Archive for February, 2010

First Night in Bangkok

February 20, 2010

I have a little evil laugh to myself as I finish packing my bags and phone the taxi. Its a quiet chuckle through a grin. ‘Heh heh heh…’ Two weeks holiday ahead of me in a far away land, with only myself to look after, only myself to please.

Nineteen hours of trains, planes and taxis. I think about how reserved I am, why that is, and wonder whether it will change. A couple of youngsters say something funny on the train, I have a little laugh with them then put my nose back in my paperback. Why am I a little averse to having a conversation? The girl next to me on the plane struggles with working the in-flight entertainment thingy. I show her how to do it then quickly put my headphones back on and ignore her. Why am I uncomfortable? My first walk around Bangkok, I order a beer from Cheap Charlies in Sukhumvit, where bunches of young americans and europeans are hanging out and chatting at the pavement tables. I feel ill at ease, stood there like a rod on my own. I sup up and walk on. Then I think, why didn’t I start just say hello or start talking to these people? Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by meeting too many knobheads in my life. Perhaps the ratio between friendly, interesting people and nasty, uninteresting people is far too unfavourable to represent a good gamble. Perhaps I’m scared stiff of getting into a conversation that is boring or one-sided because I find it very difficult to cut these conversations short once they have started. Perhaps I worry too much. Definitely I worry too much. Most people do.

One hour later I am in a different frame of mind. I have just had the most amazing massage. I had forgotten what its like to feel properly relaxed. That means treating your mind to a little blankness. Giving your head a break from being a racetrack for 1500 different thoughts.

I order beef from the roadside food vendor and it comes over in a noodle soup with dumplings. I taste it and it doesn’t seem very spicy. I pile in some condiments and it becomes very spicy. Two minutes later I am gargling Heineken and trying to stop my nose running. I have turned red and feel a little dizzy. Perhaps I should have taken it easy with those pickled chillis and chilli oil. No worries, for I am living the dream. Munching fresh hot delicious food at a pavement table in Bangkok. The vendor giggles at me.


Soul4Sale and Greco Session

February 20, 2010

phone call


Lying in bed the other day I received a call from Brendan. ‘This gig my band are playing on Friday, the other act have dropped out. Can you come and play a set?’ Of course I can mate. I’m in practice coz I’ve been preparing for a recording session on Sunday. I have booked 5 hours at Sirkus with a view to making a live demo of every single song I don’t already have a demo of. If I do say so myself, this was a brilliant idea. It gave me the gumption to get back into practice and work on my songs.

Now I need to sort out some kind of a website to make these songs available on. The session went well, thanks to help from Theresa on percussion, and Rob and Tom on the controls. We got 20 tracks recorded!

At the gig on Friday I had the privilege of playing to a home crowd. Brendan had dragged a bunch of family and friends down. There were a few there who were actually familiar with a couple of the songs I played. That made things easier. As far as most of the audience were concerned, it was the usual quizzical regard for this unusual bloke playing ‘weird’ songs. Nothing weird about it in my eyes, of course, but this is the response I get. Brendan brings bright colours to the performance when he gets up to sing and add harmonica.

I play a song I have never played before called ‘Doctor’. I tense up a bit and find it difficult to deliver this song well. I have less confidence in how people will react to the song because I have never played it. Afterwards I think thats interesting coz after all most people will be hearing every song for the first time not just Doctor. Why should I have no confidence in Doctor but every confidence in Very Well Considering?

After a couple of beers and a couple of compliments I’m feeling pretty good about myself. Brendan’s band Soul4Sale take to the stage and absolutely smash it. They are strong musicians. They pull off the task of making people listen and dance to music they haven’t heard before. That is a hard thing to do. There is one cover. Its great to see Brendan up there as the front man singing out and leading the band.

Who loves Sunday

February 15, 2010

Nothing much happened got all 6 tourneys running now. Very focussed and tight. Feeling like this is the start of a long night.

Sent: 14-02-2010 20:30

Two jaw-dropping beats, one all-in move gone wrong, three tournaments remain. Comfortable in all. Bit pissed off.

Sent: 14-02-2010 20:56

Focussing on getting my share of $1.9 mill. Maximum potential payout: $166,000

Sent: 14-02-2010 21:32

Started with 40864. Two minutes ago was 17129. Now there are 17128.

Sent 14-02-2010 21:54

Ran kings into aces – out. Another good all-in play gone wrong – out. Ready to jump out the window – only have fucking quarter million left.

Sent 14-02-2010 21:57

Completely on tilt now just bin 5-outed to bust the Last tournament. How many of these fucking things do I hav2play before i get a big result?

Sent 14-02-2010 22:33

Still up – still on tilt

Sent 15-02-2010 02:15

Concert at King’s College

February 15, 2010

Went to Cambridge to see a concert. This special event was organised by Sir John Myrig Thomas, the chemist, as a double memorial to his wife Margaret, Lady Thomas and my uncle Andrew O’Neill. Andrew died in 2004. Sir John is fiercely proud of being Welsh, and spoke only in his mother tongue when he met my Aunts and I at the reception. My Welsh is not so good, so I just smiled as they talked. Sir John is one of those men who just command attention. In a circle of people he will usually be the one talking and everyone else is rapt. He is the kind of bloke that could tell a shit joke and you would think it was the funniest thing you have heard all week. He does not just talk, he delivers his thoughts as if he were on stage. Its OK though, because he loves people and conversation so much, the enthusiasm of this 77 year-old man draws you in and makes you smile. While he is talking, he observes the people around him, looking for the person on the outside of the circle, drawing them back in with more eye contact or a special comment.

My hotel room was upgraded because they had no cheapo single rooms left. I got an ensuite triple for the same price as the single room. Felt like a bit of a waste being in that room on my own. One funny thing about it was the bathroom shelf above the sink. The fittings were loose, so this glass shelf was tilted down slightly. I laughed when I noticed it because I had read a review of this hotel online, where a guy complains about the tilted shelf above the sink in room 3b. You don’t realise its tilted until you put your stuff on the shelf. Very slowly your stuff will start to slide, then it will drop in the sink. I proudly set out my American Crew hair wax, nail scissors, shaving apparatus and toothbrush on this shelf. No toothpaste. No toothpaste in the toiletries basket. Why do hotels provide bath foam, moisturiser and shampoo but no toothpaste? I set about brushing my teeth with cold water. I notice my American Crew slipping towards the edge. Into the sink it falls. A? Thats annoying, I think as I put the stuff back on the shelf. Slowly it makes its way back to the sink. I finish the brushing, and put my toothbrush on the glass shelf. It takes half a minute to creep down to the edge of the shelf. I watch the toothbrush fall into the sink as if this is the first time I have observed the phenomenon. Later that night, and the next morning, I go through the whole routine again, forgetting the tilted nature of the shelf, resetting my stuff and saying ‘for fucks sake’ every time an object crashes into the sink.

Queuing outside the Chapel, I realise I that I need a piss. I’ve never been to King’s College Chapel, but I bet there are no bogs inside. I leave the queue and eyeball some stony medieval doorways and dark corners. I consider stepping into the shadows for a piss, but decide that would be too disrespectful, and perhaps I would be arrested. A lady directs me towards a building where I find a toilet. Trotting back I see that most of the audience have entered the Chapel now. A lady holds open the gate for me and we chat as we make our way into the venue. She is Julie Bressor, Director of Development at King’s College. She is from America and has only been here two weeks. She seems genuinely interested in meeting people. Her job is to talk to raise funds for the College. When we speak further at the reception later on, she explains that she meets a lot of very successful people who want to do good things with their money. I explain that I work in a poker club where I meet lots of scumbags, desolates and delusionals who want to win each other’s money. Julie is a historian. She is an extremely intelligent woman and I am interested in her views. I ask her what she thinks about the state of mankind, ‘coz it seems like we’re doomed…’ and straight away she pounces on my negative aspect. Mankind has been through many tougher times than the present. We got through tough times before, we will get through this one. She thinks my opinion of man has been negatively biased by my job and the people I meet. Julie thinks that she has a better opinion of people because she works with well-off men and women who want to donate money to King’s College. Also she socialises with brilliant people because she lives at King’s College.

The champagne helps me feel a little more at ease in a room full of academics, knights, lords, broadcasters and assorted other people more intelligent and more successful than I. Most of them have paid £250 for the privilege of good seats at the concert and a chance to meet the star afterwards. Bryn Terfel mingles with the guests here in the Provost’s Lodge, while waiting staff rotate unending silver platters of nibbles. I munch on oysters wrapped in bacon, kebabs, tuna cakes, salmon sandwiches, cucumber sandwiches and exquisitely presented little desserts, far too numerous for me to sample each one. All the while they keep filling up my flute. Why not? I say. For it is good champagne. I talk for a while longer with Julie about language and people. I am thrilled to hold a conversation with, and have a laugh with, someone so eminent and intelligent.

Bryn is a huge man, and when he shakes my hand he looks at me and says ‘wow’. The last time he saw my sisters and I we were teenagers. Like Sir John, he has that charisma thing where every person he meets goes away smiling, and one can allow oneself to think ‘he really liked me’, ‘I know him’. Also Bryn has this centre-of-gravity effect, where everyone around him turns their attention toward him. At the reception there is always a little crowd around him. Afterwards, at the hotel bar, he is one of a circle of 20 or so people sat. However its not quite a circle because most people are slightly turned towards him. He is the centre. Consequently I suppose he is always being asked to perform, whether he likes it or not.

Terfel trots into King’s College Chapel and tosses off (excerpts from) Elijah, some traditional songs, and Faure’s Requiem. He is relaxed. The performance seems very easy for him. There are more than two hundred in the audience, and more than one hundred performers. I am seated on the front row, directly in front of the double basses. The players of the London Philharmonia are excellent, as are King’s College Choir. The chapel is cold. The wood panelling behind the choir reveals a huge wooden door. When it opens I am reminded of the Houses of Parliament. Above this is the resplendent organ, its scores of gold pipes reaching up to the chapel ceiling. Tonight the stained glass windows are dark. I can however admire the stone sculptures set into the walls. Being ushered to my seat is like being drawn into a fairy tale, timeless place. Its easy to imagine having an experience just like this hundreds of years ago. I close my eyes and let the power of the basses, and Terfel’s baritone, blend with the wonderful strings and the crystal choir.

My family and I are the last to leave the Provost’s Lodge. High on champagne, again we march along the stone paths of the front court. The unlit buildings loom upon the lawn. One cannot help but allow the imagination to stand up and stretch its legs, thinking about what if I had come to Cambridge, or what if I was born in the 18th Century…

My Aunt says Joe with your brain you could have been… Chancellor of the Exchequer! I say thanks then she says no actually maybe that’s a bit unrealistic. Marilyn is excited about her upcoming trip to Alaska. She and her husband have visited every one of the other 49 states, so this year they are completing the set. Marilyn is mad on Presidents, so she is going to write to Bill Clinton to see if he will meet her. ‘Well, he can only say no, can’t he?’ My mother announces her decision to make a film. She has made her mind up that this year will be the year that she records her recipe for Cawl and posts it on Youtube.

Then I remember a 15 year-old bet. In 1995 or 1996 I wagered my school friend that I would be a millionaire before I was 30. Oops. The last time I saw David was when I visisted him at Kings College in 1998 or 1999. I have not kept in touch with him since, and I do not know how he has progressed with his computer studies. However, I hope to see him in October this year. Precisely, I will be waiting for him at 10am on the 10th of October, in Trafalgar Square. For that is when the bet is due to be settled. Fortunately the amount is only £10.


February 13, 2010

Went to Blackpool last weekend for jokes and for poker. The Hilton have deals on this time of year so three of us stayed there. My word that breakfast was excellent. We also availed ourselves of the health suite (which doesn’t cost any extra) on Saturday morning. However, even after a full English AND continental breakfast, followed by swim, steam, sauna and gym AND a red bull, I still felt hungover on account of Friday night. This troubled me a little, as I had only had around 6 bottles of beer and two whiskies. Perhaps I can’t handle it anymore, or perhaps I was suffering because I had drunk no water and eaten no food the previous night.

We visited a trio of Blackpool cesspools with loud music, drunkenness, and toilet attendants attacking you with a cocktail of knock-off fragrances. Only after a couple of drinks would I accept this lavatory advance, tossing a pound coin into his tray and cheerily announcing ‘cheers mate’ as he ejaculated half a bottle of fake John-Paul Gaultier on to my crotch, grinning broadly as he did so, winking at me and adding ‘one for the ladies’.

Driving to the casino the next afternoon, my head turned right, dreamily observing the sea. I felt a little bad that there was no time for a bracing seaside walk. I didn’t feel so bad after realising just how cold and icy the town was today. That bitter wind was not only bracing, it was shocking.

No weather in the casino. We sat down to a 15,000 chip starting stack, 166 runners, and a 45 minute clock. Sounds great. Should have been great, but some poor quality dealers and a steep structure made the tournament less of a ‘deepstack’ than it could of been. Still, over twelve hours later some lucky fish would be taking down the £6,000 first prize.

Third hand in, a middle-aged guy raises to 350 from under-the-gun, in a ten-handed game. I don’t know anything about this guy, whether he is a rock or a maniac. Very likely he has a massive hand like Aces, Kings, Queens, perhaps AK or JJ, maybe a lower pair or AQ if he is a fish. Who knows? I know that he thinks his hand is massive, his breathing has got a little heavier and he was very positive about throwing chips in for his 7x raise.

Two folds and I look down at two jacks. I could muck these, but decide to call as I have great implied odds to flop a jack if he has an overpair, and if he doesn’t have an overpair I’m ahead. The problem is that if a raggy board comes and he bets out, I will lose some chips to queens, kings and aces.

A third man also calls. A raggy board comes and the raiser bets out 750 into a pot of 1075. For fks sake, I think, as I flat call with the intention of giving up if he shows strength again on the turn, or if the third man gets involved. The third man folds. The turn comes another rag, but its an interesting rag. Now the board reads 4 5 7 6. The raiser doesn’t like it but he keeps betting, now 1500 into 2575. Urgggh, i hate it. At this stage I can fold, because the guy is so likely to have my jacks beat. I rack my brain for a reason to call and manage to find two-and-a-half reasons. I don’t know this player, maybe he is playing TT or 99 like this. Perhaps he is playing AK like this. If he does have me beat, an 8 or a 3 on the river will chop the pot. A jack will win me the pot. If he does have me beat, and checks on the end, I can bluff him off with a big bet.

Perhaps if I had not drunk too much the night before I would not have entertained these bullshit thoughts. I had a chance to make a great fold. Of course I called. Now when the river came an 8, and he bet 1850 into 5575, I did not need to call his bet to know what his hand was. That blocking bet said it all. ‘I have a big pair, and I am pretty sure we are chopping this pot. Just call.’

On the turn I had passed up an opportunity to make a good fold. On the river I can just call, or I can raise. The only hand he can realistically have that beats me is 99. If he doesn’t have 99, I can make a raise and put him to a tough decision. Now there is 7425 in the middle. If I shove, he has to call all-in for more than 10,000 chips, in order to win around 15,000. He could fold and preserve two-thirds of his starting stack, or call and risk going out on the fourth hand. The best thing about this situation for me is that my shove is almost risk-free.  Around 5-10% of the time he will have two nines, and he will check his cards to make sure that yes, he does have two nines and this idiot has just shoved all in on the fourth hand of a deepstack competition when the board reads 4 5 7 6 8 (no flush). The rest of the time I either gain 7425 or lose nothing.

His blocker bet gave me an opportunity to make a great play. Of course I didn’t make a great play. I just called, and the guy showed two kings. I felt lucky to have chopped the pot, and said ‘bad river card for you’. Unfortunately it was only in hindsight that I realised just how bad that river card should have been for him.

Played many hours of solid tight poker. Bled down to a short stack. Eventually went out with AK vs AJ. The standard of players was predictably poor, but the structure was inhibitive. After the first two or three levels, the average stack is too low to allow for much play. My frustration grew as I sat hour after hour waiting for the right cards or the right spots, missing every flop and watching fish hitting flops. Many of the dealers were quite poor, dealing something like 20-25 hands per hour. A poor dealer makes a steep structure even steeper.

By the time I exited the tournament I was on tilt. I found my friend arguing with the tournament director. Apparently, Grosvenor Casino have a rule which states that a player is allowed to take their bet back if they have mistakenly put chips in the pot.  I.e. if a player does not pay attention, and calls a bet without realising there has been a raise, they can take it back. When I found this out I was even more tilted, and still tired, and still hungover. The cash game lists were filling up. My better judgement kicked in and I decided not to play.

One good thing about G-casino in Blackpool is the restaurant. We enjoyed a really good steak dinner before heading back to the Hilton.

I feel pretty anti-tournaments at the moment. Compare them to cash games. Beyond the first few levels of a tournament, the cards I play become quite narrowly specific, strictly dictated by my position and stack sizes. If I’m short I have one bet – all in. If I’m not so short, I can raise and shove the flop, or perhaps I have enough to raise and fold to a re-raise, or maybe I have enough chips to bet the flop and fold on the turn. Its not that complicated. Beyond the first few levels of a tournament, I often feel that I have my hands tied together. There is not much opportunity to leverage an advantage against less skilful players. That is why it puts me on tilt to see a fish raking in all the tournament chips.

Playing a cash game, a deep stack is the tool which allows one to leverage an advantage. Deep stacks mean dire consequences for bad decisions. Position is more important, and quality starting hands are less important. The ability to reload is a beautiful thing – if a fish takes your money, it doesn’t matter! You have more! If a fish loses his money to you, he can reload and give you some more! In a cash game, a hand can take a variety of different lines, and there is much more to think about. You get to choose where you sit, and take advantage of the information you have carefully accumulated on each player. You can take a break anytime you like… I could go on.

I can think of two really fun things about tournaments as opposed to cash games. One is that you get to make well timed all-in bluff shoves or re-steals. The other is that once in a blue moon you go on a rush of cards, get loads of chips, and get to play a final table where there is serious money to be played for. That is a lot of fun.

Returning on Sunday afternoon, I made sure I was back in time for some Sunday night tournaments. At least on the internet you can play several at one time, reducing the tilt factor. Perhaps one day I will turn a few dollars into several thousand. As far as live tournaments are concerned, I don’t intend to play one until November.

Pub quiz left me inconsolable

February 4, 2010

I had a disturbing experience in the Chestnut Tree. My ragged performance at the pub quiz left me distraught. At some unknown point over the last decade, the power of my brain had peaked. Now I realise, the only way is down. I can only hope to reduce the decline as much as possible. I sighed a long sigh, and an earthy dismay filled up my chest. The left corner of my mouth jutted over to one side as my lips pressed together, and my right eyebrow was raised. I will be 30 this year. Not to mention the body – gaining fat and beginning to lose hair from its head. It is not the body that bothers me, it is the mind. I am aware that bodies start to grow old almost as soon as they become adult. What is happening with my mind?

Question no.1 – Which nation shares its Patron Saint, St. Patrick, with Ireland?

Question no.2 – The name of which character in Moby Dick is also the name of an international high street chain?

Question no.3 – Which Arabic word is translated as elder, wise man or scholar?

Question no.4 – The Scottish, Nimzo-Indian and Sicilian are examples of what type of movement?

I know the answers to two of these questions and could take an intuitive guess at the other two.  As no other member of my Chesnut Tree team ventured an answer, I put the guesses down. Upon further reflection I altered my answers, as I was able to come up with more sensible answers. Or what I thought were more sensible answers. Perhaps I changed the answers simply because I had thought about the questions a bit longer, and therefore the alternative guesses were better thought-out? This was an error, as boiling a kettle for ten minutes does not make the water any hotter than boiling it for five minutes.

I have read Moby Dick and am familiar with its characters. At the Chesnut Tree I struggled to recall the names of any of them beyond Ishmael and Captain Ahab. Is there a chain of stores called Ahab’s? …I know, the answer must be Moby Dick’s Fish’n’Chips, although that does seem a little obvious.

I racked my brains for the solution to the question of the Nimzo-Indian, Sicilian and Scottish movements. I thought about politics… sport… Again, no-one could help me on this one. I came up with an inspired but wacky answer. These were all examples of… Independence Parties. Hmmm.

Of the other sixteen questions, we either knew the answer outright or had no chance whatsoever of getting the answer right. It was the above four questions that caused me grief. Internal, painful grief. Let me also tell you that I was not in this quiz to win it. That is the reserve of the braniacs and eggheads who frequent the pub quizzes, and invariably take home with them the bottle of plonk or meal voucher for two.

When the answers were read out I buried my head in my hands. I have studied chess and am familiar with these openings, how could the proverbial light bulb not have come on when the quizmaster said Nimzo-Indian?  What the hell is a Nimzo-Indian when it is not a chess opening?

Patrick is the Patron Saint of Nigeria as well as Ireland, and Sheikh is an Arabic word meaning elder, wise man, scholar. Impressively I had correctly guessed these answers. Disturbingly, I had rubbed them out and replaced them with ‘Scotland’ and ‘La-la’. What was wrong with me? Have I lost faith in myself? Confidence? I find it interesting that I would literally second-guess myself in this way.

Finally, imagine the large proverbial kick I administered to myself when I was reminded of a character called Starbuck from Moby Dick, also the name of a popular chain of coffee shops.

Inconsolable, I ordered another pint.