likely be food poisoning, so he suggested I drink water with the instruction that if I became sick again I should return back without the added worry of waiting around for hours on end.

I did leave and went down the hall to buy medicine, but I was still doubled over in pain and decided to head back to the hospital. I demanded that they treat me because I was afraid to go home with such severe pains. That time, I waited about 5 hours to get a room, and even when I did get one, I was ignored until another doctor finally came to see me. They gave me lots of anti-nausea medication, which started to work, but they tried to feed me horrible hospital food which only made me sicker. I stayed a total of 3 days in the hospital, and when the doctor said I should be healed because nothing showed up on the tests, I finally was released to go home.

I have to say that I couldn’t believe the terrible medical system in London. It made me really appreciate the caring doctors and nurses and great facilities in the United States! Being sick away from Vegas where I’m most comfortable was bad enough, but having it happen in a hotel in London was even worse, but the medical care I received was the absolute worst part of it all.

I was also extremely disappointed to miss the WSOP Europe Main Event. After my deep run there last year, I was so excited to do even better this year. My mind was in a great place, and I was feeling good about my game. And I just love the structure of the WSOPE, so to miss it was a huge disappointment as I’ll never know what would’ve happened if I had actually played it.

I’m finally feeling a little better today, and I don’t want to miss another great tournament opportunity, so I’m going to play the EPT London on Thursday (Day 1B). I’m hoping to put all of this sickness behind me, try to eat some solid food today, and get ready for a long first day in the tournament.

Looking at the calendar, I see that it’s almost October. OMG! Where did September go?!? LOL. Anyway, that means that I’ll be heading to Vienna, Austria in less than two weeks to play in the Chilipoker Deepstack Open at the Montesino Casino in Vienna. The buy-in is only €550 for the Main Event, and we get 50,000 starting chips! There are two starting days – October 14 and 15 – and I’m not sure yet which one I’ll play, but I hope to see a lot of Chilipoker players there! Satellites are running on Chilipoker and giving players a chance to qualify for a lot less than the buy-in, so I’m sure there will be a lot of qualifiers there. And anyone else hanging out in Europe should head on over to play, too! 🙂 Hope to see you there!

Cheers!

Partouche Poker on the French Riviera

September 5th, 2010

My whirlwind fall poker tour started with my trip to London, and it was nice to be back there to see friends. The weather was a big change from the heat of Vegas, but it was somewhat refreshing. The toughest part was that it was the first time I’d been so far away from Jace, but he’s being taken care of by a couple I’ve hired to be a full time live in pet-sitter while I’m gone, so he could get round-the-clock love and care. And I’m getting almost daily photos of him to make sure he’s okay. Yes, I obviously really miss him!

Sometimes, the poker tournament circuit takes me to amazing places. Cannes is one of them. The beach city in the South of France is just breathtaking! I was here last year and took some time to be a tourist and see the city, and though I got out a little this year, I was busy with work and trying to get in the right mindset for the Partouche Poker Tour stop here. But I’ve been jet lagged for more than a week and haven’t been able to get over it, so sleeping each night (or morning!) has been a bit of a problem.

I played Day 1B, and the fields were pretty massive. There were over 750 people in the tournament altogether! I sat down at my first table with some well-known players like Jean-Robert Bellande and Antony Lellouche. Things started out well, as I took down several good-sized pots during the first level. In one of them, I had pocket nines, and they held up on a board of K-K-7-6-3 when my opponent in Seat 3 with A-8 kept betting, and I just smooth called all the way through. Took some small pots too and ended Level 1 with more than 40K.

(photo courtesy of Jean-Robert Bellande)

Things leveled out from there, and I just maintained my stack over the next few levels, increasing in little spurts. We took a dinner break for 90 minutes, which was a good amount of time to enjoy an amazing French dinner overlooking the sea. Beautiful! I came back to the tables refreshed, but I couldn’t get much going. By the end of Level 5, I still had 42K, which is still plenty of chips to work with. However, in Level 6, it all fell apart. I had pocket sevens under the gun and raised 1K. I only got a call from the small blind, and the flop came 8-7-5. A set for me! The action on the flop started with the small blind checking, I bet 1500, small blind raise 4k, I re-raised another 10k, small blind re-raises but didn’t put in enough chips so the dealer had to stop the action and call the floor over to make a ruling which took about 5 mins, at this point I was already pot committed so I didn’t have to think much with my decision, I pushed all-in, and my opponent called. The pot was big – about 100K, but he turned over pocket eights for the higher set. The turn and river were blanks, and I was out.

(photo courtesy of Hugues ‘Def’ Fournaise)

Funny thing (not really) about busting from a tournament. It doesn’t matter where you are, even somewhere as amazing as Cannes; a bustout with set over set hurts just as bad as anywhere else. Ouch.

So much for the Partouche Poker Tour! I plan on staying here and try to enjoy Cannes for a few more days, then back to London again for the WSOPE tournament.

Cheers!

On the European Road Again

August 24th, 2010

Well, almost! I’m still handling last minute preparations before spending about three months overseas, and there is quite a bit to take care of. Besides finding a loving soul to look after Jace while I’m gone, as he’s not well enough to travel yet, there are all of the home details to attend to before I head out. And I’m trying to map out my entire trip and all of the tournaments I’m going to play. I’m exhausted before even getting on the first flight – LOL!

One of the most important things I’m handling before I leave home is the arrangement of my father’s three-year praying ceremony. It’s coming up later this week, and since I can’t be in Vietnam for it, I wired the money to cover all expenses and have been on the phone with my cousin almost constantly to make sure the organization and preparation is being done perfectly. The ceremony falls on the week of the Vu Lan Ghost Festival, which is a significant event for the people of Vietnam and throughout Asia, as Buddhist temples all over the region celebrate the deceased wandering spirits. And since the anniversary of my father’s passing happens to fall on that week, it’s an even bigger memorial, which features charity for those in need and a tribute to spirits. It’s the best way I can celebrate the memory of my father, and it’s very important that I make everything perfect.

(photo courtesy of Ian Morton)

“Vu Lan Festival” is believed to be the spirit month in Vietnamese culture as a way of honoring the dead. On this day, souls are believed to return to their former homes.

From this assembly, many Buddhist countries developed the custom of offering food, clothing and other items to hungry spirits in the month when the realms of Heaven, Hell and the living are open.

The object of this ceremony is to feed the hungry ghosts and to pray for their salvation. This ceremony is a way for people to meet their compassionate filial duty. During the ceremony, offerings are made to rescue up to seven generations of ancestors from whatever misery they might be suffering. During the month, every family can choose a day to present a feast and burn joss paper and incense in front of the house to invite the spirits to eat.

The most distinguished feature of the ceremony is the “offering snatching.” After the incense burns down, the neighborhood children are allowed to grab the food. No one will stop them as it is believed the spirits may be angered if they do so. The ceremony is also a great chance for people to express their gratitude to their parents.

One more tradition of this day is for people – Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike – who wish to express their gratefulness and appreciation towards their mothers, to go to a pagoda, often wearing a rose. Thousands of people flock to pagodas wearing red roses if their parents are alive or white roses if their parents have passed away. The rose has been a symbol of love and sharing among parents and their children regardless of social background.

Once that is ready, I can jump on a plane this week. The first stop on my whirlwind trip will obviously be London, as I need to check on my home there and see my beautiful cats that I miss so much, as well as some friends and colleagues. But the first tournament I’ll be playing will be the Partouche Poker Tour in Cannes that starts on Sept 2nd. After taking some much-needed time off to rest, do some charity work, and connect with friends, it will be nice to get back to the tables and play some poker.

Here is my schedule of tournaments for the next few months:

September 2 – 7: Partouche Poker Tour in Cannes
September 9 – 12: Chilipoker DeepStack Open in Paris
September 23 – 28: WSOP Europe Main Event in London
September 29 – October 4: WPT London
October 14 – 17: Chilipoker DeepStack Open in Vienna
November 2 – 6: WPT Amneville in Amneville, France
November 20 – 30: Marrakech Poker Festival in Morocco
December 13 – 19: WPT Five Diamond at Bellagio in Las Vegas

It would only make sense that I should final table at least half of those and win at least one of them, right? 😉

It seems like a lot of travel, which it is, but I will have some time to relax in London for a few days in that time period, though I will be handling quite a bit of business when I’m not playing tournaments, as usual. And when I write it all out like that, I realize just how busy I am! I’d also like to include a trip to Vietnam to do some charity work before the end of 2010, but we’ll have to see how everything plays out over the next few months.

So, I hope to keep everyone up to date as I play in some of these European events, and I’m sure I will even see some of you at those tournaments! I encourage everyone to play the Chilipoker DeepStack Open events, like the ones listed above in Vilamoura, Vienna, and Marrakech, as the buy-ins are always €550 and start players with massive 50K chip stacks. And for those without the money to buy-in directly, Chilipoker has numerous satellites running to give away seats. Check out the website for details!

I’ll see you on the road!

Cheers!

The Nicaraguans Who Touched My Heart

August 15th, 2010

What a trip!

I just returned this weekend from my trip to Nicaragua with Shannon Elizabeth for the Feed the Children organization. I have to say that it was different than what I expected. My usual solo trips to Vietnam involve truckloads of food that feed entire towns, and I’m always able to help out in numerous ways. This charity mission tied my hands a bit, as I was there with a bigger organization and couldn’t personally help as many people as I wanted. But, Feed the Children is very well organized and the volunteers know what they’re doing, so it was a different experience. And the good part was that I got to know some of the people in the villages better and on a more personal level than I usually do. And the two girls who touched us the most were a gift that I couldn’t have imagined being more gratifying or inspiring. Overall, it was an amazing trip!

Let’s start from the beginning…

A few us of in the large group that was going were on the same connecting flight to Managua, including Ace Young, Ryan Young, Drake Bell, Thomas Scriven, Chelsea Staub and her girlfriend Kelly. We got there on the evening of the 10th and were escorted to the VIP lounge and was assisted with immigration and customs, which took about 30 minutes. We each had a separate private vehicle outside for each of us, and our group had about a dozen security guards surrounding us at all times. (We weren’t going to the safest parts of the country after all.) We arrived at the hotel, and I went to meet with Emma and the documentary production crew. Shannon didn’t arrive until an hour and a half later, but I shared with her our information about the girls we were to meet the following day. I was exhausted, though, and I had been feeling sick for two days, so I went to my room to get some sleep.

But there wasn’t much time to sleep, as we had to get up by 7:30am and be ready to leave the hotel by 9:00am. We were again greeted by private cars because each of us had different missions to do that day. It took about 40 minutes to get to the home of the two sisters that Shannon and I were to visit, and once we arrived, we had to park at the bottom of the hill because the dirt road leading to their house was full of huge potholes. We left the car behind and walked up the hill to meet the girls in the town of villa Nueva. Luckily, we had a translator with us because the family didn’t know a word of English, and we didn’t know much Spanish.

We entered their tiny, hot, stuffy, shack that was quite dirty but it was their home. They showed us around and told us about themselves and their lives, though some of the information we got from the Feed the Children organizers before we went to see them.

Luz Marina Sanchez was 11 and Yahoska Sanchez Perez was 13. The adorable girls were both in the fourth grade and went to school in the evenings because their days were filled with keeping house, running errands for the family, and taking risks in the dangerous streets just to take care of the family and village. The girls also spent time collecting aluminum cans from the streets and exchanging them for a little extra money for the family, and sometimes they went door-to-door selling bread to the villagers for money. They lived with their aunt, Dona Maria Luisa, who took them in eight years ago because their father died and their mother was under psychiatric care. The extended family all lived together, and with a cousin expecting a baby, there was going to be ten in the family, all living in a small hut made of sticks, old scraps of wood, and flattened tin cans. The aunt’s son-in-law was the only person working in the family and supporting all of them.

The situation immediately touched my heart because Shannon and I got to know the sisters, who were just the sweetest girls! We asked them about their lives – what they liked and disliked, what they wished for, etc. It was mostly Yahoska who did the talking; she was quite brave and talkative, while Marina was shy at first but eventually warmed up to us. They told us a lot about their lives. And when we asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, Yahoska told us she wanted to be a lawyer. (Great goal!) Marina said she wanted to be a doctor, and when I asked her what kind, she said a pediatrician! I already had a vision in my mind before she said it of her as a pediatrician, which comes from the fact that I love children so much, but when she said it I almost fell off the bed! I felt an instant connection with little Marina.

At one point, we had a sad moment when Yahoska put her head down and sadly told us that she wished she could get a proper education so she could be what she wants when she gets older. She told us that she wanted to provide a better life for her family, be able to buy medication for her mom that would make her better, and keep her family from suffering. Then she pointed to the roof and said that their home was collapsing. (It was true; the wooden pole that held up the roof was moldy and weak.) They told us how they even sometimes sell their clothes for money just so they can eat.

We asked them about their parents, and they said their dad was out, as if they didn’t even know that he was dead. They referred to their caretaker aunt as their mom, who didn’t seem like a warm, loving person to us. But no matter what, when we asked them if they felt happy, they both smiled these huge smiles and said “Yes!” Knowing what a hard life they lead, their enthusiasm about being happy girls was even more touching.

After more than an hour of chatting with them, we got to surprise them with something from the Make-a-Wish Foundation. They delivered bunk beds for the girls, as well as school uniforms and school supplies. We told the girls we had a surprise and we told the girls to close their eyes and cover them with their hands. We led them to the front of their shack and showed them the bunk beds with new mattresses, and they got big smiles on their faces. They seemed happy but not as happy as we hoped! They both got on the bed and felt it, and Shannon and I went over to check out the mattresses, which looked more like bean-bag comforters than mattresses. We were a little disappointed, but we would try to change that later. But the girls were happy enough, and as we went to leave, Yahoska ran up to give Shannon a big hug and said, “God bless you!” We were almost in tears and left with the most amazing feeling of having gotten to know these two beautiful girls.

On our way back to the hotel, Shannon and I talked about doing something personal and special for the girls, something that would make them happy and help their wishes come true. As we were working out the details, we decided to head out to a local restaurant for a meal with others in the group and then do some sightseeing. We went to a place with active volcanoes and then to a local market. We didn’t buy much, except Ace bought this UGLY devil’s mask. And on our way back to the hotel, about 15 minutes later, we got into a car accident! The security guards driving behind us rammed into our car by accident! We were all okay, but Shannon and I insisted to Ace that his mask had too much negative energy!

The next morning, the entire group went to the Feed the Children food center, and our group was rather large, including the production crew, Dean Cain, Drake Bell, Thomas Scriven, Kyle and Chris Massey, Chelsea Staub, David and Laura McKenzie, Ace and Ryan Young, Shannon, and me. We met a large group of kids who were given meals, and we saw how the center operates on a daily basis while we interacted with the kids. The crew took notice of how connected Shannon and I had become with Yahoska and Marina the day before, so they arranged for them to arrive at school early so we could feed them ourselves. That second day with the girls, they were more open, playful, and happy. Marina was much more talkative and attached to me, which was the greatest feeling! We played with the girls and the other kids for awhile. When we were supposed to leave, Luz Marina, asked me something very strange and unexpected. She asked me if I could give her some money for notebooks. It made me wonder if her aunt hadn’t asked her to say that so she could just get money. I told Marina I didn’t have any money but I was sure she’d be fine and very happy soon. When I went to say goodbye to Yahoska, she hugged me and asked me the same question Marina did! That made me sure that their aunt was just trying to get them to ask me for money. So sad! I told her the same thing, that I didn’t have any money. And the sweet girl that she is, she grabbed my hand and drew a picture on it – a star, a heart, and two rounded lines on each side of the star. I had to take a picture of it!

We left the school to return to the hotel, and Shannon and I immediately went across the street to the hotel to shop for the items the girls wished for and anything they might need or want. We bought it all! And luckily for us, our eight security guards were able to help carry the bags! LOL. We bought new mattresses, bedding sheets and pillows, Barbie dolls, notebooks, backpacks, reading books, kids’ story books, a bible (Yahoska had an old bible in her school bag that morning), pencil sharpeners, crayons, markers, and English language books. Then we had our driver take us straight to the girls’ home to surprise them. They had no idea we were coming, so they just lit up with the biggest smiles when they saw us and ran up to us with huge hugs. They were so happy just to see us, and when we said we had gifts, they were even happier. We showed them their new things, and their eyes were wide and happy! The look on Marina’s face when I showed her the notebooks was just priceless! I’ll never forget those faces that day.

We went with the girls back to their sleeping area and helped them with their mattresses, showed them how to put the sheets on their beds properly, and sat with them as they read their books. They are so smart and read so well, and it was obvious how much they loved reading and learning. We took the price tags off everything, including the dolls, so their aunt couldn’t take them and sell them. It was no guarantee that she wouldn’t do that, but we really could only pray that she allowed the girls to keep their gifts. The Feed the Children social worker who was with us spoke to the girls in Spanish, and she told Marina that I will sponsor her and told Yahoska that Shannon will sponsor her. They jumped up and down, smiled from ear to ear, and gave us the biggest hugs!

Monica, the social worker, then asked the girls some questions. Yahoska was asked if she would ever forget Shannon, and she said, “No, I’ll never forget!” Marina was asked what makes her the happiest in her life, and she said, “The love that they have given me today.” Just to hear that from such a shy little girl was so touching… By that time everyone was in tears, and the girls cried as they hugged us. Yahoska kept asking us to “please don’t go!” but we had to leave. I should also mention that Feed the Children gave the aunt a brand new stove for cooking, which will hopefully keep her happy for awhile.

We asked the girls to write to us and let us know how they’re doing in school and life and how they’re progressing, and we told them we would write letters to them, too. I can’t tell you how I’m looking forward to writing the first letter and hearing back from them! There were so many tears during those days – happy and sad – but those personal visits with the girls were the highlights of the trip for sure! I still can’t stop looking at the pictures and thinking of ways to help the girls achieve their dreams and have the lives they deserve.

Anyone who wants to help Feed the Children can go to www.FeedTheChildren.org. And I encourage anyone who can do it to go on a mission, meet these children face to face, and see their lives for yourselves. It will change your life, I promise you!

Cheers!

Feed the Children

August 6th, 2010

The relaxation after the World Series of Poker has been wonderful. 🙂

It’s hard to even realize how tough the WSOP grind can be until it’s over. Suddenly, you don’t have a tournament to race to, you’re not spending thousands of dollars every few days on a tournament, and you’re not fighting every germ you come into contact with. It’s always fun to play a lot of poker and see friends that you don’t see most of the year, but the rest period after it’s all over is very calm and centering.

In the last few weeks, I did take a break from Las Vegas to visit some friends in Los Angeles, and I even got to spend some time shopping, partying, among many other things with my very close girlfriend Shannon Elizabeth. And it was then that I made a decision about where I’m going to spend some time in the next few weeks.

Nicaragua!

I was considering doing some charity work in Vietnam, but when Shannon talked to me about her upcoming trip to Nicaragua for Feed the Children, I was so excited to make the trip with her. I’ll get back to Vietnam in the next few months, I’m sure, but this new adventure gives me the chance to help other people in need as well. We’re going on an aid mission for this nonprofit organization, and we’ll be helping children by providing food and clean water, helping create shelters, and giving them other supplies that they don’t have. It’s something most of us take for granted, but many children don’t even have food in their lives every day. Shannon is no stranger to doing charity work, and I figure that both of us together can do some great things!

(photo courtesy of FeedtheChildren.org)

Another exciting thing about this trip is that Associated Television International is working with Feed the children to shoot a documentary about this trip. This 60-minute documentary will give people a first-hand look at our experience, seeing the poverty and helping make their lives a little better. But the major point of the documentary will be to show the rest of the world what kinds of problems exist in these parts of the world and what needs to be done to help.

For more information about Feed the Children and how you can help, visit www.FeedTheChildren.org.

And I leave in a few days! I’ve got my shots to prevent me from getting any of the local diseases… Ouch! I hate getting shots! But I know it’s all for the right reasons. I’m so looking forward to doing this project and getting involved in helping the people of Nicaragua.

Thanks for all of the recent birthday wishes, as it really made my day even more wonderful! The most precious gift I received, in addition to the love from everyone, was this lovely Lakshmi statue and some meditation items from Shannon. So sweet! After she helped me schedule an immediate appointment for Jace to see her vet to handle a problem with his breathing, which turns out to be asthma, we ended up going out to dinner for sushi that night. Shannon was so considerate on my birthday, understanding that I wanted to keep it low-key, even though she surprised me with good friends Tracy Wagner and Matt Mazzant showing up to dinner! It was a wonderful birthday, and big thanks to the three of them for making it extra special!

I think this year is going to be a good one for me, and once I get back from Central America, I’ll be preparing to get back to poker with the first few events in Europe. It should be an interesting few months, and I’ll keep you updated as best I can!

Cheers!

Next Steps Await

July 21st, 2010

I’m finally winding down from the WSOP. It was certainly a frustrating Series for me, but I have to admit that following the updates for the Main Event was pretty exciting. Sure, it’s always tough when we, as poker players, are not still in the tournament, but when the November Nine gets close, it’s fun to keep up with the live reporting. And now, a final table with Michael ‘The Grinder’ Mizrachi? How great is that? I can’t wait to see how it all plays out in November! A Big Congrats to ‘The Grinder’!

I do want to take a minute to thank everyone at the WSOP for the improvements this year and making everything convenient, roomy, and smooth. (Can I just suggest that the air conditioning be turned down a bit next year? It was freezing in that Pavilion Room some days! Brrr!) And thanks to all of the reporters and photographers who told the story of poker for seven weeks and worked their butts off! Go home and get some rest, people. 😉

Chilipoker has just announced a new addition to the team. I’d liked to welcome Rohin Malhotra (former CEO of WorldPokerTour) who will be joining our Management Team starting Sept 1, 2010. He brings diverse experience across global media and gaming markets and will play a key role in helping develop Chilipoker internationally, establishing media, telecom, and casino partnerships in regulated and new markets. Glad to have him aboard.

I’ve had almost two weeks to rest up after the tournaments, and I’m starting to feel like things are back to normal again. Jace is doing great, and though he still requires medication, he’s feeling so much better and even more loving of a cat than he was before! I appreciate all of the positive thoughts and feelings sent our way this summer.

So, what do I do now? There are quite a few decisions I need to make in the coming days and weeks. I have several options of places to go. First is Vietnam, as I always find peace in the praying ceremony for my dad and doing the charity work that allows me to give back to my country and people who are suffering. (Side note: If I don’t do that now, I will arrange a trip before the end of the year.) Second, is Kenya because I’ve been wanting to go on a wild safari trip for about three years but haven’t found the time. Being adventurous and seeing a different part of the world might be great for me right now. And lastly is India because of my meditation and search for peaceful places. Spending some time in India would help my meditation techniques and give me the time to be more spiritual, where no one knows me and I can simply focus on the tranquility that I need in my life.

Let me know what you think! I have to make those travel plans in the coming days and weeks, so any input would be helpful.

For now, I’m going to hold off on setting my full tournament schedule, though my next tournaments will be the WSOP Europe, EPT London, and Chilipoker’s WPT Marrakech events. Now it’s all about relaxation and getting in a more peaceful frame of mind. I hope everyone else has settled down from the WSOP and enjoying your summers!

Cheers!