Archive for July, 2009

Akenhead: “I had Aces”

July 16, 2009

With two tables remaining in the Main Event, James Akenhead did the UK proud with a tenacious short stack performance. Supported by various members of the hit squad, plus very loud family and friends, he was not content to fold his way to the final table.

Several hundred poker fans filled the platforms and the bleechers overlooking the ESPN feature table. The atmosphere was fun and the action was surprisingly fast, the field thinning from thirteen to ten within around one hour.

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Shortie Jamie Robbins had moved in several times already this session, avoiding elimination in fourteenth place when his TT spiked a set on the end to best Steve Begleiter’s pocket aces.

Akenhead was the unenviable target of the Ivey stare down when he made what could have been a squeeze play. Phil called an early position raise from his button, only to see Akenhead move in from the blind. Phil must have had a medium pair as he gnashed over the decision for most of his chips, finally laying it down after a few minutes deliberation. Akenhead walked over to the bleechers and confided that he actually had pocket aces. Obviously this was no time to slow play them, or raise small enough to let anyone outflop.

Jamie Robbins would finally go out in eleventh when he moved in on Ivey’s blind. Phil made the gutsy call for half his stack with AhTh. Robbins showed KQ. The room held its breath, as all poker fans (if not the other players) wanted to see this ace-high hold up. It did hold, giving Ivey the chance to be the first big-name pro to win the modern Main Event.

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The final ten became the final nine oh too soon for one of the chip leaders, Jordan Smith. He played his aces a little slower than our Akenhead, making it 2.1 million to go after an early raise to 800k and a flat call from the chip leader on the button. The first raiser folded and Darvin Moon called the 1.3, giving him a chance to stack Smith if he hit…. the perfect flop.

Moon’s set of eights was check-raised by Aces… all in! The set held and Jordan Smith looked like death. Suddenly the room erupted because it was all over till November, and Ivey was going to be there. Short stack Akenhead was going to be there. The Brits were the loudest group in the room.

Beer Ponged

July 11, 2009

Went to Poker Stars party last night in Rain at The Palms. In the queue met BigMickG from Dublin, who is a massive sit n go player on Stars. If you look him up on Sharkscope you may not be that impressed with his results – an ROI of 3% generating $30k over 36,000 games. However, Sharkscope does not show rakeback income. According to Mick, attaining Supernova Elite status on Stars allows one to obtain bonuses equivalent to 80% rakeback. A sit n go regular playing $100+ tournaments will generate a sick amount of rake. Mick got $120k back in 2007 and $160k in 2008.

Mick had three beautiful girls on his arm and was still in the Main Event, playing day 3 the following afternoon. I had three mates on my arm and had already busted, meaning I could let my hair down a bit and take advantage of the open bar. Who wins?

I can really blame Poker Stars for today’s hangover. The only food they provided was a couple of trays of auderves. I had already drank two pitchers of Bud Light during a bad session of beer pong.

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Naturally the crowd was made up of 90% men. The situation was helped a little by a team of beautiful podium dancers in various costumes. Rain is a big cavernous club with two mezzanine floors circling the arena. You had to be Supernova status to access the first floor, and Supernova Elite/Team Pro or a VIP to access the second floor. Of course this created a bit of a segregated feel, with the Supernovas and the Pros looking down over the plebs.

I was not the only busted main event player letting his hair down at Rain. Negreanu was having a great time mixing it up down on the dancefloor. He was all smiles and perhaps a little worse for wear, even swapping places for a few minutes with one of the podium dancers. He seemed to be getting quite friendly with Liv Boeree, and the crowd made a little space on the dancefloor for an impromptu dance off between them. I felt in a dancing mood and jumped in to show them some moves. Five seconds later I fell on my arse. I tried to get up quickly and smoothly, so that my fall might look like part of the routine. In hindsight I don’t think that fooled anyone.

I had a little chat and a grip and grin with Daniel. Then Shaun Deeb roared past. I got a bit excited and shouted “Shaun Deeb!” at the top of my voice. He turned round and shouted “yeah!”. I bumped into him three or four times during the night, each time shouting his name loudly in his face, and he would reply “yeah!” with similar enthusiasm. It seemed to make sense in the middle of a loud club. Perhaps it was a bit weird later on when I shouted at him outside in the queue for a taxi.

When Nelly came on I rushed to the front of the stage. I suddenly became the biggest Nelly fan ever, singing along, dancing along and loving it. I thought about trying to dive on to the stage to have a dance but then thought better of it. A girl next to me got really pissed off and started saying weird nasty things. I told her to cheer up. The security guy agreed with me when I said “we’ll all here to have a good time”.

The night finished at a bar a mile away from the Palms called Money Plays. It is a real genuine American bar, with locals, a barman who knows everyone’s name, a pool table and even a shuffle board. A shuffle board is a fifteen-foot wooden version of curling. If you don’t manage to keep  one puck on the board you have to do the ‘walk of shame’. All customers of the bar shout at you while the proprietor shines a torch in your face, as you walk a circuit of the room. I did not have to do the walk of shame.

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Main Event Day 2b

July 11, 2009

First hand I play I double up, an instant remedy for the hurt of Day 1d. The chips are a gift from the player to my immediate left, who bizarrely just calls my under-the-gun raise when he holds AA. Of course two other people flat the raise also. Of course I flop a set of sixes on a ten-high board and lead out small. AA raises me up, I flat, check the turn, he goes all in, I call and double up.

Twenty minutes into the day Seat 3 turns up. The dealer doesn’t ask to see his ID like he has done with all the other players. “Its OK man, I know who you are” (smiles). Then I realise who it is, its Jon van Fleet, aka Apestyles, a huge Poker Stars beast. Thank f*ck he is seated to my right.
 
Although I have one of the best multi-table tournament players in the world at my table, my draw today is actually pretty good. Again the weaker spots on the table are situated to my left. There are three other tough (presumably pro) players in the two, four and nine seats. The empty seat to my left is filled by a tight and quiet English player. Seats seven and eight are occupied by two amateurs who do not seem to have any moves. They do not play a lot of hands and also give away some information with their body language. Good times.
My nemesis is in seat one, an american guy with a lot of chips who plays a lot of hands. I find it very difficult to figure out if he is a maniac, a really good player, or just on a heater. It seems like he might be doing what I was doing on Day 1, taking advantage of the lock-ups and putting maximum pressure on the table. However he seems to be making big bets and raises without much rhyme or reason. He seems to make big bets when the board gets scary. He gets caught making big bluffs a couple of times but he has been getting the best of this table.
Listen to this for a weird hand. Seat one raises JcQc and calls a three bet from the pro in the seat behind him. The flop comes queen high with two diamonds. Seat one check-calls the flop, check-calls the (brick) turn and then fires out the full pot of 25k on the (diamond) river. The pro shows 3d4d and rakes in a massive pot. Wtf was seat one doing? I guess he put the guy on Aces or Kings and turned his hand into a bluff on the end. During the first two levels he made several big-bet plays like this. I suspect he may have been playing on instincts, bluffing randomly or whenever he sensed weakness.
I want to make a half-decent hand against seat one and just call him down. Unfortunately I’m card dead and can’t find the spot. Lacking any big hands, I rely on a couple of steals to keep my chips up. When seat one raises and gets re-raised by Apestyles in seat three, I already decide what I’m going to do before I look at my cards. The blinds are 250/500/50 ante. Its gone raise to 1350, re-raise to 3600, action to my big blind. I look down at my hand, sit erect in my seat, pause for a moment then raise it up to 10,100. While the other players fold I think what a good decision it was to not introduce myself to Apestyles, compliment him on his book or tell him how much I have learned from him.
With a shorter stack and a much more active table, I play day 2 far tighter than day 1.
During the second level I raise JsTs in early position. My fine effort is rewarded with three callers and a king-high board with two spades on it. The tight English guy to my left is in the pot. I lead out 4k and he makes it 10k. The others fold. Time and time again I have seen players make this small-ish raise with a weak top pair. Its an information raise, “I want to find out where I am. If he comes back over the top my KJ is no good”. I am of course very happy to let him know where he is, by shoving my flush draw all in for about another 40k. He folds, I’m back up to around 66k, just below the average.
We get a 90 minute dinner break and I feel really good. I’ve bounced back from the dodgy start to almost average chips. Thats a lot of chips. I am happy with the table and if I get a run of cards I can get a lot more chips. I’m a bit confused about seat one but I think I can trap him if I can make a hand.
Five minutes after the end of the dinner break I’m out of the tournament. The table is playing six handed as not everyone has taken their seats. The small and big blinds are absent. I raise KJo under-the-gun and get called in three places, including seat one, who has position. The flop comes a nightmarish 9-T-J rainbow. There is about 10,000 in the pot. I lead out 6,500, two players fold, now seat one makes it 16,500 to go. I go into the tank.
He likely has a better hand than mine right now, most likely two pairs or a set, perhaps AJ. His raise is small-ish, offering me good odds to call. That suggests he either has 7-8 or Q-K for a made straight, or is raising two-pair or a set or AJ for information. If he is raising one of those hands for information he is likely to fold to a re-raise. He could also be semi-bluffing with a pair-plus straight draw hand like QT, QJ or Q9. I’m ahead of those hands, and also ahead of him the few times he is bluffing with air.
The safe option is to fold. I look at the pot, which contains 33,000 chips. I look at my stack, which contains about 57,000 chips. I shove all in with my top pair and gutshot, knowing that I can bluff better hands out of the pot and protect my hand against weaker ones. He instantly calls me because he has the nuts.
I say “oh shit” and get up to leave, always showing class, with a handshake and a “well played”. My three outs to a split do not show up. There is no backdoor full house. I feel cold. When my friends see me walking up the long Rio corridor they instantly know what has happened. We retire to Money Plays for Heinekens.
I realise I have fallen into the same trap that thousands of players fall into every year when they come to play the Main Event of the World Series. Only a fraction of competitors actually have the bankroll to play in this tournament, never mind the skill set or the outrageous luck required to do well. They play because they are willing to buy-in to the dream and the glory, the chance of fame and riches. The dream is very well-marketed by ESPN and Harrah’s. Somewhere between winning that seat three weeks ago, and walking down East Flamingo Road this morning, I too fell into that irrestible trap. The trap is believing that unlike the thousands of disappointed players you will do well in this event because you are special.
Like San Remo, playing this tournament has been a watershed for me. I really brought my A-game to the table and found myself competing with world-class players. I also found that there are many exploitable players at this level.
Now I have to go I my time is running out on this machine and I have loads of poker to play.

Main Event Day 1d

July 8, 2009

After low turnouts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, almost 3000 people start the Main Event on Monday the 8th July. Every table and dealer is in use across the Rio. There are tables in the hallways.

Thankfully the organisers keep the games nine-handed. I get to know the other eight players at my table quite well over the twelve-hour day. There are more strong players than weak ones, but fortunately the weaker spots are situated to my immediate left. In seat 9 is an inexperienced internet qualifier from Wales, who plays really tightly. In seat 1 is the owner of the Asian Poker Tour, who is playing for fun and likes to play many hands. After a couple of levels he will get bored and stack off more than 100 big blinds with AK. He is replaced by a shorter stack who does not waste much time before busting with TT v KK. He is replaced in turn by a loud Slovakian man with whom I will play a very big pot later on.

Seat 2 is occupied for the first half of the day by a very young Scandanavian who is a little aggressive but in an exploitable, transparent way. He likes to three bet from his big blind and then bet any flop. I get some chips from him early on when I raise my button, call his three bet, float his flop bet, and bet the turn. Later I win a few thousand when I raise my button with air in anticipation of his three bet. I put a large re-raise in and watch him tank for a couple of minutes. I get a little worried when I realise he must have a hand this time, and if he should call I will have to bet the flop! Thankfully it doesn’t come to that.

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His laydown was in keeping with the flavour of the day. Throughout the first four levels I played the most aggressive poker of my life. I played more hands than anyone at the table, and re-raised many times. When I felt I could put someone on a close range of hands, and felt that I could represent strength, I went for it. Not running good in terms of the cards I was being dealt but running good in terms of situations. I was not playing wildly, but kept cropping up all over the table like a bad smell. It worked beautifully. My timing was spot on, as time and time again players would lay down hands to me.

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Remember this is the Main Event. $10,000 buy-in, 300 big blind starting stack, two hour levels. Players are trying to avoid playing poker, to survive that much longer in the tournament they have been looking forward to all year. This attitude was vocalised by Charlie in Seat 3 (Dusk Till Dawn staff will remember Charlie, a big american guy dealer/floorperson, from Norweigan Open 08). He trotted out the ‘would you fold aces first hand of the main event’ hypothetical question and said, yes, of course he would fold aces, because he could find a much better spot to get his money in later on in the tournament. (????)

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So, in this context, it made perfect sense to me to raise KJo under-the-gun during the first round. I wondered what the button in seat 5 might be raising me with when he made it 1000 to go. QQ+? JJ+? Hmmm, OK lets find out, and turn this KJ into a bluff. If he doesn’t have Aces or Kings he won’t call. I make it 3000 to go and he thinks a little then flat calls. The flop comes jack high, but my pair of jacks is kind of irrelevant. I continue the bluff with a 4000 bet and he folds Kings face up! He folds Kings face up on a jack-high board. He put me on aces when I four-bet and called to try and flop a set. This, my friends, is the Main Event of the World Series of Poker.

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By the end of the first level I have 45,000 in chips. By the end of the second level I have 60,000 chips, double the starting stack and almost double the average. Halfway through level four I have 90,000. Then, this hand comes up.

With blinds at 150/300/ante25, the Slovakian makes it 1200 under the gun. He is the weak spot at the table and has been overplaying his hands. He called the young Scandanavian all in for lots of chips with a pair of nines and won. He calls with draws and makes large obvious bluffs on the river. He and I are the larger stacks at the table. I make a large re-raise with AhKh from the small blind and he calls. The flop comes down Qh 9h As. I lead out, he makes it 16k, I shove him for his remaining 30k, he snap calls with a set of nines. Bollocks. Thats one of three flops of a gazillion possible flops where he can get it all. He doubles through me and suddenly I’m down to 37k. Gutted. On the bright side, the average stack is only 39k!

On the down side, half an hour later I make an ill-conceived move with QTo with which I lose 7.5k AND I am forced to show it to the table. After that I’m like a neutered terrier, without the chips or the confidence or the cards or the image to continue my glorious assault.

The last hour of the day is a struggle, but I do manage to control my emotions and keep my stack intact. Its hard not to feel bad after losing a pot that would have put me in the top 10 chip leaders in the biggest tournament in the world, but I simply cannot afford to let it get me down.

I pick up Aces when Sam Simon (co-creator of the Simpsons) raises his cut-off. Surely Sam, I think, you have to shove when I re-raise you this time. Of course he doesn’t.

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We bag up the chips and I have mixed emotions. I have played the game of my life but ended up with 5k less chips than I started with. I have ran over a table comprising of tough professionals and rich amateurs all day, then took one wrong step and ended up with my tail between my legs. I remember the buzz of trotting to the dinner break as the big stack. I wonder what it would have felt like if that nut flush draw had come. I feel deflated.

The story doesn’t end there. I’m going to play day 2 of the Main Event. I have 50 big blinds, more than enough to play poker with. I will start again, setting out with the same attitude that got me this far. I will have a new table with a new set of players to face. It will be more difficult, as until I accumulate a lot of chips I will not have a lot of leverage against the other stacks. I may have to change gears and spend time waiting for a hand. If things don’t go my way, I might get really short, and then I will have to get lucky.

Golden Moment at the Golden Nugget

July 6, 2009

Richard Ellis is loving the main event. He’s playing day 1c and at dinner break is up 8k from the starting stack of 30k. He has styled his hair in a special mohawk today, just in case he gets a star at his table and the TV cameras attend. Hellmuth is currently playing on the TV table, where the cameras seem continually focussed on him whether he’s in the hand or not. The Rio is crowded but numbers are down on last year. I say fine, easier to make the money. Also this means that tables are playing nine-handed rather than ten.

I leave the Rio and repair to my hotel room for the obligatory early night before day 1d begins tomorrow. The last few days have been filled with three tournaments, one cash, one fine dinner, several cash game sessions, one show, one long walk in the sun, ten minutes of black jack and ten minutes on slot machines. The balance sheet for these activities is quite in the red, but only if you measure in $$$. 🙂

I experienced perhaps the sweetest poker moment of the trip during a long, long deepstack tournament at the Golden Nugget, dowtown. I spent three or four hours sat next to a weird guy called Josh who wore the full shades, hockey jersey and serious demeanour of a wannabe poker pro. He even quoted Hellmuth’s “if it wasn’t for luck, i’d win every tournament” statement, without any apparent irony.

Josh liked to play many pots. Helpfully he would limp marginal hands and raise real ones. He went on an absolute heater and was sat on a big stack. Josh hated losing a hand, and would usually mutter something dark under his breath when the chips were pushed away from him. When a black guy won a pot off him, I heard him say “we’ll see who’s still here in a couple of hours, and who’s swinging from trees”.

A couple of hours later I suddenly had some chips after flopping two pair in a three-way pot. For a while I had been nursing a short stack, waiting for spots, shoving over Josh’s raises a number of times, each time holding a strong-premium hand. Each time I shoved him he got a little more wound up, saying things like “ridiculous overbet” and “next time I’m calling you, buddy”.

He had many uncomplimentary things to say about the other players and also the dealers. He clearly thought he was the best player in the room. When I busted him just before the dinner break, all the other players gathered round to congratulate me. We agreed that he had issues.

With blinds at 600/1200 + 200 ante, we both have about 50k. UTG limps and he raises to 3600. As everyone is getting up to go to dinner, I look down at QQ. Now wtf do I do? I don’t want to raise then fold to a shove, I don’t really want to raise and have to fold post flop. I don’t want to just call and play a multi-way pot. There’s 8600 in there. I’m going to shove and be happy when everyone folds. Also, who knows? Perhaps this will be the hand that Josh finally blows up and calls with a hand that I dominate.

He did blow up and call off 40 big blinds with 66. Nice hand. What a sweet moment. After grinding and struggling for hours, with three tables left, I have one of the big stacks and the satisfaction of besting an odious chump.

Unfortunately I could not capture the first prize of $8,000 and finished 7th. Still, a result. An hilarious situation occurred around the bubble when the issue of a saver was brought up. I said no, there are already too many places being paid. I got so much abuse from the other players for not agreeing to a saver. There were shouts of ‘jackass’ from the other table. The tournament director did not help in the way he handled it, canvassing the saver proposition amongst the players then grabbing the microphone. “OK guys everyone has agreed to taking $480 off the top… but we have one player in seat number 3 on table 24 who does not agree”. The abuse continued. One player at my table asked my name. He wanted to write up this incident in his blog. He was surprised, other Englishmen he had met had been very cordial. With me it was all business.

The catcalls from the neighbouring table got so bad I had to go over and ask them what the problem was. They shut up after that. Probably not because they were scared of me but because they could see it was all going too far.

After I cashed we headed over to Binion’s Horseshoe to play some PLO/PLO8. For what could be better than a twelve-hour poker session? …That’s right, a fifteen-hour poker session. I wondered why I was sitting at such a tough game, playing hi-lo with people who knew what they were doing. Then I realised the reason why the tough players were sitting in this game. There was a huge fish from Montana sitting in seat 5. The guy in seat 2 was calling his buddy on the phone telling him to get down here straight away. This fish was as close to free money as it gets. His plays led me to question the moral certitude of sitting in such game. However, he was sound of body and mind and seemed sober.

“I don’t like hi-lo… I don’t see why people can’t just play cards… they always have to complicate it.” (shakes his head) “I’m from a little town in Montana. We play in a bar. Seven card stud only. If you ask to play anything else, they throw you out.”

He continued the conversation as he bet the full pot. He liked to bet the pot, on every street, with any hand. He held a pair of sevens in his hand, with two other irrelevant cards, when the board showed flushes, straights and lows. He bet the flop, got called, bet the turn, got called, then bet the river, and only paused a few seconds before calling the $400 re-raise. With a pair of sevens. The other guy held the nuts. Nut-nut.

“See? Thats why I don’t like hi-lo.”

Unfortunately none of this sweet sugar was poured my way during the hour or two this donator was sat at the table.

Week one in Vegas I’ve had a bit of a sh*t time at the cash games really, failing to win any big pots or really get any momentum going.

Home to bed.

Caesar’s Palace

July 6, 2009

Played two $340 tournaments at Caesars. Sam got a good result in one of those, finishing just inside the bubble for $1500. I bust out of that tournament in a good old fashioned way, running Jacks into Aces when stacks were not deep enough to get away from it.

A couple of days previously I had made a bad mistake when I bust out of the tournament in a similar fashion, running pocket tens into Aces in a blind v blind situation. In each situation I had raised, the big blind reraised and I shoved. The effective stack sizes were about the same, 20 big blinds, but the situations were very different.

i) Holding JJ v AA, I had no reads on the player. Holding TT v AA, I had a specific profile of the player which strongly suggested she would not raise with less than QQ and probably would just flat call AK.

ii) JJ is a much better hand than TT.

My problem was that I played the TT in an internet kind of way, already having decided to shove to a re-raise without taking the time to properly assess the situation and use the observations I had carefully accumulated. While the JJ hand was an automatic shove, the TT was an easy fold.

This is the kind of stuff I wanted to get sorted before playing the Main Event. Sam reminded me of a useful and obvious tell in live games – a player looking at his chips immediately after he has looked at his cards. Of course this means they like their cards and want to bet. My lack of awareness of this kind of stuff is quite bad. For example, during a recent cash game I raised preflop and was called by the big blind. When the flop came down she looked down at her chips, her hand moved towards her chips, then she checked. I bet and she raised. She could hardly have made her intentions more obvious. Yet, because I had already made a plan to bet the flop I did not take into account what I saw. I was not ready to change my plan. I did not take the extra time to use these on-the-spot observations you have in the live game.

It was good to see Sam get a result, and his good luck continued later on that day when I bought him a fine steak dinner in the Venetian with a good bottle of Pinot Noir. The perfect prelude to a Vegas show. How generous of me to treat him to a dinner, you might say, but why was it I that picked up the tab? When Sam had just won $1500? Well, it was because I lost the coin-flip. That one flip swung him way in the black, after losing the three previous ones for piss-pot burgers and buffets. Also he suddenly decided to be really good at pool when we started betting $10 per game.

Arriving in Vegas

July 1, 2009

A couple of hours after arriving in Vegas and I’ve already seen a number of familiar faces from the glamorous world of high stakes poker. Also ran into a number of familiar faces from the glamorous world of Dusk Till Dawn.

After the journey from hell, including three hours going through customs at Philiadelphia airport, we arrive at the Imperial Palace. Its not really palatial or imperial. I’m disappointed but not surprised when Ernie the desk clerk does not find our reservation.

Oh well, its directly across the strip from Caesars Palace, which is very palatial. The acres of slots, table games, restaurants and bars greet the eye just like you expected, because you’ve seen this movie many times. You’re not prepared for the voracious heat, which blasts you when you walk out of the air-conditioned hotel. At any time of the night or day the heat is trapped under any outdoor canopy or awning, and if you walked into any sauna this hot you would walk straight back out again.

On our way to the Bellagio we meet Steve Jelinek, who casually reports his final table places in a stud event and a plo8 event at the World Series. He’s just ‘donked off’ $1000 in a ‘crap shoot’ hold-em event at the Bellagio. Lol.

The poker room at the Bellagio is smaller than I expected. I expect they will roll out more tables for larger events. The twenty or so games going on now are crammed into a luxurious salon, with an even more luxurious and exclusive salon called ‘Bobby’s Room’ within. Bobby’s Room has glass walls so you can peer in to rail Sammy, Phil, Doyle and Johnny. I’m a bit overawed because yes, they’re all actually in there, playing poker. Just as my companion says ‘cool room, but it must be like playing in a goldfish bowl’, we get moved on by security.

“You can play, but you can’t watch” (laughs)

Well maybe next week. For now we go back to Caesars to sample a little 1/3 NL. The room is bustling. I meet Greek Jack, some Norweigans and spot other familiar faces.

An early night and back for the deepstack $340 tomorrow.

…gotta go my internet time has gone!